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.
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.