What does Grading Quality tell you about Pattern Quality?

I hear this all the time: “Why should I care if a sewing pattern is graded well, as long as the size I’m making fits?”

Plenty of people don’t care, obviously….since there are many inaccurately graded patterns out there, and some extremely popular indie pattern companies routinely publish and sell enormous quantities of poorly graded patterns.  The web is full of photos of garments that don’t fit: bubble crotches, straining sleeves, digging armpits…and many people seem to be blissfully unaware, until the fit problems reach the breaking point of total unwearability: a garment that won’t fit over your head, or that you can’t zip up the back.

Ever since the decline of the upscale department store (where an alterations department was always available), our clothing shopping has moved more and more to mall chain stores, big box  stores (Wal Mart, Target, KMart), discount stores (Kohl’s, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s)….and people forget that alterations are even an option.  Collectively our “eye” has become accustomed to seeing poorly fitting clothes.  But sewing means that YOU control the fit, so why not go for better fit than off-the-rack? Why not use the most professionally drafted and graded patterns that you can?

Studying a “nested” graded pattern is a clue as to whether or not the pattern itself was drafted well. Yes, drafting and grading are different skills, however:

  • Not many pattern drafters know how to grade, and yet:
  • Most pattern graders know how to draft.

This is because professional-quality grading requires knowledge of how patterns are drafted in the first place. Learning to grade is the logical step AFTER learning to draft.  I imagine that for every 100 pattern design students, maybe a handful go on to practice grading in industry.

Is it possible that a poorly-drafted pattern could be graded by a professional so that the outcome looks like a beautiful nest? Yes, it happens.  There are indie patterns out there that have technically correct grading, yet the fit in all sizes is off: there are crotch-wrinkles from poorly shaped rises,  sleeves that tug because the cap-height is too shallow. Smooth grading can hide problems (until the garment is sewn of course). In these cases, pretty much all of the tester photos will show fit problems.

Is it possible that a pattern could be perfectly drafted in the central fit-model size, tested, adjusted, finalized, approved…and then graded completely inaccurately? Sure.  You could take a vintage paper pattern in one size, scan it, and start drawing the rest of the size range without having a clue what you were doing.  There’s some bizarre grading out there in indie pattern land. Stuff that makes you shake your head and wonder “How did that happen?” The frustrating part is that some of the tester photos will fit by default (they got the lucky size!).  That is why poorly-graded patterns are a “red flag” of warning to me.

In my experience, beautiful grading is ONE indication of careful drafting.


What does a beautifully graded pattern look like? Let’s look at a few examples, keeping in mind the dual purpose of grading is to:

  • INCREASE/DECREASE SIZE 
  • MAINTAIN PROPORTION

Note that it does not matter (to me) whether a pattern is drawn/graded by hand or “by computer”. The method itself does not create quality, only the knowledge and experience of the grader can do that.  Sure, a “computer drafted” pattern looks slick, in the same way that a typed school essay looks more finished than a hand-written one. Yet all of the Microsoft Word fonts can’t hide a badly written school report.  In the same vein, “professionally” printed patterns can still be poorly drafted and graded.  I would far prefer a hand-graded pattern made by someone who knew what she was doing, over a fancy printout in pretty colors and “layers” created by an incompetent grader.

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  1. First, look at the beautiful grading on this bodice front:

Capture8

  • Increase/decrease size? Yes, smoothly  processed with X/Y Axis (“axial”) grading,  look at the smooth gradation of sizes using consistent grade rules (no jumpy jigs and jags between sizes). Note how that makes it simple to merge sizes (red line)
  • Maintain proportion? Yes, look at the maintenance of the silhouette throughout the range

Notice how these end-points are all on a straight line, showing precision of the up-over-down-over movement in the grading process:

Capture17

A nested pattern like this would give me a lot of confidence in the drafting itself.

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2. Next, check out the “okay but not perfect” grading on this sleeve-cap:

Capture10

 

  • Increase/decrease size? The size gradations are uneven between sizes, ie; there’s no smooth “nest”.  It’s not only a matter of the hand-drawing, it’s also the distances that don’t follow a consistent grade rule.
  • Maintain proportion? The shapes are somewhat maintained….could be better.

Often I’m asked why the drawing lines on this type of indie pattern are so raggedy. My best guess is  that the pattern was either:

  1. Drafted by hand on paper and graded by hand on paper, then scanned into an all-purpose (non-pattern-specific) non-vector program (Power Point maybe?), and traced…which is really difficult to do, or….
  2. Drafted by hand on paper in the central size, scanned into a computer, then manually graded…again, quite difficult to get smooth  curves by drawing with a mouse on a tablet.

Of course I understand the limitations of technology for the indie pdf-designer. Who can afford an Accumark system for small business use? Most people must make do with an all-purpose computer program, which is fine as long as the pattern grader understands the methods of grading and can translate that into the limitations of the program.

Check the end-points of the sleeve seam though; they don’t start on the same line:

Capture18

 

Looking again at those squiggly lines, set at different spaces apart and drawn at different angles and curves, and I’m less confident of the grading.  For my own use, I’d adjust this  pattern before using it.

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3. How about the somewhat random grading on this front bodice:

Capture9

 

  • Increase/decrease size? The size gradations are even between sizes at the bodice width and the neckline depth, and then the rest? The straps are the same width from 6 months to girls 8, the neck width ranges from same-width-as-straps in the baby sizes to half-the-strap-width in larger sizes.  The length of the side-seams is all over the place.
  • Maintain proportion? The armscye shapes are so random they overlap and criss-cross. The end-points seem plot-pointed completely at random:

Capture19

How does this happen?  What I heard from the designer was that the pattern was tested and approved in every size. From that, I take it that there was no central fit-model size, so there was no strategic grading up and down the size range.  It looks like each size was entered separately into a computer program, and then smashed together.

I would not have confidence that any size here was correctly drafted.  Would I use this pattern? Maybe but I would spend a lot of time re-drafting and re-grading.

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4. “Bubble Letter” Grading:

Do you remember scribbling words in bubble-letters on your notebook in school? The bigger the letters got, the more they lost definition:

IMG_1300

That’s what I think of when I see grading like this armscye:

 

IMG_9439

  • Increase/decrease size? Yes, this  looks okay along the bodice width and shoulder height
  • Maintain proportion? Not even close. Like “bubble lettering”, the shapes got more and more distorted as the sizes grow.  Which shape is the fit-approved shape? The extreme scoop of the largest size, the tiny shallow curve of the smallest size, or somewhere in-between?

Capture21

How does this happen? It’s only a guess, but it appears (from the smooth curves) that the pattern was graded directly on a computer, in a non-grading-specific vector program (Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape maybe?), possibly by scanning in a central size and then point-plotting the measurements of the size range. The points on the green line show that the measurements are okay, however the  variety of shapes are a result of pulling out vector curves that are not the same.

There’s no way to tell which shape is the correct one. The only way I can use a pattern like this is to guess which shape is right, then re-grade the rest of the sizes to maintain that shape. Otherwise the garments will appear quite different at either end of the size range, and I can’t sell that.

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Another example of “bubble letter” grading is in this dress bodice (left vertical is the center-front).  Note how the shapes get more and more distorted towards the ends of the size range…it looks like one size was scanned into a computer, and then the grader kept drawing around and around, getting bigger and bigger:

 

Capture16

 

  • Increase/decrease size? The inside-neckline measurement actually DECREASES as the size increase. That’s because this green point-line is going in the wrong direction….the grading is reversed from the stacking point:

Capture22

  • Maintain proportion: No the shape of the neckline in the small sizes has twice the width as height, and in the large sizes half the width as the height.  The dress will look totally different at opposite ends of the size range.

To use this pattern I’d have to re-grade entirely. It’s quick though, because there’s only this one shaped bodice piece (the rest are rectangles) and the issue (not grading from a stacking point) is a simple fix. Stay tuned for a quick post on this.

Happy Sewing!

Best, Janet

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49 Responses to What does Grading Quality tell you about Pattern Quality?

  1. Shelley says:

    Yes, Adobe Illustrator is one of the most common vector programs used for this purpose. Another freebie is Inkscape, which is…okay. There is a course you can take to learn how to draft in AI, but not sure how much goes into drafting practices compared to just learning to use vector tools. I have AI and use it solely for art, the pattern drafting I do in PatternMaster Boutique because it has tools that are meant for pattern manipulation.
    I’m very glad to see brand “C” patterns made the grade. I recently bought a couple to see what the fuss was about. Thanks for sharing this knowledge, it helps to know what to spend time on.

  2. Nikki says:

    It is really tacky to be using the actual pattern names and designers. You could simply show the examples without smearing, first of all. Second of all, I am fairly certain that you have not designed a single pattern for sale in your whole life. But thank you for the information. Hope you have permission to reproduce patterns. I have never seen a blog so focused on tearing down people who work hard. Maybe you could make a blog post to show how YOU would grade each pattern, or better yet, all of your designs?

  3. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Nikki Timon: 1. Fair Use Doctrine Law allows the use of photos for product review, be it literature, food, cosmetics, etc. 2. I’ve stated many times that I am not a designer, I am a Technical Designer. I correct patterns and fit samples in the garment industry. I do not sell patterns. 3. You are welcome for the information. 4. I have never, ever reproduced a pattern. Anyone who has ever worked in the garment industry knows that is the biggest insult/accusation anyone could ever give to a pattern-maker. It would be cause for immediate dismissal, lawsuit, and being barred from the industry. 5. Maybe you should stick to reading blogs that focus on the cuteness factor, and not on technical details. 6. I have many blog posts showing how to correct the grading on patterns. PS: I have never read a comment so focused on tearing down someone who works hard to give away free technical advice.

  4. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Hi Shelley, are you talking about the http://patternworkshop.com class? I’ve heard it’s more geared to learning vector tools…you need to purchase a basic drafting book and it’s better to have prior drafting knowledge. Is PatternMaster the same company as Wild Ginger? Do you like it? It’s great that more and more options are becoming available online, since patternmaking classes are mostly located near the garment centers, which excludes so many people who would love to take classes!

  5. Michelle says:

    I agree with Nikki. You should have blurred over the pattern’s names and designers. I find it tasteless and act of bully-ism. I

  6. Julie says:

    Thanks again for another wonderful blog post. I’m not a pattern designer, but I sew A LOT and I used to buy a large number of indie pattern designs until I stumbled on your blog. Now I buy a lot less because I can’t see the pattern before I buy and print it. After reading your blog, I’ve gone back to buying more Big 4 patterns, with the faith that they are better drafted and graded.

    I know you make more children’s clothes, but do you have any recommended indie designers for women’s clothes? Thanks!

  7. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    I think you mean bullying? “Definition of bullying: abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful”. Sorry, not even close. I am not stronger or more powerful than any of these pattern sellers, each of whom has tens of thousands of FB fans. And critique is not abuse or mistreatment, it’s an integral part of the design process. “Definition of critique: a detailed analysis and assessment of something”. Anyone who has gone through design school has endured hundreds of BRUTAL critiques. What I write is gentle raindrops in comparison to what pattern drafting professors dole out.

  8. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Hi Julie, I bought a lot (seriously) of indie patterns when I first discovered pdfs. I collected them faster than I could use them, and when I finally got around to it, I was very often disappointed. The drafting and grading quality wasn’t at all what I expected. I’d been caught up in the visual hype of product releases. As far as women’s indie designers, I bought my first “selfish sew” pdf last week, the Fringe dress by Chalk and Notch. It looks so well drafted, I’m dying to get the time to make it!

  9. Linda says:

    Thank you for this interesting and informative post, which has clarified many issues for me. I learnt to sew in the days before multi-size patterns and since taking up dressmaking again after a long break I’ve frequently been very disappointed by the poor fit of garments made fromm indie patterns. I always make a toile and expect to have to tweak the fit, but often find that the hours of extra labour involved in making major adjustments and repeatedly retoiling (is that a word?) totally sap all joy from sewing the project. Your clear explanations have made me realise that it’s neither my sewing skills nor my body which are at fault, so I shall inspect my patterns with fresh eyes and abandon those which are not worth my time and effort.

  10. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    If retoiling isn’t a word, it should be! Sadly there are many patterns out there, often ones with glowing reviews, that need too much adjustment. Whether there was a rush before release date and errors were overlooked, or the patternmaker is lacking in experience…it’s hard to tell. But it does take the joy out of sewing. I’m learning to be protective of my time and study patterns before even cutting into muslin!

  11. Anonymous says:

    The women commenting and attacking the writer should be ashamed of themselves. Grow up! The writer is extremely knowledgeable, clearly. Instead of getting on a blog and trying to belittle people, why don’t you try putting that energy towards getting these “designers” to put out correctly drafted products. Then, the writer would have nothing to correct. I really don’t know what you’re doing on a blog of someone you so obviously dislike. Oh wait, maybe it’s you that needs to stop being so tacky.

  12. Quackers 4 Sewing says:

    Like many who sew, the main reason why I sew is to improve the fit of the garments I wear. I had to use a critical eye and learn what constituted good fit. Now if someone is kind enough to help me on my sewing path by illustrating what constitutes good drafting and grading, all I can say is THANK YOU, 7 Pine Design. After all, poor drafting and grading, as the saying goes, “It is what it is.”

  13. JustGail says:

    Those who criticize you for showing the problems with patterns, and not taking out all indication of which company they are from, can take their indignation and go do whatever it is that that fangirls do that keeps so many independents turning out crap. My money, time, and energy are in too short supply to waste on bad patterns and *I* appreciate the information. Also, you do not only post the bad – you posted a review of a company a couple months(?) ago, with only good things to say. BTW – I sent a comment to that company saying even though I’m not a customer (no little ones to sew for), thanks for turning out well drafted and graded patterns.

    Thank You for showing the good and bad with patterns and leaving the names. In fact, it’s *because* you left the name in, that I’ve decided to go ahead and make my first independent company pattern purchase, one I’ve been waffling on for months.

  14. Ariele says:

    This is SO HELPFUL, thank you, thank you, thank you, and haters gonna hate 😉

  15. Ariele says:

    And just signed up for your newsletter, thanks!

  16. Natalia says:

    I’m a new reader and loving your analyses! Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to share your expertise. You write so well and make so much sense. I feel like reading your posts have crystallized an interest of mine into a possible direction. Do you have an article written already, can you point me somewhere, or can you share how you would recommend a person beginning the learning process to become a quality small-time pattern producer? I would like to design, would also be content with “just ” correcting and grading for someone else, but ideally would like to become a quality small-time maker. I’ve been collecting ideas for some time, but only after reading your posts do I realize how much I love this part of it!

  17. Kat says:

    I love your posts and reviews. I am fairly new to sewing and I always wondered why all those lines do not nest correctly. My OCD was protesting ? Your posts help so much to understand the thought behind it. Thank you for your hard work.

  18. I love all the information you share. Thank you! This is a really informative post. I have a lot to learn. I often tell my friend that I don’t get the big fuss about nit-picking fit issues. And I think your point about society caring less about fit, and not being able to see it because we don’t wear proper fit anymore is exactly why. I wear RTW off the rack just fine (Admittedly, I don’t have any hard to fit proportions). The fitting issues I will notice is when my girls are uncomfortable wearing something. And I’m trying to train my eye to be better.

  19. Jane says:

    Thank you for another great post!
    I love reading your content :)

  20. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Thanks so much!!

  21. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    And kids sometimes can’t explain exactly WHY something is uncomfortable….it just tugs and pulls wrong. I recently read that the best time to evaluate your (or their) wardrobe is on laundry day: look at what’s left in the closet, that they didn’t choose to wear, and try to figure out why. Your eye will automatically learn a little something from every sewing project!

  22. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Thanks so much! Yup those colorful lines can be really pretty…but I’d rather have them in place than in cute colors….

  23. Diane S says:

    I love your blog, I learn so much from it. Try not to let the haters wear you down.

  24. Farah Luis-Fayat says:

    I always look forward to your posts! They are so informative. Thank you for taking the time to write. And to those criticizing you, don’t pay them any attention. They can keep buying poorly drafted patterns if they want! I am now an informed customer, thanks to you!
    Is there a book about pattern drafting rules you can recommend?

  25. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Sadly, but predictably, the haters are fan-girls who just can’t handle the truth.

  26. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Natalia, the best place to start would either be taking pattern drafting classes, either at a design school, a community college, or even online. The most knowledgeable person that I can direct you to is Kathleen Fasanella: her blog and textbook are incredibly helpful for anyone interested in the apparel and pattern-making business!.http://kathleenfasanella.com/ If you can swing it, this would be an amazing class to take: http://fashion-incubator.com/production-pattern-making-class/

  27. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    I feel sorry for them actually: a quick glance at their Instagram and Facebook pages shows how devoted they are to designers whose patterns have grading issues. My favorite pattern drafting books are classroom textbooks. They are expensive but can sometimes be found at public libraries. I like “Designing Through the Flat Pattern”, and “Patternmaking for Fashion Design”.

  28. Kirsty says:

    I am deeply grateful to the writer, who is clearly highly professional, for her kindness, time and energy in freely sharing her technical expertise with those who wish to improve their skills. Relative to the scathing responses, if designers are putting their designs out into the public areana for purchase in an unprofessional and at times even unwearable state, surely they cannot expect to be immune from accountability, review and fair comment. Surely those designers have some measure of responsibility toward their customers who are who are keeping their companies in business and trusting their pattern making and grading capabilities only to be sorely disappointed to find that their trust has been broken and their time, money and fabric wasted. Surely any company acting in good faith would graciously take the feedback on board and make every effort to satisfactorily resolve the issues! It seems that pattern making / drafting skills are not all that are lacking with some designers but discretion and common courtesy also seem to be in disappointingly short supply!

  29. Mina says:

    Thank you very much for the suggestions in the comments for books and courses on pattern drafting! Though I have no ambition to draft/produce patterns, I am very interested in the theory and think that having a better understanding of drafting will make it easier to evaluate patterns and make better garments.

  30. Anna Metcalf says:

    Thank you for this post! I know little to nothing about drafting and pattern design, but I do test patterns for several designers. I’d love to learn more so I could become a better pattern tester. Thanks for all your information that you share. It’s really helpful.

  31. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    No worries! A glance at the haters Instagram and Facebook accounts explains it all. They are White Knights, serving the Queens of Indie PDF World.

  32. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    I’m sure you learn with every test! You may not even realize how much you’ve picked up, just by participating. Testing is a lot of work, I applaud you!

  33. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Thanks Kirsty, I think we all want the same thing: for every sewist to be successful, every designer to be successful every pattern drafter to be successful. We all make mistakes, we all learn…hopefully we all want to improve!

  34. Esther says:

    Thank you very much for your post. I have never bought an indie pattern and have no intention of doing it. My experience in sewing is limited and I have used mostly Burda and Simplicity patterns.However, i do have enough knowledge in geometry (I am in architect) to understand the issues you explain. I believe Burda and Simplicity patterns are well drafted, they resemble the first of your examples, and it is not a problem to merge sizes as I always have to do.

  35. Colleen says:

    Janet, I appreciate you fighting the good fight for quality and answering nonsense with rational opposition and good sense. You are a treasure. Thank you for the education!

  36. Kelli McArthur says:

    Thank you for your time and expertise, my confidence and wallet thank you so very much.

  37. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Architecture and pattern drafting are so closely related! If you can visualize in 3-dimensions, both fields are a pleasure and a challenge at the same time. Yes, Burda and Simplicity are generally very well drafted. Thankfully there are some very good indie patternmakers…often they are “quieter” (less promotion and advertising). My hope is to find them, because the idea of pdf-download is wonderful for seamstresses all over the world, who may not have a shop selling patterns nearby. (Post script: my grandfather was an architect! https://pittsburghquarterly.com/homes-category-alias/item/614-updating-a-brandon-smith.html)

  38. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Thank you so much Colleen. Yes, it is “fighting the good fight” at times. You can’t imagine the private messages I get. Here’s one from yesterday: “If you really have that much of an issue MOVE on to someone you like and stop spewing hateful snide remarks in sewing forums!” I don’t think there’s anything “hateful” in objective reviews and factual information. Maybe it’s just rare in the sewing world? (I didn’t reply because the only logical answer is “Well if YOU have that much of an issue then MOVE on to a blog you like better!”).

  39. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Kelli, thanks so much! Trust me, I spent a small fortune on patterns before I realized that many were more “hype” than anything else…..

  40. Natalia says:

    Thank you very much for the recommendations. The book and video look amazing; the class, at $2150 a day, will probably be a little later step on the journey. :) I will be looking into local classes too. Thank you again!

  41. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Yes the class is expensive! It’s sort of a dream of mine to go to it someday…..

  42. Ali says:

    Thank you so much for this very informative post! I had been wondering if there was a way to tell the quality of a pattern before sewing. You are kind to take your time to put this educational content out for free! I just subscribed :)

  43. Dora Maria Costa says:

    A few years ago I fell into the world of pdf patterns. Some fit better than others for sure. I was a little taken by the patterns that use the same piece for front and back and sleeves that have do not have a front or back. But, for knits it was okay most of the time, not always. I will try to get past the amount of money that I have spent on pdf patterns and look forward to reviews and lists of the ones that are well drafted! I hate wasting time and money and I do not want to draft or grade patterns. I do usually merge some sizes. I do not want to make a muslin for each item that I make, and I do not want to ruin nice fabric. I am a a super fan of Consumer Reports and reviews and anything that helps save time and money. We all want a good fit and overall experience. I appreciate your help on this.

  44. Larissa says:

    This is a fantastic post, I wish more people were honest about poorly drafted patterns and not afraid of the fangirl bullying. Calling out bad drafting is not bullying, being attacked for calling out a poor quality product is. Just because someone can sew a self-drafted vague box-shaped garment does not mean they’re suddenly qualified in pattern drafting. In my opinion some of these “Indie pattern makers” do more damage than good, novice sewists put off by garments that fit badly through no fault of their own. Anyway, this blog has become my new rabbit hole, thank you so much for sharing all your amazing knowledge, may we become better sewists for it!

  45. Jenn says:

    Hi there! I just found your blog! Thank you for your constructive criticism in this post. I even enjoyed going through the comments and finding the links and book titles of recommended resources :) I have a degree in Fashion Design and Product Development, but unfortunately found the school I went to lacking in the pattern making, fitting, and grading section and felt I could have gotten so much more at another school. There is a class on Craftsy.com for pattern grading and although I have purchased it I haven’t watched it yet. I would love it (and I’m sure many others would too) if you were able to watch and critique this class with your many years of expertise. Thanks! And I look forward to future blog posts and FB commentary.

  46. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Hi Jenn! Thanks for your kind words, I will look into that Craftsy class…I’ve never taken one of their classes but that one could be really good, thanks for the tip! Best, Janet

  47. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Hi Larissa! Wow, thank you so much for your support…and for your understanding that who I’m really looking out for are the sewists who may think that fit problems are THEIR fault, when often it’s simply a poorly drafted/graded pattern. Especially if they ask questions in online groups, and the only answers they get are “Did you measure the inch square?” “Maybe your printer is off” “Did you measure your child correctly?” or the ultimate non-answer: “It worked for me”.

  48. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Hi Dora, Have you joined the Pattern Reviews and Resources group on Facebook? It’s a great resource for finding out non-biased reviews for patterns. You can save a lot of money that might have been wasted! (Ask me how I know…sigh).

  49. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Thanks Ali! While a lot of different aspects are involved in producing a sewing pattern, grading is often (not always) a good indication of overall quality.

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