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Where Brands Get Their Patterns.

Apr 30,2022 | Steven Fleming

Why I am Blogging.

March and April are slow times for me. Australians have stopped thinking of swimwear, and Americans haven't yet started. Rather than fretting, it seems productive to reflect on all I have learned through this venture, and in so doing, share my experience with others. It's something I can do to push the slow fashion movement along. We should all understand what lies behind a sustainable and ethical purchase, while those with a passion to start producing clothing on-shore, should have honest accounts, such as mine, to learn from.


Today’s Post

Where do clothing brands get their patterns?

It’s a bit of trick question, because quality brands don’t “get” them, as such. They make them, or have them made. It's the main reason that everything a quality brand sells, is consistent in size.

The temptation is great though, to grab patterns in an expedient way. Brands that do it, invite discrepencies between garments and size charts, and erode consumer confidence. Brands that build trust, do so by procuring their patterns in the ways this post will describe.


Pattern Piracy

Have you ever made two online purchases, from the same brand, only to find the second thing you bought from them was bigger or smaller, although both were supposed to be the same size? One of the reasons this happens, is that instead of making all their own patterns, with the same basic measurements as their starting point, a lot of brands get into the practice of scraping together patterns from any old source. Pirated, mostly, these patterns circulate throughout the fashion industry, with little regard for intellectual property rights, and no regard for consistency, when it comes to their sizing.

It is too pervasive a practice for me to think I can stop you from having any part in it. What I will do, is warn you of the long-term brand damage you will be causing yourself, even if your piracy is never exposed. The problem, as I’ve said, concerns sizing. There are processes designers and brands have available to them, that ensure repeat customers have no nasty surprises, like buying something in a size that fit them the first time they bought something from you, only to find that something else they have bought from you is too big or too small. 

I’m not saying you should be concerned about patterns for scrunchies, neck-ties, or little things like those, for which there are public realm patterns and no consequences if sizes aren’t perfect. I have never heard of anyone condemning a brand, because their pony tail slipped from a scrunchie!

I am referring to patterns for your primary offerings, the things you hope to be known for. It is all-too tempting, to take shortcuts when procuring these patterns.  


How Patterns Get Pirated

It can be tempting, for instance, to buy items on clearance, in sizes XS, S, M, L and XL, and meticulously pick them apart. You would just have to glue the fabric pieces to cardboard, and voila: you would have a full range of pirated patterns, ready to start cutting and sewing.

Rather than doing the pirating yourself, you might buy stock from a pirate, and pretend you didn’t know how they came to possess such an enormous collection of patterns. Take the overseas factory, or local agent for an overseas factory, with a vast catalogue of patterns to choose from. They will tell you they are all free to use, so long as you’re purchasing from them. But where do you think each of those patterns originated? Typically, a client of that factory, before you, will have invested hundreds, if not thousands, in having that pattern developed. The factory only had the pattern on loan, for the sole purpose of fulfilling that client’s particular order. They were not at liberty to make copies, so that their next client, you, could bypass the cost of design work. But that is precisely the liberty factory owners will take, when they’re in a country where there is not any recourse.

If they have been pirated in digital form, patterns sell like pirated software, on every variety of digital platform. I heard from a friend in the business, that just months after having her specially designed `infants’ pants manufactured in China, her pattern was selling for a few bucks, on a website hosted in China.

Stealing or receiving patterns belonging to others, might seem harmless enough before you’re making products to sell, but it will come back to bite you, long term. The threat of being sued for millions of dollars, while grave, is so slight I know no one would care. The real cost, is that of not taking the opportunity that exists to do everything properly, using methods I'm about to outline.  


Pattern Blocks

If you or an employee knows how to use them, and you plan on creating many designs, a set of pattern blocks will ensure customers get garments that fit them, as you add dozens, if not hundreds of styles, to your brand’s range.  

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Blocks can seem like expensive pieces of cardboard, when they are not even patterns that are ready to use. They don’t have seam allowances or notches, and without lots of manipulation, only give you the most basic styles. What you get for your money, are templates from which you can draft an infinite variety of patterns, across a complete size range, and in any imaginable style. Every garment you sell, that has its genesis with your block set, whether that garment is pleated, darted, flared, gathered, baggy or close fitting, will be true to your brand’s size.

I say “your” brand’s size, because there is no such thing as a universal, or even a national standard. There are no platinum mannequins in museums in Paris, like there are for the metric one-meter! This is something I find myself having to explain to my customers, when, for example, ones asks if my size 10, is a “real” size 10. The truth, is no “real” 10 exists. In your case, if you invest in and keep using one set of blocks, your 10 will be the 10 of those blocks. At least you will be able to say, that unlike the brand that grabs pirated patterns, your 10 is your 10, across all of your styles.


Size Charts

If you only ever work from one set of blocks, you will be able to provide your customers with a true size chart. A size chart will come with your blocks, from which you will able to take information, and make a size chart for your webstore and/or catalogues. Any customer capable of measuring themselves, will be able to refer to it, and know exactly what size they should buy from your brand, regardless of the item they want.

My Own Dependable, True, Honest, Not Faked, Size Chart:



Brands that take whatever patterns they’re able to get their hands on, have no idea what measurements any of their pieces are made for. It probably wouldn’t matter if all they were selling were baggy sarongs, but good luck to them if they ever try to sell something that’s fitted!

The stakes are higher again when you’re making compression garments from elastic stretch fabric. In my case, that has meant the next step up the quality ladder from blocks.


Digital Pattern Making

There are pattern blocks you can buy for stretch fabric, but since no two stretch fabrics perform the same way, they’re useless for the shape-control swimsuits I specialise in with my business. Standard swimwear fabric has more give, and stretches further, than the heavy-duty shape control fabric I use. If I had used standard stretch blocks for my swimsuits, customers would have found them impossibly small, a problem that would only have been compounded by the fact that I use the same heavy fabric for front and back lining. Matters are complicated even more by the up-and-down (warp) stretch of my fabric, which is especially limited compared to cheap fabric. And if that’s not enough, I like bagged out (some would say “seamless”) front seams. These a kind of trapeze act, with lining and outer self-fabric, balanced on a high wire of rubber inside.

Customers who try my suits on, invariably buy them. For older women especially, it comes as a revelation to see that a swimsuit could have such even compression and such a smooth look. That comes about because each pattern I use, was made to correspond to the particular stretch of the fabric I’ve chosen.

It is a job I have done by a specialist with many years serving premium swim brands, and expertise in computer aided (Lectra) pattern making. Patterns I commission from her are among my largest expenses, but save me spending on advertising. No advertisement can tell people what word-of-mouth can, that a Pride swimsuit will fit them, and thus provide even compression.

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To save myself haemorrhaging money on patterns, I have worked with my designer to develop a modular system, that lets me mix and match bottoms, top fronts and top backs. When I expanded my range with stretch woven swimsuits, I sourced fabric with the same maximum stretch as the fabric I was using already.

Another way I have kept a reign of this expense, is by not aiming to please the whole world, by offering every imaginable style. I offer my vision of beauty, for customers who happen to share it. It’s a happy coincidence, that only making styles I personally love, means I haven’t had to commission more of these highly specialised patterns than I have been able to afford.


Particular Body Types

A unique feature of Lectra pattern making, is it can start with the measurements of a particular body. So, for example, if I were making swimsuits for elite swimmers, I could engage an actual elite swimmer, with her developed shoulder and lateral muscles, and make her body the starting point for my whole range.

When I eventually get around to making bike racing clothing, I will find an elite cyclist, with his skinny arms and huge thighs, and make patterns for him. When I have patterns graded across my whole size range, the biggest and smallest garments I offer, will all still have his proportions.

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I don’t believe this capacity of computer aided pattern making is being harnessed, as much as it could be, to win loyal fans to niche brands. Here’s a funny story from when I was a fan of a niche brand, targeting avid cyclists, like me. I had already been won over by the quality and fit of their race gear, when I saw they were now offering jeans. Assuming their jeans would be cut like their race nicks, with extra allowance in the bum and the thighs, I ordered the right size for my waist. But when they arrived, I found they were cut no differently to any jeans I could have purchased elsewhere. They fit perfectly around my waist, but were so tight around my big bum and fat thighs, that when I followed my son up a tree, the arse seam exploded. Well, I don’t wear boxers, you see. The only way I could get home, without being arrested, was to take off my shirt, tuck it into the waist, and wear it like a cape, hiding my shame.

All I will say, is they gave me a refund, and in fairness, we all make mistakes. I’m just writing this blog, so that you might make fewer of them, and that when you make them, they’re small.

While I am being so helpful, here’s a suggestion. Think of a rare, or unique body type, and one type of garment you might like to make for such people. I have already pointed to a possible gap in the urban bikewear market, for jeans. I studied fashion with a woman whose son had dwarfism, who was imagining a brand selling clothing for children like him. I have also mentored a brand, CinnamonCove, that have enjoyed continuing free press for their hip but modest swimwear, design by and for tweens.

What combination of rare body type and garment do you imagine? In this age of online communities and internet searching, it has a strong chance of succeeding!  


You Know What to Do!

Thank you for reading my latest blog post! Everything I have had to learn the hard way, since starting my swim brand, is pouring onto the page like checkerboard paint. 

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If it has helped you, you know what to do! Click on the following links, leave comments and share. My only rationale for sharing this knowledge, is it might drive traffic to my webstore, which, who knows, might lead to some sales!