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!

The “My Husband’s Sweaters” Re-fashioned Dress

I guess the name for this creation of mine is rather self-explanatory. I used two of my hubby’s unwanted, gi-normous size sweaters to make myself a new cozy sweater dress. The completion of this project is a personal achievement because I didn’t use a pattern, even though this posting is way overdue as it is a project made 3 years back from now. I just made everything up as I went along, knowing by now how patterns tend to go, and tried my dress on a million times in between in order to get things to fit right.100_1019-comp

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: Two of my husband’s outdated, out-of-shape 100% cotton pullover sweaters; one striped and one waffle/cross-hatched knit, but both had similar colors. The labels on the sweaters carried the name of a privately named “design group”, below which it said that they were “Made in the USA”.  See pictures lower down.

NOTIONS: none were bought, as I already had the thread and clear elastic that I needed.

PATTERN: none – a big fat zero!

THE INSIDES: The inner raw edges are merely together with a double stitched zig zag finish, same as for the seams themselves. This is not my preferred finish for the edges, for they still ravel constantly, but the sweater knit is so very thick, a zig zag finish is all my machine would nicely handle.

TIME TO COMPLETE: Over the course of a week, I worked off and on for an hour here, two hours there, and was finished on January 19, 2013.

TOTAL COST: Nothing!!!

FIRST WORN: to our town’s yearly “Auto Show” convention.

This project so nearly became a UFO at several intervals between starting from scratch and achieving a nicely finished dress. It was one of those things where I throw it in a huff, at my wit’s end, out of ideas, and disgusted with the garment as I saw it at the time. Only an interval of time would give me the time to cool down and come up with a new idea of how to make things better. Then the knitted beast would get brought back out from the spot where I “buried” it and get tweaked again. I’m normally a very patient seamstress, it’s just UFOs and re-fashions can be difficult and challenging…they’re like pioneering out on one’s own, not knowing how things will go and where they’ll end up. Nevertheless, that’s the fun and the pride of the whole thing, especially when it’s finished satisfactorily. It’s always going to be hard to make something lively and spiffy out of something very unexciting and unwanted – silver linings can be quite clouded.100_0928-combo-comp

The two sweaters matched so well together and I do love a challenge, so I took this project up. My skills have come a long way since making this sweater re-fashion, but I really don’t look down on this. I absolutely love the design I made and the fit is great. My only beef with this dress is the stitching I did, which is loose in several rows of zig-zag stitching, and the messy looking insides. However, every time I think of my dual reservations, I really can’t think of a way I could have done it better now, so I fault the fabric.

Really the fabric was highly resistant to being sewn on like a temperamental child. I tried several different needles – knit, woven, and heavy-duty – and none of them easily went through the knit. All the needles would land heavily on a strand of knit and not go through…augh! This is the major reason I couldn’t get a tighter stitching to work. The stitching is tight enough to keep it together but loose enough to still stretch with the knit. I did do something which I see on RTW garments – clear elastic sewn into the seams. Added into the shoulder and side seams, the elastic gives me peace of mind that my dress will keep some sort of decent shape, at least the shape I intended for it when I re-fashioned it. After all, if the two sweaters stretched out for my hubby before their re-fashion after years of washing and wearing, I expect this difficult sweater knit to possibly continue to give me the same trouble. Even if it does eventually get wonky on me it was great while it lasted for its second life.

Happily most all of the sweaters were used in my re-fashion. The main body of my dress came primarily from the one striped sweater, its torso being turned into my skirt and its sleeves (opened up and sewn together) going to my upper bodice. The neckline from the solid sweater
was re-used as my neckline, as well as the sleeves, granted that they were re-cut into a new shape, with the wrist cuff as the new “end” the my short sleeve. My dress’ waistband is actually the bottom band of the solid sweater, too. Wide strips from out the main body of the solid sweater were hemmed and gathered as best they could to form the bottom ruffle.  Darts were sewn in all across the waistline both in the bodice and skirt portions to smoothly shape this dress.

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Sorry for low picture quality here. It was a late night pic.

“How do I make some chunky drab sweaters look fashionable and appealing?” This was my dilemma at the outset. My original idea was something very similar to what my final dress is like, which was inspired by perusing internet images of patterns (especially Colette’s “Macaron”) and dresses involving two complimenting fabrics. It’s only when I started sewing that I strayed a bit and came full circle. As I was making the dress, I even had the wild idea to keep it strapless, or almost so with skinny straps, and use the solid sweater to make a little bolero waist-length cover-up, or at least a top to go over the dress. Though the idea sounded fun, this re-fashion was challenging enough and I didn’t want to try too hard on something complicated that might not work and end up wasting the fabric. So I stuck with something easy, one piece, and semi-predictable – like a dress. I’m happy I stuck with my gut instinct.

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I love the mix of textures and patterns and features to my re-fashioned sweater dress – cross-hatched knit, waffle knit, stripes, ruffles and such! The bottom ruffle was the last thing I added, but I love how it saves the dress from being what I thought was slightly boring otherwise, with just the right hint of fun girly flair. The ruffle also complete the color pattern – solid at the top, solid in the middle, solid at the bottom, albeit different forms of the same color at each spot. The waist being made from the sweater’s bottom band makes it a bit more supportive, and decorative, than if I would have used a section from the rest of the sweater. And just because I can, I kept the three button neckline closure on the striped sweater and placed it as a sort of ‘fly’ below the front waist of my dress’ skirt. I love to make my garment special and unique, but this one has a quirky personality.

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Trying out a monster motorcycle!

My “husband’s sweaters” dress is the perfect garment for just plain wearing of course, but more specifically, 1.) when I want to feel very warm and cozy, 2.) when at an occasion where I’m going in and out of stores, where it’s warm inside, between walking around for some distance outside, where it’s very cold. The second specific reason is the case at many “holiday walks” in December at some of the old sections of town or out-of-town. It was also the case for the car show – we had to park a long walk away, so I needed to be warm, but be comfy inside too. I am the type of person that detests the cold, especially bitter temperatures, and loves warm climates. That being said, I also cannot stand being overheated in some bulky winter clothes – I feel as will melt…in my mind if I’m going to be hot give me warm weather and a sundress! The short sleeves, loose knit, and cotton content makes this sweater dress perfect for me…one of the reasons I re-fashioned it!

Clothes can be utilitarian because they are a basic necessity – matter-of -fact truth. They also can be a work of art. They can be a morale booster. They can be a source of satisfying a desire to create or an enjoyable hobby. Yes, they can also be a bad tendency or a drain or an income, too. Either way, I think there is too much out there to buy on the cheap which is not really “you” and easily forgotten. Most RTW is of low quality, not doing good any way you look at them – whether for the workers that make them, the environment, and especially for the wearers. Sewing your own garments the way you want them and exactly for your body ends this current fast fashion habit, and helps minimize the vicious circle going on unheeded, and really does so much more good all around – particularly for YOU!

Do you re-fashion garments for yourself or do you find it something alien to not sew from scratch? How do you feel the most strongly about your sewing?

I ‘Heart’ Aprons! – A Remake of a UFO

If you care to learn something about me, know that I love aprons. I will…and do…wear my collection of aprons A LOT, which is the great thing about making more aprons! (There is always someone to give one to as well.) My cooking, my gardening, my housework just isn’t right if I’m not wearing an apron, and an apron has more than once saved me from an unexpected change of clothes.

This is my newly finished apron. I started this in 2008 (I think) and just recently found it in my parent’s basement to finally pick it up and complete it. Now that I’m finished, this apron might be my new favorite!  Please excuse the non-me-made, non-vintage attire underneath, I can’t always look like a perfect June Cleaver.  For now, it feels good to finish another UFO (Un-finished Object).

Vintage inspiration was a big influence behind this creation.  I am still growing and adding to my stash as my pocketbook provides, and as I figure out what my tastes are with what I make. These are patterns I do not own which inspired me.

This apron originally started out as a short skirt bought from Goodwill for a few dollars.  Finding cheap, second-hand mini skirts (or even mini sundresses) at thrift stores is a very fun, creative, and easy way to make aprons.  My mom and I have a number of such projects always on hand.  There are more ideas in my head than time on my hands!

For my heart apron, I simply cut off the side seams, and kept one half for the top bib and the other for the bottom.  After deciding on a design, I cut the two pieces into the shapes I wanted.  I kept the waistband for support from the pulling of the ties, and I also kept the skirt’s lining, sewing it into the back of my apron for a perfect finish.  The heart bib is actually two pieces sewn together vertically because cutting the heart in one piece messed with the fabric’s bias and it would not have hung correctly.  All the edges are finished in lavender bias tape.

A bit of Disney’s “Tangled” vibes, here, huh?!

By the way, it might be helpful to add that I think I found a trick which helps heart shaped aprons fit much better.  On Nov. 7 (2012), Trish Blair posted her “I Love You” Apron and mentioned that her heart apron was a bit floppy and it seems in the photos to get in her way a bit (mine did too at first).  I sewed in a 1 inch dart in on each side of the heart horizontal to my bust.  The darts are just enough to fold the heart in away from my arms without losing its shaping.

The heart apron’s ties were a really great coincidence.  Two long strips and two squares of lavender cotton were all that I had leftover from lining my 1957 “Betty’s style” vintage sundress made this past summer.  Another F.Y.I about me is I HATE doing ties, but each time I sew them, somehow I suck it up to sew them correctly…well, those two 45” long ties were worth making for this project.

To continue the unique features of my apron I have the ties attached at the top of the heart, so I tie it on in an X shape across my back.  This is actually a very comfortable way to wear an apron.  It beats having ties that pull at the back of your neck, catching my hair in the knot.  I merely sewed a small loop on the inside top corner of the waistband (wrong side) so I can run the ties through, thus pulling the waist back when I tie the apron back.
I really liked the cute simplicity of my basic heart apron, but I also must have pockets. I feel lost without them! My solution was to make a sort of slash pocket, with the purple cotton of the pocket showing through just enough to hint at what is there but not being distracting.

My creative juices ran freely to make the slash pockets.  I have not yet tried welt pockets.  didn’t exactly know how I was going to do pockets here, but it worked just fine once I started sewing.

First I measured out with chalk where I wanted the pockets on each side, then sewed a long, skinny rectangular hole around the line.  I clipped the middle free, then folded the edges inside and sewed them down.  Next, I sewed ivory hem tape along the edges for strength and stability, and sewed another line of hem tape inside to create a perfect square.  You can see what I was doing in the picture below.

This might not have been the best way or most professional, but I am pleased at a very stable, dressy, and clean finished seam.

Finally, I took one of my two leftover lavender squares and sewed it along the back, with the top of the square just above the top of the slash opening.  I just can’t get over how cool this looks;  I called up my husband, then my mom to brag about it.  It’s cool when I surprise myself!

Now, I have a question for all of you.  If you can look at my top main picture, tell me if you think I should put a pocket on each side, or just leave my heart apron with one slash pocket (I love to have my vintage hankies sticking out!).  It took me an hour and a half to do the one pocket, and I wouldn’t mind doing another one, but I hate to overdo something that can’t be undone.  Do you think I should put a decorative button with a loop to keep the pocket closed?  Let me know.

Anyway, I will leave off with a picture of me wearing my knit dress and my apron to present my homemade, from scratch, double layered carrot cake, made for Epiphany company.

THE FACTS:

FABRIC: a stretch cotton print skirt with poly lining (bought for $3); soft cotton broadcloth for straps and inside of pockets (leftovers from a past dress)

NOTIONS: bought ivory hem tape; already had the bias tape and thread

PATTERN: none; hand designed by me; didn’t even use a template for the heart…I just eyed the shape

TIME TO COMPLETE: maybe 4 or 5 hours

FIRST WORN: ? not sure, but I have worn it plenty since I finished it on January 14, 2013