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Posts Tagged ‘upcycling’

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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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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This is showing how I remade a regular sized men’s plaid shirt into a cute plus-sized ladies top. I may very much enjoy “dresses” I can wear over leggings, but I do live in Canada and the winters are cold. Since there is a chunk of the year that I have to wear real pants, I also need tops to go with them. Plaid is lovely stuff for winter with it being so soft and cozy but as usual, finding nice options in plus sizes is difficult. I also wanted a bit more a feminine feel than most men’s plaid shirts provide. I’d seen examples of ombre bleach fading and I liked how it both softened the look and added a bit of style. It seemed simple enough that I had to try it.

Finding a few suitable starting pieces took a bit of hunting but I came across this beautiful rainbow plaid from American Eagle. It was an extra large, but their sizing runs small so it was too tight for me, including the arms.

The first thing was to do the ombre fade. I tried a few levels of bleach dilution and realized that you have to start with pure bleach. I used a spray bottle, outside on the cement driveway. To get a visible fade, I never went below 50% dilution, but just finished the fade out by lighter spraying. As soon as it was where I wanted, the whole thing was rinsed several times in clear water and then dried. (if I had realized exactly how I was going to alter the sleeves, that should have been done before the fading)

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It needed to be made quite a bit larger so the sleeves were cut off to the elbow length and then I fully cut out the side seams, including down what was left of the arms. The sleeves were enlarged by adding some of the cut-off forearm along the bottom. It was then finished along the top with the salvaged cuffs and a rolled hem completing the space between the cuff edges.

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The fade helped to soften the style, but I wanted to make it even more feminine and used a cream cotton eyelet lace to make the side inserts. (it also matched the lightest bottom of the fade) It was quite long for eyelet, but was still only about 2/3rds of the length of the sides. To make it fit, I layered a second panel over the first. This gave a bit of ruffle feel to the sides without adding much volume and it meant there was a second layer of fabric under the higher eyelets which made me more comfortable.

In this case, the buttons were left since they read as more decorative on the lightened fabric.

I love this top! It’s so soft and cheery and the swing of the expanded size combined with it’s bright colours and lace accents make it read as quite fun and feminine.

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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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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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