Style Crisis – Fearless in Frills

Fearless in frills

We’re promised a heatwave over the coming weekend – although I’ll believe it when it arrives. Encouraged by little pictures of yellow suns on the Met Office website this morning, I was rash enough to put on my slip dress – albeit over a t-shirt. However with a stiff breeze coming in off the North Sea I layered a cardigan over the top. Then not five minutes later I pulled on a pair of trousers underneath. I haven’t yet gone to a scarf but the day is young.

It’s no surprise then, that I struggle to buy into the idea of dressing for warmer weather until it actually arrives, by which time it’s either too late to make anything or it turns into a rush job.

Outfit required

As we headed into May I was determined not to fall into either trap. The late May bank holiday weekend’s a favourite pick for family get-togethers; last year I was the Aunty of the Groom at a family wedding. This year we were invited to a meal to celebrate my niece’s 21st birthday and my sister’s silver wedding anniversary.

Specifically, this turned out to be Sunday lunch in a pub-cum-restaurant-cum-art-gallery in an east-of-England cathedral city. Which, as you’ll understand later, is as specific as I’m going to get.

An outfit was clearly called for. Relaxed and informal perhaps, but I’d need to look as if I’d made an effort. And since the weather might well be pleasant, then something fittingly summery was required – albeit a look that could be layered if necessary.

Courage!

In the spirit of the ‘sewing with bravado‘ conversation that Judy and I have been having across the ClothSpot cutting table, I decide to throw down a gauntlet to myself (is that possible?) I was blown away with the success of my jumpsuit excursion last year, learning that stepping out of my comfort zone worked in unexpected ways. What, then, could I create that might broaden my horizons still more?

I decide to make a list of the things that send a chill down the back of my wardrobe. Top of my list of fears are:

  • Frocks
  • Flowers
  • Frills

No shocks here and I’m beginning to regret my gauntlet. I flip through the pile of catalogues that have piled up on the shelf behind the toilet. I also scan the emails piling up in my inbox. The usual suspects; Whistles, Mint Velvet, Jigsaw, Hush, Kitri etc… Imagine my surprise when I find…

Frocks…

'Carida' Yellow Maxi Dress by Kitri
‘Carida’ Yellow Maxi Dress by Kitri

Flowers…

'Anastasia' Floral Wrap Dress by Kitri
‘Anastasia’ Floral Wrap Dress by Kitri

Frills….

'Roxanne' Pink Frill Dress by Kitri
‘Roxanne’ Pink Frill Dress by Kitri

I take a deep breath. And another. Can I do this? Can I really be that brave?

Resolve (and a spot of cunning)

In the spirit of ‘in for a penny’ I decide that I shall indeed create and wear a flowery, frilly frock. It’ll be interesting to see people’s faces at the very least and – well – you never know. I might actually like it… After all, these days I even like rhubarb, mushrooms and blue cheese. (Twiglets? Still very much the Snack of the Devil.)

Time, however, is relatively short. I have a weekend in which to create my outfit which means plenty of time for sewing – but not for fitting. Whatever I create, then, has to fit well enough, right out of the gate.

There are some aspects of my challenge that I’m pretty sure won’t work, come what may. In particular, I suspect that frilly, floating sleeves or indeed anything voluminous around my shoulders, isn’t going to work for me. With my build, that’s not where I need lots of fabric. What might work however, is a frilly skirt – to give me some width to balance my shoulders.

I try to banish from my mind thoughts of tiered skirts circa 1978. Easier said than done. But the notion of ‘skirt’ sticks. I’m reminded of the second jumpsuit I made last year, where I stuck a top from one pattern on top of the trousers of another. Rather than looking for a dress that I like – why don’t I find a skirt and top that each work – then wear them together? That way I’ll get the best of both worlds. If I don’t like the ‘dress’ effect, then I can break them down to wear individually with other less ‘in-your-face’ separates. So, with that in mind, the pattern hunt commences.

Starting at the top…

Aiming for minimum fuss and maximum ease on the top half, I go looking for a camisole. Easy to fit across broad shoulders, it’s a dressier version of the ‘standby strappy tops’ I wear to work in the summer.

I downloaded the Ogden Cami pattern from True/Bias some time ago.

'Ogden Cami' pattern from True/Bias
‘Ogden Cami’ pattern from True/Bias

Mostly because it did seem like the kind of top I was constantly wishing I had when I opened my wardrobe in the summer months. Also since it seemed to be emerging as a ‘tried and tested’ pattern for many people, I thought I should give it a go. Its moment has arrived.

…and moving down to the frilly bit

I noticed the Style Arc Sorrento Skirt when it appeared earlier this year. I liked the longer length; also they styled it with sneakers in the pattern illustration.

'Sorrento Skirt' pattern from Style Arc
‘Sorrento Skirt’ pattern from Style Arc

I know, I know – it’s just a drawing – but undercutting that frilliness with practical footwear appealed at the time and the pattern stuck in my mind. I surmised that the simplicity of the top would allow for a bit of exuberance from the waist down and honestly – I never looked any further. The draping cut and the elasticated waist meant that fitting wasn’t going to be an issue and all I’d need to do would be to tuck in my camisole. Job done.

Floral flamboyance

On the fabric front I decided to go the whole hog. ‘Go big or go home’ was my instinct and I loved the colour of our ‘Stargazer’ coral floral viscose crepe-de-chine fabric the moment I saw it. Deep down had I envisaged actually wearing it? Not consciously – but I wonder if that’s where this story started.

'Stargazer' coral floral viscose crepe-de-chine fabric
‘Stargazer’ coral floral viscose crepe-de-chine fabric

Despite the fact that I’ve never worn a fabric like this in my life, I thought the coral was a warm red tone that would suit my colouring. Cool in hot weather, it’s a lovely crepe-de-chine (yes, I know I would say that – but honestly…) and it drapes in a way that I think will be perfect for my pattern selections.

Camisole in the making

There are reviews aplenty of the Ogden Cami pattern. It does go together very well and the facings give it a classy finish. I’d definitely reiterate others’ comments on the importance of stay-stitching the neckline and armholes. Also, taking time to press out the seams and understitch the facings is fiddly but essential.

Although I’m not big in the bust I do have a broad back – and was just on the nose of the measurements of the Size 10 I cut out. However although the cut of the finished garment means that it accommodated my back and shoulders, it did so by pulling out of shape slightly the ‘V’ of the neckline and back. The Size 12 I cut for a later version was a better fit and retained the intended shape.

Skirt in the making

The pattern pieces for this skirt are a series of large crescent shapes that take a little time to lay out properly. My fabric choice was a fluid one, so there was a fair amount of stroking and tweaking to make sure everything was laying flat. There’s not a lot of wiggle-room in the layout so take the time to pin everything down and double-check before you start cutting.

Once cut, the Style Arc instructions tell you to lay all the pieces out and assemble them in order. Do this! It’s more confusing than you think to make sure that you’re putting the right pieces together, the right way round. That said, it’s a very straightforward construction and despite the inherent movement of my crepe-de-chine, it was a quick and easy make. I used a fine-gauge universal needle and both regular stitching and overlocking were a dream.

Oddly I thought the skirt looked and felt a little short when I’d finished it but as I look at the images for this post, I wonder if it’s actually just fine. I suspect I’m feeling a bit twitchy as I creep out of my comfort zone. I’d be interested to hear what you think…

Moment of truth

And lo, the finished product…

Dress front: Like a flower in a garden...
Like a flower in a garden…
Dress front: The bits that the tongs don't reach...
The bits that the tongs don’t reach…
Dress front: Give us a twirl
Give us a twirl

Nipple management

(FYI I am cringing as I write this. Apologies and feel free to skip to the next section…)

Narrow-strapped camisoles do not lend themselves to bras and I’ve never been a fan of strapless numbers. At the risk of straying into dangerous territory here, I thought I might share the fact that this project led to my introduction to the world of ‘nipple taping’. Thanks due to my youngest daughter as well as my niece (via my sister). Following up this advice with a bit of research I feel like a naive ingenue. I had absolutely no idea of the industrial architecture in place underneath celebrity garments. (Tip: Invest in Duct Tape Shares!)

As a result of this advice I unearth some surgical tape from the first aid box in the airing cupboard and apply a careful cris-cross of tape to each – erm – nipple. The facing and the print pattern of the camisole obscure any outline of the tape and the result is a gently rounded silhouette which I’m quite pleased with.

Some hours later however, this tape has to be removed. On the scale of self-inflicted and unnecessary pain, this is comparable to the time I went water-skiing in Brighton. An occasion when I fell over backwards, couldn’t get back up again and found myself being dragged through the briny at 30mph, legs akimbo.

Honestly, I thought my nipples were going to come off with the tape. Apparently putting a bit of tissue underneath helps. To add insult to injury, it seems my skin is rather sensitive in that area and reacted to the glue on the tape. You may think that a 56-year old woman should know better about this sort of thing. If the radiographer administering my mammogram a week later thought so, then she was too discreet to mention it as I presented her with breasts that looked as if they’d been supplied by the Red Cross.

Alternative camisole options

Seriously though – for those of you for whom this wouldn’t be a desirable or practical option (really?), the top half of the ‘Marigold’ jumpsuit from Tilly & the Buttons offers a wider strap, a higher front and a bust dart, all of which would help with accommodating larger busts than my B-cups (up to 47″ in fact).

'Marigold' Jumpsuit from Tilly and the Buttons
‘Marigold’ Jumpsuit from Tilly and the Buttons

Alternatively if you don’t mind flaunting a bra strap (and why not?) then the Loungewear Camisole from Style Arc has a nicely-positioned bust dart and runs up to a size 30. It’s also cut on the cross which will help with both fit and the line of the drape. In fact I might even prefer it to the slightly tent-like cut of the Ogden.

'Loungewear' Camisole pattern from Style Arc
‘Loungewear’ Camisole pattern from Style Arc


The wearing

There was quite a drive….but the creasing was minimal and on a warm day it was a cool and comfortable wear. The frills, ruffles, tiers – call them what you will – but the amount of fabric in there seems to work for their dimension. The skirt drapes down and swings nicely – it doesn’t stick out like a Party Dress and is generally very pleasing. I top it all off with a fitted denim jacket (not me-made – about 20 years old but it does the job).

Jacket in case of emergency (or failure of confidence)
Jacket in case of emergency (or failure of confidence)

In fact my dress turns out to be no trouble at all. As for the rest of the day…

We manage to park right opposite the restaurant in the middle of town with no problem at all, right on time. As we get out of the car I spot my niece with her chap and go dashing across to them, arms waving.

“Hello! Look! It’s the embarrassing relatives!”

My niece is used to this; her BF perhaps less so. In fact, this is only the second time I’ve met him. Hugs all round, I tread on someone’s toes with my clogs and BAM! There goes my phone, still telling me I’ve arrived at my destination, smacking face down onto the pavement.

I pick it up and yes – it now looks like a teenager’s phone that’s been kicked around the school playground.

“Oh don’t worry – it’s just the screen protector. Isn’t it?” someone tries to reassure me.

“Well no – there isn’t one on there…”

Feeling like an idiot I manage to pack everything into my bag and we head into the garden of the restaurant where we find an extended family gathering.

It’s a lovely place and it hasn’t quite started to rain yet. More excited hugs all round and I perch myself on a nearby table as I chat to my sister. Seconds later there’s a shotgun CRACK! The table top collapses under my weight and I manage to scrabble to my feet as my rear end falls through the table frame. Gasps and guffaws follow as I struggle to a nearby chair to recover.

Inevitably it starts to drizzle and we make our way inside. I try not to fall off my clogs as we troop down the uneven brick path and up the steps into the restaurant.

Which turns out to be rather a treat. Mounds of asparagus starters, excellent Sunday roast and according to my sister’s father-in-law: “The best trifle I’ve ever eaten”

The dining room walls are full of artwork and there are ceramics on display too. During a break in the proceedings I get up to take a closer look at a teapot, carefully turning it upside down to see the maker’s mark. I do think it’s a bit of an over-reaction for the whole table to yell:

“NO! Alice!! Put it down!”

In fact I think it was rather rude. Especially since no-one, not a single person, all day, said anything about my dress. It’s almost as if the day wasn’t about me…

Pattern ideas

I’d love to know what you make of all of this. Was my frilly floral creation a step too far from my comfort zone? Am I right to wonder about the skirt length – and did I cop out with my simple camisole top?

Also – we’re on the hunt for a simple summer frock pattern to offer as our next kit. We’d love to know about your favourite summer dress makes – please do drop us a line if you have a moment.

Thank you for stopping by – and enjoy the heatwave while it lasts!


8 thoughts on “Style Crisis – Fearless in Frills

  1. Sarah says:

    Alice, Well, bravo ! I think this looks wonderful on you; both the colour and the styling. The red is just slightly muted and works well with the yellow which also actually dials it down a notch from scarlet. I am also a fan of two pieces worn as one ( as you saw on IG yesterday – spooky ! ) – co-ords – is, so I am told , how we should be referring to them 😉. I love the length of the skirt – spot on. Easy to dress up or down at that length. I love a long skirt and trainers, especially when it isn’t quite hot enough for full on bare legs. It’s weird, from seeing these pictures, I would never have guessed that this was out of your usual comfort zone – frills and florals. I think it just goes to show with careful pattern selection and styling we can move out of our comfort zone. Well done again !

  2. Aileen says:

    I have made a couple of tops and trousers in the same fabric – look just like jumpsuits but no gymnastics going to the loo. You look so comfy and glamorous in this it’s hard to believe it’s out of your comfort zone. And thanks for the Style Arc suggestion – I think it would be better for my shape than the Ogden. You’re an inspiration!!

  3. Jan says:

    Hi Alice. Both you and the ‘out of comfort zone’ dress look really good, the right length, relaxed and comfortable. Love the colour and print, the frill is more of a wave than a gathered monstrosity. You might have guessed I have a thing about gathers! I have discovered recently that I much prefer a bolder floral design to those itsy ditsy (spelling is probably way off the spell checker is flashing its lights at me!) little floral prints. You are becoming a bit like the Pied Piper, Alice, coaching me into new pastures and long may it continue. I do like Aileen’s suggestion of a top and trousers in the same fabric to look like a jumpsuit. I nearly knocked myself out in a plane’s toilet which has put me off the all in one version for life. You ask what your followers look for in a summer dress. Oh boy I find the very mention of the word ‘dress’ scary. It brings back visions of my school summer outfit in a tiny pink gingham print with Peter Pan collar, not a good look at 15! However having been limited to carry on suitcase size recently I find a dress takes up far less room than my usual mix and match type combos. Recently I have battled — and lost – with a shirt waisted pattern mostly I have decided due to the waist line and gathered skirt. Why I chose this style I do not know. However determined not to be defeated I have recently cast several glances over two dresses by The Sewing Revival, the Peacock and the Tui. Again with StyleArc the Sydney Designer dress and with Tessuti patterns the Eva (apparently their best seller and could easily with a Breton type top or 3/4 sleeve T shirt underneath take me into autumn), Pia and the Lois but oh boy is the V neck low in this garment. My Alps would need a much higher neck line and a FBA to be contained! Finally the Wanda wrap dress by Wardrobe by Me has also caught my eye as have a couple on the Style Arc site. For the summer I like easy to wear dresses with a little structure, not voluminous but not too fitted either. No frills but a wave or curved hem would be good. For some reason I find that I am starting to lean towards pattern companies from the Southern Hemisphere probably due to their more relaxed styles. Thanks for the prompt re the Style Arc top instead of the Ogden. I have the Grain Line Studio Hadley top which suits my bust line and is less voluminous once an FBA is manufactured. Looking good girl, shame about the phone and table incidents!

  4. Lynne says:

    It looks lovely – the fabric’s beautiful – but what you said about the top being slightly tent-like. Would it look better not tucked in? I get the impression from the pattern that’s it’s really meant to hang loose.

  5. Di says:

    What heatwave?!! I was up in Norway where I wore a scarf and gloves on two days last week.
    The outfit looks very feminine (can you cope with that remark Alice?) and the fabric is lovely. I have quite a few dress patterns which are, for the most part, OOP. Years ago, when I had a different lifestyle, I wore a lot of ‘me made’ dresses, hence the collection. These days I tend to go for a skirt and matching top, as you’ve done, to get the wear out of them (CPW = cost per wear).
    Talking of skirts Style Arc has just brought out a new skirt pattern which has potential and that print might be OK for a bias cut skirt with a flippy hem. Simplicity pattern 8601 is a selection of tops which are attractive. Frilly enough without addding width in the shoulders.
    NB I recently bought a fitted yellow knit sweater, with 3/4 sleeves ending in a deep frill. Very ‘of the moment’ until I wore it to a smart casual dinner. It was later ( bedtime) that I found congealed food ( brown gravy??), stuck to the underside of the RH frill. This had transferred itself to the sweater side where it was not visible when looking down (my 34 DD’s blocking the view). What irritated me was that no one said anything. Beware frills below the elbow

    • Judith says:

      Di, back when kaftans were a thing, they had the same trailing-in-the-gravy drawback. On the other hand, no tight waistbands while you were eating.

  6. Judith says:

    Alice, you look great. But don’t fear dresses, they are actually easy as fewer decisions to make, and nothing to come untucked. I have often worn shirt dress styles (with a waist seam, not straight down). In fact I found ClothSpot when I was re-lining a Laura Ashley broderie anglaise shirt dress which came with a nasty thick jersey lining. I’m quite a different shape and age to you (5 ft tall, 70ish) but am entertained and inspired by your blog. Keep going, and keep wearing red!

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