Many students take fashion programs, eager to enter the industry. Very few ever realize their dreams.

Most fashion design majors will never work in the industry

  1. Many clothing manufacturers don’t have designers. The owner  tells the technical designer(s) what he wants made. The technical designer(s) produce the sample garments and patterns.
  2. All of my degree fashion students thought they would make it into the industry where factories would produce their fabulous designs. Almost none did. At graduation they found themselves with a degree and huge college debt.
  3. The few that did make it into industry are working as technical designers, industrial jargon for pattern makers who draft on the computer.
  4. Many designing departments do NOT hire fashion graduates, preferring to train new personnel themselves. It is easier to train new hires if they have nothing to unlearn. Heads of design departments say fashion graduates have unrealistic expectations.

The industry is desperate for technical designers

Good technical designers (pattern makers who work on computers) are worth well over $100,000 a year. When I taught in the fashion degree program one of my students told me she didn’t need to learn the technical skills – drafting, fitting, grading, sample making – because the computer would do it for her. I replied, The computer is just one more thing you have to learn.

Most students are taught the technical skills on the computer because considerable information can be skipped over. It’s just easier to teach those skills on the computer. It also requires less classroom space.  Students need to learn the skills hands on, so as to understand what the computer is doing. Because many will never be hired in the industry, they also need to learn hands on so they will have the option of free lancing after graduation.

One graduate told me she now realized that no factory was ever going to sew her designs. She wanted to take my program to learn the technical skills, but she couldn’t afford the lessons as she was deep in debt with college loans.

Fashion design is a very popular major

  1. Fashion design is the big money maker for many colleges and universities. Colleges are teaching what students signed up for – fashion design – how to draw pretty pictures of clothing lines.
  2. Most fashion programs offer two majors: fashion design and fashion merchandising. What is missing is a third major, technical design – how you make it. Some of this is taught, but the emphasis in too many fashion schools is to offer fun projects.
  3. The problem is finding professors who know the subject matter. Good technical designers (production pattern makers) are so well-paid in industry they are unlikely to take a teaching position for far less money.
  4. College administrators often know little about the fashion industry, so they assume sewing is the same, whether it is done in the home or in industry. NOT SO! No one uses home-sewing techniques in the industry. Unfortunately too  many fashion professors are teaching home sewing, probably because they do not know that the industry uses a different sewing method.
  5. Students are sometimes told You don’t need to learn the sewing. When you work in industry you won’t be sewing. Your sample maker will do that. True, but one needs to know how the sewing is done so as to be able to design clothing that can be manufactured. I never sewed in the industry. I was management, and because the shops were unionized, I was not allowed to touch the sewing machines. I asked my sample makers to tell me how they sewed. I  practiced at lunch when I was off the clock and at home.
The grading four-book series. Grading to fit and Grading and Sewing a Blouse to Fit are on my website. The jacket books should soon be available. Tailoring a Jacket can be used with, or without the previous three sequels.

The fashion industry uses low-level engineering methods

  1. During the first and second World Wars the USA apparel industry developed low-level engineering apparel manufacturing methods, revolutionizing the world’s apparel manufacturing.
  2. High-end industry’s designing, pattern work, and sewing is mind blogging, it is so beautiful.

  3. Many people think industry is down and dirty. The industry does make considerable trash. But these people have never seen high-end industrial sewing.
  4. The methods used are efficient, the results are overwhelming. Almost all of it can be done in the home with minimal equipment. Because these are low-level engineering techniques, logic underlies all of it.
  5. The methods used are efficient, the results are overwhelming. Almost all of it can be done in the home with minimal equipment. Because these are low-level engineering techniques, logic underlies all of it.
  6. It is easy to learn because it makes sense.  Even children can learn it.
  7. To be successful in the fashion industry, students need to learn flat patterning and grading, inside and out, hands on. Sample making, sewing an entire garment together using industrial sewing procedures, also needs to be fully understood.
  8. Pattern makers, in order to draft the patterns that enable efficient sewing, need to know sample making.


  1. When I taught in the degree program I couldn’t stand to see so many students’ dreams destroyed.
    My adult students gave me tremendous feed back about their needs and how the books should be written.
  2. When offered the position, I moved over into Continuing Professional Education where I could write and teach my own fashion technology program. It attracted design room personnel. One woman who was grading patterns for a well-known company, suddenly announced one day to no one in particular, I FINALLY know what I am doing on my job!
  3. Most of my students were professional women who wanted to sew better for themselves and their families. They gave me tremendous feedback on my writing, enabling me to write material that they understood and that was really useful for them.
  4. My students who wanted to enter the fashion industry were successful, securing good jobs with their first offer.
  5. I’m writing down what I learned in industry because so few people, even in industry, understand how the whole process works. The problem is line assembly. Many people in the industry know only their own jobs. This is true, even in designing departments.

My training:

  1. I was enrolled at the University of the Arts, back when they had a fashion program, but they had cancelled the program, so I had only one college fashion course. I had transferred in from Syracuse University where I had been a journalism major.
  2. Before entering industry I worked in high-end custom in a boutique on Main Line, Philadelphia, like those in Paris. I was trained by two European master designers.
  3. I wanted to stay in high-end custom, but the pay was so poor I had no choice but to go into industry.
  4. To my surprise, I found industrial techniques better, faster, easier to learn, with results equal or superior to the quality I had observed in custom. I had moved from the eighteen hundreds’ high-end sewing techniques into the industrial twentieth century.
  5. I was fortunate to be trained in industry by an European master designer and a layout artist, when I worked at Alfred Angelos. I was trained by the top grader in Philadelphia when I worked in women’s sports wear. She later worked at Jones of New York, where she drafted and graded jackets with asymmetrical front closures.
  6. There were no computers when I worked in industry. Everything was hands on.
  7. I’m convinced that the best way to learn fashion technology is hands on, because then one understands what the computer is doing.

How things went in industry

  1. I made the blouses I’m wearing in my videos twenty years ago. They have been washed many times. Custom-made clothing lasts.
    When I was hired in industry I had three days to prove myself. If I messed up the first day the other two days didn’t matter. Once I had proven myself, I found the company thought I was indispensable. Sounds great, but it isn’t. When no one can replace you on the job, you don’t dare get sick or find yourself with any problem that will prevent you from working.
  2. Once I had children I didn’t work in industry anymore because the factory workers were completely dependent on me. I was exempted from jury duty. There was no way I could take even one day off from work.
  3. I still get called and offered work. The work is out there. I would be hired in a minute.
  4. I’m writing my books. People need this information – home sewers, fashion students, the industry. The average American tosses out 70 pounds of clothing a year. Probably because it is poorly made and poorly selected. The books are written for everyone: industry, professors, fashion students, entrepreneurs, people who sew at home and would like to be able to sew more professionally. I use them when I sew. 
  5. High-end clothing lasts. In my videos I am wearing blouses that I made 20 years ago.

Things need to change

College programs need to include hands-on instruction. Students need to learn how to fit each other, not just the form. Industry needs to be brought in to evaluate the programs and to train the professors. Sample makers need to be hired to teach the sewing –  most sample makers have come up through the factories and do not have college educations, so at present are not hired to teach in college. TV sewing programs need to present sewing as done in industry.

Series of books, written and college classroom tested over a period of thirty years, present how the industry drafts and sews. All can be done in the home with minimal equipment.

Want to learn the low-level engineering skills used in the industry to make high-end clothing? The skills you need to learn are in my books. Classroom tested over a period of 25 plus years, they work.

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© Laurel Hoffmann, 2021

2 Comments. Leave new

  • Jeannette Antry
    February 12, 2021 12:55 am

    As a sewing entrepreneur, mostly self taught, I own six of Laurel’s books. I read and studied three of her books in their entirety and refer to them when needed. The other three I have perused and I have plans to read them and use them for future reference.

    As with any great book, one must do the work to learn the contents and put it to good use. Her sewing processes and detailed graphics are clear and easy to follow. I have learned to make samples using her techniques for difficult sewing processes and to get a high end result and learn the high end process.

    I enjoy her video lessons that she has on YouTube and look forward to her new uploads.

    The depth of her work is not found in any other books that I have used or purchased. I am not always sure where my sewing and design process will take me, but I have the tools I need and I highly recommend her books. Her work has had a dramatic effect on my sewing skills and she continues to motivate me to learn and keep designing and sewing.



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