Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane

It was 50 Years ago today……


…. I was three years old and a flower girl at my Auntie Jean and Uncle Lewis’s wedding. My mummy made me a blue velvet dress to wear and someone lent me a white fur stole with matching muff. I wore white knee socks like a big girl (and scowled like one too!) accessorised with my beautiful Sunday best black patent shoes with buckles (not shown). I wore Chanel No 5. Only joking.

dscn6768Standing directly behind me is my daddy who was Best Man and on my left, my eldest cousin and idol in a red coat- see, she has knee socks. Beside her and behind a gate post is my second eldest cousin, also my childhood and continuing idol. On my right is the bride and groom; totally in love and eyes for no one other than each other. 50 years on from that day, Jean and Lewis are still together, still devoted to each other and because of that I got another two cousins! Auntie Jean is the youngest of six siblings, my mother’s youngest sister. A family of three boys and three girls – all the boys are dead but the girls are showing no signs of giving up just yet! And they are either in or heading towards their 80s, but Jean’s the baby.

The photograph is therefore 50 years old and the version you see here is a photograph of a print of the original photo – hence the quality, but you get the idea.

To celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary, my Uncle Lewis has invited the whole family to the Slieve Donard hotel for dinner – and bed and breakfast!slieve-donard-resort-spa-newcastle-ireland_010720140930446342

The hotel resides beneath the Mourne Mountains in Newcastle and is right beside the shore – what could be a better location?

view-of-slieve-donard-co-down-northern-irelandMy lovely Auntie Jean spends most of her time these days in a wheelchair because she has MS (Multiple Sclerosis). My own bridesmaid suffered the same disease from the tender age of 22 and is now dead. She was tall, beautiful, elegant and stylish and actually put me in the shade, even on my wedding day, but I could never resent a single moment we spent together. She stood totally unaided beside me as my witness and best friend. Julie is the one in blue. Isn’t she gorgeous?dscn6769The 50th wedding celebration is not only in honour of the golden couple but also to raise money for MS. It is a devastating disease that seems to be common ( in that I know of loads of people with a diagnosis) in Northern Ireland. Auntie Jean’s son, Ian, my youngest cousin 46, has also been stuck with this incapacitating illness: he is an award winning press photographer, who was also our wedding photographer – his first private commission. And what memorable images he took that day and how unaware we all were to what the future held. These are photos of the photos, if you know what I mean? Relaxed, genuine captures in time of each special moment.

Ian is a husband and a father to a gorgeous and clever daughter but he now lives in residential care. Ian cannot eat, drink or swallow; cannot dance or walk, not even stand; cannot read because he can’t turn the page; cannot scratch an itch; and can no longer take photographs because he can’t even press the shutter and yet everytime I visit him, we have a laugh and reminisce good times and make fun of our family traits.

Julie was the same; never complained, never moaned, just had a very optimistic view of life and relished every moment with a smile.

If you feel so inclined, you can make a small donation to MS through Just Giving

This is a sewing blog, so let’s get to the sewing……..

What better way to celebrate a Golden Wedding Anniversary than to re-create what I wore 50 years ago as a flower girl?  I made a grown up version of my blue velvet dress. Looks like a sack on the hanger …..


The pattern is from Bootstrap – asymmetrical off-shoulder dress and custom fitted to me. 44849mainThis really is the way to go – type in your measurements and you get a pattern that’s perfect – no adjusting, alterations etc, just cut and sew.

As the wedding was in the mid 1960s, I wanted to link to that era and this design seemed to fit the brief as it had a slightly vintage look. It probably fits better into the late 1950s but we are always 10 years behind the rest of the world in Northern Ireland. I also used Google images for inspiration of the fashion of the time.


The fabric is from Croftmill and is described as the richest possible dark navy blue – perfect – not black but nearly, it’s still blue and because it’s velvet it has every shade in between. This is a cotton velvet because it is so much more stable and resilient than the silk version. If you read advice about sewing with velvet, you’ll be told not to press, use a walking foot, use a million pins, sew once and don’t rip out, etc etc etc – it’s enough to put you off sewing with velvet at all. Look, just buy the stuff and make a dress – it really doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just make sure the nap (pile) all smoothes down the same direction when you place your pattern pieces, so you will need more fabric than usual, at least 1/2 metre.


Yes, I’ve made mistakes but we all know that only another sewer will notice the errors. I pressed, I ripped out, I used the normal amount of pins and I did not use a walking foot. If you do nothing else, you MUST use a a velvet pressing cloth. This is just a scrap of the same fabric and when pressing seams flat place velvet to velvet and gently, gently steam press. Be wary of pressing hems and sleeves. I do know that once pressed, the velvet pile will never recover. Go on, ask me how I know that??


Because this is a party dress, I moved the centre back zipper to the left-hand side – I mean who wants to spin round and round at 2am in the morning trying to pull a zip down that you can’t reach to get out of the dress. Mind you, I suppose you could always sleep in it.


When I make a dress I like long panels, from shoulder to hem, in other words no waist seam that cuts the dress in half. This dress has a waist seam at the front only. I disguised it with a half belt, sewn into the sides and blinged up with a pearl and diamond cabochon. (DH has advised to remove the pearl – opinions please.)


I sewed the back split closed – there was no need to fiddle around with lining as I can walk just fine without it.

dscn6790The dress is fully lined and if I could take back time, I would underline it actually – but I didn’t, so just move on. The hem is very narrow deliberately. I like this length, so I sewed a wide band of lace to the very edge and slip stitched this up.


The sleeves were lengthened to 3/4 length, this is December after all, but they looked a little clumsy and heavy. I sewed three little tucks so that they became slightly gathered above the elbows and reflect the gathers in the front bodice. It creates an uneven sleeve hem so the lining needs to be tucked inside to mirror the shape.


Off the shoulder dresses may be sexy and dramatic but create a whole new category of underwear problems. A bog-standard bra ain’t gonna work. Do you bdscn6789uy special undergarments, do you adapt existing bras? The number of YouTube videos I watched on how to insert cups into dresses reached record breaking numbers and in the end I opted for the easiest, and possibly the best solution, hand sew a couple of bra strap tabs with poppers and then wear my favourite bra. Job done.




No-one has lent me a white fur stole to wear this time round and I think I’ll leave the big girl white knee socks off too…….


I know we all have extra expense at this particular time of year but, you know what, we can walk, talk, dance and we can relish in our pure physical ability, however clumsily, to enjoy life – even if it’s just to thread and use a needle. Don’t forget, if you’d like to contribute to support MS click here. I’d ask you to NOT buy those two metres/yards  to sit forlornly in your stash but instead give the £/$ 12-15 to MS instead.


Many, many thanks. My Auntie Jean, cousin Ian, bridesmaid Julie’s legacy and countless others will benefit from your generosity and kindness.






61 thoughts on “It was 50 Years ago today……

  1. Absolutely stunning and stunning on you! And . . . . beautifully constructed. Thanks for sharing all this. I’m in the US and so will find a way to support the MS research funds from this side of the pond. You’ve got an especially delightful family. Enjoy your time together!

  2. Beautiful dress and a wonderful way to celebrate a wonderful occasion. I love the cabochon as is – why change what is. Enjoy your day and your family, making memories is priceless.

    • Thanks Kathleen. Family get togethers are fairly rare nowadays, we all lead such busy lives that it’s hard to get everyone in on place at the same time. Here’s hoping for a clear sunny day for long walks on the beach.

  3. Lovely dress, lovely post. Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

  4. What a lovely tribute to your Aunt and Uncle, and to your relatives and all others who suffer from MS. My youngest sister also has MS — she is doing very well now but the future is uncertain for sure. Our entire, very large, family supposrts MS research here in the US. Thanks for what you are doing.

    • Hi Peggy, we all give support in lots of different ways. Best wishes to your sister and all the best for that uncertain future. But then again, all our futures are uncertain. Thank you.

  5. Love the velvet dress! MS is a nasty disease, let’s hope that research comes up with a way forward.

  6. Love the velvet dress, and pressing issues noted! Not crazy about the cabochon- I feel it takes away from your necklace, but then I’m not bling-ey at all, so keep my bias in mind!

    I donate to MS too. I’m so sorry that you’ve got family members struggling with it – testament to their wonderful spirits, that they are a joy to be with, particularly your lovely cousin and aunt.

    • Thanks Alerina. You’re the 4th person in these comments to mention MS. It’s frightening how ‘common’ it seems to be.
      I think the pearl is coming off…..DH will be pleased to know he has a supporter!

  7. I agree, lovely dress and lovely post. Very thoughtfully written. Conveying your personal connections with this daunting disease reminds us of what is really important in life. I live in the northwest on an island that is a 30 minute ferry ride from Seattle. Western Washington state has one of the highest instances of MS. While there have been many strides in improving care and comfort, as well as longevity, the reasons for it are still unanswered. We are definitely supporters of MS awareness and fundraising.

  8. what a sweet story, Ruth. I can tell how much all your family means to you. What a pretty bride you were! and still are. Your dress is so pretty. Enjoy your lovely time at that beautiful location…

  9. Beautiful dress…thanks for sharing!

  10. You have done nothing but grow more and more beautiful over the years 😊
    It’s not just the sewn stitches that bring us together, it’s the stitches of our lives, our stories that truly connect us. Thank you for sharing a little more of your story.

  11. Gorgeous frock, more sexy elegance! Touching post, and I love old pics, so atmospheric.
    I like the bling [unusual for me, but it’s such a classic LBD, I think it works. I once painted over some ‘pearl’ ear rings for a show, I used black pearly nail varnish, and it looked great. You could try a dab to see if you like it…

  12. Beautiful dress. Enjoy your family get together.

  13. Such a lovely touching post Ruth, thank you. Please make sure you have your GP check your serum vitamin D, low levels are a definite risk factor for MS which is why it’s so prevalent in the far north of the globe (not so many people live at that longitude in the southern hemisphere).
    I like the cabochon, but I’m on a bling fling at present, its all beading down here! I love to see old photos, especially weddings, thanks for sharing.
    Oh and the bra, your solution worked really well. If there was a tight fit to the dress at the bra band area in the back you can cut off the back section of an old bra and sew the band into the side seams. Then sew the strap into the shoulder seams – your ‘girls’ look just fine in your solution!!

  14. Lovely post and beautiful dress. You look ravishing!

  15. Lovely post Ruth humbling and moving. ms is such a terrible discese. Love the dress, including the pearl! The lining is gorgeous.

  16. It’s wonderful, Ruth.
    it will give you nice memories of your Auntie Jean when you wear it. Never mind DH and the pearl button! Men don’t know anything about sewing! You should hear the silly suggestions I get from mine….

  17. Beautiful and a wonderful tribute.

  18. What a wonderful story and I’m so glad you shared it with us. Your dress turned out beautifully.

  19. What a touching blog post. MS is a dreadful disease. We probably all know someone with it.
    Your dress is another glorious elegant affair. And I love that it’s recreated from the wedding all those years ago.
    I’d lose the pearl too. Or tone it down with nail polish

    • I have an additional thank you for you – Thank you!
      Cancer can be treated but MS cannot, only the symptoms can be somewhat alleviated.
      Thanks again, truly.

  20. I was delighted to find your blog. I am a Northern Irish girl (of 60) living in Norfolk. I love your style and the clothes you make. I have a good friend with MS who is one of the most upbeat people I know – never whinging, always has a joke. Such a cruel illness. Thank you for reminding me how much I have to be thankful for.

  21. What a beautiful post. I love hearing the details about your old photographs. I’m so sorry that MS has affected so many people close to you- it reminds me that I need to check in with a friend with MS that I haven’t seen in a while. Your dress for the occasion is absolutely amazing.

    • Thanks Ann, all support, no matter what it is, is always helpful.
      I’m really excited about the celebration dinner with all the family – it will be fun, regardless.

  22. Such an attractive family in the first photo, and you have clearly always been someone the camera loves. Recreating the original dress was brilliant thinking, and I don’t miss the white knee socks a bit. Kind of like the pearl at the waist echoing the strand at the neck…..when you have your diamonds out of the vault you can switch out the pearl belt piece for something to match.

    Thanks for sharing,


  23. Gorgeous dress! MS seems to be common in New Zealand in areas that have a lot of people of Scots ancestry, so that may be a common link with Northern Ireland. It’s great that you are publicising the need for help in finding treatments and a cure.
    Thank you for the words of encouragement about sewing with velvet… I’d always put it in the too hard basket too, maybe I’ll be braver now. I am a similar age and had a dark blue velvet dress (with a lace collar) as a child too. Must have been the Thing!

    • Hi Lyndie, best advice I can give is – go for it! Try with some cheaper cotton velvet first before cutting into the very expensive silk version – that’s my goal.
      Thank you.

  24. A lovely post Ruth, and you look as lovely in your velvet dress now as you did as a child. How nice to have a family gathering on such an auspicious occasion – not too many marriages make 50 years! Enjoy the party, and your wonderful family 😃.

  25. Gorgeous, as usual. Great dress, I am sure you will enjoy for years! My husband has MS. He is not in a wheel chair and has no cane, but he has been affected cognitively. It is an adjustment everyday. Thank you for your PSA.

    • Hi Janet, thanks for commenting today.
      I am sure that everyone who follows this blog is supporting you in whatever way they feel comfortable with – be that a donation, visiting others, prayers or thoughts.
      Are you UK?

      • Hi Ruth, I am in Canada. My husband grew up in Alberta and spent 9 years in Saskatchewan – most cases of MS in the world. Thanks you so much for reaching out with your kind words.

  26. You look totally amazing in this dress and it is utterly beautiful! I have some very dark navy velvet that needs a dress… Not sure which way I’ll go yet but you have inspired me. On the topic of off the shoulder dresses and bras though… At 45 I made my wedding dress for this July, off the shoulder 50’s inspired thing of blue flowered Liberty Lawn. I had a very knowledgeable coach who told me to build a built in strapless bra/corset into the dress. Essentially sew a boned strapless bodice into the front lining of the dress as an interlining and then add the back panels of the corset as a separate layer sewn into the side seams and closing under the zip at the back. Not sure that would work on a side zip but it worked a treat for my dress as I’m not a big fan of strapless bras – I’m too gifted up front and they just fall down – and I did;t want to go to the expense and hassle of finding a longline corset style bra in my small town where I knew I probably would be out of luck. Funny don’t want the hassle of buying a bra but I’ll build one into a dress. Sewers are… Well we are sewers. As I said you look lovely in this and all of these photos and memories are beautiful. I cried for your friend with MS that has passed away. I also have a good friend who has struggled for years with this disease. It is awful. Have fun at the party in your beautiful dress… You are a knock out in it.

  27. Thank you so much Lori – a touching, personal and informative comment.
    Unfortunately, my dress is now finished but the next time I will definately research built-in underwear – it seems so much better than ‘loose’ bra straps.
    Thanks again.

  28. I’m so sorry you lost your best friend. What a dazzling duo you and Julie were.

    I actually thought I’d left a comment already and only came back to make a small donation when I read your wonderful post again. I hope I’m not too late to wish you a wonderful weekend. Even for the luckiest of us, life is so short. I don’t know what it’s like to have a large family but it sounds wonderful to be able to hang out together, in harmony, and in such a wonderful setting.
    Thank you for sharing your pictures and letting us get to know you a bit better.

  29. Pingback: The Woman on the Tube Train | corecouture

  30. I love your dress, but your Aunty’s wedding dress is AMAZING!! MS is such a horrible thing, I used to work with a lovely lady who was diagnosed with it, so a donation has been made. Also, I’m a bit behind in my blog reading!

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