Behind the Seams Part 1: The Making of a Dress

Dozens of steps happen before that cute dress makes it onto the retail floor, and I’ve been asked regularly if I sew everything. The answer is no, and I’m going to try to explain the process in plain language without boring you to death in this post, which is part one of two. After conceiving and sketching the design, a pattern is made. I draft patterns the traditional way, on paper, but some folks use a computer to create patterns.


Example of a paper pattern


After the first pattern is completed, a prototype is sewn to test the fit and overall style. A fit model tries on the prototype and 95% of the time, some edits are made at this point. If I’m lucky, I’ll only need to sew up one more prototype before the pattern is finalized.

Now the fun part…but the part which can be uber time consuming – the fabric selection! Some designs start with the fabric already in mind – other times, it happens concurrent with design process or not until after the design is complete. This process can take a long time – as there are many factors that go into selecting a fabric appropriate for the style – does it need to stretch? Do you want it to be machine washable? Is it the correct weight for the season? It is also good practice to get a sample of the fabric, sew the prototype, and wash and wear it to see how it holds up.



Once the pattern is finalized, it is turned into a production pattern, with  all of the proper markings and notations needed for the sewer and fabric cutter. The paper pattern is sent off to get digitized and graded.  A pattern is typically drafted in a size medium, and the grader adapts the pattern for your size range (e.g. S, M, L). Next, a marker is made. The marker is a commercial version of a paper home sewing pattern- a huge piece of paper showing what pieces need to be cut. Around the same time the pattern is getting digitized, you need to figure out how much fabric to order. I work with my marker maker to get the yields, and to try to get as little waste as possible from the fabric. And at every one of these steps, I double check their work to make sure all of the specs are as I requested.

Some factories will cut your fabric, but some of them won’t.  Unfortunately mine doesn’t, so I bring my fabric and marker to my cutter.  When the cutter’s done, I pick up the cuts and bring them to my factory. It’s a lot of schlepping and a great upper body workout – those rolls of fabric are HEAVY!

Ok, so at this point, I have gotten most of the grunt work done and are about ready to deliver the cut fabric to the factory – I bet you are on the edge of your seat in anticipation, am I right? Stay tuned to my next post to find out about the remaining steps until that dress is ready for you!



Bundles of cut fabric, ready to deliver to the factory




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