How important is knowing how to sew/drape/pattern for a designer?

Hi all!
I’m a recent graduate and throughout school, it feels like teachers really pushed us to be ‘creative’, ‘tell a story’, and pushed us to be unconventional / innovative. It also seems that those with money could just outsource all pattern making / construction anyways. While some teachers do stress the importance of construction, it seems like the grads in recent years who got press and all are the ones who make those crazy designs and then go on to start their own brands.

After graduating, I realize how little I actually know about how to draft a proper tailored jacket or pair of jeans based on someone’s measurements. I started interning for a small brand and from this experience only, it seems that the assistant designer must know a lot about pattern making/ construction. The ones who don’t know that much about construction seems work in more production design or digital design related roles, at least when it’s in a smaller team.

I feel like I need to self-teach myself the basics of traditional construction instead of finishing up my thesis project, which is quite unwearable. I wonder what you guys think?

Thanks a lot!


It really depends on what you want to work on when you design, what companies you’d like to design for (and/or start your own at some point) and what would be the ideal career path arc you’d like to take.

Some places you really need a strong patternmaking/draping/sewing background, and I’m sure some other people will jump on here who have done this, I would say definitely couture, high end designer brands, costume design, and probably categories like evening wear, wedding, etc. In that case I can’t be any help :slight_smile:

If you are looking to work for more mass market- including contemporary (joie, paige denim, etc) down to womenswear/swim/juniors, etc… Then you won’t need to know things of detailed construction, sewing, etc. Of course, anywhere you will go it is very helpful to know these things, but being a couturier is not a requirement.

In all transparency, I originally went to Art School for fashion design, and spent some time making completely unwearable things. (A copper wire knitted corset, for one). However, after a year I realized I wanted to be in fashion more to make money and go in the path of more “mass” products… ie: seeing people on the street actually wearing the things I made. I believe any path you take is the right one for you, and what you wish to accomplish.

In any case, if you just finished school, and want to sharpen up your skills, taking a job at at costume shop, an alterations tailor at David’s Bridal, or as a tailor’s assistant can all be great things that can fine tune your skills.


I’ve been in design/tech design for 11 years in mass market/private label, just as a background. Design school was fine, but I haven’t used my sewing/patterning skills since then, pretty much.

If you’d like to be a designer in one of those categories, like how @twirlgirl described, you don’t need to know EVERYTHING about construction, but I would recommend knowing SOME. It can only help you to become a better designer. A lot of this comes in time just from industry experience, but I will be honest, it’s very embarrassing when an “experienced” designer has zero clue on how their items are constructed. You don’t have to be an expert, you don’t have to know how to sew a lined jacket step-by-step, but I have cringed many times when designers just have no idea about anything (as an example, didn’t know what a neckband is compared to a binding finish, or doesn’t understand a functional vs decorative zipper). It’s embarrassing for the designer. Don’t be that person.

Most companies I’ve been at have designers, tech designers, and patternmakers all doing separate jobs, so there is not a lot of overlap. For example, I am not amazing at patterndrafting and would never claim to be able to do that at my job, and I’ve never had trouble getting hired.

Any decent tech designer or patternmaker will help out if you have questions. Ask questions if you don’t know! Figure out why you might need a chain stitch vs a lock stitch now, before you’ve been in the industry so long that you’re embarrassed to ask! Teaching yourself the basics you think you’ve missed out on can’t hurt at all, but it’s more likely you’ll spend your time as an assistant designer sketching in AI and tracking samples in Excel :slight_smile:


I can understand where you’re coming from, as I really disliked patterndrafting and technical design courses during my fashion design curriculum. Also know that it’s not mandatory to immediately
Become an assistant designer after graduation. Many students who graduate and work as assistant designers or technical designers don’t go on to develop their own clothing lines.

Another way of looking at the situation is to reflect on what courses you enjoyed most. As students we only need to know all of these skills (draping, sewing, tech packs, pattern making, etc) because they’re simply tools that a fashion designer knows and uses. Personally, I hated all of the tech design and patterndrafting. Draping was a bit more creative, but since I’m more of a trend forecaster I did my internship with Margaret Maldonado Agency and started working as a wardrobe stylist. I also enjoy fashion sketching so I do that freelance.

My best advice is to think about which classes/skills you loved the most and found that you’re good at and go from there.

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Totally agree!! Also, at your first assistant job(s), make the patternmaker/tech designer your best friend. These people have a wealth of information, and can be a great mentor in learning construction.

When I switched from apparel (knits and wovens) into swim, I was lucky enough to have the most amazing patternmaker who eventually taught me so much about rubber, tension, finishes, lining, bra cups, underwires, etc. It was totally different from what I had been doing, but had I not had her, I would have been bumbling around, even though I had been designing apparel for 8+ years previously.

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Thank you so much for your feedback!
Yes I do want to start my own brand, and I know I won’t be able to afford to outsource a pattern maker in the near future. Will probably have to make everything myself, though I hope to know enough about construction to do something interesting and done correctly.

That makes sense! I guess that’s why a lot of my teachers, who worked for big contemporary brands, are not stressing too much about knowing how to draft patterns/ sew very well.

I will definitely look at assistant tailor / bridal alteration jobs!

Hello AlisonFriedman:
Thank you for your input!
Is there a reason why many assistant/ technical designers tend to not develop their own lines? From my limited experience it seems like many recognize how difficult it is to develop something on your own and it is easier to design for a company they are ok with.

Yes, I definitely enjoy draping and sketching a lot. I did see some designers offer their Fiverr fashion illustration services on Fiverr. Do you think that traditional fashion illustration is making a come back?

Wow that is really good advice, thank you!!
I do realize I don’t know the construction details you mentioned haha, it’s really good you pointed them out!
So far I’ve only been interning for very small brands (4 employees including the Creative Director) so the assistant designer does pattern making + prototyping + design + flats/tech design.
I wonder what is the approx. size of the private label/mass market brands you’ve been working for?
Thank you so much for your help :slight_smile:

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Ha, please don’t take my original post the wrong way; it’s fine to not know certain details depending on what market segment you’re in (for example, I’m clueless on lingerie/swim, and I still learn new things about my division all the time), especially when you’re starting out! Just continue to be curious and ask questions and you’ll be fine. I never fault people who come to me with a “dumb question,” especially people who say “I did it like this at an old company/I’ve never seen this before, can you tell me why you do it this way?” I only have issues with those who act like they know everything but… don’t :upside_down_face:

I’ve worked mostly at companies with 50-150ish employees. Being at tiny companies like you are now is amazing experience, especially if you want your own line someday! Don’t be afraid to get your hands in everything and you’ll be great.

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I’ve been a designer for 10 years. I have basic draping/sewing/pattern making skills from college but I am not confident in them. As I started advancing in my career I became to feel very limited by my lack of draping knowledge. I found that drawing designs on paper can only go so far in a way. I think if you want to be a runway designer or even just work for major designer labels it’s important to develop your technical skills. Designers usually aren’t responsible for creating the clothing but I do feel the knowledge is essential for being able to create unique and high end designs that push the limits.

I deeply regret not coming out of the gate from college with honed technical skills.

I’ve been able to work successfully for faster ‘designer named’ brands, like those GIII owns and so on just fine, designing from my computer or on paper. You could have a whole successful career like that but if you want more or will ever want more in the future, learn what you can now.

*Also, many older designers get fed up with the bad company life and leave to launch their own brands. In that case you’ll need to know how to make your own samples. I’ve always regretted not being able to do that myself.

It is essential for you to understand the basics of construction and basic patternmaking for the type of clothing that you are working on. You must know how clothing is sewn and finished in order to conduct a fit session and not sound dumb. You will be required to specify finishing (eg. binding vs. facing, overlock vs. bendback clean finish, french seam vs. flat fell, etc) in order to execute a basic tech pack. You will need to know how draping and patternmaking interplay. I agree, make friends with the tech designer/patternmaker at your first job.
If you ever want to have your own line and cannot afford your own patternmaker, you must have that skill set.


Ditto this- 15 years as a designer here, and I’ve never had an issue with knowing too MUCH. I work in mass market, and am required to do a basic construction page for every garment I design so the techs can translate that into their tech pack and prep for production. All stitch callouts come from me, and a designer really has to understand that to make quality product. Patternmaking is also important because designers can and will submit unmakeable sketches to tech. Fitted pants without zippers, as an extreme example. If I do something wrong and construction is confusing, I am required to fix it on my sketch. I realize lots of people have assistants to do this work, but small companies may not be so helpful with that! Learn as much as you can and translate your amazing ideas into beautifully wearable garments!


Haha! So true! I once had a Sr Designer submit his sketches to me (his associate designer) on how to figure out how to make a pair of jeans without a fly (zipper). Since he didn’t understand construction, he figured he would be innovative and didn’t need to figure out how they would actually be put on!


I love this industry :joy:

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Thank you so much for your answer! This gives me a lot of hope that the learning continues after school!!!

Thank you so much for your insights!! It’s very helpful

I do actually both design and direct construction of couture ( yes,shown in Paris) evening wear.
I think you cannot be effective in this field without knowledge of construction. Understanding the way things are made at each price level is tantamount to getting what you want as a designer. Cost saving is always important. Of course your team is also important in problem solving, but I recommend you learn so at least you can appreciate and hire your team.


As many have said, it depends on what you are looking to do with your degree.

I have over 15 years of experience, in all facets: high end, fast fashion, contemporary, etc.

I have had my own label, and have also worked for several notable design houses: RL Collection, DKNY, Jason Wu, etc. My background is in design, but have had roles in pattern marking, and technical design, which has made me a stronger designer.

Look at the notable designers such as Alexander McQueen, and Junya Watanabe, they were pattern makers and tailors, and had exquisite design sensibility.

I scoff at designers that don’t know technical construction and some form of garment detail. It’s what sets apart the ones that make $80,000/ year as a Senior Designer, versus those that make $100,000+/year.

It’s great to be creative, but if you don’t know how to build it, it’s just an arbitrary dream.

Be creative, learn how to build create that into something tangible, and hope it is marketable; that will make a great designer.

Also, one of my mentors from Oscar Dela Renta once told me, “if you’re a technical person, you’ll always find a job.”


I’ve found that knowing basic sewing construction knowledge is extremely helpful, but not necessarily mandatory for hiring. I graduated from a school that prioritized garment construction all four years, so we learned how to draft and sew intricate patterns, and also learned how to do fittings.
In the professional world it’ll give you a leg up, because knowing sewing/garment construction helps when designing garments, doing fit sessions, and costing/production.

Overall, I think knowing all the different kinds of knit and woven fabrics (i.e. rayon spandex, chiffon, etc.) is more advantageous than knowing garment construction.


Thank you for your feedback!!!
Do you think that having your own label helped you gain more technical / construction skills, or was it more helpful working for other brands? I’m asking as I feel like opportunities where the brand mentors and teaches you about construction / pattern making / draping are increasingly rare, but maybe I’m being impatient or am not at the right place.