Sew yourself a superstar wardrobe!
Fancy dressing like Marilyn and Audrey – without breaking the bank A new book shows you how…
21:48 GMT, 6 June 2012
The moment of truth and I’m feeling a little exposed. There’s a wind machine funnelling a force nine gale up my frock and I’m not sure the stitching is going to hold.
What amounts to two flimsy handkerchief-sized scraps of material (official name: the bodice) are coming away from the waistband. There’s also a worrying number of loose threads blowing in my face.
The skirt, meanwhile, may be billowing as required but, at my age, that’s not a good thing. I don’t know about Marilyn, but there are various reasons why I don’t feel glamorous (thread veins, stubbly legs, hurriedly applied nail varnish).
Iconic: Charlotte in a dress she made herself based on Marilyn Monroe's famous outfit from The Seven Year Itch
The original dress, worn to such great effect in The Seven Year Itch, was created by American costume designer William Travilla. Marilyn loved the dress so much, Travilla became a close friend and dressed her for eight of her movies.
My feeble imitation — which cost 18 — has taken 18 hours of blood, sweat and tears to make. Yes, I have cried — twice — as I painstakingly stitched it together.
What’s more, my new hobby has taken over my life. For the past two weeks, I’ve spent every night sewing a little piece of Hollywood history. A task so consuming, I haven’t watched the final of The Apprentice and the house is a tip.
My Bible is a quirky new book called Sew Iconic — a step-by-step guide to making ten classic Hollywood dresses written by primary school teacher Liz Gregory.
The book includes a pattern for each dress and detailed instructions that explain how to assemble them, along with fascinating detail about the original frocks.
A keen dressmaker, Liz also happens to be a movie aficionado and that was how the idea for the book came about.
Little Black Dress: Charlotte's replica of Audrey Hepburn's classic dress from Breakfast at Tiffany's
‘My daughter suggested I should bring together the two passions in my life. So I did,’ says Liz, 50, who lives in Malton, North Yorkshire, with her partner Mark, 51, a computer consultant. ‘I wanted to choose dresses that are not only iconic, but also have some modern appeal. Dresses that people would look at and think: “I can make that and wear it.” ’
Whittling her choices down to ten proved hard. The Marilyn dress was an obvious choice. As for wearable — hmm, in my case, maybe 15 years ago. Now it’s positively indecent. Other famous numbers have more appeal — the classic LBD as championed by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Rita Hayworth’s strapless column dress in the film Gilda.
I decide to make the Marilyn and Audrey Hepburn dresses. But have I bitten off more than I can sew
My last needlework project was a grey pencil skirt at my all girls secondary school in the Eighties. Since then, I fashioned a handful of dodgy school play costumes for my three daughters. But that’s it.
At the haberdashery shop, I spend two hours trying to find the right fabrics. For the Marilyn frock, I end up with a very light, white synthetic satin that’s so slippery it constantly falls off the workbench.
Once I get home, I set to work tracing the Marilyn design from the master pattern on to tracing paper. I then have to pin this on to the fabric and cut. It’s impossible to cut this flimsy material in a straight line and when I start sewing the bodice, the fabric snags.
Ten minutes later, I’m calling my mother, a prolific quilter.
‘You may have the wrong needle in the machine,’ she says.
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Homemade: Charlotte gets to work on her LBD
I end up finishing the dress after a night out with some friends. Sewing under the influence. I recommend it. The last few hems are surprisingly straight. OK, the end result is worse than a schoolgirl effort but, secretly, I feel proud of myself.
My next challenge is to attempt Audrey Hepburn’s LBD. How hard can this be The pattern only involves a zip and three pieces of fabric — one for the front and two for the back. Simple.
I’ve chosen black linen in the hope the material will be easier to work with than Marilyn’s slippery satin. But I quickly realise that to get a sleek Audrey-worthy fit, the dress needs accurate tailoring.
And that means strategic darts (folds of fabric that give shape to a flat piece of material) at the bust and the back.
Having never attempted something like this before, I invite my mother round and thrust some pins at her.
Under her watchful eye, I complete my first dart in 25 minutes and it’s not half bad. The next day is a Sunday and the sun is shining. My husband Tom is keen to get out into the garden, but I am on a mission to finish Audrey.
But the children have just come in from the garden — they won’t leave me alone. Once they are fed, watered and banished outside again, I carry on and by lunchtime, the dress is done.
I’m just stripping off to try it on when Tom walks in. ‘I thought we’d run out of black sacks,’ he snorts.
The house, meanwhile, resembles a rubbish dump.
The stylist on our photographic shoot is aghast. ‘Don’t you think you should have tried just a little bit harder’
But I’ve decided it’s all about rediscovering skills I’d forgotten I had. Having watched me over the past few weeks, my daughters are inspired to design some summer clothes — with my mother’s help.
I only wish Liz had included Scarlett O’Hara’s green velvet gown from Gone With The Wind. I’ve got some faded green curtains that could do with a new lease of life.
Sew Iconic — How To Make 10 Classic Hollywood Dresses by Liz Gregory (14.99, Quintet Publishing).