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Posts Tagged ‘altered clothing’

After making a prototype plus-sized 20’s flapper style dress for myself from some scarves and a refashioned skirt, I felt confident about trying another and using the “better” scarf. What I liked about it was that it had a very period appropriate, Art Deco pattern and sparkly details. I’d also found a black satin, tiered skirt to use for the bottom.

Having had a trial run at the design, I knew exactly the length I needed for the front and back panels of the dress. This scarf was a bit shorter than the “practice” one, but was the same width. I still cut from the middle, but this meant there was a bit less left-over for the sleeves.

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To finish the top, the cut seams were sewn together to close the shoulders. I then cut out the neckline, working around what looked good with the pattern and my comfort. The scarf looks like silk but is polyester, so I was able to finish the edges of the neck-line by careful burning. This is a great trick when it works but you MUST do fabric tests before risking a bigger piece. It’s also important to keep safety in mind at all times when setting fabric on fire!

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The sides were done with pieces of a fine black crepe from the stash. I used the same fabric for most of the sleeves but was able to edge the top of the sleeve slits with what came out of the middle of the scarf. A vintage black button with a white rhinestone, closed each sleeve slit.

A pretty black silk burnout scarf was used to make up the dropped waistline. It had beaded details on each end as well as long beaded fringe and a pair of small black fur balls on each end. All of these were perfect for the period and I wanted to show them off as much as possible. To do so, I figured out how much I’d need of the ends to get the look of a knot and some swing. Those pieces were cut from each end. The centre piece was then roughly hand-sewn down to a strip of black satin along the top and bottom edges. The satin was slightly narrower than the scarf so it has some bag and movement, to further sell the look of the waistband being a scarf. The centre wasn’t long enough to cover the whole waistband but I had another black silk scarf and I was able to cheat and use it on the back. The removed ends of the scarf were shaped into a knot and then hand- stitched back on to the waistband.

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The light satin skirt that was chosen for the bottom started with 3 tiers of fabric. The top tier was too small to use so it was taken off. The gathering along the top of the second tier was really helpful because it made it very easy to exactly match the width to the bottom of the waistband. I just had to let the gathering out enough to line them up! Losing the top layer also kept the length from being too long. It came to below the knee on me, but would be almost floor length for a shorter person.

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We had some beaded trim in our supply stash that not only matched the beading on the waist scarf, but also tied into the bead and sequin details on the skirt! A line of the trim was added between the top and waist and again between the waist and the bottom skirt. There was also a fine fringe on the main body scarf that was left and it falls over to further accent the beading.

This design came together very quickly with the waistband details being the most complicated sewing involved. The finished dress has great swing and flow and is light and comfortable to wear. There is still the issue of the burnout in the velvet being see-through but I just wore a camisole under it and that worked perfectly. I realized after you could tie in any other colours you wanted by wearing a close-fitting tank or even long-sleeved shirt underneath and it would show through.

I made a headpiece to go with it, but that will get it’s own post.

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With the refashioning and remaking of men’s shirts, I’ve been mostly making casual and “work” wear plus-sized dresses but that’s not all I’ve needed. One of the other problems with finding suitable plus-sized clothing is when you have an special event or need things a bit more costumey. Last fall I was going to a 20’s themed event and wanted a period flapper style dress. There are some places doing repro dresses, but I couldn’t find anything I liked in my size so making it became necessary. I did a bit of research into period dress styles first to see if I was going to have to invest in a pattern but looking at how big the range of variations was, I decided it was possible to get away with just upping my modding game.

We had a couple of beaded/sequined jackets in the stash and the original plan was to salvage panels from them, mix the panels with silk or crepe fabric and make the bottom from another skirt or a scarf. We had a couple of black silk burnout velvet scarves but went looking and found another silk scarf and 2 large polyester velvet ones.

As I was laying out the various possible parts, and sketching some options, I realized that the scarves were large enough that we could just skip the whole plan of fussing with the beaded stuff and use the scarves as the upper body of the dress. The 2 polyester scarves were quite large and rectangular and had designs that were already very 20’s while the new silk scarf was long and narrow with a great chevron pattern and beading that coordinated with some beaded trim in the stash. I had seen a few period dresses that used a faux scarf detail as the low “waist” so that seemed like a good way to transition to a skirt and complete the dress.

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It seemed like a good design concept, but I was concerned about how well it would work out in practice and I wanted to be sure that the fit would be right. Rather than making a muslin prototype, I figured that we had 2 of the big scarves and a pair of possible skirts so I might as well go ahead and make a second dress.

The first step was basic math. I measured the scarf in both directions and then myself, both around the widest section and then down the front to get the dropped waist length. The scarf was quite a bit longer than needed for the top so a section was taken out of the middle, leaving 2 pieces the right length. (and handily with finished hems on 3 sides) I calculated the size for a pair of fabric inserts for the sides. They were a bit narrower at the top, and slightly curved there since that was the bottom of the arm-holes. The thin black crepe that was used for the inserts also made up the bottom of the sleeves. The sleeve tops were done using the left-over section of the scarf. The split-top style really appealed to me since it gives a sense of being sleeveless without actually exposing the upper-arms and is still period accurate.

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For the bottom of the dress, I used a pleated black satin skirt. It was small, but I only needed the bottom 1′ or so and there was enough flair to it that it fit just fine. It had some nice button details on the waist band so that was removed and used as the front panel of the transition section. The back was cut from some black satin we had in the stash.

The donor scarf was dark pink/purple as well as black and we had some beaded trim that matched so a line of it was added between the bottom of the scarf and the top of the transition section.

The neckline had to be hand-finished with a rolled hem but I cheated on the inside of the sleeves and did those with the machine.

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The whole thing came together really quickly and mostly had simple straight seams. Making the trial version helped out since this one came out a bit bigger than needed as well as too short for me. I also found the beaded trim more of hassle than expected but figured out how to work with it by doing this one. It didn’t help that the trim was on a bright pink ribbon so any spots where it wasn’t perfectly caught are super obvious.

The biggest issue is that the burnout velvet is partially see-through. I’m wearing a sports-bra in the pictures, which is an option, but any black or colour coordinating slip, tank or camisole worn underneath will work.

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I wanted to keep trying some new shirt refashioning design concepts and this was one of the more experimental shirts. It started with a very plain grey shirt, in a polo style. I mixed it with a pair of small men’s shirts that both had some teal and black in their patterns. A small length of fabric in black and white was added in as well.

The central grey shirt was cut right up the side seams and the sleeves fully removed. The collar was also taken off and a v-shaped yoke cut in.

Large, roughly diamond shaped pieces were added to the sides. The tops were not pointed but flat, to enlarge the arm holes. I put in one of each of the donor patterns and let the bottom points extend below the hem of the central shirt.

Big, blousey sleeves were made using the donor plaid shirts. Each one had a large strip of the black and white fabric as the top with the plaid along the bottom. They were gathered slightly into salvaged cuffs with a rolled hem space between the edges. The contrasting cuff was used for each sleeve and the sleeves contrast with the side inserts. (so the sides and cuffs match)

The drama level of what was done to this point meant that the neckline needed to stand up so a large ruffle was made from the black and white fabric which was soft and flowy. There was enough of the darker plaid left to edge the inside of the neck and tie it all together.

This turned out to be a little too busy, even for me, but it was a possible way to use smaller amounts of fabrics. The other flaw was that the lighter plaid fabric wasn’t wash-and-wear, but needed ironing after every wash. That was too much trouble and this one didn’t end up getting worn very much.

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Having succeeded with my first refashion of a men’s shirt to a skirt graft, I was looking to make another plus-sized dress in the same style. The second attempt started with a men’s 3X plaid shirt. While it was in mint condition, the dullness of the colours had kept me from using it as one of the basic tunic tops. A pretty little black linen skirt looked to be a good match so I put them together. The skirt was quite small, a 6 or 8, but had a very wide flare to the bottom so I was able to keep around 8” and still have the top edge line up with my shirt hem. I really liked that the skirt looks like it has a couple of layers due to the edging of black eyelet lace on it’s bottom.

There was enough room in the shirt that I was able to do some shaping around the waist. I put in a pair of darts below the breast-line as well as taking in the side seams slightly at the waist. This was done before altering the rest of the shirt.

Once the waist shaping was done, I cut out the side seams to just below where I’d come in at the waist. Then, a pair of triangle inserts were cut from the skirt fabric and sewn in. They give both some accent to the sides and a bit more swing to the hemline.

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The bottom of the shirt was cut to a straight line, folded over and sewn down to the skirt cut-off.

The shirt was more than wide enough on the arms so they were simply cut off at 3/4 length.

It was starting to look pretty dressy at this point so I decided to run with it. I had a black silk velvet scarf in the stash and used it to both trim the sleeves and make a new top for the collar. As before, the original collar was removed and used as a pattern for the replacement. In this case, I wanted a bit more drama to it, so I kept the same shape at the bottom of the collar but expanded it at the top. To do it, I traced the original on some craft paper and then sketched out some possibles. Once I had something I liked, I folded it over and cut the second side to make sure they matched. Since the new pattern had stayed the same at the bottom, it fitted perfectly. Black interfacing was needed, due to the transparency of the silk velvet.

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Finally, a set of fancy buttons finish the look. While they look great, they are a bit too big to fit through the buttonholes so the front was sewn down and the buttons sewn into place over their buttonholes. Making them completely decorative was optional but the sew-down should prevent future ironing problems.

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(I want to mention that while the pictures make it look like the skirt is significantly lighter than the collar and trim, it really isn’t. I had to fade the pictures out a bit so you could see any detail on the skirt due to the intensity of it’s blackness!)

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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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