For more than twenty years, different types of software for designing sewing patterns have appeared on the market, mainly 2D CAD adapted to specific tailoring requirements. They are not sold alone, but are part of complex platforms that include other software components (e.g. workflow and warehouse management) along with sophisticated equipment such as digitizers and laser cutting machines.
These platforms are widely used in large scale industrial manufacturing, and allow users to digitize existing paper patterns (drawn with traditional methods), make changes and variations, perform grading and placement, and connect to automated cutting systems. Even though the greatest limitation of this system is the need to start with paper based patterns (still in the 21st century!) and then digitize them, the market is dominated by 3 or 4 platforms of this kind of tailoring software, all with more or less similar features.
Anyone aiming for medium-large scale production is therefore forced to invest a great deal of money to buy these platforms and related equipment. Recently, however, this model is facing an unforeseen problem: the demand for ever smaller production batches.
My experience in pattern making
About 15 years ago, when I was involved in the production of theatre costumes, I was looking for a digital pattern making system completely different from that offered by these platforms (which at the time were very similar to today’s versions). Firstly, theatre costumes are “made to measure”, and these platforms only provide standard sizes. Secondly, I wanted to draw directly on the computer rather than tracing on paper and then digitizing the design.
Finally, I wondered if it were possible to memorize body measurements and cutting rules, to create shapes capable of being transformed when the measurements previously provided varied. After all, the calculations at the base of tailoring are quite simple (indeed, traditional tailors do not need a high educational level). In addition, it is very boring to memorize many small rules and mentally make the same, simple calculations over and over. This is also an element of risk, since fatigue often leads to small errors of calculation that can have important consequences later. I thought: “if rules and calculations were saved in a spreadsheet, drawing a sewing pattern would become a quick and fun exercise.”
Not being a software programmer, I searched the web looking for someone who had already developed this idea, and I finally found Macrogen™, a software that produces “Macros” created as part of the PatternMaker™ platform (www.patternmade4you.com). Since then, the two products offered by the company, Macrogen and PatternMaker, have become my main working tool, and my interest shifted from theatrical costumes to custom-made (historical, but also contemporary) sewing patterns.
Meanwhile, the world of apparel manufacturing was changing: the weaving process has witnessed significant technological improvements, price competition has led to the relocation of manufacturing in the search for low cost labour, and the physical tools for cutting have evolved. Even so, it is still necessary to draw pattern pieces on paper.
A half failed revolution
When I discovered Macrogen I considered it a revolutionary software, expecting that it would soon dominate the market, but I did not count on some factors:
- Often software imposed on the market is not the most intelligent solution, but the most advertised.
- In the apparel supply chain, the actual production of clothing is the most immature part of the process; just think that the mechanics of sewing machines is based on a patent deposited by Isaac Merrit Singer in 1851.
- Great energy and financial resources are needed to keep a software platform stable and bug-free, especially to keep up with the evolution of operating systems.
In spite of these factors, PatternMaker-Macrogen has survived for more than 20 years; it keeps its customer base and is constantly updating with new versions. In fact, it remains a useable and accessible platform: you can start working with an investment of less than 1.000 Euros and if you don’t have a plotter, you can print patterns with a common home printer (or export to PDF in any format). You don’t need a digitizer, and you can design for made to measure or develop sizes. Despite these benefits, using Macrogen still requires patience with bugs (issues in the current version are being addressed, hopefully soon), but in my opinion it’s worth it.
In the meantime, an open source platform has appeared
Last year, I became aware of another possible solution: the open source Valentina Project (http://valentina-project.org/). Valentina Project is based on the same principles as Macrogen, namely to draw a pattern based on calculations derived from body measurements. Being open source, Valentina is free and has a vast community of users. On the other hand, it’s less user-friendly and does not yet have all the features offered by MacroGen, being a more recent development.
TCBL Design and Place Labs are looking carefully at both Macrogen and the Valentina Project as two economical, frugal, simple, and flexible tools, perfect for small designers and/or independent producers. We hope the TCBL community will collaborate to share, experiment and improve this innovative approach to designing sewing patterns.
PatternMaker/Macrogen versus Valentina Project (based on my personal experience)
|Costs less than 1000 euros||Totally free|
|Developed by a software house||Open source software|
|It has a limited user group||It has a wide user community|
|Its software house provides written tutorials in few languages||The community provides video end written tutorial in many languages|
|It consists of two softwares: one for projecting a the other for printing||It consists of two softwares: one for projecting a the other for printing|
|Uses Cartesian coordinates||Uses polar coordinates|
|You can design many pieces of a pattern in the same file||You can design only a pattern piece in a file|
|Contains a wide range of points that meet all the pattern maker needs (coordinates, rectangle, right angles, darts, angle degrees, intersect lines and curves …)||A pattern maker has to reach some compromises with the software to meet all her/him needs|
|You can switch quickly from the design software to the print one and vice versa, also edit the pattern in last one and bring back the changes in the first.||Switching from one software to another is a bit insidious|
|The patternmaker print software has all the functions of a 2D CAD, and the pattern pieces can be further modified in photoshop and corel illustrator (expensive software)||The printing software has limited features, but the template pieces can be further edited in an open source vector program (inkscape)|
|Calculations are performed through simple and intuitive dialog windows||Calculations are performed with formulas similar to those in spreadsheets|
|Creating a object is very simple and shapes are editable||Creating a shape object is a bit complicated, it may take some attempts|
|Switching from one software to another does not lose the grainline direction||When passing from one software to another, you may lose the grainline direction|
|You can design up to 300 points in a file before it becomes heavy to handle||You can design a limited number of points|
|Having a small group of users and few developers, the detection and solution of bugs is slow||Having a large number of users and developers the detection and solution of bugs is fast enough|