The Refashioners 2018

Refashion, a definition: taking an existing garment and turning it into something else - usually another garment.

The Refashioners: The brainchild of the incomparable Portia Lawrie of Makery who - for, I think, six Septembers now - has aimed to promote the practice of reusing unwanted garments and making them into something wanted by hosting The Refashioners. She gives a handful of sewing bloggers a brief and features their refashioned makes each day throughout September. Then during October, she encourages the wider sewing community to refashion their own creation for the chance of winning some awesome prizes.

This year I was delighted when Portia asked if I’d like to be involved, having been totally amazed by the creations I’ve seen in previous years. I mean this suit refashion is just mind-blowing. And well this from this year - floored.

The brief this year is looser than it has been previously; simply to start with an image/ person/ icon/ outfit that inspires you and recreate the look with only existing, unloved garments.

I LOVE this idea. I have been known to try and recreate looks I’ve been inspired by on many occasions - here, here, here and here, being a few examples - but I’ve never done it by refashioning an existing garment before. In fact, my refashioning experience is shamefully limited.

My lack of experience became clear when I started looking at inspiration images. All the items I wanted to recreate were kind of in line with my style generally, involving voluminous shapes and lots of fabric. It soon dawned on me that finding existing garments to take apart and put back together wasn’t going to generate the amounts of fabric I would need to recreate this, for example:

Seeing Elisalex’s amazing creation from last week makes me think I should have thought of curtains! But I didn’t so I was struggling to think of what I could do when I saw this:

 Leandra Medine Cohen wearing  Rosie Assoulin

Leandra Medine Cohen wearing Rosie Assoulin

I am a huge fan of Leandra Medine. I’ve talked about this before, but I love her approach to stretching the boundaries and acceptability of high fashion and her very self-deprecating humour. Nowadays, she may or may not have all the money and all the access to all the high-end fashion houses, but she stays true to her distinct, dysfunctional style and I love that. I also adore the designs of Rosie Assoulin. Her whimsical yet edgy aesthetic, shapes, fabrics and details always make me dreamy-eyed and seem to me to transcend trends, occupying their own bubble in the fashion atmosphere.

This combination is so representative of both of their styles. An almost safari-inspired utilitarian jacket made feminine when worn with a ruffled confection of a skirt. (And killer Balenciaga shoes - which sadly won’t be featuring any further in this post.)

So I took this picture and headed to my local thrift stores. I was feeling so so smug when I walked into Housing Works and picked up a ponte Everlane dress for $25, thinking it was exactly the weight and fabric I was looking for when comparing it to the above photo. Turns out it is completely wrong for this, as on closer inspection, the skirt is actually made from what looks like seersucker and is lightweight, ruched, asymmetrical and epically ruffly. I should really have known that ponte was unlikely for Assoulin, but ….

But no way I was finding something with enough yardage that I could transform into that so I’m sticking with the original inspiration image and what I initially thought it was made from. So this is where I ended up.

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With these as the starting point.

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The item for the jacket (or Emotionally Vested Vest as it is called) took a little longer to find. I really wanted to find a jacket with lots of pockets and made from a poplin or heavier weight twill, but just couldn’t find anything. I eventually settled on this men’s cotton twill shirt from L Train Vintage which fit the colour requirement, cost $5, had limited embellishment, good weight of fabric and, critically, no centre back pleat (they were positioned close to the edge of the back yoke instead) as I really didn’t want to remove and reattach a back yoke.

Emotionally vested vest - Rosie Assoulin
 Images from  Moda Operandi

Images from Moda Operandi

My initial thought was to use the shirt as it was and pin out excess fabric where required, but when I found more detailed shots of the vest (above), I became fixated on getting as accurate a representation of the interesting seamlines and construction as possible. So, that would include; paneled construction, welt pockets, double back vent and fixed back belt. That therefore meant pattern drafting. Oh goody!

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That all said, my pattern drafting skills couldn’t quite work out how the hip seamline worked with everything else so I kind of abbreviated. I drafted a panel pattern - kind of like a princess seam, but it doesn’t run over the bust, and still includes a small dart - to emulate the seamlines on the original. The back was fairly simple as I could use the panels to create the shaping, but needed to include the back vent, so I drafted a vent as one would do for a pencil skirt on the seamline that would adjoin the side panels.

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I unpicked the pockets, collar and cuffs of the shirt and then carefully cut along the side seams to separate it into useable pieces. I unpicked the side pleats under the back yoke to get the back to lie flat.

I realised I didn’t have enough room to make a separate placket but couldn’t use the existing one due to the buttonholes, and the plackets being too wide, so opted to fold them towards the inside so that they could give me a finished edge there without using more precious fabric whilst also providing enough reinforcement to hold the snaps I would be adding.

I just managed to get the main pieces out of the shirt, using the sleeves for the side panels and throwing grainlines to the wind.

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One of the things I really enjoyed about this process was the fact that you kind of make it up as you go along. Once I had all the main pieces cut out, I started thinking about details and the more I looked at the pictures, the more I fell down the rabbit hole of adding more and more.

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(Wonky) topstitching was essential, so I used gold topstitching thread I’ve had since I bought one of Heather Lou’s (Closet Case Patterns) and Jenny’s (Workroom Social) jeans kits aaaaages ago. Welt pockets were also essential and I used one of my husband’s white shirts that was heading for recycling for the pocket bags.

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I opted to only create welts for the bottom pockets as I felt there would be too much bulk over me boobs if I did the top ones. Well, really I couldn’t face FOUR welt pockets. So the top ones are just flaps.

I sewed the back band into the back seams and created the vents and then got creative with the topstitching to keep the vents in place.

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The only place I used materials other than that from the repurposed garments was the snaps, fusible interfacing on the pockets and collar, and the bias binding for the armholes of the jacket.

Then I got kind of stuck. I was intending to use the original collar stand as the mandarin collar, but for some unfathomable reason, it wasn’t long enough. For the life of me I can’t figure out how this neckline, which is very close fitting around my not extravagantly thick neck, could be larger than that on a giant men’s shirt. But there it was.

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So I needed to draft a collar. That’s fine, no biggy. Except I just couldn’t figure out how I attach the mandarin collar whilst not attaching it to the top of the placket. See that gap between the edges of the collar - how is that done???? And I couldn’t cut it out until I’d figured out how to stitch it as I didn’t have enough fabric to cut two if the first one, that would be shorter, didn’t go to plan.

So whilst I avoided that issue for a while I got on with the skirt.

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Although here I also spent significant time procrastinating as it felt like I just didn’t have enough fabric to create the ruffles, a ruffle, any kind of ruffle.

That said, in the end the skirt was pretty simple.

Firstly, I cut off the top of the dress at the waist to make it skirt length. Then I sewed up and cut off the pockets as they just gaped. I took in the side seams so that the fit was more snug around my waist and hips. Before doing that I turned the dress around so that the back vent was now at the front. The dress actually had a centre front seam which I could have used to create the split for the ruffle, but why recreate when it’s already there and the joy of a stretch fabric is that the shaping front and back is pretty identical so it made no odds which was the front and back.

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I then had to figure out how to get the ruffle out of the very small amount of fabric left. I unpicked the centre front seam of the bodice and having already removed the zip at the back, I was then left with two identical flat pieces. They really didn’t look big enough to achieve anything, but in for a penny …

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Using the front ruffle pattern piece from Butterick 6554 I just put as much of the pattern piece as I could fit onto the pieces of fabric and cut two. Miraculously, with a bit of adjustment as to the height at which the ruffle would hit the CF seam (previously known as the back vent), I got it to fit!

The finishing on the skirt is very patchy. I left the hem of the ruffle raw to keep length and movement and have hacked off excess fabric without serging the seam allowances. I’ve also left the waist unfinished. I had next to no fabric left and certainly not enough to make a waistband. I was going to use some black elastic and fold the top of the skirt over it, but to be honest it stays up perfectly well by itself and creates a smoother line, so I just left it as it is. I may have to revisit that if I decide to wear it with anything other than this jacket.

Honestly, I don’t love the skirt, the shape and ruffle reminds me too much of those awful mermaid swimsuits for kids that were everywhere last summer. That said, I’m pleased I managed to get close to what I was aiming for with the fabric I had to work with. Although I suppose it has been spoilt for me now I know what the original actually looked like.

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With the skirt sorted, it was back to that pesky collar. Some lateral googling provided the answer. This involved unpicking the topstitching on the front placket, opening out the placket facing, turning that back on itself so right sides were together and sandwiching the now drafted and prepped collar between that and the jacket body at the point I wanted the collar to start. Abundantly clear right ….?

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Anyway it worked and I managed to resurrect the topstitching without having to unpick the whole lot.

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It was then just a matter of setting 14 snaps (uggggghhhhhh), each one being a hold your breath until it’s walloped moment to see if it would reveal I’d bashed it too hard so that the two parts won’t snap together. Only lost a few and thankfully had bought extra so they all work. That is a WIN. Then it was just a serge and fold a simple hem. DONE!

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This has been such a satisfying project. a combination of quick and dirty fudging it (skirt) and detailed pattern drafting and construction (jacket), which in my limited experience seems to pretty much sum up refashioning. Along with a lot of “we’ll see if this works and keep our fingers crossed” along the way.

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Neither item is perfect: the jacket could really do with a lining as all the snap reinforcement, pockets, turned back placket etc, make the insides really unattractive; the outline of the front patch pockets from the original shirt are still pretty visible; I might have mixed up my pocket pieces so that one of them is only about an inch and a half deep; and the top pocket flaps aren’t level with each other … but I’m really pleased with how the jacket turned out and do like the skirt when combined with the jacket.

I feel it’s a pretty faithful rendition of the original inspiration and I really had fun. Thank you Portia for prompting me to step out of my comfort zone and attempt a refashion and for including me with such a wonderful group of stitchers.

The only other thing to note is that there is a paint / bleach / unidentified stain on the jacket right in the front, which I hadn’t noticed until I was cutting out the front pieces.

Surely that’s refashioning 101 - before purchasing check the garment for stains and holes ….

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See you soon x



Learning to draft

Over the past 18 months I've been taking patternmaking courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan.

(BTW what is up with that name? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.)

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Other than wanting to learn more about drafting and how I can make exactly what I want from scratch, the reasons for doing this have been a little hazy. However, as the possibility of my Green Card arriving, and the associated ability to work gets more real, and as my little one starts Kindergarten in the fall, my desire to have gainful occupation outside of the home (and MONEY!) for the first time in five years is emerging rapidly from its slumber.

I have no intention of returning to my previous career in marketing. Just the thought of it gives me hives. And actually, after a hiatus of 5 years, I don't think the hives are just from my pure hatred of my previous profession. There is a hefty lack of self-confidence and major self-doubt wound up in there as well. Increasingly I find myself coming back to doing something that involves sewing and / or manipulating large sheets of tissue paper.

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I don't know, we'll see, but the by-product of this is that I am now able to design and draft patterns for myself for clothes I especially want but for which I can't find a pattern. My skills are still immature but the more I practice, the better I get and the more things click into place.

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I'm often in awe of people who don't need a pattern, who just use measurements and scissors and create incredible items of clothing, like Julia and Cotton and Curls and a friend on my pattern cutting course. I'm not that person; I need rules and a process. I need to refer to notes and be methodical, taking whatever process I am doing, one step at a time. I'm that person who likes filling out forms and follows instructions booklets to the letter.  

It's hard sometimes to marry that side of my brain with what is supposed to be a creative pursuit. But actually patternmaking manages to satisfy both of those Charlies. I am translating a vision and a creative design into a reality by using straight lines and (a little bit of) math(s) and width of a pencil line accuracy. I LOVE it. 

This dress is one of the results of that process.

I had seen a dress similar to this somewhere and could not get it out of my head. Knowing that I wanted to make it, I used the flexibility within the brief of my final project last semester to recreate it. I think the original was created in a viscose or something similar but this is made in a rich burgundy mid-weight cotton twill from Mood.

It's a pretty simple design really, the skirt is a mid calf length A-Line with side scoop pockets, a centre back invisible zip and side slits. For the top I traced my bodice block and drew a square neckline and inch wide straps that cut away to join the skirt waistband at the side seam.

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Similarly, I used the back bodice sloper to draw the shape of the back pieces. Knowing I wanted them to meet at centre back, be wider at the waist and to have a triangular but slightly curved shape to them. This I played around with for a while and when it came to making a muslin, I took out quite a lot of length on the inside seamline, so that straps stayed put, didn't bag out and created a subtle curve. This means that the seamline is kind of on the bias, so I was extra careful to reinforce it with staystitching. and in future I think even interfacing tape, so that it wouldn't stretch out. Having learnt a hard lesson on that from this dress.

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The bodice is fully lined and I used the hide-it-all-inside-the-straps-and-hope-to-hell-it-doesn't-get-stuck-in-there burrito method to give a completely clean finish.

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Overall I'm really pleased with how it turned out. The bodice darts need a little adjustment as there is extra fabric in there and they have a tendency to get pointy. I think if I was doing this again, I would take some volume out of the skirt, or alter the length, as the whole look tends a little towards "trainee nun's apron". But as I mentioned in an Instagram post the other day, if this is of the radical nun persuasion as Sasha sometimes refers to her incredible, chic style, then I'd be OK with that!

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So, if nothing else, FIT has given me the ability to make my wardrobe even more one of a kind and the chance to waste endless hours drawing shapes and cutting them out, which is unbelievably therapeutic.

Where do you find your therapy?

See you soon xx

Copycat: Dressing for ice cream. But not maths.

So, I think approximately 15 years ago, I wrote this post about my next planned copycat, which I duly made and loved and haven't worn or photographed or written about.   Finally, I've got my behind in gear and here she is, in all her chintzy, florally, acid green glory.

I hate admitting this as I like to think I'm smart and can do anything, but I am singularly rubbish with numbers.  I struggle with times tables and it takes me a phenomenally long time to work out any mathematical conundrum. I vividly remember the ridiculous length of time it took me to master simultaneous equations at school and how immensely frustrating I found the whole thing (I did however get 98% for something or other related to my maths GCSE which just goes to show what being a hard-working geek can get you). 

The point of me telling you this is that I had to use my incredibly non-math(s) oriented brain to work out the pleating on my skirt.  It took me longer to do that than it did to make the skirt. And the sweater. Combined.

My fabric was 45 inches wide and I only had about two yards of it.  I intended to use the entire length of the fabric so the skirt would be mid-calf - which seems to be a theme round here at the moment - and a width each for the front and the back.  This totally dictated the size and number of pleats (rather than the other way around). 

As you can see from the above photo, my workings - even with guidance from how to do this on various websites - went on and on and on.  I had to play around with the width of the pleat - I originally wanted 2 inch pleats - and the number so that I could get a skirt that fitted around my waist.  The maths went on. 

And on. 

And on. 

And then I got fed up with myself and left it alone for a few days.  And then I had to start all over again as I couldn't remember where I'd got to.  Finally, I found my formula (shown in the celebratory box at the bottom of the page).

I could only fit seven one and a half inch pleats in each width of fabric and this left quite a bit of non-pleated fabric on each width.  Fortunately, this actually worked to my advantage as I used the non-pleated bits either side of the side seams.  This creates less bulk on my hips, which as a pear-shaped lady, is always a winner.  I also stitched down the first inch and a half of the pleats, again to create a smoother top of the skirt and reduce bulk.

After the fifteen maths years, the skirt was so quick to put together.  I finished the seams with my serger, didn't bother to line as the fabric (from The Fabric Store in LA) is lovely and soft and very opaque and pretty heavy.  The waistband is a simply inch and a half rectangle, which I interfaced and then stabilised with some petersham ribbon as a waist stay that I left peaking out from beneath the waistband as it's so pretty.  I usually finish waistbands by slipstitching the facing closed, but I thought some wonky topstitching would finish the band nicely so I used that method instead. 

An invisible zipper on the side and a sweet domed clear plastic button - one of the many I have bought in the search for the perfect buttons for this dress - which I still haven't found incidentally - created the fastening.  Given the fabric is so thick, I decided to hem with tape.  I've never hemmed like this before so I went to town with a fancy scalloped machine stitch to attach the tape to the raw edge and then an invisible catch stitch.

And there she is the inspriation and my replica.  Pleated, chintzy, floral joy, just waiting for a green sweater, ridiculous necklace and an ice cream.

Except I was too lazy/ overdressed to walk the half block to the ice cream place to get a proper ice cream so hideous popsicle from the freezer will do instead.  And I'd taken my sweater off for this photo, but you get the idea ....

I mentioned when planning that just at the time I was thinking how I could recreate this vision of loveliness the April issue of Seamwork came out and my wishes were answered in the form of Astoria. Then whilst in Mood I found this bright bright bright textured green ponte, which I'm still not sure about. But I've found the top works OK with this skirt but actually looks great with a lovely pair of wide legged ankle swingers I own.  

And if I don't look down too much my eyes don't hurt, so that helps. 

I like this pattern and it was super fast to make. I'll probably make it again in a more wearable colour, but again I had ease issues as it would look much better if I went down a size or even two.

Incidentally, my green silk eucalpyt goes perfectly with this skirt.  Who would have thought I'd make two items of clothing that actually go with each other!

I love love love this skirt, but I think I might have mentioned before that my life doesn't really warrant an army of fancy pleated skirts and aside from that it's been 30 degrees and 80+% humidity recently which equates to far too warm to wear such deliciousness, even if accompanied by ice cream.  I'm holding out for September when I get back from my travels and booking in lots of grown up evenings out so I can wear the heck out of it.

See you soon x