Contrary to what some might think, we don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike (as romantic as that sounds). In fact, the creative process at Deer&Doe is as defined as the testing process, and we take a proactive and intentional approach to coming up with our designs. You may have noticed that we release patterns twice per year, once in the spring, and once in the fall—which is not only because that’s how long it takes us to fully develop and flush out our patterns designs, but also because it coincides with the major fashion runway seasons. In fact, during spring and fall Fashion Week, Eléonore will dedicate about two weeks to focus solely on watching different runway shows, assimilating current trends, and thinking about what elements will translate into wearable and trendy designs for an everyday wardrobe.
From there, she starts creating early sketches, thinking about silhouettes and design details that can be incorporated in the final collection. The design process is very fluid at this stage, and focused on elements that will unify the entire collection. For example, how can a ruffle detail we like be incorporated across different garment designs? Or, might this interesting seamline work on something else, too? Sometimes these ideas are lost by the time a collection is released (things are apt to be thrown out or changed at any stage), but these early concepts helps define the overall direction of the collection. We also look at the rest of the Deer&Doe catalogue to see what’s missing, and identify if there are specific pieces we should add to our library. While Eléonore focuses on proportion and design, I will look at marketability and try to anticipate how well a design will be received by the sewing community. Sometimes we start with as many as 30 early sketches, eventually narrowing it down to our favorite 5 or 6, with the assumption that 2 or 3 will be discarded later in the development process.
Once we identified our favorite sketches, it’s time to further refine the designs. Eléonore will draft very basic versions of the patterns, usually just the bodice and/or bottom to start, and I will begin making samples in muslin. We do this three or four times, iterating the silhouette and proportions with each sample, until finally we are happy with the foundation of the garment. After that, we’ll add sleeves, followed by other details, each time repeating the same process. We do this for each pattern variation, also testing for different construction possibilities to identify the best one for the pattern instructions.
As we work through these samples, we start to shift from muslin to recommended fabrics, eventually creating a final sample. This entire process usually takes about a month, sometimes more or less, as this stage tends to have the most variability. Some patterns are smooth sailing from start to finish, others have elements that stump us and require breaks before we can find creative solutions. Others never get finished at all, or come out looking quite a bit different than they started. Once each design makes it to the finish line, it’s time to begin sending it out for tests.
With the final sample finished, Eléonore will grade the pattern while I put together a very rough draft of the pattern instructions. That means no technical illustrations, no cutting layouts, no information on seam finishes—only a basic list of steps. We then send out this early version of the pattern to our team of fit testers, whose main goal is to help us identify any major problems in the fit, draft, or construction of the pattern. This team is smaller than our second batch of testers, selected based on their size and body type, and of course—the great feedback they provide us pattern after pattern! We try to include people across the entire size range, including those who are close in proportion to the Deer&Doe block, and those with other body types who can help us anticipate common pattern adjustments. This team is given two to three weeks to make the pattern and provide feedback, as well as a fabric allowance with which to purchase supplies. Since this is the first round of testing and the pattern is not finalized, this is often when we receive the most changes to implement.
What about pattern names? It’s not until a design has completed the first round of testing and is considered approved that we pull out our list of potential names. Woven patterns are named after plants (in the early years, only medicinal plants), and knit patterns are named after weather-related terms (hence our Botany and Meteorology collections). We try to select a word with a similar feeling to the design, and check that it’s not already used by another pattern company. It does happen from time to time that we miss one, which is one reason our pattern hashtags begin with “DD” (as in #DDNeige). Before finalizing the decision, we will also ask my American husband to say the word out loud, in effort to ensure it is pronounceable for English-speakers.
With a name in hand and tester feedback implemented, we will finalize the instructions. This includes creating and adding illustrations, designing cutting layouts, and adding all of the details we feel are important to creating a great set of instructions. Because the instructions are so important to us, I will always take the time needed to get them right. Sometimes this means having as many as ten different drafts before it’s finished!
At this point, the pattern is essentially finalized. However, there are often minor mistakes that slip through the cracks, which is why all of our patterns now go through a second round of testing. This pool of testers is larger and receives a polished version of the pattern, and we consider this phase to be quality assurance more than anything else. These testers are also given two or three weeks to provide us feedback, and it’s less likely that we receive substantial changes at this point. With the final round of testing and changes complete, we move on to planning the collection release.
Although the pattern itself is complete, there’s still quite a bit left to do before a collection is ready for launch. The print layout needs to be finalized, PDF files prepared, and both the pattern and instructions need to be translated. Up until this point, everything has been done in French (this is why we can’t accept English-speaking pattern testers), and it’s not until the very end that files are translated to ensure that there are no discrepancies between French and English versions of the pattern. Once the translation is finished, files can be sent to the printer, and in 4-5 weeks they are ready to be shipped.
In tandem with testing and finalizing the pattern files, we also get ready for the collection photoshoot. Not only do we need to schedule the time with our photographers, we also need to select our models, get their measurements, and start sewing all of the samples that will be photographed. For me, this includes booking a flight to France, since my home base is in the US the rest of the year. Ideally, we can schedule the shoot a month or two before launch, giving us plenty of time to prepare the product listing and our marketing materials before release day.
Speaking of marketing, there’s also a whole bunch of content we plan around launch. Pattern descriptions need to be written, a press release prepared, as well as all of the various communications that surround a release. This includes launch day itself, but also ancillary content like fabric recommendation posts, pattern adjustment tutorials we’ll think you’ll need, and anything else to help you get the most out of the patterns. We also research and contact different sewists to help review our finished patterns (since the testing process is separate from marketing), so that you can have an opportunity to see the designs on different types of figures and hear about their experiences with the patterns.
Although our pattern development process is fairly streamlined and defined these days, there are almost always hiccups and changes along the way. Designs can change and be tossed at any point, and we’ve even so much as discarded an already printed pattern when we needed to. Of course, not all changes are purely technical. Sometimes we decide that the pattern views don’t have as much variety between them as we’d like, or what started out as a shirtdress might actually work better as a blouse. Because we know that not all designs will make it to print, we start the design process with more ideas than we know we’ll need, allowing us to stay flexible along the way for the inevitable ups and downs of the creative process.