When Should You Grade Your Apparel Pattern?

One of the most common mistakes we see with young designers is grading a pattern too early in the development process.

At what stage of the process should you grade your apparel pattern?

First, let’s explain what grading is:

Grading is the stage of sizing an apparel pattern up or down to create the patterns for the other sizes of that garment.

For those of you who are new to the pattern making and development process, understanding this order of operations will help you understand when the best time to grade a pattern is and why:

  • The first pattern for each garment is made in one size only. Consult your pattern maker on the best size to make this pattern in, considering your product, target customer and the size range that you will offer this style in.
  • The pattern is sewn into a muslin/first sample/proto
  • That muslin/proto is then fitted on a fit model
  • Any fit corrections are applied to the pattern
  • A  new sample is made from the corrected pattern
  • That sample gets fitted again on the same model

The last 3 steps are repeated as many times as needed until the correct fit is achieved and the pattern is ready for production. For more info on the development of your first sample check out our online class: 9 Steps to First Sample.

*Tip – If the fit is still far from where it needs to be after 3 rounds of samples/fittings it might be time to stop and rethink the style to make sure it’s doable to achieve your desired fit, that the fabrics are correct for the fit, and that the pattern maker is right for the job and understands the goals etc. before moving on to a fourth round of samples.

So now that we know the process, the answer to our question is simple – Only when the fit of your garment is achieved and the pattern is fully corrected and is reflecting the latest fit adjustments, is your pattern ready for production and ready to be graded.  

If you grade your pattern at an earlier stage, you risk carrying any fit issues with your pattern into the other graded sizes. Therefore, if you make further fit corrections after a pattern is graded these corrections will need to be applied into all the other graded sizes as well which means extra work, time, and money. All of which can be easily be saved by waiting to finalize your original pattern first.

Note: Grading can be done both manually or digitally using a CAD program, either way is fine although nowadays manually considered old School (not even sure how many pattern makers today know how to grade manually) and digitally is the common way.

While on the subject here are some other grading / pattern related terminology you should be familiar with:

  • Grade Rules - the amount of change between sizes to make a pattern smaller and larger (i.e.: 1” circumference between each size). Consult your pattern maker and/or your grading company on what should be your grading rules. This will depend on your garment type, size range, target customer etc.

*Tip: technically there are standard grading rules for sizes that most brands follow, however, you can always decide to tweak them and choose your own grading rules for your brand as a whole or just for a specific style. Consult your pattern maker or grader about these options.

  • Nest - When grading is done digitally, the grader will then print out a nest which shows the each pattern piece in all the sizes laid on top of one another so they can than see the amount of grading between the sizes for each pattern piece. This is basically a map that helps seeing a full picture of the grading and one extra step to double check that the grading was done right.
  • Marker – A marker is used in the cutting process. Once the pattern is graded all of the sizes are configured in a marker. The marker is than being printed on a long sheet of paper and is being placed on top of the fabric in the cutting room. The pattern pieces on the marker are configured by size and by sections (re: self, lining, fusible etc.) and in a way that will yield the best consumption of fabric.
Example of a marker for pants

Example of a marker for pants

*Tip: A marker is made for a specific fabric width, therefore is you are cutting the same style with different fabric width you will need a marker for each fabric width and each fabric will than need to be laid out and cut separately.  Therefore for cost saving purposes, if you are planning to cut more than one fabric per style make sure they are all the same width.