Becoming an Apparel Patternmaker: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of becoming an apparel patternmaker? Get real job descriptions, career outlooks and salary info to see if apparel patternmaking is the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Apparel Patternmaking

Apparel patternmakers convert fashion and clothing designs into workable patterns by breaking them down into flat portions that may be transferred onto fabric. Read on for a discussion of pros and cons of being an apparel patternmaker to help you discern whether it's the right job for you.

Pros of Being an Apparel Patternmaker
Work regular hours*
Few, if any, formal education requirements*
Safer and less intrusive working conditions than many manufacturing occupations (lacks noise of manufacturing machines, does not involve risks from high-speed machinery, no fumes from stains or dyes)*
Higher wages than most textile manufacturing jobs - apparel patternmakers earned a mean hourly wage of $22.73 in May 2014, the highest of all apparel, furnishings and textile jobs listed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics*

Cons of Being an Apparel Patternmaker
Negative job growth - employment of apparel patternmakers is projected to decline 25% between 2012 and 2022*
Salary varies widely and may be on the low end until several years of experience are acquired (The 25th percentile earned an annual salary of approximately $29,000 while the 75th percentile earned an annual salary $63,000 in 2014. The yearly average salary was around $47,000 per year)*
Job location options may be limited - textile manufacturing jobs tend to be concentrated in certain geographical areas*
Job may involve tight deadlines while still requiring precision and accuracy**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Apparel patternmakers take clothing designs from fashion designers and break them down into parts that can be laid flat and traced onto bolts of fabric. In doing so, they mark design details such as buttonholes, pleats and fasteners onto the pieces and gauge the layout arrangement that result in the least amount of unused fabric. They also create adjusted sizes of the pattern pieces to prepare for large-scale production of the garment. Computer-aided design (CAD) software is increasingly used to outline pattern parts and streamline the process of creating different sizes.

This job tends to not involve much interaction with the public or with many other people; communication with designers is necessary to discuss tweaks or ask questions, but for the most part the work is not people-oriented. Patternmaking tends to involve a clear-cut set of steps and requirements, and patternmakers should feel comfortable performing repetitive techniques with a keen eye for detail and high attention to precision. With some jobs, production or delivery deadlines may be in place that would require you to work under pressure while still maintaining standards of accuracy.

Salary and Employment Prospects

The projected job growth for apparel patternmaking is fairly dire, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting a 25% reduction in employment between 2012 and 2022. The exporting of jobs to international locations and technological production advances that result in a decreased need for human workers have both contributed to a shrinking employment field for textile-related occupations. According to the BLS, textile manufacturing jobs are most prominent in states with high levels of manufacturing, such as New York, Pennsylvania and California.

Salaries vary widely among patternmakers depending on their experience and qualifications. You may have to work for lower wages for a while as you glean the years of experience many high-paying positions require. On the plus side, according to the BLS, apparel patternmakers tend to earn more any of the other than other textile-related occupations. The BLS lists the mean annual salary of apparel patternmakers in May 2014 as almost $47,000; the highest-paid ten percentile of workers earned $83,000, while the lowest-paid ten percent earned around $22,000.

Skills and Training Requirements

Skills

Being a patternmaker requires a strong capacity for visualization - the job involves visually conceptualizing the transference of a 3-dimensional design into the 2-dimensional pieces that need to be sewn together to create it. The reverse visualization is performed as well: patternmakers need an understanding of concepts such as draping, pleating and flare to enable them to know how to formulate a pattern so these things will be displayed in a final garment. Patternmakers must also possess a strong attention to detail and be able to adhere to standards of precision and accuracy. Formal postsecondary education is not always a requirement for patternmaker positions, but technical skills such as competence with CAD systems are often a necessity.

On-the-Job Training

Much patternmaking expertise is acquired on the job, and employers often seek candidates who have two or more years of experience. Below is a list of actual apparel patternmaker job postings in March 2012; while these don't represent the field in its entirety, they can give you a sense of what employers are looking for:

  • A fashion company in New York City advertised for a patternmaker with expertise in fabrics, measuring and garment construction. The ideal candidate would be adept at multitasking and meeting deadlines. The ad called for 3-5 years of related experience.
  • A New York City retail clothing company sought a patternmaker with at least two years' experience to produce and alter patterns, taking care to ensure size accuracy. A patternmaking degree was listed as a preference.
  • A manufacturing company in California looked for a patternmaker to create patterns and cut fabrics. The job required competence in a CAD system and custom pattern-creation capabilities.
  • A California-based apparel company wanted a patternmaker with experience in denim and CAD system knowledge. Five or more years of experience was desired.

How to Maximize Your Potential

While on-the-job experience is one of the things employers most seek in patternmakers, you can do additional things to make yourself stand out. Postsecondary education is not universally required, but a degree in patternmaking from a community college or trade school can not only set you apart as a candidate but also provide you with concrete knowledge and understanding of the patternmaking process and requirements. Developing competency in CAD systems, for example, is one of the most important things you can do to increase your job prospects as a patternmaker, and trade schools or community colleges will almost certainly incorporate this training into their programs. In addition, textile patternmaker is one of the occupations formally recognized as apprenticeable by the U.S. Department of Labor. Since hands-on experience is a highly desired qualification, an apprenticeship could go a long way toward increasing your appeal as a candidate.

Other Careers to Consider

If apparel patternmaking doesn't seem to be the right career fit for you, but you'd like to work with decorative fabrics, you might consider a career as an upholsterer. Upholsterers work in repairing, restoring or creating fabric-covered furniture. They measure, cut, stretch and secure fabric to wooden frames and attach any decorative features. The BLS reports that in 2010, almost 36% of upholsterers were self-employed. Employment of upholsterers is expected to increase about as much as the average for all U.S. jobs between 2008 and 2018.

If you would prefer to work more with people but still be in the apparel industry, a job in retail sales might be a good fit. Retail salespersons may work in clothing or department stores and provide service to customers as well as overseeing financial transactions. There are usually no mandatory education requirements to work in retail sales, although irregular hours - including on evenings and weekends - are often required. Retail work tends to pay less than patternmaking, with the 2011 median annual salary listed at about $21,000, according to the BLS. There are no geographical limitations to finding work, however, and the employment rate is expected to increase by 14% between 2008 and 2018.

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • BSBA in Purchasing
  • AASBA in Retail Management

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Penn Foster Career School

  • Career Diploma: Dressmaking and Design

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Southern New Hampshire University

  • BS in Fashion Merchandising Management
  • BA General Studies
  • AS in Fashion Merchandising

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Santa Ana College

West Valley College

University of Hawaii Maui College

Sierra College