Malena Hjerpe is a pattern maker who has worked for fashion industry giants such as H&M and Arket, doing everything from children patterns to plus-size drafting.
Now she is developing her first pattern line for us home sewists with both children and adult clothes, and since I’m very fascinated by how things work in the garment industry versus in the home sewing community, and I know I lot of you are too, I decided to really go deep with her on this topic.
How are new patterns developed in the garment industry?
As a pattern maker, you are working closely with the designer and the buyer. The designer draws an illustration and together you run through the vision for the garment; how the silhouette should look like, the details on the garment, fabric choice etc.
Next up is drafting the pattern in a CAD software. Usually one already has a basic block or a similar pattern to base the new pattern on. Sometimes we also print out the pattern and create a paper test garment on a dress dummy to get an initial idea about the proportions and fit. One can also do a fabric sample to get a better picture of how the garment will actually look like,
When one is happy with the pattern, a measurement chart is created, and then a package containing the illustration, pattern and the measurement chart is sent to the manufacturer.
After a couple of weeks, a sample is returned and then we test it both on a fitting model and on a dress dummy. If necessary, we make additional adjustments and technical notes and then ask for more same, and sometimes we also develop different collections simultaneously.
For that reason, a work week can consist of sending out patterns, fitting rounds, giving feedback on samples to the manufacturer, check the grading and approve samples to go into production.
In the garment industry, CAD software programs like Lectra are used to draft patterns.
But a lot of indie pattern makers are using Adobe Illustrator instead. What are your thoughts on that?
I use Lectra, and there are big advantages to work with a dedicated pattern drafting program. It’s easy to draw up different lines, place notches, add seam allowances, measure, grade and do calculations.
You can also easily move around pieces and join them together.
Unfortunately, it’s a pricey program that takes time to learn, so I can totally see why indie pattern makers are using Adobe Illustrator instead. The drawback with Illustrator is that it lacks lots of functions that are specifically for pattern drafting.
That said, regardless of what method you chose, digital or paper and pen, they are still just tools. You are the pattern maker and in charge of the result, so as long as the end project is good, the tool you use is less important.
On home sewing patterns, the most common seam allowance is 1.5 cm (⅝ in). But what are the standard allowances in the garment industry?
For production patterns, the most common seam allowance is 1 cm (⅜ inches). But that is something the manufacturer can change, depending on the machines they use and the fabrics.
Some seams obviously need a different seam allowance, such as french seams or wider stitched down seams. Of course, the hem width can also vary a lot.
You are working on a pattern line for us home sewists right now. What has been the biggest adjustments creating sewing patterns for a new target group?
Right now I’m developing patterns for knits, and the drafting process is pretty similar. That said, the idea of doing “half pattern pieces” to be placed on the fold line has been a mental adjustment for sure.
But I would say that the biggest difference is doing detailed sewing instructions. Normally this expertise is handled by the factory since they are the pros. Now I have to be the one explaining all the steps, and I’m usually not very good at following instructions, I just want to do it my way! So the doing the instructions is definitely a big challenge for me.
What’s next for Pattern by Malena?
As we talked about, I’m working on a pattern collection consisting of baby, children and female basics. I’m so used to work with many garments at the same time, hence why I’m doing several patterns at once. Maybe I’m doing too many though!
I have finished some patterns, and the next step is to turn them into pdf-patterns, do instructions and find sewists to test the garment. In other words, I still have ways to go before my launch. Plus I’m doing this on the side, working as a freelance pattern maker is my main gig.
Therefore I have not set a deadline for my launch, just having my own project on the side is incredibly fun and rewarding in itself. That said, I’m an impatient person, so of course, it would have been awesome to be done with it all right now!
Check out Pattern by Malena on Instagram (where she shares her pattern making journey)
P.S. This interview was first published in my monthly newsletter. Fill in the box below to get on it!