Field Notes

People in Production: Pattern Making at Paula Apparel

27 July 2017

Posted in: Good to Know, Industry, H&F Presents, Fashion Thinking, Opinion

Hawes & Freer presents ‘People in Production’. An insight into the people, brands and roles in the production side of the New Zealand fashion industry. 
We wanted to take a closer look at the role of a pattern maker, so we talked to Fiona who works for Paula Apparel. Read on to find out about this evolving job that keeps you on your toes with new, exciting challenges all the time.
Fiona Paula Apparel
How long have you been in the industry for and what role did you start in?

I’ve been in the industry for almost 10 years now. My first role was as a wardrobe assistant in the film industry while I was in fashion school then from there I did freelance work pattern making and constructing costumes for film and television. I started in the fashion industry specifically 7 years ago as a junior pattern maker/spec technician.

Was pattern making a skill you learnt at the beginning of your career or as you grew through the industry?

It was a skill that I learnt while studying but it is definitely a skill that grows as you work. I learnt the basic skills at uni and then my skills evolved and I learnt how to use the Lectra and PAD systems. I am constantly learning new things and coming across different ways to achieve a result. 

What do you enjoy most about pattern making?

I really enjoy the concept stage of a garment, I get given sketches and perhaps a base style or two we have previously used and I need to problem solve how to transform the patterns into the new style that the designer has envisioned. It’s a really creative time and I love the new-ness of it. You have to enjoy a bit of maths for the measurement and problem solving side, it's a technical and creative job all at the same time.

What are the challenges you face or something people don’t realise about pattern making? 

Probably the biggest challenge is that nobody’s body shape is the same. We do fittings on our fit model but I also need to check that the fit will work on someone who buys the same size but perhaps has narrower shoulders, smaller hips or a bigger bust for example. We want the garments to look amazing on all women. 

Would you say it is something that is easy to learn or do you get better over time? Why?

The basics are fairly easy to learn but building a mental library of how pattern changes affect the way a garment will fit and sit definitely takes time. As I said before, I am constantly learning, which I love, it keeps the job fresh and exciting.

What does a typical day involve for you? 

At the prototype stage I will get sketches from the designer. From there I need to work out how to transform our computer patterns to create the pattern for the garment. Sometimes I will change an existing pattern or I create a new one. I also make the spec, which is a document to describe how the garment is made and lists all the components of the garment such as fabric and trims. After the proto is made we have a fitting with our model to check how the garment looks on the body, and if there are any style, fit or construction amendments that need to be made to improve the garment before making a new sample. This process is repeated until everyone is happy with the final garment and it goes to production. My typical day can involve any of these tasks depending on what stage of the season we are at. 

What skills & qualities do you think are important for pattern making and why?

Problem solving skills are really important. Being able to view a garment as a whole and anticipate how changing one thing may affect another. For example if the chest of a garment is too small and you just throw a couple of centimeters on the side seam then the armhole will be affected and the sleeve will be too small for the new shape. 

What advice would you give to people starting out in fashion? 

Be inquisitive. I am constantly checking out my friends clothes, investigating a new hem finish or tuck I haven’t seen before and working out how they’ve done it. Build the mental library up so you can draw from it in the future. 

Who is Paula Apparel? 

Paula Ryan is renowned throughout Australasia for creating wardrobe essentials for women who appreciate quality, longevity and suitability.

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