Two Hour Blouse Refashions for Two Hour Skirts

     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. 

See a fresh-faced younger Kelly wearing her mock tweed skirt at a Roman restaurant.

     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!

Quilt Coat

     This post’s project is a long-time dream finally come true…and it has turned out to ever more wonderful than I ever imagined it could become.  Here is a winter weather item that actually makes me look forward to the colder season!

     For a good number of years, refashioning damaged or unwanted quilted pieces of all eras, sizes, and usages has been a strong trend, so this idea has been on my mind for far too long.  I had to eventually try such a thing out for myself!  Thus, I was ecstatic when an old bedspread of ours needed to be downgraded from being in our sleeping quarters to the scrap pile due to some tears, holes, and stains.  The opportunity to sew my own quilt coat had come.  This plays into the theme of my previous post (here) where I talked about how to give a glow up to something you already own so that it can benefit you in some positive way at no cost to your wallet.  Here is another fine example of my point! 

     My quilt coat is also another example of something I am very proud of that was made just before the end of last year, just like the dress from my last post, as well.  Yes, I will be catching up on 2022 projects for the next few posts, so bear with me.  The bedspread I used was not antique, but perhaps about 15 years old and had just been decommissioned earlier in ’22 .  Then, when the “Sew (Outerwear) Together for Winter” sewing challenge was announced for November, I realized I now had an impetus to take on this coat project asap.  The bedspread did take up a lot of room in my fabric stash area and I wanted to instead see it taking up useful space in the closet in between being worn on my back. 

     It was amusing how our son was quite confused, in a way unlike for any other project he has seen me make, when he saw me trying my coat on for the first time.  ”Wasn’t that from your bed?” he said disturbed.  Nothing is safe in the house now that I am branching out to sew with other things beyond fabric.  Anything really can be material.  I have made a few bed sheet dresses (posted here, here, and here), so maybe that was the beginning point for where I am now at.  Who knows…maybe next I will be cutting up curtains!  Sewing is a slippery slope to finding all sorts of fun and creativity.


FABRIC:  a cotton quilted bedspread

PATTERN:  Simplicity #4032, year 2006

NOTIONS NEEDED:  I had all I needed on hand – thread, vintage bias tape packs, a hook and eye, and one covered button blank set

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This coat took me a total of 6 hours from cutting out to finish.  It was completed at the end of November 2022

THE INSIDES:  cleaned up and zig zagged over for no fraying edges (as you can see in the picture at left)

TOTAL COST:  Nothing!!!

     Now, let’s get into some terminology before I dive into talking about my actual coat.  A quilt isn’t always for the bed but a bedspread is always quilted.  Key differences between a bedspread and comforter is the level of warmth they provide.  Comforters are made to provide insulation and warmth during cold months, while bedspreads are much more lightweight and breathable making them ideal for warmer conditions.  Meanwhile, a blanket is a generic term that refers to almost any bed covering thicker than a sheet, including quilts, duvets, and comforters. Confusing, am I right?

     This is why – for as much praise as I will heap upon this creation and as much as I love to wear it – this coat does not keep me warm, only cozy in the winter.  It is great for transitional seasons like Fall and Spring when it is moderately chilly.  However, anything near to actual cold temperatures and all the terminology listed above explains why I lose all my body heat.  A quilted bedspead is breathable, and a good outer layer, but does not keep me insulated.  The benefits it provides on a bed in a heated house to keep me snug on a chilly night do not work the same when out in the elements.  There is nothing with this coat to actually keep my body heat from escaping and giving me a chill when I spend too much time out in the near freezing temperatures.

     I must admit, though, that I am sensitive to being cold, and am not one to survive the winter season in a heavy sweater, light jacket, or exercise hoodie.  I need an actual puffy, furry, or woolen winter coat.  Worn alone as the sole outer layer, this is comfortable for me only for chilly weather.  It is a fancy equivalent to a heavyweight sweater.  Luckily, my town has a great variety of temperature swings all year round and I can wear this on our mild ‘warm-up’ days in the heart of January.  Yay!  I have been keeping this coat out of the closet where I can see it because I am not over the beauty of it but also I want to keep it as available as possible. 

     If I would have lined my quilt coat, this issue of its warmth factor would have probably been either resolved or partially amended.  Yet this bedspread was reversible and is just as pretty underneath as it is on top.  All I had to do was make sure I kept my inner seams clean and the inside of my quilt coat was guaranteed to be lovely keeping it unlined.  Besides, why complicate things?  There is a beauty and benefit to keeping things simple.  After all, this was my first go at the quilt refashion, and so I didn’t know how this project would sew up or if it would turn out, or that it may need a lining.  After years of paying attention to how other makers finish their quilt coats, I have seen both lined and unlined ones almost as equally.  It really doesn’t matter either way.  The beauty I appreciate with every quilt coat is their individuality…no two are the same and each one is as uniquely a work of art as the person who made it.

     My first quilt coat ended up being better than what I had hoped for as it is, even with the reduced warmth level.  Yet, even if it hadn’t ended well, the experience I had making it is everything.  I have worked with a pre-quilted cotton batting fabric before, both times as a lining layer for warmth – first for this 1940s jerkin vest and then inside this Burberry style plaid coat.  I found that a real quilt was actually much easier to sew and work with than that material.  Now that I have one quilt refashion under my wing, I have realized all sorts of tricks (which included having to pull out the old, bunched up stuffing from around the seam allowance) and taken many mental notes.  I don’t regret anything here (which is big for as hard as I am on myself) and feel very happy with my methods, but next time I am prepared.  Yes, I will be taking another go at this at some point in the future!  Now I just need to wait for the next serendipitous quilt acquisition to come my way, and in the meantime work on some more little projects for the rest of the quilt scraps.  I’m considering a historical inspired vest, a purse or tote bag, and maybe a sunglass case.  We will see!

    The pattern I used was something I have been badly wanting to try out since it was released in 2006.  That is awhile to wait on trying out a pattern, right?!  It is every bit as wonderful as I had anticipated it would be.  I chose view A.  The overall coat’s sizing was perfectly spot on, the various options for different collars, hem panels, button closings, and added details are all appealing, and it was so easy to make.  I highly recommend this pattern and see no reason why it needs to be a “fleece only” design.  A nubby boucle, and mid-weight suiting, or even a sweater knit I think would all suit this pattern.  If using a fabric other than a fleece, however, you do need to figure out on your own how to finish the edges.  I chose a thin ¼ inch vintage 1980s pack of matching blue bias tape along the collar and hem edge.  No interfacing or fiddly facings are even necessary here, as my quilt coat is entirely one layer.  I will definitely be coming back to make another view of this pattern in the future.

     I wanted a pattern with minimal darts and simplified lines so as to let the quilt paneling shine and this pattern was perfect for fulfilling my requirements and giving me room for creative placement.  Two out of the four quilt corners became the chevron sleeves.  The collar was cut from the edging border.  The decorative round middle part of the quilt was centered over the back panel.  Finally, the front body pieces were cut from one of the four large medallions that were around the center of the quilt.  It was quite a balance to try to find a creative vision that complimented overall yet also avoid the stains and tears in the quilt.  I had to draw a few of my own balance marks and points of placement to try and find some symmetry as I was cutting out each piece single layer.  I am head over heels with the intricacy of combining the curves, the points, and straight lines.  My math loving heart is pleased with all the geometry. 

      My styling inspiration was 1984 Ralph Lauren.  He had his winter collection that year to have cozy sweaters, romantic blouses, and quilted blazers and skirts.  His was the high end interpretation of the frontier or prairie look that was popularized since the late 70s through other lines such as Betsey Johnson, Jessica McClintock’s Gunne Sax, and Laura Ashley.  I wanted to channel that in a small degree.  I was happy that I actually had a ‘me-made’ skirt already made to perfectly call to mind the Ralph Lauren aesthetic.  The skirt has been posted already (here).  It’s a favorite staple piece from my wardrobe, so much so that it is starting to both fade and wear out by now! 

To complement the aesthetic, I am wearing a reproduction Victorian blouse, complete with a dizzying amount of pintucks and lace, which I bought in the 1990s along with the floral abalone shell brooch at my neck. My earrings are a little something I made myself in the 90s, as well.  They have sterling silver ear wire and a duo of blue glass seed beads above and below an orchid tone fiber optic bead. They were a drop earring which was simple and sweet enough to ease me in dangling earrings as a teenager!  

The dog chewed a few holes in my quilt but it is still usable! Check out the label I made.

     This refashion has helped me gain a greater respect all the vision and the time that goes into quilts.  I have not yet made a quilt beyond a small basic one made of squares of scraps leftover from the dresses and costumes my mom made me as I child.  I sewed this little quilt as a preteen simply for my dog’s enjoyment.  Neither am I inclined to make a quilt myself at the moment, but we do have my husband’s Grandmother’s old quilt frame…so who knows what is in my future!  I do have enough scraps of fabric, for goodness’ sake! 

For now, I am content to admire all the existing quilts out there, and keep my options open for the possibility of another quilt refashion in my future.  I still prefer quilts to be on a bed where I can both fully appreciate their warmth and their details can be on display.  However, now that I know what can be done with a damaged one, I will be more than happy to rescue any quilt that has seen better days and needs a new lease on life. 

More Betsey Johnson Dresses!

This blog’s previous post featured my own version of a Betsey Johnson “Alley Cat” dress, made from one of her 1970s Butterick patterns.  In that post I frequently mentioned the details of my wardrobe’s existing Betsey Johnson dresses.  What I learned from having and wearing them helped me sew my own garment to be authentic to her brand’s style, quality, and size proportions.  I figured it might be fun for my readers to actually see these dresses!  So here is something different – a post not about something I made, but something I have bought pre-made that has inspired my sewing.  Her offerings have been one of the few non-me-made garments in my wardrobe that I find to be just as much a joy to wear as the things I make for myself.

This will be a picture heavy post because I need to show you the glorious details that make Betsey Johnson dresses so worthwhile.  After all, if her brand offers garments that I admire and hold up as sewing goals, then you know they have to be good, right!?  These pieces are from the 1990s or early 2000 decade, and are all in silk material finished with French seams inside.  They are something I bought later than the decade they originate from because I have learned that sometimes being an adult with your own hard-earned money can enable you to buy for yourself the things you never had (or were not allowed) when growing up! 

These dresses are so clearly “me” since they have definite vintage inspired vibes that come from details culled out of the 1940s and 30’s.  The shorter hem length and the tighter fit come from the teenage proportions of Betsey Johnson clothes but also are a clear reminder they are still a product of their times.  In the late 90’s, there began a subtle trend of reworking all the styles from the last 100 years of the 20th century…it’s as if the turning of time beyond the year 2000 was prompting a reminiscing.  Besides, the younger set then was rebelling against the general establishment and designer houses found themselves threatened by the desire for thrifty individuality that the Grunge movement brought about.  There was a renewal of interest in wearing and appreciating “vintage” clothing and it shows in all the older denim, worn flannel shirts, sweet floral prints, bias cut dresses, and plenteous use of silk that was popular for the times! 

Of course, all of this was right on par for Betsey Johnson, whose brand was inspired by fashions of the past.  When she was director of “Alley Cat” she went for remaking “frontier” fashions of the 1870s.  Under “Paraphernalia” Company she used velvet and lace inspired by a funky take on Victorian fashion.  Then, her own brand of “Betsey Johnson” offered a wildly creative, punk-influenced take on modern vintage fashion. 

When was the last time you tried jumping for joy?!

Her garments are not just things that I enjoy but also are something I would never think of to sew for myself…and it’s fantastic to find a ready-to-wear brand that can fill that gap.  Granted, at this point, I understand that these styles are almost vintage now in their own right because the 1990s was over 25 years ago!  Betsey Johnson’s take on the era is not the normal stereotype styles for the decade.  They appeal to my inner “old soul” in a way that still screams Betsey’s spirit of joy and confidence, even for today.  Finding a designer who offers clothes that can fill such a role for my taste is rare (picky as I am after solely sewing for myself for years).  I suppose the added appeal is that her clothes are more affordable than vintage pieces from other brands I admire, such as Yves Saint Laurent or Dolce & Gabbana, for example. 

The best Betsey Johnson dresses can be found second-hand, and some can be a small investment…but they are worth it!   Luckily, I’ve found my pieces as good deals.  Sorry, though – I don’t have an insider’s secret to finding them other than tell you to search the internet or ask at your local vintage shop and don’t be afraid to barter for the price.  Make sure you find a size bigger than what you normally wear in store bought clothes as her garments run small.  Always message a seller for measurements if they’re not provided, notice any condition flaws, and look for the silk content pieces…those are the ones that with higher quality details that were generally made in the USA. (Ah, I miss the 90’s when my country still had plentiful garment manufacturing!)  Betsey Johnson has a trend for having dedicated followers.  Those who seek after her offerings generally keep them, care for them, and wear them for many years…like me!  I’ve got you curious now and you come across one of her items up for sale that is too appealing to pass up, make sure to be ready for something fun and luxurious enough to find yourself wanting to hold onto it for a while!

Betsey had her heyday starting in the 1980s, with sales burgeoning and doing her famous cartwheel that ends in a split to close out every New York runway show.  However, after 2008 the brand was sorely in debt until fellow designer Steve Madden picked up rights to the name in 2010.  It’s no wonder that I was also a “Madden Girl” in 1990s as well…I still have his brand’s black leather heels from back then.  Betsey has since been downgraded to being an employee of her own brand.  Nevertheless, in a recent interview with the New Yorker (see it here), she spoke of considering getting out her sewing machine and bringing back her retro styles of the 90’s and 80’s.  Wouldn’t that be fantastic if that comes true?  Ms. Johnson is now 80 years old and I can only hope that I have as much interest and initiative for fashion as she does when I am her age.  Enough said – onto my dresses!

This one was my first acquisition.  It is probably the oldest one of the three I own, too.  I felt it was the perfect thing to wear standing next to my 90’s car!  The dress material alone makes it dreamy against the skin – the silk is such a buttery soft, slinky satin that feels absolutely luxurious. 

There are necktie-style fabric strips attached to the neckline, little cut-on sleeves, a front pleated skirt (which is bias cut for the back), and rows of shirring all the way down the center front bodice seam.  I love how everything about this dress is so fine, especially how the zipper tape edges are even finished off in dress fabric binding for a smooth finish inside.  There is rayon hem tape on the hem edge and it has been pick-stitched down.  This dress is unlined and in a size 4 which *just* fits me after all these years.  The giant lily print is bold but pretty, obnoxious but pleasing…the classic Betsey Johnson attitude!

My next feature is something I can see my favorite vintage fashion muse – Marvel’s Agent Carter – wearing if she got transported out of the 1940s to live in the 1990s.  (The concept of time travel has already messed with her pre-established story timeline, so I am just mentally running with what Marvel started!)  This dress is in Agent Carter’s favorite color of a deep burgundy, here in a silk crepe that is lined in acetate from the waist down.  It has a 1930s to 1940s appeal with details like the pleated puff sleeves, V-neckline, fabric covered buttons, pleated bodice, and flared multi-paneled skirt.  There is a smart little padded sleeve cap filler piece inside the shoulder top to help the sleeves stay puffed out. 

Even still, what immediately sold me on this dress was the neck detailing.  I do not see myself attempting anything like what this shoulder line has, so this particular dress is an especial admiration piece for me.  There is appliqué work applying the dress’ silk crepe onto soft, burgundy organza in a wavy floral design that runs over and around the shoulder panel.  It is semi-sheer in the most glorious way imaginable.  Then, in the front where the sheep paneling ends, there is a multitude of shirring rows to decoratively add bust fullness.  As if this whole neckline isn’t interesting enough, would you believe it’s every bit as cleanly finished inside as it is outside?  This is 100% sewing goals to inspire me! 

Finally, I have a Betsey Johnson little black dress that is anything but plain.  It is in a unique ribbon silk that has alternate sheer and opaque lines woven in as part of the material itself.  The dress was a great find just judging by only by the fabric’s quality.  However, this dress also directly appeals to my sewist’s perfectionism by having the ribbon silk be perfectly matching to miter together flawlessly at all four skirt seams, even while being cut across the grain on the bias…incredible!  Such seaming is such an understated detail and thoughtful quality so rarely seen in modern ready-to-wear.  Since this is fully lined in an attached black underdress, I conveniently need no slip and it hangs beautifully. 

The fabric may be the highlight to this dress but the bodice still has fantastic details.  The sleeves are triple puffed, the deep-cut sweetheart neckline has a wrap front, and there are rows of shirring to both the neckline sides and the empire waistline.  I went up one number from my “normal” Betsey Johnson size for this dress because I didn’t want the skirt portion to be too tight…it’s never good when bias cut skirts can’t hang properly.  Even though I went with a classic red pairing here, this dress is surprisingly versatile and vies with my own me-made black dresses to be the favorite among them.

I hope this post will open your eyes to see how there can be such a thing as affordable yet high-quality ready-to-wear clothes.  Betsey Johnson has done it within the last 30 years.  Her styles may not appeal to you as they do for me, but their quality and unique style offers a teaching moment for garment production of today.  Even though such details may be few and far in between to find off-the-rack today, it is time to no longer be so accepting of continuously low standards from ready-to-wear.  Keep looking for well-made garments that also appeal to one’s personal style.  Let your purchase show your support for the brands that offer items which will last longer than a cheap tee shirt. 

Between Betsey Johnson clothes and my own personal sewing I know I am blessed to have my dream wardrobe that keeps me both feeling like the best version of myself and dressing just how I wish to.  I hope you find some great clothing pieces that will be something you wear for years to come.  Maybe you’ll receive some good gifts to add to both your wardrobe and your memories this holiday season?  Everyone deserves clothes they can feel themselves in.  Here’s an early holiday wish for a fashionable holiday that can be both sustainable and enjoyable!

A Parisian and Venetian Staycation

Listening to music can sweep you away, reading a book can draw you in, and viewing art can mesmerize you.  I would like to propose that sewing is yet another means that can transport you away from your reality of time and place.  I can easily lose track of time when creating, even (embarrassingly so) to the point I forget to realize when my body is telling me I am hungry!  It’s funny how every time I sew, I get wrapped of in the excitement of that first try-on of my new garment.  The thrill of seeing something made – by yourself – is captivating and never gets old.  Then, there is the joy of sashaying around in my newest creation for the first time, which is especially fulfilling when it comes to the taking pictures part!  I love to find the perfect location and set the whole scenario up in my head so our pictures can tie in with the very ideals that led me to sew such an outfit in the first place.  Every aspect to sewing takes me away. 

Realistically speaking of taking me away, traveling to many varied locations in Europe is high up on my bucket list.  I want to return to the towns I saw in Italy during my teen years, but want to see other cities that would be new to me – such as the unusual and watery Venice.  I have read extensively on the old Venetian-Genoese Wars (year 1256 to 1381) and have already explored Genoa for a day, so Venice is on my list.  I want to visually connect for myself some of the history I have internalized!  Besides Italy being my knee-jerk reaction choice, I want to explore more of the French capitol town of Paris than what I had seen in a brief days visit, years back. 

As much as I am sad that fulfilling this checklist is not on our plate for this year, I can at least make a “staycation” version.  Well, two new themed skirts – each featuring Venice and Paris – will just have to fill in for the real thing for now!  It was time to test the spellbinding powers that I attest to believe the process of sewing possesses.  I at least did find some locations around town which helped me imagine myself far away in Europe.  Now it is quite another question if I can actually remember to bring these skirts with me when I do eventually get to have my real trips to Paris and Venice!


FABRIC:  JoAnn Fabrics’ Casa Collection Polyester organza in an aqua “Blue Radience” color was used to make both the skirt hem and the matching top to my Venetian outfit.  The Venetian print fabric was a 100% cotton JoAnn Fabric exclusive design print while the main skirt body is “Snow” (an ivory off-white) Kona cotton. The French skirt’s fabric was named “Paris Ville” on the selvedge edge and is a 100% cotton print from the Michael Miller “Springtime In Paris” Collection.  This skirt has a lining of cling-free polyester with a waistband and ruffle of printed cotton leftover from making this gift apron (posted here). 

PATTERN:  no pattern was used except for a very loose rendering of Burda Style’s “Wrapped blouse” pattern #119, from April 2013, to make the sheer organza top to pair with my Venetian skirt

NOTIONS NEEDED:  lots of thread, a couple strips of interfacing, and waistband slides (hooks and eyes)

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The Venice skirt took me 7 hours to make. The little organza top to match took me about 5 hours.  Both were completed at the end of June 2022.  The Paris themed skirt was made much earlier, back in June 2019, in about 6 hours.

THE INSIDES:  the skirts have seams that are cleanly double zig-zag stitched over in lieu of overlocking, and the top has all French seams.

TOTAL COST:  I have no idea when or where I bought the Michael Miller Paris fabric as it was something my mom gave to me from her house after we were married (over 11 years back now) saying she found it but this was mine.  I am now chalking it (as well as the scraps I used to complete the skirt) to being as good as free!  The Venetian fabric was a purchase 6 years back and since I only bought one yard, I am assuming the price was somewhere around $10.  The “Snow” Kona cotton was $6 a yard for 1 ½ yards, while the blue organza was $5.50 for ¾ of a yard (remnant discount).  All other notions I needed came from my Grandmother’s stash (also being counted as free).  My total for two skirts and one top comes to about $22…that is absolutely terrific, isn’t it?!

As I said in the facts above, these skirts are proudly my own design.  The “Venetian canals” skirt is the one that I am more proud of than the “Paris Ville” skirt just due to the complexity and the successful interpretation of my crazy idea.  However, my Paris skirt is more low-key wearable besides being a scrap-busting project…and that is something I am always thrilled over!  I have the chance to use math the way I enjoy it when it comes to self-drafting skirts.  My mind feels all the better for the extra effort.  A little bit of mental exercise is fun when I do it for sewing!  I had a specific project idea for each of these skirts and finding the perfect pattern felt like a complete waste of my time when I knew I could just draft what I wanted for myself.  I get these clear mental pictures of the finished item being worn on my body when I am really honed into an idea…something I was having that for these outfits here.  More often than not, I disbelieve in my capabilities, and thus (darned on me) I always doubt I can fulfill in real life what I envision mentally.  Sometimes I do fail in such an aim, but here I fantastically succeeded – both times!

I will start by expounding upon the project I finished first – my “Paris Ville” skirt.  Previous to making this skirt, I had just finished up my 1950s playset (posted here), which was made from yet another Michael Miller fabric with a Parisian theme to it.  I was in the mood for another similar project and finally had a reason to pull this “Paris Ville” material from my stash.  I was put out to realize I only had one yard.  At that rate, I highly suspect that an apron or a simple top was what was originally planned to be made when I bought it…I don’t exactly remember anymore.  Currently, though, I wanted a poufy, pleated, little feminine skirt that would be every bit as fun as my 1950s playset.  At a weirdly small 41” width in one measly yard, that was going to be a bit of a creative challenge.  

As the print was in long panels that ran parallel to the selvedge edge, I started my skirt project by cutting the 41” width in half between the middle of the panels.  This left me with a duo of one yard long strips, both only 20” wide.  After sewing the two strips together, I had about 2 yards of material to pleat into my waistline.  I opted for overall box pleats to give my skirt maximum poufiness.  I did remember to add in generously sized side seam pockets, hidden within the box pleats.  After all, pockets make everything better!  With the skirt having such a fullness to it already, I can practically keep all the contents of my purse in these pockets and no one would know!!  This is the real winning feature to this skirt, even if the print wasn’t so darn cute I could squeal.  I love self-drafting garments to my liking.

My Paris skirt still needed a contrast waistband and – at a finished length of 19” – also was a bit short for my liking.  It also seemed to need a slip (it is a thin white cotton), and some sort of fluffy underskirt.  Thus, I figured that whatever I use for the waistband would dually become a fluffy hem ruffle at the bottom of the skirt’s lining to give some continuity. 

I went through so many agonizing decisions over what the contrast would be.  I wanted something a bit more of a neutral color, yet still something fun, and so the scrap fabric from making this 1940s apron was just the thing…and also just enough material!  Ribbon (which was what I used on my last Michael Miller fabric project) would have been too stiff and I was reluctant to cut into any yardage from my stash. 

Even the skirt’s lining was something I rescued from my stash, but it was still fun, too, being in a pretty pastel pink color.  It had originally been cut out to match with a skirt I made about 20 years back now – sewn together but never used – and subsequently saved.  I pulled it out to pare it down for what I now needed, re-shaping it to work for my Paris skirt.  The poly lining keeps my skirt nicely swishy, and the handmade hem ruffle not only adds a bit of extra length, but it is fun, cute, and practical in the way it helps to puff out the shape of the skirt.  I had to piece together so very many little pieces to make the cotton scraps turn into both a waistband and a hem ruffle, but you’d never guess by looking at it.  Seeing the finished look makes the extra effort worth it in the end.

an inspiration piece for my own “Venice Canals” skirt

The “Venice Canals” skirt is meant to have a clear 1950s air about it, as that era was well known for its novelty, custom painted, and “tourist” skirts (i.e. souvenirs you could fashionably wear).  However, this project was not going to be in a circular shape like most 1950s novelty themed skirts.  Besides, I wanted this skirt to be classier than your average “tourist” skirt.  I was intending to imitate some couture inspiration, hoping that, by aiming high, my skirt will therefore not look like something haphazardly pieced together…something I was afraid may be the case.  When you combine three different weights and textures of fabrics together, I wasn’t 100% sure my idea of a Venetian skirt would be anything other than a failure.  The Kona cotton of the main skirt body has a significant weight and bulk to it, making it perfect to keep a 1950s bell silhouette, while the stiff organza helps the much thinner weight of the printed cotton border keep in shape with the rest of the skirt.  I think I intuitively figured out such fabric engineering in the back of my head but didn’t realize how perfectly I actually imagined it until my skirt was successfully finished. 

Vintage 1950s Parisian Novelty Print Border Skirt

“Tourism” skirts of the 1950s had a theme about a particular city or they could be more general like a nod to a culture.  The given design was either hand painted on or custom printed so as to wrap around the garment.  I was instead working with a one yard cut of cotton that – like the Paris skirt above – had a specialty print confined into many long panels which run parallel the length of the selvedge (as can be seen in the first picture below “The Facts”).  All I had to do for the Venice material was cut out panels of the design and piece them together into one very long strip, enough to encircle the hem.  Also just like the Paris skirt, I cut the Kona cotton (for the main body of the skirt) in half along the fold that is created when you put the two selvedges together.  Thus I ended up with a duo of 22” by 1 ½ yard strips, which were sewn together to give me 3 yards of fullness for my skirt. 

By adding on a 1 ½ inch wide waistband (cut from the hem’s print), the 3 ½ inch Venice panel, and a 2 ½ inch organza strip, this skirt ended up much longer than the Paris skirt.  I needed the extra length because I intended on wearing my extra fluffy tulle petticoat to fill out the wide skirt.

The Kona cotton was too thick and stiff to lay flat as gathers in at the waistline, and (as I said above) I wanted a tailored option more akin to something couture, at least on a smaller scale.  I was primarily inspired by designer James Galanos’ skirt of 130 darts from McCall’s #4045, a dress pattern from 1957 that “The Celebrity Dressmaker” has sewn (see her post here).  To me there was something about the clean ivory color of my skirt that just called for some equally clean shaping.  I used some math crunching to figure out how to use only darts to bring my given 3 yards down to my 28” waist. 

This was where the real fun started! I didn’t want the darts to be too deep and make the shaping clunky, so I ended up doing 42 overall darts that were just over 2 inches in depth each (measured in half).  Doing 42 darts wasn’t as bad as it sounds…it took me about 3 hours alone to both mark and then sew.  I interspersed the length of the darts so the shaping wouldn’t be too harshly defined – one dart is ¾ of a yard long while the next one is ½ a yard long…and so laid out in an even pattern.  That finished effect is more wonderful than I expected and just what I wanted! 

I was going for a certain aesthetic at the hem that unfortunately is as subtle as my 42 darts.  The organza is meant to reflect like the glimmer of sunlight touching the water of the main canals.  A gondolier sits right above the organza like so it looks as if he is really boating along!  The organza at the hem also softens up the line of blue that finishes off the skirt. 

I really couldn’t find a top in my wardrobe that added to the skirt’s look and general theme exactly the way I wanted – I was being very picky with perfectly fulfilling the air of this outfit I envisioned!  So I used the generous amount of organza to whip up a little last minute, unexpected, cute little pullover crop top which compliments everything I felt was I going for with the skirt.  After taking my Venetian idea this far I had to go the extra mile and make something useful out of every last bit of organza scraps!

My top was easy and quick to whip up on account of both knowing exactly what I had in mind as well as severely simplifying a pattern on hand.  I had Burda Style’s “wrapped blouse” pattern already in the back of my mind, as I had just recently pulled out my 2013 magazine for some reason.  I turned it into a Vintage inspired, simple, unfussy top that was basic, with just enough detailing to make it interesting, and in a cropped length that just came to my waist to accommodate my full circle skirt. 

The main adaptations were to lay the center front seam to the wrap front on the fold and raise the neckline, then choose a size bigger than my normal size was chosen to make this a pullover.  Everything else was kept the same on the pattern.  I added the little center front neckline gathers to dually add an interesting feature and take out the excess fabric leftover from the wrap front which I didn’t do from on the original pattern. I also darted the sleeve caps rather than gathering them. 

For being a quick sew, every seam is still French for strong seams and a scratch-less inside.  Literally, though…you can see through this top so I felt it *had* to be in the nicest finishing possible.  Clear mesh non-stretch “Stay Tape” was added into the hems and neckline to invisibly finish off those edges.  I laugh at myself because my easy projects may not have hand sewing or intricate details but they are just as meticulously finished as my labor intensive projects.

I want to believe that finding enjoyment in your surroundings, discovering something new, and having a bit of fun is what you make of what you have.  Neither are those happy things in life always tied to where you are or what you are limited to.  This is why I love how sewing is attainable for all nowadays – it is a very democratic action that is there for anyone and everyone to enjoy and something all people of all places, ages, and races can enjoy equally if they so choose.  Now that refashioning, and secondhand supplies are easier (and frankly plentiful in our age of fast fashion), it makes more sense now more than ever to regard sewing as an answer to some of today’s problems and a general unifying action.  Most importantly, however, what you create for yourself needs to be for you and about you – an outlet, a happy place, a source of pride, a hobby…whatever you need it to be.  Whichever way you look at it, a good sewing project can promise the same as the jingles on a pamphlet advertising for a faraway trip – discover yourself, expect the unexpected, be ready for a journey, and you’ll find a new treasure at the end of it all.  What creative project has carried you away to a happy place?