Phillappa’s Wedding Coat


In the summer, my boyfriend’s sister approached me with a lovely proposition – she is getting married in December and has been hunting and hunting for a coat to go over her wedding dress on her special day but with little success. Therefore, she kindly asked me to help and make her one to fit her wishes. And of course, I jumped at the idea – I have not created a commission for a while and wanted to be involved, even in a very small way, in the wedding we are all looking forward to.


I began by researching a few coats which I thought might fit the bill and showed them to Pippa – she was looking for something like a riding coat which she could wear again after the wedding and I found this coat made1730-50 and documented in Janet Arnold’s book ‘Patterns of Fashion 1’.

I took Pippa’s measurements so that I could alter the pattern which was given to fit her, as the original outfit was made to fit an individual lady in the 18th century. It was a bit tricky to alter at first but I feel my construction sessions have taught me well enough.IMG_1798

I bought a few metres of calico and started cutting out toile pieces – it did not take long to construct, which gives me hope for when it comes to creating the really thing, and made me realise a few details in the order which need to be change so the process runs a lot smoother. For example, that the skirt of the jacket needs to be attached before the jacket itself is constructed.

Next came the first fitting with the bride to be…


The back…


The front…


It went very well in my opinion, the jacket fitted but did not quite meet at centre front so I was going to have to make the pattern larger and recut the calico but that should not take long.

The sleeves were fine apart from the curve which the original sleeve was cut like for comfort when horse riding, but since Pippa wishes to wear this jacket at her wedding I will need to alter that in order that it is comfortable for her. However, she liked the flare and the length, so that was a plus to the strange sleeves!

The skirt of the jacket, I feel, needs more pleats, so when I cut it out of the main fabric I will make the pattern pieces a little longer to facilitate this. So, overall, I was satisfied with my work and Pippa was really happy with it – and on we go…!

I assembled the jacket out of the tweed which Pippa had bought – a gorgeous dark tweed, flecked with blues, reds, greens, yellows and creams; very subtle and very traditional. The second fitting with the beautiful bride to be went very well and it was lovely to see her so happy about the garment!

The front of the jacket so far...

The front of the jacket so far…

And the back

And the back

I confirmed the length of the sleeves and where the buttons needed to go at centre front and also where she wanted the pockets and at what angle. She also then decided she wanted a collar just to add a bit of height which wouldn’t be too tricky to add in and indeed it has added a bit of detail which has made all the difference.



I had to construct the pockets from memory as I did not have my Uni notes with me, therefore I may not have followed precisely the correct method but I think they look quite professional anyway and the addition of the lining fabric has added a dash of colour.

The lining Pippa chose was a gold satin which sits against the tweed nicely brightening the garment. I constructed a second jacket out of the lining, pressed all the seams thoroughly, I began pinning the lining to the tweed jacket starting with the neckline and the arm holes. I decided to hand sew the lining in because I did not want stitching showing on the outside which might ruin the traditional look. I always find the lining tricky because they are often slippery and stretchy so I made sure I did not pull the lining too tight and run the risk of distorting the outer jacket. I have to say the bottom hem of the jacket was the hardest and most time consuming because the pleats made it tricky lining everything up. Nevertheless, now it is all in place it looks lovely, bright and cheerful!

I found some nice metal buttons; I went with faded silver so it was not too eye catching or shining to take away attention from the jacket itself. I stitched 6 down the centre front and 2 on each pocket to help keep them neat and as a safety fastening especially when riding.

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The wedding was beautiful and perfect; and Pippa, naturally, looked gorgeous – she kindly got her new husband to take this photo where they spent their first honeymoon night as I did not get a chance to grab her before she left after the party. Overall, I am really pleased with what I have created – it was an utter pleasure to make something to fit and make someone really happy! I hope to have many more opportunities to do so in the coming year.

Beauty and the Beast @ Oxford PlayHouse

Construction, Volunteering

When I first knew that I would be going to Oxford to assist on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the Playhouse I starting researching on SpareRooms and GumTree to see if anything was available but to no real avail. I was advised by Amanda Hambleton to have a look at some of the youth hostels around, so I rang around a few days before to check the availability, got on the train on Sunday then went straight to the YHA which was handily situated next to the train station and got myself booked in – it felt very spontaneous and exciting! IMG_1860The YHA is clean, tidy and well kept, even though the bathroom in my shared room smells – but that is the only negative aspect so far! The beds are comfy and the room is warm! I have been lucky this week with my room mates so far, they are al very pleasant and friendly so I feel very safe in our little room.

I took the opportunity of a later start for me in the morning of the 24th by having a wonder through Oxford and getting a feel for the place; it was lovely to get the chance to appreciate the beauty of this ancient city! I grabbed some breakfast then headed to the theatre.

I was introduced to all the costume crew then set to work! Most of the costumes have been hired or have come from the store of costumes so we were able to alter them to fit  properly. So most of the alterations are for wear and tear, making sure they are in good quality for the shows. Other forms took the shape of embellishing; so for example we had a plain red coat with black collar and cuffs which needed jazzing up a bit with some gold cord.

Then came some fittings with the ensemble and the group I was in focussed on the two women who had around 5 outfits to try on in 45 mins! So it was tight but exiting and there were only a few things which needed taking in or letting out – but these needed to be done by the next day as the main cast had a photo shoot sceduled in their opening costumes – therefore we starting on those alterations first – for example, taking in some bodices, reducing straps to fit flat on the shoulders and sorting out embellishment to cover gaps in fastenings. It was all very exciting and a fab first day!

The second day was more of the same – altering clothes to fit the dancers and to make sure that they can move easily. I think that was one of the main points I have had to focus on so far, making sure the costumes allow movement and freedom especially because many of the dancers are performing circus skills! We had to get all the opening outfits altered for 2pm for the photos so we wanted to use it as a second fitting for these and I’m glad we did because we had to take in a few of the female dancers bodice and change one of the men’s throusers because the director did not like the colour. Next we had to quickly get them all changed and back to rehersals in time and clear the way for the children to come and have their fittings – overall we had 8 boys and 12 girls to fit, they were paired up for each costume as not one child can do all the shows on every day, so one costume has to fit two different children! Tricky but we think we have cracked it and we only came out of it with some minor alterations to perform – I think this will end up being my job as the other girls have alterations on their own costumes they have made to sort out. IMG_1870 IMG_1868 IMG_1869It was a later night than we expected but a lot of fun and it means we hopefully have a complete list of everything which needs doing! We wrote out every little thing we had to do and took great delight in striking them off with a red Sharpie!

IMG_1865Over the rest of the week I learnt how to insert dress shields (small circles of fabric, folded in half over the underarm seam, which are poppered down so they can be taken out wash and replaced easily) and I was also given the job of making ‘fake’ saris – we needed a way of wearing a sari which would be quick and easy to put on over the final costumes and then removed just before the bowing. Therefore, we decided to gather the unembellished top edge of the sari to the length of the stretch of an elastic waistband, then machine the gathered sari onto it. IMG_1866 IMG_1867Sew down the length of the sari creating the skirt, now we have an embellished length which can be arranged on the actors, to hide their outfits with poppers and hook and bars for quick changes.This technique of stretching elastic and sewing lengths of fabric or even clothing on to it was a new technique for me but one which was used throughout the production as a quick fix for the problem of looseness and one which will be useful for me to remember!

IMG_1871I also got to know the other girls working for Amanda quite well – a few final year students from Bournemouth, who had deigned and made costumes for some of the principle characters, and the two older girls who were employed for the whole run through! So we had a really lovely team around us which made the work a lot nicer and the days go a lot quicker – we even socialized outside the theatre with a movie on Orange Wednesdays and an evening out in Oxford which was brilliant!

Week 2

I experienced the ‘get in’ process which was tiring and busy but good fun! We had to pack up all the costumes and equipment, put them on a truck and unload them at the theatre and get settled into the wardrobe room – we were able to spread into the children’s dressing room to give us all more space; with windows and free tea or coffee! So perfect working conditions! We stayed late working through our copious lists and we were able to move onto the children’s alterations which was a huge weight off our minds!

As we moved on through our to do’s we came across obsticles like running out of hook and bars and having to make do with hooks and hand made bars which was a new skill for me and one which will be very useful in the future! By sewing a few lines of thread over each other and going over them with button hole stitch to strengthen them!

We had to label all the children’s clothing because two were sharing one set of costumes and if anything got mislaid we needed to know who it was fitted to – so that was a job and a half but since there were 3 of, the task went smoothly.

I also experienced quick fixes in tea breaks, so if anything needed taking in, letting out, or buttons needed sewing back on and the costume was needed again it would be all hands on deck to get through it!

I also brushed up on my herring bone stitch to secure hemsIMG_1863, something which I had not really used very often but now I feel well versed in hand sewing because we could not make any permanent alterations to the hired costumes, and herring bone is a quick stitch to unpick, although time consuming to create.

I have had such a lovely time working with Amanda and her team; I feel I have learnt a lot about the way theatre costumes are made and fixed, that time is precious and preciousness is not helpful. I have met some amazing people and it was a shame I could not stay for the opening night or for the rehearsals but I was off to Pippa’s wedding with her jacket…!