What is the difference between a Shoe Designer and Shoe Pattern Maker? A shoe designer is responsible for all aspects of the shoe’s design. The designer must consider the styling, materials, colors, customers, price, trends, and product performance. The footwear pattern maker, while critical to the entire operation, is only responsible for creating a beautifully proportioned pattern that fits tight to the last.
To be a great footwear designer, do you need to make your own patterns? In my experience, the answer is “No.” A shoe designer does not need to know how to make or cut footwear patterns. It’s important that a shoe designer can read, work with, and adjust the patterns, but the creation of a new pattern is best left to the “Master.” I have been lucky and have been able to work with the same pattern master for years. He knows what I’m looking for, and although he does not speak any English we can still get the job done.
The Pattern Maker’s Challenge:
The shoe factory’s pattern maker has a lot of work to do when a new design lands on his desk. The pattern master’s first job is to get the last that has been selected by the designer and examine its shape. If it is a familiar last, it’s a simple task to mark the throat opening and the shoe collar height. He may already have the “shell pattern” on file. The shell pattern is what a one-piece seamless upper would look like.
If the last is new, the pattern maker may “tape” the last so he can pull off the shell pattern. He will cover the last with layers of tape, then carefully cut the tape along the centerline of the last and along the bottom edge. At this stage, he can draw the shoe design on the tape.
Once the tape is peeled from the last and flattened, we have a pattern! Now the pattern can be redrawn in a computer, printed, and cut out of heavy paper. As a designer, you should always ask for the flat pattern of a new design.
When you make corrections, it’s easy to draw on the sample shoe and mark the shell pattern for the pattern maker. It is much faster to scan the corrections and email them back to the factory than FedEx the shoe back to China.
Here is a shoe designer’s drawing with the pattern maker’s actual pattern.
Here is a great video showing a master pattern maker at work!