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

 

 

 

 

 

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 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…

Sarah Barker bridal | first toile off shoulder top and skirt | Kate

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.

Sarah Barker bridal | off shoulder top fabric experiment | Kate

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.