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How I got here: Roland Mouret's Josie Smith on the beauty of pattern cutting

Designer Roland Mouret discusses the Art of Draping

Working with beautiful fabrics and finishes is what drives Roland Mouret’s senior digital pattern cutter.

Josie Smith

Josie Smith

I walk five miles to work, so the first thing I do when I get up is check I have enough good music to listen to on my journey. The walk is part of my morning routine and afterwards it feels like I’ve done my cardio for the day.

We have fittings every week, where we fit the different sample garments to models. We’ve just finished the spring 16 main collection and we’ll soon be working on the pre-fall 16 range, as well as fitting everything that’s just been seen on the catwalk in Paris. We’re also finishing fitting the last of the spring 16 resort collection. Often, I can be working across three different collections at once. To keep on top of all the work, you need to be very good at organising your workload and creating spreadsheets in Excel.

I was a creative pattern cutter until five years ago, when I decided to train to use digital software. With creative pattern cutting, you take a piece of fabric and drape it over a stand [mannequin] or design a flat pattern and then create a pattern from there. It’s great to know how to do both styles of pattern cutting, but I do love the technical method as you can guarantee to meet the standards demanded by the production department to within a millimetre of perfection.

As well as liaising with the garment technicians and other pattern cutters I’m also in close contact with the collection development team. They develop the toile (a version of the garment used to test the pattern) with Roland and then the creative pattern cutters translate this design into a pattern. The creative pattern is developed at show sample stage and then digitised into Gerber, a PC-based programme used for inputting, storing and amending, grading and creating patterns. We use the software to make amendments to the pattern for the production and grading stage. The process for lengthening or shortening a pattern can be done in a day, although it usually takes a couple of hours. If the pattern amend is big, it may need to be re-sampled. The Gerber pattern cutters, of which I am one, pick up this pattern as soon as the show has finished to take it through to production. The digital pattern can then be sent on email to any Gerber or other digital system held by a supplier worldwide and the pattern information downloaded.

Roland Mouret spring 16 collection

Roland Mouret spring 16 collection

The whole process of pattern cutting is about problem solving. As I work in 2D, I have to think all the time about how the pattern will become a 3D garment. There is also the challenge of grading and how to make a dress look the same at size 6 and size 18. Sometimes, it feels like doing a mathematical equation, but you know you’ll always find a solution.

It’s amazing working for luxury brands as you get to work with beautiful fabrics and high-end finishing, after which you get to see these beautiful garments on the catwalk. There’s such an excitement in the build-up to the show and seeing all the hard work put in by all the different teams really pay off. It’s a big adrenaline rush.

I also work freelance mostly at the weekend. I have just completed a piece of work for the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood in London, creating an Alice dress for their Alice in Wonderland Fashion exhibition. Currently, I’m designing a workshop with the alterations team at Harrods to give them more technical pattern cutting instruction. I have also taught evening classes and a summer school in pattern cutting at the University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol and helped out on the post-graduate pattern cutting course at Central St Martins. I research different patterns and think of practical exercises to bring pattern cutting to life for my students. It’s nice to teach people who really want to learn, and it feels great to pass on skills.

I was inspired to get into pattern cutting through a really passionate lecturer called Hannah Jordan who taught me while I was studying for a BA in Fashion & Textiles Design at the UWE. As well as lecturing, she also freelanced at Alice Temperley, where I did my first internship. I moved around the departments but finished in the sample room, helping Hannah, then working as the pattern cutter, cutting samples. I also helped Alice with the beading.

I’m quite mathematical, and while I loved the creative aspect of design, the technical side appealed to me more. I felt like there were lots of people trying to get into design and that moving into pattern cutting might be a wise career move. It’s the best choice I’ve ever made, because if I ever wanted to design in the future, I already have a strong understanding of garment construction.

Organisation and time management are my number-one priorities. I also think you should constantly want to learn from your colleagues and be prepared to work really long hours, but if you love your job enough you will want to do it.

Roland Mouret spring 16 collection

Roland Mouret spring 16 collection

I don’t actually think technical skills like cutting and grading are dying out. People want to make things again and universities are getting much better at giving students tangible skills like pattern cutting. I think technical teams are getting bigger and companies are investing in pattern cutting technology, which is a great in-house resource for designers.

Designer Roland Mouret discusses the Art of Draping

Plan B

I’m fascinated by architecture and programmes like Grand Designs, so I think I would be an architect. I think it would suit me as I have an awareness of maths, as well as working with technical drawings and using different materials.

Career

Education

2014 Update to version 9 and Gerber installation, Gerber Technology

2013 Update to Version 8.5.1 and Layplanning/ Easy Lay training, Gerber Technology

2011 Gerber Accumark systems training and grading method, Gerber Training

2009 Gerber Accumark training (PDS, Grading, Digitising, Layplanning/Costing and Plotting), University of the Arts, London College of Fashion

2008 Academic Development Programme (MA credits in Further Adult Education), University of the West of England

2006 Post Graduate Certificate in Innovative Pattern Cutting, Central St Martins

2002-2005 - BA (Hons) Fashion/ Textiles Design, University of the West of England

Career

Aug 2015 - Present Senior digital pattern cutter, Roland Mouret, London

May 2014 - Aug 2015 Technical Gerber pattern cutter, Roksanda Ilincic

October 2013 - Present Freelance pattern cutter/grader and lecturer, University of the West of England

October 2013 - March 2014 Gerber and creative pattern cutter, Nicole Farhi

December 2010 - September 2013 Gerber and creative pattern cutter and grader, Eskandar

2007 - November 2010 Fashion lecturer (Pattern Cutting Specialist), UWE, Bristol and University of Wales, Newport

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