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How I got here - Sam Barnard

Breaking the rules is part of the job when working as a pattern cutter at Karen Millen.

What does your diary look like today?

I don’t have a daily diary. I have a weekly plan that can comprise four to eight new styles plus amendments that have to be done once the garments have been fitted. Today I plan to pattern and toile up a skirt, a dress and a pair of trousers. The designer then looks at the toiles and makes any changes they want. I will then amend and finish the pattern to the designer’s specification and put them through to be cut and the first sample made.

What meeting are you most looking forward to today?

My daily tasks consist of making new patterns, amending existing patterns and attending fit sessions. Fit sessions are held on four days each week and time slots are allocated to each product area.

I look forward to the fit meetings as they are the first time I get to see a garment on the body. The challenge for me as a pattern cutter is realising the designer’s aspiration in as few samples as possible.

What task do you wish you could postpone?

I enjoy all aspects of my job except one. I really dislike cutting out toiles as I find it dull and uninspiring. Drafting the first pattern is exciting as it’s something new. However, I enjoy sewing the toiles together, as you find out if anything about the pattern needs changing before it’s finished. I understand it’s a fundamental part of the process, which is why I try to cut out as many toiles as possible at once, just to get it done.

How did you get to where you are today?

Six months after I started my career there was a management restructure of the pattern room. I was employed as a production pattern cutter initially within [former parent company] Aurora, which entailed amending other people’s patterns after the garments had been fitted to ensure they were production viable. Within the new structure I had the opportunity to become a pattern cutter and create my own patterns, and I took on trousers as a department area. I helped to establish blocks with the designers and have become known as ‘the trouser queen’ here. I also cut a lot of the skirts and have just started to help cut a few dresses. This is a new challenge, because ensuring a sleeve fits right is definitely something new. I currently have a dress in store that is a bestseller, which is tremendously exciting.

Who is your mentor?

The first is Mike Goldstone, our senior tailoring pattern cutter, who has more than 30 years’ experience cutting jackets and coats. He can also cut a mean body-con dress, if the need arises, with one attempt. The second is Alex Walker, our senior tailoring designer at Karen Millen, who is also responsible for our satin occasionwear dresses.

What’s the best piece of advice they’ve given you?

“There are no rules.” This was a quote Alex Walker made while working on a particularly tricky style I was cutting for him. He wanted me to make a change to the pattern that I had concerns over. At the time we were trying to re-establish our minimum measurements and the discussion regarded an amendment he wanted me to make that would take the pattern below these requirements. However, after much debate the amendment was made and the fit was much better, so we had made the right decision.

How do you see your career progressing?

Well, Mike is considering retirement. So my plan is to learn as much as possible from him, so that when he does retire I may just know enough to fill a small part of his role.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Work hard, be accurate and enjoy the challenge.

  • Salaries for this position range from £45,000 to £55,000 (estimate provided by Henry Fox Recruitment)


2005 Pattern cutter, Karen Millen

1999 Pattern cutter, Oasis

1998 Graduated BA Hons in Fashion, University of Westminster

1995 BTEC National Diploma in Fashion, Plymouth College of Art and Design

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