Fundamental Shift Dress

This is the first style I’m working on for my Fundamentals capsule collection. I’m kicking it all off with a perfect, essential, elegant shift dress.

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As a pattern cutter you need blocks. Blocks are the… uh… the building blocks of fashion *groan*. They’re the basic starting point from which you’ll begin to develop a pattern for a more specific, complicated design.

Blocks can come in all shapes and sizes, and every pattern maker will develop their own according to their own needs. Although you’ll update them and tweak them over time they stay pretty much true to their core function within the tool kit of your pattern repertoire.

For me as a dressmaker the most essential block is a shift dress. This is a pattern for a sleeveless, mid-length dress with a waist seam and as many darts as needed for a good fit. The beauty of this pattern is that I can manipulate it to create almost any other dress, top or skirt shape, as well as contour items like a corset or bustier. It’s a key piece of kit for me, which I know fits my mannequin perfectly and sews up like a dream every single time.

Usually I’d make a block pattern and keep it to myself, behind the scenes. Like a brilliant assistant who’s pretty much running the show but never gets any credit for it! Within this Fundamentals collection though I can refine this simple shift just a little bit further and give her a chance to shine on her own. A shape like this would be equally perfect for a sophisticated city bride, an elegant bridesmaid, or any guest looking for tailored and flattering simplicity. This look has to the first step towards my perfect capsule collection.

Where do we even start, I hear you cry?! Well, let me show you…

 

First, I geeked out with my nose in a book. I’ve already made a couple of blocks very similar to this one for my dressmaking stand, but I wanted to start again to have a go at the technique laid out in the book Draping.

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For those who don’t know, draping is the art of realising a design directly on the mannequin (aka stand, or dummy), as opposed to flat pattern cutting where you would take a more formulaic approach and calculate a shape based on measurements. Draping is more like sculpting: physically manipulating fabric to create the looks you want. Although you’ll get better results if you follow basic rules, the overall process feels quite free and can be a great way to get more energy and creativity into your patterns.

So, carefully following the instructions I made an initial drape, traced this off onto paper, added seam allowance and re-cut it.

This became my first toile (a mock-up made in calico to test out a pattern and update for better fit), which turned out a little tight and short in the body so needs some alterations. I’m not entirely surprised, for me the drawback of draping is that it’s too easy to pull the fabric tight on the surface of the stand, like a perfectly smooth second skin, which needs loosening up to be a wearable garment.

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So I chopped it about a bit, made some notes on the fabric, decided how to add and where… and at the same time I separated the dress out to have a waist seam, just to suit my own preferences 🙂

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From here I took the calico apart again, to draft out into a new paper pattern and then to make a full toile:

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You can see it’s still snug across the seat and there’s some tension between bust and waist which needs fixing. Just a little more tweaking and we should fix that:

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And that’s where we’re at! Now I need to make a real sample – a proper prototype in the right fabric with all the finishes and fastenings – and a human model to try it on. I’ll develop some more patterns up to this point and then move them all on to first sample stage together.

Sarah Barker bridalwear fundamentals

You can carry on scrolling down to catch up with an intro to this project below. See you soon for the story of a very different, much more gown-y gown!

/s.

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!