Stylistically speaking, I left behind baring my midriff to the world several years ago before I had two children (ok let's be honest, it was probably a good few years before that even) and though I'll very happily wear a cropped top with the right outfit, the idea of a 'bustier' is nowadays designated very definitely in my mind as underwear and not outerwear. Or fancy dress. And then came along a tiny scrap of pale peach coloured, vintage satin moiré that I picked up as part of a mixed bag from a charity shop haul. I would never have purchased this kind of fabric deliberately, but that's the great thing about having a bit of a lucky dip into a thrift shop or jumble sale heap. So having made its way to my stash, it grabbed my attention and made me want to experiment with its shiny, shimmery loveliness. I mean where do you even see moiré on garments these days? So redolent of vintage evening wear and yet so resigned to the history books, hardly ever reinvented. Whilst I was wondering what to do with it, Burdastyle magazine (June 2016) had just come out and provided lots of inspiration for summer sewing. The limited amount of fabric I had suggested the bustier, pattern 114, as a realistic option and the 'underwear as outerwear' vibe seemed to chime with the peachy satin.
I've been toying with the idea of making up some lingerie, perhaps starting with something such as a slip or camisole as a first project. I have a Tilly and the Buttons Fifi set of came and shorts waiting to be made up and in addition having purchased the latest Great British Sewing Bee book 'From Stitch to Style' (on amazon for an amazing reduction to £9.99 at the moment, which is basically the equivalent to what you'd probably pay for most patterns if you were buying individually) and I have been seriously considering having a go at the bra pattern. I've never attempted anything like this before and would definitely classify a bra as 'scary fiddly sewing that's out of my league'. The bustier seemed like a good place to start, having some of the elements of cup shaping, measuring and fitting, but with my fabric that cost next to nothing it could be made up as an experiment or toile.
The pattern recommends the use of bias tape to reinforce the neck edge first of all, but as the moire has quite a bit of body I chose not to, but I did stay stitch all the armhole and neck edges to be sure they didn't stretch.
The front sections require you to sew a neat corner in the joining seam line, sewing half way along, clipping right to the stitching and then turning the fabric piece ninety degrees and continuing at a right angle. This creates the bust shaping. It's crucial that you get a perfect direction change and neatly joining rows of stitches when sewing this bit or else when you turn the fabric piece around half way through, you get a bubble right on the bust point. I did the first one absolutely perfectly and then fluffed the second one! You can see here where the stitches done quite meet properly and a bubble has appeared. Most unflattering. I unpicked and restitched it so that it lies completely smooth.
This garment is required to be fully lined and so I chose some quite substantial, good quality cream satin lining left over from my trench coat for a really luxurious finish on the inside. I also plan to wear this bustier without a bra, so both the main fabric along with a substantial lining provides some supportive structure.
The lining is made up in the same way as the main fabric pieces, then matched to the main garment with right sides facing, sewn along the armholes and neckline, and then turned right side out again. The photo above is of the back section, where you can see I had to cut the centre back with a centre seam, as there wasn't enough satin lining to cut it on the fold. You can see below also where I used the iron on too hot a setting, which wrinkled the lining slightly. A scary moment as having used every scrap, I couldn't have cut out another. This whole project was running on fabric fumes actually!
As with most Burdastyle instructions, they are minimal and have no diagrams, which for me requires a rather 'glance and go' approach. I'm quite a visual person and am still getting used to not panicking and having a crack at patterns that assume a certain degree of sewing skill, and so after getting confused with some of the construction order as described, I did find it a lot easier just to ignore the instructions and go by instinct. For this garment at least it's pretty easy to see how it all fits together. This also allowed me to go about adding the alternative closure and various design details as required along the way.
The limited main fabric meant that I cut very minimal seam allowances in some areas, particularly the length of the bottom bands. It turned out that actually I did need to have more ease than I expected here in order to be comfortable (and to actually breathe) as I have quite a barrel shaped chest that flares out quite a bit over the ribs. I hadn't accounted for this in my measurements unfortunately. So with no seam allowance to use up, the solution I came up with was to place the closure at the very edge of the side seam, then add a joining strip of wide grosgrain ribbon over the closure to neaten it. This gave me an extra half inch or so breathing space overall.
I planned all along to modify the pattern by including a deeper band at the bottom edge, for which I chose some exceptionally lovely vintage black lace. This is providing a little more coverage lower down, but remains partly transparent to keep the cropped, bustier look. I was lucky to inherit several boxes of beautiful lace ribbon, trim and handmade pieces from my Grandma, but have not often had an opportunity to use them. My Grandma was given them many years ago by a friend who I believe worked in the lacemaking industry. Which is fascinating as this was years and years ago before I moved to Nottingham to live, where lace making has played a major role as one of the key industries during the last century. I lived for a while in an historic, converted lace factory when I first moved to the city and have since learned a lot about the history and skill of lacemaking. I must get round to a blog post about lace, and unpack those boxes of treasures to look at them properly one day.
I chose to bring the black element through into the bodice with the addition of two bands of ribbon, one slim satin ribbon at the front and another of wider grosgrain at the back. Both are secured in the side seams and then hand sewn using a subtly decorative single row of pick stitch along the length.
This seemed the best way of going about attaching the ribbon on a two-way curved area, as if I'd stitched both top and bottom lengths using the machine, it is likely that there would have been puckers along the way as the straight grain ribbon tries to make its way around my circumference and to follow the upward curves along the bust edge seam. Then the lace flowers, cut from the same trim as the bottom band, were hand appliquéd to the bodice.
I chose to use a row of hooks for the side closure, similar to a bra fastening, rather than the recommended zip. One thing you should consider with this pattern is that it calls for a 6 1/2 inch open ended zip, which are hard to find and certainly not available as a standard size stocked by most haberdashers. There are online haberdashers that will make bespoke zips for you to your requirements, but these are likely to be more expensive and require a bit of research if you want a particular colour etc, so be aware and plan to order before you start making. These hooks are on a pre-made backing purchased by length and feel secure when fastened, if a little tricky to do up/undo myself. There's no doubt the zip option would have probably been more practical here.
I do like this pattern very much now I've tried it out. It is well designed, the attention to detail is all there and the finish both inside and out is very good. I did a fair amount of fussing and finagling with my version, but only because I deliberately went a 'off piste' with the construction and embellishment, but I loved making this unusual piece. The grain lines and water like ripples really react to the light, satisfying my magpie's eye and attraction to all things bright and shiny.
I think the black lace and grosgrain bring a contemporary element to the look and the hand stitched embellishment gives the detail and finish of a couture piece. To peek through from underneath a tailored blazer, this has just enough impact to look interesting without making me feel too exposed around the middle. I think I will need to get used to the idea of wearing it without something layered over the top, but the key will be to keep everything else simple and even slightly on the masculine side, such as with a pair of higher waisted, peg leg or tuxedo trousers. Perhaps with the addition of some low lighting and a little 'dutch courage' provided by my favourite cocktail bar, I might be persuaded to bring the bustier from underwear to outerwear, and let it shine.