Kate Rawlinson: Cutter Extraordinaire

Buried in one of last week’s comments was one from Kate Rawlinson who left a link to some recent work she’d done. It’s phenomenal. Even her mistakes are phenomenal. Just to temper my gushiness, I’ll throw that one up first. Left is the original, right is the marked up one showing the matched stripes. Do note how the plaids match across seams in the skirt. The bodice is a bit off but what the hey. [Blue lines are seams, dashed red are the stripes.]


Here’s another dress Kate described in her album comments as “stupid stripey”. I challenge you to draw these seam lines on a blank sketch. Just try to calculate the number of pattern pieces this number contains.

Here’s an understated number, a plaid jacket. Other than the lovely matched stripes across the back, is there anything otherwise remarkable? Look closely.


It’s the lapels. Once stitched and turned, the plaid of the revers display perfectly horizontal and vertical. I think Kate certainly raises the ante around here. I’d be tempted to call her a show-off but something like this takes at least 80 hours of work -especially if you’re a student as she is. Yeah, she’s a student. Do you hate her already? Don’t, she’s a love. I’ll include a bio once I’m done embarrassing her.

Okay, here’s another one from the insolent pup (click on the image for a larger version):


Note the photo on the right. The vertical stripe on the top portion of the pocket perfectly matches the stripe on the flap -hop skipped with a row of piping- the flap in turn also matches the front jacket. Is this cool or what?

Here’s the back on one last jacket. Again, note the stripe matching. She does this so well it’s almost boring by now but then you’d have to go through her album to reach the saturation point. Don’t miss her earlier pieces one of which is a museum quality reproduction she calls the “V&A jacket” on page 6. Simply stunning work.

I was placated with this jacket above as I’d come to suspect there was no place left for me in this world, only pre-Kate and post-Kate. This jacket can be helped with a bit of fusing. A lot of people don’t know this bit, one of my techniques I hold in reserve. You want to fuse the back piece at least 2″ wide along the seam line (before joining the pieces) and the diagonal back waist and peplum. It’ll buckle less. Nice piece tho, no?

All kidding aside, Kate is lovely, self effacing, hard working and highly skilled. After I saw her work, I wanted to know everything about her down to her shoe size and her dog’s name. I did ask specifically about her schooling and she was kind enough to provide details. This will be a bit sobering for our colleagues in the UK and I did edit portions at her request …but enough blather, here’s a bio she wrote for us.

Thank you for the lovely compliments, I’ve actually been reading your book all this week to find my path making a living at the craft.

A potted bio… I did a bit of sewing as a kid but nothing much. My first degree was in journalism and I worked as a copy editor for women’s magazines for about 10 years. I got married in 2000 (I’m 37, by the way) and something about the search for a dress rekindled a childhood love of historical costume (when I was about 8, I used to go to the fancy-dress store every weekend and try on the big Victorian dresses – I never made anything, though).

At the beginning of 2001 I started taking evening classes, then in 2005 I packed in my day job to do a one-year course in handcraft tailoring at the London College of Fashion – I was planning to do a costume degree, but I didn’t want to do an art foundation course (the usual precursor to an art/fashion degree in the UK) and thought the hand-sewing aspect of the tailoring course would come in handy.
It was a great course, very intense, and I learned a lot, some of it from proper Savile Row tailors. I did start a costume degree after that (also at the London College of Fashion), but it was too bitty for me and I’d already covered a lot of the topics. The college was just starting up a new degree in bespoke tailoring, so I jumped over to that.

While the course wasn’t great, it did give me the time, space and framework within which to practise what I had already learned and build on my skills. The work in my Flickr set is my final project, which took me almost the entire college year – I am not a fast worker, by any means. I kept a time log of all the hours I spent on each garment, and the very stripey dress clocked in at nearly 150 hours!

I really do believe that bespoke has a future – if nothing else, I think fashion will mutate to a point where people will want things that no-one else has (which I guess is why vintage has been such a big deal for the past few years). And I also believe that fit and quality are elements that high-street fashion continues to ignore and that bespoke is obviously well-placed to tackle those. I don’t have much fitting experience, but I have done enough to understand just how difficult it really is.

Thank you again for the compliments – it really means a lot.

Amended 6/21/11
This post collects an inordinate number of spam comments and I don’t know why. On the order of 200 or more each day. So, I’ve deactivated comments for now. If you should stumble on this post at a later date and would like to leave a comment, please email me (kathleenATfashion-incubatorDOTcom) to remind me. I’m certain by then that spammers will have purged this entry from their list of options so we can safely post to it again. Thanks

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  1. Sonia Levesque says:

    @ Kate :
    My Oh My! You’ve got talent DAaaahling!
    I’m gushing too… sorry. But hell if you don’t have the “pattern fire” in your belly (as I say)!

    If I can help by giving a suggestion, here’s what I would do to get experience in fitting; try to nail an “assitant to the designer” job for a “made to measure” experienced designer. Seems like a given… but I’ll tell you, I learn a lot from that same kind of position.

    I’m in the same age group as you are (38 years old) and I had loads of experience BEFORE fashion school. Learned NOTHING in sewing classes. But did acquire the needed pattern skills and fun/valuable info on costume history and fibers/textiles. That said… While doing my lil’ business (from home) as a made to measure seamstress, I was introduced to a designer in his 50’s who had worked in everything… but mostly in TV wardrobes for period series, theatre, over-the-top creations for diva singers and millionaire ladies who attend balls as much as 12 times a years… you get the picture?

    Anyway, he needed someone to do pretty much every step of the garments. He just sketched, brought me the fabrics… and off I was to do pattern/muslin/cutting/sewing/finishing. For the fitting, HE did those with the client, while I was holding the pins (!). Sometimes I was very “vocal and present”, sometimes I just shut up and observed (depending on the kind of personality and degree of comfort from the client). I learned LOADS on all sort of thing, but mostly in fitting for the specia needs of the scene, working in gorgeous but difficult fabrics at 400$ a meter (glass beading, anyone? lol) and last but not least… on the psychology and politics of the rich and famous (!!).

    For my part, I already knew about fitting and pattern adjustment (my spécialité) before getting that specific job. But I know that if someone like you was to get such an opportunity, with your talent and hard working potential? The designer would be as lucky as you would be…

    Bonne Chance!

  2. Sonia Levesque says:

    Oh! Forgot… Where could you go to meet someone like that?

    TV stations who produce their own shows… They are often looking for “hands”.
    Ateliers specialized in Theatre costumes.
    Big dance or Ballet or Circus schools/companies.

    Good luck again!

  3. dosfashionistas says:

    I have seen the future and it is Kate. I hope.

    I can retire happy now. Good luck Kate, all you Kates.


  4. Sandra B says:

    I’ve just started teaching at a fashion school. My first class was a short sewing course for hobbyists. What a shock! I was given 21 students and had to spread them over two rooms, with about 30m between them, some were on scary worn out industrial machines, some on domestics with only the free arm and buttonhole feet. Two irons, but by week 4 one had been dropped (not by one of my students), one or two overlockers. The daytime (enrolled) students left a huge mess every night that I had to clean up first, and I had to hide the machine feet I made the school buy for my class because things “went missing” between classes. It wasn’t uncommon that one day student could put 8 machines out of action between the end of their day and the start of mine, oops broken needle, just change machines, oops tangled bobbin, move on etc. The technician couldn’t see that the problems were due to poor management, he thought that it was because “not all their students were the right sort”.
    And yet, the school has produced some very successful people. I think that like Kate suggested, it’s to do with giving people the time, space and framework to achieve what they are capable of. Cream rises if you leave the milk alone.
    Kate, with such wonderful skills, maybe you could consider supplementing your design work with teaching. You probably don’t feel ready yet, but when it comes down to it, you really only need to be a couple of steps ahead of the students, and teaching something is the fastest way to learn it yourself.

  5. Ann K says:

    Kate, You’re work is stunning! (And now I feel like a sewer with two left thumbs.) I’m betting that with skills like yours, you could name your price and work where you choose. Much good luck!

    Kathleen, thanks for presenting this inspiring work and Kate’s inspiring story. (Now I have to do some laundry so I can spend the morning ironing……….some people drink, some shop; I iron.)

    Ann K

  6. Kaaren Hoback says:

    I ran the slide shows forward and back……whoosh- breath taking!
    Talent- yes ! Plus the perserverance to carry it off.

    Amazing- take good care of your gift!

  7. Donna S says:

    What a treat to see such quality work. I think becoming a teacher is a great idea. There are a lot of younger people who are hungry to learn. I had the opportunity to teach two classes at the school where I got my Fashion degree and it was fun to teach the ones who really wanted to learn to sew. I got to fill in some gaps that my instructor missed even thougnt she was very talented.

  8. Kate in England says:

    Thank you everybody for your very kind comments and suggestions. I’m really amazed by the response I’ve had to my work, and starting to feel that I might actually be able to make a living at some point after all!

    A couple of people have suggested teaching before, and I’ve always thought I’m not experienced enough – however, Sandra B’s comment has made me think otherwise – as long as you know marginally more than the students, you’re ok! And I do think it would be a great way to learn myself.

  9. Heather says:

    A student! Imagine what you will create with a few more years experience! My first impression was-‘Wow, very clean’-and beautiful, and complicated to boot. Best of luck to you :)

  10. MB says:

    Hi, I just want to say that the striped dress is awesome. I’m not a fashion person–just a consumer so extremely frustrated with my disappointment in shopping for clothes that I turned to home sewing exactly two years ago (I wandered into a fabric shop on July 4th weekend looking to make curtains and walked out with a private tutorial on how to copy an old, favorite skirt to make a new one). My skill level is not there to do what I want to do–make clothes that fit and that won’t be an embarrassment. So I read the blogs (but not this one for awhile until today) and I’m trying to build my skills but also make decisions about what kind of clothes I really want to wear. The fashion industry has failed me as a consumer and it clearly has no interest in trying to please me. I don’t want to mimic/return to the oppressive clothing from the past but it’s clear to me that people, as a group, stopped looking good after around 1963. And the details of the striped dress are a reminder that good construction and visual interest–where the dress can make the wearer look better for having worn it–is a lost and under-appreciated art. So good luck with your work!

  11. Mary says:

    Katie, you have a true gift. I’ve been teaching for years, and trust me, it’s rare to be able to get the results you are achieving with the limited, though enviable, background of training you have had; just enough to unearth your hidden talent. No one taught you that; it’s yours.

    The enviable part is the tailor training. That is really not readily available here. You should march yourself into Savile Row and show them your work. A good cutter with instincts is hard to find.

    There is a Savile Row tailor, Thomas Mahon, on the web at http://www.englishcut.com. I would seriously point you in his direction. You really do need to be doing this.

    BTW, I left you a possible answer to your “striped dress of doom” question on flicker.

    Best of luck to you,

    Mary E. Orens
    Pins & Nedles

  12. Lisa B. in Portland says:

    Kate, really awesome! I love how you matched the stripes! Just wonderful!

    Ann K, would you come over to my house and iron my stuff? I press when I sew but I hate to iron my clothes. I want to wear them but I hate to iron. :-)

    Kathleen, so isn’t matching stripes easy? Don’t you just have to mark the pattern the right way so the stripes match at the stitching lines?

  13. LisaB says:

    Kate, your work is stunning! I hope you find just the right place to use the skills you already have and to learn even more.

    Kathleen, thanks for sharing this with us. It’s inspiring, to say the least.

  14. emily says:

    Oh! So so beautiful! I’m so inspired! I have to say, I would def. take a class from you as matching plaids/stripes is the area I feel weakest! It just makes my head hurt. Well done!

  15. Marilynn says:

    You now need a business and marketing plan. First, put together a coherent portfolio (paper and on the web) and knock on the doors of establishments you’d like to work with. Simultaneously, design a capsule collection or two, of 5 pieces that work together to make a complete wardrobe for a professional woman that needs to travel lightly. Design it, make it, get it styled and photographed in a stylish location. Put it on your website (there’s lots of template websites that allow you to drop in your photos). Then get friends to start helping you spread the message across the web. Read the papers for up-and-coming women who would want your services and contact them directly. I’m thinking of an author who needs to look professional, and distinctive, while on a book tour. A politican who travels a lot, medical professionals.

    Here’s why. The woman who can justify the cost of your work is a mature professional who cannot find a distinctive, quality garment that fits her on a rack anywhere. She’s got a bust that’s a full B-cup or larger, a larger upperarm circumference, and a somewhat larger midriff. She can justify, and will welcome, a complete package, that will mix-and-match, of a jacket, skirt(s), pants, maybe a vest, and a blouse or two (something that works under the jacket). She doesn’t have the time to waste searching for combinations.

    See if you can successfully grade your blocks, or make new blocks to work from to make your work faster. Also, if you’re putting in linings by hand, the factory-technique will speed up your work. If your customer is working in the media, the camera only sees the front of a garment, put your time and efforts there.

    Then, after you get all this in place, you can work on one-offs.

    Save the teaching for later — it just saps your creative energy (I speak from experience). Write a book and put it online to sell as an e-book. Set up a Paypal account and let them download it.

  16. How did I miss this? Just saw the forum comments and came to see. WOW! I admire your meticulous work–I could never spend so much detailed time on a jacket. I’m in awe of your work.


  17. Kate says:

    Thanks again everyone, and Marilynn, particularly, for that very detailed guide – I will certainly take your comments on board, as I’m really floundering in the ether at the moment!

  18. Vero says:

    Sewing is just a hobby for me, but when I see cloths like the one you do, I just stay speechless. To me it is perfection. If I had to wear really professional clothes, I would like to wear yours.
    Another think that makes me happy, is all the comments you get, and the support. You deserve them, and in our world where performance prevails upon beauty, it feels goods to see that the beauty still means a lot for some of us.
    Good luck for the future!

  19. Marie-Christine says:

    Wow, that is stunning. That striped dress…
    But on to practical problems. First, follow Marilynn’s advice, it’s excellent..
    Second, you can indeed teach, stop thinking you must teach everything, obviously you start by teaching the things you know, and you can show a few tricks to many old dogs here :-).
    But meanwhile the person I know who’s by far the best fitter attributes it all to theater. Different historical standards of fit, fitting very different bodies, adapting things to a very different second wearer, tricky functional requirements… throw in either cheap and nasty fabrics or heinously expensive ones that give you the shakes when you come close with the scissors, and you’re ready for anything. Volunteer at the local theater/opera/dance school if necessary, but I can’t imagine with this portfolio you couldn’t get at least a seasonal job.
    Just be certain to keep good photographic records of your work! Improve your picture taking as much as possible so you don’t have to spend a lot at it. Don’t ever let something leave your hands without a portfolio-level record of it.

  20. rito says:

    hi kate
    i have completed a BA degree in fashion design(womenswear)from the london college of fashion and i can tell you your work is miles ahead of any one on our course.i feel the art foundation and honours course was a waste of time and money,if not a means of ripping off international students.(we have to pay 10,000 pounds per year).would you suggest doing a one year handcraft tailoring course followed by the bespoke course in order to get some idea of patterncutting, draping and tailoring. how long is the bespoke course?could you give me details of both courses? what do they teach technically? if you have the time could you kindly explain what the syllabus is , the number and type of projects, whether theres one to one teaching methods or like the BA you are just thrown into a class of 25 students with one tutor. etc etc. i feel i need to make amends for the 4 years ive wasted in london by doing some sort of technical course which will put my design skills to use.if you could kindly help me i would be deeply obliged.also who all do you have as tutors?

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