Clothing Pattern Cutter/Grader

The Job and What's Involved

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:

  • Draping lightweight material, such as calico, over a dummy, and pinning and shaping the fabric pieces until they all hang together correctly. Each piece is used to create a cut-out card or paper template.
  • Modifying standard pattern body shapes made of flat cardboard (called blocks) to a new design and style.
  • Sourcing a similar, non-standard pattern base from a pattern library and then adapting it to a new style.

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:

  • Laying the sample pattern on to a digitised table, and using a light pen or tracing instrument to acquire the main pattern co-ordinates, including seam allowances. These co-ordinates are then fed into computers for the size and proportions to be adjusted.
  • Scanning the outline to produce very accurate, to scale pattern sizes.

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.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

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.

Education and Training

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

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

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.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

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:

  • ABC Levels 2 and 3 Certificates in Pattern Cutting.
  • NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in Manufacturing Sewn Products
  • ABC Level 2 Certificate and Level 3 Diploma in Apparel/Footwear Production.

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.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A clothing pattern cutter/grader should have:

  • Good numeracy skills for taking measurements and making calculations.
  • Good eyesight and normal colour vision.
  • Creativity and an eye for design.
  • Good listening skills to clearly interpret the wishes of designers.
  • Technical sketching and drawing skills, both by hand and using a computer.
  • Good manual dexterity and hand-to-eye co-ordination.
  • An understanding of how different garments are constructed.
  • The ability to be focused and pay attention to detail.
  • Patience for working with fine measurements.
  • The ability to take the initiative, and also work well in a larger team.

Your Long Term Prospects

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.

Get Further Information

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

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