Tech- Not just for Apple!
Behind the Designs
Over the years I’ve learned creativity is only enhanced by a little planning and taking some active steps to organize myself when doing most any new task or project. In order to help you along in your path, I’m continuing a series of roadmaps for how to make different aspects of the design process a little more understandable and a bit easier.
A beautiful car is only as good as how well it can take you from point A to point B, a new phone is only as good as its ability to call your best friend, even a cup of coffee is only as good as the freshness of the milk you put in it …You get the picture. On so many products that we all love; good design is only great design if the function is there.
Going from the design on paper to making it real is a giant leap! In this article I’ll give you some tips on how to make the process of the technical work that it takes to get to your end product a little easier.
This brings me to the difference in designers and illustrators. The former creates something from idea into a real-life three-dimensional form. The latter makes it beautiful on paper. They are both super talented and many people can be both. Then there is a very specific person called a tech designer who specializes in making the garment executable. Often tech designers, as the name indicates have both a technical (pattern making, sewing) background as well as a creative bent or history as a creative designer.
Related to this variation of skill sets and expertise, is something infamous and often intimidating called the tech pack. This document is the means in which someone other than yourself is going to make the garment. While it is definitive in definition, it's variations on how designers and technicians’ approach can be infinite. Today I want to take away some of the mystery and the pressure away, and break down the significance and the reason that we have them. I’ll share with you nine steps that I believe will make them happen in as painless a way and as efficiently as possible.
While some designers find tech packs mundane, I have begun to embrace them over the years, whether I was creating them myself or working with someone else to do so. This is because I learned early on in my career from some very wise women that it’s actually the means in which you can most keep control of your vision for a design. Additionally, it’s the way you are forced into figuring out all the details which ultimately carries it forward. How many tech designers came to me or my peers when I first began my career to ask about a stitch or an operation-Countless! And we would say as naïve youngsters some version of ‘Use your judgment/I’m not sure, Could you please figure it out?” We would then get the well-deserved and inevitable retort---IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT, HOW AM I OR THE FACTORY SUPPOSED TO KNOW. Check and Mate…
Francis Bacon had it right. The more you know the better a designer you will be.
Bottom Line-the more you think through a garment then the more it is truly your design and the better it will be right out of the gate. And consequently, the more you will grow and learn with information of how garments are made.
Pretty soon you will begin to build a library in your mind of finishes, widths of operations etc. Picking a strap width or stitch size will become a key part of the design because, particularly in bras and panties, these small measurements and proportions make a big difference!
1. Ready, Set, Sketch! - So, you have an idea for a design whether panty, bra or legging etc. The idea comes with many possibilities. Start with a wide funnel of designs. Sketch, play and research to decide on the designs for your collection. I often like to set a timer and start with pencil and paper ready to go through lots of iterations. Doesn’t matter what it looks like. This is ideation time because even the bad drawing, funny shape or ugly duckling can become the swan with a little TLC.
2. Flat Out Fun! Now on to fine tuning. I find it really helpful to sketch front and back two ways. The first in illustrated form. No one is judging so you be you and do as you like. This can be in a style you pick or on a proportioned croquis of your choice. Feel free to use a croquis book of which there are many offered online at sites like zoehong.com or find something on Pinterest. This part you might have already done in the design process. If not, doing so now gives a sense of personality and proportion to the garment. It’s also a first step in the natural order of fact checking what you think you want at every step. In the case of a bra, how far out on the shoulder are the straps, low on the rib cage is the band under the cups? Deciding if the back is ballet or flat. Ideally you are thinking through on yourself to understand the lines you like. This is also a double check that a back actually wants to be married to a front.
How many times have I been sketching lots and lots of ideas and realize that my brilliant idea of putting a certain back with a front doesn’t work. As a quick and easy step, you can also take a photo of a model from a site who is wearing nude underwear or something else light/minimal, print it out and sketch over that.
Easy-peasy way to see what you want. Whatever method you use, once you have this sorted then comes the flat sketch.
This is a critical part of getting your vision across to whoever is making your design at any stage. It doesn’t have to be perfect and doesn’t have to be done on the computer in illustrator although that would be nice. What it does need to be is clear, proportional and indicative of the basic details of your garment outside and where possible, inside as well. One quick trick to this if you are sketching by hand. Take a piece of paper landscape orientation and fold it in half, then fold each half in half. You can sketch front half on the first quarter, trace the other half of the front so it is mirrored. Then take the back, trace the first half of front and then the back. Using an inexpensive light box really helps here. Now that you have this part done onwards and upwards.
3. Template Time Now a place to put your sketches. This can often be an intimidating point if you are just starting out. The beauty is once you have a format you are comfortable with you and that also gives room for the details you need, then you can use it and evolve over time for different silhouettes. If you are new to technically explaining your garments you probably want to use a simple format and if you are more experienced or working with a tech designer, you can use another slightly more complex. Either way, all parties involved would rather a compelling short story than a long drawn out novel. It is also very possible that the end recipient, who is making your garment might not be in your state or even region of the world. So, the more you can make the information clear and simple, all the better. And pictures preferable wherever possible. Illustrating simple steps or showing form drapes is an overriding preference-- A picture is worth a thousand words!
4. It’s all in the Details! . Construction counts. Never truer than with a garment. Keep in mind there is nothing wrong with not having all the answers. Often you will want to have discussions with the person(s) making the designs on your behalf. While you are in the design process and further to when you are adding info into the tech pack, try to keep lots of garments on hand to reference. Or go out shopping one day with the purpose of looking at construction. Often in my experience, designers and tech designers/pattern-makers would take local shopping trips together to see how we each looked at garments. There might be something that had a really treacherous design but had a clever construction that was the seed of a future idea. If you aren’t sure how to sketch up a stitch or what something is called you can always put a photo in a tech pack too. As long as you document the sizes for accuracy then that works. Also, now it’s easy to google a long list and pictures of stitches. They can be on your own designs or If you’re not sure what something is called look it up.
5. Knowledge is King Queen Yes we’re back to this again! Knowledge really is what will propel you and your designs forward. Think of a good tech pack the same as a good design. You normally can’t have one without the other. And just like good design, it’s all about the balance of enough but not too much, translated in just the right manner. Here’s some basic info that someone needs to make it happen for you. Give it a style number. Whether you are small or large business you need some way to identify this particular design. You won’t have 6 styles forever and even when you have variations it can get confusing. Along with this name it in some way, as well as the collection it is a part of. Who is the tech designer? Factory? Date? Add a spot for revisions so you and your partners can keep up with changes. Add a page for materials. What they are and where they go. What is the sizing you are going to design into for this product-numerical or alpha? What size do you want to use as the base size for development?
Depending upon your target customer and even model availability for yourself or your vendor this may vary. What are the next (jump) sizes that you also want to approve in house versus at vendor level? Often a good idea to see three sizes if you are creating a bra run though you can get away with two if it’s an alpha sized garment. You just really need to see how it’s growing. Like anything else, opportunities in the garment magnify themselves as the garment gets larger. It’s good to consider that it’s not always a straightforward fit issue. Sometimes it’s an opportunity to better support in a larger size that you don’t need in a smaller one.
6. Measure Twice, Cut Once---
Another hugely important part of a tech pack is the measurements. This is where a tech designer is especially good support. There is also the designation of on-body versus flat measurements. For easy reference these are the general differences between the two;
In my opinion, on-body measurements are great for designers to reference because they tell the story of a garment stylistically. These measurements are taken on a model and are measuring the proportions that the garments takes on her. Front straps a certain amount apart, apex, platform to bottom band etc. They show what the perimeter falls on body and also in the case of bras, exhibit what the garment is doing to her body because it is actually manipulating her own measurements from a combination of construction and fabrication. Art meets Science! These numbers can be a common language for everyone to use. The only drawbacks are that on body measurements cannot be directly documented into the pattern corrections and cannot be in the final production tech pack which needs to be precise and scalable to grade, check for QC etc.
On the other hand, flat measurements are a little tricky to give in a development spec/tech pack because until the garment is made the first time you don’t know exactly how the fabric will stretch and react so giving the measurements can be a real stretch, no pun intended. Production specs will never have on body measurements-these will be flat measurements and will include graded spec as well.
Now that the terms are clear-we get into the real deal. There is a fine line between giving as much as information as possible and at the same time not overwhelming the recipient with too much. Nothing is more confusing to a factory or pattern-maker than if a designer designates too many measurements that might inadvertently be at cross purposes. If in doubt give the general ones (HPS, platform to CF, side wing height…) and any that are critical to your design. For instance, if you have a placement of lace on a cup or back detail then it would be prudent to give an idea of proportion that you want for it. If you don’t have access to a fit form then try to do it on yourself to get an idea.
7. Pass off time! Whether you are working with an individual person who is making a garment for you down the street or you are working with a factory to get it done overseas, this document that is now a full fledged tech pack is a living breathing thing just like your garment will be. Whoever you are passing it to- Be humble and let them know you are open to questions. People will always have them because as clear as you think you are being, some items can be left up to interpretation and that’s ok. The questions that good partners have generally make you smarter, and the design better because it’s another point to think it through. Or possibly a partner will have a suggestion that improves upon your design based on something they have done before. And all this good stuff happens before the first seam is stitched.
8. Revisionist History-The living breathing part is now fully forming. Once you have your garment made then you can now step back and analyze from an aesthetic and construction point of view. It is not unusual at all to have 2-3 fits of a base size in a simple alpha sized garment and many more in an alpha-numeric cupped size bra. Try to be as efficient as possible with corrections. But again, here it’s a balance; if you try to fix too many things at once, you might not know which ones worked and which didn’t when you get it back. Related to this, keep in mind that the way you word corrections is very important. More visuals/less words is a good rule of thumb. Also try to do them in the order that would make sense. When you are done writing them up, try reading it as if you received yourself and think if all the information is clear.
9. It’s show time! After developing the big reveal of the tech pack is the proto. I have designed more garments and fit more first protos in my career than I can think about and a little part of me still gets excited when one comes in. It’s still a thrill to see something go from idea to sketch to a real three-dimensional creation. Once you get the first proto in, your tech pack will evolve further with comments added, measurements updated based on fitting on body or form and sewing operations adjusted as needed. Don’t get frustrated even if a design doesn’t look anything like you expected to. It’s like the amazing Zoe Hong says, it’s #practicenotmagic! And I guarantee you that in every fitting whether it is a struggle or easy-peasy, you will learn something. I still do!
Now that you have learned some basic tips to push the process of initial development forward, I hope you feel more empowered and less intimidated about the process. Stay tuned for more in the #Behindthedesigns series.
Until then feel free to reach out on any questions or comments around this or anything else related to the Design and Development process. Find me on suzy-wakefield.com