This past Tuesday, I had the privilege of attending a tour of the McCall’s Pattern Company in New York City, as part of a Smocking Arts Guild Meet-Up. The tour explained the development of a sewing pattern from design concept to the finished pattern available for purchase; a process that takes a year and a half from start to finish.
The tour began in the Design Center where the color predictions for spring 2018 were on display. The designers had just been in that morning to receive an update on fashion trends, fabric news, color forecasting, and to receive their assignments for the 2018 spring season.
An in-depth analysis of what patterns are currently popular, upcoming fashion trends, which patterns are being retired, and even how much space is available in the pattern drawers all leads to the decision on what kinds of patterns and designs will be developed for the new season.
The design center includes life size display racks that hold examples all the latest fabrics and notions for the designers to work from. Using these materials, they develop a croquis for each new design.
The croquis will include a sketch, as well as explain cut, fit, and sizing. It will also include the chosen fabric for the display garment, notions needed, and all the details necessary to implement the designer’s vision.
The pattern makers, using pattern making software, develop the pattern based on the croquis. Once the pattern is drafted, a size 10 muslin will be cut and assembled for the designer to check. The original vision is tweaked and adjusted at this point. The design is then sent to sewists who will construct the garment from the fashion fabric with no directions. The pattern is constructed in the fashion fabric in a size 10 (with adjustments) which is then fit to the model who will be used for the photo shoot. Before even fitting the model, the size 10 has the waist lowered and the overall pattern lengthened since the models are tall! Our tour guide wanted to make sure we knew that the patterns have to be adjusted for everyone, even the models. The patterns aren’t supposed to fit you right out of the package, although we all wish they would!
At this point, after finalizing the pattern in the fashion fabric, the pattern goes into “production” and directions are written for construction, the pattern is graded for other sizes, and the fabric layout and illustrations are developed. Often ½ size or ¼ size pattern pieces are printed, cut, and assembled to figure out the best method of construction. Each step of production is done by a different person who specialize in that area. The pattern maker doesn’t write the assembly directions, and the person who sews the garment doesn’t draw the illustrations.
Quality control checks everything and the finished garment is now ready for the photo shoot. The McCall's offices includes a photography studio. The day that we were there, they were getting ready to shoot the holiday issue of Vogue Patterns by unpacking tons of shoes and accessories!
The one exception to this system is the Vogue Designer Patterns. The finished garment in the fashion fabric comes straight from the designer. The pattern is drafted and developed from the designer garment without deconstructing the garment. The actual designer garment is used for the photo shoot.
Departments in New York also include a book department that is responsible for designing and laying out the pattern books that we all peruse at the store to pick our patterns, and a customer service center where you can call McCall’s and have your questions answered about a pattern. Printing is all done in their facility in Kansas.
McCall’s is of course home to Vogue, Butterick, Kwik Sew and Cosplay patterns. I asked our tour guide who was the typical customer for each of the different lines. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the Vogue sewist is an advanced sewer, more fashion forward, and possibly a little bit older. I was surprised to find out that the Butterick sewist is a career woman, while the McCall’s sewist is a little more urban and contemporary. The McCall’s Company will put out an average of 250 new patterns a year across all the lines. I was surprised to see how few people it took to actually produce those patterns! While we didn’t see everyone, there were only 3 or 4 pattern makers and a similar number of sewists constructing the garments.
All the tour participants left with a greater understanding and appreciation for the process as well as a wonderful goody bag of patterns, notions and the latest issue of Vogue Patterns! It was a wonderful and informative tour! Thank you McCall's and Kim Gimblette, Region 1 Rep of the Smocking Arts Guild, for arranging the tour!