Designing a Pattern: Handmade and Hand Grade!

Many times a month I am emailed or requested to create a specific design or modify a jacket to make some special edition for a customer. As much as I would like to be able to do this I find myself explaining the impossibility of it and the complexity of the process of developing a new design or pattern.  I thought I would take the time to explain the very unique process of coming up with jacket designs here at Himel Brothers and why our products are unique compared to large corporate fashion.

It is important to understand that we design our jackets and patterns by hand using pencil and paper.  The large corporate fashion companies have softwares that can take ideas from computer to finished product and 3-D animation in less then a day.  Gerber and Optitex allow for seamless production.  I believe however to truly capture the beautiful lines of original garments and the organic nature of the human body, it is required to hand draw, alter and finish patterns.  When I design a new jacket I start with original jackets for body shapes. I create an aged vintage mock up of the design in Photoshop to get an idea of what the finished product would look like. From there we draw up a pattern, often using the original jackets and a tape measure to get shapes just right.  From there measurements are altered to fit a modern body size and a cotton mock up is made.  The mock up is altered, the paper is altered and this goes back and forth until we can get just the perfect fit, shape, curves, strange lines and authenticity.  This can take weeks, and when it is finished a real leather version has to be made and tested on several different people of the sample size.  If the jacket works we send the pattern for grading, if not it starts all over again.  Grading is tricky itself.  To make all the different sizes you have to determine rules to adjust the size consistently, but on occasion change those rules as the sizes get to the far ends of the size range.  Every step of the way can lead to failure, especially when grading as any mistake is repeated on every single pattern size produced.  So you can imagine I can’t just whip up a new jacket on the fly! But I believe our handmade pattern process is superior to computerized system that smooths out lines and removes the organic nature of the design.


New Designs: Prototyping


I have been sweating away over here in the creative tank so to speak working on 6 new jacket designs.  Many of my jackets are my own interpretations of original work, or simply inspired by the techniques of original work.  On occasion there are original jackets that are so amazing and so perfect that I cannot bear to subtract or add to them in any way.  Every once and a while a piece is so unique, with such a primitive pattern that it is hard not to just pay homage to the design.

My next six jackets will include some “homage” and some not.  I also was getting a lot of heat from Nancy asking when I was going to build a woman’s jacket.  Well…the girl rider is on the way.  I am looking for an appropriately Canadian name for the jacket.  Every name I pick has a reference to something Canadian and in my life.  I believe it is super important to emphasize that the U.S. and Canadian fashion industries have been more or less integrated since the 1880s and that many of the great pieces of clothing and brands had in some part a Canadian influence.  Lightning zipper (the second zipper company) was here in St. Catherines, Ontario and many of the jackets in my collections and Rin Tanaka’s books are in fact Canadian jackets!


When you design a prototype pattern the pattern maker wants a name for the model right away to label the pieces.  Unlike children that wait to be born to be named, my team put pressure on me to get the names to the jackets before I even see a completed sample.  Usually I have one by the time I have finished the drawings, and in some circumstances I honour the original manufacturer if in fact I am copying their jacket.  In the case of this girl jacket I am vexed. I have an idea…it is percolating.  Nancy on the other hand has put in her bid. When I get my first sample made up I might throw it up on the blog and take some suggestions or at least vet the names I have.  I might not if something magical comes to me before month’s end!