Pattern making is one of the most vital jobs in the fashion industry – yet not a lot of people talk about it.
And with the role being so crucial, it’s not surprising to see so many job postings looking for pattern makers to work for their clothing company.
So, if you are interested in this role, I’ll be talking about what it takes to become a clothing pattern maker and guide you on how you can become one, whether you aspire to work in-house, own your studio, or work as a freelance pattern maker. Stay till the end as I’ll also provide actual figures on just how much pattern makers earn.
Why am I qualified to write about this stuff? In my 15 years of experience in the fashion industry, I’ve journeyed from being an in-house designer, starting my own brand (yep!), to growing my freelance career to $100,000+. Now, with all the knowledge I’ve learned along the way, I want to help fashion designers (and PDs, TDs, etc.) like you make it in the industry.
Pattern makers are professionals who create templates used to cut fabric and construct garments. These templates, known as patterns, serve as the blueprint for the various pieces of a garment, ensuring that they fit together accurately and create the desired shape and style.
Clothing pattern makers may use a combination of manual drawing methods and garment pattern making software to create these sewing patterns. They may also use 3D fashion design software for drafting and to emulate the design on a body before it’s even produced. Some popular apps are CLO, Browzwear, and Tukatech.
manual pattern making (left); digital pattern making (right – photo from clo3d.com website)
Having a deep understanding of fabrics, fit, and garment construction is crucial for pattern makers as this ensures that each piece not only looks good on paper but also drapes well when worn.
Beyond drafting patterns – they’re also highly involved in refining designs. Fashion designers – more specifically, technical designers work closely with pattern makers during garment sample fittings to fix any issues related to sizing or silhouette. Then, the pattern makers need to adjust the pattern accordingly so it delivers just what the designer envisioned.
As one of the most technical jobs in fashion, working as a clothing pattern maker requires expertise on a variety of skills.
While having formal education is great, there are workarounds to becoming a clothing pattern maker.
In reality, there are a lot of GREAT pattern makers out there who are self taught and started doing it as a hobby.
There are plenty of resources to start learning pattern making, including books such as Pattern Making for Fashion Design by Helen Armstrong and online courses that teach pattern making from scratch such as Domesika and Udemy.
A lot of skilled pattern makers I know worked as an apprentice under a professional pattern maker. You get to work closely with experienced sewing pattern makers and learn the ropes of the trade.
Since the job is hands-on, getting real life experience is close to none to become a good pattern maker.
Pro Tip: Look for pattern makers around your area and see if they are open to provide training and apprenticeship. Although pattern makers are one of the rare gems of the apparel industry, you’ll often find a lot of highly skilled pattern makers who own their studios in local garment districts. And if you’re lucky – they might just be willing to mentor you!
Being in-house means you work directly with a fashion brand or company. You collaborate with designers to turn their sketches into wearable garments.
If you’re working in-house, expect to be the go-to problem solver for any garment fit and size issues – ensuring the clothes fit perfectly and meet the brand’s standards.
Having your own business as a pattern maker allows you to decide the projects you take on. You may collaborate with different designers and brands all while managing your team of other pattern makers and seamstresses.
Freelance work as a pattern maker is totally doable. In fact, it’s one of the most in demand freelance fashion jobs out there.
Working as a freelance pattern maker allows you to work independently, taking on projects from various designers and fashion brands all while comfortably working in your own place and schedule. It offers flexibility—you can work from anywhere and choose projects that align with your interests.
Some freelance pattern makers may also sell online sewing patterns in their own websites or even make custom patterns for clients and companies.
If you want more tips on how to become a freelance pattern maker in the fashion industry, then you can hop onto my podcast ep with established freelance pattern makers.
I’ve chatted with Alexandra Agreda, a FAST grad and freelance pattern maker who started out in the industry without a fashion degree but is now working as a pattern maker (and making more in one day as a freelancer than she made in two weeks at her old full-time job).
And there’s also David Russon who works for both established and startup indie brands as a freelance pattern maker and sample maker – all while staying at the comfort of his home that’s located in a rural town.
If you’re still not yet convinced that working as a freelance pattern maker is possible (AND profitable)…
The part that you’ve probably been waiting for… how much is the expected salary of a clothing pattern maker? (And freelancer?).
According to Glassdoor and ZipRecruiter, pattern makers working in house can make around $63,735 to $72,259 a year – between $30.54 to $34.62 hourly. If we count in cash bonuses, commissions, tips, and profit sharing it can vary between $50,500 – $213,000. While there is “data” out there that says pattern makers can make $213k, that is going to be a rare, RARE, RARE(!!!) scenario!
(If you’re curious about industry ranges in fashion, you can take a peek at my article talking all about which fashion industry jobs pay well).
And while there are a lot of misconceptions on whether or not working as a freelance pattern maker, freelance fashion designer, or any other freelance role in fashion is profitable, I’ll let the pictures below do the talking.
Now that you’ve learned all about working as a pattern maker, see which direction suits you the most and how to carve out a career path that’s more your style.
If you like collaborating with a team or want to ditch the 9-5 grind – it’s all up to you!
A great place to start is with my guide to becoming a freelance fashion designer (it’s free!).