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This was another of the more experimental pieces. I’ve seen a number of reclaimed designs that used panels from different shirts, typically with a straight fall from below the bust-line, and I wanted to see how I liked that style.

I started with a trio of blue men’s shirts. All were on the smaller side and pretty boring so a co-coordinating scarf was added into the mix to give some contrast. The one I chose to use as the central point was still a bit small so the sleeves were cut out and it was fully opened up the sides. It’s front was cut off, just down from my bust-line and the backs of the other 2 shirts were cut out and then slightly gathered to make a new bottom to the front. They were both cut a bit more than half-way across, just as the hemlines started to curve back up. This meant that I ended up with a generous amount of each fabric and was able to use the existing bottom hems. A stripe of the dark scarf was added down the sides and it’s bottom hem curved so it bridged the gap between the shorter back hem and the lower start of the front curve.

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Roomy, half-length sleeves were made from the old fronts of the shirts that provided the front. I went with one of each, but you could make a matching pair. They were edged with more of the accent scarf fabric. (I found it much easier to put the trim on the sleeves when they were still flat)

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To finish things off, the top of the collar was also replaced with the accent fabric. Again, the easiest way to do this is to remove the old collar and use it as the pattern for the new one. Unfortunately, ironing is necessary but it does pay off in the how much more finished the final product looks!

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I found this to be a good way to use some the duller shirts that were, luckily, in a similar colour group. The finished piece was very comfortable and it’s a style that makes it easy to control and personalize the new fit, even if I don’t think the drop style of the front flatters me personally. Unfortunately, the scarf fabric turned out to be extremely unstable and it didn’t hold up to repeated washing so it didn’t survive many wearings. I should have clued into the potential problem when I saw how loose the weave was but I was seduced by how perfectly it tied all the colours together. Lesson learned!

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Realizing that I was moving towards more complex clothing modifications, I started collecting a broader range of “donor” items. This was also during the days of occasional deep discounts at our local thrift store. While my collecting looked (and was) kinda random, I was still sticking to a few basic guidelines.

Starting pieces for me need to be (in no order):

  • good quality fabric that feels nice (there is no point in investing your valuable time in low quality materials)
  • in a limited colour range that suits me
  • generally at least a “large” or “XL” size and preferably long sleeved.
  • a fabric type that is reasonable to both sew as well as wash and wear
  • cheap enough that I can accept the risk of failure/loss
  • not too damaged or worn/faded
  • built in such a way that it can be fairly easily remade. (Simple, boxy/flowy things with few seams are much easier to work with than detailed, fitted items made up from many small pieces.)

There will always be a few exceptions here and there, but I’ve mostly stuck to these limits.

The basic colour palette was especially helpful in that, over time it meant that I started to have pieces coordinating with other. Much like my prior assemblage art work, once the stash got to a certain size, I was able to start matching things up from it. One pair, a skirt and shirt, lead me to make the first of a dress style I’ve come to really like.

men's shirt before being refashioned

I have not been good about taking “before” pictures but I did grab a few (terrible) ones so you can see one pair that was matched in the stash. A dark taupe basic men’s XL shirt and a plus sized linen skirt. While the skirt was in a size that would fit me. I don’t like short ones and would not wear it as is.

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The base shirt was a pretty good fit on the top for me. The top of the arms didn’t bind and it had room across the chest but was too tight around the hips and it was also shorter than I wanted.

The base skirt was short but had a full, flounced bottom that was able to provide all the additional length I wanted. I cut into it just above the edge of the flouncing and opened one of the vertical seams. I then measured the length of skirt I had and figured out how much I could widen the sides of the top.

Measuring the bottom hem of the shirt and subtracting that from my skirt length and dividing what was left by 2 gave me the bottom edge of a triangle insert into the side seams of the shirt. I was able to make those inserts from the rest of the skirt leftovers, but had to piece them. At least the fabric pattern was forgiving!

a fat woman wearing a plus- sized dress upcycled from a men's shirt and a salvaged skirt

The opened edge of the vertical seams on the skirt were both folded over and finished and then the whole thing was added to the bottom of the expanded top. The donor shirt had a straight bottom hem so I just set the raw skirt edge behind and sewed them together that way so it has a very clean look with a single line of stitching.

plus-sized dress made from refashioned shirt and skirt

I was very happy with how it was coming together and decided it was worth investing a bit more work. I had been able to remove the skirts waistband intact and was able to use it to edge the sleeves, which had been shortened to my preferred 1/2 length. There was also just enough of the skirt left that I could replace the top of the collar. The trick to making that work is to remove the existing one and use it as the pattern for the replacement. (we also had scored a bag of assorted interfacing so I had lots of bits on hand) The last thing was to swap out the buttons for some vintage mother-of-pearl circles.

The finished dress is very comfy with great range of movement but still reads a casually dressy and it has a lovely swish to it’s bottom that makes me happy.

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While I was getting more comfortable with making shirt dresses, which I’ll be showing, I also wanted to keep trying some new things. The success rates for some of these varies, but I learned from making the attempts so figure it’s worth sharing them.

For a while, our local thrift store would mark older items down severely, so I was able to collect a number of pieces to play with for practically free. Several of what I made from them were more about trying to see what was possible more than expecting to get wearable items out of them. This sweater is one of the experimentals. The starting sweater was far too small for me but coordinated perfectly with a (also too small) plaid shirt.

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To make a plus-sized shirt it would have been possible to simply cut straight up the side and widen it and the sleeve together, but I wanted to see if they could be done in such a way that it looked a bit more like a design choice rather than simple enlargement. To do it, I cut up the side seams and fully removed the arms. (I often find that cutting out the seams is a better use of your time than ripping them. This is especially relevant when the seam has been overlock sewn as these were)

Panels were added to sides and another pair with equal width, at the top, was added to the sleeve. For the sleeve pieces, I cut down the middle of the top and added the plaid fabric in there. The sweater was knit, so to do an easy finish for the sleeve ends I added a band of the plaid. This gave it an even more finished look and prevented the ripple you can get from sewing knitted fabrics. (I also don’t have a Serger so this is one workaround)

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The sweater also had a turtleneck. It was too tight and I’m not fond of them so I cut a scoop neckline and grafted in the top of the plaid shirt. To do the graft, I cut the plaid part much larger and fitted it into the opening I wanted and then cut off the extra from the seam once it was in. It’s vital that you make sure you keep the grafted part with a big enough opening that it still fits over your head.

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Due to my generous use of the plaid, pretty much the entire shirt was consumed so it took a full two small pieces to make this one plus sized top.

Overall, I wasn’t in love with the finished product. I think the sleeve/sides work fairly well, but the grafted neckline didn’t end up the way I’d hoped. I think a prettier option might have been to go for a simple yoke neckline edged in the plaid, but that would be more work than I think I would want to invest in these starting materials.

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I started making long tops from oversized men’s shirts and while they were comfortable and did the job, they sometimes felt a bit too casual and the shorter length wasn’t totally within my modesty comfort range if I was out running around.1 I started to want something that would give me all the same benefits but would have more of “dressy” feel. (and yes, that word works both ways)

For my first attempt, I started with a Chaps men’s shirt in 4X. It had a lovely soft, strong fabric in a nice plaid and was very generously cut. (Higher end men’s shirts often have beautiful, comfortable fabrics that are wash and wear as well as typically coming with at least one pocket! They may not be all that common at the thrift stores, but are worth the hunt) It was quite large and long on me already so it was a fairly easy alter.

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The sleeves were too long so I cut them off right around the elbow. 2 I then removed the cuffs from the cut-off arms and the buttons. (I use a razor blade for most of my seam cutting but a seam ripper will do the job) I then lightly gathered the bottom of the new sleeve and reattached the cuff. About 4” or 5” of the sleeve, at the bottom of the arm, wasn’t inserted into the cuff but double folded over and seamed so make a hem for that section. This gives a bit of puff on the sleeve while keeping it roomy and the cuff is a low-effort finishing detail that helps sell the whole thing. If you have very skinny arms, and the cuffs are really large, you don’t have to add the hemmed space but can just pleat it all into the cuff. This process can be used to create whatever sleeve length you want.

I’ve seen examples where people have removed the sleeve and taken the length off the top, resetting it in the shoulder, which is an option, but for my plus sizes, I want to keep the room on the upper arm. (I also think that moving the cuff is less hassle than resetting a sleeve, but others may disagree)

The base shirt was large enough that I had a couple of good sized pieces left over after shortening the sleeves. To make things even more dress-like, I opened up the side seams from the bottom. The seam was cut high enough to match the length of the leftover arm fabric. Those pieces were cut into not-quite triangle wedges. I kept a bit of a flat line at the top and gathered it slightly. They were then sewn into the opened side seams. (I should mention that this particular shirt had a very soft, flowy fabric, so this addition just gave fullness without being too poofy) If you want to do this type of alteration but want as little emphasis on the hips, you can skip the gathering and just insert triangles, staring at whatever point lets you put the widest part where you want it.

Like many men’s shirt, this one had a downward curve that ran from the side seams to give extra length at the front and back. With the larger hemline from the side inserts and the already abundant length, I decided to simply cut it off. This gave me a straight line for the hem. I was going for a “dress” look so added a band of cotton eyelet lace. A fold-over hem ended the lace in line with the edges of the shirt so it can open at the front.

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All that was left was four simple darts to shape it at the waist and I replaced the buttons. The button change had a HUGE impact on the total look and I highly recommend it if you want to dress up anything you make with a shirt. In this case, I used antique mother-of-pearl from my supply stash, but any “pretty” button will do, just check to make sure they will fit through the buttonholes. If the perfect ones are a bit small and you don’t want to worry about them popping open, you can just run a seam down the front, so long as you keep the neck wide enough for it to be pulled on.

1I’m using the word “modesty” to describe my personal comfort point for having my body exposed. You do you, no judgment.

2I always want my upper arms covered. See footnote #1

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The first round of serious clothes altering was when I started making myself some very plain shirt dresses. While you’ll see a number of dresses that look like they are a slightly altered men’s shirt they are pretty much only for the typical “model” body type. I had never found any in plus sizes or anything remotely close.

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I was looking for tops that I could wear with leggings while working at the shop or around the house/garden. There were a bunch of boxes any possible item had to fill.

It had to (in no order):

  • be easily washable and not need ironing
  • be a light, breathable fabric but not see-through or clingy
  • print, plaid or mid-tone colour preferred since it might get smudged
  • have mid-length sleeves so I don’t have to keep pushing them up
  • not be constrictive or limit movement
  • pull-over preferred
  • needs to cover my butt
  • cheap enough that I won’t cry if it gets ruined (paint, putty and sharp objects are all risks)
  • hopefully at least “cute” if not high fashion

Not really an excessive list of demands, but I wasn’t having any luck. Instead, we found a few really good quality, brand new, 3X and 4X men’s shirts at our local thrift store and they seemed a good place to start. They were all under $5 each so there was little risk in jumping right in. The collars for that size of shirt are proportional for a man so were very large. To keep them from looking too weird, we just cut them off and made either a v-neck or a simple curve. One v-neck ended up a bit too deep for me so a small insert was made from the left-over bits. They were all big enough to be pulled over my head so the fronts were sewn down. The ones that were not short sleeved already had the sleeves cut off and finished with a straight hem. To help the flow and keep them from catching on my hips, I opened up the side seams and finished each side with the same straight hem. This gives a more tunic-like look.

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The only other thing was some light darting to give a bit of shape around the waist. The trick with those was that I put it on inside out, pinned the darts; top, bottom and depth, on one side. Then slipped it off, matched the other side so they lined up perfectly and did each as a single sewn line. While it’s very fast and easy, the darts are what really sell these as dresses, not men’s shirts. Of course, if you want and it better suits your body, it’s also easier to not bother with the darts, although you way want to take the bottom seam of the sleeves in a bit so they don’t gape. Those with a very large chest might find it works best to take it in a bit along the bottom for the same reason. No matter what you need, pinning it while it’s inside out should work to help adjust the fit. It’s all about what suits you best!

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I decided it was time to start talking a bit about one of the areas of altered art that I’ve been playing with the past couple of years and it’s going to get personal so I wanted to start with a general explanation of how and why I got into it and why I’ve decided to blog about it.

I am, and have been for all of my adult life, fat. I’m also tall, nearly 6′, and broad-shouldered. As a result, clothing has pretty always been difficult for me. Finding comfortable, affordable, flattering things to wear is a constant nightmare. Add in that I also want them to be easy to care for, durable (both in style and wear) AND to match my own sense of taste, and it becomes almost impossible.

Working as a custom framer for years meant that I had to keep to a business casual/suitable for retail level and one that met with my bosses approval. Luckily, it’s (rightly) viewed as an “artistic” profession, so a bit of personal flair is acceptable. I mostly got by on long skirts, blouses and dresses.

Becoming my own boss has opened up some more options for me. I’ve gradually become more comfortable with expressing my personal taste, when it comes to what I wear. The rise of “disposable fashion” seems to have made the plus-sized clothing options in shops even worse, which I didn’t think was possible. That has driven me to modify/make even more of my clothes. As my daily wear has become personalized, I feel more confidant and relaxed about myself and I’ve had more and more people compliment my clothes and/or ask where I got it. Considering how many people have wanted to know how I’ve been making my stuff, I thought it made sense to start showing how it was done. I am not that accomplished as sewer, but most of what I’ve been doing doesn’t take much skill, you just have to be willing to jump in. I’m not going to do too much in the way of details, but if you have any questions, always feel free to ask and I’ll try to answer.

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Curiosity got the better of me and I set aside the nuts from the black walnuts I’d husked in the ink making process. While I know the nutmeats of the black walnut are edible, I’d never tried them. Considering how expensive all nuts are getting, it seemed worthwhile to see if they any good since they are easy to get for free. (or at least for the time you have to put into getting the actual nuts) I had already collected and stripped them, for the ink, so a chunk of the work was already finished.wanuts1

While the husks were soaking, the stripped nuts were laid out on cardboard to dry and cure. They sat for a bit over a month and then I spent some time each day over the next week or so cracking them and collecting the nutmeats.

It is not a fast process and the larger ones were much easier to get the meat out of than the smaller but I ended up with a total of about 4 cups. blkwalnutmeats1.jpg

While I read that you can do a light brine soak to soften their flavour, I decided to go ahead and use them in their natural state. Since the idea was to see if we liked the taste, it only made sense to experience it in it’s unaltered state.

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I used a Southern recipe for a Black Walnut cake and went with cream cheese icing. It turned out well but it also turns out that we don’t like the taste of black walnuts! Even my father, who can always be depended on to eat even the worst of my baking failures, wasn’t much interested. My mother almost spit out the one bit she did try and said the taste reminded her of gasoline. I…have to agree with her somewhat. There is a happy ending however since the friend who gave me the walnuts to begin with did like it and was happy to take away free cake.

 

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