As I sit down to chat with two pattern cutters, I realise just how secretive the fashion world can be. So secretive in fact, the ladies I’m talking to don’t want me to use their names in this article. This may seem outlandish, but as they handle multi-million pound designs every day, keeping their work under lock and key is vital. Similar to the unveiling of a new iPhone, a designer’s collection can be replicated in minutes and for this reason, the fashion world works in close knit circles. For this article, I’ll refer to the pattern cutters as Holly and Fiona and show both their answers side by side. If you dream of working as a pattern cutter and want a sneak peek into the highly competitive industry, read on.
So guys how did you both get here – have you always been interested in pattern cutting?
Holly: Initially I started off studying textiles which focused more on textures and different techniques that could be applied to fabric. However, I became more interested in fashion and garment construction as opposed to the techniques used on the fabrics.
Fiona: I have always been interested in creating things, especially using textiles. I studied textiles at A-level and went straight onto my university course. My degree was heavily focused on pattern cutting. I loved that I could make a garment from scratch and I didn’t have to go out and buy a pattern. It also meant that I could create it to the exact measurements of the wearer.
What training or qualifications did you need to get your job?
H: I studied textiles at both GCSE and A-Level which enabled me to study an art foundation. The foundation taught several art principles before I specialised on ‘women’s wear and textiles for fashion.’ I then continued my studies in women’s wear by completing an honours degree. However, I wouldn’t necessarily say these qualifications led me to gain my job; they simply gave me the background knowledge to be able to do my job well. Industry experience was essential.
F: Because in my job I do a lot of other things as well as pattern cutting, I feel my university degree definitely helped me to get my job. Saying that, the main thing employers look at is the experience you have in the industry. For me it was the internships I did at university. It demonstrates that you have the skills to apply the knowledge you gained at university into real situations within a company.
What is the most interesting part of working as a pattern cutter?
H: I find the most interesting part of pattern cutting to be problem solving. Finding the best way to create the designers sketch in reality and being able to give a beautiful and balanced fit.
F: I find the most interesting part is the logic of pattern cutting and how it relates to each body differently. I have had experience of working with tailors and shirt makers on Saville Row who create garments which are specific to your body. For example, if you have one shoulder which drops lower than the other, a shirt maker can adapt the pattern so that it will sit correctly on the body to allow for this.
What is the biggest challenge?
H: The biggest challenge would be the tight deadlines, working quickly and long hours.
F: I agree, for me the biggest challenge is the long hours, especially around the collection time. You need to be able to focus and concentrate even when everything around you is a bit chaotic.
Can you describe a typical day in your working life?
H: There generally isn’t a ‘typical day’ in my working life. It can go from calm to chaotic very quickly. I could be moulding a stand using client measurements, to draping and sewing toiles or attending fittings. Sometimes my day is a mixture of it all or dealing with an urgent deadline.
F: A typical day? A lot of problem solving and standing up!
How important is pattern cutting to the fashion industry as a whole?
H: Personally, I think pattern cutting is a crucial part of the fashion industry. Without it, the cycle couldn’t work. A designer couldn’t bring their sketch to life without pattern cutters.
F: I think that pattern cutting is very important in the creative process – it is the point at which designers go from drawing and ideas into real life garments. I think it is very beneficial when designers have knowledge of pattern cutting, as it allows them to fink about how their design would be constructed when it goes into production. I think it’s a crucial skill.
How difficult is it to look at a designers sketch and bring it to life?
H: It usually depends on the complexity of the design. Most designers tend to have a very set idea in their mind and are usually very clear on what they want – sometimes even having researched the construction. However, it’s the pattern cutters job to tell the designer when a garment cannot be logically constructed to look like the sketch. That’s when problem solving using the pattern cutting can become interesting and experimental.
F: I agree – it’s definitely a collaborative effort. A lot of the time it is about compromise and problem solving. If a design is not feasible to make, it is the pattern cutter who needs to turn around and say that, and to come up with a solution.
In your opinion then, what is the hardest thing for a complete beginner to get their head around when learning pattern cutting?
H: I think either you enjoy pattern cutting and understand the logic behind it or you don’t. If you’re closing an area or moving volume then you need to understand why you’re doing it, where you’re moving it and what it will do. Without understanding the logic, you can’t understand pattern cutting.
F: The hardest thing to get your head around would be the mathematical side of pattern cutting. I find that although it is a creative skill, there is an element of logic in it as well. You need to be methodical and have a lot of attention to detail, as there are lots of little tricks you can learn along the way.
Finally then, what advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
H: Practise pattern cutting as much as you can and try and gain as much valuable industry experience. Learn from everyone and use your experience to decide if pattern cutting and the fashion industry is something you’d like to be part of.
F: I completely agree. The most valuable thing of all is that you get as much experience in the industry as possible. Also to keep your hand in, just practise drafting collars and sleeves all the time. Learn from others you meet along the way – in my experience they are usually thrilled and are more than willing to help you and show you as much as they can.
If you want to take your first steps into the world of pattern cutting, why not roll up your sleeves and get inspired by the list of courses on the site?