Behind the scenes: making a sewing pattern

In the past, I’ve kept most of the details about my pattern production behind the scenes, but I got such a huge response to the pants prototype I posted a few months ago on Instagram that I thought it would be interesting to try to be more transparent about the progress of this pattern from the beginning (in truth, however, this isn’t really the “beginning,” since I started working on this pattern last spring). In order to do that, I think it makes the most sense to give you a general idea of what exactly goes into making a Made by Rae pattern, who does it (surprise: it’s not all me!), and how long it generally takes.

From sketch to pattern pieces

Normally, the pattern-making process begins more than a year before launch, sometimes just with a sketch, sometimes with a prototype that may or may not end up resembling the final pattern. I then sew any number of samples to try to eliminate as many fit issues as possible before I have Karen produce pattern pieces in my size, which is usually somewhere around a M or L on our size chart, depending on the current size of my body. Karen and I usually go back and forth on the pattern piece edits for a while, and once we’re happy, it gets graded into multiple sizes for testing.

Instructions and other details

Through this entire process, I am also deciding on how many views/lengths we’ll offer with the pattern (if any), coming up with a name for the pattern, sketching diagrams, and writing an overview of the instructions. Once we have the bones in place, Jess works on writing the detailed instructions out in a Google doc, step by step, and Elli works on digitizing the diagrams in Illustrator. Eventually Elli takes the instructions and diagrams and put them together in InDesign to produce a visually beautiful layout. Other details like cover photography, copyshop files, yardage, and cutting diagrams come later. It’s an intricate process that involves juggling many different things at many different times. 

Testing, testing

Testing itself usually takes an addition month or two, depending on how many rounds of testing we do, and how long it takes to incorporate changes we make after testing. Jess manages testing, and that takes a ton of work, from recruiting testers, communicating with them, gathering their feedback into a spreadsheet, evaluating which tester comments will result in adjustments or edits, and compensating testers, just to name a few things that involves.

One thing that tends to save us a bit of time before pattern launch is that we never simultaneously released a print version of a pattern at the same time as it launches in PDF version. This helps eliminate risk (printing costs thousands of dollars, and we like to audition the pattern in PDF before taking the plunge and printing it) but also allows us to concentrate on a single format (digital) instead of having to also work on the print layout, which is completely different than the PDF layout and often involves multiple rounds of physical proofs. One day I think it would be awesome to launch a pattern in both print and digital at the same time (y’all have said you love a print pattern, I hear you), but for now this is what works for us.

How long does it take?

So, how long does all this realistically take? Hypothetically, if all of us involved in production (me, Jess, Karen, Elli) were completely focused on a single pattern, we could probably get it launched in about three months, from the moment we decided to work on it to when it went live. In reality, this is not a super realistic estimate, since we are almost always working on other projects (getting a previous pattern into print, overhauling branding, teaching Creativebug classes, running the pop-up shop) concurrently, so we are almost never putting 100% of our time into one pattern. This is by both by design (it’s easier to have a multi-person team working on more than one project at a time so we don’t get bottlenecks) and by necessity (kids or dogs get sick, one or all of us go on vacation, have a personal crisis, someone (ahem, Rae) gets distracted, etc.). In the case of a pattern like Luna, we took about four months, but Gemma took about six months, so it definitely varies from pattern to pattern.

For the current pants pattern, we recently took about a month off because Making magazine asked us to contribute a pattern to their upcoming summer issue (yay!! and stay tuned for more on that!!), but we’ve also been working on updating our print pattern covers, promoting Fanciful, and other random projects this fall, all things that take time away from pattern production. In the case of the Making pattern, it was an opportunity that I almost said “no” to, because I knew that it would mean putting the pants project on hold, but ultimately decided I really wanted to do. I try to weigh the pros and cons of every project before saying yes to something that might put the brakes on a passion project like the pants, but admittedly it’s not always an easy decision, and also, let’s be honest, I have a problem with saying yes to things I shouldn’t (note: I 100% do not regret saying yes to Making…I just mean in general).

Ok. If you’ve stuck with me this far, you get a medal. I could probably write a whole blog series just on working with a team and what everyone does, but hopefully this still gives you an interesting look at the pattern making process. As usual, I am happy to answer any questions you might have, so leave a comment if I missed anything you were wondering about!

For my next post, I’ll show you some pics of the current pattern-in-the-works samples (pants) I’ve made so far, so stay tuned!!

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