Wedding Season

I claim here and in other conversations that I only really got back into sewing three years ago. However, I was thinking the other day about making wedding guest attire and realised that even when I wasn't doing a lot of sewing, I did pretty much always make outfits for the weddings and other 'gala' events I attended.  Note: I have never attended a gala.

Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, the photos of these creations are three and a half thousand miles away, so instead I will describe the highlights to you.  Exciting stuff huh?

1997: There was the chocolate brown satin evening gown I made from Vogue 1367 for my final year ball at university. Including diamanté trim under the bust and a laboriously hand-stitched rolled hem on the fishtail done on the train to and from my parents' house one weekend. I remember absolutely nothing about that event.

c. 1999: There was the electric blue shot silk full length fitted skirt and matching blue sequined incredibly low cut top I made for my second work christmas black tie affair. This was decidedly more dignified than the previous year when my friend had a dance floor halter-neck jumpsuit malfunction and I covered the chairman in glitter.

Also c. 1999: There was the fitted empire line dress (a bit like BHL's Georgia) made out of fabric that should only have been used for ugly cushions, accompanied by an horrific reversible fake suede shrug as well as a fake fur hat that looked like I had a cat sitting on my head. This I wore to a wedding in a winery in the Czech Republic in freezing February where I was forced to drink Slivovitz.

2002: There was the scarlet, funnel neck, zip front, cotton, knee length jacket I made to wear with a white linen dress and a red Phillip Treacy hat to the very good weddings of very good friends. When I thought I was rich.

c. 2003: There was the pale blue chiffon halter neck affair I wrestled with and eventually in a fit of pique handed over to my mum to help me, that I wore to one of my best friend's weddings with awesome silver satin ballet style stilettos (really they were gorgeous) and a silver and blue trilby - much more fabulous than it sounds.

2003: There were the black crepe trousers with zip up the back, off which I left the waistband so they were almost indecently low cut, I wore with a beaded grey cami from Whistles and the same silver shoes mentioned above to a Christmas wedding. Doing Gene Kelly-inspired side kicks in said heels was sadly the end of them.

2010: There's the strapless, boned, fit and flare, cotton, orange, pink and yellow monstrosity I wore to the Mehndi of friends who got married in Goa. I then also wore it a few months later to another wedding - pouring myself into it as I was newly voluminously pregnant. To ward off first trimester enquiries I pretended to be as drunk as everyone else. By doing cossack dancing.

And then more recently there has been this and this and this and this. And now this:

It seems I have a long, potted history of sewing 'occasion wear' to varying degrees of comfort and second-wearability.

Wedding attire isn't usually measured on comfort, wearability and usefulness outside wedding season, but it seems so wasteful to have a significant section of my limited wardrobe space given over to dresses I have worn maybe twice at most. Yet, I can't get past the 'must have something new for the new wedding' mindset. So for the very good weddings of more very good friends and family this year, I wanted to be chic, carefree, comfortable but also consider a longer term future for my hard grafted over apparel.

I saw the inspiration for this combo of stretch, fitted off-the-shoulder top with ankle length full drapey skirt on Pinterest a while ago and loved the elegance and simplicity. I thought separates might also make the pieces more wearable. The top, for example, would look great with this skirt.

I can't remember why I chose this colour, but I know that I saw the soft spotty tulle that I used for the overlay on Mood's Instagram feed (dangerous dangerous feed to follow) and desperately wanted to incorporate it. So I think the choices stemmed from there.

The top is made in a thick rayon ponte and I think is exactly the same as that used for this. I found a vintage (is 1991 really vintage?!?!) pattern on Etsy, Simplicity 7228 that was so simple to make. To be honest I never got around to hemming the top (obviously I left the whole thing till the very last minute and was hemming the skirt by hand in the dark in my in-laws south west London garden the night before the wedding) and now I justify it as it will always be tucked in and by not being hemmed it creates less obvious bulk under the thin fabric of the skirt.

I've been wanting to join in on the whole off-the-shoulder trend for a while, I adore this for example, but every single peasanty RTW one I've tried on (I often try on RTW versions of styles i'm not sure of before I commit fabric and time to making something) looks horrendous on me. However, I think because this is more form fitting and less boho it suits me much better. 

The skirt is a Sewaholic Gabriola which I adore. I love that it is fitted over the hips and then has all these beautiful panels that create such gorgeous movement. I chose a maroon silk as the underlayer and the spotty tulle over the top and I adore the swish and swirl it creates. I french seamed every single last one of the 85 seams.

And because I was rushing to get it finished the night before I jumped on a plane, I obviously cut a hole in the fabric outside one of the seams I was trimming.  And then.

And then I decided to use wonder tape to hold the invisible zip in place whilst I stitched it because of the slippery nature of the silk. Big mistake. HUGE. Humungous mistake. Having never used wonder tape before, I failed to realise that stuff is sticky, really sticky and when you use it to hold an invisible zip in place it gets in the zip teeth and then you can't actually move the zip because you've essentially glued it shut. Aaagggggghhhhhhhhhhh!

At midnight I had to rinse my half made silk skirt to get the glue out of the zip before I could attach the overlay and the waistband. Which meant I had to let it dry, which meant I had to get up at 5am the following morning to finish it. Seriously, why do I do this shit?

Moving on. I haven't sewn an overlay type affair before, so I took a combination of guidance from the utterly amazing wedding dress Morgan made for her sister and some sage advice from my mum.

I wanted the overlay to be a little fuller than the skirt so it had additional movement but I didn't want it to be too gathered. My mum suggested using the fully constructed front and back of the skirt (before joining them) as a template from which to cut the tulle - rather than creating a tube which would restrict the movement of the bottom of the underlayer. I added a couple of inches to the width of the top to create a little extra fullness without needing lots of gathering and a couple of inches to the hem so that there was some distinction between the layers. I then sewed two side seams, the back seam up to the bottom of the zip, leaving above the zip open and raw edged, and then treated it as one skirt to attach the waistband. And I was absolutely delighted that it all worked out. 

For some reason, I was really nervous about wearing this. I think the combination of off-the-shoulder, separates and a long skirt seemed a bit out-there for a wedding - which is very strange as I really don't usually feel self conscious in my clothes at all. But in the end I felt fabulous and pretty chic and it is by far the most comfortable wedding season attire I have ever made. 

The weddings, by the way, were awesome; romantic, impeccably organised, full of love and joy and perfectly English.  I totally lost my voice after both of them, am in the process of losing a toe nail as a result of questionable dancing in fabulous but poorly fitting shoes and my mystery finger injury has just about healed. My clothing choices may have matured but my behaviour at 'gala events' does not seem to be showing any signs of improving.

See you soon x

ps: I've been wanting to write about this for ages, and had grand plans of photos being taken in a striking location, but that would have taken about three years to happen so I have these not so great photos instead. The one above, however, I love and is from the first wedding I wore it to. I promise Ben's matching tie is a total coincidence.




An International Anna

So, today's post is a little homage to the glory of By Hand London and their Anna Dress sewing pattern.  BHL, as they are fondly referred to, design some beautiful sewing patterns and they specialise in feminine dresses with a bit of sexy and a bit of edge, but Anna has to be their masterpiece.

I have seen many many Annas all over sewing blog land - not least thanks to the International Anna Party which I'll get to - and it manages to look universally brilliant.  Thin or curvy, petite or tall, in quilting cotton or the slinkiest silk, maxi or midi, the Anna dress is flattering and beautiful.  And because the skirt isn't gathered or pleated but is still very full, she is the perfect canvas for showing off fabulous prints (if you ignore the insane pattern matching you have to do over the SIX skirt panels).  Which is what I thought when I found this glorious print whilst introducing my Mum to Mood back in April.

So, now I'm supposed to tell you what this fabric is.  Well I can tell you it's purple and green and pink with a kind of oversized pixelated floral print.  I can tell you I found it in the silk aisle in Mood, but was then informed it was actually at least partly synthetic and I can tell you that it feels crepe-y and perhaps like a fairly robust georgette but sadly I can not tell you what it actually is because a) I can't remember and neither can my mum and I never write these things down and b) I still haven't pulled my finger out and found a way to know what different types of fabric feel and look like.  Agh. 

Anyway, I found it, I liked it, we bought it and I put it away, half thinking I was going to make an Anna but not sold on the idea.  And then came Elle's invitation to an "International Anna Party".  Her plan was to celebrate her birthday with her sewing friends around the globe by all wearing a hand-stitched Anna to an Insta-party (that's a virtual party on Instagram for all those folk out there who don't spend a disproportionate amount of their waking life glued to their Instagram feed).  And there would be balloons and champagne and cake and PRIZES, so that was it, my unnamed fabric was clearly destined to become an Anna-shaped-pixelated-party-frock.

Pigeon toed dancing - well, c'mon it is a party ...

I have made Anna a couple of times before. Once as an unblogged maxi in black broderie anglaise and once in a knit as a knee length.  I don't wear a lot of V necks so I plump for the boat neckline and I did again here but I wanted to do something different.  I considered replicating this stunning backless dress but couldn't see how this flimsy fabric would cope with this kind of treatment, however, the low back idea would not be shaken.  In addition the fabric warranted the maximum area to show of its general fabulousness but I didn't want to max it so I decided on a mid-calf length.  

Knowing that my previous Annas have been fairly roomy in the bodice, I took some wise advice following my last sizing mishap and made a toile / muslin.  I ended up cutting a size 8/12 bodice and grading out to 10/14 at the waist and hips.  In total I added three inches to the bodice length; half an inch to the shoulder seam, an inch and a half at the lengthen / shorten line and an inch at the waist seam. I used the largest size on the pattern piece for the V neck variation to draw the V back and cut off 15 inches from the maxi hem to get the midi length I wanted.  This was after I had to tape back together the original tissue (fortunately I had kept the off cuts) as in my haste to make my first Anna I had just cut straight into it.  

Feeling incredibly smug and knowledgeable, as soon as I had cut out the fabric I stabilised the front and back neckline and back seam where the zip would be with pieces of the selvage.  It didn't occur to my smug self to do this on the purple china silk I used for the lining as well. It would have made my life so much easier further down the line had I done that.  The fabric is pretty diaphanous so I fully lined the whole dress.  I did this by using the same method I did for my Kleid Tanja which handily means you can finish the sleeves without having to slipstitch.  This trick is so clever and makes me feeling like some kind of sewing illuisionist. 

So all was going great and the fit was looking good and then of course because I got cocky, I hit a sewing snarl up.  I put the zip in - perfectly aligning my waist line seams and tips of the V back I might add - and tried it on and what had been a beautifully flat fitting V back, was now all manner of nasty gapey bubbly ick.  In disgust International Anna got screwed up and thrown in a corner for a week whilst I calmed myself down and found a solution.

I think the problem was a combination of a stretched out lining (shoulda stablised the lining too dummy) and my focus on getting the waistline seam etc to line up meaning the zip was inserted a little high and caused everything to bunch up, I think.  Anyway I wasn't going to unpick the zip - there lay disaster in such flimsy fabric - so google came to the rescue and using this guide, I created a small dart in the lining half way down each side of the back V and then gently gathered the shell fabric to fit.  This means the lining now sits flat to my back and has reduced the bubbling.  It isn't perfect, but if you don't look too closely it works.  If I was to do this again I would move the zip to the side seam as this would hopefully help avoid this situation and also there isn't really anywhere to hide the zip pull.

That resolved, the rest of the construction - all french seams etc - went smoothly.  Although I had to shorten the hem by a fair bit as all the flipping in and out to resolve the pesky neckline and machine attach the lining to the zip meant the unfinished hem frayed like crazy and I had to lop a few inches off.  So its shorter than intended but actually a pretty perfect length.

So I got to wear my dress to the ball and it was such a lovely idea and so wonderful to see the myriad creations this wonderful pattern can become thanks to the creativity of its designers and that of those who choose to sew it up.  If you want to see all the party-goers you can use #internationalannaparty on Instagram or go here.

Some notes:

Please excuse the bra strap peeking out in these pics (and the fact I haven't straightened the back properly when I put it on).  They were taken in haste about 30 seconds before the heavens opened - hence the lovely light now I come to think of it.

They were also taken at 8 am which caused my neighbour returning from her morning swim no end of confusion to see me prancing around fully dressed up with my kids in the street barefoot and still in their PJs.

The shoes are from LK Bennett about six years ago - they look so pretty and match the dress so perfectly but are unlikely ever to be worn with it as they are the single most uncomfortable pair of shoes ever.  EVER.

And lastly ...

I came second in the International Anna Party competition, which I am absolutely thrilled about.  People actually like what I sew - this is amazing!  And my prize was a BHL pattern of my choice (Zeena coming soon).  Which is immensely pleasing.  Major kudos and thanks to Elle and Ute and Pips for conceiving such a fun virtual way to spend a weekend and for inspiring so many to make so many more gorgeous (international) Annas.

See you soon x