The women’s Trench Coat that I helped to create for Abercrombie & Fitch in 2009 was my first introduction to creative pattern engineering. In school and through traditional pattern making, we were taught that sleeve cap shapes are only balanced when the ratio of the sleeve cap to the bicep is maintained during manipulation of the pattern. In easier terms, this means that the bicep circumference needs to get smaller if you increase your sleeve cap height or larger if you decrease your sleeve cap height.
Here is a diagram of this principle, as drawn in my favorite pattern making textbook: Injoo Kim and Mykyung Uh’s Apparel Making in Fashion Design.
For this Trench Coat pattern, we were challenged to break these rules. At the time, the company’s fit guidelines were to make each garment fit the model as tightly as possible. If she could raise her arms just enough to drive a car or hold a martini at a party, then the fit could be approved. (Not joking). Each Outerwear fitting we held was pushing this procedure to the limit. Over time, we were able to achieve this objective on faux fur lined parkas, puffy down-filled coats and work blazers. But it all started with this Trench Coat for me.
We first manipulated the traditional ratios of across front to back, pulling the chest panels as tight and flat as possible, while extending the back shoulders to allow for some allowance of movement. We ordered new armhole curves to create deeper cut-outs, and these are now the only curves I’ll use to work on armholes. From there, because we wanted to keep the front as flat, tight and wrinkle-free as possible, we started shaving off the front sleeve cap curve from the pattern. We also decreased the sleeve cap height to pull the sleeve and armhole circumference up into the model’s armpit as close as we could without making her feel uncomfortable.
The real magic started to happen though when we moved all of our fullness to the back sleeve cap curve. We had this amazingly fitted jacket with bicep, chest and shoulder areas painted onto the model’s body. She felt like she was in a straight jacket until we gave that back sleeve cap curve some extra width. All of a sudden, not only could she raise her arms enough to hold the bottom of her car’s steering wheel, but she could actually raise her arms above her head! As a big breakthrough for our small team, we took these pattern manipulations and worked them into all of our outerwear patterns from then on. If we had stuck to the traditional pattern making methods, her bicep circumference would have been huge, and we would not have been successful.
These armhole, sleeve cap and general fitting techniques have been brought to all of my other roles throughout my career. I learned that manipulating garments, fabrics and pattern shapes can create any kind of garment you want. You just need to have the patience to experiment with prototypes and a pattern maker that’s open to breaking the traditional rules. Understanding that “outside the box” pattern revisions can make anything possible in apparel manufacturing has helped me to achieve some very unique and highly acclaimed garments at different companies. But this Trench Coat will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my very first one.