The Melbourne Frocktails Bolero

I’ve always been a bolero fan.

I like the drama, the embroidery, the length. It is also very flattering on my type of figure – the rectangle. The bolero can dress up many outfits, even the most boring tee shirt and jeans.

When I was planning my Melbourne Frocktails outfit, there were a few things I knew I didn’t want. First of all, I didn’t want a frock. For some reason, I never feel comfortable enough in dresses, and an elaborate cocktail dress would make me feel like a fraud. I just feel more myself wearing trousers.

So, how does one dress up a pair of trousers?

First, the cut: make them wide enough to move and flow, but avoid pyjama references. Then, the fabric: make them in something soft and demure, like crepe backed satin. And finally, create some drama by adding a strapless bodice with in-built fake waist (did I mention I can fake waists now?).

But, of course, it wouldn’t be a cocktail outfit if it wasn’t taken up a notch, wouldn’t it? So let’s throw some serious sparkle at it, but avoid looking like a princess. How do I do that? Sew my sparkles onto a separate piece, of course – the bolero.


One awesome thing about boleros is that they are small, so I could afford some really great fabric for a maximum visual impact and minimum pain for my wallet. In addition, they are fast to sew, so you can really get them right down to the last stitch.

The pattern was an easy and painless draft – a bit of shaping at the shoulders, a dramatic collar and smoothly curved fronts to emphasise the neckline.

For the base I used organza, for the overlay – beaded and sequinned lace from The Studio Fabrics in Sydney. I bought the last 50 cm of this lace and used almost all of it. The edges of the lace were scalloped, so I joined them into one continuous length and placed it along the edge of the bolero, shaping it at the bust.

Then I filled out the empty spaces with cut out lace motifs, making sure it was symmetrical and followed the “story” of the lace.

The bolero base has two vertical back seams to shape the shoulders and waist. After some investigation on see-through fabric sewing methods, I decided to french seam them. The edge of the bolero was finished using a slight variation of Kenneth King’s method (Thank you, Kenneth King, it was very helpful!). It produced an interesting “zig-zag” look, without looking cheap and home made. The collar seam was covered with satin stitch.

So, when it was time to rock my outfit at the Frocktails, I felt dressed up and myself at the same time. Not once I tugged on my clothes, everything was in place and fabulous, just like everyone else there. The crowd was dazzling. I met many talented, interesting people, chatted all evening and enjoyed myself immensely.

The bolero has earned its spot in my pattern collection. I think it would look great in many fabrics – leather, perforated suede, denim, satin, guipure lace…And, of course, animal print, as shown here by Leila.

So what do you think, could you rock a bolero? How would you wear it?

Lena Merrin
Lena Merrin

A dressmaker of many years, I enjoy drafting patterns and create custom garments.

17 thoughts on “The Melbourne Frocktails Bolero

  1. Jo says:

    Elegant and wonderful :) you make such exquisite things, I would love for this to be my job one day! Maybe I’ll make it over to Australia one day and come and see your work in person :)

  2. Theresa Riess says:

    Lovely bolero, Lena. That’s some pretty snazzy punch in a small space.
    Theresa in Tucson

  3. Becky says:

    I would definitely buy this pattern, Lena! What is easy for you, not so easy for me. This is absolutely stunning! And the possibilities for making it dressy or casual are endless. Please tell me how I can draft one of these or offer a pattern please! Fabulous piece!

  4. Din says:

    That’s absolutely gorgeous. Exquisite work!

    I have two vintage boleros – one is white velvet with beading and the other is made from ecru silk ribbons. I’ve had both for years, but I never wore either. I’m going to see if I can work them into my wardrobe this year.

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