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?
Source

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.

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.

Green Highlands Wrap Dress + Some Exciting Changes

Another wedding, another Highlands Wrap Dress. I love this pattern! It’s the perfect dress for a special occasion, easy to wear but feminine and elegant. This is the second time I have made this pattern (see my first version here). The first one fit like a charm straight off the bat (size 6 for the top and size 10 for the bottom) so the only modification I made was to shorten the skirt. I liked the original length but had to squeeze this out of 2 metres of fabric. The fabric for this version is a bottle green cupro from Rainbow Fabrics (the green seems to be out of stock but there are other lovely colours). It’s a beautiful fabric from green and blue threads, which has a pretty sheen to it. Compared to the linen of my previous version, this fabric was more difficult to manipulate. I struggled to get the armhole facings to lie completely flat and the darts didn’t really want to be pressed. The upside, however, is that this fabric barely wrinkles. The garden pictures were taken after half a day of sitting in church and on the bus, so not bad at all. Fit-wise there is not a big difference to the first one, though the fabric has less give, which means the neckline sits tighter. The wrap sits nice and secure and I didn’t have to keep it close with a safety pin as I had to do for my previous version.

So all in all, another successful addition to my wedding guest wardrobe. I loved wearing this dress on the day, to a beautiful wedding in the Cotswolds.

Now on to the announced changes: this will be my last blog post from the UK. I’m leaving the country tomorrow to join my husband in France for the summer. We’ll be based in Colmar in Alsace for the next 4-5 month. I’ll be sad to leave Oxford and all the great friends we have made in the UK. On the other hand I am very excited to have the summer off and enjoy the beautiful things in life (which will hopefully include a lot of sewing). Let me know if you have any tips for the French sewing scene!