In my last process diary, I talked about refining our blocks and mentioned that the most vital component of this is the actual fitting process: taking what has been engineered and testing it repeatedly to refine the fit.
Fitting is part art and part science, which is what makes it so tricky. Although there are hard standards you can look for (pulling, drag lines, immobility, for example), some of it is a little subjective. Does it match the intended design just right? Does it look good?
Being able to work as a group to define what a good fit is, to train ourselves to rigorously address all the problems, to find ways of more efficiently testing things – these are all important issues that we’ve worked on, and that I’m sure will continue to evolve for years to come.
Here are some of the lessons we’ve taken so far. Many of them should also be helpful to you in your own fittings at home, I’m sure!
Plan it out
In the past, we’ve scheduled fit sessions whenever a pattern was ready for another test, going through repeated rounds of testing whenever changes from the last fit session were good to go.
Although this was very flexible, it meant having a lot of one-off fit sessions, often planned at the last minute.
Now, we focus on having fewer, but more effective fittings. We are usually testing multiple garments at the same time rather than just one or two. These are planned out, and never rushed. They’re more structured, and they’re more regular, so everyone knows what’s expected to be ready – from the pattern making to the sewing room.
I think another advantage of regular, longer, slower fittings is that it allows you time to get into the fitting headspace. Rather than moving through the process to get to the next step in one particular garment (adjusting the pattern so you can do another fitting), we’re spending blocks of time very focused on fit, going through the process over and over with several garments.
Although this one may not be as applicable to your own fitting process, another change that has been instrumental for us is better role definition.
Working in a group can be hard. Everyone has their own ideas they want to throw out there, some people are naturally more hands-on, some people are more dominant, some people are listeners, the list goes on. What’s important is having a process that is clear for everyone, not built around different people’s personalities.
So, one thing we’ve done is define better roles within the fitting. On the larger level, we’ve had to get clear about the role of the designer vs. pattern maker and who is responsible for what. At the smaller level, everyone has their tasks within a fitting. We know who is taking photos, who is taking notes, who is leading, etc.
Taking a breath
This is a tactic I’ve learned from some of my small business mentors, which is useful in almost any group discussion.
There are differences in the way people think, observe, and communicate that can cause a lot of things to be missed. It might be a matter of one person being more confident or assertive than others, or it could be that some people are best thinking on their feet, and some are more contemplative and like to observe and think things through.
To get all the perspectives and prevent a group from focusing heavily on one pet issue and ignoring others, we take some time at the beginning of fitting for everyone to look at the garment and write down what they notice. Then we go through and talk about what we observed. This takes only a minute, but it’s a great way to make sure we’re turning over every rock.
This is a really good practice to use in all kinds of meetings if you want to make them more inclusive.
In my past career, a big part of product development methodology was called “iterative prototyping.”
The idea is simple. You start with what are called “low fidelity prototypes,” which means prototypes that don’t have all the bells and whistles and functionality, but are good enough to let you test what you want to test. You learn from these, see what’s working and what needs to change, and move into more and more realistic prototypes as you learn more.
For example, say you are designing a website. You might start with a hand drawn series of sketches or storyboards and get feedback on these before moving into a digitally rendered version, which you would test before making a functional site to test out.
I borrowed the language from this development process, and we’re now incorporating more of these early “low-fi” prototypes in our process.
Our senior pattern maker has shown us a lot of techniques for creating these early prototypes, which she says are one of her number one tools as a pattern maker. They give the pattern maker immediate feedback on what is working and what is not, before going through the expense of a full blown sample and fit session.
An early “low-fi” prototype might include cutting out pattern pieces and pinning them in place on the dress form, or sewing up just part of a sample to see how it’s working. The great advantage to this is quickly discovering the larger and more obvious issues and resolving them quickly, leaving fit sessions for hashing out the tweaks.
Seeing with your hands
Another big change we’ve taken away from working with senior pattern makers these last few months has been getting more and more more done within a single fitting by using more hands-on techniques.
Hands-on approaches are always a part of fitting. We cut prototypes apart, pin things in place, and open up seams and rearrange pieces on the model. But by focusing more on these steps, we’re able to work with the pattern in a more immediate and tactile way, finding solutions over the course of a longer fit session, rather than several smaller ones.
It almost looks a bit like sculpting when you watch it in person. It takes the best of both approaches to pattern making: flat patterns to create the design, and draping techniques to help refine it.
We’ve long used fit sheets to document all the changes we need to make, but we’ve gotten a lot more creative with documentation.
Lately, we’ve been using Evernote on an iPad to take photos of the garment on the model, and write notes directly on the photo of where changes should be made.
It is a really quick and easy way to take visual notes, and we highly recommend doing this at home. You can use a tablet, or use your phone.
The other advantage is that you can sometimes see things in photos that your eye might just glance over in person. One of the interesting quirks of our brains is that we will often ignore small details that our brain perceives as unimportant. But look at a photo of the same thing, and your mind has a chance to slow down and take in the details you’d otherwise ignore. If you’ve ever taken a photo that you thought would look fine, only to notice all the cords and garbage littering the background that you didn’t notice, you’re familiar with this phenomenon.
So those are some of our lessons learned about fit process. I’ll be writing more process diaries coming up: on documentation (I know, sounds boring, but it’s great), using CAD, and testing. Let me know if there are other process-y type things you’d like to hear about.