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A day in the life - Clare Kay

The creative pattern cutter for womenswear supplier Coppernob on earning the trust of its designers.

I never wake up naturally - it has to be the alarm that rouses me at 6am. I commute by train to London’s West End from just outside Cambridge, so I have to be organised in the morning and I plan all my clothes and jewellery the night before. I’m a bit of an impulse buyer, but my favourite brands are Uniqlo for basics for work, and Zara and Topshop for special things. I also love a sample Sale rummage.

Having to travel for two hours each way every day, I don’t have much time to fit in exercise, so I usually get off the tube a stop early and walk the 15 minutes to the office, to arrive just before 9am.

The first thing I do when I get in is make a nice cup of strong builders’ tea and take 10 minutes to get my thoughts straight before I get on with my day’s tasks. We have an open-plan workroom at Coppernob with four designers, six pattern cutters and seven machinists, so it’s never dull.

As we are suppliers to Tesco, Debenhams and Bhs among others, it’s fast and furious and can get very noisy, so I have to concentrate hard to switch off and focus on my work. It’s a great, supportive atmosphere, and questions are always encouraged.

The process for me begins when a designer gives me the initial sketch they want cut - this can either be very rough or accurate depending on the designer themselves and the amount of pressure they are under. I was a designer in the past, which I think has helped me to develop a good working relationship with the designers in our workroom. They have to be able to trust that I can interpret their ideas, and in turn, I have to be able to trust that they will present them to me in a way that easily facilitates this.

I love working in the West End, and I always take the opportunity to go and have a browse around the shops at lunchtime. It’s a brilliant feeling when you see someone out wearing one of your creations, or spot one in a shop window. I’ve had styles which I’ve cut that have gone on to sell in their thousands, which makes me feel really proud.

One of the most important parts of my job is understanding that everything that goes around the creation of the garment - the manufacturing techniques, different fabrics, balance and proportion, and the particular client - plays a part in how you cut the pattern. When I started, patterns were always rendered on pattern card, but now everything is done digitally. I had to retrain in a French program called Vetigraph, which I resisted at first, but now I wish I had done earlier, as it makes my day-to-day life much quicker; everything from grading and accuracy to costing and communication is much simpler.

I usually finish up in the office just after 5.30pm, although I do have to be flexible, depending on the client demands at the time. Once I’m home and dinner is done there isn’t a lot of time for too much else. I used to do a bit of pilates, but these days I just try and chill out and get to bed by 11pm if I can.

  • Salaries for this position range from £17,000 to £45,000 (estimate provided by CVUK)


2004 Creative pattern cutter, Richard Designs and Coppernob

2002 Creative pattern cutter, Bernshaw

1999 Creative pattern cutter, Frank Usher

1990 City & Guilds teacher for creative studies, West Suffolk College

1978 Designer/pattern cutter, Jeff Banks

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