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.

IMG_9986.jpg

With these as the starting point.

refashion 3
refashion 4
refashion 5

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!

IMG_0021.jpg

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.

IMG_9997.jpg

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.

refashion 1
refashion 2
refashion 3

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.

refashion 8

(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.

EVV 2.jpg

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.

refashion 7

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.

IMG_9989.jpg

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.

IMG_0023.jpg

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.

IMG_0019.jpg

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 …

refashion 6

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.

EVV 5.jpg

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 ….?

refashion 9

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

refashion 10

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!

EVV 3.jpg

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.

IMG_0026.jpg

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 ….

IMG_9988.jpg

See you soon x



A summer break

Over the course of this wonderful summer I took a break from sewing and from social media.

The former was enforced as I was out of the country for a lot of it and therefore separated from my sewing machine. I'd been on a bit of a sewing bender in the Spring, which I thoroughly enjoyed, made some fab garments which may or may not make it to these pages, but was a bit all consuming and not conducive to any type of organisation in the rest of my life. I needed to take a break.

And the latter just kind of happened. 

But I think there was a bit more behind it than that. I made a conscious decision to be fully focused on my children. Of course as a stay at home mum (in part thanks to the epic amount of time it is taking for my green card to be processed - approaching 3 years now), they are pretty much my every focus anyway, but being with them for 11 weeks solidly with no school, and only a little bit of camp, I saw as an opportunity. I think it stemmed from a slightly naff but thought provoking meme I saw that said, "You only have your kids for 18 summers. Make them count."

I usually ignore all such 'inspirational' messages but I couldn't get that one out of my head. And I think for the first time this summer my kids are at an age - 7 and 5 - where we could really be free to explore and experience things together. No naps, generally few tantrums and a lot of curiosity and fun-seeking makes for excellent summer companions - albeit utterly exhausting.

So somewhere along the line I just stopped looking at my phone. I literally used it to take photos and message friends and family to organise whatever visit / excursion we were planning. Didn't even check my email ... yeah well maybe shoulda done that.

In fact when I did go to look at Instagram I'd scroll through the first few posts and feel either totally overwhelmed by inadequacy or just 'meh'. Mostly the former. And I realised that whilst I often find the posts I see and accounts I follow (almost entirely sewing or independent fashion related) inspirational and motivating, it also often has the opposite effect of making me just want to give up on everything.

One of the reasons I started a blog and my Instagram account (I don't tweet and am desperate to give up on Facebook but I live so far away from so many of my friends and family that I feel that it would be cutting a lifeline, oh and Snapchat - what?) was to build myself a community that I didn't have when I first moved to the States, didn't know a soul and was very much in the somewhat isolating throes of baby and toddlerhood.

And what a community I found. I am so grateful and happy to be part of it and I love how the relationships and the accounts and blogs I read have evolved over the last few years.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this, and I'm not really saying anything that hasn't been uttered by many people. And I suppose like everything in life, balance is the key, but it was so freeing to step away and not feel drawn to my phone at every opportunity.

As the kids go back to school (my baby just started Kindergarten, sob ...) and I spend more time by myself, I think I need to remember to use my phone and social media consciously and limitedly (if we can make that a word for these purposes) and not as a crutch to fill time.

Lift my head up and soak in the freedom I have.

Sewing with butterflies' wings

This dress is one giant step out of my comfort zone. Huge that step, huge. I don't wear chiffon or sheer fabrics really and I certainly don't sew with them. "Why would one create that headache for themselves," generally being my stance on chiffon related matters. But I'm told it's very good to challenge oneself and I understand it's also good to see others creating such wondrous things that your envy and FOMO forces you to suck it up and throw your hat in the ring too. (Debbie and Ellen have a lot to answer for.)

So I did. And this is the result.

crinkle silk 3

Lets talk fabric first. Because that's what we all really care about, right?

This dreamy, super wafty, light as fairies' wings (again to quote Debbie) is a Liberty Crinkle Silk Chiffon from the collection on The Fabric Store's website. They have a huge selection of Liberty fabric, a lot of which isn't really me, but this had such a subtle, beautifully-coloured wildflower print and its softness and floatiness was really all it took to turn me. So it arrived in all its gorgeous butterfly-like gauzy, delicate softness (and wideness) and then I got the fear and let it sit and stew for a really long time, as the thought of cutting it was too terrifying.

crinkle silk 2

And also, I had pattern dilemma. I fully intended to use a Stoff & Stil pattern I've had hanging around for a while. It's a simple spaghetti strap sundress which is the same front and back and has a lining and top layer, the latter of which is gathered into the neckline of the lining and then has a ruffle that is gathered into the upper part of the dress. The pattern doesn't seem to be on their website anymore, but this is similar.

I've never worked with anything like a Stoff & Stil pattern before. You choose your size when ordering and when the pattern arrives its made of a lightweight fabric that I can't name. It has notches cut into it where required and all the pieces are full width, not on the fold. The instructions are in a whole bunch of different languages and whilst not illustrated were perfectly clear. They have a large selection of patterns to choose from, but it seems they don't keep them around for too long.

Anyway, back to the epic procrastinating ...

crinkle silk 4

My dilemma was how to make the most of the movement of the silk. The lining that comes with the pattern is a fairly full A-line shape and as Rina, who responded to my pleading about how to line it, said, the chiffon would get sucked into the folds of the fabric underneath - especially if it was the voile I originally intended to line it with - and lose all its ethereal drama.

I decided that silk would be needed to line it as the two would slip and slide off each other, so I headed to Mood and found an ivory silk crepe de chine that works perfectly colour wise. Then I decided that the lining needed to be pretty form fitting, and that meant bias. And THAT meant the Sadie Slip Dress from Tessuti. So I printed off Sadie and traced the neckline of the Stoff & Stil pattern onto her and that was my pattern dilemma solved.

Still, however, couldn't bring myself to get out the shears. 

crinkle silk 6

And then I was on the subway and listening to the Love to Sew podcast and specifically the one about levelling up your sewing and how one of the ways to do that was to tackle trickier fabrics. And I thought; I'm a competent sewer, I've sewn with tricky slippery fabrics before, what's the worst that can happen.

Cue quick flashback to being 19 and sewing a lined deep red bias cut chiffon spaghetti strap dress for my first year university ball and getting myself in such a state with it I had to enlist my mum to finish it. But I was totally feeling Caroline and Helen's words so I got home, laid out the butterflies' wings and went to it.

I have no real guidance on how to work with super lightweight fabrics, as my cutting wasn't very accurate. All I would say is choose a pattern that is forgiving; don't cut on the fold; placing the fabric directly on the carpet allows some friction so it doesn't move too much; and use weights as well as fine fine pins, again so that it doesn't move too much.

The crepe de chine was a little easier, but again I used all the above methods and got a pretty good result. 

crinkle silk 7

In terms of construction. Actually sewing this stuff isn't that hard but it does fray like a B. I used a super sharp needle, loosened my tension a little and lengthened my stitch. I french seamed everything, including the seam where I attached the ruffle and I made a tiny rolled hem on both the lining and overlay. I made a couple of errors: my straps are upside down so you can see the seam. I opted to only use the lining fabric for the straps as I feel the chiffon would be too delicate to stand up to that job.  I also matched the wrong sides when joining the lining to the overlay so the french seams on my lining are on the outside. But there was no way in a million years I was unpicking this fabric and they aren't really that visible, unless you're super picky. Like me.

crinkle silk 1

And you'll notice that the dress dips down a little at the back. I had toyed with the idea of doing this when I was levelling out the hem, but then decided it would be too tricky. Turns out my hem levelling leaves a lot to be desired as I got my dipped hem totally by accident.

I wore this dress for the first time on my wedding anniversary when Ben and I had a kid-free day and chose one of those days where we just went with what we felt like doing, which turned out to be street art and croissants in Bushwick, food trucks in Williamsburg, lying in the grass in Central Park, queuing for ice cream on the Lower East Side, cocktails in Nolita and dinner in Cobble Hill. A mish-mash tour of this city of many faces.

It was a fun day and I felt so comfortable despite the heat and got no less than five unsolicited compliments from random strangers about my dress.

crinkle silk 8

So it seems that stepping outside my comfort zone is worth it.

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.)

Nun 3.jpg

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.

Nun 2.jpg

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.

Nun 9.jpg

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.

Nun 1.jpg

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.

Nun 10.jpg

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.

Nun 7.jpg

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!

Nun 6.jpg

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