In the high-profile world of fashion design, the emphasis is increasingly placed on selling a dream rather than on describing the cut and construction of garments. The fashion press excels in presenting whimsical creations on models known for their beauty, poise, and exposure. Technological advancements within the field of fashion design are rarely mentioned. When one takes a closer look at the fashion industry, however, one sees how computer technology has changed the landscape and possesses the ability to transform it further.
The design and production of garments usually is the work of a team of individuals, each of whom specializes in a different process. A designer, or design team, will first produce sketches of garments or drape fabric on a dressform to obtain different styles. The artistic rendering of a garment is there to create a mood and is typically supplemented with precise line drawings that are known as "flats." With computer-aided design (CAD) software, a designer can scan a sketch and manipulate the result with image-editing software or draw directly onto the computer's interface with a sensor-equipped pen and special tablet.
Although numerous sketches are still done by hand, their precise renderings in line drawings are increasingly achieved through the use of computers. Since software programs can store and project various styles, fabrics, and colors that can be interchanged at the click of a button, the design of clothing is now accessible to many business-minded individuals who may not have the previously required refined drawing skills. As a result, product-development teams and other merchandisers have become more involved in the design process. The ease, convenience, speed, and versatility offered by image-editing software has thus helped to make it an essential design tool.
In conjunction with CAD software, the business-driven fashion industry also uses computer applications that allow cost-analysis of garments from their earliest stages. Once a garment is sketched, its cost can be projected by using programmed data that estimates the use of fabrics, notions, and assembling complexity, depending on stylistic features.
Once the styles are determined, the renderings are given to patternmakers, who engineer ways to build the garments. Although garments draped on a three-dimensional form can be transposed to paper, the prevalent way to construct a garment is by making a flat pattern that is then cut into fabric and assembled into a three-dimensional sample. Patternmakers use basic pattern shapes that they modify according to design specifications. Essentially, they try to fit a three-dimensional body using a two-dimensional medium. By placing such elements as darts, gathers, and pleats or by breaking down larger flat pieces into several smaller sections, they can improve a garment's fit.
Although the fibers and weave structures influence the drape of a fabric and cannot be easily estimated through computer simulation, the mathematical operations and geometrical nature of the work involved in flat pattern-making make it a perfect candidate for computerization. Basic pattern shapes are now digitized and manipulated directly on the computer. Where the human hand loses precision in cutting and measuring every segment of a pattern, the computer can ensure that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together precisely and conform to the measurements of the body it is to cover quickly and with greater accuracy.
From this pattern, a sample is sewn and adjustments are made to comply with the drape of the fabric and to ensure that proportions are respected. Using the computer, the corrected patterns are positioned in various ways in order to utilize the bolts of fabric with greatest efficiency. Once this placement is determined, the fabric is piled up and the patterns can be cut with a computer-guided laser beam or knife.
Where the fashion industry needs these precision-bound tools to increase productivity and accuracy, the same technology can also allow for greater fit. Although the computerized sector of the industry caters to the masses and produces garments based on standardized measurements, some companies have started offering custom-tailored garments by entering individual customers' measurements into software programs and creating garments according to these specifications.
With the advancement of technology, new applications are devised that offer even greater potential to the field of fashion design. Present CAD software programs for designing and constructing clothing currently use what are called orthogonal projections to create patterns. These consist of graphic projections of objects on a grid-like surface or set of perpendicular intersections. These two-dimensional, manually-drawn flat patterns have been around since the eighteenth century, producing a wide range of fashions until settling on our present simple late twentieth century styles.
Orthogonal projection has its limitations and change is in the wind. Already computer tools developed for neuro-surgery, software developed for the aerospace industry, and the newest addition of digitized three-dimensional animation have been adapted by architects who have created a revolutionary approach to CAD design. Although some architects still start with orthogonal projection, others have abandoned it completely or relied heavily on digitized animation in the development and projection of their architectural designs. Providing that the variables found in textiles can eventually be analyzed like those of building materials, this could prove very influential in the cutting and production of clothing.
To advance even further beyond the two-dimensional flat pattern approach to clothing design, the new digital three-dimensional animation could be employed. Even now graphic design programs have become extremely sophisticated and allow designers and retailers to display their products in three-dimensional animated settings that simulate the various body types of online customers.
More important to the potential use of technology in garment construction, an image of a virtual body could be modeled with the planes of its anatomical structure reduced to simple geometrical shapes. This virtual body could be rotated and draped with the textile of choice. The cut of the garment created could follow the traditional patterns divided into front, back, and side pieces, or explore a new approach that would cover the body's geometrical planes. The pattern piece could cover one plane or be extended to a neighboring plane with which it has a common side. By following a joined series of planes, the seams could be integrated into the design, providing better fit and an endless series of possibilities in terms of design and construction.
see also Animation; CAD/CAM, CA Engineering; Graphic Devices.
Anne Bissonnette and Betty Kirke
Aldrich, Winifred, ed. CAD in Clothing and Textiles: A Collection of Expert Views, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1994.
Chase, Renée Weiss. CAD for Fashion Design. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.
Volino, Pascal, and Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann. Virtual Clothing: Theory and Practice. New York: Springer, 2000.