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Studio!

I have a new home! Which is delightful. I took over this space a couple of months ago, but from September I’ve been working less hours at COS so I have more time to be here and settle in 🙂

It feels like quite a big room at the moment! But there’s a lot more still to install here. Plus decorating of course: the wall on the right in the photo above will be painted a dark navy, and the cutting tables will be the same cream as the mannequin.


Through the open doorway on the left above is Julia’s space, she’s a fashion stylist. And on the other side of my room is the studio of Susie and her company Knot and Pop, planners of lovely events.

This end of the room will be my fitting area. I have a big mirror to hang on the wall (which will also be navy blue, not this patchy green) and I’ll put up a curtain to divide this section off from the rest of the room when needed.

I also need to get a dressing screen, but I can’t make my mind up! I think I need something with a Victoriana feel to go with my cute chaise:

I’d already bought an Ikea rug, but then I saw this one for a bargain price and it just felt so much more special! It’s a bit more luxe underfoot too. It has a gorgeous tree of life pattern, so when sitting in the sofa you get a lovely view of the whole design.


This little bit of wall is my favourite spot at the moment:

With the yukka, my thank you card from Kate and the industrial, cracked brickwork.

 

The long wall in the photo above will stay white, probably with a cork board on it for tear sheets and little mock ups. The machinery will live along here, including a proper steam unit which I’ve yet to acquire. And there will be a hanging rail dangling from the beams somewhere at the end there – my talented friend April of Rope and Vine is going to macrame me something special.

I love my domestic machine, but it’ll be good to get the industrial up and running. I also seem to have inherited two heaters, which I’m guessing is the previous occupants’ way of telling me I’m going to freeze my arse off in the winter?!

This Ikea unit will have cupboards at the bottom to hide all my crap, and will be painted the same cream as the tables. So hopefully it’ll start to look less like it belongs in a garage.

The plants help 🙂 I want this place to be full of them! And I’m particularly pleased with this beat up brass pot I found at antiques fair a couple of weeks ago:


The final stop on my virtual tour is the big wall which will be blue:

Those awful shelves have got to go, and I’m considering making a radiator cover to elevate this section a tiny bit. I’d like to have some branding up here, maybe letters in brass, and a section which forms a good backdrop to photograph hanging dresses.

Maybe once I’ve got a few more of these jobs done I’ll have a big party! It’d be nice to give this new chapter in my tiny businesses story a proper launch.

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Jorge’s bridesmaids: ending

It’s been two months since my first (and only!) post on this project and I’ve done around 70 hours of work on these outfits since then. The great irony of blogging seems to be that the more you have to write about the less time you have to actually write, which is a bit of a shame. But I’m hoping to make some more time for good habits in the future!

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The wedding was two weeks ago now and it was an absolute stunner ♥ The bride was gorgeous, the venue was complete perfection and a good time was had all round. Not least by myself and my little group of COS colleagues old and new. This is the first time I’ve actually been to a wedding which I’ve made something for and it was so nerve wracking! As we waited in the church for the kick-off I think I was more jittery than the groom. I did score not one but two mentions in the speeches at the reception though, so I’m going to consider that well worth it.

When we left this story I had fitted a toile on maid of honour Sacha, we’d finally acquired some fabric, and I was moving ahead to make up the first outfit for real. Once I’d made the shell up for both top and skirt Sach came round for a final fitting and everything was looking lovely!

So now one was more or less done I could start the others! I made a separate pattern for each, based on the body measurements they’d taken themselves, and given that each one could only come for one fitting I just had to go for the real thing and hope for the best.

Luckily there weren’t many issues to fix! Aside from two waistbands to take in, and one which needed less seam allowance taking on the armhole to make a wider shoulder, it was just a case of moving on to hems and finishes.

The hems were a bit of a sticking point. I’d assumed that hand-stitching a generous hem would be the best choice, becuase that’s probably the most exensive choice. But having done one that just wasn’t the way to go. The curve on the front panel of the top was too extreme, there was too much excess to ease in, plus the heavy band looked like such a visible stripe in this satin.

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So I backtracked and went for a teeny pin hem instead. And I was much hapier with that 🙂

I had covered buttons made by Harlequin. The service was super easy, if anyone’s in the market for this kind of thing I’d thoroughly recommend them. I just sent some fabric over to their address in Essex and miraculously received these perfect little gems of buttons back in return. (It was definitely the right call not to go with the DIY kits on these, I had toyed with the idea but at the end of the day there’s no way I could’ve achieved this kind of finish by myself!)

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The buttons and loops took a looooooong time though! (Thanks mum 🙂 ) 60 is a lot of buttons, I guess I’d underestimated there. I think they look great though. It’s unfortunate that in the silk satin they can look a little bulky and cause some lumpy bumpiness, I think I could’ve fused the outer a little bit here to stiffen it up, maybe even changed the construction a bit too. I’d like to do a bit more work on this in the winter, create some mock-ups and see what I can learn.

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In general, every day’s been a school day on this project! I’ve learnt a whole heap of things. So for my own future reference here’s my list of Big Learnings:

  1. Don’t let people measure themselves – they’re rubbish.
  2. If you’re trying to make 5 people look the same it’d really help to see them all at the same time.
  3. Handstitching a nice wide hem might seem like the couture route, but that doesn’t mean it’s going the be the best choice! Do mock-ups of various finishes in every new fabric.
  4. Overlocking isn’t just a cheap finish favoured by sweatshops and sweatshirts alike – the edges of these facings looked great and made much less of an impact on the shell fabric than a pin hem might have done.
  5. Cutting silk is a team sport, thanks Leanne and Jorge for saving me some lonely hours there!
  6. Initially buying 100m of thread per outfit was a pitiful amount. And if you will insist on buying only 2 reels at a time you’re going to be going back to the shop a lot.

I didn’t take many photos at the wedding, I was too busy trying to stand up in heels while consuming vast amounts of wine. But here are my least out of focus offerings, believe it or not! And I’ll be adding the photographers shots as soon a I have them…

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Jorge’s bridesmaids: beginning

I’m making separates for the bridesmaids of my friend Jorge, who gets married in just under two months’ time. It’s a super fun project, collaborating with Jorge! But there are a few bumps in the road making it less than totally straight-forward.

For a start, only one of the 5 girls is local to me in London, so making a toile for each maid and fitting every one would never have been possible. Instead we decided to use the local one for all the development work: fitting a toile and designing around her, and then making the other 4 from that. And given that this one is in fact the brides’ sister and arguably the most important maid to please the whole thing made a lot of sense!

A couple of months back Jorge narrowed down her design and I got started making a pattern according to her sister Sacha’s body measurements. The style is simple and hopefully universally flattering: just a simple, sleeveless swing top, fastening in the back with covered buttons and open below the bra, with a full length skirt, gathered at the waistband.

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My first toile had too much volume everywhere, but that’s a much nicer situation to have in a fitting than everything being far too small! We pinned away quite a lot of fabric from the hem, decided to decrease the amount of gathering and I also slimmed down the top a lot. But not too much changed on the design from here, the initial idea suited her well and she felt really comfortable.

(Apologies for the terrible photos by the way! I’ve moved into a new flat and there’s a lot of DIY occurring! This fitting had to take place in the bare-boarded hallway as every other room was, and still is, an unmitigated disaster…)

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The fabric for this toile, the dusty pink shown here, was Jorge’s choice for final fabric. It’s lovely and dead cheap – she’d found it in a shop at Goldhawk Road – so we decided to go ahead and mock it up in the real thing, to get a good dummy run in. It would’ve been perfect if only the bulk fabric we needed wasn’t stuck indefinitely in a shipping container somewhere in China. And even if our ship did miraculously come in, we’d apparently not be guaranteed an exact colour match.

So it wasn’t meant to be, and poor Jorge put her nose back to the grindstone of decision-making. But after a good few weeks of pondering, and a fair bit of enquiring and negotiating, she has picked out a really beautiful fabric which I think will turn out perfectly. Unfortunately our run of mildly inconvenient bad luck wasn’t quite over and this material also has a hitch in the bulk – we can only receive it in two big chunks and a small chunk. But that’s not a deal breaker.

I have the first big chunk in hand now – 7.5m, which should be plenty to make up Sacha’s outfit and one other. This week I’ve cut out all the pieces for Sacha’s and fused as needed. Which I’m surprised to say took 3 hours! It’s a pretty slippery satin, I had to cut it with paper under for stability and the prep time was extensive. But I think I’ve done a good job 🙂 It was worth taking the time over.

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We’ve got a date in the diary to have a fitting with her this weekend, so I need to have something wearable for her by then! We need to check everything’s looking exactly as we want it before I go ahead and start on the other 4.

I will see each girl for a fitting of sorts. At the very least I’ll confirm the finished hem length for each one, and probably also do small alterations of some kind. Hopefully not too many though! (Especially on bridesmaid number 5 who won’t arrive from Australia until 3 days before the wedding.)

I’ll post again once I’ve got something proper to show 🙂 And hopefully I’ll get some better shots of it on her this time around!

Ruth’s dress, part 1; toile fitting

I’m super excited to introduce my first project of 2018! Ruth is lovely colleague of mine who will be getting married in a few months. Her wedding will be beautifully personal with loads of lovely DIY touches, so she’s looking for the perfect understated, hand made dress. We’ve drawn up this design and I’ve made our first and only toile for fitting:

This project is much more straight forward than a full-on bespoke gown. It’s an elegant, classic design, in a heavy off-white satin. And I love that this dress is an alternative to a big budget frock. I think there needs to be more options out there for people who want a personal, made to measure service, but without the price tag of a custom designed, complex outfit.

So to keep the process simple and fuss-free we’ll only do one toile fitting for this dress. I’ve draped it directly on the stand in calico, but then re-cut the top part in the correct fabric so that we can check the volume in gathers before we commit. Having seen it on the body and made a few adjustments we’ll go straight for the real thing.

I’m so thrilled that it looked good on Ruth from the get-go! With an un-fussy, clean design like this one there’s really nowhere to hide: the fit and finish need to be perfect. But this has been a great start, and the shape suits her so brilliantly – I’m happy that this is heading in the right direction.

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Kate’s outfit, part 4: a few photos from the wedding :)

Just thought I’d post a couple of shots Kate’s sister sent me from the wedding!

It’ll be a while before I see the photographers images from the day I guess, but I’m so looking forward to that! To be honest that’s the best bit of the whole process, seeing someone you’ve worked so closely with looking incredible in a beautiful set of professional photos. It’s a real contrast from my day job in mass-produced fashion, I’ll definitely be missing that personal connection when I go back to my normal life next month.

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(What a stunner ☺️ 💘💘💘)

 

Clare’s top, part 4: final fitting(s)

Last week on Friday I fitted what I’d hoped would be the final garment on Clare. Unfortunately it turned out that we had not cracked the fit around the bust at all – so I treated this as another sample round, made my alterations and went away to make remake it. The darts were looking far too pointy! The seam under the bust was also sitting too high on her and the neck didn’t lie nicely against her body:

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Oh, and also, she couldn’t get into it! That was a pretty big hitch. I had to cut a seam and pin her back in. The trouble was that we’d taken it in to be a closer fit, but with an invisible zip like this one I needed to keep a short length of closed seam at the bottom. Or at least I thought I had to… until I found an amazing open-ended invisible zip at Kleins, which has really saved the project! I’ve no idea how I could have solved this issue without it.

So a week later I went back to see her again, with much better results!! The fit is vastly improved, and I think she’s looking lovely in this feminine but cool outfit.

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I’ve altered the Charlie Brear skirt now too, taking out 180cm from the volume at the bottom, hemming it to Clare’s required length and shortening the train. I’ve also added a lining and removed one of the two layers of mesh, which means the skirt is now less big and much less see-through, a win-win in this instance!

Clare will get married next weekend and I’m super excited to see the photos! I’m sure it’ll be a lovely day, and hopefully the Welsh weather will be kind to her xx

Kate’s outfit, part 3: final fitting

Holy crap, how did this crop up so soon??! It’s only 2 weeks till the wedding now, so it’s the perfect time to have Kate try on the final garments and I can make a few tiny, almost imperceptible tweaks before I drop the perfected package back to her… or at least it would be, in a parallel universe where things work out just peachy the first time around.

But I don’t think I live in this peachy universe, because as it turned out I hit a few issues which meant showing Kate options to choose from, and of course that means I’ll have to implement the final choices after the fitting. Plus, as I was constructing the various pieces of this outfit it became increasingly obvious that the fabric was far too see-through. The facings and seam allowances were glowing through something chronic! But I decided to persevere, get a whole garment together to fit on Kate, and then find a solution to this issue along with any other changes we needed to make after.

So I knew we’d have a few alterations, some alternatives to switch in, and an opacity issue to nail… and I also knew I’d cut my two week contingency plan down to one week by booking a holiday. If I’m honest I wasn’t looking forward to this fitting.

That having been said, the outfit does look lovely 🙂 The design is perfect for her, the overall look of the thing is exactly what we wanted, and the alterations from the last fitting had gone well.

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I’d added a dart to the top to control the flare in the hem while keeping the fit at the bust, but I still made up the alternative top option (no darts, more flare). Darts are staying, fit looks nice 🙂 So that’s one set of options dealt with easily.

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We’ve got a slight problem with a bumpy texture over the boobs, which is down to the seam allowance inside the corset layer needing a trim and possibly also some securing topstitches. And that’s another fairly simple win.

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The skirt is sitting a little too low on the waist, leaving a slightly too big gap between top and skirt at the back. So there we’ll take in a little and it’ll sit higher, which is a wince more work but nothing too scary.

And then there’s the sleeve. I was disappointed to find that the darts felt bulky and left the hem a bit wobbly and chunky. It would be more normal to have a facing at the bottom sleeve, so there would be darts on the outside layer but not on the inside layer, just a smooth panel which attaches to the lining, but Kate really wanted the inside to also be in self fabric with no seams to show through, just an exact copy of the outer layer. So I made her up one sleeve as planned, but I made an alternative sleeve with the shaping from the darts moved into one convex shaped panel, so we have a horizontal seam instead. I thought the look would be cleaner, but maybe it got a little too stark.

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After some discussion we decided to continue with the original darted design. Kate felt that it could do with a bit less volume in the bottom though, so we pinned quite a bit away. I’ll update the pattern accordingly and make up a pair of these new sleeves. We won’t see them on Kate for any more test rounds though, so let’s hope the smaller silhouette isn’t too risky at this late stage!

But the biggest issue to my eyes is the transparency. It’s tolerable, I suppose – she can wear virtually invisible pants and maybe in most of the photos you won’t see the facings – but that seems like a bit of a cop out. Up close the seam allowances look super ugly and the facings are not exactly offensive but shouldn’t be a feature! Instead of tolerance I’m going to take action. I’ll get some more fabric, fuse it, re-cut and replace the outer layer of the skirt and the top. For the sake of an extra days’ work I think it’ll be a vast improvement.

Plus it’ll be less inclined to relax into her butt crack.

 

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Quite a few more things to do then, and not such a long time to do them in! I’ve called in my long suffering assistant (thanks mum) and written a list: it’ll be wrapped up and in the brides’ hand by Friday lunchtime.

So the next time we all see this project will be in the wedding photos!! Good luck on your big day Kate, and don’t forget to remove those sleeves before the soup course 😉 xx

 

Clare’s top, part 3: second fitting

Confesssion: this happened WEEKS ago. Despite having been on vacation for a month and a half I seem to be really short of time! But I’d still love to post a few photos of this second toile as we’ve made a few crucial tweaks…





The fundamentals of the style are still the same, but we’ve slimmed down the racer back and straps even more to make a really striking silhouette. We’ve also taken the decision to crop the length so it doesn’t need to be tucked in, not to give a midriff-flash but to eliminate any unflattering bulkiness from tucking into the waistband.

So now I’ll update the pattern and go ahead and make our final version. I also need to take volume and length from Clare’s bought skirt and add a lining. I’ll see her in a couple of weeks for our final fit 🙂

Kate’s outfit, part 2: first fitting

Last week I drafted the patterns for Kate’s design, made up the first toile, and on Saturday she came over for our first fitting. I was super excited to work on it with her! But to be honest I’d gotten into my own head a bit on this one and was worried it wouldn’t match her expectations. As it turned out, Kate was happy as a clam and felt like I was well on the right track…

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This outfit breaks down into 3 main elements: the boned bodice, the sleeved top, and the skirt. I started with the bodice, using the Helen Joseph-Armstrong book, Pattern Making for Fashion Design, to make a fitted top from my basic block. This part won’t really be on show, but it’s job is to provide a strong structure sitting on the hips and holding the top edge of the sleeveless top exactly where we want it to be.

Sarah Barker bridal | boned bodice top | Kate

I was worried that the fit on this might not be nice because the curve over the bust is a bit exaggerated and fembot-esque, but I can smooth that out on the pattern and then there are just a few tweaks needed to get that top edge completely perfect. The diagonal boning in the front panels had the desired effect and will the give sleeves a good, solid base to sit on top of.

For the sleeved top layer I draped the body panels straight on the stand. We want this to stand away from the body a bit, so the easiest method for me is to just be hands-on! And then I based the sleeve on a top of Kates’ which she likes the dimensions of, so a nice, quick starting point 🙂

For this toile I didn’t attach the sleeved top to the bodice, because I didn’t want that in the way when I was fitting the underneath layer, but ultimately I will make them into one garment… Except for the sleeves which will be detachable! A brilliant addition to the design which I couldn’t have been more pleased to have Kate suggest.

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Also, this toile has sleeves in 2 different fabrics, which is not a permanent design feature!  The white sleeve on the left is in a structured silk fabric from Silk Society in Soho which we’d both really liked in the store – it has great body in one direction but drape in the other so we felt we could do a lot with it. But I’m glad we did this trial, because it soon became evident that it just wasn’t working for us! It gives a cowl effect which just doesn’t look as nice as the calico side, so we’re going back to the drawing board. We also like a much simpler cotton silk mix from Whaleys which could be very versatile and give us a lot more options in combination with fusings, so we’ll have a play with that one next.

Sarah Barker bridal | off shoulder top toile | Kate

We hadn’t wanted an opening in the back originally, but this turned out to be the best fastening solution. We can make the corset body with a zip at centre back and then the top part will have a split here. It was actually a feature on one of the tear sheet images Kate brought to me, so it doesn’t feel like a compromise design-wise. Initially my toile had an asymmetric hem, but that just didn’t work, so during the fitting we have levelled it up.

Sarah Barker bridal | off shoulder top | Kate

For the skirt, I draped on the stand to make a very simple block version of our skirt design, which I then altered for Kate’s measurements in the flat pattern. We’d left this part of the design pretty open ended, so I just wanted to keep the toile as basic as possible for us to project our ideas onto in the fitting.

Sarah Barker bridal | off shoulder top and straight train skirt | Kate

Kate liked the wide slit which is necessary if we cut the front in only one panel. We’ll make the top shape rounded to make a nicer finish here, and I think it’ll be a cute feature. And ultimately this split feature has one very important job to do: to flash Kate’s fairly mental shoes.

Sarah Barker bridal | high slit skirt | Kate

The size of the train I’d put on here was a total guess, but it suited Kate well and we’re going to stick with it as it is. The skirt will have a centre back panel at the next stage though, which goes to a point towards the top of the thigh.

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So my next stage for Kate is to make a new pattern with all the changes and make new garments ready for a second fitting. As we’ve now decided to try out a cotton silk from Whaleys, which isn’t too pricey, I think it’d be great to go ahead and start to make up the next stage in the real fabric! If there are some elements we don’t like and want to remake we can do that quite inexpensively, and if some parts are perfect already then we can save Kate some money by using that for the real thing. I’ll use a 1.5cm wide seam allowance and treat it like a couture garment, altering the garment itself rather than doing a lot of pattern stages.

Clare’s top, part 2: first fitting

Doing this fitting with Clare was such a great start to my sabbatical! From now until October I’m lucky enough to be taking a break from my day job, working on some personal projects and generally chilling out. And this project is great fun! Create the perfect bodice to set off a fabulous skirt.

I prepped two toiles for Clare because we were still caught between two different design ideas: the almost backless v-neck with straps…

…or the low sided tank top we dubbed the sexy tabard…

What was a tough call on paper became pretty obvious in real life! We didn’t even try on the low back bodice, it just felt far too princess-y. Clare had been to pick up her skirt from Charlie Brear that morning and they’d had her try it on with a few camisoles, which I’m sure looked beautiful but just made her feel too traditional. She knew that she’d need something a little edgier to tone down the frou-frou feeling and I definitely agree. So we went straight for the racer back tank.

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It’s so important that a style like this fits like a glove! We don’t want Clare to feel like she’s going to flash every time she turns to talk to someone or reaches for a glass of champagne. So the dart will get a little bit deeper, to pull the open edge close to her body. We’ve added a bit of coverage too, so she’s only showing the right amount of side boob, but then cut in at the top for a flattering narrow shoulder.

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Next step is to mark all of these adjustments on to the calico, take the toile apart and trace the panels off onto paper to make the next pattern. We’re going to make the next toile out of a fabric we like for the final garment, it’s relatively inexpensive so we might as well try it out before we commit, and we’ll have our next fitting in 3 weeks.

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I’m also going to make some alterations to the skirt. It’s super beautiful, but has a volume and a frothiness which is a bit much for Clare. So I’ll reduce some volume from the sides, shorten the train, and remove one of the two net under-layers. It just needs to be a bit more wearable and a bit less photo-shoot.