The Bright Lights, Big City Dress

When I saw this pattern, I fell in love with it and knew straight away that I needed to have this dress in my life. Not that I ever get the opportunity to wear something like this mind you – black tie affairs total zero in my life to date, but I didn’t care. I wanted to make the dress, sequins and satin and everything, regardless of whether I’d only be wearing it around the house. It was just too pretty to pass on by.

It’s V1534 Vogue/Badgley Mischka – halterneck, pleated floor length dress. Copious amount of satin are required for that skirt – four metres to be precise. This was one of those rare occasions where I actually wanted to stay pretty close to the version modelled in the pictures – classic black skirt with some sort of luxurious gold bodice. I imagined glitz, glamour, and sparkle. But I was in for a shock… It turns out that hand beaded fabric is waaaaay more pricey than I had anticipated and  – unless I didn’t want to pay rent or bills or eat for a month – totally out of my price range.  I had never shopped for this type of fabric so I was blissfully unaware of the cost, but hand beading this stuff takes SO MUCH TIME and obviously this is reflected in the price. Thankfully, I only needed one metre for the bodice – but in some places I looked that one metre can set you back several hundreds of pounds #thanksbutnothanks.

I searched for ages on Ebay, Etsy and every other site I could think of to find something that not only met my visual expectations but also my bank account’s expectations. In the end I bought a metre of a sequined black mesh fabric off Etsy, from RandyFabrics who is based in Hong Kong. Was I a little bit dubious? Yes. But I needn’t have been.

**excuse dog toy in top right… my furkid brought me the toy to distract my attention back to him and away from the shiny-shiny fabric**

When the fabric arrived, I was very happy with how it looked in real life – classy enough without destroying the bank account. My first dilemma then became apparent – where to place the bodice template? There were SO many options and as this was going to be the focal point of the dress, I had to get it right. I spent a long time placing the piece on the fabric different ways here and there, taking photos of it and comparing them all side by side, before I eventually settled on what you see here. All the options looked totally different, it was really hard to choose. Cutting it out was a nightmare! I weighed it down firmly and used scissors instead of my rotary cutter as I’d been advised this was a better approach, but from the second the scissors made the first cut I knew I was in for an order. The fabric crunched with every cut, and sequins flew everywhere. I then cut out what was (hopefully) two mirrored bodice pieces for the back. (Later on I had to cut two more back pieces as these original two went missing – to this day I haven’t found them and have absolutely no idea where they went to).

Let me just get it out there that I’ve never worked with sequins before, and was a little bit unprepared for the amount of work that I had to do before I could even start sewing! As the sequin fabric was a black mesh, and therefore totally see-through, I cut all the bodice pieces again from black cotton lawn to act as a backing. The bodice is also lined, so technically I didn’t *need* to do this, but wanted to in order to give it that little bit extra thickness. Here we have the mesh and the backing cut out:

I basted the two layers together, just inside the seam allowance – this line acted as my border for removing the sequins from the seam allowance. Yep, I hate to break it to you – if you’re gonna work with sequins you’re probably going to have to do this as well. I did a bit of research beforehand on the best approach to their removal (in all honesty I was hoping for a quick and easy (“lazy”) method, which I had a hunch didn’t actually exist – I can confirm it doesn’t) and came to the sobering conclusion that the best way is to cut each sequin individually without catching the thread. The quickest way would be to cut the anchoring thread that holds them all to the fabric, and then just pull – but with this method you run the risk of the thread unravelling on to the bodice and having all your pretty sequins fall off. Not cool when you’ve just put so much effort into sewing a dress. Nope, don’t be lazy, don’t cut the corners (or in this case, the anchoring threads).

In case you’re wondering just why I put myself through so much pain doing this, if you don’t remove them you end up with ugly bumpy seam allowances tucked away inside your fabric and basically from the outside the whole thing just looks rubbish and lumpy because of all the sequins that you didn’t remove. You *might* MIGHT be able to get away without removing them if your layer of sequins is pretty sparse or thin, but mine was proper lumpy and bumpy and really piled high in some places so there was no way I was being let off the hook with this one.

It took me months of cutting those sequins off almost individually with embroidery scissors – slicing each one through the middle so that the two halves fell away off the thread. Obviously I tried my best not to cut the anchoring thread, but I’m not going to lie and say that didn’t happen a few times. I did the front bodice first, and then the two back pieces. There were places where the sequins were piled so high, and so thick, that I didn’t even know where to start. There were times when I questioned whether I really wanted the dress that much. I found sequins on the floor for months afterwards, in my slippers, hooked into my clothes, and even on the dog.

Not only did I have to remove all the sequins from the seam allowance, there are two bust darts on the bodice. Quite WHY there are darts on a bodice which is meant for such fabric is beyond me, I think Vogue Patterns need to have a word with themselves on this one because removing such a large section of sequins was more soul-destroying than sticking a 70-page pdf pattern together. A little way in to removing the sequins from the dart I had the bright idea that I should cut into the dart along the seam allowance line, and this would therefore eliminate the middle chunk in one fell swoop and save me a couple of hours of snipping. Win.

This dress allowed me to use a few materials that I haven’t used before – lovely black satin piping around the edge of the bodice, ribbon around the waistband and also boning on the inside. Piping I have used before but it was nice to use shiny-shiny lux satin stuff and it gives a really nice finish to the edges. The ribbon around the waist was quite a challenge, as underneath this ribbon is a regular satin waistband – and when you’re sewing the ribbon over the top of the waistband it means that the waistband seam needs to meet EXACTLY with the edge of the ribbon or the whole thing looks a total shambles. I placed the ribbon over the waistband several times to check for places where my seam might have strayed a little, and evened it all up and tacked it in place before machine stitching the ribbon along each side.

Installing the boning was all pretty simples too – I bought ready-cased boning off eBay for a couple of pounds and all you have to do is cut it to the required length and stitch it in place on the lines marked on the pattern. There were no dramas here (thankfully) and it does give the back bodice a much-needed structure boost.

Although the ribbon looks lovely around the waist, it doesn’t play well with the invisible zip – there’s too much bulk at the centre back seam and closing the zip is an absolute MISSION. I’m pretty sure it’s going to break one day, but let’s see.

I made a couple of adjustments to the bodice. on first fitting, I discovered that there was too much gape under my arms, around the neck and at the top of the back bodice. As I’d already installed the piping and lining (without toiling, yes yes yes I know), I corrected the neck gape by moving the hook and eye closure further along the neck strap (so that it pulled tighter) and to correct the underarm/back zip chaos I unpicked the zip and re-installed it with a progressively larger seam allowance towards the top. This was a bit of a non-profesh patch-up, as I would have preferred to have left the back seam alone (ie straight) and took it in at the side seams, but I’d already put in the piping and lining and after months of picking off the damn sequins there was no way I was going backwards and unpicking the bodice. NOPE NO CHANCE. It turned out ok though – well it fits so I’m counting it as a win – and if I hadn’t said it you would be none the wiser 😉 I did, however, get a little bit keen with the amount I took in, and it’s a smidge tight on my back fat.

The bias skirt uses beautiful satin-backed crepe that I got from Croft Mill. It’s a good medium weight, pretty substantial! I probably should have put the effort in and hemmed the skirt by hand, but by this time I’d been working on the dress for so many months that I just couldn’t face another long stint, and I knew that I wanted to take the evening photos on my week off work which at that point was RAPIDLY approaching so I didn’t have time. It’s ok though, it looks alright, and if anyone is going to look at the hem and criticize it then they can unpick it and re-do it by hand themselves.

The skirt has a lining… but (and this is a big but – or rather I *have* a big butt) it doesn’t fit. By ‘doesn’t fit’, I mean that once installed, the lining doesn’t actually reach around my bum with room to spare. Weird, huh? Three times I tacked the edges of the lining against the zip tape, and three times I tried the skirt on with the zip being pulled weirdly once closed because the lining was straining. In the end, I just finished the raw edges of the lining either side of the zip and left them open until a few inches below the zip where they join together again as normal. It’s so odd – I’ve literally never had this problem before. The lining pieces are smaller in width than the skirt pieces, which is to be expected, but they are TOO small.

This dress was an absolute mission from start to finish, but totally worth it. I love how it’s turned out, and it’s the sort of thing that I would drool over if I saw in a shop – which means that it’s a success. My evening wear skills could defo do with a bit of practice for sure, but there’s something really satisfying about working with satins, sequins and shiny stuff.

An extra special dress called for some extra special photos – I have to say a very big thank you to my husband who gave up his entire evening to take these pictures for me on the freezing cold banks of the River Thames, a photo shoot which we had been mentally planning and location scouting for since I first decided to make the dress many months ago. So without further ado, I present to you my finished dress and the beautiful Tower Bridge and City of London 😍

Coming up next week on the Wanderstitch blog… a super cosy winter coat for my dog Leela! 😍 Subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss out!

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38 Comments

  1. Celia
    October 29, 2017 / 8:26 am

    Sarah, your evening dress is fabulous! I love the gold sequinned bodice paired with the black satin skirt; it looks so classy! Absolutely fantastic – hope you are going somewhere really special to wear it!

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 8:40 am

      Thank you so much Celia! It took me literally months to make it, but I totally love it. I actually don’t have an occasion to wear it to yet… if nothing arises soon I will just seriously up my workwear game and wear it to the office!! 🙂

  2. October 29, 2017 / 8:42 am

    Fabulous Sarah probably your best yet!!!!

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 8:58 am

      Thanks Pam! It was so lovely to work with such beautiful fabrics… I could definitely get into this eveningwear game!!

  3. October 29, 2017 / 9:04 am

    Your dress looks stunning Sarah, worth all that hard work removing those sequins, I wouldn’t have had the patience! I hope you get the chance to wear it to a special occasion soon, might be a bit glamorous for the supermarket run!

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 6:34 pm

      Thank you so much Maxine! This was the most time I’ve ever spent working on one garment! I do love it though, no idea when I’ll get to wear it so it might have to be the supermarket run!! 🙂

  4. Claire
    October 29, 2017 / 9:10 am

    This is stunning. A labour of love but totally worth it. I’m the same l don’t go to any black tie events but when you have a skill you must use it to the max!

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 6:36 pm

      Thank you Claire! It was actually really enjoyable working with all the nice materials, I’m tempted to make another gown but worried that I’ll end up with a wardrobe full of really posh frocks that I’ll never get to wear instead of everyday clothes that I actually can wear to work…!

  5. Janey Millar
    October 29, 2017 / 9:28 am

    Just wow! It looks Fab-U-lous! (in my best Craig Revel Horwood voice!)

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 6:38 pm

      Ahh thank you Janey! I’m really pleased with how this came out, and the husband bless him did such a good job with the photos (it was bloomin’ freezing haha!)

  6. October 29, 2017 / 9:50 am

    your gown is fabulous – well done – such a lot of work for you but well worth the effort!

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 6:39 pm

      Thanks so much Mary! This is by far the most time I’ve ever spent working on one garment! I do love it though so it was all worth it 🙂

  7. Elaine Jones
    October 29, 2017 / 10:03 am

    Beautiful dress and brilliant write up, looking forward to seeing more.

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 6:40 pm

      Thanks Elaine! Really glad you enjoyed the blog post 🙂 Might tackle another evening dress over the Christmas period when I’m off work perhaps… when I was looking for the bodice fabric for this dress I did bookmark an awful lot of other sparkly fabrics that I liked… 🙂

  8. October 29, 2017 / 11:50 am

    Superb! Sometimes it really is worth the effort to go all couture, and sacrifice time and blood to the gods of hand sewing [Unpicki-picki and Hemalotte]
    FYI most plastic boning is NOT WORTH THE MONEY as eventually it snaps or folds and you have to replace it. Look for ‘German synthetic whalebone’ and splash out.
    Lovely frock, your man needs to take you out for a very posh meal I think…

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 6:42 pm

      LOVE those ‘sewing god’ names!! 🙂 Hmm didn’t realise that whalebone was an option – I thought it was plastic or metal (which I heard goes rusty?!). Going out for a meal in this dress might require some seams to be let out as there’s not a lot of room 😉

  9. Nancy May
    October 29, 2017 / 2:03 pm

    Fantastic dress. Love your placement of the bodice. Looks lovely on you. New year’s eve party,? Even at home….

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 6:42 pm

      Thank you Nancy! Ah, yes – I hadn’t thought of new years eve! Excellent idea 🙂

  10. October 29, 2017 / 2:27 pm

    This evening dress is absolutely amazing. You look beautiful!! Love it! Why wait for special occasions to wear it ??!! Great job! 🙂

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 6:43 pm

      Thank you! The husband did good with the pictures didn’t he! I might just wear it to the office on a Monday, the pretty sequins might help the day go quicker haha 🙂

  11. Linda
    October 29, 2017 / 2:57 pm

    Fabulous results for all your hard work!

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 6:44 pm

      Thank you Linda! This is definitely the longest time I’ve spent working on one garment, but I really love it so I’ve (conveniently) forgotten about all the hours I spent cutting off those sequins!

  12. Sue
    October 29, 2017 / 3:11 pm

    Just beautiful! Love, love the placement of sequins on the bodice!

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 6:45 pm

      Thank you Sue! I can’t even count the number of different places I put that bodice template on the fabric before finally cutting it! It gave a completely different look every time I moved it. Very happy with the placement I settled on though 🙂

  13. October 29, 2017 / 4:43 pm

    Oh what a mission…that was some journey but you certainly arrived at a great destination with it…it’s absolutely glorious xx

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 6:48 pm

      Thank you fellow #seamstressSarah! 🙂 It was an epic journey but I’m so happy with how it turned out xx

  14. Jane
    October 29, 2017 / 6:46 pm

    That is a beautiful dress! You should be very proud of yourself & the dedication to the project. I do hope you will have an occasion to wear it to over the Christmas – New Year period. Many years ago I also made an evening dress that was quite tricky, it involved a lot of matching including pieces put in the sides of the lower part of the skirt, all perfectly matched. I had bought the fabric in Liberty’s sale and was delighted as I needed several metres. My mother’s reaction was, “Well, not many people would want it dear!” Fortunately when I wore everyone else was very complimentary, including my then boyfriend (he’s been my husband for a long time now!)

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 9:56 pm

      Thank you Jane! I do love the dress and the memory of all the hours spent chopping sequins is slowly fading from my mind 🙂 Your dress sounds amazing, I do love Liberty fabric! And so long as you loved the dress it doesn’t matter if not even a single other person would want it! Your husband sounds like a keeper because he clearly has good taste in fabrics too!

  15. Anne
    October 29, 2017 / 8:18 pm

    This is glorious and, as always, the fit is amazing. I loved your honest write-up and feel strangely comforted to know that despite perfection on the outside there’s the tiniest glitch with the lining inside. That’s actually very motivating!

    • Sarah
      October 29, 2017 / 9:52 pm

      Thank you Anne! So glad that you enjoyed the blog post 🙂 When I started this blog, that’s what I wanted to get across to people – that nothing’s perfect. A lot of blogs only show the best in things, and this can sometimes demotivate people because they think that if their work isn’t 100% perfect then they’re not a good sewist. I wanted people to realise that even when something looks fabulous, there’s always some wonky stitching, or mismatching seams, or a not-so-invisble zip somewhere (or in this case, a rubbish lining!). I want beginners and experienced sewists alike to embrace those imperfections, be proud of their work and keep on sewing anyway!

  16. October 29, 2017 / 11:21 pm

    This is beyond fabulous! I hope you had a couple of cocktails on your photo shoot and are planning somewhere amazing to wear this to. Great dedication to a real labour of love!

    • Sarah
      October 30, 2017 / 8:57 am

      Thank you! It turned out to be worth all the hours I spent unpicking the sequins… I love it! I actually don’t have anywhere to wear it to (yet) so if nothing turns up I might just up my workwear game and wear it to the office!! 🙂

  17. October 30, 2017 / 5:41 am

    Love the way you used that sequined design – so glam ;o)

    • Sarah
      October 30, 2017 / 8:58 am

      Thank you! I spent ages placing the bodice template on different areas of the fabric, each design looked totally different from the last and I just couldn’t make my mind up which one I liked best! Really happy with how it came out though 🙂

    • Sarah
      November 5, 2017 / 2:32 pm

      Thank you! I’m really pleased with how it turned out! 🙂

  18. Sara
    November 4, 2017 / 12:18 am

    This is an unbelievably beautiful dress! What a work of art. You look like a Vogue model in your pictures.

    • Sarah
      November 5, 2017 / 2:34 pm

      Thanks Sara! Ahh I’m not sure I’m quite Vogue standard, but I am very happy with how it turned out!

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