Category Archives: Refashion

A Seamwork upcycle: Mesa dress to Alice top

Hello, sewing friends! I’m sharing quite a simple project today, as I’m working away behind the scenes sewing my Day and Night dress challenge dresses and developing our 2018 patterns! This little top is part of my sewing resolution to make more of what I already have: in this case, a garment that was past its best, and a long-standing Seamwork subscription. So here is the story of my first upcycle of 2018, but be warned: it’s more “gritty realism” than love story!

Seamwork upcycle

I expect most of the sewing world is familiar with Seamwork by now: it’s the monthly sewing magazine from Colette Patterns, and has now been going for a little over three years. Each month subscribers get two credits (though now for new subscribers it’s one credit for a standard subscription and two for a premium subscription), which can be exchanged for PDF patterns. A couple of years ago a new feature was introduced whereby instead of just getting the two patterns with that month’s issue, subscribers could choose to “spend” their credits on patterns from the back catalogue, or from the Colette catalogue. But because I’ve had a subscription since the beginning, this didn’t really offer me much more variety. I bought a few Colette patterns, but I have still ended up with a load of unused credits, and a whole library of patterns I haven’t downloaded. So, in the interests of making use of what I have, I thought I’d give a few of the patterns a try, and printed off the Alice t-shirt, the Sadie sweatshirt, the Jill coatigan and the Shelly leggings.

I have mixed feelings about the Seamwork patterns. I’ve tried quite a few now, and the fit/ block isn’t quite right for me. My favourite is the Winona dress, which I’ve made without the bottom panel and which only needed my standard modifications (grade from XS-S, remove 5/8” from bodice) to be just right, but most of the others, while they look great on other people, are at best a bit “meh” on me (I’m looking at you, Astoria, Aurora, Neenah and Oslo!)

I did, however, like the look of the Alice t-shirt from the September 2017 issue. It looked comfy, and a nice short-ish length – and let’s face it, I can’t only wear Ballerina tops forever, can I? Plus the neckline on Alice is higher than on the Ballerina, so I thought it would be a good cool weather layer.

Seamwork Alice (image taken from www.seamwork.com)

A few years ago when the Mesa dress (a knit shift dress) was released, I made quite a number of them (grading from XS at the bust to S at the waist and M at the hips – it’s quite close-fitting otherwise – and using the length of L), and one of them in particular has started pilling quite a bit. But the fabric it’s made from has quite a deep colour saturation, so you can see it on the reverse side too.

The right side is the wrong side and the wrong side is the right side…

I have made loads of things with this fabric over the years (most recently I used it for my Be Bashful Bikini), and often when I get undressed and turn my garments inside out to wash, I think that the inside looks really pretty. AND, the inside doesn’t pill! So you can guess what’s coming: transformation of the Mesa dress into an Alice t-shirt, using the wrong side of the fabric.

A thread dilemma

I had my burgundy thread in my coverstitch machine for the hemming, but because the inside of the fabric was the darker side, I wanted a burgundy in the overlocker too. I didn’t really want to switch my threads every time I switched machines, so I used a slightly lighter thread in the overlocker, BUT I only had three matching ones, so for the right needle I used a brighter red.

Burgundy/ maroon/ wine/ bordeaux…

Was this too lazy? I do like the insides of my clothes to look beautiful, so I feel maybe I should have kept unthreading and re-threading… because my inside seams aren’t quite a perfect colour match. All the more annoying as when I tidied up my thread box only a day after making this, I found another of the slightly lighter threads, so I could have had all four in the overlocker… [grinds teeth in frustration]

You can also see the pilling on this pic

What’s your thinking here? Acceptable, or just plain lazy?

So, onto the pattern tetris. You’d think that making a top from a dress wouldn’t be too challenging, but my bodice pattern pieces only just fit on! (Mesa is VERY short, which is why I’d always extended the length to a size L).

Alice just squeezed onto Mesa!

But that makes for less waste, so we’ll call it a win. I had lengthened the sleeves of this Mesa dress (it’s supposed to be short sleeved), so I was almost able to squeeze the Alice sleeves onto them. The Alice sleeves are narrower (alarm bell! You know I’m coming back to this!), but were a little longer. I could have done a ¾ sleeve, but by now you know my love of cuffs well enough to know what’s coming next: I used the remaining fabric from the top of the bodice to draft little cuffs to finish the sleeve.

Cuff love is my theme for 2018!

The only piece that I couldn’t squeeze out of my original Mesa was the neckband, so I delved into my scrap bag and found some offcuts of the fabric to make the neckband.

This is all that was left of the original dress after I’d cut out the pieces!

I did measure the neckband first, as in the past I have found Seamwork neckbands to be a little on the baggy side: it was 90% of the neck circumference. My ideal is 85%, but I thought I’d just go for the 90% to get a proper idea of how the pattern is meant to be. Argh, I should have just gone with my instincts. It’s OK, but I know it would sit a little flatter if it was just a smidge tighter, so I’m annoyed with myself for not shortening it.

The construction was straightforward and held no surprises. The only challenge was to keep remembering that I was using the wrong side of the fabric: when I had to pin right sides together, my brain just melted and I kept pinning the ACTUAL right sides rather than the “wrong-side-turned-right-side”.

OK, so, back to those sleeves… I had found when I made Astoria a few years ago that the sleeves were very tight on me, and the same is true of Alice. I don’t understand it as I don’t have proportionally wide arms, and yet no-one else whose Astorias I’ve seen seems to have this problem… Anyway, it does mean I feel a little like I’m wearing bandages on my forearms. When I went back to the original picture to put it in this blog post, I noticed the sleeves look tight on the model too – if I’d noticed that sooner, maybe I’d have let them out a bit… oh hindsight, how clear and cruel you are!

You can see here that there’s little or no ease in my sleeves.

Overall, this t-shirt turned out fine, but compared to my beloved Ballerina top it’s not as comfy or as flattering. I definitely couldn’t wear it after a big meal, as it’s quite clingy round the tummy. It seems a little longer on me than on the promotional photos, which is probably just down to me being short-waisted, but it also pulls quite a bit over the bust, as it’s a very snug fit under the arm. If you look closely you can see these issues in the photo above, but here are some close-up pictures that leave no doubt:

I can’t quite believe I’m inviting you to scrutinise wrinkles on my belly and bust, but I did say it was going to be gritty realism!

On the plus side, the slim fit means I can easily throw a cardigan on over it. And I do love the cuffs! But to really give this fabric a new lease of life, perhaps I should have made a Ballerina top? What’s your thinking here, would you favour making a TNT on repeat or trying new things?

In all these photos I’m wearing it with my denim-look Eléonore jeggings, which seem to go with everything:

Eléonore forever!

Since I’ve printed out another three Seamwork patterns I may try them, but I think after three years I’m finally realising they’re not quite right for me.

Is there a pattern from Seamwork that you recommend before my subscription expires? Or do you have a favourite t-shirt pattern that could rival my love for the Ballerina top?!

Finding my inner re-fashionista

Before and after (I may need to work on my suspense-building skills)

I’m pretty excited about this latest make, because it has breathed new life into an unloved garment! Recently I was sorting through my clothes and was going to give a whole bunch of silk dresses and tops to a charity shop (they’re RTW and a little bit loose, plus they don’t feel like “me” any more), and it just seemed so wasteful. I mean, here I was, a sewist, with armfuls of gorgeous barely-worn silk, about to send these garments away. This coincided with two things: starting to read a book my husband bought me about tailoring and alterations, and noticing more and more “refashions” popping up on Instagram. So I decided to see if at least some of these garments could become something else. My big criteria are: 1. it has to look like something that’s been made from scratch and 2. it has to be something I would actually want to make and wear. So here goes…

First up is the navy blue silk skirt in the photos below, purchased in a panic from Phase Eight in 2013. My daughter was 3 months old, I was breastfeeding (read: my normally nothing-to-write-home-about boobs were ENORMOUS), the rest of my body was not the shape it had been pre-pregnancy, and my husband’s oldest friend was getting married. I splashed out £200 on a dress from a luxury maternity brand online, and when it came it looked like a very expensive sack, so I returned it. Days before the wedding I had nothing to wear, but I had a navy eyelet jacket and a navy breastfeeding camisole, so in a panic I bought this skirt. I spent the whole wedding day feeling uncomfortable and frumpy, because it’s so NOT my style – midi length, voluminous, loose around the midriff… everything I don’t want in a skirt. It’s never been worn since. I mean, even my beloved M7542 top couldn’t save it…

So I looked closely at the construction. There was a wide jersey band at the top, and if I pulled that up over my chest it looked like quite a nice strapless dress (though in danger of falling down because I now have my pre-babies bust back!), so it was an easy step to think that if I just added a jersey bodice, it could work as a knee-length formal dress. I imagine that my process for transforming it could work on many skirts, so I hope it might be useful to see how I did it:

For the bodice I chose the high-necked version of Dune. I’d practically lived in this style all summer, so I knew the shape was good for me. It was easy to measure as Dune flares out from the high waist, so I just drew a straight line across the front and back pieces at that point, to get a piece that when seam allowances were sewn in would be a fitted empire-length bodice. My mistake was to cut a size S rather than XS. I’d really liked the look of the one I made my mum that was slightly looser, and Bridget’s sized-up Dune, and so I thought I’d give that a go (should have tried it with a toile first). So it’s a little looser than it would ideally be, but I’ll come back to that later.

I had small pieces left of some plain navy cotton jersey from Girl Charlee that I’d used to make (you guessed it) a Dune top early in the drafting process, and there was just enough to make a front and back bodice with a bit left over. I wanted to line this bodice for a more formal look rather than do the neck and armband finishes, and there was enough fabric left for a front lining piece, but for the back I had to use remnants of the plum floral fabric I used for my maxi Dune and my Simplicity vintage top. While I was cutting it I thought about trimming the edges of my lining pieces so that they would roll inwards, but for some reason best known to my subconscious, I ignored that thought (second mistake).

Anyway, on to the construction: I did the bodice using the burrito lining method. I totally blanked while I was doing it and was staring at my bodice and lining pieces wondering how on earth I have done it before. I refused to look it up (because I am stubborn and because I was cross with myself for blanking!) and eventually after one brief date with the seamripper I had my lined bodice.

Originally I had just been going to slip the finished bodice over the jersey band of the skirt and sew it on and then cover the seam with some lace (which would be a simple method if you wanted to try something like this on a skirt that didn’t have a convenient waistband!), but the band was just attached to the skirt with a simple overlocked seam, so I thought I’d take a risk and replace it. I pinned the right side of the bodice bottom to the right side of the skirt top, just below the seam so that the original seam would be cut off (otherwise it would have been too bulky with the original seam plus my own new seam all overlocked together) and then took a deep breath and snipped off the waistband.

No going back now…

Then I took the whole thing to my overlocker. I kept the original seam to the right of the blade so it would get cut off as I sewed my new seam – there was no mathematical measurement here, I just kept my forefinger under the original seam underneath and made sure it was always flush to the edge of my overlocker plate so the blade would cut it cleanly at the join.

(Stage right you can just spy my trusty pastry-brush-turned-overlocker-cleaner. I swear by this for getting all the fluff out of my machine. Just don’t ever use it to do an egg wash again!)

Once the seam was done, it was the moment of truth… I turned it all right side out, and aside from looking a little wavy (to be expected when you’re joining two such different fabrics I guess) it seemed to have worked – all the original seam was cut off, and all the raw edges of the bodice had been properly caught in the new seam.

One gentle press later and…

Look at this! I have a new dress, people! It’s floaty and swooshy and so so pretty. It has great movement (which I was more than happy to test with a little twirling session) and both the volume and the length are all at the right place now to be flattering. Below are 3 pics of how it looks from the front, plus one slightly sheepish shot:

The bottom right photo may not be a great shot of the dress but I’m including it for its amusement factor: I had just been taking the twirling shots in the previous montage, and stumbled into the flowerbed… that’s my “that didn’t get caught on camera did it?” face…

There are two things I would do differently if I was starting over again:

  1. Go with my tried and trusted size and do XS across the bust. It currently gapes slightly at the armscyes and at the centre front and back, so it’s just that little bit off perfect and will probably annoy me forever (because I’m obsessive like that).
  2. Trim the neckline and armscyes of the bodice lining, to make sure none of the lining peeks out while I’m wearing it.

The thing I’m cross about is that I considered doing both of these things to start with, and I just ignored that little voice of reason! But other than that, I’m really happy with this refashion. I now have a pretty dress to wear to formal occasions, it took very little time to do, and all of it was made from resources I already had lying around the house. I’m calling this one a win!

Have you ever re-styled something from your closet? Do you have any tips to share??