Lilou wedding guest dress

On August 16th, two wonderful friends got married in London and threw an incredible party to celebrate. Such a fabulous, love-filled day obviously called for an extra-special partydress.

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The fabric is a gorgeous brocade my Mum brought back from a recent trip to India. She’s been many times, for work and for holidays, and every time she brings back the most incredible fabrics. This is a silk brocade (I think), woven with golden and burnt-orange threads in a beautiful little flower pattern. The texture is softer than raw silk but rougher and stiffer than satin. Yum.

I knew I wanted a knee-length cocktail dress with a simple bodice, and the slight stiffness of the fabric suggested a pleated skirt. After some consideration I settled on the Lilou dress from Tilly’s recently published book – Love at First Stitch. The book is beautifully written, with very clear instructions. Lilou is the last (and most advanced) project in the book.

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LOVE AT FIRST STITCH by TILLY WALNES, published by Quadrille (£20) Photos © ELLIE SMITH & ARIELLE GAMBLE

Since this was my first bodice of this type (and scarily lovely fabric) there was no question of skipping the muslin stage. Based on my measurements I made a 1″ FBA adjustment to the pattern before putting it together, but even still I had quite a few fit issues.

  1. Bodice too big around waist
  2. Would prefer neckline lower at the front and higher at the back.
  3. Strap shape highlighting body insecurity area between armpit and bust
  4. Fabric not lying flat around the end of the side darts (1″ = serious bobblyness)
  5. Horizontal fabric pooling across upper back

Issues 1-3 were relatively straightforward to solve. To take out the waist excess I tried pinching in the side seams, but this made the fabric pull across the bust, so I widened the under-bust darts instead. I lowered the neckline using the curve of the original pattern piece and adjusted the strap by tracing off a dress I like the fit off.

Issues 4 and 5 were a little trickier. I followed Karen‘s lead (and Colette’s great tutorial) and split the side bust dart into two smaller darts. I was really happy with how this worked out. It gives a much smoother, rounder shape. But that pooling fabric across the back, eesh, that was a low point. In the interests of sharing and learning and growing etc, here are some unflattering photos:

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Can anyone identify my back “issue(s)”? I think that would make things easier in terms of researching how to fix it! As far as I can tell, “swayback” falls lower than this, is that right? So maybe this is “round shoulders”? Or “erect back”??

In the end I took a three-pronged approach: pivoted out a wedge from the back strap, lengthened the back dart and shortened the bodice by curving up the waistline slightly at the back. These three things combined kinda almost fixed the problem.

Last bodice issue before moving on – I used some leftover cupro/bremsilk to line the bodice (it was all I had) and I really struggled to get it to lie right with the silk. Particularly on the non-understitched part of the shoulder straps, where the cupro just kept bagging and popping out, no matter how much I tried to iron it into submission. In the end I topstitched all the way around the neckline, which fixed the issue but at the same time is kind of a shame as I don’t love the finish as much as the intended clean edge. But never mind.

Anyway, moving on to the skirt. Far less to say. As others have noted, the pleat placement is genius, giving you a lovely full skirt whilst at the same time not adding any volume across your stomach. It feels swooshy and glam and flattering and all those good things. There are quite a few pleats and it took me quite a while to tack them in etc, but it’s worth it. I did realise too late however that by widening the front darts on the bodice, I put them slightly out of whack with the pleats. Tilly even reminds you to check this in the construction notes, so I really have no excuse. Sigh.

I also managed to not quite line up the waistline when I put in the invisible zip, despite pinning and checking and re-pinning and re-checking. But having made the mistake of trying to adjust before, I decided to live with it.

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So, finished item: Positives first – I love the fabric, I love shape of the skirt. Silly nitpicks – I don’t like the look of the topstitching and the little seam mismatches are annoying. Fundamental frustrations – the fit of the bodice. Despite my muslining, I’m still pretty meh about how it turned out. Although I was happy with the shaping of the front bodice in real life, the photos seem to show that the fabric was doing funny pulling things on the straps around the bust, so that’s annoying.

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And whilst I managed to correct most of the back bodice issues, it does show every lump and bump, despite the lining – which is not a hot look. So what went wrong? In the interests of having a really “fitted” silhouette have I now just made the whole thing too tight? Should I persevere and have another go at adjusting the pattern? Or do I just need to accept that perhaps this bodice shape is not for me??

Rather than wallow in a pit of despair, I decided to invest in this book on fitting, having seen it recommended by a couple of sewing bloggers I really admire. Hopefully that will help me address some of my fitting woes!

Siobhan xx

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5 thoughts on “Lilou wedding guest dress

  1. First of all, congratulations on a brilliant make and for taking so much care – and for looking beautiful in gorgeous photographs. So much to be proud of! I admire you for taking on the split bust dart, too as these things can be intimidating. Regarding the back bodice: I wonder if it’s too long in the torso for you. Can you see how the left (looking at it) sleeve is bagging out? And how the bottom of the bodice is sitting on your natural waist, shuffling all that fabric up? (Fyi, I found my back bodice sections to be too long in this dress.) One other thing that will help judge fit: around the bottom of a bodice toile, it’s a good idea to snip into the fabric at a couple of inch intervals, to allow the fabric to spread over your hips. After all, this is fabric that otherwise would be taken up in the seam allowance. Does that make sense? Difficult to explain!

    • Siobhan says:

      Hi Karen, thanks SO much for your superhelpful feedback. I can see exactly what you mean about it bunching up from the waist, so shortening the back panels seems like a good way forward. I’d also never heard the tip about snipping the toile waist to let it spread over the hips but that makes PERFECT sense now you say it!! Will definitely do that in future. Thanks again 🙂

  2. I love your dress, I think it looks really pretty! I’m thinking of making this dress so was looking for how other people had got on when making it. Was the book you bought helpful? Getting the right fit is something I struggle to get my head around so would be handy to have a book on it!

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