Fast (Re)Fashion: Polo Shirts to Polo Dress

During the first quarter of 2017, Justin was let go from his office job and was put in a position where he needed to take temporary work for a time. Options were sparse, however, and he ended up in a more a physical job than he expected, one that had him on his feet all day handling things that were frequently sharp, greasy, or caustic. There wasn’t a strict dress code, so for the first couple of months he kept wearing his favorite t-shirts and polo shirts to work. His motive was understandable: faced with mindless tasks he didn’t enjoy in the sub-basement of a company that didn’t value him as an (expendable, temporary) employee, he clung to the one thing that made him feel like a person. Who can blame him?

Unfortunately, several of his shirts quickly sprouted holes, grease stains, and bleach marks. One of those shirts was a particularly nice polo from Ralph Lauren, in a flattering shade of green, that he’d received as a gift for Christmas.

The stain was too large and too prominent to cover up discreetly, but I was loath to throw away a good shirt that was otherwise in pretty decent condition. After eyeballing it several times and then trying it on (it was a men’s XL), I decided I could salvage it by turning it into a dress for me. I knew the dress had to have princess seams to avoid the stain, and I didn’t have anything in my pattern stash like that.

After flipping through both online and in-store pattern books, I settled on New Look 6567.

It’s designed for wovens, but it was the only pattern I could readily find that had the style lines I was looking for. I ignored the various neckline options and the back zipper, since I planned to preserve the original collar and placket and leave the dress a pull-on affair.

I cut the shirt apart at the side seams and removed the sleeves, but left the front and back attached at the shoulder and left the bottom hem intact. Based on my measurements and what I thought was an acceptable amount of ease, I traced a size 6, and then proceeded to shift the pattern pieces around on top of the shirt until the grainline was parallel with the center front and the slope of the shoulder on the pattern roughly aligned with that of the shirt. I had to dodge the bleach stain, and I also wanted to preserve the logo embroidery if possible—I liked the contrast of orange on green.

As soon as I started playing pattern-piece-Tetris, I realized there was a problem: although the shirt was plenty wide enough on me, I wasn’t able to fit the side front and side back pieces on the shirt and respect the grainline without losing a significant amount of length from the bottom. (I wish I had a photo showing this, but I forgot to take one.)

I briefly despaired, then raided Justin’s closet and dug out another polo shirt that was destined for the refashioning pile. This one was a different brand with a different cut, and it was white. The shape didn’t matter so much since I was cutting the pieces out of the middle, but I decided the white was too stark a contrast, so I over-dyed it navy using Rit liquid dye leftover from a Halloween costume project a few years ago. As with my other dyeing experiments, I used the stovetop method and it worked a treat.

With these cutting hurdles behind me, the dress sewed up quickly. I basted everything on my regular sewing machine and then sent it through the serger to seam and finish the edges. The logo just narrowly avoided being eaten by the seam.

Perhaps the only thing that would give away the secret of this dress’s origins are the teeny, tiny seams near the back underarm, which were the part of the shoulder seams on the white-shirt-turned-blue-shirt.

A split hem seemed a like a classic design choice. The back of the dress ended up several inches longer than the front, so I ended up cutting off the excess and re-hemming the back in coordinating thread for each panel.

Overall I like the way the dress turned out—it looks pretty much exactly like I envisioned it—but it’s just a little too snug and a little too short to feel comfortable walking around in. (These dress form shots are a bit deceiving, since it hasn’t been padded out to my measurements yet.) I can see that I overestimated how much the pique would stretch horizontally when choosing a size, and what felt long enough in a baggy cast-off is different from what feels long enough in a more figure-skimming silhouette. If I do a refashion like this again—I’m definitely interested in trying, I’d just need to thrift a couple more shirts—I’ll size up in both pattern and shirt so that I can get the fit I’m looking for.

Since I don’t know anyone smaller than me, this dress is headed to the thrift store, but at least that’s better than heading to a landfill, right?

FO: Christmas Party Dress

In an effort to live up to the name I’ve chosen for this blog, I’m finally bringing out something pretty to share! This is my last finished project from 2016, photographed after the first (and very likely only) snow of the winter. Although the temperatures were hovering around freezing, the fresh powder was too pretty to pass up. And since we’ve had almost exclusively damp, grey days since, it was worth enduring 15 shivering minutes to capture these photos in a rare moment of natural light.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of December, when my company holds a Christmas party for all of the staff. They rent a small ballroom at the local university and, as our office is decidedly business casual throughout the rest of the year, many people take it as an opportunity to dress up. Last year I played it easy and safe and wore a dress that I had purchased last-minute to wear to a November wedding, but this year I really wanted to express myself by making my own dress.

I had it in my head that I wanted a swingy, buffet-friendly silhouette in a festive gold. For the pattern I picked New Look 6469 View A. My original plan for the fabric was something more champagne-colored and sparkly that I had seen while browsing JoAnn’s website, but sadly, my local store barely had enough on the bolt to make a placemat, and I’m not sure it would have been weighty enough for this look anyway—too much cling and not enough drape, you know?

I was in a bind, however, because I was shopping a week before the party and didn’t have time to look elsewhere or order anything online. Like Camille, I settled for a crushed velvet instead, and also like Camille, I harbored serious doubts about the success of this project. Imagine me standing in the aisles of JoAnn, frantically Googling “crushed velvet dress” and trying to find examples that did NOT trigger flashbacks to teen movies from the 90s. (My Date with the President’s Daughter, anyone?) I took a gamble and decided that if the project was a total failure, I still had the dress I’d worn the year before, as well as a couple of older dresses hanging in my closet that would work in a pinch.

Armed with pattern, fabric, and the impetus of a swiftly-approaching deadline, the entire thing came together over five carefully scheduled nights:

  1. Press the tissue and roughly cut out the pattern pieces
  2. Trace off the pattern and make adjustments
  3. Cut fabric
  4. Sew together body, sleeves, and collar
  5. Hem (and re-sew the collar, which was unplanned)

I cut a size 8 based on the finished bust measurement. The only adjustment I made to the flat pattern was to omit the back zipper and cut the back as one piece, since the fabric is a moderately stretchy knit. I basted everything together on my sewing machine using a zigzag stitch, then serged everything with a light tan thread that blends nicely with the underside of the fabric. I’d like to reach a point where I can assemble + finish knit garments in one pass on the serger, but I don’t have a good feel for it yet, so I’ve settled for doing construction in two steps to try to ensure the seams stay lined up properly.

After sewing everything up, I realized that the collar is drafted quite high and snug; I could barely pull the dress over my head and felt like I was being strangled once I did. I forewent any serious modifications to the neckline—because it would have no doubt involved cutting a new collar, which I didn’t have time for—and settled instead on serging around the neckline a second time, cutting off the previously serged edge. This had the effect shortening the height of the collar and widening the opening all the way around, which loosened the stranglehold somewhat. It’s still not the most comfortable thing in the world, but I was able to tolerate it for the few hours I was at the party.

I like that the sleeves have darts to help the shoulders lie smoothly, but I think the armhole is cut a bit too deep for me, or else the raglan seams aren’t quite the right shape for my torso, because I feel like the dress hikes up too much when I lift my arms up or forward. It’s certainly not enough to be indecent, but it’s something I’d want to tweak if I use this pattern again.

The sleeves are also annoyingly just too short, more of a bracelet length than a true full-length sleeve. It’s possible they only seem that way because of the aforementioned armhole depth and/or raglan shaping issues, but it’s worth considering, especially since I’m only 5’2″ and never have a problem with things being short.

The sleeve and dress hems are serged, folded under, and top-stitched down using a light golden yellow thread. Hand-stitching the hems probably would have had a nicer, subtler effect, but I didn’t leave myself enough time for that, and I don’t think the overall look is spoilt because of it.

Despite my fears, the dress garnered nothing but compliments all night, and it was plenty comfy for mingling, munching, and absolutely crushing at Texas Hold’Em. It’s also gained me a bit of a reputation around the office as someone who makes things, something I hope to cultivate with future garments more suited to day-to-day wear. With any luck, I’ll be able to coax a few sewists or would-be sewists out of hiding. 😉