September 25, 2017

How Cashmerette Patterns are developed


Howdy friends!

It’s a super busy time here at Cashmerette Towers, as we’re getting the next batch of patterns ready to print, and testing the batch after that… and developing the batch after that! In fact, so much is going on that I thought I might part the curtains a little bit and give you some insight into how are patterns are developed – and why you might have to wait a little longer for some of them 🙂

Every pattern company has a slightly different process, so what we do is by no means common to all. It mostly reflects my corporate background, which I incorporated into our business without really thinking about it – it’s only now that I reflect and see how similar it is! And, it’s changed over time. But the key thing is that it enables us to regularly launch high quality patterns that make women feel great, and if that’s working well, then I’m happy.

Our latest studio when we’d just moved in! (less tidy now…)

How it all starts: the design idea

I think it’s common to think that running a pattern company is mostly about designing but I’ll let you into a secret: that’s really a tiny part of it. I suspect it’s less than a week a year to do the initial development work for all our patterns, because it’s really everything else to bring it to market that takes most of our time and energy.

I decide on future patterns and design them, mostly by thinking about my needs as a plus size woman with a large bust, and looking at what other women like me are sewing, and wearing. Fashion shows? Honestly I’m basically not interested, which makes me feel like a bad “designer” sometimes. But then I remind myself that 99% of us don’t wear “fashion” most of the time – and I want to focus on launching patterns that will actually be worn rather than aspired to.

Donna and I: wearing what looks awesome, rather than “fashion”.

As we’re still a fairly new company – 2 years old next month – and we have a totally unique size approach with cup sizing up to an H, we actually have a little more leeway than the average pattern company. It doesn’t really matter if a style of pattern already exists – say a button-down shirt – because if it doesn’t fit women up to a size 28 and a cup size H, then there’s still room for a Cashmerette Pattern.

I tend to have a rough idea of the kinds of patterns I want to design (i.e. the category, like jeans, or a shirtdress) for about the following 12 months, but it does change an awful lot – just ask Carrie and Ashley who work with me and often help brainstorm! Changes typically happen based on how long something’s taking to develop and how testing’s going, which means that some things have a very long lead time before they end up in your hands.

Pattern Drafting

All Cashmerette Patterns are drafted by professional, industrial-trained pattern drafters, because it’s a very advanced skill, where lots of experience makes a huge difference in quality. I communicate my design plans to the drafter, and sometimes share reference garments, or photos for inspiration. Then, they get to work. I get back a file of a first draft in our base size (the 18 E/F), and sew up a sample. The first time I did this was quite a shock to the system, when I realised there are no instructions! But you rapidly learn (and research) construction techniques, and my sewing has come on leaps and bounds ever since I launched the company. The first sample is tried on our amazing Alvaform mannequin, but also on me, as I’m close to our 18 (I’m more like the 18 G/H with a 20 waist, but we take that into consideration). Then, there are rounds of refinements. Depending on the pattern this can be anything from 2 rounds to 20! The Harrison Shirt, for instance, took over 18 months to develop, with many, many muslins in the meantime.

Figuring out the best way to sew the Webster Dress straps cleanly… it took ages!

Once I’m happy with the base size, the pattern gets graded. Because we created underlying “blocks” for our patterns at the very start, we use them as a reference for grading, which also means our patterns are always graded intelligently for plus size bodies – no super long arms or bizarre lengths here.

The next major step is testing, but a lot goes on between that graded pattern and being ready for testers. The pattern is sent to me as solid lines, so I work to transform them into the PDF pattern pieces you’re familiar with,  with all the various dotted lines and labels, and create the instructions in Adobe Illustrator (an incredibly steep learning curve, though I’m pretty fast these days). Carrie proof reads everything, and we usually go through a few rounds of optimizing instructions, changing the order of steps and figuring out what additional info might be needed.

Pattern testing

Not all pattern companies test, but for me, it’s absolutely critical. Not only do I want a bunch of people to review the pattern and instructions to find errors or improvements, but I also want to get their reaction to the garment itself, how they feel in it, and how it looks on a wide variety of bodies other than mine. We use a mix of “OG” testers who’ve been helping for years, and new testers to get a range of perspectives, and it’s always a somewhat nerve-wracking time period when the results start trickling in. I take testing very seriously: if testers have issues with the pattern, we will always dig in, and refine if necessary. That’s also why I don’t require testers to post their makes on social media: these are meant to be muslins, that are likely to be refined and improved, not the final thing. If you’re not going to make changes after testing, what’s the point in testing at all?

I’m fine with selfies, but Gillian has amazing tester photos! (the pattern changed a little bit after this pic was taken)

Most patterns go through one testing round, but trickier ones may have multiple rounds. An upcoming pattern just entered its third testing round! Ultimately, it’s more important to get it right than do it quickly, which is why you will often see a few simpler patterns coming out before a more complex one.

On to production

After testing, we make the changes needed to the pattern and instructions, and then work with our graphic designer to get everything laid out in a clear way that’s consistent with our branding. It’s also photoshoot time! Somehow we ALWAYS seem to be in a rush by the photoshoot, between sewing up samples, recruiting models, co-ordinating photographer and hair/make up artist schedules and getting everything to the studio, but it’s always a rewarding, if intense, day.

Behind the scenes of our latest shoot!

Right now, we use non-models, who are often customers of ours, and it’s a joy to not only see them looking beautiful in our clothes but also feeling super confident, and in many cases, doing their first photo shoot! We’re actively working on increasing our diversity across multiple factors, so look forward to seeing some incredibly beautiful women coming up.

Model Rachel (who I randomly approached in a bar) = badass

Once the envelope, instruction booklet and pattern pieces are ready, it’s off to the printers. We have separate printers for the envelopes & instruction booklets, and the pattern tissue itself, and then get sent back to us where we assemble the printed patterns by hand in our studio. I create the PDF versions, both for print at home and copyshop, and get those ready too.

Carrie’s favourite time of year: her “we have carry all these boxes up the stairs?!” face

Nearly launch time!

I try to create patterns in batches (it’s efficient and saves us money), but we launch them over time rather than at one go, and there’s still a bunch of work to do once everything’s in the studio. We have to edit photos, create the store listings, upload the PDF patterns to our automatic-fulfillment app, write the blog post and announcement email, send a pre-order email to our retailers and distributors, an announcement to our media contacts, and prepare everything for social media. It’s always a bit of a whirlwind!

Me trying to get everything done the day before the Upton Sleeves launch

Aaaaaaaand, launch.

And then it’s launch day! Always exciting, and have no doubt: I spend the entire day refreshing my phone and computer to see your comments and the orders coming in. Spending so long on a pattern – usually at least 6 months – and then finally releasing into the wild is always emotional, and I’m always nervous to see the reception and then really pleased if (when!) it’s positive. It’s the end of a huge amount of work – but there’s always the next pattern coming up right behind it.

I will never not be amazed at seeing our patterns on shelves!

So that’s us! There’s a team of nearly 10 people who work on getting Cashmerette Patterns from random ideas in my head to patterns in your hands, and they’re all essential to the process. It’s definitely hard work being a full time small-business owner, and there are moments when I’m creating website banners at 11pm and pondering why I left the corporate life.

But you know what? I’ve never regretted it, for a minute. Launching Cashmerette Patterns has been my life’s work and I’m absolutely thrilled to have created something with an amazing team, and to see the reactions of our customers when they feel incredibly confident and radiant in a brand new garment. It really makes it all worthwhile.

Do you have any questions you’ve been dying to ask about how we launch our patterns or run our business? I’m an open book!

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38 thoughts on “How Cashmerette Patterns are developed

  1. Rachel says:

    Thank you so much for this Jenny, it’s a real eye opener! Be assured that your (collective) hard work is really appreciated out here. 🙂

  2. Did I read…jeans? : ) If there’s one thing that’s hard to find, it’s a jean pattern that is accommodating to apple figures. Apples need FBA’s too… full belly adjustment. Here’s hoping that comes to pass someday. Nice to read about your process, it’s reassuring to know you have pro pattern makers.

    1. Oh yes! Any trousers on an apple shape are a nightmare. No hips to hang them off! 😉

  3. Mary says:

    You are forever an inspiration. I love getting your updates.

  4. I’m all eyes when I start getting a wind that there’s a new Cashmerette pattern manifesting 🙂 Thank you for this insightful and honest post Jenny – I’m an unabashed fan of all you do.

  5. Marianne says:

    Keep those patterns coming Jenny! Nice look behind the scenes.

  6. Dana Tougas says:

    Thank you for a behind the scenes peek at what you do. I’m a fan and always looking forward to seeing your latest work!

  7. Tracy says:

    Creating a quality product really does take time—it’s not a matter of coming up with an idea, pressing a magic button, and voila! Thank you for taking us behind the scenes to show us a glimpse of what goes on in the creation of a new pattern. I’m looking forward to what comes next!

  8. Lelia Lyon says:

    You work so hard and its clear in how well the products come out. Thank you so much!

  9. irarmartin says:

    Great Article. I like that you take time to test your patterns. If a jeans pattern is in the works, I have a one suggestion. It would be nice to have the pattern include adjustments for plus size petites.

  10. Michele says:

    A culotte pattern, shorts that are work appropriate because they look like skirts would be fantastic. Their are nice ones out there but not for plus sizes.

  11. Claire says:

    This is so interesting Jenny! Thanks for sharing. I appreciate the length of time you go to to make you patterns a high quality product.

  12. Sandi says:

    What an interest ing blog! I admire your honesty and integrity! I will forever be a fan!!

  13. I happened upon Cashmerette about a year ago. New to sewing, I was happy to see a pattern maker making patterns to fit me! I had tried to sew in the past, always giving up when I failed at finding a pattern that fitted me. I felt as I always looked frumpy, even though I tried to buy clothes to fit. Now, still new to sewing, I own every Cashmerette pattern, even the new Upton sleeve. Most I bought as kits so I would use the correct material. At present, I have the Springfield traced and ready to go. I think I have read every post Jenny has posted and I am truly a fan. Many companies create to follow a passion; I believe Jenny @ Cashmerette creates to empower women to look beautiful. Thanks Jenny!

  14. Kristine says:

    How do you come up with the pattern names? Great post!

    1. They are street names in my neighborhood, except the Webster which is where our studio is, and Turner which is in Carrie’s neighborhood!

  15. crab and bee says:

    Super cool to hear how Cashmerette works! I love how customer-focused you are and I wish more pattern companies focused on figure types.

  16. anne says:

    What a great joy when i find your brand and pattern, they are the perfect gift for my mother. She will be sweeing her third dress in a few with your pattern. She look’s amazing in the two first one !! Thanks for the all team to make such great pattern. My mother even translate every instruction in french, to undderstand the instruction booklet.
    I’m found of too, a lenox dress is waiting to be cut in a few.
    Anne

    Bonjour,
    Un petit mot de France pour vous remercier vous et toute votre équipe pour vos patrons. Ils sont de parfait cadeau pour ma maman qui est si heureuse de pouvoir enfin se coudre des vêtements dans sa taille sans modification ! Continuez !!

    Anne

  17. What a great post! I have always thought your patterns are excellent, and I recommend them and will use one in an upcoming class. I really appreciate the professionalism – especially that you don’t require social media posts! When I have done pattern testing I’ve always been under strict non-disclosure for precisely the reasons you highlight, so I’ve been baffled by the “call for pattern testers and you must post your makes on IG/FB/Pinterest” To me that seems counter to the point of pattern testing.

    Great job, and keep up the good work!

  18. Frau Leo says:

    Thank you for this little tour behind the scenes! Very interesting to learn about your process.

  19. Loved reading about such a rigorous process – kudos to all the team!

  20. tinygoldenpins says:

    I am really happy (and relieved) to read this. I need more of your patterns!

  21. Tina says:

    Thanks, Jenny, for that amazing view into your process. I really appreciate the quality of your patterns and the clarity of instructions. So, even though it’s hard to wait for the next one, I agree that it’s totally worth it to take the time required for a good finished product. It seems to me there is no end to the Cashmerette potential…so take care and pace yourself so we can enjoy your fantastic work for years to come!

  22. theslowroad says:

    I really admire your courage and ingenuity in launching a new business like Cashmerette Patterns. I love your attention to detail and getting it right. Getting a glimpse behind the curtain was fun. Here’s to many more successes!

  23. Cindy Oertel says:

    I admire and truly appreciate all the time and effort that goes into everyone of your patterns.

    I especially like how much testing, retesting & retesting until it has that just right fit. That takes time but so worth it.

    I am a petite smaller on the top than bottom so I do have to tweak your patterns a wee bit (honestly I have to tweak pretty much every pattern I sew, so getting pretty good at that) but from under that bust down your patterns fit perfectly.

    I would love to see some type of little jacket to wear over all the dresses and tops you have, knit, woven or both. Think it would be a great addition to your line and could be used with all your patterns. Nothing to crazy complicated but fitted like your do all your patterns.

    Looking forward to seeing what is next in your line.

    Sorry for the novelette post. 🙂

  24. Natasha says:

    Thank you so much Jenny (and company) for everything you are doing for us. I love your patterns. Keep them coming! I did read jeans and I heard you mention them on the Love to Sew podcast. ( I loved that episode, by the way. ) I’m excited to see what comes next!

  25. Tegan says:

    Thanks for the insight into your process! I love that I can always rely on your patterns to not only fit with minimal adjustments, but also to always have clear, excellent instructions. At this point, 95% of what I sew for myself is made from Cashmerette patterns!
    PS – Your lovely model Rachel clearly has excellent taste in shoes! I have (and love) the same pair of Fluevogs. Cashmerette makes and vogs are the perfect combination!

    1. Thanks Tegan! Rachel is a woman of many talents and jobs, and one of them is working at Fluevog 🙂

  26. Sin P says:

    Do you work with a pattern drafting company to create your patterns or do you hire an individual pattern maker? Do you ever use a pattern drafting program, or ADOBE to make any edits of the digital pattern? Who or what would you recommend as a pattern maker?

    I love your blog and think your patterns are fabulous!

    1. I work with several pattern drafters, who are freelance, and they use Opitex.

  27. Wendy says:

    What I would love to see is a jacket that can be used for art-for-wear, but that actually fits rather than being a bunch of flat square pieces. A jacket with a set-in sleeve–not dropped or raglan, which IMHO never looks good on a large bust. A jacket with an unapologetic bust dart.

  28. owlyjulie says:

    Love the insight into your process!
    As a graphic designer, by profession, and a quilter/paper-pieced pattern designer, by passion – this is super fascinating for me. Sewing clothing has never some to me easily, but YOUR patterns are by far, the most encouraging experience I have had trying to make clothing!
    Cheers to your continued success in this much needed niche.

  29. Wendy M says:

    This was so interesting to read! I really appreciate the work that you do. I love the quality of your patterns and I find them far more reliable than most. Thank you!

  30. Nateida says:

    Jenny, such a great blog! Lots of hard work but sounds super rewarding. Your patterns are amazing. Kudos to you and your team.

  31. Roni Arbel says:

    Thanks for writing this important post! I would really enjoy more transperacy in the industry, to understand what really goes behind the scene, what people get paid (to make sure all working conditions for all that are involved are fair)etc.

    Your work is so important. I understand how unbelievebly difficult it must be for women of all sizes not to find clothes that fit well, and your patterns probably give them body-confidence.

    One aspect of diversity that is lacking across the board is adding differently abled models (wheelchairs etc)
    If you could incorporate this aspect in your shoots it will be incredible.

    Keep up the good work! And please continue with “behind the scenes” posts.

  32. Elaine Hockley says:

    Wow. That looks like a lot of work. I have been reading your posts since you were a fledgling blogger. Watched with awe as you launched the CSC. Then watched your pattern launches. I have tested for you and written for you on CSC. I have every pattern you have made. Some free and some I paid for. I have made m personal favorite, the Turner, 8 times. Every one looks different and I love each one..

    So I am a fan! You are on my list of my most admired young women of this century!

  33. Claire says:

    I don’t know that i have ever commented, but love following along on your adventures with Cashmerette. So interesting to read about the process. You are an inspiration, Jenny! Corporate as a springboard for something better and more gratifying!

  34. Ria Schevenels says:

    Dear Jenny, why the name Cashmerette?

Let me know what you think!