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.
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.
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:
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
(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).
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.
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).
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…
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!