Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Some thoughts about dress styles and style - and your opinion on shapes requested, please! Working with bodice block to design MOB

The styles you choose are very much personal taste but how well you suit it depends on body shape, too.

For the record, I am currently about 2 stones at least (okay 3!) overweight. As I'm 5’11”, excess weight shows slightly less on me than on a petite person - but it still shows (and I was horrified at how much it shows in the photos)!  My measurements are 41, 35, 47; I take a size 36DD bra and RTW size 18 (both UK sizing - I think that's a 14/16 in US sizes) In big 4 patterns, I'm 18 on top and 22 on the bottom by the sizes they give, though often less than that on the bottom depending on how much ease is in the pattern. I'm pear shaped. I'm not happy with this situation;  I had hoped to lose a fair bit of my excess weight for my daughter’s wedding but realistically I'm not going to manage more than a stone or so. But I will manage that. I will!! Once the Christmas chocolates and biscuits are finished ...

Aug 2010
So this brings me to my mother of the bride (MOB) outfit.  I'm (probably) planning to use dupion silk. This will have to be lined and interlined. No, I've never sewn with silk. I know to use sharp fine needles and only to pin inside a seam allowance.  I've read about stabilising with starch etc but my fabric is dry clean only so I can't wash out any substances. I'll use a rotary cutter with a new blade to cut out. I'll cut on a single fabric layer. I know to be careful with the steam iron as fabric could mark with water. I know all that in theory - but not in practice. I believe dupion is slightly easier to sew than other varieties of silk I do have crepe as an alternative and am open to suggestions! Might have to think about that. Linen?

August 2010 with Helen who was a bridesmaid to her sister
My textile course covers pattern cutting,  fabric manipulation and garment construction. None of it in detail.  My final project is my MOB outfit. I have to research design inspirations, draw (! ) some examples, make up some samples, decide on a design for my outfit, produce the pattern and then make up the outfit. A mood board and sketchbook are also key components

I found images from some designers that appealed - DKNY for example.  I found myself attracted to similar things over and over. Lots of asymmetry,  which surprised me. I say that because I haven't had much success with asymmetrical garments in the past. I posted these photos in an earlier post.

I decided I was going to go with a dress and possibly a lightweight jacket. I'm not keen on the bolero in the photos above.

Okay,  the dress.
  • Fitted, semi fitted, loose
  • Darts, princess seams, dart equivalents  (pleats, tucks etc)
  • Seaming at waist, above waist, below waist
  • Straight skirt, A line, flared,  gored,  pleated,  circle etc
  • Waistline seam/no waistline seam
  • Sleeves of various styles or sleeveless or even cut back (but I'm not pursuing that!)
  • Jewel, scooped, V neckline etc  - there are so many styles.
  • I'm sure that’s not everything. There are so many options and combinations.

I decided I was not very keen on gathers, pleats or tuck darts. I prefer the smoothness of darts.

I made up samples,  based on my bodice block, of:
  • Basic shape
  • Shoulder princess seams
  • Parallel curved asymmetric darts
    I found these very difficult to stitch - I obviously don't have the technique right. Ends, where I had the biggest difficulty, are very messy an puckered, although they have been pressed
  • Parallel curved twin French darts
    I can say much the same as above
  • Multiple parallel shoulder darts
This isn't right but I like the concept. The shoulder appears rather wide. I think I need to hone my bodice block.

My first sample, on the model
What did I find?

Well I loved the idea of the curved asymmetric darts. My first rendition wasn't satisfactory as I forgot to back the darts off the bust point. Just made me look very lopsided. Also, I really don't know how to sew these darts and struggled. I think the idea has potential but I feel the dart needs backed off even further. I found it difficult to sew - not good news when using silk. And what skirt do you put with this? My waistline is a problem as in effect it slopes from back to front and I fear a waisted dress emphasising this

I quite liked the French darts but had similar problems sewing them.

I really like the parallel multiple shoulder darts. They weren't too difficult to sew as they are straight - much easier! However, I both marked and pinned the darts -  the end darts were very tiny so no option of pinning inside dart allowance. And would markings come off silk?  Any suggestions for suitable markings for silk?

I cut out the surplus paper from the inside of the largest dart. Then added seam allowance and cut out from fabric. It would have been much easier to sew the huge dart and then trim off the excess fabric. I've modified the pattern to do that next time.

As part of this process, I visited a store (Boundary Mills) and tried on a number of dresses (mainly Jacques Vert). I took dressing cubicle photos on my phone. They're terrifying! Can I bear to show any? I'll show only my favourite of these! It's no real surprise that it's a patterned shift /sheath dress and collarless jacket. My silk is plain (cobalt blue) and I do wonder if a plain dress would work as well in this in of outfit.

I made the following observations, negative and positive:

  • I don’t like cowl necks (which is a pity as I have a potential RTW MOB with a cowl neck - a silk dress and bolero/jacket but I don't feel they go together.  I find a cowl neck difficult to pair with a jacket. See photos at each side 
  • I don’t like circle or very full skirts
  • I'm not really very keen on a waist seam and would rather have a continuous one piece dress.
  • I don’t like gathers or tuck darts
  • I don’t suit crossover tops - maybe in stretch, that’s different but I'm talking woven here; of course, this is also RTW and it could be that making myself one, which would fit so much better, would also look better. Though my floral Vogue dress belies that!
  • I like sheath dresses ending just about the knee - these can have princess seams or standard seams
  • I like fit and flare dresses ending below the knee
  • I like an element of waist shaping
  • I don’t like the asymmetric waistline dresses on, though one of my own dresses, pictured below, has a gather at the waistline on one side.
  • I prefer a sleeve - I didn’t decide absolutely what length

I decided to try on some of the dresses I have in my wardrobe - not all special occasion dresses, just dresses to see what I thought. Some of those are stretch dresses. David took photos. I was horrified at how thick around the middle I've become. I'll post some of these and comment. I'm only posting those I have some time for - there were others that didn't reach here!

1 to 9 - read across then down the rows
  1. I've had this dress for years and love it (Windsmoor)
  2. Viyella. Not sure if neck is a bit low and exposing. Woven. Recent thrifted purchase
  3. Klass - casual stretch dress. I like it without the supplied belt better than with.
  4. Phase Eight. I love this dress. Slight stretch. Photos don't really show the slight gather at the waist. Works well on this dress but on some I've tried just adds to the bulk
  5. Roman. I've never had this dress on though I've had it a while - needs a strapless bra, Stretch
  6. Can't remember the make - it makes me feel matronly. Woven
  7. M&S. I like this dress and get a lot of wear from it in the summer. Woven; lined
  8. Self made from PR's winter street dress - I like this; stretch (in fact so much stretch I've already shortened at the waist and it looks like I need to do it again! This fabric grows! I do have a more stable version shown here but wasn't sure it would fit at present.) The neckline is rather wider and looser than it was.
  9. Self made princess seamed dress for PR's Little White Dress contest last year; shown here without accessories of any kind, as required by contest. I liked it but it shrunk a lot in length and I binned, after salvaging its expensive zipper. Woven and lined.
  10. I could have a number 10 to add a different style - the Vogue 8646 wrapover dress I made and have posted about previously (July 2015) but didn't want to include as I dislike it so much! Largely because of the circular skirt, the too short length and the unflattering bust shaping - that's enough isn't it?

For a pre-Christmas celebration, I bought a red lace dress (M&S). I quite liked it but wasn’t absolutely sold on the scoop neck, which I found too low and wide. I didn't immediately return as I rather liked the length and where the waist fell. I was ill and didn’t get to wear the dress so eventually decided to return it as I couldn’t see me wearing it any other time than Christmas - and hopefully I will be smaller next Christmas. Anyway, I don't have the storage space. This is a photo of me trying it on, just before I returned it - I hadn't seen this back view prior to that or I would never have considered keeping it! I'm glad I took it back - I don't like the back neckline detail at all as it makes me look quite hunched. Partly because David got me to stand this way but that's not a good look.It was very difficult to get it to lie correctly at the back and shoulders, so  maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if I'd been wearing it in earnest. Not to mention the dress was half price in the post Christmas sale and I'd paid full price.

Too many wrinkles in the wrong place here
I had to go into town on an errand and tried on a couple of dresses in John Lewis. Both Damsel in a Dress. One was just too small. The other I liked (and the most like my DKNY inspiration dresses). It was too small around the hips but was made of stretchy fabric and I reckoned I'd slim down - and there is a 90 day return policy. So I went to pay but discovered it was full price - I'd picked it up from an ‘up to 70% off’ rack. I didn't see much point in buying a dress that didn't fit if not in the sale so I left it (it also had a dirty mark on it). I also tried on a Coast skirt but really didn't like it - they didn't have my size which didn't help - it should have been nice but I felt the pockets were superfluous. I'm not showing a photo of that skirt in public! 

So my thinking at the moment is:
  • Sheath dress with waist shaping
  • Small cap sleeve - I would like a sleeve. It's more difficult to put a jacket on over a longer sleeve and certain lengths can look very ageing, I feel.
  • I'm not sure I can incorporate my shoulder darts, which I love, into this, so I reckon it will probably be princess seams, or may be standard bust and waist darts. Waist darts would be double ended. I could maybe have two parallel ones which would slightly up the ante.
  • Might, or might not, incorporate a lace panel. Probably only if princess seams.
  • Knee length
  • Collarless jacket. Possibly in lace if I don’t use a lace panel, otherwise in matching fabric if (and it’s a big if) I have enough fabric.

Okay - my problem is perhaps obvious to you. This doesn't sound very exciting and doesn't incorporate much designer flare. However,  if I use nice fabric, sew it well and it fits well, and it's a style that I like,  there will be nothing to beat it. Do you agree? I absolutely don't want to sew a dress that doesn't meet those criteria purely to get extra points in the course. I'd be prepared to give up the course tomorrow rather than do that. In any case because I say I'm designing and making my MOB outfit doesn't mean to say that's the one I have to wear,  though RTW is probably not very likely, and time constraints are significant.

I’d really appreciate your comments. I have called out for help before - I'm really rather stuck! Thank you in advance.


  1. Hi Anne, did you want a comment from a total stranger on the other side of the world? I like dresses 1, 4, 8 and 9 for a MOB dress shape. Can you just use 9 and add cap sleeves? I use a cap sleeve pattern that finishes about 1"from the side seam to fit into many different patterns. I also really like the floral with purple, though I think a lower neckline suits you better. Any chance you could find a printed Dupioni silk?

    1. Thank you, Kathryn. I'm more than delighted to have your comment! You have picked out the ones I like best, too. I've never made a sleeve to fit into a pattern (one that fits, anyway!) before but that's a good idea and I'll look at making a version of 9 with a cap sleeve. The reason I went with a plain dupioni was that it picks out one of the colours in my husband's kilt. I could, of course, think about the jacket in plain and still have a pattern on the dress. I'm going to London this weekend (largely for wedding dress fabric) and will have a look to see what's available. I like the purple floral, too. Best wishes.

  2. Hi Anne, I absolutely love everything about dress number 4. The neckline, length, subtle waist detail and slightly pegged skirt make you look stunning! I also love the colour and the print on you, as well as the idea of the print dress / plain jacket combo. If you look into adding a cap sleeve to dress 9 as mentioned by Kathryn, maybe you could compare the skirt of 9 to the skirt of 4 as well and make it a little slimmer?

    1. Thank you. My absolute favourite is dress number 4. It is made of a stretch fabric, though. If I don't use silk, of course, I can use anything. As you suggest, I'll compare skirts and make slimmer. After your comment and Kathryn's comment, I do need to think about a print. I'd make a cobalt blue plain jacket. Good news - this morning I got an email from Knipmode attaching the pattern for the collarless jacket where the free purchase failed - I emailed them after I had the problem. Good customer service! So I'd use that for the jacket.

    2. Good to hear it worked out fine!

  3. Hi Anne, As I really don't know much about you, I thought of giving a general comment. As Mother of the Bride I understand you want to look your best. I also know that you intend to sew your dress for your assessment. My first thought was if the dress you make doesn't meet your personal expectations for MOB do you have a backup plan. The dress may work for your assessment but not as a MOB or the other way round. As I said I know little about you so I could be making really a bad comment. Sorry. I did like the Blue Boundary Mills outfit on you. Look forward to seeing what you come up with. Carol S

    1. Thank you. The comment is spot on. I do need a back up plan. I plan to have a look in London shops this weekend if I get a chance. I liked the outfit you liked but it was a little tight! Perhaps in a few weeks it would fit; I plan to do a bit more looking after I've lost a stone. Or March, whichever comes first!

  4. I really like dresses 1-4 on you. They are flattering and very pretty. Ditto for dresses 7-10.

    You are right that if you dress fits spot on nothing will beat it. I think a sheath dress with waist shaping would be flattering on you -- the material is going to be key.

    1. Thank you, Annie. Yes, the fabric is key. I'm in London today fabric shopping so let's see. I do plan, as Carol suggested, to have a backup so perhaps one dress in my cobalt dupion silk and the other in a suitable pattern if I can find one I like. It will be a sheath dress with waist shaping plus or minus some dart interest.

  5. This sounds like a massive undertaking! I really like 3 -- and 1,4, 8 & 9. Those lines look lovely on you. Good luck with this very big project.

    ps - pop over to my blog for results of the Christmas ladybug draw, finally posted...

    1. Thank you. I'm in London as my daughter and I were fabric shopping yesterday. No new MOB fabric and I think I'll go ahead with the solid dupion, no back up yet. We've decided on some fabrics for wedding dress, bridesmaids' dresses and groom's waistcoat so that's good. I'm going home today with a much fuller case - practice fabrics.

    2. Wow, I've just popped over to your blog - thank you so much, Oprah!

  6. You look best in dress No. 4 - fitted, round neck and a perfect length. Silk dupion is much more stable than other silks so sewing it should be fairly straightforward although I do understand that dress 4 has slight stretch. You could think of a longer length jacket say to mid-thigh or same length as the dress for further confidence. Stick with a plain solid colour - let the beautiful silk do the talking. Just for an idea of the jacket

    1. Thank you, Ruth. I like dress 4. I'm going to be looking at various options for jackets - I have a few contenders; thanks for your input and the link. I'm just back from London and am so tired, so early bed tonight. I'll think about things tomorrow...

  7. Hi Anne!
    Gosh! I wouldn't be able to sleep with all that to think about! I really like the Roman dress no 5. I think the colour blocking is really flattering. Have you had a look at Truro Fabrics? They have some stunning fabrics. I've been there in real life when I've been on holiday and ordered online too. The sheer sleeves I put in my recent Wren dress work really well, and it has a slight stretch do are comfortable. Have you had a look at lekala patterns?? There instructions are a bit sparse but they've loads to choose from. Good luck!!

    1. This is one of your alter egos, Ali? Thank you. I like 4 and 5 - similar styles with a few design feature differences. I'll have a look at Truro; and I've just bought some stretch cotton sateen from Minerva for my back up dress, I hope. I keep meaning to look at Lekala but for this dress, it's my course project and I have to make the pattern. I spent the weekend in London and did some fabric browsing and okay shopping and visited a couple of exhibitions (Fabrics of India at V&A and Liberty in Fashion at FTM) - tired now so well able to sleep though I do dream of sewing problems!

  8. To numbers 4 and 9 look similar to me and they are very flattering on you. Too bad the white dress shrunk. I think you are on the right track of a semi fitted sheath dress. If darts are causing problems then go with princess seams. The additional seams will also allow more fitting options. I would definitely underline silk dupionni; either silk organza or cotton lawn would be best. Transfer your construction markings to the underlining layer to avoid marking the silk. Dupionni also frays; do you have a serger to overlock the edges? It is a stable weave and so will be one of the easier silks to work with but unforgiving if the fit is off. A well fitted sheath style will be extremely flattering. Best of luck with your wedding sewing.

    1. Thank you for your good wishes and your advice.
      I have a post from a while back about the white dress no 9. I prewashed the fabric; the problem started with a fold crease I couldn't get out (old fabric) - right down centre front. I didn't really think it was an issue until the dress was completed and realised I couldn't get rid of it. I tried everything, sought advice. No joy. I eventually replaced the front panel but by that time all the shenanigans had caused the rest to shrink! It has princess seams and I have redrawn the pattern in a slightly larger size to account for zero stretch woven fabric - the white fabric has a slight touch of stretch. And for a slightly enlarged new but hopefully that will change!
      Thank you for your advice re type of underlining - I was wondering what would be best with the dupion silk. I do have a serger. I like the part where you say it's one of easier silks to work with but not the part where you say it's unforgiving if the fit is off! Does it also need lined?
      Do you think the skirt should be slightly tapered/pegged as had been suggested?
      I love dress 4; it is viscose jersey (I think). I tried to get some suitable fabric but didn't succeed. And of course I don't have a pattern for that one.
      I will do some toiles and do want a standby dress.

    2. Not absolutely necessary to line the dress. Many, many couture garments are underlined but not lined. If you decide you would like a lining, silk crepe de chine or rayon Bemberg would be my choices. Polyester linings feel horrible to me. I would peg the skirt. Experiment with a toile (or use your old white dress) to determine how much tapering. It will give you a slimmer silhouette. For a standby dress a knit would pose less fitting issues but I would choose a stable knit. Slinky jersey can be difficult to work with and usually looks better lined. Sounds like you are on the right track.

    3. Thank you. I will experiment with a toile (I discarded the white dress); I have my fabric prepped as I'm hoping it will be wearable. I had some nice cotton sateen delivered today... thinking of that for the alternative dress.


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