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.



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.


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.


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 🙂


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:


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!



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.