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

 

 

 

 

 

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.