Emily@BelgianSeams

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Antwerpen dress

I got the fabric for this dress in Antwerp way back in 2014 (!) in a shop that I can’t remember the name of and that I probably wouldn’t be able to find again. I had a voucher to spend which was my prize for taking part (and coming last) in the Belgian/Dutch online sewing competition ‘Sew it up‘ that Hanne and Caroline used to organise. So, wow, it has taken me four years to make something with this fabric! It is a soft drapey viscose that was way easier to work with than I anticipated and I’m glad I kept it for so long until the idea for this dress was born.

The pattern was the result of a day of pattern drafting experimentation! My favourite part is the cut-out back, although I think I’ll be wearing this with a top under it and tights from here on in as the wintery weather has just arrived in Belgium.

Here is a photo of the bodice pattern piece in case this is useful to anyone interested in drafting a similar pattern. Be careful with this type of ‘French dart’ as you can end up with a ‘pointy boob’ situation if the end of the dart is too close to the apex of the bust, so it can be worth shortening the dart a smidgen more than you would if it was in another position. As this fabric is really busy it is pretty forgiving but in a different fabric the darts might look slightly off. Not that anyone should be paying that close attention to the dart positions on your clothes (unless they are a fellow sewing aficionado).

The skirt is a slightly modified version of the skirt I used for this dress. For the sleeves I followed the ‘very flared sleeve’ method from Winifred Aldrich’s classic ‘Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear‘ book.

For the back, I cut two pieces that look like this:

I wore this dress to my dear friend Anna’s wedding on the Isle of Mull recently and as always seems to be the case when I make something for a particular event, somehow I end up hemming it at 1 in the morning the day before I need to get a train or a plane…all part of the fun! (You can read more about Anna’s wedding in my last post as I also made her wedding skirt!)

These pictures were taken a few weeks ago just before all the leaves on this tree started to fall!

 

Uisken skirt

Today I’ve got a very special project to share: I made my dear friend Anna’s wedding skirt! Anna is one of my closest and oldest friends so this was a very special – if daunting – project! And it is definitely one of my favourite sewing projects. The top Anna is wearing comes from Catherine Deane in London and I think it goes really well with the skirt. (Want to make it clear in the first paragraph of this post that I didn’t make Anna’s ‘top half’ so I’m not accidentally taking credit for others’ work!)

First up: let’s start at the end and look at the anatomy of the finished skirt:

The skirt is a half circle skirt with the main fabric a duchess satin from Mandors in Glasgow. There is one layer of tulle above the main fabric, two layers under for volume, and then a cotton lining. There is an invisible zip in the centre back seam and the waistband fastening is a hook and eye. On the back there is a ‘false button’ – it’s actually a badge that Anna had made in her new fella’s tartan (Cameron).

Photo credit: Christian

The process!

1) The first thing I did was take all of Anna’s measurements when we were both at home last Christmas and then I drafted a basic front and back bodice block. I sewed up a quick bodice muslin and made the necessary adjustments to the blocks. (Initially the plan was to make a whole dress but we took the wise decision given I am in Brussels and Anna in Glasgow that I would just make the skirt and Anna would find a top to go with it.) Even though we didn’t end up doing a whole dress, making the bodice blocks was still a really important part of the process. First of all because it was as good as any as a place to start! Secondly, I love drafting and relished the opportunity to try fitting on someone else’s body. And thirdly, I think it was a good way for Anna to start thinking about what kind of outfit she wanted, and how she wanted it to fit.

2) Next, I made a first ‘draft’ of the dress in muslin fabric once I was back in Brussels.

3) Then in February Anna and our friend Sally came over to Brussels for the weekend and brought the fabric she had chosen. Anna tried on the dress toile and I made some fitting adjustments to the blocks. I then made a full dress bodice and skirt mock-up in the main fabric, with sleeves too. I decided to cut into the ‘real fabric’ early on as it was a good way of seeing how it worked. I’d never worked with duchess satin before so wanted to get a feel for it.

That was when we decided that the bodice didn’t really look right in the fabric and to just focus on making a skirt. We realised it was going to take too long to get the bodice looking and fitting right and we only had so many weekends together to do it – think it was a wise decision! We played around with different levels of fullness – at first I made a full circle skirt but it was too puffy, the half circle skirt had a better balance of drape and poofy-outness (the technical term).

3) After the weekend I added a lining and a waistband with a tie and some tulle layers. I then brought this over to Scotland when I was home for a visit so that Anna could take it with her to look for tops to go with it.

4) Then the finale was this summer when Anna brought the skirt back over so I could finish it properly and make some changes before the wedding in September. I redid the zip and took off the waistband and tie and made a simple waistband without the tie (the tie waistband really wasn’t working). I also redid most of the seams to finish everything more neatly so the insides are pretty too. I think my favourite parts of the dress are the satin binding around the lining hem and the Hong Kong finish on the centre back seam! It was pretty much 35 degrees that whole weekend so I was – no exaggeration – sewing half naked trying to battle with the tulle so it wouldn’t stick to my sweaty legs haha! It was really enjoyable in an ‘extreme sewing’ kind of way.

And it’s finished!!

What I learnt: 8 tips for anyone thinking of wedding (or any special occassion) sewing for a friend.

1) Go for it! Of course sewing something for a special occasion like a wedding is a more involved project but if you’ve got a bit of sewing experience under your belt there is no reason why you can’t make something more challenging. The ‘stakes’ are higher but that’s all part of the fun!

2) Demystify
I think that the best way to approach special occasion sewing is to start by taking inspiration from everyday clothes or everyday sewing and then ‘scale up’ in terms of the type of fabric and the finishing techniques you would use. There is no reason (unless you want to of course) to make it over complicated. Case in point: Anna’s wedding skirt is a half circle skirt, one of the simplest silhouettes to fit. I would recommend to anyone making a fancy garment for someone (for a wedding or otherwise) to ask the person to bring you a favourite dress that they feel good in and get them to explain why they like it and how it makes them feel. Use that as your starting point for any sketches or initial drafting. I asked Anna to do this and we went through some of her favourite dresses – just everyday things she wears to work etc. – and I got her to talk about them. I think it was actually one of the most important parts of the process as it helped me know how Anna wanted to look and feel. This is also a chance to get an idea of the person’s knowledge of dressmaking so you can manage expectations if they have any bold unrealisitc suggestions!

3) Beware Pinterest
Pinterest can be a great tool for gathering inspiration images of course, but I find that it’s a double-edged sword. You can quickly lose sight of your own ideas – and, particularly when it comes to wedding images on the site, I feel that there is generally speaking quite a standard ‘look’ that dominates the images that come up. That’s not to say there are not tonnes of images out there online of wedding outfits that are a bit different, I just found you have to hunt for them more. Basically, keep in mind that your wedding dress doesn’t need to look like the ‘stock’ images of dresses that predominate in advertising. OK, I could have just written, ‘you do you’.

4) Get organised!
Embrace your inner planner and get a spreadsheet going! Or whatever form of organisation floats your boat! As we had to make the most of our time together I made sure everything was ready for when Anna came over – but you also have to of course be ready for everything taking double the time you had planned for it, as is the case for pretty much everything in life anyway!

5) Pretend you are a master couturière at work
How often do you get to make an outfit for a dear friend that they’ll (hopefully) treasure forever? Never! Approach the project as if you were a professional at work and your apartment is your ‘master atelier’ – even if you are battling with your own furniture for space to cut out layers of fabric!

6) Fabric choosing
I wasn’t able to go fabric shopping with Anna so I made her a list of bullet points to take with her to the shop for things to look out for and keep in mind (fabric composition, how it will hang, is it a woven or a knit etc.). Keep in mind that not everyone knows how to navigate a fabric shop – think back to when you first started sewing and bought fabric totally unsuitable for what you intended to make (and err still do sometimes). Luckily the lady in the shop was really helpful (obviously, as it’s Glasgow!) and helped Anna pick what she needed. If I was going to make this type of wedding garment again I’d do a bit more research into different fabric options I think to see what the different options are; I did find that working with the duchess satin made my hands really dry which is probably due to the coating used to finish it.

7) Keep some perspective
How many people will be thinking about the (lack of) waistband topstitching on the wedding day? One. And that’s you! And even then you’ll forget about that after about five minutes. The wedding outfits are obviously a focal point of the day but everyone will be looking at the happy couple’s smiling faces and not how well balanced the bride’s hem is. So yeah keep cool – it’s just sewing, even if it is for a wedding. At first I was worried about making Anna the ‘perfect’ skirt but that was silly. The reason she asked me to make it was because she wanted something made by a friend, if she had wanted a ‘perfect’ dress she wouldn’t have taken the DIY approach. Anna was so lovely throughout the whole thing and always (bizarrely) had no doubts in my ability to make the skirt! If the person you are making for is putting you under unnecessary pressure then you probably shouldn’t be embarking on such a project together.

8) Enjoy the time spent together
Lastly – and I think most importantly – making Anna’s skirt meant we (and Sally!) spent whole weekends together this year. I really liked this rare chunk of time together with my apartment full of laughter and layers of tulle fabric!

Congratulations to Anna and Jim! And thank you for such a lovely wedding in such a beautiful place, Uisken beach on the Isle of Mull.

Photo credit: Ruaridh Cameron

Un peu short

Say hello to my favourite sewing project from this summer — shorts! I drafted my own pattern and made a few muslins to get the fit right, so I’ve now got a good block that I plan to use to make some trousers. I wanted a high-waisted style and to get a good balance between slouchy and fitted. The other thing I’m happy about with these shorts is that the fabric comes from a vintage skirt bought at a ‘brocante’ so no new fabric was required, and I was even able to recycle the zip from the skirt. All in all I had a lot of fun working on these shorts as they were something I really needed (for the crazy hot weather), I got to play around with fit, learn new construction methods, and refashion something old.

I had so much fun in fact, I made a second pair (see below)! From leftover chambray from my Archer shirt from years ago — bought in Leuven in a fabric shop called Pauli Stoffen. It felt good to finally use up the rest of that fabric!

Now autumn is on the way (yes!) I’ll be wearing both pairs (not at the same time) over tights and leggings.

The other thing I want to mention about the making of these shorts is that I followed this brilliant tutorial from Closet Case Patterns for the Jenny shorts pattern religiously when it came to construction order for the zip and pockets. I just love the way the method has the lapped zipper integrated into the pockets. Seriously, bookmark that tutorial.

Before: a vintage skirt that was way too small for me.

Close up of Heather’s brilliant construction method, and my slightly shoogly sewing 🙂

The second pair!

More lapped zipper swooning…

My Brighton and Hope Dress

Communicating with a higher power or blinded by the light?

This was one of those sewing projects. You know the ones. You’ve got a ‘deadline’. Say, a wedding in Brighton that’s been planned for months in a few days. And you decide that now is the perfect time to start an un-thought out sewing project to make for it! Sometimes this approach is a recipe for disaster for me, but this time luck was on my side and I’m really happy with this new dress.

The fabric has been in my stash for a few years now after buying it in Paris at one of the shops near the Marché Saint-Pierre. It’s a woven, has a sort of canvas-y feel, and has just the right amount of stretch in it. I can’t remember how much it cost but I don’t think it was very much and I bought 3 metres of it (in a burst of ‘I’m in Paris, oh pretty fabric’ enthusiasm). It’s an unusual shade of pink (which doesn’t capture too well in photos) and I think that is why it took me so long to make something with it. It feels like the kind of fabric that doesn’t deserve half measures. It needed to be a dress really!

It’s also interesting going back through the fabrics I bought a few years ago and looking at them with a more critical ‘environmental eye’. Even though I think (hope) I’ve always been ‘conscious’ about how much fabric I’m buying etc., over the last few years I’ve definitely got way more uncomfortable with the lack of information on the exact provenance of all the piles of textiles piled up in my apartment. I’ve no idea where this came from really (beyond the Paris shop where it ended up), what was the dyeing process used to get that deep pink, and I’m not sure what types of synthetic materials are woven together to get that nice stretch.

But the pattern itself is a pattern hacking act of recycling though!

p.s. not my litter!

I was about to buy some new patterns recently and then I decided to reorganise my pattern shelf and look again at the patterns I’ve only made one or two times. It can be so tempting to buy new patterns all the time but I think it is good to get a balance between buying new patterns (and supporting all the wonderful indie businesses) and getting the most out of the ones you already own.

I’ve recently been re-wearing my BHL Flora dress after reworking it (‘reworking’ sounds a bit over the top as I really just lengthened the hem) and I was reminded of how perfect the fit of the bodice is. It is fitted but still has room for lunch. So I took the bodice and altered it to this more ‘corsety’ shape. Then I made some longer straps and drafted an A-line skirt with added flare. I was tempted to go for a circle skirt but I wanted the skirt to hang closer to the body. As the fabric is quite structured it still has that ‘fit and flare’ circle skirt effect but it would be interesting to make this dress in a soft, flowing fabric which would hang differently.

This dress is really fun to wear and after wearing it to the wedding I’ve also been wearing it out and about too. I didn’t get the chance to take pictures in Brighton so these were taken in Brussels in the glaring heat of this endless sunny spell.

Yay, lampost head!

Tête dans les nuages

After making my first Closet Case Patterns Kalle shirt, I knew I wanted to make more!

For this version I changed the collar though. In my first version, the collar was kind of in my way so I decided to forego it this time round. Instead of using the band collar included in the pattern I drafted my own band collar/’visible bias facing thing’ so that I could get it exactly where I want it. It took aaages to get this right and I hand sewed it on in the end, but I’m really happy with the result. Here is a pic of the work in progress:

The fabric I used for the shirt was salvaged from an old sundress that I bought in New Look years ago and didn’t wear anymore. I always loved the cloudy fabric so didn’t part with it. I’m so glad I cut it up and managed to get the Kalle pattern pieces cut out from it.

It is as light and airy to wear as it looks. And it feels so good to make something you love out of something you didn’t.

I’m more motivated than ever to get through my piles of ‘things to rework’/‘UFOs’/fabric scraps. I find it quite oppressive having them in boxes in my apartment yet I just can’t part with them or donate them, and of course I can’t bin them!

I recently had one of the most therapeutic days ever though which I think only people who sew will understand. I keep all my fabric scraps that are big enough to be used again, so that is a lot of bits of fabric that – let’s be honest – won’t all get used again anytime this side of ever. I spent a few hours going through the fabric scraps and forced myself to only keep some of the really special remnants where I had a specific idea in mind of what to do with them.
The rest I used to stuff a cushion I made. It is so nice to look at the cushion and know that both the outside (made from the same fabric I used for a Belladone dress a few years ago) and the inside are nods to my past sewing projects. Such a good way to scrap bust and reduce waste!

From this….

…to this…


…to this!

Zero waste! 🙂 🙂