I may have perfected the art of the man’s shirt to dress recon. Maybe.

I have a minor obsession with men’s button-down shirts, as you might have noticed from previous posts and a strangely truncated run of tutorials therewith. I like that they arrive as pre-constructed things with lots of style and structure already; it’s fun to play around within the limits of the original shirt. And I’m finally starting to get really good at it. For example, here’s my latest baby:

If you’re a particularly obsessive reader of my blog, you might have noticed that this is the shirt I was complaining about in the post “On Failure.” I ripped out all the seams I’d sewn into it and began taking it apart with an eye toward making a little sundress. It’s a heavier fabric, but I like to wear short dresses into the fall, so I figure it’ll be okay. It’ll look especially nice with tights and cardigans.

If you look up at the dress, you’ll notice a particularly neat detail. See how it comes in at the waist and then fans out at the top? That was part of my multi-step solution for getting rid of the extra bulk of the fabric while still having a full skirt and bust.

You’ll also notice that there are no buttons on the front of this dress. That’s because my mother came in while I was doing a try-on, mentioned that the buttons were pulling in the front, and suggested I spin the dress around and wear it backwards. It turned out that it looked much better that way. Here’s the back:

The back is heavily darted and tailored because it was originally the front, but I think it looks good. I have a tendency to ignore the backs of dresses; maybe what I need to do is just make a front and then spin the dress around.

I’m feeling particularly autumn-y this week, maybe because I just got back from Portland and the Virginia stickiness is getting me down. So I put my electric fan on its highest setting and took a photo of the dress in its native environment, a fall outfit:

(Socks and boots both gifts from my mother, who knows exactly how to pick things for me. In case you can’t tell, the socks feature crows on a telephone wire.)

This outfit makes me so happy. It’s sort of innocent and country-girl but also sort of witchy, a perfect combination for fall. I have this whole story in my head that goes with it, and maybe later I’ll get myself out to a place where there are some hay bales and do a photo shoot. I can already tell that this is going to be one of my favorite outfits as soon as it gets cool enough to wear long socks again; in fact, I’ll probably wear it on a day I know is probably going to be too hot and then tell everyone I “misread the weather report.”

Total cost for this project? $2 and change, plus a lot of time. And a lot of seam-ripping. But turning failure into success is beyond price.

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Gray and Black Lace Tank

Today has been a long day, but oddly enough, not much has gotten done in the way of “final” products. I’ve made most of an underbust corset, gone to the fabric store for supplies for a project I’m doing for my aunt, bought metal eyelets, and knitted. However, it wasn’t until a few minutes ago that I got around to making my Item Of The Day. I was struggling for inspiration, you see.

Finally, it struck when I found a bunch of gray knit jersey left over from an ill-advised dressmaking project. (Where does all this stuff come from?? Did I sew a lot more than I remember as a child?) It was kind of a mess, all bunchy and tangled, but I managed to get it into some semblance of order:

After that, I spent some time doodling ideas, at least one of which will become another shirt.

I think I want to make the cloud one; it’s a little cutesy, but I did just make a shirt with an anchor applique. Clearly, being cheesy is not my biggest fear any longer. But I also like the idea of making a gray tank top with cutouts that show orange tulle underneath. Perhaps in the shape of an orange.

After some cutting, some sewing, and some swearing, here’s the final shirt:

This picture tells you a couple of things. First, that I’m tired; I’ve been up for quite a while. Second, that this shirt is too small for me; I used another shirt as a template and this fabric wasn’t as stretchy. This shirt goes straight into the shop. Which is a shame, because I rather like it. Maybe I’ll make a bigger one out of the leftovers…

Recycled Cuteness–Tutorial!

Hello, good folks out there in readership-land! Today I have for you a tutorial for a thing that I made in a very un-tutorial-like fashion. You see, I’ve been wanting to do a t-shirt remake for a while now, but I didn’t know where to start. So I started out with a plan for a sort of colorblock dress, and ended up with a nautical-themed two-tone tank top. Luckily, I documented the process, and you can now have your very own! Here it is, so you can decide whether or not you want one:

This project is an excellent way to use up the collections of useless t-shirts that a lot of people (cough, me, cough) accumulate. Check your closet for materials before you go out and buy. And remember: upcycling is cheaper than buying new.

MATERIALS:

  • One white, baggy t-shirt. It can have writing on it, as long as there’s about 11″ that doesn’t have anything printed on it at the bottom, and maybe a little extra at the sides or top for straps.
  • One blue t-shirt. This one doesn’t have to be baggy. It can also have writing on it.
  • Two buttons in either white or blue
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Sewing Machine (or needle and thread, yadda yadda)

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Cut off the bottom of the blue shirt, as close to the bottom of any lettering as possible. In fact, leave just the bottom edge of the lettering; you can hide it in the seams. If you have a smallish blue shirt, as I did, you’ll want as much material as possible on the bottom. When paired with the white shirt, it should look like…absolutely nothing. See photo:
  2. Turn the piece of the blue shirt inside out and put it over your head. Using the Pinch-and-Pin Method, which is exactly what it sounds like, follow the contours of your body. Don’t poke yourself with a pin a million times like I did. Pull this new tube off over your head, reposition any pins that don’t form a smooth line, and sew along the line of pins. Remember to take out the pins as you go; if you sew over a pin it will FLY OFF AND HIT YOU IN THE EYE AAAAAAGH* Your new tube should look something like this:
  3. Take out that white baggy t-shirt, and cut off the top, leaving no writing. Take this second tube and lay it out next to your contoured tube. Now here’s where things get tricky. If the white shirt is way bigger than the blue shirt, slim it down by making a line of pins on either side so that the shirt is only about an inch wider on either side of the blue shirt. Sew along these lines.
  4. Turn both shirts inside out. Pin the side seams together so that that ugly edge sticks out, towards you. Now you have to account for that extra fabric on the top tube. Make pleats (fold the fabric over itself) twice on the left side, and twice on the right, as symmetrically as you can. Pin all the way around the shirt, doing the back in the same fashion. Sew up this seam.
  5. Fold the raw edge at the top of the white shirt, and then fold it over again, and pin in place. Sew this edge down so that no raw edge is visible.
  6. Make two straps. This is so easy. You take two pieces of fabric of a little more than twice the width you want, fold them over, sew, and then turn them inside out. Have a friend pin them into place on your shirt so that they cover your bra straps. Sew in place, and then sew a button over the join between shirt and strap in the front on either side.
  7. Now draw an anchor. Or print one off the Internet. I won’t judge.
  8. Cut out your anchor and use it as a template to cut out an anchor made of fabric from the sleeve of your white t-shirt. I decided that I wanted my anchor to be chubbier than the one I drew, so I would have room to sew it on.
  9. Now, pin your cloth anchor to your shirt where you want it. Sewing it’s gonna be hard, and I made the mistake of assuming it’d be easier with a piece of anchor-shaped paper over the anchor. If you’re going to do that, don’t do what I did: for the love of Pete, don’t glue it on. It will not come off and you’ll have to pick at it for about half an hour and hope that the little fragments come out in the wash.

Sew on your anchor, SLOWLY. You might want to do this by hand. Doing it by machine was kind of haphazard and dangerous because the machine always did one more stitch after I told it to stop.

Et voila! You are done!

The technique you just used, I am told, is called “applique.” You could probably look it up and use it to customize this shirt; it would probably look equally stunning as an aeronautical shirt with a zeppelin on it. Or you could make it in a different set of two colors and add a color-appropriate applique design of your own. Actually, come to think of it, why didn’t I make one with a zeppelin on it? Here’s a drawing of a zeppelin that I found on the Internet, so you can avoid my mistakes:

Don't forget--don't try to sell any item you make with another person's design on it! That's called plagiarism!

Don't forget--don't try to sell any item you make with another person's design on it! That's called plagiarism!

Meanwhile, over on the Craftster forums, the suspense continues as I wait to learn the winner of the challenge I entered. Stay tuned for more excitement and drama on that front.

*I’m not sure if this is true. It might be an urban legend. Take no chances.

Tacky Dress! Tacky Dress!

So, remember that lovely, tacky floral fabric I bought? The stuff from the 1960s? Well–I made a dress out of it.

I wanted to make a dress that was antithetical to what people would expect from the fabric, so I went with a 1950s hostess dress design, a dress style worn by good housewives and folks like Grace Kelly–in better colors, of course. I had a pattern for a dress with me, but the bodice wasn’t right, so I drafted my own pattern directly onto the fabric.

My mom and aunt, who helped me with various pinnings and who gave a running commentary on the whole process, said that I reminded them of my grandmother, Kathleen. She drafted her own patterns on newspaper as a young woman, and she was the one who taught me how to sew. As I understand it, she’s currently working on reupholstering her whole condo. I’m flattered to be compared to a woman who had such great taste; we have a picture of her gardening in a dress much like this one (with a different print of course), pearls, and little white gardening gloves.

By the way: I still have some of this fabric left. If anyone I know wants something made out of it, for the right price, of course, they should speak up in the comments. I’ll cut you a deal if I like ya.

It’s here!

My glorious new sewing machine! My pride! My joy! Everything I hoped for in a 15 pound machine of pure love!

It’s a Janome 115110 heavy-duty sewing machine. I got it set up, and it runs so smoothly that it makes almost no noise. It’s a little terrifying, which is why I’m in here blogging about it instead of sewing things on it. Wish me luck; I’m going in.

UPDATE, JUNE 9: I think I’ll call ‘er Vera.