Tuesday 26 May 2015

Book review; 'Famous Frocks, the little black dress'

My aunt sent me an Amazon gift voucher for my birthday and after MUCH deliberation (my birthday is in June and I ordered these in April), I finally used it to purchase the season 3 Great British Sewing Bee book and 'Famous Frocks, the little black dress' by Dolin Bliss O'Shea.
Lots of reviews have been popping up about the GBSB book but since the fabulous frocks one is my favourite and I actually couldn't find much info on it before I ordered it, I thought I'd do my own review.

Just a warning, this is a really long post!

The book contains patterns for 10 statement dresses and then variations on these dresses inspired by a number of fashion icons (although I feel the term icon is used a little loosely).  However, be prepared for a lot of gushing, I love most of the outfits in this book and it gives so many outfit options!

First up is Chanel.  Ok, she definitely counts as an icon.
One of the things that I think is great about this book is the line drawings, it makes it so much easier to see if the details of an outfit are going to suit you and to make alterations.  I love the pocket detail on this one.  Now I know the title of the book explicitly states that the statement dresses are black but I really don't love this one in black.  I love the colour of the variation though:
The recommended fabrics for both Chanel dresses are stretch fabrics.

Next is Joan Crawford.  I really love the shape of this one, I find cowl necks really interesting and flattering and the waist detail is great.  The recommended fabric for the detail is sequinned, I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to put that through my sewing machine though.
The variation for this one is an A shaped skirt.  It's a decent basic but not wildly exciting which is why I didn't include a picture.  However, if you wanted to create yourself a handmade wardrobe, it would be a good pattern to have.

The third icon is Ava Gardner:

Oh my god someone take me to an event where I can wear a dress like this!  Sadly I can't think of any event when I could wear this but I love it, talk about va va voom!  Hmm, if I want glamour maybe I should insert it myself and just start wearing dresses like this out for dinner, 

The Ava variation though, could be a a really cute and wearable summer dress.  The only issue I have with it is that I wouldn't be able to wear a bra and there are no instructions for building in support.  If you have a lot of sewing experience and know how to do this, or have a small bust, this would be a brilliant dress.

So the next icon is Audrey Hepburn.  It surprised me that I really liked the Audrey Hepburn selected outfits.  Although I find her incredibly glamorous and beautiful, she was a very different shape and size to me so the things that she wears wouldn't usually suit me.  However, I find this dress really cute, it's very similar to the BHL Flora dress which I've already made a couple of times and really love.  The difference between this one and the Flora dress is that the skirt is gored and a bit less full so it's probably a bit more flattering.

The variation is great too, same bodice with a pencil skirt.

The next icon is Grace Kelly.  Now I really admire how elegant Grace Kelly always looked and I love the 1950s look which she wore so well.  However, I also have to get real and accept the fact that I'm just not that well put together so although I dream of being that glamorous, I'm probably not going to be able to pull it off.  Also I although this dress is lovely I don't think it would suit me.
The Grace variation is a pencil skirt, again a handy basic but not that exciting by itself.  Also I prefer my pencil skirts with waist bands which this one doesn't have.

So the next icon is Mary Quant.  I'm starting to regret scoffing at the use of the word icon, so far I wouldn't quibble with any of them.  Again this is a really cute outfit.  I feel like I'm in the minority here but I'm not a massive fan of Peter Pan collars but I love the see-through sleeves.
This is variation is brilliant.  I can see this outfit fitting into my life, possibly slightly longer though as I don't have the model's legs and it's not terribly work appropriate at the current length.

So the next icon is Liza Minelli.  This is where I start to take issue with the 'icon' term.  Maybe Liza Minelli is a style icon, however, the only thing I have seen her in is Cabaret and the look that she has in that is not one I especially need to try and pull off.  However, I do really like this dress, maybe if this is Liza's usual look, she should be my style icon.
In the variation, I really like the sleeves but I'm less keen on the fuller skirt.

The next icon is Angelica Huston.  Again an icon?  However, she did really rock the Morticia look in the Adams Family.  I like the photo of this dress and even the drawing but I know it would look hideous on me.  This is one of the few things in the book I know I will never make.
However, the Angelica variation is amazing.  I love this top and the drape is gorgeous.

The next icon is Princess Diana.  I think icon is probably fair in this case, although Princess Di had some major misses style wise too.  This dress is lovely, such a simple outline.  Princess seams are very flattering and I could really use some simple dresses like this in my wardrobe.
The variation is a blouse.  I'm undecided about how I feel about this one, maybe it's the fabric which I really dislike.  Maybe the proof will be in the making...

And finally we have Kate Moss.  This is a very 90s dress, not in a bad way and has come back into fashion again.  You can't really see from the photos but this is a lace dress with a lining in the body. You would want to have quite a bit more sewing knowledge than this book provides to produce a good version of this dress I think.
The variation for the Kate dress is the only one I really don't like.  I hate that style of neckline but I see it in the shops all the time so someone must like it.

Ok so now you've had my opinions and all the photos here are some helpful practical details:
6 of the patterns are for stretch fabrics which I find really great as I like sewing with stretch fabrics and appreciate how fast they sew up

The patterns only come in 5 sizes which cover a broad range-there are about 8cm between each one.  If like me, you fall between sizes you have to trace of the pattern in between sizes which feels very clumsy and I was worried about accuracy.  The patterns are printed double sided so the pieces have to be traced off which I didn't mind as I tend to do this with my paper patterns anyway.  However, the pieces are spread over two pages, which I just found bizarre.  Instead of having one piece on a page, they've cut them in half and put one half on one page and another half on another despite having space for the whole piece on one sheet.  If anyone knows what the rationale for this might be, please let me know.

The variations in this book are great but are not just handed to you on a plate, you have to make the alterations to the patterns yourself, although the instructions for this are good and actually I think this is quite a good way of learning to hack patterns.  Although the lazy side of me complains every time I look at them.  The potential for outfits from this book are huge, all the skirts and bodices are designed so that they fit together.

It's difficult to see who this book is aimed at.  The techniques outlined at the beginning are quite basic but I feel the level of sewing demanded from some of the patterns is beyond what a beginner could do as there is not enough detail to guide them through.

So having been using this book as my bedtime reading for weeks and dreaming of the outfits, it was time to put it to the test. Strangely the first thing I decided to make from this book of fabulous dresses was a top! I just loved the beautiful drape of the Angelica variation top and decided to give it a go.

I sewed it up following the instructions and despite my worries about the tracing, everything matched up perfectly. However when I tried it on, it was huge round the waist, this is clear from the drawings of the dress but not from those of the top.  However I took it in by an inch on each side at the waist which worked fine.  

Overall I'm pleased with it and the drape is super pretty but it could really do with some more waist/underbust shaping for my taste. I used a really pretty viscose from simply fabrics in Brixton just for extra drapey-ness. It's not a big deal as this top is so loose but next time I'll do a broad back adjustment. 

I would definitely buy this book for a friend but probably not a beginner as the instructions are maybe not detailed enough. However for someone who knows their way round a pattern, this book is full of lovely outfits to make up. Which one should I make next? Anyone else tempted by this book? 

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