Zou Bisou Bisou…

I explained in a previous post how my sewing skills are pretty…what’s the word I’m after…hokey. However I can do the basics. And like anything in life, repetition works a treat at becoming not-too-bad at something.

So when I get hold of a sewing pattern that works for me – both from a technical point of view, as well as a stylistic one – I’m going to stick with it. And make it over. And over. And over.

About 9 months ago I had a huge hankering to own a 1960’s style tunic dress – like the ones that they start wearing in the later seasons of Mad Men – short length, high neckline, loose through the body, with fantastic, dramatic, oversized, bell sleeves. The perfect dress to frolic, dance, and sing Zou Bisou Bisou to your very hot, asshole, of a Don Draper husband.

Of course there was no chance of being able to find one to buy, and any vintage ones floating around would be very expensive / tiny sizes. And so, for the fashion hungry, this is where the ability to sew becomes invaluable.

I’m quite honest about the fact that when it comes to sewing projects, I’ll always take the laziest and quickest route to creating what I want. I’m not going to give a lot of time to something very complicated, as I know I’ll either screw it up, or lose interest – whichever comes first. And so, since I figured that this particular style of dress, in principle, is nothing but a T-shape – something that lies within my realm of capability – I decided to have a crack at creating my own pattern.

Yes, technically it should have seperate pieces for the sleeves, a back seam, darts etc. but I figured why over-complicate things, when it’s just for me? Instead I went with the absolute minimum effort possible: a single, over sized, pattern piece, which I cut two of (on a fold), stitched together at the sleeves and sides, then I hem along the cuffs, neck and base.

And it worked! Sure, technically, it’s not the greatest piece ever imagined, but it fits me well, has a pleasing silhouette and creates the exact vintage look that I was after. The best thing of all is that I can throw it together in an hour or two.

Since that first attempt, I’ve now made three dresses in different fabrics. I adore each and every one, and feel fabulous in them – especially when accessorised with statement earring/ necklaces, and a pair of heels.

My first attempt at this dress (middle picture) came up about 10cm too short and as a result is not really work appropriate, and is best worn with opaque tights – so it’s very much a party dress. However you learn from these things, and on subsequent renditions I simply lengthened it from the original pattern, making it much more versatile. I’ve also added some simple, rectangular, pockets to the front. However it’s essentially stayed the same since my first version, and I’m really happy that I’ve been able to create this style from scratch.

Making a garment is just like a jigsaw puzzle – its about putting pieces together, in the right order, and being able to visualise the finished product at all times.

Last weekend I made my third, most recent version of the dress.

For the past 6months or so, Spotlight have stocked the most incredible range of Mexican poncho fabric, I just didn’t know how I could utilise it. Right now it’s 30% off, and as I had a hankering to make a new version of my Zou Bisou Bisou Dress, I felt this was my chance to finally get this much coveted fabric into my wardrobe.

Unlike the first two version of the dress, which I made from light, vintage cotton, sheets, this fabric is much thicker, and was harder to work with. The kind lady in Spotlight tried to warn me, sighing, “this will be awfully heavy”. “I don’t care, this will still be FABULOUS” I responded in my best Austin Scarlett voice. She was right. It is heavy, slow and difficult to work with. Plus it frays like a motherf***er. Which is a problem when one does not have an overlocker, which meant a lot of zig zag edging, which took a lot of extra time. But *Austin Scarlett voice* it ended up TRULY FABULOUS and I MADE IT WORK.

I’m not going to post a step-by-step tutorial, because I don’t feel qualified to do this, because I will only make you very angry at me by my utter vagueness and confusion. However I will post some photos of the general process, and if you are curious about sewing, or trying to create your own pattern, I would suggest:

1. Doing a term of Sewing 101 at night class – it’s all I did, and teaches you the basics, like cutting and reading packet patterns, how to use a machine, and basic skills like stitches and zips etc.

2. Build up a stash of cheap fabric (from your fabric store, or vintage patterned bed sheets from your local op shop) and just start playing around with patterns and projects.

Most importantly, just remember – don’t be scared, it’s only fabric!

This dress takes approx 3m of fabric to make.

As iffy as my sewing can be, I believe if you have a good eye for fabric and colour/ pattern, and grasp of sewing basics, no one will ever notice botched hems, wonky pockets or dodgy necklines. Bright colours and bold patterns can hide a great number of sewing sins.

Yesterday when I wore this dress out, I got a compliment at every single place I went.

Really, is there a better feeling than when someone gasps “Where did you get your dress?!” And you get to smugly respond “Oh this? It’s just something I made…”. There’s something awfully satisfying in knowing that you are wearing your very own one-of-a-kind, bespoke, piece!



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