Dreaming of…vintage transformations (again)

A couple of months ago I showed you this dress that I had altered from one of my Grandma’s evening gowns. It was actually a remake that I tackled years ago, when I wasn’t actually that confident with my sewing skills. Styling it up for this shoot reminded me that I have a box full of my Grandma’s dresses, which she gave to me to do whatever I want with!

I’m a bit happier with my swing skills and abilities now so I felt ready to tackle a more challenging task. Would you like to see the journey of how the dress transformed from this to this?

transformed

Of course you would…

I started with this grey / mauve dress from the 70s. My Grandma tells me she bought it in 1972 (which fits perfectly with the label – I love being able to look up old designers) for a dinner party (she tells me people used to make much more of an effort for social occasions.) and then wore it to a wedding too.

original

The dress was in fairly good condition, but smelt very musty and was pretty damaged under the armpits. I knew I was going to be chopping away some of this anyway so I wasn’t too worried about that. There were also a couple of marks on the skirt that I was hoping would wash out.

And then came the terrifying part. Washing it. I rang my Grandma just to check that she didn’t mind what I did with the dresses (in case it completely disintegrated!), spent AGES googling how to wash vintage clothes, and finally took the plunge (pun not intended :-)).

The label said to dry clean, but I couldn’t be bothered with that lots of vintage blogs implied that modern dry cleaning methods can be too harsh. So I took the easier, quicker and cheaper option and filled a bath with lukewarm water. Then, with trepidation, I submerged the dress and held my breath until I was certain it wasn’t going to fall apart. Confidence restored I used some very mild soap all over the bodice of the dress and on the dirt patches on the skirt. Even without much scrubbing you can see how filthy the bath water was after 20 minutes! Once I’d drained the bath I gave the dress a quick rinse down with the shower and then lay it out to dry. It didn’t actually dry very well laying flat, so I committed the cardinal sin of hanging it on the line!!! Luckily there was no tearing or splitting of fabric and I began to think that this dress might stand some pushing around.

washing

Out came the dyes! I had this gorgeous fuscia pink in my stash, which I had been hoarding for just the right occasion. I don’t wear pink very often, but I thought it might suit the vintage shape quite nicely. I was very good here and tested some of the fabric before dunking the whole lot in. I chopped off some of the sleeve, which I knew I wasn’t going to use, and swirled it in the dye bath. The cotton lace took the dye beautifully while the polyester/chiffon (?? no idea what this fabric is – it’s very bouncy if anyone cares to identify it!) stayed pretty much the same.

Happy that I knew what to expect, I plonked the whole lot in the dye tub and stirred for 45mins – on and off when I remembered!

dying

Small tip – remember to wear gloves – my hands were stained pink for quite a while!

And here’s what it looked like after dying…

after dying

Now that I knew it wouldn’t fall apart it was washed and dyed I could start planning what I wanted the finished dress to look like. I drew up a sketch and then had a few OMG moments at the thought of cutting up something so special.

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However, I knew that I wouldn’t (and couldn’t as it was too small) wear it as it was and my Grandma was excited to see how I transformed it, so I grabbed my scissors and set to it.

First of all I cut away the sleeves and unpicked the zip (this meant I could cut the skirt away when I needed to), then I unpicked the side seams and narrowed the shoulders by about an inch on the peak of the shoulder. I used the bit I’d cut away on the first side, to make it symmetrical on the other side. There was a really big seam allowance in the side seam (these dresses were designed to last!), which I could have used to make the dress fit, but some of the lace had frayed at the original seam and didn’t reach right to the new edges, so I added in a narrow panel of black fabric on either side. Not only does this make the bodice and armholes the right size, but I also think it makes the dress look a bit more casual and modern.

armholes

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Next I altered the neckline (actually I kind of hopped back and forth between altering the neck and the arms, but for the purpose of easy photo collages, I’ll stick with this order!). Before cutting anything I pinned the underlining to the lace to stop everything moving around and then drew a neckline shape that I liked. I cut one side to the CF and then flipped the template and repeated on the other side. For the back I just folded the dress along the CB and then used my french curve to come up with a scooped back shape.

neckline alteration

I finished the necklines and armholes with bias tape and moved on to the next part.

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From here it was supposed to be a simple task of cutting the skirt in half and reattaching higher up. Well it wasn’t.

Firstly I attached the skirt lining to the outside with the skirt fabric inside. 1st unpicking.

Then I reattached the skirt fabric by pleating it into the waist band. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that it was a VERY wide hem, so the pleats were all doubled up (and a nightmare to work with in this bouncy fabric) and the skirt looked ridiculous. 2nd unpicking.

I decided to only use half of the skirt fabric in the end and cut away the front panel at the side seams. This was still plenty wide enough to pleat on it’s own and the smaller amount of fabric made it much more manageable. Until I turned it right sides out and realised that one of the pleats was somehow 2 inches shorter (and very obviously so) than the others. 3rd unpicking.

Lots of leftover fabric

Lots of leftover fabric

Finally I sat down again, pinned it all in place, pinned the lining in again, checked that it hung ok and sewed through all layers. The CF of the skirt is actually a bit higher than the lining, but it’s symmetrically wonky (if that’s a thing), so I’m going to leave it. There will be no 4th unpicking!

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Lastly I reinserted the zip and added a hook and eye and then I pranced around for photos.

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Now I need a wedding or a fairytale party to attend so I can show her to the world. Hopefully my Grandma will approve!

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20 thoughts on “Dreaming of…vintage transformations (again)

  1. Here is some fabric care info for you. (I worked in the dry cleaning business for over 6 years), I learned alot even though, I didn’t do much of the cleaning. Cleaning labels on clothes are almost always restricted, and the funny thing is almost always wrong. When you want to know how to clean a fabric google the type of fabric, ex: polyester, rayon, nylon, acetate, etc.. I can tell you never, ever wash acetate, and dry cleaning isn’t always the best for it either. Polyester (know matter what the fashion police say) is the easiest fabric to care for that doesn’t wrinkle, and need to be ironed. Anyway your dress is beautiful. I was a freshman in high school the year your grandma bought it. I am sure she will love it.

    • Thank you – I don’t think I would have attempted anything so brave if it had in any way fit, but the knowledge that I’d have to adjust the size anyway gave me carte Blanche to go all out – and I’m so pleased I did!

  2. Ugh, unpicking that many times is the worst! I have totally had those projects, where something *should* have been easy but wasn’t. Wow! The dyeing came out great! I love that you kept the lace hem.

    • Thanks- I’m very pleased with the final outcome – especially the dying as it was a truly nerve wracking experience! So much frustration unpicking though that I had to make it a success one way or another!

  3. Beautiful! I love this transformation, it’s so feminine and timeless and those black panels are genius! The dress looks like a ridiculously expensive dress, so much detail. Really nice work.

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