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A Pattern of Cutting Quality - Part 2

A Pattern of Cutting Quality - Part 2

After studying Part 1 (no exam to follow) you will ‘hopefully’ appreciate that a Pattern Cutter’s work is the foundation to the early stages of production and is not just a position of design. Sadly, living in today’s world where trends change with the wind and menswear is shrouded by large brands with almost suffocating marketing budgets, aesthetics often take too much of the spotlight. We asked Mark what he says to those who think of him as a designer for a ‘brand’ when his role seems to much more technical.

Mark: You do need to have a good eye for design as this is what your patters will be judged on most. However, pattern cutting should really be compared to the foundations of a building. You know they are there, you know they are important, but you can’t see them and don’t really know an awful lot about them. That’s much of my work. If you don’t get the footings correct to begin with, the quality of the building is compromised from the start.

We always create the first patterns on a size 7 ½, sample size, which sits in the middle of a full size run (5 – 12). If there are issues with your sample size, these becomes bigger issues when grading our patterns to extreme sizes and that’s where you get serious issues in the factory. Hand grading (excuse the pun, nothing to do with our Hand Grade Collection) is something I specialised in when I was younger, giving me my own foundations before I even joined C&J.

Thanks Mark… That leads us on nicely to: How did you become a Pattern Cutter?

Mark: I joined C&J just before my 19th birthday, 23 years ago… Prior to working here, I worked for a pattern grading company. Grading is the increasing or decreasing in size of each pattern in accordance with the size of last. It was time consuming and labour intensive so all of the shoe manufacturers outsourced this to specialist companies, one of the many suppliers of the shoe trade at the time.

After three years at college studying pattern cutting, whilst working as a Pattern Grader, I was given an opportunity to join Crockett & Jones as a junior Pattern Cutter. Today, grading is a Pattern Cutters job and having done this by hand for many hours, this knowledge has stayed with me and is called upon daily, even after 23 years!

Having spent nearly 25 years as a Pattern Cutter, how has the department developed since you took post?

Mark: As I graduated to principle pattern cutter, my natural drive for development shone through. We brought the grading back in house, invested in a cutting table enabling us to cut our own bulk patterns and then add a brass binder to the list of ‘investments’. We brass bound the edges of the early cardboard patterns to give the clicker a smooth, hard edge to cut along without damaging the cardboard. This was another hand operation that was painfully time consuming and costly, but by bringing these stages in house we regained control of our work flow. Unbeknown to me at the time, there was still plenty of modernisation to come.

This was all still in the early days, pre IT (at Crockett & Jones), so it wasn’t until we invested in CAD software, CNC cutting tables and even a laser cutter that we become properly efficient. Computerisation of cutting and grading of sample and bulk patterns revolutionised my workflow and capabilities as a department through accuracy and speed. We became more reactive, flexible and able to tend to the needs of our Managing Director’s busy development schedule. Developments that are often made to order requests from retailers and buyers around the world, particularly our Japanese customers.

By this time, our Pattern department had taken its first steps into the 21st century with the introduction of computers. This was to the great benefit of the company as not only were our most guarded secrets now backed up (in case of fire), they were no longer being sent outside of the company.

At this point, production was edging towards 3000 pairs per week with operatives on the shop floor had increased by a third. Without this blend of the traditional methods, know how and the speed and accuracy of CAD and CNC systems we would not be able to serve our busier than ever factory as MTO, Retail Special Order and seasonal development demands continue to increase, not to mention the revisiting and updating of existing patterns that have been in production for decades. Bringing them up to Mark’s modern day standards when time allows.

Mark: Today, our pattern room is heavily focused on in-house self-sufficiency. This gives me a high level of control, resulting in an elevation of quality seen in the final product. From the sourcing of innovative materials that are used to produce the upper patterns, transparent and harder than glass so the clicker’s knife doesn’t wear away the pattern during production. To the purchasing of a press knife business, recently brought in-house. Our striving for higher quality is never ending.

This new knife department sits within our pattern room and offers two full-time precision engineers who partake in time-honoured skills, creating press knives that are used by our clickers to cut the leather section out of the calf skins. Our production is run at about 60/40 hand-clicking (60%) to press knife clicking (40%). Where we are producing hundreds of pairs of a single style per year, we will invest in press knives. (Article to follow).

The pattern room is the unsung hero of most shoe manufacturers. For Crockett & Jones, this small yet mighty department provides the bedrock to much of the tangibles that are so greatly appreciated by so many. Purposefully, these articles were more technical than usual, to outline the true knowledge and skill surrounding a Pattern Room. There are no shortcuts to quality.