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.




Some orphan trousers

Trousers. Pants. (I'm english, let's go with trousers.)

Trousers have a bit of a bad rep when it comes to making them for yourself.  I was blissfully unaware of this until I immersed myself in sewing blogs.  As a lanky teen who could only ever buy trousers that swung unattractively somewhere between mid-calf and ankle (cropped was a no-no back then), they were one of the first things I learnt to make.  Being in that oblivious teen frame of mind, they never fazed me, nor did the fly front.

However, looking back, I realise that none of them fit me very well.  I didn't really appreciate that fitting was part of the whole sewing game.  I just found my usual size, added a few inches to the hem and cut them out.  This is probably why they were pretty uncomfortable and very tight in parts where they should definitely not have been very tight.

I used the same wide-legged pattern over and over: electric blue, grey pinstripe, a camel-y colour (the latter was probably quite apt given the fit) and then diversified and made one comfortable pair in red plaid, baggy with an elasticated waist, that I adored and loved to wear with my equally fetching fisherman's jumper, but the less said about them the better.

So these ikat trousers (I think ikat pants sounds better) continue my attraction to loud fabric clad legs, but the fit is considerably less upsetting and they are a heap more flattering.  They should be, I made FOUR muslins.

As soon as I saw this fabric I wanted to make some skinny trousers with it.  I deliberated on which pattern for a while and finally opted for Clover by Colette Patterns and then proceeded to make a huge amount of changes. One of the reasons for the above mentioned discomfort is that I have a big curvy bottom and to get non-stretch fabric around that and still get them to sit at the waist, means everything gets a bit, shall we say, squeezed.  So, using the amazingly instructive pants-fitting guide on Coletterie which helps you identify your specific fit issues, combined with my trusty 'Fitting for Every Figure' book, I deduced I needed to add some length to the rise - as I wanted them to sit at my waist - and needed to make a 'full butt adjustment'.  Well that's the nicest way I've ever heard that put!

I should have written it down, but I think in total, using the slash and spread method, I added about an inch to the rise and an inch and a half to the back crotch.  Stupidly, I added two inches to the rise before doing the full butt adjustment, which made them overly roomy so muslin number three had me removing some of that again.   I also removed some excess from the front. I then added some length and slimmed down the legs as I wanted them to be pretty skinny.

It was a pretty lengthy process but I'm happy with the end fit and the really great thing about all that work is that because it is a no-frills pattern and they are close fitting, I can use the amended pattern pieces as a sloper for other trousers and take out all the work.  Which is exactly what I have recently done with the Suzy Pants I'm working on, which may never see the light of day as the waistband is a total #@*!* nightmare. 


After that I realised I needed to be pretty careful with my print placement and try and match it up as much as possible.  I'm so happy with this across the centre front and the hidden (totally useless) waistband pockets, although much of it is utter fluke!  I'm also pretty pleased with the insides.  I used flat-felled seams on the crotch and the inner legs and then, as it was impossible to do those on the outer leg, I turned and stitched the seam allowances.  I used some of my ridiculous orange binding to finish the waistband facing, but I'm not sure I'll do that again.  I much prefer the finish when it is turned under and slipstitched. I like a bit of hand-sewing; when you get in the zone, the repetition is so meditative.

I really really like these trousers, but since finishing them in May I've hardly worn them as I didn't have anything to wear them with - hence them being orphan.  And now it's getting too cold.  Although, I took these photos last week and it was such a glorious sunny and warm day I got a final wear out of them before the winter and found they actually go quite well with this top, which I also finished a while back.

The top is a modified Belcarra Blouse by Sewaholic.  This is the third time I've made this and I absolutely love the pattern.  It is so adaptable and I love love love raglan sleeves.  Many other comments I have found about this pattern suggest the neckline is a little wide, but on me, with my broader shoulders, I think it sits ok.  The first version in a cotton silk mix was consigned to scraps as I managed to cut a huge hole in the front of it when trimming the neckband.  The second I combined with the bottom half of McCalls 6083 to make a playsuit in the summer, which may get blogged about one day. 

For this third iteration, I used a beautifully soft ivory sweatshirt fabric.  I squared off the side seams, removing the shaping, and cut off about five inches to make it more cropped.  I'm not very happy with the pocket placement, it needs to be further towards the side seam but I can't move it without leaving marks and despite inserting the neckband three times and shortening it every time, it still stands up a little.   Still it's a fun top and when I figure out what else I can wear it with (hello Ginger Jeans view B), it will hopefully see the light of day more frequently.

So, trousers.  If you give yourself lots and lots of time, summon up some patience, draw on all the resources that are available to help you with your fit and use a muslin fabric very similar to the one you will ultimately use (this is a stretch twill and I found something very cheap and very similar to use for the muslin), it is totally doable.  Even by me.

Trousers:  Colette Clover in navy and white ikat stretch twill
Top: Belcarra-ish in ivory sweatshirt stuff, both from Mood Fabrics.
Shoes: Maguba Valencia clogs
Location: Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Sadly my photography skills aren't up to capturing the beautiful colours in the park right now.

See you soon x