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Monday, August 27, 2012

A Drastic Makeover

No, not for me; for a dress. My mother-in-law (who, by the way, is super awesome, and no, I'm not kissing up because she doesn't even read this to my knowledge) periodically tells her kids that she has stuff to give away, and we find a time that we can all get together to divvy it out. Anything that doesn't get picked at all goes to a thrift store or something.

The most recent time she did this, I picked some VHS tapes (yes, I still have a working VCR) and some LPs (I also have a turntable). Jon grabbed a book about science or engineering (I can't remember which at the moment) that was his when he was younger. We weren't interested in much else. Then Jon's sister-in-law handed me a dress and said she thought I should have it because I'm most likely to be able to do something with it. I'm also known to be fascinated by the history of fashion. Neither of Jon's sisters objected to this suggestion because no one actually liked the dress in question.

 My mother-in-law is the one with the long, straight, brown hair. And because these are wedding pictures, not pictures designed to show off a dress, I have also included a sketch. Please excuse my lack of artistic skills. Photographs would be better, but I forgot to take any before I had already begun the rather drastic changes.

As you see, the dress had no waistline in the front, but it did have sashes sewn into the sides that tied in the back. After the wedding, Nancy added a ruffle to the neckline (I realize I didn't draw that very well) because it was a bit more open than she really liked. By the time I got it, there was also a fair bit of damage to the dress. The neckline was torn at the right shoulder, the right sash had been torn off, and there were several tears in the back of the bottom ruffle--I'm guessing from her stepping backward with heels on.

Honestly, I probably wouldn't have accepted it (I obviously hadn't picked it on my own) if it weren't for the fact that it was offered to me very publicly, with everyone's attention directed toward us. Not that I thought it was hideous like all of the other girls did (and yes, they said this). I really do often like vintage styles, but this one, as I've said, was rather damaged, so I certainly couldn't wear it as it was, and add to that the fact that it's made of some really weird, though apparently quite expensive, lace. Oh, it's a pretty color and unobjectionable floral pattern, but I wish there were some way I could let you feel it. You'd see what I mean.

Anyway, I did accept it because I felt a little bit on-the-spot, but also because once Sara suggested it, I was actually intrigued by the possibilities of this dress to become something else.

The first order of business was to remove the neck ruffle. I didn't like it, and it was torn anyway. Unfortunately, the actual neckline was torn too, so I zig-zagged it to hold it together, but trim was going to be the best bet to really make it look nice. But that comes later. I also promptly opened up the side seams to take out the one remaining sash and remove the remains of the one that had been torn off. Unfortunately, the fabric had also been damaged next to the seam, so there is some zig-zagging there. Luckily, it is not terribly noticeable because my arm is generally in the way.

The next order of business was to shorten the skirt, but I didn't want to remove the ruffle completely, and I also didn't want to take it off and then re-attach it because that sounded like a huge hassle. When you hear what I did, you may not think my solution sounds like less hassle, but it was to me. What I didn't want to do, was re-gather the ruffle, which would have been necessary if I took it off and cut off the skirt above it because the new bottom of the skirt would have been narrower than the part I cut off.

So I actually cut it at a high waistline. The back always had a waist seam because the skirt was gathered in the back. I detached the skirt at the back including detaching it from the zipper, then followed that line to cut it off at the front, and cut a bunch off the top of the skirt. I thought I was going to add gathers to the front, but that looked bad, so I took it back off and took in the side and front seams to match the waistline, tapering back out to the original seams at the bottom because I liked the fullness in the skirt and still didn't want to take that ruffle in.

I realized that I hadn't removed quite as much length as wanted to. This was actually serendipitous because I also discovered that the width of ruffle that had looked good on the original floor-length style was too wide on a shorter skirt, so I took 3 or 4 inches off the bottom of the ruffle. This also allowed me to remove some, but not all of the damage to the skirt. It was blessedly easy because the ruffle was a gathered rectangle--a very long rectangle, but still a rectangle. (This isn't terribly abnormal, but curved ruffles do exist and would have been less convenient to measure accurately for shortening.)

This newly created waistline didn't look so great, so I turned the sash that I did still have into a waistband instead. I wish I had decided to do this a bit later in the game, though, because I ended up realizing the dress was a bit too tight, but I couldn't let it out as much as I would have liked because of the length to which I had cut the waistband. Oh well. It turned out comfortable enough to be wearable.

Next came the sleeves. I liked the general idea of the puffed sleeves, so I didn't actually take them off, but I didn't like such a long puff, nor did I like the ruffle below the elastic, so I just cut the sleeves at an angle (higher on the outside of the arm) above the elastic and gathered the bottom.

The poor dress stayed at that stage for a few weeks because I had other projects that more urgently needed my attention, and I was stewing about what color of fabric to buy for trim. When I was finally ready to buy fabric for this, I took my husband and some of the lace I had cut from the sleeves to the fabric store, and we settled on a rather bright blue.

For the sleeves, I cut strips of the contrasting fabric with the grain, ironed them into double folds, and sewed them onto the sleeves edges. I had also bought ribbon that matched the new fabric, and I hand-sewed that onto the edges of the waistband. I decided to trim the bottom of the skirt partly just for aesthetic reasons, but also because I wanted to cover as much of the damaged lace as possible. I cut this with the grain because the hem doesn't curve at all, machine-sewed the top of the trim wrong-side-out, then ironed it down, turned the bottom under as well, and hand sewed that edge down. It doesn't cover all of the damage because I felt that would make the trim too wide, but it covers enough that what remains isn't noticeable.

You can barely see the stitching a few inches above the trim in this picture (you're more likely to see it at all if you look at the picture bigger), and the trim really does cover the worst of the damage, but there is a little but of pucker, not because I sewed the trim on badly, but because the lace itself puckers where I had to mend the worst tear that I didn't cut off.

The finishing touch was the trim on the neckline. It would need to curve, so I cut it on the bias. I ironed it into a double fold like I had the sleeve bands and machine sewed it on. This is the final product. I think it's a pretty fun dress. And a little boy at church who apparently likes me (I teach his little sister's class) told me I was pretty when I wore it, so I must have succeeded! :)

So it went from this:
to this:

Quite a change.


  1. Karena, you are amazing and cute. The dress turned out great. Yay for challenges to your ingenuity!

    1. Thank you. And I agree--it's fun to come up unique solutions to things.