Hannah’s dress: start to finish

Restyle / alterations project

Hannah bought a beautiful gown from Sarah Seven with a view to customising it.

The dress is a style called Sunsets Forever, which has sleeves and high neck line but is entirely open below the shoulders and around to the front waist.

Sarah Seven | Sunsets Forever | Hannah

Sarah Seven | Sunsets Forever | Hannah

 

Design brief

Replace the sleeves and shoulder panels with slim straps, reshaping the front bodice to function without the missing elements, and adding a new neckline.

Alter the fit at the waist and seat and take up the hem to fit this petite bride.

Sarah Barker | design options | Hannah

 

How did we do that

I whipped off the sleeves and shoulder panels and opened up the edges of the front panel panel, pinning it in to an estimation of our new shape.

One of the discarded sleeves got chopped up into strips and re-purposed for self fabric-straps. (Thankfully the bride wasn’t taller – the sleeves were a fairly cropped length and only just gave enough to run from waist up over the shoulder without a seam.)

The length of the bodice and the hem had to be shortened. We also slimmed down the fit over the seat and adjusted the silhouette slightly to hug in under the bum more.

 

Result

Hannah looked fantastic on her wedding day, in a gown which felt trult unique and personal! For more images follow this link to Hannah’s page in the gallery.

Sarah Barker | Hannah

Fundamental Full Circle Dress

The second of my Fundamentals line-up to be developed is a soft, slightly frothy gown with a full circle skirt and low-backed loose fitting bodice. This is a feminine, modern princess of a dress, or at least at will be once I’ve done all the hard work…

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To start this one off I’ve drafted a basic pattern straight from my shift dress block, and I’ve quickly moved on to making a simple, raw-edged toile in a super lightweight calico.

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Sometimes it’s nice to get ideas realised in fabric as quickly as possible, it can stop you getting stuck in your own head too much! And it means more of the design process can be based on what feels nice rather than what looks nice on a sketch.

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(There was no one else around on this particular day, I must confess I spent an unnecessarily long time swishing about! Shame I look like I’ve been dead a week in this particular shot, but never mind)

In general I’m loving this shape, and I think it’s important for the collection to have at least one skirt with a lot of volume like this one. But what I’m not sure about is the lining – it’s certainly going to need an inner layer, whatever fabric I plum for, but do I make another full circle for the lining thereby increasing the full feeling of the skirt? Or do I reduce volume and simplify the lining to be more like a slip?

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For this first sample I’ve chosen a silk georgette from Whaley’s because it’s a lovely combo of lightness, like a chiffon, with matte texture and soft drape, like a crepe. As it’s quite sheer I’ve decided to line it with an exact replica of the outer skirt: I want the lining to continue under the train for a seamless look, and ultimately I’m thinking it would be a much higher quality finish to hem them together at the bottom. But this is only early days, I don’t have to commit to that just yet.

 

But… can you spot the intentional mistake??!… the fabric wasn’t wide enough and I’m a great chunk missing off the bottom at centre front. I really liked this fabric, and it’s really very cost effective! I wanted to test it out on the basis that I’d have to chose my priority going forward – to either keep the front panel seamless and choose a different material, or decide to keep this material but split the skirt into more panels.

For me it’s a no-brainer: the front of the skirt has to be a single panel. Aside from the fact that it’s beautiful and clean, the fact is that to cut out more pieces, and to sew more seams, would cost more money and lead to a higher final price, negating the lower cost fabric pointless anyway.

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I have options to choose from at the back. I wasn’t sure whether to support the folded edge with some kind of fusing or not, so I made each side differently:

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I like the softer look, although I have to say that overall the strap on that side looks the poorer for it. The outer of the back panel is cut on the bias and as the inner layer is grown on it ends up being off grain; neither on the true bias nor straight. This is causing problems and there’s tension in various places and I think this needs to be improved. I’ll work on the pattern further to create two pattern pieces for the back, a separate lining and outer piece, but keep the seam moved considerably in from the open edge at the back to keep the softly folding look.

So there’s more work to do, but for now it’s lovely to have a wearable sample made up. This project is taking a bit of a back seat at the moment though, as I divert my attentions to two projects for upcoming weddings. For Stine I’m creating a couture gown in collaboration with designer Sarah Coates, and for Emma I’ll be altering her mothers’ wedding dress with a bespoke now bodice. Scintillating posts to come about all this and so much more!!

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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!

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Starting with the Fundamentals

I’ve been cooking up an idea for a ling time, and it feels great to actually start realising it! I want to create a capsule collection of essential styles which could form the staring point for any design idea, a basic range of dresses and separates any bride could adapt to her own needs. I’m calling these the The Fundamentals, and I’m delighted to have started cutting the patterns and mocking-up the initial design ideas!

 

Sarah Barker bridalwear Fundamentals

 

Sarah Barker bridalwear fundamentals

 

For me, these are the key silhouettes for soft bridal gowns at the moment, as well as shapes which could be just as great for a bridesmaid or maid of honour. I hope there will be something for everyone in this selection, from the elegant, understated, city bride to the bra-free, boho, festival bride.

 

 

The end game is to make patterns for all of these in a core range of sizes and create samples for trying on at my studio. They will be available for a fixed price, made to order here in London.

But that’s not all! Each design can be made to measure, tailored to fit you perfectly: including fitting a calico toile to get the look just right, plus any alterations you need on the final garment.

Do you have some design ideas of your own? Not a problem! Each style will have a menu of possible additions available at a set price, plus any unique inspiration points you have can also be incorporated. So you can go bespoke for the full custom gown experience without the couture price tag.

 

It seems to me that there are a lot of brides in London looking for a personalised, creative experience to realise their dream bridal look, and that no matter what their budget they should be able to find an element of that bespoke service.

My dream is to build a business centered around atmosphere, experience and quality dressmaking, providing a dedicated service to brides who want a more modern and relaxed approach than traditional bridal boutiques.

Hopefully, in the coming spring I’ll be ready to launch this new mini collection! But for now it’s early days. I’ll be blogging about each style as I start to develop it. Please do get in touch with feedback and comments! I want these styles to be simple but appealing, like blank canvasses every woman can imagine adding her own personal touches to. I’d love to hear your thoughts as I grow this idea!

And if you’ll be getting married in 2019 and are interested in becoming an early adopter of this project please do drop me a line!

 

Sarah Barker bridalwear studio

 

 

 

 

 

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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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.

Kate’s outfit, part 1: design

So, the start of another project!

Kate and I have been colleagues for a few years: she’s a designer and I’m a pattern cutter, but we’ve never actually worked directly together. She’s great fun with a brilliant eye for a strong look, and I’m confident I’m going to enjoy this one!

Kate is getting married in September. She’s struggled to find a dress she likes; there are a great many Swarovski crystals in the world, also bows and lace and frills and what have you, and that is not doing it for Kate on any level. So she’s come to me with some sketches and design ideas and we’re going to put something together that suits her contemporary modern aesthetic a little better.

She’s brought me this sketch…

… and a few tear sheets of inspiration including these lovely images:

She wants a skirt with a very straight silhouette from the front, a slit to help show off her shoes, and a big, soft pleat in the back from which a short train emerges. We can be a bit flexible here, we might mess around with it a bit when we’ve chosen a fabric, but generally this part is good to go.

The top part is a bit more hazy. Kate likes a statement sleeve, she fancies totally off shoulder, and she’s thinking that from the side the top should swing away from the body. It seems pretty narrowed down to me! But it’s not concrete yet, she’s still thinking about it.

I’ve drawn out a few rough options for her to consider hopefully they’ve been a good jumping off point for chats with her friends and family at home in The North this weekend.

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We’ve already had a quick lunchtime whip round some Soho fabric stores, just to get a conversation started about what kind of things she’s feeling for. As it happens we actually found a fabric she really loved which may turn out to be the one. This silk we saw at Silk Society has a completely different character when draped on the grain or across it, it’s the left hand cutting on the card below. In one direction it has a sproingy body to it which could make an awesome sleeve shape, and in the other it could be a soft and supple train.

We took some other bits and pieces away with us, but to honest they’re a bit boring by comparison. Good plan b’s though.

 

 

All that jazz is now collated in my Kate envelope. Next week we’ll sit and pin down the exact starting design, I’ll also take Kate’s measurements and then I can get started on the first draft of the pattern! I’ve got 6 more weeks of work before my sabbatical period, so I’m planning to get the ball rolling on this soon and then really get stuck in in July.

Initial design ideas

Clare’s top, part 1: brief and design

The ever-lovely Paula has recommended my services to her delightful friend Clare, who is having trouble completing her bridal outfit. She’s fallen for, and indeed bought, a beautiful skirt from Charlie Brear, and now needs to essentially grow it into a dress.

The skirt fabric is textured and feminine, with an all over cut-out floral motif:

Charlie Brear skirt fabric swatchCharlie Brear fabric swatch

And the skirt silhouette is simple – full length and high waisted, with a soft volume to it:

Carlie Brear skirt, basic top designs over masking tape

Having printed this screen grab from internet, I drew up 3 very basic top options for her: a soft, drapey cami, a boned bodice, or a high front / low back combo.

The inspiration images for the completed look included backless and strappy dresses with a laid-back, boho vibe, so the cami option was a good starting point to take forward. Clare’s happy to go bra-less so we can add as much or as little coverage in the back as we fancy, but she’d like the security of something a little more structured and firm in the front. Therefore we’ll move away from the draping satin feel and aim for something soft but fitted, maybe with a view to using a lightly fused raw or textured silk.

In our first sitdownchat Clare and I ran through our various first ideas, talking over the styles she’d tried on and also the tear sheets and Pinterest pins we’d both collected. As we came to some conclusions about definite yesses and nos I made some rough sketches, and have subsequently tried to spin out each small idea into a few variations:

Initial design ideas
high apex front with princess seams and double straps
Initial design ideas
lower apex front with panels and single straps
Initial design ideas
high neck with darts
Initial design ideas
high neck with wider strap and boat neck

The next step will be talking Clare’s measurements and making the initial pattern. I think I’d like to make two toiles for the first fitting: one V neck version with princess seams, and the other with a high neckline and darts. From those two bases I think we could have a good jumping off point for all manner of variations, so we can do the real designing in the first fitting. It should be quick to make these up seeing as they’re all so small! So we might as well maximise the possibilities.

The wedding will be in September and I’ll be free from work on a little sabbatical from July, much to my delight! So for the time being this project will progress very slowly, if at all, but when the summer kicks in this’ll get the dedication it deserves.

I’ll blog about the progress here and will eventually be proud to feature Clare’s wedding photos in the autumn. In the meantime you can follow me on Pinterest to see some of the inspiration clippings for this and my other projects. You can also find me on Instagram @ sarahbarkerbridal.