At the end of 2019, my Mum and I sat down to watch the first episode of Queer Eye: We’re in Japan. We were introduced to Yoko Sakuma, a hospice nurse with a beautiful soul and a love for the movie Roman Holiday. After watching (and crying at) the episode, I decided that it was of the upmost importance that I watched the movie myself.
Of course I loved it and watching Audrey Hepburn swan around Rome in gorgeous costumes gave rise simultaneously to a sense of desire and determination: I needed a wardrobe inspired by Roman Holiday and I would have a wardrobe inspired by Roman Holiday.
First I found the perfect pattern: V9106, a reproduction of a Vogue pattern from 1952. Whilst Audrey doesn’t wear a dress like this in the movie, the era is spot on and the design felt summery and romantic. What stood out to me was the construction of the skirt. Rather than just being a simple circle skirt, the fullness in the skirt is create by two tiers of gathered panels on either side.
Then I found the perfect fabric. Whilst browsing Lady Mcelroy fabrics on Sherwoods Fabrics, I cam across ‘From the Veranda’ – a gorgeous watercolour-esque scene of classical architecture and flowers. It fit perfectly into my Roman Holiday theme. However, this fabric did not make my life very easy throughout the project. As its 100% Viscose, it wasn’t dissimilar to trying to sew through water and the fabric moved endlessly when I was cutting out my pieces. Nevertheless, the overall effect is totally worth the difficulty of the fabric. It is light, floaty and created the most beautiful delicate gathers. I chose to finish my dress with 5 pink vintage style buttons that I had left over from a previous project (and which perfectly complimented the pinks in the flowers in the fabric) and brass coloured eyelets and belt buckle.
As with most patterns, my measurements did not correspond exactly with the measurements of the Vogue size chart. My waist measurement of 30″ corresponded to a size 16, but my bust size of 35″ corresponded with between a size 12 and 14. As this was a pattern I had not used before I chose to be conservative and cut a straight size 16 so that I could resize the bodice when fitting. When fitting, I did significantly reduce the bust (by about 4.5cm from each side when laid flat) – beyond even a size 12 – so this is something I would like to experiment with if I make the pattern again. (I should start making mock-ups but today is not that day!) I also widened and extended the darts on the back of neckline by 1cm.
This project also gave me the opportunity to learn two new skills: making bound buttonholes and belts. My buttonholes are not perfect by any means but I am very proud of them as a first attempt. One modification I made to the pattern was to interface the facings of the bodice. This provides extra stability which was very helpful when making the buttonholes and also gives the front of the bodice more structure – I would highly recommend. Making the eyelets for the belt required at least 6 attempts, but this is why I always practice before trying out a permanent fixture on my project.
Making the skirt of this dress was both incredibly frustrating and satisfying. Firstly, the pieces were HUGE. I’m sure anyone who has made a ballgown or historical costume will laugh at such a statement but I have never dealt with such unwieldy pieces of fabric. They were a very strange shape, a sort of Salvador Dali-an impression of a letter ‘E’, with each prong of the E slightly longer to create the full gathers. However, once the pieces came together I fell in love. The delicate gathers and tiered panels are so effective. I also gathered by hand (because, well, viscose) and gathering the wide panels was a very relaxing task. After letting the skirt hang for a few days – allowing for the bias cut parts of the pieces to stretch – I hemmed the skirt by hand. I find it easier to sew a narrow hem on a slippery fabric by hand rather than machine (if anyone has any tips on using a narrow hem foot I would love to know) but I am also trying to incorporate more hand sewing into my projects. I would be lying if I say I didn’t slightly regret this decision at various points during sewing the approx 4m long hem but it was worth it.
Overall, this project was an exercise in determination and perseverance, both because of the pattern and my own mistakes. I still haven’t figured out how I was supposed to install the zipper on the side but I chose a very historically-inaccurate invisible zipper so I ended up doing it my own way anyway. I also found that the bodice pieces curved downwards towards the side seams and I am uncertain whether that was the fault my fabric choice and the weight of the skirt or the pattern pieces themselves. The fit still isn’t perfect and I think I’ll redo the gathering on the bust to get rid of some of the excess fullness. On the other hand, accidentally cutting a hole in my bodice was very much my own fault and I was incredibly lucky that I had literally just enough fabric to re-cut the piece. It took me about a week to make this dress: the majority of the instructions are very clear but it is definitely quite involved and not suitable for beginners. I would make this pattern again but I would choose a less slippery fabric.
I love the finished result – it is stunning. Wearing a petticoat does the most justice to the features of the skirt as it supports the gathers and shows off its fullness. All I need now is to go to Rome and eat an ice cream by the Trevi Fountain, channelling my inner Hepburn.