Refashioning a Dress!

Refashioning is something of a hot topic in the sewing community. And I have to admit that I love seeing how other people transform old or worn out garments into something new and useable, saving it from landfill. But it’s not something I have explored all that much myself, as I prefer not to pick up items of clothing that would require drastic changes to become something I’d wear. Not when I know someone else might love them as they are. So the alterations that I have done have been mostly been quite minor – adding a button here or there, or adding darts to make a garment more shaped. But when I came across this dress at an op shop near work (whilst wearing a mask and being careful about social distancing, because it is still important people!), something about it simply called out to me.

I was out on a mission, searching for more blouses for work. I’ve found this winter to be a bit challenging in terms of clothes that I can comfortably fit thermals underneath. But I had fantastic luck at this particular Op Shop awhile ago, and found a perfect black blouse that has since become a wardrobe staple. So while I was hunting for more this dress leapt out at me because of it’s gorgeous colour. I’m drawn to browns, greens and blues and I keep a lookout for anything in that palette that can easily integrate into my wardrobe. So this rich brown, with a somewhat silky sheen, stood out to me at once. I took it to the change room and was further surprised to find it was actually a wrap dress, with two buttons to hold the waist shut below the matching fabric belt.

I’m not sure what brand it is, and I’m not particularly interested in advertising fast fashion in that way. But I do generally look at the tags to work out fabric content and to gauge how old or new the garment is as that will give me care instructions and an idea of whether it’s even machine washable. In this case the brand tag had actually been removed, rather roughly it would appear. Because there was a hole in the lining, and thin tears in the fibres of the lining where the sides of the tag had clearly been stitched down. The buttons – as is traditional with fast fashion garments, weren’t all that secure. And looking at the sleeves, one of them had already torn away from the placket and was noticeably fraying. And there was no means of securing the front of the dress once buttoned, so there was some rather dangerous gaping going on – worsened by the rather tight nature of the sleeves.

So to make it a wearable and healthy garment that would survive years of washing and wearing, there would need to be a lot of work done. I reasoned all of this over, however, it felt as though the dress had cast a spell over me. I absolutely loved it, flaws and all. And as I only buy clothing when they strike me this way I knew it was a challenge I could rise to. I took it with me and began considering what I could do to fix the issues. The first and most obvious change would have to be those sleeves, of course. They were so tight compared to the rest of the dress that I felt in danger of hulking out and tearing a seam. That tightness in the upper arms also caused the bodice to pull, and would put pressure on the buttons and any fixes I tried for the gaping. I decided that I would shorten the sleeves and unpick the side seams a smidge to create some sneaky side vents in order to allow maximum movement. 

I did this by comparing the dress to a second-hand, short-sleeve blouse which I adore. I also took the initial measurements for the new sleeve cuff from that blouse. First I decided where on my body I wanted the sleeve to sit, and then pinned it flat. I measured down the side seams a bit over two inches, and from the top, a bit over seven, and added 3/8” as a seam allowance to the bottom. And using my rotary cutter I chopped the excess sleeves off. I then opened up the side seams by about 1 ¾” and folded back the raw edges to make side vents. I drafted the cuff as a four-piece arrangement, as there wasn’t a lot of fabric on the chopped off sleeves for me to use. The length was the length of the raw edge of the sleeve, divided in two, plus 3/8” seam allowances on the sides, and on the top and bottom. I then cut out 8 pieces for the cuffs, with the intention of aligning the side seam of the cuff with the middle point of the sleeves. And although I did make a few mistakes with the cuffs, after gently gathering the sleeves they attached well! 

And without the tension of the sleeves pulling quite so hard, I was able to work out where on the bodice I wanted to add a snap fastener in order to stop the gaping. I have a stash of second-hand snaps at the ready and debated over which to pick. But fortunately for me the whole dress is top-stitched in black thread, which made stitching the cuffs on quite easy as I already had plenty of black thread. So I decided to stick with that, and selected a large black snap. I marked where on the bodice I wanted it to sit, and then used my chalk pen to outline where the other half of the snap would need to sit to connect correctly. I also used black thread to re-stitch the two buttons at the waist so they would be much more secure. As there was no spare button on the tag, and the buttons were covered by matching fabric, I certainly didn’t want to lose one! I then debated about hand-stitching down the facings so that the interfacing wouldn’t be so exposed. But unfortunately the position of the pleats in the skirt didn’t allow it.

And the last fix that the dress needed was to do something to cover up all those tears in the lining where the brand tag had been, before they unravelled any further. I tried a few different stitches before eventually settling for something like an embroidery stitch in order to cover all the damaged edges with very thick, closely knit thread. I also decided to use a fun pop of colour from my stash of secondhand threads, even more so as it would allow me to tell at a glance over time whether the fraying was getting out of hand again or would need a top-up. So over the course of a video crafting evening with a good friend I puttered through this repair! And lo and behold, I had a dress which fit me well, fit in my wardrobe perfectly, and would survive a good few more years of washing and wear!

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