The 5 phases in the custom clothes-making process


Dressmakers often over-simplify and under-rate a complex process. We say, “I know how to sew,” or “I sew for a living,” when what we mean is, “I design and construct custom clothing.”

There are five phases in the custom clothes-making process.
Each phase has an outcome that links it to the next phase.
Complete each phase successfully and your custom garment will be a success.
But don’t stop there. Use your successful garment as the basis for the next garment to complete the circle.


Phase 1—Design the Garment (First Design and Custom Design)
Style can be selected or created. Select style from a commercial pattern, a picture, a work sketch, or a ready-to-wear garment. Custom styling is done with the wearer in mind. The outcome of the custom design phase is style and fabric selection.

Phase 2—Create or Modify Pattern (Technical Design)
Plan the design. Purchase a pattern or make one. Test the pattern for fit. Re-design the pattern based on the fitting. The outcome is a pattern that is ready to use.

Phase 3—Engineer the Construction
Plan the construction. Samples may be made to try out various techniques or interfacings. The outcome is a set of instructions for assembling the garment (the engineering plan). Sometimes the pattern is modified to match the instructions.

Phase 4—Cut Out & Construct the Garment
Cut out and assemble the garment according to the engineering plan. The outcome is a garment ready for final fitting.

Phase 5— Alter Garment & Adjust Pattern
Evaluate the fit and overall appearance. Alter the garment if necessary. Due to the number of variables in the design and sewing process, alterations are almost always needed. Update the pattern to reflect any changes. Outcomes are the custom garment and a pattern ready to use for the next garment.

by Joyce Simons Murphy

Note from the author: I wrote this several years ago in an attempt to pinpoint why it was so hard to make a living as a dressmaker (or in my case a pantsmaker). What I discovered was that seeing what’s involved helps you price it right. I also discovered that there is plenty of room for improvement with practice and by working smart and efficiently. If you got off on the wrong foot with style the project was doomed. I also saw the importance of knowing how to fit and alter.

That’s why in my Building the Custom Pants Block online course we talk style first and then I take the time to document alteration questions as they arise. I help each student individually finish out the first pants they make from their custom patterns before making yet another muslin. I’ve built a system for fitting pants and following my system makes the work go smoothly.

A new session of Building the Custom Pants Block is forming and will begin on February 15th, 2017. There will be an orientation session on February 1st. Go to SCCandA’s courses for more information or to enroll today. Don’t wait! Space in class is limited.


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