Fashion Designer Who Can’t Sew? Here’s What You Need To Know

Watching fashion reality TV, you might think that every designer knows how to sit behind a sewing machine and whip up an outfit they designed from start to finish. In reality, though, many designers don’t or can’t sew at all. Designers aren’t required to know how to sew. Their job is to have the creative vision for the collection as a whole and for each piece and design detail. While knowing how to sew isn’t essential for fashion designers, there are some things that are important for every designer to know – especially if you don’t know how to sew.

It’s okay if you don’t know how to sew (or sew well), but in order to get your designs made and out into the world, you need to be able to communicate your design vision to your team, patternmaker, or factory. Beyond just fashion illustrations or sketches, designers need to know how to communicate the fit intent and even construction as it relates to the design. What type of fabric is the design to be made of? Does the shirt have a pieced placket or a self button stand? Is there boning in the structure of the dress? These are all design-related construction aspects that the designer needs to understand and know how to communicate. 

The best way to do this, I think, is through a sketch or inspiration photo with callouts. Name the design details, features, or construction that is important to your design. If you can’t draw, use a combination of reference photos or physical samples that show elements of your design such as a neckline, hem finish, or lining type. Again, you don’t need to know how to actually sew each detail or finish, but you do need to have something – either visual or written, preferably both – to show what you are looking for. If you want to get deeper into the seams, ASTM is a great reference for seam and stitch types. I wouldn’t expect a designer to know all these codes and names, but if there is a specific type of stitching you want to specify, the corresponding pictures are a great way to call out those details!

Designers should also have a basic understanding of the parts of a garment and how a garment is constructed. This will help as you communicate with more technical people like a patternmaker or sewer. Again, you don’t need to memorize and know names for every pattern piece or design element, but at least know where to look them up when you need a reference for your particular design. Fashionpedia by Fashionary is a great visual dictionary of design elements and terminology that I recommend. Industry terms can be confusing especially if you are a designer new to the fashion industry, but speaking a common language and clarifying the words with pictures results in clearer communication and a smoother development process. 

Being open to feedback from your production partner is another important trait for designers – especially ones that can’t sew. What works conceptually for design and what works practically (or financially) for production are not always the same. When you don’t know the nuances of construction techniques and their difficulty and pricing, then you’ll want to rely on someone who does. Work with your patternmaker and factory to arrive at construction for your design that meets your vision, matches your brand’s quality standards, is appropriate for the fabric, and fits in your budget. 

A final thing I think is important for non-sewing designers to understand is that sewers aren’t magicians. Making clothing can feel pretty magical, but it is a precise process that depends on the steps that came before it. No matter how good your sewers are, there is only so much they can do to fix a poorly thought-out design or a low-quality pattern. As a designer it is important to respect everyone on your team and all the hands that touch your product – including those who sew your designs. They are not unskilled workers who do sloppy work. Often when there are sewing problems, it is really the development steps that came before (the design, product development, pattern, cutting, etc.) that are the cause. If you’ve never sewn before, it can be easy to blame sewing as they are near the last step of production, but it is important to not jump to that conclusion. 

You can certainly be a successful fashion designer without knowing how to sew, as long as you know how to communicate your vision, are open to feedback from your production partners, and understand the basics of how sewing and garment production operates so you can problem-solve any issues with empathy and industry savvy.


Chukwuemeka Victory

7:46 pm December 19, 2022

No, butI would love to. And I hope on having my very first fashion show in 2023


9:48 am December 20, 2022

I wish to become an expert in creating clothing designs, but not a tailor

Samira Alhassan

2:08 am April 7, 2023

Want to be a designer


10:49 pm April 17, 2023

I want to start a branded fashion line


2:00 pm May 8, 2023

I am an expert in creating unique fashion designs and details but I don't sew


3:46 pm May 21, 2023

I'm a designer just starting out, and right now I'm seeking a partner who knows how to sew.


4:59 am December 19, 2023

I know how to sew uniform blazers 50 years in the sewing but I don't know how to design

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