Are You the Designer?


As the first step in making pants while taking the Fitting Pants 4U Master Course co-design means setting up a cooperative working relationship and sharing the vision of the pants that fit. As a co-designer (fit-pro or pantsmaker) in training you will get the most out of the course by fitting a client or a sewing hobbyist while taking the course. It will give you the change to practice your co-design skills and allow you to experience leading the process. Note: as a fitting professional it is perfectly legitimate to charge for your services.

Here’s the story behind co-design. In 1993 I wrote my first article for PACC News; the newsletter for the Professional Association of Custom Clothiers now the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals (ASDP).

I wrote this article to show the dressmaker that although she may not recognize this in herself, she is a designer.

Today I would call her a co-designer because of her abilities to take someone else’s vision and as if by magic make it come to life. In my mind the “co” stands for collaborative and cooperative. I looked it up on the internet and found another take on co-design that fits equally well. Wikipedia calls it participatory design.

The dressmaker/pantsmaker is the design technician who knows how to plan and execute the plan to make things work – a most worthy highly under-rated skill.

Here is the article in full.

Are You the Designer?

appeared in PACC News Spring 93 – volume 2 #4
An ad for a Pfaff computerized sewing machine, appeared in sewing publications recently showing a  custom-designed embroidered gown made possible only by this Pfaff creative 1475 CD or so the ad states. The ad’s caption reads “I Only Wear Originals-and I’m the Designer.”
Every garment made regardless of what kind of sewing machine is used to make it or who constructs it, is designed by someone. The garment could be  made in a factory by several sewing machine operators, or at home by a sewing hobbyist, or in a small shop or home-based studio by a dressmaker or tailor. In each case the project begins with design choices and planning. If we look back over this process we often find several people have taken part in designing this garment.
I’m pointing this out because if l had begun my career with a better understanding of garment design I could have saved myself time, frustration and costly errors.
Here’s what I have learned about garment design and how it impacts the dressmaker.
What is design? Webster’s dictionary defines design as follows: “to make a drawing, pattern or sketch of; to draw the plans for; to create, fashion, execute or construct according to plan; devise, contrive.” Garment design is creating, drawing and executing the plans for garments. The person who creates, draws and executes plans for garments is a clothing designer.
This definition of a clothing designer is different from the pre-conceived idea I had when I began my custom sewing career. I saw clothing design as people who were constantly coming up with original often “outlandish” new ideas. In my mind, designers knew how to sketch or put on a fashion show, but they didn’t know much about or were not interested in planning or constructing garments. I have since broadened my perspective beyond this stereotype.
The design process begins by creating or choosing the look of the garment. Designing can be as simple as choosing a pattern and fabric or as “complex” as creating your own work of art in a hand painted fabric. The lines of the garment, how it is fabricated and how it fits the body all work together to create the design look.
Designing can also be changing the original look through restyling or refitting.
If we take this design process one step further and match the look to the person, we enter the field of personal image consultation, which is designing a look for an individual.
Executing the design means adapting or making the pattern necessary to achieve the look. The chosen method for acquiring the pattern is determined by the circumstances and the capabilities and resources of the designer.
We, as dressmakers, often begin the design process by using commercial patterns such as Vogue, Burda or New Look. These patterns contain style and fit, as well as suggestions as to the best fabric types to choose. These patterns need to be measured and adjusted for fit, and sometimes style; in order to give predictable results. Customizing a pattern, adapting it to a predetermined design plan, is designing.
There are times when a dressmaker’s needs go beyond what commercial patterns can offer. Knowing how to make patterns expands the dressmaker’s options. Patterns can be made in different ways. Basic patterns drawn up to record fit (called slopers or blocks) can be made and then used to create the actual fashion pattern through flat pattern methods. Custom fashion patterns can be made directly through draping or drafting.
I have found drafting custom fashion patterns for my clients to work the best for me. The method l use is based on the way patterns are made today by Asian dressmakers and European tailors.
In your custom dressmaking business, who is responsible for making and executing design choices? Do you advise your clients as to correct proportion? Do your clients choose their own fabric and pattern; then look to you for confirmation of their choices? Have you made it clear to your clients what your design role is? Are you charging for design services?
If we compare ourselves to architects, i.e. house designers, we see that garment pattern making or pattern adapting is similar to creating a house plan. In the case of the architect, the house plan and the work that goes into it is a saleable commodity. We might want to consider carrying this idea over into custom clothing. It’s possible that someday clients may purchase made-to-measure patterns from a “custom clothing architect” as easily as they purchase house plans from a “building architect.”
Clients today expect dressmakers to be designers or “architects” as well as builders. How do we meet this challenge? Dressmakers are shouldering tremendous responsibility as sole-proprietors doing all the work within the business ourselves. It is difficult to be business manager, architect and builder all in one. In addition, we juggle family responsibilities. Specializing may be the answer. One way to specialize might be to choose either building or architecture and “teamup” with one another. This would allow µs to study, practice, and concentrate in depth on acquiring and updating the skills necessary to do the best job we can; in the most efficient way in our own chosen field.
It is up to us to lead the way for our growing custom clothing industry. We can do this with confidence, if we have the skills and understanding to back us up. This will come through training, initial and ongoing, through experience and by associating with other sewing professionals through PACC.
by Joyce Simons Murphy
About the Author
FROM 1993 PACC NEWS: Joyce Simons Murphy is a tailor shop owner and custom clothing industry trainer. She has developed and is teaching a course for custom clothing professionals and
would be professionals entitled Inside the Custom Clothing Industry.” Refer to PACC’s Fall ’92 newsletter and read the member profile article if you would like to know more about Joyce Simons Murphy and her business.



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One Response so far.

  1. Susan Child says:

    Great article.

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