Help Me Dress Myself!

I have never been interested in clothes or fashion (aside from a brief obsession with a Lady Di paper doll dressing kit – but that was when she was still Lady Di and still frumpy :-)). For me clothes shopping is a pleasure equal to – oh, I dunno – a visit to the dentist, say. So, having signed up to the Love What You Wear Project, and committed to learning to make my own clothes, I am struggling on more than one level. Firstly, there is the technical stuff – how to cut, sew & fit the damned things. But also, with being able to choose exactly what to make in terms of patterns, fabric & style, comes the question

“What on Earth do I want to wear?!”

It’s shameful that I have reached the age of 37 (see pitiful note below) without really having any idea of what I like to wear or what suits me. Which is where you come in, dear reader. I give you, as evidence, my latest dressmaking attempt. Please bear in mind that this is a toile – ie I have no intention of wearing this dress-made-from-a-sheet in public (especially since standing in front of the window reveals that it is somewhat see-through) but have made it to see if the pattern fits. As you can see, it’s not hemmed and I haven’t sewn in the zip, but I think you can get the idea.


Made in a nicer fabric, does this have the potential to be a pretty summer dress? Or is this shape just not right for my uncurvy figure? Do my clothes need to have more shaping in order to give me more shape? I just don’t know.

I did experiment with the cord from my husband’s dressing gown (classy, huh?) to ascertain whether something with a bit more of a defined waist might be better. Waddya reckon?

how about a belt

What I want really is a summer dress that is comfortable to wear & suits me & isn’t tooooo difficult to sew. Β  Pattern suggestions on a postcard please.

And now to the pitiful note: having eschewed Facebook (see this post) I discovered one big disadvantage when I celebrated my birthday this week. No warm and fuzzy feelings resulting from a flurry of happy birthday messages in my inbox :-(. Feel free to replicate the warm and fuzzy feelings by leaving me some belated birthday messages below πŸ™‚

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34 thoughts on “Help Me Dress Myself!

  1. Well first off HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY !!! Second I don’t know how to brake it to you but I am not a fan of the dress! You look to have a great figure and its not showing u off nicely 😦 I’m sorry I feel bad telling you that but if we are going to be friends I expect the same honesty! Please don’t let me carry on with spinach in my teeth! I am noooooo fashionista my self but I can tell you I have spent hours pulling outfits from Pinterest and editing the folder until I found my style! It took FOREVER! You may save the dress with a great jacket ? Good luck I a soooo worthless !

    • vivjm says:

      Thanks for the birthday wishes & the compliment on my figure πŸ™‚
      And actually, I was kind of thinking the same thing, that the dress is not doing a lot for me & wouldn’t even if I made it in a nice fabric and not a sheet!!
      Great idea re Pinterest – maybe I will start putting a folder together on there too!

      • I am so glad you are not upset! I think the sewing is GREAT! You have to figure out your style first before you can pick fabric or cut’s. there is so much out there and if you love everything or are easily distracted by shinny things like I am. it’s better to figure out what your trying to accomplish. It worked for me at least! I hope I don’t sound to preachy it’s just I have been going through the same thing.

      • vivjm says:

        No, not preachy at all. That makes total sense!! I think because sewing my own stuff takes such time, I probably should take a bit of time upfront to figure out what I want instead of just rushing ahead to make stuff when I don’t really know what I want!

      • Well that’s impossible when you are creative!! It’s always full steam ahead!

  2. Vicki says:

    I love the dress as is (of course you will want a small hem and a zipper). I think it suits you perfectly – don’t care for the belted, waisted one.

    Happy Birthday – hope it was a great one!


  3. Hi Viv :o) I hope you had a lovely birthday despite the lack of FB wishes. I think the dress looks much better with the waist belted in the second photo. I’m thinking that perhaps it would be more flattering if it was a slightly more fitted shape.

  4. Kerri says:

    I like the dress on you, but it definitely needs to be belted. You do have a great figure and want to show it off. You may want to experiment with princess style seaming on your patterns. Princess seams allow you to get a closer fit which would be more flattering. And… a big and, you should shorten the length to slightly above the knee. A perfect dress can turn into a frumpy dress if the hem isn’t right. I will try to send you some simple patterns that you might try later, if you’d like me to. Actually, I made some simple summer dresses with princess seaming shown on my blog from last summer… you could see the pattern there. πŸ™‚

    • vivjm says:

      Thanks Kerri. I had a look at your dresses & I think that style may be just what I am looking for in a summer dress. I especially love the fuschia version. I will look out for that New Look pattern, as I think the sizing wasn’t so far out for me, and this was a New Look pattern too.

  5. Ben Naga says:

    Think comfort v. cool. That’s *your* view of cool, rather than everyone else’s, goes without saying. Think Doctor Who. (I don’t mean you should dress like him. πŸ˜› But consider his unerring following of his own sense of style and cool, however eccentric in the eyes of others.)

    So why are you asking us? Do you do this as regards nutrition, political and moral questions, bringing up your children? What makes dressing style somehow different? Begin from your heart, common sense and ongoing awareness and you won’t go too far wrong. You almost certainly already know this; the magic ingredient is, at base, self-confidence. You have escaped from the cultural brainwashing in so many areas. Now it’s time to tackle clothing. πŸ™‚

    (Apologies. I seem to have gone all pontifical. 😳 )

    • vivjm says:

      Ah, Ben, you always give me such carefully considered comments πŸ™‚
      Yes, I agree re the cool thing & totally get the Doctor Who reference. When I was in my teens & early 20s I had a particular style (think tartan mini-skirt, stripey tights, monkey boots!!) but once I had children, I changed shape & lifestyle & priorities, and never really gave any thought to style again! And yes, I need comfort too – if I can’t ride my bike or run for a bus in something, it’s probably not gonna get much of a look-in in my wardrobe.
      Re asking for advice, I have had a long think about this. With nutrition, political & moral questions, I have formed my views through reading, thinking, reading, thinking, reading a bit more…but I suppose I’ve always considered clothing & style a bit frivolous to warrant this degree of thought. Maybe I am just looking for a short cut!! I am certainly not looking to be fashionable, that wouldn’t be me at all.
      Thanks again for your considered comment – you always give me food for thought!

  6. Renata says:

    I like the shape of the dress a lot! You have a slim figure, and so it looks really elegant. The only thing I might suggest is darts (or as others have said, princess seaming) sewn in near the waist, which would make it even more flattering (and it won’t need a belt). Just keep in mind that I don’t even deserve to be giving such advice though, since I can’t sew worth a damn πŸ™‚ Good luck, though!

    Oh, and by the way- HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Wishing you an awesome day, and a wonderful year ahead.

  7. Gjeometry says:

    Happy Birthday year! (Then, we’re always on time in saying happy b-day). I think shift dresses are very flattering on a slim person, as it skims your body and you really can’t tell how curvy or not curvy you may be. But, not the wider tie belt. Nooooo. A very thin and structured belt (i.e., one with a buckle that doesn’t tie) would look really good with that dress.

  8. Janet says:

    Happy Belated Birthday greetings!! I hope you had a fun day.

  9. oanh says:

    Viv! Happy Birthday from Melbourne Australia. If your birthday was yesterday your time then .. oh, no, wait. I was always bad at this whole time difference thing. I think I abide in the future, while you abide in the past. Whatevs. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

    Now, on the dress / style thing. I hear you. I don’t have much interest in fashion, either, but I do have an interest in looking presentable, suitable for whatever occasion I am required to wear clothes for, occasionally I want to look lovely, very occasionally I want to knock the socks right off the rest of the world with my appearance, and always I want to be comfortable. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I wish to dress, and how I can structure my sewing so that I sew things I want to wear and that enable me to be presentable, suitable etc.

    Analyse your current clothing: what makes you feel good? What do you like to wear? What do people give you compliments on? If you can bear it, go shopping (but not buying) Try some high end shops – dress all in black to go to one of these places and pretend like you belong. Make up a story – an ex’s wedding that you’re attending so you want to look smashing – get the staff to help you find dresses. Or just go to a department store and try a heap on.

    Check out sewing bloggers websites. Find people who have similar shape to you. Check out, for example,
    See what they’ve made and whether you think it would work for you. Copy, copy, copy!

    On the shift dress – it seems like you have conflicting opinions in your blog comments πŸ™‚ I like the version with the belt, although the very dark cord belt is throwing me a little :-D; I do think shift dresses can work on your figure (I think our figures may be similar). Here’s something I’ve learned through repeatedly buying shift dresses but never wearing them: it’s very important if I’m not going to appear shapeless, that the clothes themselves have some shaping and are not relying upon my non-existent curves to give shaping. And I agree with Kerri. Bet you have awesome legs! Higher hem!

    For a summer dress, I reckon a shift in a more flow-y, drape-y fabric might do the trick.
    I think also creating a waist, either via a belt or a more structured style might help.
    Also, it may help for the bodice and the waist to be different colours or some such.

    Here is another style of dress that I think might suit you: It happens to be a beginnger pattern, with no fastenings. I’m a big fan of wrap dresses πŸ™‚

    Also, check out Shabby Apple’s website. I’ve never bought any of their dresses, but have spent plenty of time admiring them and ‘pinning’ the ones that I like.

    Having rambled on rather excessively, let me wrap up thus: Ben Naga’s comment is wonderful. Listen to Ben; take all of what I say as a guide at best. Ignore all of it if you wish.

    Good luck, and happy birthday!

    • vivjm says:

      Oanh, thank you so so much for your wonderfully thoughtful comment. I am really touched that you took the time to really think about this.
      I think I really do need to spend some time thinking more about what I have that I like, and that makes me feel good. If I am going to take the time to sew stuff (and I am not the quickest !) then it needs to be something that is going to get worn. As I said to Ben Naga, if I can’t run for the bus or ride my bike in it, it’s probably not going to get much of a look-in.
      Much as the thought pains me, I think I may well have to do that shopping-without-buying trip to figure dresses out. I guess I could take a camera into the changing room with me ;-). I love the ex’s wedding excuse!!
      I hadn’t come across Victory patterns before, but I had been considering Colette’s crepe dress which is similar. But then I looked at the sizing and saw that according to Colette measurements I am less than a size zero. WTF?! Not sure whether it would be easy to scale down or not. I still feel very clueless.
      I am sure that more flow-y, drape-y fabric would improve the general shift dress wearability and I do like the idea of a different colour for bodice & skirt.

      So much to take on board!!

      But thanks again for giving me so much to think about. You are a star πŸ™‚

      • oanh says:

        Colette say they design for the hourglass figure. I have never used any of their patterns (except for free Sorbetto!) but I am aware from other sewists that they have excellent instructions! (Sorbetto certainly had great clear instructions.)

        I know nothing about grading down either, so cannot help there!

  10. Allie says:

    Happy Happy Birthday!!!! About the dress, well, I don’t like it on you…you have a great figure and it just doesn’t flatter you like it should. I know NOTHING about garment sewing, so take it for what it’s worth, lol. I do like it better belted.

  11. Happy birthday! I like the shape of the dress on you but I’d whack about six inches off the length. It looks fine belted too.

    I wanted to recommend a really great McCalls pattern for a simple summer dress that I made four or five times when I started sewing but it’s sadly out of print now. It was M5799. Not much help there, sorry!

    • vivjm says:

      I think you might be right about the hem – I need to be braver about getting my legs out πŸ™‚
      Shame the McCalls pattern is out of print, I even had a look on Ebay for it but sadly not luck. I’ll keep searching for the elusive perfect dress…

  12. whitneymakes says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Shift dresses are great on everybody, but I think it needs to be shorter. Also I wouldn’t sew this in cotton. I would pick something a bit more flowy, like a cotton blend, and belt it like you have above. The back of most patterns will recommend a fabric type for you so maybe try one of those? If you are super committed to the challenge of making your own clothes I really recommend getting a dress form in your size. Tons of DIY options out there to make one on the cheap and it will help you fit things so much better. really tough to pin parts on yourself when you’re wearing it πŸ™‚

    • vivjm says:

      I need to get to know fabrics other than cotton a bit better I think. Because my sewing experience thus far has been quilting or making bags, I am used to working with cotton or upholstery type fabrics, rather than anything more drapey. I have been looking at dress forms but they are super expensive, so I will check out DIY options – never thought of trying to make one. That appeals. Yep, it’s hard to fit things when you’re trying to pin things on yourself. My mum’s pretty handy in that respect, but I am often too impatient to wait until I get to see her!!
      And thanks for the birthday wishes πŸ™‚

  13. Nancy says:

    I arrived here from Hilary’s Lemon Loves post giving you the Liebster Award. Congrats on receiving the award. You have an interesting blog and I’m impressed with all the comments you receive.

    Happy Birthday. I didn’t know you or that it was your birthday or I would have sent wishes on the day. I hope you have a great year.

    Aren’t clothes a bother? Comfort is so important. But so is making sure clothes look good on you because you feel better about yourself when you make a good appearance. I really like the dress in your photos above, from what I can see. Maybe it could be a little more fitted from shoulders to waist but I can’t really tell for sure. Someone suggested the princess style. I think darts are way easier to sew than fitting a princess style unless, of course, the pattern needs no adjustment at all. I think the belt is a good idea but I agree with someone above who suggested a narrow, buckled belt. The hemline? I think just at the kneecap would be good. I’m a little “older” and tend to go toward modesty rather than fashion. My only other thought is, would you be able to bike and run in this dress?

    Nancy from joy for grace

    • vivjm says:

      Thanks for dropping by Nancy!
      I agree, clothes are a bother, but yes, you do feel a lot better when you are wearing something that looks (and feels) good. I have never sewn princess seams before, so can’t say whether I find them harder than darts – but more seams = more sewing!! Although I am probably still young enough to wear shorter skirts, I feel safer wearing something closer to knee length, unless perhaps worn with very thick tights underneath.
      Thanks again for visiting and for your comment.

  14. Ever so late but finally catching up with my Google reader!

    You have gotten much better advice than I could ever give you, but for what it is worth, I thought it looked much better with a belt. I am most impressed with your sewing, patterns scare me.

    Happy belated birthday. πŸ™‚

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