Wedding Top

I’ll warn you in advance…this is longer than my usual blogs! I’ve been desperate to share the making of this top with you and it’s lovely to finally be able to do so!

When we first got engaged I didn’t have an immediate idea of what I wanted to wear. I was sort of thinking teal… but I wear teal all the time so decided that traditional white or ivory would be a bit more special.

My decision to wear separates rather than a dress came from my desire to design and knit a top. But then I started to think that a knitted top (even in a fine cotton) might be a bit too warm for an August wedding. When the heatwave kicked in I was glad I’d made that decision! But I had already fallen in love with and bought my skirt from Monsoon… so separates it was!

By this point I had been attending sewing classes with Deidre at All Things Creative for a while and felt confident that I could make a simple top to go with my skirt. It ended up being far from simple, but with Deidre’s expert knowledge and calming influence I got it finished two weeks before the wedding.

I decided to use a beaded top I bought from Topshop last year as a starting point for the shape because I liked the fit. The final top is a similar shape, but I had to change the measurements and darts quite dramatically because the fabric I bought behaved so differently.

The original top has a bottom layer of jersey polyester with the beading on a fine fabric sitting on top. I like the fact that the layers are only joined at the shoulder and hem so there’s quite a lot of movement in the fabric. It hangs beautifully with the weight of the beads and although it’s not a snug fit it’s still flattering and the perfect length with my skirt.

I had numerous moments where I thought maybe I should’ve just worn this top!

For my wedding top I chose a beautiful floaty silk for my lining and bottom layer which was an absolute nightmare to work with! And a fine tulle to do the beading on (which was also a pain in the bum). I regularly lost bits of the tulle because it was basically invisible when sitting on top of white fabric!

I’d been spending many enjoyable hours browsing weddings on Pinterest and was feeling drawn to art deco, beaded 1930’s style dresses – with this one being my favourite.

The beading was the most time-consuming element of the top.I settled on a design which was largely based on the dress above. I love the large petals at the waistline so I used that shape and the rest developed from there.

I drew my design out on paper – traced it onto the tulle in running stitch and used the running stitch lines as guidelines which I removed as I beaded. I worked on the large areas of beading in an embroidery hoop which made it portable enough to take to knit group.

Once the larger sections were beaded, I removed the fabric from the hoop and pinned it to the floor on top of my paper template to complete. This is when I discovered my hips and knees can no longer cope with hours of kneeling on the floor! I’m sure there’s a better way to do it but it worked!

I left areas near the seams and darts free of beading as much as possible so that I could ensure the lines of beads met at the seams and across the darts after making up.

In the meantime I had been making many toiles to finalise the fit of the top. It’s surprisingly difficult to make a loose(ish) simple shape look flattering! The second toile looked fine in cotton but as soon as I made it in the silk it looked awful as the fabric was bagging out around the darts. I ended up removing the waist darts because it just hung so much better without. And a few toiles later I was ready to cut the final peices!

Because I had to do the majority of the beading before cutting out and joining the layers of fabric… cutting was a bit scary!

I was worried that something would go wrong and the beading would be wasted but it more or less went to plan. The tulle was shifting all over the place and the only thing keeping the silk in place was the interfacing tacked to the lining – but it more or less fitted together so I could breath a sigh of relief and move onto the side seams and armholes…

By this point I was feeling pretty confident. Nearly finished right? And then….

One of the armholes was a disaster! I was folding in the outer layers of silk and tulle from one side, the inner layers of silk and interfacing from the other side and hand-stitching them together along the edge, clipping as I went, to work with the curve.

The first one went okay. I wouldn’t be winning the sewing bee… but it was okay. And then the second one was really bad! I didn’t catch in the tacked interfacing (I couldn’t use iron-on with the silk), the fabric for the top layers was shifting around so there seemed to be too much silk and not enough tulle. The result was a very messy armhole that was beautifully set off by the fact that it was on my more sloped shoulder! I didn’t know until I started sewing that my left shoulder sits higher than my right (?!).

I was scared to undo it because I thought it might just fall apart where I had clipped it as the silk was fraying a lot. So obviously the best solution was to cry and look online for alternative wedding tops!

After getting that out of my system and deciding that it was unwearable as it was – I took some deep breaths and very carefully unpicked and re-tacked the layers. It still wasn’t perfect but it was so much better and certainly wearable.

I think we analyse our hand-makes more than shop-bought clothes. I’ve since noticed that most of my clothes crease a bit around my right arm… so it must be my wonky shoulder and definitely not my bad sewing!

By the time I’d done all this faffing, the silk at the hem had frayed so much that I no longer had any seam allowance at the centre front. I tacked the layers together to try and stop it fraying more and then Deidre showed me how to add a false hem which folded to the inside and sandwiched in the lining.

This meant that the top ended up a bit shorter that my original plan, but it still sits over the waistband of my skirt (just!) and the false hem gives the edge a nice weight.

The most fun part of the whole process was beading the edges! I used Swarovski pearls which come on a string so I just had to ‘couch’ over the string rather than going through the beads.

I had the buttons and loops made by Harlequin – the service was quick and great value. So much easier than fiddling about to make your own tiny cover buttons and loops! You just send a small amount of fabric and details of what you need. The rouleau loops come on a tape which you can then insert into the seam

All of my beads were bought from The Bead Shop Nottingham. They were super helpful with choosing what I needed and giving me tips on how to do the couching. I also bought some memory wire to make some matching, quick and easy bracelets with leftover beads.

I’m not sure that I would have taken on this project if I’d known how long it would take and how difficult it would be. But I’m so glad that I didn’t know – because I’m so happy with my wedding top! It’s truly unique and that’s a very special thing.

Photos above by Adam BrettNettynot.

Alder Shirtdress Toile

I was in the middle of making my final Trapeze dress in Anna Maria Horner fabric…but I was so excited about making a shirtdress that I abandoned it and made an Alder shirtdress!

As I had enough Anna Maria Horner fabric to make the Trapeze dress plus another- I decided to use that for the toile and I have some lightweight denim for the final dress.

It’s very much a summer dress and as we don’t have anywhere at home to take pictures of me wearing it… and it’s still too cold to venture out without sleeves and thick tights – I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a while before seeing pictures of me wearing it!

Alder Shirtdress front - Jem Weston blog

Based on the size guide I should have been making US size 6 for the top and size 10 for the hips. As it’s loose around the hips I opted for size 6. And it’s huge! It’s supposed to be a loose fitting style so I was expecting that, but I’m not sure whether to use my denim for this or maybe choose a more fitted style.

Alder shirtdress collar - Jem Weston blog

It will be perfect for me in the summer. Whenever we have a heatwave I always struggle to find something to wear! A lot of my dresses are man-made fibres so not breathable and all the cotton dresses I have are strappy beach dresses…not always appropriate. This dress is 100% cotton and loose-fitting so will be perfect and cool during a heatwave and will also look good with jeggings on a more typical British summer day.

I made the back section in one piece rather than two separate pieces with a yoke so that I wasn’t breaking up the pattern – and for the same reason I omitted the breast pockets.

Alder shirtdress back - Jem Weston blog

The collar was the most complicated thing I’ve done! I managed to put the collar stand the wrong way round which doesn’t matter too much – and also put the button band on the wrong side so it does up like a man’s dress!

Alder shirtdress collar - Jem Weston blog

Overall I’m pretty happy with it and can’t believe I managed a collar and fairly okay button holes! I really want to make a striped version like this one

That would definitely test my pattern matching skills – and would be the perfect summer dress!

Trapeze Dress Toile

I’m really enjoying my weekly sewing classes at All Things Creative! Working at home can be isolating – so it’s great to have a few hours each week to spend time with creative people, learning new skills and doing a bit of selfish making.

For those not familiar with the term toile – it is a sort of practice garment made from the pattern so you can check the fit and make any alterations before cutting into the final fabric. I’m taking the dressmaking slow and steady and learning how to do things properly – so making a toile is really important.

I want to make the final Trapeze dress in some gorgeous Anna Maria Horner fabric which I’ve had in my stash for years and I adore!

Toiles are often made in calico, but I wanted to check my fabric wasn’t too heavy for the dress style – so I decided to use some Denyse Schmidt fabric I had which is exactly the same weight. My hope was that the toile would be wearable and I would have two trapeze dresses!

I made a few alterations to the pattern before starting. I used the long sleeve pattern but made them narrower and shorter and I made the overall length shorter so it would sit above the knee.

Jem Westob blog | Merchant & Mills Trapeze Dress

I also made it a size smaller than the pattern recommended for my measurements so that it would be more fitted at the top. And of course I added pockets… essential!

I did my usual trick of cutting along the wrong line on the pattern so I made a size 8 with a size 18 neckline!

Because the neckline is quite high I actually think that making it wider was a happy accident. For the final dress I’m planning to make the neckline slightly deeper at the front because it’s not super comfortable.

Over the last few weeks I have learnt that I’m not very good at putting in sleeves… it’s really difficult! I’m definitely improving though and I can see a big difference between the sleeves in this toile.

It’s a bit difficult to see in a photo – but on the right side the fabric is pulling a bit across the front of my shoulder and the neckline is poking up. I think this is because of my poor sleeve insertion skills!

I spent much longer doing the left sleeve and it sits much better.

Overall – a very wearable toile! Although I do think the shape will suit the bigger bolder print of the Anna Maria Horner fabric better. What do you think?

Scout Tee

I’m three weeks into my All Things Creative dressmaking course with the fantastic Deirdre Robbins…and I’ve finished the Scout Tee! (Apologies for the slightly blurry photo – we didn’t get around to pics at the weekend so I had to do the selfie stick thing).I’ve sewn quite a lot of clothes in the past and even attended other dressmaking and pattern cutting courses. But a lot of what I’d learnt I’ve forgotten or just didn’t take in properly at the time – so I often end up ‘bodging’ things together.

This is the first thing I’ve made where I’m actually proud to show you the inside!

I learnt how to do french seams (properly!) and Deidre talked me through how to do a ‘faux french seam’ for the sleeve head. It’s not quite as beautiful as the french seam but it’s pretty nice and neat.

The Scout Tee pattern is really simple and easy to follow. I made the toile (practice version to check the fit) in a quilting cotton and it was too thick. This final version is a fairly light and very soft cotton from The Eternal Maker.

A cotton lawn would work beautifully so I’ll be keeping my eye out because I want to make more!

I’m really excited about making the Alder Shirtdress but I’m going to tackle the Trapeze Dress first. Wish me luck!