Eleanor Watters has worked for People Tree for four years. She has invested tireless effort into transforming design sketches into actual garments and considering the fit of each design. We asked her if she could describe what this process involves and some of the challenges faced when using organic fabrics as a Pattern Cutter.

About four or five weeks ago, I was asked to write a piece for the People Tree blog about being their Pattern Cutter. I thought to myself “loads of time, no problem”. However, the deadline is here and I haven’t written anything. The time has flown! I know we all use that expression regularly, but I would honestly say that time flies when you’re a Pattern Cutter!

A Pattern Cutter works at the early stages in the garment development process. Once the design is finalised, the Pattern Cutter will work to make this 2d vision into a 3d reality. The main thinking is done with the actual drafting of the pattern (the cutting comes at the end when the pattern is ready).

A Pattern Cutter will need to take a lot into consideration:

  • What type of shape is this (fitted or loose)?
  • What fabric will this be in and how does this fabric give, drape or stretch?
  •  Do we need more seams/darts than on the drawing?
  • What trims and finishes are we using, therefore what seam allowances are needed? And the list goes on…

The Pattern Cutter will also use their eye and mathematics to work out the shape in full size, proportionally from the drawing as well as adding suppression where needed so the garment will sit nicely around the body. Pattern Cutters will also drape fabric on a mannequin to create a particular “feel” and make their pattern from that; some patterns are made purely from draping on the stand.  Where possible, the Pattern Cutter will work very closely with the designer to make sure they can create the exact shape the designer has envisioned.

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At People Tree, the collection is designed in two seasons: Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter (within this it is broken down into two sub-seasons). So I will have a period of time, twice a year, that I will cut the brand new shapes for a season. For me, this is the most exciting and busiest time as we are working toward strict deadlines. We need to have the collection in house for the Look Book shoot and for selling to our wholesale customers. This is a really fun time: for the first time, I get to see all the prints, fabrics and designs for the next season (not to be actually sold until the following year). There is not enough time for me to cut all the patterns for the collection, so some of our producers will cut them and we will also repeat popular shapes maybe with modifications.

I have various shape “blocks” which I base my patterns on. These have been developed to fit our size 10 fit model. A block is a basic shape which fits around our size 10 measurements. I have blocks for woven dresses, jersey dresses of various stretch, tailored jacket, loose jacket and trousers. These get developed over the years and continue to be added to. I refer to these blocks when I begin making the pattern.  My hard work is rewarded when the garments have been sewn. It is magical to see something that was once an idea, become a reality. Knowing that I have played an important part in making this happen gives me great job satisfaction.

After we have received all the first samples, we begin fitting. We fit on a size 10 model who matches our People Tree size chart. At this stage, I work with the designers and the garment technical team. We have a large collection and every style is treated with the same attention. Here, we decide what changes need to be made to the pattern to create a more flattering garment. This is quite a crucial stage of the development process as we are really thinking of our customer: their comfort and style. Often, there are unexpected problems that arise that may relate to the pattern, fabric or construction; so we have to think about the best way to resolve this.  I then go on to make the required pattern changes which is very interesting. It requires a lot of problem solving and more maths!

Our fabrics can be quite tricky to fit. Because we avoid man-made fibres and chemical treatments, they don’t have as much stretch or drape as fabrics you would see in high street fashion. We have to be sure that even if the garment is meant to look fitted, that there is enough room for movement and comfort but not so much that the garment appears too big.

In 2013, People Tree developed a small collection for London fashion week Esthetica collection.

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Our collection was called ‘Atelier’. I had the opportunity to go and visit our Bangladesh producers, Dev Tech and Artisan Hut, where I worked with them to create the collection. I had already been busy cutting and toiling the garments in our London studio but it was important to make sure the samples were perfect for the show, so I went out to oversee the sampling and embroidery. This was an incredible experience: I got to see where our fabrics are woven, printed and embroidered as well as working alongside our cutters and tailors in their workrooms. Fortunately, our very hot June/July that year had prepared me for the change in climate!

Being a Pattern Cutter is such a fulfilling job and I have especially enjoyed it here at People Tree. We witness the life of garment from design and development stage right through to the feedback from a happy customer. When I see a member of public wearing our clothes and looking great, it makes me really happy. I know that I have helped create that garment as well as knowing exactly where it has been made in an ethical and sustainable way.

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