Refashioners – Inspired by

I’m so excited to show you my project for this year’s Refashioners community challenge. The Refashioners challenge organised by Portia Lawrie was the first community challenge that I participated in when I started my blog four years ago. For a little throw-back you can read about the shirt refashion I did back then here.

This year the theme is “Inspired by” which means that instead of focusing on a specific garment to refashion the aim is to be inspired by a look and then to try and recreate it through refashioning any type of second hand find. Since I have more time for sewing than usual at the moment I decided I wanted to participate again. However, this brief is a tricky one. From years of experience with thrifting I know that it is impossible to go into a thrift store with a specific idea. Instead you need to go in with an open mind and see what’s available. So I went into this challenge with the attitude that I would only participate if I could find something that matched my vision. As soon as the theme was announced I knew exactly which look I wanted to recreate, the Bonnie Young dress that Daisy Ridley wore for her 73 questions interview with Vogue (you can watch it here if you are interested). I’m not really a party dress person, but I couldn’t get this one out of my head. The colour, the shape, the movement; I just loved it. But, would I be able to find something suitable to recreate this look?

I was visiting my sister in Chemnitz when I decided to check out some second hand shops and see what I could find. Amazingly I hit gold in the second shop I went into. This dress below might not look like much but I was perfect:

  • Made from a linen viscose mix it would take dye easily and the original fabric already was a grey/green so it wouldn’t distort the forest green colour I was going for.
  • It was several sizes too big, which meant that there was room to play around with the fit.
  • It had a back zip and other details which I could re-use.
  • The skirt was wide enough to create a voluminous ruffle.

The first thing I did was to remove the weird buckles and then throw the whole dress into a forest green dye bath. As expected the fabric took the dye beautifully and it came out in a nice dark green. Next I cut off the top part of the back bodice including the straps. The original dress has a lace up detail on both sides, which I removed, hoping that the bodice would not be too small when sewn back together without it. I hand basted the bodice together and amazingly the bodice fit like a glove (below a picture of the first baste fitting). No further adjustments were necessary, it’s like the dress was made for me! Situations like that are the reason why I love refashioning so much. There is nothing more satisfying than being able to re-use some of the original details of a garment.

The original dress had some lovely piping along the top edge and while I was able to preserve that feature at the front I lost it in the back where I had cut off the top part. So I unpicked the piping from the straps that I wouldn’t be using for anything else and re-sewed the top edge of the back inserting the piping. The straps for this dress are the ties from the original lace-up detail, so no need for making fiddly spaghetti straps, yay!

Next I moved on to the skirt, which I cut in half horizontally, keeping the bottom part for the ruffle. Then I had to make the top part of the skirt more fitted. I was determined to keep the back zip in place so I worked around it. The rest of the skirt, however, was detached from the bodice. I interfaced the skirt section to make sure it would keep the shape and that it would be able to support the weight of the ruffle. Then I added darts in the front and the back, aligning them with the princess seams of the bodice. I joined the side seams and cut off the excess fabric (keeping the leftovers to construct the waistband). Finally, I re-attached the skirt to the bodice, evening out the pointy shape of the front bodice in the original garment.

For the ruffle, I re-stitched the blind hem that was on the original dress as it had started to unravel. For the fringe detail I ran a line of stitching along the top and pulled out the horizontal threads. I didn’t know that making fringes is so much fun; I should definitely add more fringe details to my clothes! To attach the ruffle I hand-basted the gathers in place, using maths to distribute the fabric evenly. While that took longer than using two rows of stitching and pulling the threads to create the gathers, it gave me a lot more control and the gathers turned out nicely.

Since I didn’t have a lot of fabric left over, I had to piece the waistband, matching the seams with the front princess seams. The fringe is made from several strips of fabric that I sandwiched between the waistband and the bodice like a piping. Finally it was time to add the contrast stitch details. I believe the original dress uses some machine top stitching in yellow. However, I was keen to try out the sashiko needles from my Summer of Basics prize package and decided to do the details by hand. With some yellow embroidery floss, I stitched once around the whole waistband and twice along the fringe of the ruffle. When I was done I felt like there was still some detail missing on the waistband so I added two rows of stitching along the mid-line in a dark teal colour.

Et voilà, after many hours of unpicking, fringing and hand stitching I had my final dress. Is it exactly the same as the original? Of course not, I had to work with what I had (the colour doesn’t match exactly, the bottom ruffle isn’t wide enough and I took some creative liberties with the embroidery) but I would say it’s damn close. I squeezed out every centimetre of fabric and only had a small pile of random scraps left over. Also, I re-used as many details of the original dress as I could. So I would call this a big win.

Best of all, the final dress makes me feel as elegant and cool as I imagined it (a clear up-cycle). It’s the perfect amount of ruffle for my taste (However, too much for my husband still. His comment “why is there a curtain at the bottom of the skirt?” Haha.) and I’m surprised by how much I love the fringe and embroidery details. I’m so glad I participated in the Refashioners this year (I hear it might be the last time this is being hosted) and I’m excited to see what everyone else comes up with (the feed for the hashtag #therefashioners2018 on Instagram is already super inspiring). Thanks Portia for, once again, hosting a wonderful event!

And for everyone who has been thinking about participating, do it! The challenge runs until the end of the month so there is still time.

Summer of Basics Part 3 – Handmade Clogs

So, I hope you are prepared for a long blog post; the tale of these handmade clogs is a long one, spanning two summers and many hours of work. For anyone not interested in the long version, here as short summary: it’s been an interesting ride. I learned a ton and, despite my amateurism, ended up with a pair of clogs that are pretty and wearable, which is a great win. I especially loved seeing the wooden soles form, from a tree branch, to actual shoes, so cool!

These clogs were the final piece of my Summer of Basics wardrobe. Check out the photos at the end of the post for the full look.

The inspiration

When my husband and I were planning our wedding (which was in spring 2017) I set out to find some shoes to go with my hand-made dress (here is the blog post about the dress if you are interested). I was willing to splurge on a nice pair of shoes but after days of searching the internet I just couldn’t find anything that I was excited by. The only shoes that I found inspiring were Bryr Clogs. And while I think the prices are justified for such stunning clogs, I wasn’t ready to pay that much for a pair of shoes, in particular because I didn’t know if they would really go with my existing wardrobe. I’m very keen on getting a lot of wear out of my shoes, investment pieces especially. So in the end I decided to not buy them and instead got a pair of comfortable berry coloured heels from Clarks, which did the job perfectly. Nevertheless, the idea of a pair of wooden clogs didn’t leave my mind and I began researching whether I could make my own. There are a few sewing bloggers that have ventured into shoe making and I love following along with their adventures (for example Jasika, Carolyn, Marilla). First I researched whether it was possible to buy wooden soles to make my own pair. I struggled finding any good sellers, so I decided to make my own (inspired by Carolyn). I was especially encouraged by a video of a British clog maker who made it look so easy. Even if you are not interested in making your own clogs, this video series is very interesting to watch. Then I called my parents to see if we had the wood and tools to make a pair. My father immediately was super supportive and so last summer we started the adventure of clog making.

Disclaimer: I am not a clog making or shoe making expert or an orthopaedist, so this is not so much a “how-to” rather than a description of my experiences and the lessons learned.

The wooden soles

In the video the clog maker is using green i.e. freshly cut wood, so that’s what we decided to work with. First step, get a branch of suitable wood. Conveniently we have a big ash tree, so we climbed up there and sawed off a branch that looked large enough. I did do some of the sawing (I wish I had photos) but my dad definitely helped with the biggest piece. The branch we then cut into two pieces to accommodate a sole each. Unfortunately three dimensional soles use up a lot of space so we only just managed to squeeze them out, having to slightly go though the centre of the branch, a wood working faux pas, as my sister (a trained wood carver) pointed out. Still we forged ahead expecting that the wood might split in some places when drying up.

First we peeled off the tree bark (the most satisfying step) and then cut the piece into a rough cuboid shape. Then I transferred the design of the soles onto the different sides (i.e. top and side view). The foot bed shape was based on an existing pair of flat sandals, which I transferred over taking the distortion through the heel into account. The heel height was mainly determined by the size of the wood block.

Then we shaped the soles mainly using chisels and a jigsaw, which was a good amount of work, but I learned so much about working with wood. The biggest challenge of it all was to make the two soles back-to-front symmetrical to each other, which is quite a task with free-hand wood working. For better comfort I also chiselled a slight foot bed into the sole.

Once the soles had their rough shape I moved on to the sanding. The rough sanding was done on a grinding wheel attached to our water wheel (one of my fathers projects from a few years ago). This process was a lot of fun and helped getting the round shapes at the toe, heel and helped even out the bottom of the soles. Then I let the soles sit for a few days and as expected they both split slightly at the heel. Since I had started the project at the end of the summer I thus decided to let them dry out over the winter and finish them the following year.

This summer came around and I knew I needed a deadline to finally finish them, so I decided to put them on my Summer of Basics list. I’m so glad I did as it gave me the push to finish all the hand-sanding they still needed. The splits that appeared through the drying process were filled with some epoxy glue, which actually gives a very cool effect (I’m all about embracing the flaws instead of covering them up). I also took them to my brother’s work to get the bottom of the soles evened out on a belt grinder to make sure I could stand and walk securely in them without tilting. Finally I treated the wood with some hardwax oil. For grip and to avoid walking directly on the wood I glued some Vibram rubber soles onto the bottom in a fun teal colour.

The leather uppers

I had already ordered some 3 mm natural veg tan leather off ebay last year to use for these clogs. Conveniently, my husband and I have taken up leather working over the last year, so we now have all the tools and knowledge to properly process leather.

Design-wise I was of course heavily inspired by the Bryr’s clogs and decided to go for a simple design that wouldn’t require a shoe last. I made prototypes of the shapes first from felt and then some cheap chrome tanned leather and played around until I way happy with the fit. Then I cut the pieces from the natural veg tan leather, thinned them out in the places where the leather would be attached to the wood and finished the edges by burnishing them with water.

Finally it came to attaching the leather to the wooden soles with simple furniture nails (8mm). Unfortunately the wood was too hard to just hammer them in, so we first had to drill some holes. I attached the leather first with some glue to keep everything in place and then hammered the nails in with a little hammer covered in duct tape to avoid damaging the nails. This was such a satisfying task and I love the gold nails against the light wood and the leather. For the closure I went the easy route and just punched some holes to thread a piece of cotton cord through, in the same colour as the soles. Since the leather is natural it is very sensitive to any fat or water. I did treat it with some oil and leather soap to avoid it getting stains too easily but overall I want to embrace the natural nature of the leather and am looking forward to seeing how it will naturally darken over time.

Since natural veg tan leather is malleable when wet, I dipped the final sandals in warm water and wore them half a day letting them dry out. That way they are now formed to my foot which makes them more comfortable to wear.

The final clogs

So what about the final clogs? Of course they are not perfect. I mean this was my very first time making wooden soles or using leather for shoes. The soles are not 100% symmetrical and from an orthopaedic perspective potentially not to recommended for long walks. Then again I am surprised that they actually work and when wearing them I don’t feel any differences between left and right.

I will need to learn to walk on clogs as they behave completely differently to other shoes due to the stiffness of the soles. I read online that it can take 2 days to 2 weeks practice to learn how to walk on clogs properly. I’m only half-way there and am still stomping more loudly than I would want to :). Overall though I can imagine wearing them quite a bit. And even if I don’t wear them to death, this was such a fun adventure and I learned so much! It’s such a satisfying experience to see a piece of clothing form from the origin (a tree!) to the final product. Also it was really lovely to work on this little summer project together with my father.

Summer of Basics – Completed

As I said, these clogs were the final piece of my 3-piece Summer of Basics outfit. They go great with the Persephone Pants and the Tello Jacket. All in all, an outfit I can see myself wearing a lot. This year again I had a lot of fun joining this challenge and I loved seeing what everyone else came up with!

This? Just trying to float in my new clogs…

Reversible Linen Wrap Dress

The idea for this basically started with this black linen (a remnant from my favourite fabric shop in my home town) and I immediately knew I wanted to make a summery little dress with a twist. One of my resolutions for my sewing is to add more interesting details to my garments to take advantage of the fact that I can make whatever I want. I was coming back to the idea of a reversible dress but wasn’t sure in what shape. A strappy dress, something with sleeves? Somehow there are not a lot of reversible dress patterns out there, back to front that is. Since I was keen on doing some drafting I decided to develop something myself and finally settled on a style when I came across this dress from TOAST:

Source: TOAST

While this dress is not intended to be reversible, it had the perfect features, a wrap v-neck and a boat neck. So what better pattern to choose as a base than the Allie Olson Highlands Wrap Dress? Since I have made it twice before I knew I liked the fit of the wrap front. What then followed was a not-so-scientific approach to amending the pattern. First, I tried on my orange linen wrap dress with the v-neck to the back. Sure the neck was way too high but it gave me a fairly good idea of how much I had to lower the neckline, where to move the shoulder seam and how much width I needed to add at the side seam.

Once I had settled on the major changes needed, I cut out the bodice pieces ignoring any darts. In the original pattern the front bodice pieces don’t have any waist seam so I cut them off at the same level has the back piece and just worked on fitting the bodice. Through a lot of try-ons, playing around with the side seam and the armscye, I managed to get a surprisingly good fit. It definitely helps to not have a big bust otherwise the fitting would have been more problematic.

Happy with the bodice, I added a waistband, mainly because the bodice ended too high. Then I tested how it would look with an elastic threaded all around through the waistband. While the elastic waistband is one of my favourite features on the original dress, it didn’t work in this case due to the bulk of the wrap. So I scrapped that idea and decided to only use ties for waist definition. For the skirt I wanted to try a new shape for me. Instead of the straight skirt of the Highlands Wrap Dress, I drafted a slight A-line skirt, similar to the inspiration dress. To ensure that I was able to tie them in the front or the back, regardless of which way around I was wearing the dress, I made the ties super long. The dress is closed with two teal buttons, one at each side, which I found at a local haberdashery here in Colmar.

So what about the final dress? I’m really happy with how well it works as a reversible dress. Both sides are completely wearable. The v-neck wrap is slightly lower on this version than the Highlands dress, since I moved the shoulder seam. However, it is still decent worn this way around. My favourite way to wear it is with the boat neck in the front. That way it’s a classic little black dress from the front, with a little bit more interest in the back through the deep v.

If I make this again, the one thing I would change is to remove the waistband and cut bodice and skirt as one piece or lower the waist seam and attach the skirt directly to the bodice. As it is, the waist is a little bit bulky and I have to be careful with how I wrap the ties, so that the waistband doesn’t peek out. All in all though, it was a very successful experiment. I feel quite chic in my (first ever) little black dress. The dress had it’s first outing for a dinner at a Michelin star restaurant here on the wine route a couple of weeks ago (a present for my husband for his 30th from my parents). The photos were taken this week when I wore it for a dinner out, here in Colmar.