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What does a Pattern Maker do?

By N. Phipps
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Patterns or templates are used for creating a wide range of products. Although the designer or molder may help design a pattern, it is usually a pattern maker that actually completes the design. These people generally learn their skills through apprenticeships or trade schools. Most pattern making apprenticeships take about three or four years to complete.

A pattern maker must be comfortable working with geometric concepts. He or she must be able to visualize how shapes fit together in three dimensions in order to complete a pattern. With technological advances on the rise, having experience with computers and machinery skills is important as well. While pattern making jobs stretch across various industries, many people in this field are self-employed, offering freelance services to companies and individuals.

There are different types of pattern makers. The most familiar type can be found working in the clothing industry, but others work in the furniture or home building industries, such as those working with wood. Metal pattern makers can be found in the car industry or other machinery-related field.

The fashion pattern maker is responsible for making full-size paper or fiberboard patterns for clothing. In order to accomplish this, he or she must be aware of body proportions as well as various fabric types and how they work together. The pattern-making process usually begins with sketches of clothing designs that must be transformed into pattern pieces. These pieces are laid out on a length of fabric and put together like a puzzle.

The assembled pieces must then be sewn together to create a final garment that can be placed on a dressmaking mannequin. People who create patterns must also alter the size of the pieces to produce garments of various sizes. They must also include pertinent details, such as the location of buttonholes. While some may still draw these in by hand, computer programs are often used.

Patterns also include shaped forms of wood or metal around which sand is packed. When the pattern is removed, the resulting cavity is the exact shape of the object to be cast. While a molder is typically responsible for the general design, it is the metal or wood pattern maker who is responsible for constructing the form, or die, that is used for molds. Each pattern must be carefully designed to prevent damage to the mold once it’s removed.

The process of pattern making for wooden patterns often begins with blueprint designs and specifications. The foundry engineer lays out the pattern on wood stock, marks and measures the appropriate dimensions, and then cuts and shapes the pieces. These parts are pieced together to form a pattern template.

Metal pattern makers have similar job duties. Also called a machinist, this person lays out, machine fits, and assembles castings and parts for metal or plastic patterns, core boxes, or match plates. Like wooden foundry engineers, these pattern makers must be able to read and interpret blueprints or drawings and then compute the proper dimensions for the final pattern or template.

In order to work effectively, the molders must remain in close contact with pattern makers. The molders must be able to provide accurate dimensions as well. While special tools are used to help calculate the final measurements of the pattern, computers are becoming more commonplace for configuring the exact dimensions.

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Discussion Comments
By anon344749 — On Aug 12, 2013

I did a five year a pattern making apprenticeship, learned foundry tech and how to mold and cast metals. Since then, those skills have been used in a master shop and in the car industry working in wood, gel and fiberglass mold making, plaster mound making and polystyrene die making where its basically a giant version of the lost wax process.

It is simply the best job I've ever had and the most varied skills applicable to so many things including any kind of patterns.

Being a pattern maker is like being taught to be Macgyver.

It's great for team building, but also for people who have a precise nature to work by hand with tools and most wood, metal machinery.

Anyone wanting an apprenticeship patternmaking, it will stand you in good stead to do most craft jobs later.

By anon343676 — On Aug 01, 2013

"Pattern making" is also a term that refers to the making of models to be cast into metal in a foundry. The model (often made of wood) is designed with particular characteristics that make it easy to cast and machine after casting.

By dautsun — On Aug 23, 2012

@Ted41 - I don't have those awesome three dimensional design visualization skills either. But it sounds like the job of sewing pattern maker would be really awesome for someone that does have these skills.

You would get to do patterns for different kinds of garments all the time, so you would never get bored. Plus, pattern making skills translate to other industries, so you would have a lot of job options. I'm actually kind of sad that I don't have the right skills for this job!

By Ted41 — On Aug 23, 2012

I'm not surprised being a clothing pattern maker is a difficult job that requires a lot of training. I took three dimensional design in college, and it was really hard. You have to be able to visual things in three dimensions, which I had a difficult time with. I can't imagine trying to translate a pattern for a three dimensional object onto a piece of paper.

By Monika — On Aug 22, 2012

@strawCake - There's a big difference between following patterns, and creating patterns. I'm not surprised your mom wasn't a good dress pattern maker, since she didn't have any formal training.

I've been knitting for a long time, and I tried my hand at creating a knitting pattern for a garment recently. This isn't as complicated as doing a cut out pattern for a sewing project, but it was still pretty hard. There's a reason why most pattern makers get formal training in things like math and anatomy!

By strawCake — On Aug 21, 2012

Being a garment pattern maker is really difficult. My mom has been sewing for most of her life, and a few years ago she decided to try to create her own pattern. She failed miserably, even with so many years of experience at sewing!

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