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The sampling process

Garment sampling is a hugely important part of the clothing production process. It  can be  a very costly business if not managed correctly.

While it is very important for any business to manage their sampling costs, it is of vital importance to a smaller label with limited finances. For these companies, sampling is a far higher percentage of the  cost per garment sold.

The factory will always have to make a sample before production, unless the designer is willing to take a big risk. The quality of production depends heavily on this factory sample.

While the big fashion brands have the ability to use offshore factories for their sampling, the small startup brand does not have this option. For them UK sampling is their only realistic option.

Sample Maker or Seamstress ?

What is the difference between a Sample Maker and a Seamstress ? Outside of the fashion industry people often refer  to a seamstress, when what they really mean is a Sample Machinist. It may be that the two titles are inter-changeable, but in the fashion industry the person who makes the samples is normally referred to as a Sample Machinist, or Sample Maker.

A home sewer would more likely be titled a Seamstress, or Dress Maker. A Sewing  Machininst in a factory would be a Production Machinist, or just Machinist.

Many fashion startup owners will refer to Sample Machinists as Seamstresses and wont really understand the difference. It is important that samples are made by specialist sample Machinists, because they will fully understand what is required to make a professional sample. A Seamstress will be experienced at home dress making, but wont necessarily understand how to make a sample properly.

Types of sample

Sampling is a very important part of the clothing production process, where costs can escalate if  not fully understood and controlled. Sampling needs to be kept to a minimum to be cost effective for small businesses.  There are many different types of samples used throughout the garment industry, although most small clothing businesses will only use a few types sparingly.  Samples cover three phases of the production process : Design, sales and production. Types of samples are :-


A toile is a mock-up, made to test the pattern. The toile is normally   made in calico – A cheap,  unbleached cotton that comes in a variety of weights. Toiles are normally unlined and not fully finished. Details such as pockets and seams may just be drawn on, rather than sewn.

Often the toile will be sewn by the pattern cutter, so you will be paying higher pattern cutting rates for the work. I will often use the paper pattern itself as the first stage, by pinning it together and placing it on the mannequin for the designer to see. This saves time and money.

Sometimes a toile may also be needed to test the pattern further, but using the paper pattern is a quick and easy way of checking the fit and design.

I try to avoid making toiles where possible as it can be an unnecessary expense. Sometimes though, it is absolutely necessary to make a toile, especially if the fabric is expense, or the design is complicated.  As well as generally being cheaper than a sample, a toile can be more useful, because you can easily draw on it, cut into it and adjust it. If a sample is wrong it usually needs to be remade.

Fit sample

A fit sample, or first sample, is made in order to test the pattern and design. This sample is fully finished in the correct fabric, with the correct trims and finishes. If the sample is perfect and does not need corrections, then it can be approved. Often there will be minor corrections needed, which would ideally mean having to remake the sample.  In practise, for smaller fashion businesses, this would not be cost effective.

It is very important to keep in mind that if the pattern is poor, then you will almost certainly have to make a second sample. And probably a third. It is vital to choose a good pattern cutter who knows how to make a good pattern and to interpret your design correctly. Often with new designers it is necessary to gather more information to fully understand what is required.

Factory sample

It is essential that a factory always make their own sample before beginning production. Although a factory will often offer a sampling service, it is far better to have a sample made by a professional sample machinist so that the factory have something accurate to work from.

The factory will often want to simplify the construction to make it easier for them. If they are given a sample to follow, they would have to discuss this with you first, rather than just doing it. It is important to check the factory sample thoroughly before approving it, as this is good as it will get.

I find that it is worth politely just pointing out a few minor defects just to keep them on their toes. If they think that you are easily pleased, then they will know that you will accept poorer quality. If they think that their sample is not quite acceptable, then they will be careful with the final production.

Size set sample

Whether you need size set samples can be a bit of a grey area. I would always officially advise on having a full set of size samples, because I would not want to be held accountable if anything went wrong. But in practise I believe that it is normally an unnecessary  expensive for a small business, and it is very unlikely that there will be a problem if there are only a few sizes, as long as  the grading was done professionally.

If there are a lot of sizes and the grading is uniform throughout, then it may be worth just checking the extreme sizes. If these are correct, then the other sizes should be correct. You may want to double check the grade by stacking all the same pieces for the different sizes one on top of the other. I would suggest that a professional do this though. For small businesses there is seldom a problem that cannot be easily rectified, so I wouldnt worry too much about this.

Photo shoot samples

A photo shoot sample needs to be made if you are intending on having them photographed for promotion. This would normally be done in a smaller size than the base sample size. Models tend to be quite tall, so the sample may have to be made accordingly. I wouldnt suggest making this the  base size, because it may cause problems with the sizing. You could try using the normal sample and just pinning it to size, but this isnt ideal. Rather than make a completely bespoke pattern though, you could compromise by using a smaller pattern and just adding to the length.

Showroom samples

Showroom samples are not just for the showroom. They can also be used to supply magazines or other promoters.

   Salesman samples

If you are using agents to sell your designs, then you will need to supply each agent with a sample.

Production sample

The production sample is the final, approved sample. Ideally there will be two production samples – One for the factory and one for the client. Again, if you are on a tight budget, you may want to make do with the original factory sample if it is close enough…

PHONE – 07905-965-305 ( BILL )


The importance of the pattern cutter

Dont underestimate the extreme importance of the pattern cutter in the sampling process. Your pattern cutter should also be your mentor and adviser. They should be able to guide you safely through the production process and save you a lot of money and anxiety at the same time. An experienced pattern cutter is the key to success in the fashion business.

While an established brand can afford to pay for multiple samples, a  smaller company needs to get it right  first time  where possible. Some garments will need a certain amount of development, but even here it is necessary to have the first sample as correct as possible.

When I create a pattern I try to make sure that I start with as much important information as possible.  Normally a toile ( mock-up ) should be made before the sample, but  it is often possible to bypass this stage given  the right information and procedures.

Independent sample

Often the factory will ask you to provide a sample before they will make their own factory sample. In order to obtain the best results  it is advisable to provide the factory with your own independently made sample. They will still have to make a factory version, but they will have something accurate to follow and will have a guide as to the quality that you want. If you supply them with a poor sample, they will feel that they can produce an equally poor one. Then they will feel that they can get away with poor production too.

“When you make something no one hates, no one loves it”   TIBOR KALMAN

I often come across clients who have had a poor sample made by a factory. The factory may say that it was because of the pattern or the cloth, or some other factor. This is difficult to challenge, even for an experienced technician, without a reliable sample to compare it to. Sometimes they end up paying for several samples, and unnecessarily altering patterns before discovering the true cause of the problem. Because the factories do not use proper pattern cutters, they can get in a muddle when trying to correct patterns.

Although your supplied sample is an important guide for the factory, it is the factory sample that provides the benchmark for the quality of the production. The factory sample may not necessarily measure the same as yours because it has been made slightly differently with different machines, or it has been treated differently in the making process.

We can supply expertly made samples made from expertly made patterns. If necessary we can do small production runs too. We can also create spec sheets and tech packs, and we can liaise with the factory to ensure that you have the highest chances of success.

PHONE – 07905-965-305 ( BILL )


Helping fashion startups since 1984