I love to pointedly integrate math into my sewing, as you may read time and again here on my blog. Almost as much as that, I also love extending the enjoyable use of my existing wardrobe in a thrifty and renewable mindset. This post combines both those approaches to my creativity into one post! Here you get to also see what I wear when I am not in vintage fashion. No matter what I am wearing, I make sure something to each outfit is me-made, to some degree, and refashioning the store-bought items left in my wardrobe helps me reach that goal!
The math here is a combination of a whole lot of twos or fours, especially if you pair things together. I am presenting a duo of refashions which became blouses that each only took me two hours to complete. These two refashions were items in my wardrobe that I still loved enough to hold onto, yet they fit me far too snugly. I sized them up by cutting out panels about 4 inches wide from off of the extended hems (one had originally been a dress and the other a tunic top). Now they fit again, with a fresh new look to boot! I like to pair them with two skirts that took me only two hours to sew when I made them twenty years ago…and 20 is a number that can be equally divided by fours or twos. Had enough of my “mathing”? Let me add in just one more point – the skirts are made of four of the same bias cut panel, making them super easy to cut and assemble! Growing up, I would have never guessed I would end up enjoying math in such a practical manner, but I love to see how this post’s outfits are fun and comfortable extensions of me merging my style of today with fashions from my past.
FABRIC: The one skirt is a polyester satin while the other is a quilting cotton. Both tops are a cotton and poly blend.
PATTERN: The blouses were a refashion and no pattern was needed to size them up. The skirts used McCall’s #8796, a pattern from 1997.
NOTIONS NEEDED: Mostly just thread, with ½“ elastic needed for the skirts’ waists
TIME TO COMPLETE: As I said above, each blouse and each skirt was its own 2 hour project! The blouse refashions were done just a few months back while I made the skirts in the early 2000 decade.
THE INSIDES: Since I was still living at my parents’ house as a teenager at the time these skirts were made, I cleanly finished the seams with my mom’s Bernina overlocker (serger), even though they are both fully lined. The blouse refashions of recently have my ‘faux overlocking’ – multiple layers of tight zig-zag stitching over the raw edges.
TOTAL COST: Refashioning something you have with only what is on hand makes this a zero cost project, especially since the skirts were made so very long ago…
I always have such a weak spot for anything military inspired, as well as camouflage green. (See this sweatshirt, my 1940s suit, this dress, and my map print blouse for a few posted examples of how much I love camo and military stye.) This garment has both of my favorite things, besides offering amazing brass hardware for an adjustable sleeve length together with nice and roomy pockets! However, it used to have even more pockets and be a different type of garment before now. I bought it second-hand in the mid-2000s when it was a slim fitting shirtdress with metal buttons all the way down the front. I’m guessing the origin date to be the late 90’s, and is a lovely, wrinkle-free gabardine twill that is thick but also a wonderfully comfortable fabric. It has a “Made in Spain” label by a brand that I do not know because I cannot decipher the cursive. (Please let me know if you can read the label!)
Circa 2014, I had adapted the closing to be a zip front instead, to give me some room since it was a little snug. I took off the buttons and then covered both the cuts in the fabric (left from removing the buttons) as well as the buttonholes with olive toned twill ribbon. The applied ribbon ran vertically along each side of the zipper. I gained 2 inches with this quick fix, yet still retained it as a dress for a while. Now, however, my current hip width and the shoulders no longer fit into the dress, and the only fix I could think of was to change up it up more drastically to continue enjoying it. Thus, this post is showing you the second refashion (and probably the final incarnation, too).
It has been many years since I’ve worn it as a dress. I had worn this at a military reenactment to meet up with an old friend (who has since passed away). The last time this dress was enjoyed was probably 2015 when I wore it to a small concert venue to watch a performance by one of my favorite bands, the “Plain White T’s”. I got to shake Tom Higgenson’s hand that night! I wanted to preserve those good memories this dress reminds me of but still also enjoy it, so I was ready to change up this garment’s use.
Firstly, though, I needed more fabric to add room. Unzipping the front, the amount that gaped open to a comfortable fit told me how many inches I needed to add in. That number was then divided in half to be appropriated to each side seam. The large cargo pockets (at thigh length) were taken off for the hem length to be sacrificed. I added in rectangular panels (the length of the hem circumference) which stretched from the sleeve edge to new bottom hem edge. This creates a sort of underarm gusset that stretches down into a side panel. Each panel is four inches in width, and a ½“ seam allowance on each side means I cut two panels of 5 inches, thereby shortening the dress’ hem by ten whole inches.
This adaptation turns this into a jacket-blouse combo piece that I am already getting more use out of than I ever did when it was a dress. This jacket-like blouse is even more military looking now, as well. I left the fit roomy on purpose so I can add layers underneath if I want, as I did here. I can always take the seams back in, but this is most likely my last chance to take it out.
I have previously shared other varieties of this tried-and-true skirt pattern (posted here, as well as here) but this version is by far my top favorite and most worn. The print makes it look like a suiting tweed at first but it is a silky polyester, so it flows like water around me. It is an unexpected anomaly of the appearance of texture not matching with what is really there. I just love the color scheme – a mix of dark brown, tan, burgundy, and olive green – being so versatile. It can be casual as worn here or dressed up with a blazer.
I have gone into detail about the construction, assembly, and features of this skirt in the two previous posts mentioned in the links included above. Thus, I will not be overly thorough here. Suffice it to say that this is such a comfortable and versatile style which is elegant at the same time as giving me full range of movement. Three different views offer a choice of fullness – this one is the fullest (view C) while the next version I highlight is the mid-flare (view B). Cutting out is an hour or less and a great way to dive into a bias grain project. If it wasn’t for the elastic waist, I might not even be still wearing these older me-made items anyways.
Few of my handmade items carry so many special memories as this particular skirt. I brought it with me on two trips, one of which was my trip to Rome, Italy in 2004 (when it was a newly made piece in my wardrobe). The cleaning lady in our Roman hotel actually stopped me one morning to let me know in her limited English vocabulary how much she liked what I was wearing…little did she know it was handmade! Yes, my me-made wardrobe made me look much nicer than the average American tourist, but I didn’t care. This skirt has lived through a large chunk of my life with me, and I love that fact. I might be counterculture here, but I am so happy to still be enjoying something I sewed so long ago. When I made this skirt, I never would have thought that I would have still be wearing this today. Not relying on the whims and direction of fickle fast-fashion, I can focus on what my personal taste is and curate my own sense of style for a wardrobe that is an authentic representation of myself. Being the creator of my own wardrobe can easily enable any immediate changes in my fashion taste but in this case also perpetuates the personal preferences that also do not change.
The second skirt to be featured here is different than the previous one in shape on account of the stiffer quilting cotton, even though both are of the same pattern. It all goes to show how the choice and understanding of fabric makes all the difference in the world when planning a sewing project. This skirt is flatlined so the polyester inside is more like a backing to the cotton exterior, so I end up with a flowing skirt nevertheless. Again, this one is a mix of colors that makes it versatile and easy to match with. It is a dark floral that works well for cold weather, so I am not completely at a loss for flowers in the winter. Yet, there is nothing as appealing to me as some rich jewel tones, and so I prefer to pair up with the main color in the skirt with my refashioned blouse.
I had worn this old store bought blouse a time or two to go out on dates with my husband when we first met, so it had memories, to be sure – mostly I just still appreciate all the tiny pintucks and insertion lace as being details I might not sew myself. I love the bright fuchsia color, as evidenced by the fact I have sewn several other projects in a similar tone (such as this 1940s blouse and this Burda Style dress). However, the high, underbust “waist” combined with the hip length tunic bodice has not been my favorite combo lately. As the top became smaller in fit, I found I wasn’t willing to part with it either. There were fabulous rows of tiny pintucks which ran parallel to the hemline, and so I was determined to save them as part of my re-sizing effort. How to do that was the real mystery. I had to wait for an idea to come to me, like a light bulb turning on in the dark.
One day, after another random try-on, I realized that the front fit me terrible only because the back bodice and back shoulder line were far too small on me. If I merely added room across the back, the front should then fall into place properly. It is hard to explain how I realized this, and it is indeed a very tricky thing to correctly read an ill fit. It is something I learned from many experiments and thus much experience over the years. In this case, the back shoulder line was pulling about two inches too far into my back away from my shoulder. Two inches on each side meant that a center panel insert needed to be 4 inches when sewn in. This calculated to being 6 inches wide as a cut piece, just to account for the lack of a seam allowance in the blouse body. In order the get a straight piece that incorporates the pintucks yet is also wide enough for what I needed, I realized my top was going to be much shorter and end right at waist length. I wasn’t sure about this at first, but there was no other option. I ended up liking how the cropped look gives a fresh, fun, modern, a youthful look that is a welcome replacement for what the top looked like before (of which I didn’t take a picture of, wah).
This refashion has bestowed such vast improvement on the original, I only wish I had done it sooner. With the pintucked hem panel becoming the center back panel, it looks natural and decorative and as if was always meant to be there. I kept the elastic shirring that had been in the center back for extra ‘give’, and shortened the front button placket, thereby saving the extra buttons and sewing them to the inside side seam label, just like many ready-to-wear items. The covered buttons pop apart every so often anyway over the course of wearing this, so I am glad to have replacements now. This seems to be what the blouse was always meant to be. I finally figured out how to make this mediocre store-bought piece be as uniquely fantastic on me as I always wanted it to be.
Nothing went to waste with this refashion and every literal inch cut off went back on. The little bit of extra pintuck panel that was leftover went towards making a modesty placket to the front button opening. These kinds of panels are merely an inner flap of matching fabric that is sewn to or in with the left closure edge so there is no gape exposing skin, slip, or lingerie from the space between the buttons. This lack of a modesty panel along the front buttons were just another feature to the original blouse that has always bothered me and I had just enough fabric left for this purpose that the situation seemed almost surreal.
Now that the front gaping is remedied – along with a fresh silhouette and better fit – I am so over the moon with this bright fuchsia blouse. The first military-esque refashion has me equally ecstatic, though, and I do like this new version best, not just because I have put my mark on my ready-to-wear. Both items have been redeemed, personalized, and saved from a landfill. Both projects gave me a quick and satisfying mission to complete that also maximizes my wardrobe without adding more or spending a cent. They feel like something new even though they’re technically not. I invested less time in turning around something on hand already than it would take me to drive to a store and try on a million different things to find one item worth buying. This refashion was certainly less time than if I had started sewing something comparable from scratch, as well.
Here I go parsimoniously calculating my time and money saved just the same as I exactly figure out my math numbers in my sewing! It’s no wonder I felt like dancing instead when my husband was trying to take these blog pictures. Sewing successes like this make me so happy…and happiness is not something that can be counted by numbers!
Great work, especially on the military-style garment! You could pair it with either a skirt (for that Andrews Sisters look) or a pair of trousers (for that Amelia Earhart look).
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Thank you for commenting! Those are great pairing ideas I never thought of for my military-inspired piece. I do have some 1920s aviatrix jodhpurs cut out and ready to sew right now, and now I have some motivation! Gonna have to update this post with pictures of the different looks.
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