Wool Skirt to Wool Dress

Remember the wool skirt I turned into a jumper?

It’s had heaps of wear this winter, because it’s so cosy and comfortable. However, first time I wore it was to an art class where everyone helps out setting up and putting away props. I discovered several holes in it when I got home. They could be moth damage, but I reckon I would have noticed as I put it on. A bit of mending later and the jumper is fine to wear at home, and I now don’t wear knitwear to classes.

The skirt was one of six from Late Lucy’s wardrobe. Of the other five, one I wear as is, one was 100% acrylic and was donated, and the other three are too big for me. I reckon most op shops would send them straight to landfill or recycling, so I’ve kept them with an eye to refashioning.

My simplest idea was to turn them into pet blankets for the RSPCA, but the buttons Lucy had added to the split at the back of two skirts looked so much like button bands that I turned one of them upside down and put it on the dress form.

Could I make a cardigan or jumper? I played around but it was clear there wasn’t enough fabric to make sleeves, and the idea went into hibernation.

Then my latest winter dress idea had me looking at the skirts again. Without removing fabric for sleeves, they were long enough to be dresses. Lots of pinning and sketching later, I had a couple of different approaches to consider, depending on how brave I was going to be about cutting into the fabric, and how confident I was that I could sew it on the machine or overlocker.

The brown was my least favourite so I decided to experiment with it. I took out the elastic in the waistband, but found the band still pulled the hem in so it would have to be cut off. There were a few holes at hip level, so I cut there finished the edge on the overlocker, which produced a slight ‘lettuce’ effect. I found I could tuck and dart and avoid cutting at all on the top part, but the bottom hem would require top stitching… across a very stretchy fabric. The prospect of that and the distraction of weaving had me put the project aside for a while.

But I kept the proto-dress on the dress form and every few days would examine it and think, and so eventually the solution hit me: sew it by hand. I unravelled some of the yarn from the waistband to use as thread and got sewing, and a few days later I had this:

Which I’m wearing as I type this. It’s warm and cosy and comfortable and I’m pretty chuffed with the result. I’d probably wear it only in casual settings, but since I spend most of my time at home that’s not a problem.

I’d like to turn the purple skirt into a dress as well, maybe taking the cut and machine sew approach instead, but I have other ideas for the navy one.

Winter Wardrobe

As the weather has grown colder and I’ve started dressing warmer a feeling has crept over me.

I’m SO over my winter clothes.

Not with individual pieces. There are garments I love in there. It’s more the general look. Cotton tops and skivvies under hand knits because I can’t wear wool against my skin. Skirt or pants. It feels like a uniform.

How to change that? Adding other kinds of clothing to the mix seems the obvious answer. But before I got too carried away, I took stock of what I had in case I’d forgotten something or saw new potential in the old. I’ve been making clothes more lately and that inevitably leads to too-tightly-packed wardrobe, too. I decided to be ruthless and remove anything ‘faded, jaded, worn, torn, smelly or pilled’. Which was… a lot more than I expected.

Then I updated Stylebook so I had an overview at my fingertips. It had already occurred to me that I have one good outside-the-usual winter garment that I love: a black wool knitted dress with a big cowl collar. I wear it with leggings and the combo is different enough to be refreshing. The only down side was that if I get too warm, there’s no taking it off. Leggings are definitely NOT pants.

Still… a dress. A winter dress. I don’t have many dresses, and only this one is winter-weight. A lighter dress could still be part of a layered outfit, though. Looking in Stylebook, I noted that I have a black, jersey sleeveless dress that might suit.

So I gave that a try, layering over a skivvy and leggings and throwing a loose handknit cardigan on top. Comfy. Cosy. Looked good. A bit snug around the waist with two layers beneath, however. Still, it proved the theory right, and I’m now thinking about making more winter dresses to my wardrobe.

I swear every time I sew a garment, three more add themselves to my to-do list.

I Fell Into It, It Seams

In the middle of making patterns for my next sewing project, a friend invited me to a Regency-era costume picnic the next weekend. That sent me off in a bit of a tangent. I have a dress I made some years ago that I’ve only worn twice. While it’s cotton velvet, so should be warm, I was suddenly obsessed with the idea of having the right underthings. Stays were probably not achievable in the time I had, but I could try making a chemise. The garment, from what I recall, goes under the stays to protect the skin and soak up sweat.

And sweat was likely, if we had a hot day. If we had a cold day I’d appreciate the extra layer. So I searched the web for instructions, and after sending my friend lots of questions about fabric and length, cut up a bed sheet and made this in an afternoon:

Some adjustments were needed to match the neckline to my dress the next day. If I hadn’t been in the middle of a sewing jape, I probably wouldn’t have tackled this or got it done so quickly. Though it’s a simple garment to make, all seams are flat fell seams, so it’s rather slow and finicky.

I rather fancy making a full Regency corset now, but I knew I wouldn’t get one done in time for that weekend so it’s low on the to-do list. Probably I’ll get keen again next time I have a Regency-era costume event to attend.

Corduroy Shirt

These days I like to make a calico version of sewing patterns I haven’t tried before, so that’s where I started in my quest to reduce the fabric stash. Over three days, I traced off the size 12 version of the Style Arc Stacie denim jacket pattern, cut out all the pieces in calico, then sewed them together. What I wound up with a jacket that was just a bit too small around the chest and hips. I wasn’t surprised about the hips – I am wider there – but I was a bit perplexed by the general fit of the chest.

When I laid the jacket out flat I realised why. The fronts don’t even meet. It’s not just that there’s no allowance for boobs, the back is wider than the front.

I kinda wish I’d known this before I’d bought the pattern and spent three days making a calico version. Though I’d be much more annoyed if I’d not made a calico, and had cut into my fabric.

Well, I do want to be able to button up jackets on cold days. The front is made up of several pieces and to adjust the pattern would be really complicated, so I moved on to option two: make a pattern from a 20+ year old shirt I already have and love.

Over two days I carefully traced off the pattern pieces, using calico so I could easily spread the fabric into corners where I couldn’t arrange the shirt to lie perfectly flat, and sewed them together. I’ve only ever done this with tracing paper before, and I think calico worked better. I used longest stitch on my machine so the seams could quickly be pulled out. A few adjustments were needed, and the collar was especially tricky, but eventually I had a mostly made up test shirt to try on and confirm it fit right. Then I pulled out all the seams and cut out the pieces in corduroy.

The sewing went well. Whenever I needed to work out what order to work in I just referred to the original shirt. Finally I had everything but the buttons and buttonholes done. Hmm. Buttons. I’d like to add jean’s style rivet-attached shank buttons like on the original shirt, but I learned from the black denim skirt I made a year or two ago that the only DIY ones you can get are so low quality they come apart again with very little pressure. So I had no choice but to use sew-on shank buttons.

Of course, despite having a big divided plastic storage container full of buttons, there was nothing suitable. I searched online shops but the only metal shank buttons I found were at Spotlight, and I didn’t want to wait weeks and weeks for them to arrive. So I figured it would remain button-less until I had more than one reason to schlep across town – which was likely to be sooner than Spotlight delivery times because I expected the next project on my to-do list to require supplies.

And indeed it did. So by week’s end I had the shirt finished:

I wore it that day, and found it just as comfortable as the original. It was quite a journey getting something made out of the corduroy, but at least I now have a pattern I would happily use again.

Fabric Stash Reduction

My idea sketchbook is getting well used lately, as I switch from brain-storming about one craft to another. The most recent page is entitled “I need to use some fabric!” and has lots of ideas listed.

I’d already concluded that I should use thicker fabric first to maximise the amount of space made in the time I take. Corduroy, denim and velvet are the thickest fabrics in my stash. But what to make out of it?

I have two big batches of corduroy and four denim pieces of varying size and thickness. The pin cord shirt in my wardrobe is a big favourite and I’ve long thought about making a pattern from it. I bought a pattern for a denim jacket a while back that might work for corduroy.

I also have a straight denim skirt pattern that I bought it a while back for some black denim I have, but what made me hesitate to make it is the stiffness and non-stretchiness of the denim. It not make a comfortable skirt, but the corduroy could be a good alternative.

The thinner denim in the stash would work a 50/50 skirt (a skirt with denim on the back and a print cotton on the front. I don’t have any fabric set aside to use on the front side, but I have a few ideas for making cloth using patchwork or embellishment. The pattern is familiar, but I already have two 50/50 skirts and don’t really need more skirts.

The velvet is leftover from a regency dress I made some years ago. There’s not a lot of it, but it might work in combination with other fabric. Like in a bomber jacket, maybe. Or a 50/50 skirt. Or maybe pillow covers.

While not thick fabric, the three knit fabrics in my stash are worth considering, too, because I want to make the same garments from all of it – leggings and long-sleeved tops – so I’d probably do them all at once. My wardrobe will always welcome more leggings and long-sleeves tops, too. However, I’ll have to make a pattern for both, so it’s a project that has it’s own challenges.

Other projects I’ve considered don’t make a lot of space but the patterns are familiar and quick to make, like shorts and pyjama pants. I also want to make a cotton petticoat, which ought to be an easy piece to do. But my mind keeps returning to the corduroy, so I that’s going to be first on the cutting table.

Sewing Upcycle Day

On the weekend a bunch of friends had a refashioning day. We met at 11am then, after I showed them some clothing I’d refashioned as examples of what can be done, we headed to Savers. I didn’t find anything I wanted but I already had a few garments awaiting work so I didn’t mind.

By the end of the day the most sewing I’d done was adding elastic to a skirt waistband and unpicking the waistband of another skirt. However, we did lots of brainstorming. It was a fun day and it was so nice to hang out with friends again.

One friend had filled her car boot with fabric to destash and I picked up three pieces. The next day, while packing things away, I decided I had to come up with better fabric storage than the two big plastic tubs I was using. They are too heavy for me, and though they’re on the bottom shelf of the cupboard and have wheels there’s not enough space in front of the cupboard to roll them out onto the floor.

I did an image search of the internet for fabric storage ideas and one suggestion that kept coming up was keeping fabric in a filing cabinet. That reminded me of the hanging file storage bins I’d bought years ago when we were renovating and I needed to keep certain documents at hand rather than in storage. They were useful when we moved here, too, but had languished in the garage since.

So I brought them inside and washed off the dust and cobwebs. Then I set about taking fabric out of plastic zip lock bags in the tubs and refolding it to better fit the hanging files. I labelled everything and shuffled a few things in the cupboard to fit better. The boxes are light enough for me to carry and I like the result:

They divide the fabric into “heavy”, “light”, “lining and structural” and “projects”. But there is one problem. See that pile of fabric in front of the cupboard? Well, while most of it is calico to use when testing patterns, the rest is fabric batches too big to fit in the filing boxes: a very long length of corduroy and some thick light brown denim.

I may have to switching from refashioning to sewing from scratch, in order to reduce the fabric stash enough that I can get everything in the cupboard.

Flying Fox Coat Part 3

It was a chat with a sewing friend that helped me push past uncertainty and continue with the coat. I told her my idea of using adhesive to stick down the interfacing strips, and she said “give it a try”. So I trimmed off the folded edges on the interfacing strips, cut pieces of iron-on adhesive and got pressing. It took two sessions to get it completely stuck, but it worked. I pressed up the hem and stitched it onto this homemade hemming tape with herringbone stitch.

Only then did I notice that the centre back panel had been sewn in inside out.

I considered unpicking, but the adhesive strip was well stuck and when I ripped a tiny bit off the fabric underneath looked different. The reverse of the wool isn’t really obvious, so I figured I’d have to live with it.

Next I needed to make the lining. I used the old lining as a base as it should match the original side-sleeves. The old backs were joined at a seam in the centre back, so I decided to do that as well. I added extra fabric so I could just pinch in the seam where it needed to be. For the fronts I added even more fabric so I could trim it to shape. I cut and sewed all the panels but for one front in case I’d got it wrong. Then I sewed them together and pinned the lining into the coat.

After a lot of fussing and making adjustments, I took the lining out again and unpicked the front piece. Using it as a pattern piece, I cut the other front. Then I sewed everything together and pinned it back inside the coat. All that was left was to hand sew it in place.

I did that a section at a time, taking things easy on my back and hands. I had to redo the wrists when I tried it on, as they hung down beyond the end of the wool hem, but that didn’t take long. When I tried it on the second time, I found I liked it best when the front bands crossed over. A search through my buttons revealed the perfect one:

I wasn’t too sure about sewing a buttonhole that included the lining, so I stitched on a press stud behind the button, adding a disc of the wool on the reverse of both sides to protect the lining.

And then it was done:

And for comparison… the original jacket:

I’m contemplating either embroidering or felting crane shapes onto the centre back panel and corresponding front sections to help to hide the fact that the back piece is inside out. If I do, I’m going to have to change the name to the Crane Coat. But for now the main thing I’m calling it is ‘finished’.

Flying Fox Coat Part 2

Happy with the colour of the wool now, I put the sleeve-sides back on the dress model:

The back would be easy. I took the old back and pinned it underneath, marked where the seam lines should go with pins, took it off and made a calico version:

Then I turned to the front. Each of the old front pieces had been double thickness, so I separated them and tried the same method. They weren’t the right shape, but I was able to tweak and pin and make a reasonable calico.

Then I stepped back and considered the result. Something about the seam line at the front bothered me. I didn’t like how it went straight up to the shoulder. So I pinned an alternative line, taking it further over into the sleeve piece and making the front panel the same width all the way up.

Much better. Next I safety pinned everything together and tried it on for fit. Happy with the result, I used the calico pieces as pattern pieces to cut the wool. I had only enough fabric to create a narrow facing for the front bands.

Next I worked on fixing up the sleeve-sides. I’d hoped to leave the pockets as they were, but the backs of them were made with lining. It hadn’t taken up any dye, which wouldn’t have bothered me, but the previously unseen specks of mould had. Ew!

The only lining fabric I had was the black I’d bought to reline my old cloak. I didn’t want to use black, however, because then the coat wouldn’t go with the navy pieces in my wardrobe. I happened to pop into a local op shop looking for a belt to recycle and had a quick peek in their fabric bin in case there was some lining. There wasn’t, but I found this gorgeous rayon:

It’s certainly silky enough to use as lining, and it goes beautifully with the grey. I may even end up with enough leftovers to make a top.

The sewing machine was ready the day before the five-day lockdown began. Phew! First up I replaced the pocket lining.

Everything got pinned back together and sewn apart from the lining. I stalled then and, as I realised I wasn’t sure how to hem the coat, my brain went “Look! Weaving!”. But I watched a few YouTube tutorials later and learned that I needed to iron-on a bias interfacing strip then fold up the wool and stitch into the strip. I had bias interfacing strips but they weren’t iron-on, I had iron on adhesive fabric, but I didn’t have something that was both. But then, maybe I didn’t need to. Maybe I could use the adhesive to iron on the interfacing. Yet I also had a lot of uncertainty that had me avoiding the coat for a while.

Flying Fox Coat Part 1

This coat has weighed on my mind for the year and a half since we cleared Late Lucy’s house. It was a quality piece, but oh so 80s. There was a coffee stain on the front, so I got it dry cleaned before taking it to the vintage shop to sell on commission. But the shop didn’t want it. I doubted that any op shop would try to sell something so out of date, so if I donated it I’m sure it’d go straight to rags.

It sure was ugly. Like someone took half of a Michael Jackson inspired coat and half of a 80s batwing coat and made a Frankenstein’s monster out of the two.

But it was “100% pure new wool” (well, obvious except for the lining and hideous plastic buttons) and I couldn’t help trying to think of ways to refashion it. Mostly I’d come up against the fact I don’t know or want to learn how to do tailoring, remind myself that I don’t need another coat, then push it to the back of the craft room cabinet.

But since my sewing jape hadn’t exhausted itself, and despite – or perhaps because of – having put my sewing machine in to be serviced, my brain kept returning to the conundrum what to do with it. That impression of two coats forced into one made me wonder what design ideas I might have if I just separated them.

The first good thing about this coat was, I had nothing to lose but the $15 I’d spent on dry cleaning. So I grabbed the Quick-un-pick. Off came the buttons, then the bat-wing sleeve-sides, then the cuffs. I put the bat-wing sleeve-sides onto the dress form on their own. They didn’t meet at the middle, but the gap at the back could be filled with a panel and a collar that swooped down to the hem would fill out the front. Did I want a bat-wing coat? I had a niggling memory that they had come back in fashion, so I searched the internet and found that yes, bat-wing was back in everything from coats to dresses to tops to jumpsuits.

It also seemed to have a cosy, unfussy vibe – like the Tessuti Berlin Coat only with bat-wing sleeves. Or maybe I should tap into the Australian wildlife version and call them flying fox wings? That gave me a better name for the coat than “Late Lucy’s Ugly 80s Coat”!

The second good thing about this coat was that it contained a LOT of fabric. However, I do not wear cream. It makes me look ill. Fortunately, I’d snatched up two packs of Dylon cold dye in ‘black velvet’ at a sale a while back, and I had enough that I might be able to get a nice grey. I like grey whether it’s light, mid or dark so I was sure to get something I liked. Theoretically. I followed the directions and…

Phew!

Sewing Confidence & the Skirt-Jumper Conversion

Having successfully made three garments from handwoven fabric, my sewing confidence was high. I thought: “What next?”. I wanted to refashion of one of Late Lucy’s dresses to either a dress or top. Last year I made a calico test version of a dress pattern I thought would suit, but it came out badly. I’d decided to make a simple gathered peasant top instead. But even as I made the first cut I had that niggly feeling things weren’t going to work out, and I was right. Pity. The fabric is lovely, but it’s now mostly cut into small pieces. I will pack it away until some other idea comes to me or I stumble on a promising pattern.

After that, my sewing confidence was dinted. Do something simple, I told myself. I considered the to-do list.

Back in the late 80s, when fashion favoured volume and bordered on costume, I made a cloak. It was black and made out of good quality wool, and I wore it quite a bit – mostly to and from Melbourne CBD where I was studying “Promotional Design” but also when I went out at night with friends. It was wonderfully warm and didn’t have the restriction of movement for the arms that most heavy coats have so was great when carting folios around. Eventually the lining wore through and the wool started looking a bit pilled, so I made a new one to replace it. Last year I bought fabric to reline the old cloak. I thought I might shorten it to a cape. Was it time to work on it?

I put the cloak on the dress form and decided I should also remove the hood as it was way too deep and would either slip off backwards or fall down and cover my face. The hem was very uneven, I noted. It had never occurred to me as a new sewer to level it…. and I suddenly felt all sentimental and nostalgic. I realised this garment sums up so much of my youth. It and my debutante dress are the two pieces I think of when I think back to my early sewing days. How could I cut it up?

Darn it!

So the old cloak got packed away. I considered shortening the newer cloak, as I don’t really wear it these days and I was still keen on the idea of a cape, but suddenly the conversion felt too challenging. I began thinking that maybe this sewing jape was over. I’d faffed about for a few days and got nothing done. Perhaps I should finally get around to having my machine serviced. Considering that I’d adopted the machine from Mum ten years ago and hadn’t had it serviced once… yeah, it was definitely long overdue.

Off it went to the service man. With the machine out of the house, I figured my mind would turn to something other than sewing.

Nope.

Projects on the refashion list and the projects on it kept nagging at me, keeping me awake at night. “I can’t do anything without a machine!” I protested. “Ah, but you still have an overlocker!” my brain replied. “One of these projects only needs an overlocker.” I gave in. After all, if I tackled it my brain would be satisfied and stop making me want to sew.

This was one of five knit wool skirts from Late Lucy’s wardrobe:

Too old fashioned for op shops, they would only end up in the recycling or trash. I began wearing the only one that fit me around the house last winter, and it was very comfy though not all that flattering. I’d had the idea of turning them into dog or lap blankets. The above grey one was the only one with pleats, which made it unsuited to a blanket conversion. While partway into putting one on the dress form to see what I could make of it, I suddenly realised it could be made into a jumper. All it would take was slashing it up from the hem to what would become the armpit. All done with the overlocker.

So I pinned and tried it on and adjusted and overlocked. It worked out pretty well, though I should have anticipated that pleating over my stomach would add bulk where I’d rather it didn’t. It will be another cosy garment to throw on at home in winter. And I could cut it down the front and make it a cardigan. Hmm.

My sewing confidence had lifted again, which meant my mind didn’t stop thinking about sewing. Instead it latched onto another Late Lucy garment refashion. This time a much scarier one. But as with the skirts, it was a piece that would probably become rags if it went to the op shop, so I nothing to lose. That one, however, will take a few posts to explain.