10 Questions To Ask A Patternmaker Before You Hire Them

The difference between a good idea and a successful product is a team that can make it happen. For apparel brands, a key member of this team is your patternmaker. As one of my clients put it: “a well executed pattern is the backbone of well-made clothing.” Hiring a patternmaker is a big step and one that takes consideration. Here are ten questions to ask that will help you decide if a particular patternmaker is the person you want to work with.

1. What product category do you specialize in?

Every type of apparel (suiting, athletic wear, tee shirts, jeans, etc.) and each market (women’s, men’s, children’s, non-apparel soft goods, etc.) has specific technical and functional requirements. You want to find a patternmaker who has experience with your type of product and your target market. This specialized knowledge in a category means your patternmaker can achieve your design vision quicker and provide a smoother (and cheaper) transition to factory production.

2. What other services can you provide?

Some patternmakers only create base-size or sample patterns while others provide more comprehensive product development services. Other services patternmakers often provide include:

  • Grading* (creating all the sizes)
  • Digitizing* (turning paper patterns into digital ones)
  • Marking* (laying out patterns for cutting)
  • Plotting (printing out patterns or markers)
  • 3D sampling*
  • Physical garment samples*
  • Fittings*
  • Tech packs*
  • Material sourcing
  • Factory sourcing
  • Consultation*

Before deciding on a patternmaker to hire, consider what services you might need and whether you prefer to work with one person who can provide them all or you don’t mind working with several different people throughout the process. (FYI, I provide all the services starred above.)

3. What types of brands are your favorite to work with?

Beyond the logistics of services, there needs to be some sort of personal connection with the patternmaker. If you are going to hire someone, why not work with someone you like? While you don’t need to be personality twins or agree on everything, it is nice to have shared goals and values. 

Asking a patternmaker what types of brands are their favorite to work with digs into their interests and tells you more about their personality. When you have a common vision, communication will be easier. The patternmaker will ‘get’ you and your brand and you’ll both get to do work you are excited about!

4. What type of file formats or deliverables will I receive?

This is an important question to ask not only so you know what you’ll get by working with this patternmaker, but whether the format is compatible with what your factory or in-house team needs. If you already know what factory you will be working with, ask them what pattern formats they can receive and see if the patternmaker you are talking to can provide that format. 

Each patternmaking software has a different native format and can export to multiple others as well. Some pattern file formats you can open on your computer and some can only be opened by the factory with a CAD system.

5. How does your pricing work?

The two most common ways patternmakers charge for their services is by the hour or by the project. (I charge by the project). When comparing pricing on patternmaking services, keep in mind the total cost of the project, not just their hourly rate or price per service. Experienced patternmakers will have higher rates and pricing, but the overall cost of the project may actually be the same or lower than a less-experienced patternmaker because they can get the work done faster. 

A patternmaker will need to know a few details about your designs before quoting a price, but they should be able to give you a price range or rough estimate if you are still in the information-gathering phase. It is helpful to note whether quotes you’ve received are fixed prices or estimates that could vary.

If payment terms are important to your budget or cash-flow, you can ask about this as well. It is typical to pay some sort of deposit to start patternmaking work. 

6. Where are you located?

Patternmaking can be done entirely remotely these days thanks to software, video meetings, and email! You don’t have to limit your patternmaker search to someone in your city. Despite the option to successfully work with a patternmaker remotely, though, you may be the type of person who prefers to work with someone you can meet in-person. The choice is entirely up to you and how you prefer to work. If you do decide to work with a patternmaker in a different location, you’ll just need to ship samples back and forth.

7. Who is on your team? Who would I be working with?

Similar to asking what services a patternmaker can provide, it is good to ask who is on their team. They may be an independent contractor or freelancer who is the sole person in their business (like me!) or they may have a whole team who can support your project. 

If they do have a team, is the person you are talking with the person who will be doing the work? If not, how will your comments and feedback throughout the project be communicated to the right person? Asking about their team comes down to discovering if your and their communication styles are compatible. 

8. What is a typical timeline for this type of project? 

You may have a launch date in mind already for your designs. Asking this question tells you when you would need to start working together in order to meet that launch date. If you’ve talked to several patternmakers and their typical timelines are all longer than you expected, that may mean that you need to adjust your timeline to something more realistic. Development, especially of a first collection, takes time.

9. What is your current availability for new projects?

Many patternmakers, myself included, are consistently booked out with projects in advance. They may not be able to start working with you right away. This will also impact the timeline of your production or launch date. It is best to get on the patternmaker’s schedule as soon as you have made a decision about who to work with and what designs you want to make even if it is several months in advance of when you’ll actually start the project.

10. How can I be best prepared to start this project?

Gold star for you if you ask this question! Starting to work with a patternmaker before you are ready drags out the timeline and potentially creates frustration between you and the patternmaker. To make the process the most fun, cost-efficient, and productive, ask what you can do to prepare and what the patternmaker will need from you to start. 

(Hint: if the patternmaker’s schedule is booked and they can’t start working with you right away, use this time to prepare! That way when things do kick off, you can hit the ground running.)

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