Altered Memories…

Back for another year, it’s now time for the “Alter It August” challenge again, as hosted by Mia at Sew North!  I love this challenge.  For this year, I am tackling my ‘no-longer-worn/no-longer-fits’ pile with gumption because of it!  This effort is so handy to eliminate useless items taking up room to transform them into things I will enjoy and wear.  So much of my time has been spent around the house thus every little bit of useful cleaning that can be achieved is a blessing…especially when I end of with an amazing new garment out of it.  It is a real treat nowadays to have such a source for my sanity-saving sewing escapades when I am not going out for supplies and many of those are already short in stock.

Each refashion I make is so exhilarating, from the crazy planning stage to the ‘what is this finally gonna look like’ finished point of having a try-on.  This one might be one of my most experimental and the one that cheers me the most every time, and it’s not just on account of the crazy fun idea of it!  You see, the best part is the way this project saved two tops that had fond memories attached to them.  Both items were worn to one of the many times I spent quality time with a long-time dear friend of mine – almost like family – who has since passed away during the heart of the lockdown.

Nostalgia is a weird thing when it is ascribed to a garment – and slightly risky under the possibility that clothing may not always fit.  So – at its core, it seems this project was fueled a crazy creativity borne of a desire to hold onto the little bit of tangible memories left that I have of people I loved and miss.  Now, I know that a physical item is never as important as the person that item signifies.  Yet, for me to have lost this special friend during this pandemic has given me no closure…as there has been no funeral or sharing of sympathy with the family…and presents given, photos, and garments worn during our times out are all I have left besides memories in my head.  So, it may not be my best altered item, but this project has the finest reason yet behind any of my refashion projects.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  two cotton knit tops, bought as RTW items about 15 years back from now

PATTERN:  none!

NOTIONS:  just lots of thread

TIME TO COMPLETE:  This refashion was completed in a couple of hours on the afternoon of April 1, 2020 (the heat of the sewing shortages and lockdowns)

THE INSIDES:  tightly zig-zagged – a home seamstress’ way to mimic commercially serged edges

TOTAL COST:  none!

I was not too surprised or disappointed these two tops no longer fit me, even with the sentimentalism over them.  The polka dotted one was a girl’s size (14 – 16).  Although I do still fit in many of my clothing from back then, unfortunately I had serged (overlocked) in the inner side seams of the top to make it fit closer as a teen.  There is no forgiveness in the knit which can completely make up for that!  The other turquoise top was an extra small petite, which was the only other size I could fit into as a teen if I didn’t want the overly casual and trendy fashions solely offered to such an age group.  I still absolutely love that neckline made of inter-woven strips of self-fabric.  My taste for garment details in RTW that would be challenging to make yourself apparently started when I was young!

First off, I decided which top would be the base to receive accents from cutting up the other top.  As the turquoise top had the amazing neckline I wanted to save, and as it was a solid color which could benefit from a splash of a different fabric, that was the main base for me to work with.  Next, I figured where the turquoise top was too small, and if there was a way to both add in extra fabric from the polka dotted top to make it larger as well as have such additions appear as aesthetically intentional.  The turquoise top was too small all over, but basically would fit in the shoulders and body if I increased the width on either side of the neckline (which was fine as-is).  The existing sleeves were ¾ length and only too small around my elbows, so shortening the length was all I needed to do so as to use them without a major reworking.

The polka dotted top was really tiny so I didn’t have much fabric to work with in the first place.  This had to be taken into account when figuring out what kind of refashion to plan for.  As it turned out, all I needed to do was cut this top into lots of skinny rectangular strips.  The “faux suspenders” were four complete around-the-body strips from off of the polka dotted top and were just what I needed to give the turquoise top enough width for it to fit my current body.  I had to really do some figuring for them – estimating how much more room I need, then dividing that out between the strips of fabric, plus adding in seam allowances, all the while knowing one mistake could mean the end of my idea because of my limited resources.  To make the “suspenders” seem more intentional than random, and also visually widen the shoulders, I added pinafore-style shoulder ruffles.  Boy, did this refashion have the toughest seams to sew, though!

Keep in mind I made this top at the very beginning in April.  It was at the end of that same month that pinafores were suddenly all the rage amongst vintage enthusiasts and Instagram influencers alike.  It was all I saw just a few weeks later on social media.  There were even a few new indie pattern releases (see the Sewaholic “Pendrell” blouse or Gertie’s design) and sewists offering pattern hacks, all of them being pinafore inspired.  Looking back, it seems maybe I was ahead of the trend.  Now the fads seem to have moved on to “Nap dresses” (okay, but really?) and “Cottage Core” aesthetic (…don’t get me started about that, ugh).  Either way, everyone seems all in for the combo of both comfy and cute, of course, with lockdown trends having the ever so slightest nod to old-timey house wear.  This top certainly embodies all of that before it was “a thing”!  I guess I had a better idea than I realized.

Little construction details really add to helping this refashion not seem completely thrown together.  I cut the shoulder ruffles doubled up, mirror image, back-to-back – meaning the outer edge of each shoulder ruffle is a fold and the good side of the fabric can be seen on the underside as well.  I also ironed in a lightweight interfacing to the inside of the ruffle pieces before gathering them and sewing them in the top.  I was working with a knit after all, and I felt droopy ruffles would not give this refashion the look it needed!

Also, to better unify the contrast fabric in with the rest of the top, I made an oversized bow to accent the neckline.  I had barely enough scraps leftover for it but at least I used up every bit I could!  The bow was really hubby’s idea, but I thought of having it be removable.  The bow is in place using an oversized safety pin.  I don’t trust it to keep its perky, structured shape going through the wash machine, even though I interfaced the bow strips before sewing and hand stitched the whole thing in place so it stays looking perfect.  By keeping it removable, I can use this bow as an accessory for any other outfit…or even in my hair!  I love versatility with what I make.

For “Alter It August” 2020, Mia at “Sew North” is taking the challenge meaning to also encompass actions and efforts in her life outside of the realm of just sewing.  Thus, picking up on a personal interpretation to that, maybe this refashion of mine – in honor of my friend that passed away – can be a little reminder to change up something else in your life and strengthen your connections with people.  In times that stress the importance of distance and separation, it is more imperative to not lose your bonds with those you know or love.  Let us actively work on not allowing connections with others to erode because of the state our world is in today.  If you’re thinking about someone, call them or write a letter.  Don’t put it off.  Let them know you miss them and have them in your thoughts, or even just simply share something that got you through your day.  Life is tough for many, right now, so if your outreach efforts echo back silence, that’s okay.  Truly caring for others is never wasted, it’s also caring for yourself, too.  It’s important to be kind and understanding.  Do not take them for granted, or put off an opportunity to stay connected.  You – and they – might not realize how much hearing from one another is just what is needed!

Domestic Alterations

There has been a really cool challenge just my kind of thing going on this month through Mia who blogs over at “Sew North” called “Alter It August” (read the full post here).  The summary of the challenge is to “examine your wardrobe and bring life and love to unworn garments”, aka, those that do not “spark joy”.  However, I agree with Mia – why perpetuate the “give it away, buy new, give it away, do it all again” vicious circle when you can fix up what you have until it does pass the Marie Kondo test?!  This is my mini montage post of some of my most recent refashions in honor of “Alter It August”.

These are all pretty basic refashions, made using garments that are everyday essentials of today – a blue pinpoint oxford, a nightgown, and a denim skirt.  These are all things that have been in our wardrobe for two decades now.  Yeah, perhaps I should be embarrassed how long we keep what we have, but we don’t buy a whole lot except what is necessary.  We are content enough to be happy with what we have as long as it is in good condition and working order.  However, I am very sensible about my “yet-to-refashion” stash, never wanting to reach “hoarder” status and wanting to keep it down to only a few drawers worth of items, and constantly weeding out what no longer fits or is too worn from our wardrobe.  All three of these pieces needed to go due to such reasons.  Yet, I see our unwanted items as equal to having fabric on hand, exciting ingredients in the recipe for a new project.  So, if it’s on its way out the door and I have the right idea with some free time, under the sewing machine it goes!

Firstly, I’ll start with my more polished refashion of the three I will be featuring.  This one has been a long time coming.  You see, I have been wanting a blouse made of pinpoint oxford blue shirting for the last few years.  I just never could figure out what weight and tone of blue I wanted so I kept putting off ordering any material!  Good things come to those who wait, I suppose, because my hubby’s standby shirt finally had the collar too filthy to clean with a rip in the sleeve and worn through cuffs.  What a dirty, messy boy!  It was mine now.

The collar was cut out into a simple round neck and the sleeves taken out.  Then the front side chest pocket unpicked off as well as the buttons removed.  It was being stripped!  I used a tight buttonhole stitch to close up the buttonholes and make new ones on the right side to make it a female right-over-left closing.  The same buttons were sewn on the closed buttonholes and when my blouse is on you’d never know the better.  His shirt was a slim fit style but I still brought the side seam in a bit and re-cut the armscye to put the new loose cut-sleeves in, albeit shorter sleeves now.  I used what was left from shortening the hem to make a skinny casing to cleanly bind the neckline and reposition down the front pocket.

I didn’t really want the refashioned blouse to look the same as any women’s oxford you can buy with very masculine features.  All the men’s-inspired women’s oxfords I have tried on before are stiff and uncomfortable, always wrinkling up my body, and too stiff and proper.  I wanted this one to be softer and unique.  So I took the most liberty with the sleeves.  I played around with several tweaks to the hem until I found what I liked.  I made a handful of ¼ pin tucks up for a few inches to lightly puff the sleeves out and add interest and shaping, like a mock cuff.  I might have seen something like this as inspiration, but I don’t remember where or if I did, so perhaps it was all my idea, so I’d like to think.  This was pretty much just what I wanted without having a specific idea for the sleeves – something subtly standout that adds yet doesn’t distract.

My new sleeves did not fit very well after all was done – they pulled at the underarms.  So I unpicked and added in a self-drafted underarm gusset.  That was the perfect fix for a loose fit that grazes over my body and stays relaxed in wearing ease.  Happily my self-drafted gussets turned out so much better than when I have to use a pattern.  The mid-weight cotton-poly blend was really easy to work with, too, so that helped.  Gussets are so hard to capture in a photograph!  An armpit picture is rarely graceful.

The best refashions happen when I don’t force ideas but let what comes naturally into my head be translated through my sewing.  It might not be the most complimentary thing I have made but I love it.  This blouse is comfy and all my own design – no pattern!  It is finally the blue pin point oxford I have always wanted with no cost on my part and one less item saved from the garbage!

My second project to be featured is something that will not be seen out of the inner household sphere.  Two nightgowns that were now too small and no longer interesting for me were turned into one quaintly freshened up little dress for bedtime.  I really liked the prints of both of the two and I had a housecoat to match the polka dot one so they were worth saving to me.  The main issue was the too small bust and shoulders on both.

The tank polka dot one was too short for my taste so it was designated to be the add-on to the floral print one.  I cut off the short little cap sleeves on the floral one and then cut several inches down into the side seam to open up the bust.  Those old sleeves were used to re-draft new ones off of the tank nightgown, based on both the measurements of the new armscye and this stray vintage pattern sleeve I had on hand.  My new sleeves disguise the fact that the sleeve is too far into my shoulder and they are generous enough to fill in for where the old ones failed…besides being so cute!  The self-faced, fold-over style also saved me from having to do a hem!

Okay, so the fit was saved on the nightgown. Next was the challenge of figuring out what to do with the extra polka dot knit.  I cut a total of four rectangle strips out of the leftovers and sewed them into one long continuous strip to make a giant ruffle for adding on the hem!  The fun contrast of the two prints and the quaint frill along the hem makes this real treat because it is something I would not try for my real dresses and blouses.  That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it, though, because I secretly have a crush on the “shabby chic” aesthetic.  There’s nothing better than having your home clothes for relaxing being something which automatically cheers you up and makes you smile…exactly what my new refashioned nightgown does for me!

This last item to be featured is nothing special to look at, and very hard to see the real change my refashion causes.  However, this simple denim skirt had the most memories attached to it compared to most of what I do refashion.  I think I’ve had this skirt since I was about 13, and it was a go-to piece for my teen years.  It is a “Cherokee” brand (anyone else remember how great this Target brand was?) heavy cotton denim, and is still in awesome shape for the amount of wearings and washings it has seen.

However, the larger size of my current “mom hips” have prevented me from being able to even button it closed for the last few years.  I missed wearing it.  Thus this refashion was nothing special, just something to adjust the fit and keep the appearance of it basically the same so I could feel like I had a mere updated version of my old standby item to still wear

Anyways, all I did was I cut off just over 8 inches the hem, and used that to add in a center back panel.  What was a maxi length skirt was basically only turned into a knee length skirt and widened.  The add-in strip was tapered in at and just below the waist for a better fit and a fit-and-flare shape, since this was a very straight and skinny skirt originally.  The little bit of the button placket I had on the hem panel blended in perfectly with the existing waistband.  When the center belt loop was sewn back on, I was very happy with how well the alteration is not noticeable.  The raw edges were serged (overlocked) inside for a clean finish and top-stitched down in matching golden denim thread to further match with the rest of the skirt.

We all know getting rid of something connected with memories is hard, but with a refashion of a treasured piece of clothing, it’s the best kind of letting go. It’s like moving on and owning your life, past and present.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s not about trying to keep my stuff forever.  I’m always conscious not to stockpile things…we don’t keep what we cannot use.  There’s no room for that in a small house and life is better without being bogged down by “things”.  However, if you can make something you will use, do want, or even need from things that are already on hand, well how cool is that?!  Something for nothing is good in my book.  Besides, the current statistics of the percent of waste we are making is astounding, as well as the numbers counting up how much clothing is wasted and unwanted.  At this rate we’ll ruin the earth just for our buying habits…hey, we’ve already got a head start in that, sadly!

I do not think fashion needs to be as consumptive and impactful a commodity as it is today, and I’m trying to do my little part to be a sensible solution within our little household sphere.  Keeping up such wardrobe recycling practices, I’ll get around eventually to reaching my dream of a fully handmade closet!