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A Road Map to Grading and Markers

Size grading and marker creation. While they certainly aren’t as glamorous as say, design or sampling, or even fabric sourcing, they can make or break a collection. They are instrumental in terms of proper fit, customer satisfaction, and also in cost savings. What’s more, they need to be precise. This is one of those situations when “good enough” is definitely not enough.

In addition, they are a necessary and important step in the bulk production process of your collection. You can’t bypass the process, and you definitely can’t do production without them.

As a fledgling brand, make it easy on yourself. Find a manufacturer that will do size grading and create markers for you in the course of your production process. Otherwise, you’ll have to find a separate vendor to do it for you, which will add time – and likely some expense – to your project.

One more thing before we dive in. This is a somewhat technical article, and while we’ll try to keep it simple, there might be a few industry terms that require clarification. For your convenience, we’ve included a glossary of these terms at the end of the article.

Size Grading Versus Fit: How They Differ

Before we dive into the particulars of grading and marker creation, this article wouldn’t be complete without a discussion about fit. Fit will inform your grading therefore we’d like to touch on it here.

Your pattern maker will make your patterns in a “base size.” And all your samples will be sewn from this base size pattern. So to be clear here, your samples will not come in multiple sizes, unless you inform your pattern maker otherwise. Word to the wise, if this is something you need, please let your development partner know before your samples are sewn, not after!

Then there is “fit.” Fit is not the same thing as size. But it’s another vitally important discussion to have with your pattern maker.

Fit is subjective territory. Do you want a particular style to be oversized? Do you want it to have a classic fit? Body-con fit? Have this discussion with your pattern maker before the first pattern is made and the first fit sample is sewn. Be as specific as possible so that your garments have the fit you envision.

As an aside, it’s important to note that it is common in the industry for base patterns to be created in a size small for women, and a size medium or large for men. However, this is entirely up to you. Only you can decide what will give the best representation of your collection. It’s definitely a discussion worth having with your development team.

Grade Rules: What Are They Exactly?

“Grading” is the process of converting your base pattern into the different sizes you have identified for each particular style. You should have a discussion with your pattern maker about the “grade rule” for your collection. Once that is determined, you’ll stick with this rule for all the styles in your collection.

It’s worth mentioning that there is something called “industry-standard” size grading. Many development and production houses use the sizing charts that come in the pattern grading book they’ve chosen as their house reference and will grade accordingly.

You can also buy size and measurement guides for practically every apparel category. The standard reference house for technical specifications of all industries (in the US) is known as ASTM, the American Society for Testing and Materials. If you’re interested, you can purchase industry standard sizing charts directly from their website.

That said, depending on your goal for your brand and the number of sizes you’ll be  offering, you may not want to use industry-standard grade rules. It’s a vital discussion to have with your pattern maker during the development process.

Your grade rule is only one step in verifying that the grading is consistent. The other step is checking thegraded nest”. A graded nest shows the production patterns for each size stacked one on top of the other, so you and your Production Manager can do a quick check of the grader’s work.

Why is grading so important, you ask? Because in order to have a successful collection, consistency is everything! Once you have an established customer base, you don’t want to surprise them with inconsistent sizing. In other words, if they purchase a shirt from you and then decide to purchase a dress, these two items should have the same general fit.

As you might guess, consistency in sizing is even more important when selling your collection online. Obviously your customer will not have the opportunity to try things on, and they will order based on garments they may already own from your collection. Make it easy for your customers to buy from you (and eliminate the dreaded returned item); just keep your grading consistent!

If you don’t understand grading well enough to review the graded nest yourself, your pattern maker or production manager will be able to assist you. Don’t feel like you need to wade through pattern grading alone. Your development and manufacturing partner goes through this process every single day, and will guide you through.

Let’s Save Some Money: Marker Math

A marker is typically created via an industry-standard computer program and then printed on plotter paper. It’s where all the necessary pattern pieces for all sizes of a particular garment are laid out almost like a jigsaw puzzle.

The marker is placed directly on the fabric, then the  cutter can clearly see the right direction for cutting.

But the main reason to make a marker is to reduce fabric wastage which will ultimately save you money in the long run.

Look at it this way, let’s say during the sampling process, you end up wasting ¼ yard of fabric (not unusual, at all!) per sample. And let’s assume your fabric costs $12 a yard. That means you had a loss of $3.00 when sewing the garment as a sample. Not a huge deal, right?

Now extrapolate that same example into your bulk production, where you might be making upwards of 200 units of a style. If you lose that same ¼ yard ($3.00) per unit, you have now lost $600. And, to bring our example into even clearer focus, if this were to happen with every style in your 12-piece collection, you’ve lost $7,200.

If that example doesn’t clarify the need for expert marker creation, nothing will!

Size grading and marker creation, while not very glamorous, are an integral part of clothing production. Done well, and they will pave the way for a smooth production project. In closing, your two takeaways from this discussion should be:

  1. Consistency in sizing will give your customers confidence when re-ordering from you
  2. Expert markers will save you money on fabric consumption

The production process is indeed a complicated one, and we hope this article shed some light on it for you. If you’d like to discuss the development or production of your collection in specifics, we’re here to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to reach out to us at https://tegmade.com/get-in-touch/ or call us at 800-916-0910. We’ll talk.

GLOSSARY

Base Size. The size of the first pattern for your style. Base patterns are typically size small (or size four) for women, and a size medium (or size 30 – 32 pant, 38 – 40 jacket) or  a size large (size 34 – 36 pant, 42 – 44 jacket) for men.

Bulk Production. Bulk production is the production of a product in bulk units.

Grade Rule. A designated amount by which the pattern is made larger or smaller at any given point in order to make it fit your brand’s range of sizes.

Graded Nest. This typically arrives with the marker. A graded nest shows the patterns for each size stacked one on top of the other.

Production Markers and Marker Creation. Pattern pieces printed onto the marker paper, indicating the grain of the material and ensuring each piece is in the best position to optimize the use of materials.

Production-Ready Patterns. Paper (or digital) pattern that is completely prepared for the pre-production and cutting process. It should include all grain lines, notches, darts, and placement instructions. Also should include a pattern card.

Size Grading. The process of taking the initial base pattern and calculating the full range of sized patterns for production.

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