Pattern cutting and grading make up the intricate process of creating the pattern templates which are used by the clothing industry to produce garments. Although two separate jobs, they can be carried out by the same person.
A clothing pattern cutter uses a designer's drawing to create a prototype template. There are three ways to do this:
Pattern cutting can be done by hand drawing or by using a computer. Taking the prototype pattern, a sample garment is made up. At this stage, designers and garment technologists are able to make the required adjustments and alterations.
The pattern grader completes the next stage of the process. Their job involves taking the pattern template and re-sizing it. This is so clothing manufacturers can produce one design in a variety of sizes.
Pattern grading is traditionally carried out by hand, using charts to alter pattern proportions, but it is now more typically done using a computer. The two main methods involve:
After the accuracy of computerised pattern grades are checked, copies are sent to manufacturers. They then programme automated fabric-cutting machines or transfer the patterns manually on to fabrics ready for cutting, sewing and producing the finished items.
Clothing pattern cutters/graders are usually contracted to work between 35 and 39 hours a week. This may involve shift work. Overtime may be required to meet deadlines. Part-time work and job share may be available.
Pattern cutters/graders may work in small design studios or in manufacturing environments where garments are made. Many work alongside or near clothing designers, fabric cutters and sample machinists. This can make the working environment quite noisy.
Although stationed at pattern tables, cutters and graders can spend quite a lot of time on their feet, using tailors' dummies and taking measurements. This can involve some stretching and bending. Those using technology, rather than manual cutting and grading methods, may spend long periods seated at a computer workstation.
Between 4,000 and 5,000 people in the UK clothing industry are employed in clothing cutter roles. It is estimated that 1,000 of these specialise in pattern cutting and grading.
The main employers are clothing manufacturers who supply garments to online, mail order and High Street retailers. Opportunities also exist in the more exclusive designer fashion houses.
Good opportunities exist throughout the UK, although there tends to be a higher concentration of jobs in the East and West Midlands, North West England and London. With more vacancies than applicants, there is a shortage of skilled pattern cutters/graders.
Vacancies may be advertised in local newspapers and in specialist trade publications, such as Drapers. Clothing manufacturers may advertise positions on their websites, and speculative applications may also lead to employment.
There are no formal academic requirements to become a pattern cutter/grader, although employers usually require people working in this role to have some related experience in the fashion clothing business.
An Apprenticeship is a common route for young people. Academic entry requirements are usually four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). English, maths, art and design, and design and technology are useful subjects.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It is also possible to study for a related qualification such as a BTEC national or higher national award, certificate or diploma in art and design (textiles), art and design (fashion and clothing), clothing/fashion design technology or production, or design and craft.
The London College of Fashion (part of the University of the Arts London) also offers a range of courses in pattern technology and related topics.
Mastering the different pattern cutting and grading techniques comes with experience. The combination of working alongside skilled pattern cutters/graders and attending various courses can also enhance practical knowledge.
Pattern cutters/graders may be able to work towards a vocational qualification, including:
The London College of Fashion runs a wide range of short courses and workshops in pattern cutting and related techniques.
City & Guilds offers a vocational fashion certificate, with various design and craft modules, including pattern cutting and computer pattern grading. Each module can be studied individually and may lead to a certificate in its own right.
Roustabouts and roughnecks work as part of a small team on offshore oil or gas drilling rigs or production platforms. Roustabouts do unskilled manual labouring jobs on rigs and platforms, and roughneck is a promotion from roustabout.
The roustabout's job is physically demanding, very hands-on and practical. Most of the work is carried out under the supervision of a lead roustabout.
A clothing pattern cutter/grader should have:
Promotion opportunities within large manufacturing companies and fashion houses may be available. Clothing pattern cutters/graders may progress to supervising a team as head pattern cutter or grader.
With the right skills and experience, pattern cutters/graders may also be able to move into fashion design or a related field, such as retail buying.
Self-employment may be possible.
London College of Fashion, 20 John Princes' Street, London W1G 0BJ. Full-time courses and part-time degree enquiries: Tel: 020 7514 7344.
Short course enquiries: Tel: 020 7514 7566
The Textile Institute, 1st Floor, St James' Buildings, Oxford Street, Manchester M1 6FQ
Tel: 0161 237 1188
Textile Centre of Excellence, Textile House,
Red Doles Lane, Huddersfield HD2 1YF
Tel: 01484 346500
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.