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: Slant of Light

If it weren’t for the metadata attached to these photos, as well as a recently developed habit of scribbling dates on the paper copies of my patterns, I never would have been able to recall when I started or finished this project. Clearly at least a season ago, judging by the outfit. As it turns out, I knit up this shawl between the end of July and the beginning of August—nearly half a year ago.

The project didn’t begin with the knitting, though. No, it all started with the yarn, which began its life as the leftovers from my So In Love cardigan (Ravelry link), which apparently pre-dates this blog by a year. I had an entire skein still in my stash, the perfect amount for a shawl. But I didn’t really want another item in the exact same shade of pink, and I wasn’t sure that the slightly cooler tone would be particularly flattering near my face either. It was the perfect candidate for a little over-dyeing experiment. My goal was a warm, orangey-pink coral, which I hoped to achieve using Rit liquid dye and the stovetop method.

For my first attempt, I referenced the Favorite Rit Dye Colors handout and followed the recipe for Coral, which calls for 1/2 cup Petal Pink and 2 tbsp of Tangerine. (Interestingly, there’s another color with the same liquid dye decipe, called Sea Coral (Pink). They have different powder dye recipes, which, combined with my own results, leads me to believe that the Sea Coral one is a misprint.) The result was a saturated hue that was almost neon in its intensity, and more orange than I expected to boot.

Despite its undeniable cheerfulness and perfectly even color, I didn’t love it. Since I considered the leftover yarn a bonus, I decided to gamble and try dyeing it again. But since I ultimately wanted a lighter color, I needed to strip the dye first. (Actually, I needed to untangle the yarn first, then remove the color. Long story short, I didn’t tie off the hank in enough places before dyeing, and my enthusiastic stirring yielded a rat’s nest that took the better part of a Saturday to unravel. Do yourself a favor and tie off the hank twice—three times!—as many times as you think you need before dropping it in the pot.)

I picked up a package of Rit Color Remover, which worked shockingly well—and fast. As soon as the yarn touched the water, it bleached to a natural cream color. I followed the directions for soaking, again using the stovetop method, and then rinsing. I honestly don’t recall if I also washed the yarn afterward as instructed, but if I did I would have used Eucalan as my detergent.

Sidebar: I suspect the wool content in Cascade Heritage Silk is made into a superwash yarn using a method that glues the scales down, rather than removing them, because after bleaching the yarn seemed a lot grippier, like a non-superwash wool would be. I think the bleach dissolved the glue. I’d be interested to know if anyone can confirm or reject this hypothesis.

For my second attempt, I used the same amount of Petal Pink dye, but reduced the Tangerine to either 1 tablespoon or 2 teaspoons. (I know, I know, I should have written it down. I had planned to blog about it right away, and I did remember it for several weeks while mentally composing the post.)

As you can probably tell from the pictures, the dye didn’t take evenly on the second pass. Instead, it produced this lovely semi-solid color, which I quite like: it looks hand-dyed now.

Compared to producing a satisfying color, choosing a pattern was a breeze. Not only had Marisa Hernandez’s Crooked Cathedral been in my favorites for ages, but my yarn turned out nearly the same color as one of her samples! Details on the knitting itself are on my Ravelry project page.

It’s been bitterly cold the last few days, far too cold for such a lightweight neck covering, but seeing seeing it shine in my closet, like the light slanting through a stained glass window in late afternoon, warms my spirit.

FO: Toasted Marshmallow

When I was a kid, campfires were a summertime affair. We had them on camping trips, of course, whether taken with family or with the Girl Scouts every other summer or so. But sometimes we were treated to them in our own neighborhood, if a neighbor was willing to sacrifice a corner of their backyard to an impromptu fire pit, hastily dug, maybe ringed with leftover landscape pavers.

On our little suburban street, houses on one side of the street backed up against a strip of woods; houses on the other didn’t. Ours was one of the houses that didn’t, so we had to plead to our friends’ parents to give us a campfire. If the mood and the weather were right, we’d get our wish.

Sometimes, if one of the adults had thought ahead, or the kids begged enough, there would be s’mores, but we were more likely to have only marshmallows, and just as likely as that to have popsicles (there was always a box in someone’s freezer, and you never had to worry they’d gone stale, like graham crackers always do).

Like any kid, I sampled marshmallows every way, from barely warmed in the shimmering air above the flames to fire-caught, charred, and molten on the inside; I’m partial to a tawny exterior and gooey-soft interior, the kind of marshmallow that takes patience to create.

As an adult, camping has lost much of its allure—I enjoy my creature comforts, my soft bed and hot showers—and I don’t often crave marshmallows, but I still enjoy a fire. Perhaps even more now than before.

Then, campfires were a thing for muggy twilit hours, a treat that could be granted or withheld, presided over by adults who didn’t want you to get too close and wouldn’t let you prod a burning log with your toasting stick, to see if you could coax a bigger, brighter flame.

Now? Now I’m the adult, with a house, with a fireplace and a yard of my own. I can have a fire when I choose. Instead of the end of a stretched summer day, I choose cool autumn evenings and chilly winter nights, a time when thoughts are sharpened like the cold edges of the air.

I build the fires, I tend them, and I’ve discovered to my surprise that my secret wish came true—I’m good at it.

I sit as close as I want, feeling the skin on my cheeks tighten and shine with the heat, letting woodsmoke cling to my clothes, tangle in my hair. Knowing that, even days later, a shock of warm water will set the smoke billowing free again.

I didn’t knit this scarf by a fire, though I thought often—and wistfully—of campfires while I knit it. How could I not? It’s the color of a perfectly toasted marshmallow.

It would make for good fireside knitting too, albeit of the indoor variety, as the placement of the eyelets is too unpredictable to trust to memory and demands a decent light to check the charts.

The pattern, Alicia Plummer’s Campside, calls for DK yarn; I used Meadowcroft Dyeworks Cross Creek Sock, a fingering-weight yarn. The yarn was a souvenir skein from Gate City Yarns in Greensboro, North Carolina. If you’re ever that way, do stop in—the staff are some of the nicest I’ve ever met.

Because of yardage differences, I only knit 19 of the 24 rows of the last chart and ended with 5 rows of garter stitch instead of the deep ribbed border. I hope to knit this pattern again, but as designed, for an even warmer, weightier scarf for truly cold weather.

As summer finally surrenders to autumn and the temperatures fall, I’m ready for the season of crackling red-orange fires and toasty woolen accessories.

Tribute Month Sewing Notes

Have you been following Tribute Month over on the Sewcialists blog? My own tribute went up earlier this week—check it out here to read how Erica Bunker inspired this outfit, and don’t forget to follow the blogs of all the creative and inspiring contributors who made Tribute Month possible! I can hardly wait for the next theme—having direction and a concrete deadline really helped to focus my sewing, especially when I came close to stalling out right before the finish.

Before these garments are too far behind me, it seems like a good idea to record some of the more technical details of what I did. I deviated significantly on both patterns, but I do hope to make them again, and I’d like the next versions to be even better.

First, the skirt. It’s Simplicity 1465 View C, a straight skirt with a waist facing, front and back darts, and a center back invisible zipper. I’ve said many times before that I’m not fond of skirts that sit the natural waist because they feel constricting to me, and because they tend to emphasize that my waist is not much smaller than my bust and hips, making it look thicker than it is and making my whole torso look rather straight-up-and-down. But I’ve also had minimal success at finding or altering patterns to be low-rise, and after ruining a lovely lightweight yardage of navy corduroy trying to make that modification, I decided to bite the bullet and give a natural-waisted skirt a try. I wagered that, since I was planning to make it in a dressier print, I’d probably only wear it for nicer occasions anyway, and if I didn’t love it, I’d only be wearing it for a few hours at a time a few times a year anyway.

I cut a straight size 12 based on my waist measurement, but pegged the bottom of the skirt by subtracting 1 inch at each side seam (4 inches total). My waist is a fraction larger than a 12, but after reviewing the pattern pieces I was confident that there was enough ease to cover that extra quarter-inch. In fact, after wearing the skirt out to take photos, I think that I could take the waist in a little on a future iterations. I don’t know if I could go down a full size, but I could probably shave a little off each side seam—and possibly a little more if I chose not to line it or chose a slightly stretchier fabric than the mid-weight stretch cotton sateen I used here.

The pattern is designed to be unlined, but I wanted the option to wear it with tights in cooler weather, so turned to Sunni’s BurdaStyle tutorials for how to create a ventdraft a vented lining, and sew a vented lining, but modifying my pieces slightly to keep the original waist facing. These instructions used to be on Sunni’s blog A Fashionable Stitch, and I vaguely recall them being easier to follow when I used them the first time. I managed to muddle through them with much reading, re-reading, and test-folding my fabric, but it does bug me (more than it should, to be honest) that they create a vent that is lapped in the opposite direction than usually you see in ready-to-wear: normally the satin stitches that tack the top of the vent in place create the appearance of the number 1. In future iterations, I’ll reverse my left and right back pattern pieces and back lining pattern pieces. I’ll also make the vent longer (taller?), because I find it shortens my walking stride a little more than I like.

One critical thing that’s not covered by the tutorial is attaching the lining to the skirt at the waist. The tutorial is written for the BurdaStyle Jenny skirt, which has a waistband, so you can follow all of the steps for attaching the lining to the skirt at the vent and then worry about attaching the lining to the skirt at the waist afterward. Because I was using a pattern with a facing instead of waistband, I figured out that I needed to attach the shell and lining at the waist first if I wanted to be able to get a clean finish, including understitching the waist facing to keep it lying flat. Once the waist was taken care of, then I could follow the instructions for attaching the lining to the vent, and then finally handle attaching the lining to the zipper tape so that it doesn’t get caught in the zipper.

And now, the top. It’s Simplicity 1425 View E, a sleeveless, princess-seamed top with a pleated peplum. Although my measurements put me in a size 12, I cut a size 10 after seeing that the pattern has 3.5″ of ease at the bust and 4.5″ of ease at the waist. If/when I make it again, I’ll go down a size; with such a contoured style, and especially in a fabric with stretch, I’d like it to fit more closely to my body than it does.

When I pulled this pattern from my stash to sew, I actually thought it was designed with a back zipper, and it wasn’t until I had cut out all the pieces and was skimming the instructions before starting to sew that I realized it has buttons. I can’t imagine making it that way; it’s not loose enough to render the buttons purely decorative, and having to do them up behind my own back—with fabric loops instead of buttonholes, no less!—is not my idea of fun.

Despite some initial trepidation about using a separating metal zipper, the entire process was painless, easier than installing an invisible zipper. I used an 18″ zipper, which ended up about 3.5″ shorter than the length of the top. I knew that the top of the skirt would come up higher than the bottom of the zipper, and if I’m wearing it casually with low-rise jeans I don’t mind the possibility of flashing a tiny sliver of skin, but if that’s a concern then definitely consider getting a longer zipper and shortening it.

For both pieces, I finished things cleanly and invisibly everywhere I could. The skirt lining has French seam; the skirt shell has serged seams (I thought Hong Kong seams, while lovely, would be too bulky and hidden anyway); the cut edge of the skirt hem is covered with a fun purple grosgrain ribbon and blindstitched in place. The top has bias facings at neck, arm, and peplum hem, all blinstitched as well. I enjoy hand-sewing, but next time I’ll draft an all-in-one facing for the bodice.

On the whole, I’m very pleased with how the entire outfit came out, and I’m very much looking forward to wearing it to a professional event in October. It’s also restored some of my desire to sew with wovens (or stretch wovens, at least), because it proved that I could find middle ground between a comfortable fit and a flattering silhouette. I doubt they’ll overtake knits in my wardrobe, but at least I can regard them with a little less prejudice.

Inspired by Sewcialists

I spend as much (or more) time dreaming and scheming about my wardrobe as I do sewing it. There are so many clever, creative people sharing their sewing adventures online, and so many drool-worthy projects beamed directly to my appreciative eyeballs each day, that sometimes it’s tempting never to sit down at my own sewing machine!

Tribute Month is about fanning that glow of admiration into a fire for completing a garment. Below are five brilliant ladies who have style and passion in spades, and who make me want to sew up a beautiful handmade wardrobe. Each one is an inspiring answer to the question: “What should I make next?”

Inspiration #1

Allie

Sewcialist: Allie of Allie M. Jackson

Sewcializes at: Blog, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest

Style notes: Demure & coordinated

How she inspires me: Variously described as “modern mid-century” and “fresh, feminine, and vintage-inspired,” Allie’s style strikes a perfect balance between retro glamour and modern sensibilities. She tempers silhouettes from the past with today’s fabrics, of-the-moment accessories, and practical makeup and hairstyles. When she dresses down, she never looks sloppy, even if she’s just taking her dog for a walk or lounging in her pajamas.

In short, Allie has the kind of always-put-together look that I dream of creating in my own wardrobe. Her success is due in no small part to the fact that she knows what colors work for her and sticks to them for most of her projects, and she has no problem sewing a winning pattern multiple times to up the mixing and matching potential. At the same time, she often uses interesting fabrics or thoughtful details like lace overlays, ruffled accents, or a touch of embroidery to elevate her garments from ordinary to everyday luxuries.

What I’d sew: What better place to start than a two-piece set? Coordinated separates in a solid color (especially if it’s from my personal color palette) or a large-scale print would be great wardrobe-builders on their own and would make a bold statement when worn together. If I wanted to go a step further and borrow more specifically from Allie’s closet, I’d choose a faux crop top and full skirt.

Inspiration #2

Erica.jpg

Sewcialist: Erica of Erica Bunker DIY Style

Sewcializes at: Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube

Style Notes: Fashion-forward

How she inspires me: Erica is a powerhouse when it comes to sewing. She regularly sews the more complex patterns available from the Big 4—often turning out multiple garments a month—and she’s completely undaunted by fiddly construction techniques, shifty fabrics, or harder-to-fit garments like jackets and pants. In fact, she’s got such a firm grasp of fitting and all the little tricks that make garments a success (never skip the interfacing!) that I can’t remember a time she’s mentioned a project turning out poorly.

But what really attracts me to Erica’s work is her focus on fashion. Sewing enables her to explore and revel in sartorial trends, and her excitement about the creative possibilities this offers runs like an electric current through every one of her sewing stories. She genuinely enjoys the process of sewing clothes in order to dress her best, and the way she challenges herself to re-create or take inspiration from expensive luxury brands makes me want to push my own sewing (and dressing) to the next level.

What I’d sew: Because Erica sews just about everything she wears, no garment would be off limits here, so long as it has a dramatic detail like plunging neckline, exaggerated sleeves, or cut-outs.

Inspiration #3

Juebejue.jpg

Sewcialist: Juebejue of Petite Republic

Sewcializes at: Blog

Style notes: Flirty & feminine

How she inspires me: Shout-out to all my fellow shorties! While pattern adjustments for a petite figure are by no means the most difficult or time-consuming modifications, I’m always on the lookout for style ideas from other ladies 5’4” and under.

But beyond a shared need to shorten everything, what I admire most about Juebejue is her unabashed love for clothes that are fun and a just a bit sexy. She rocks floaty dresses and sky-high heels, and she’s not afraid to show a little skin. She’s also devoted mom to two girls—check out the sweet costumes she’s made for Little A and Little K—and throughout the changes that’s brought she’s maintained a strong sense of personal style and a devotion to wearing what she enjoys.

Juebejue is fearless, and a great reminder to wear the clothes that make you feel good about your body, whatever that may look like.

What I’d sew: Time to set my own silly insecurities aside and treat myself to a short-short dress that shows off my legs. For some instant-gratification girliness, I’d whip up a ruffly off-the-shoulder top in a summery color. For a more time-intensive project, I’d love to sew a perfectly fitted fashion corset that I could wear out to date night.

Inspiration #4

Carolyn.jpg

Sewcialist: Carolyn of Handmade by Carolyn

Sewcializes at: Blog, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube

Style notes: Practical layers with a twist

How she inspires me: If you know anything at all about Carolyn, then a better question is “how DOESN’T she inspire me?” This amazing lady committed to a year of wearing only handmade items, including shoes, and continues to wear exclusively handmade garments even after her self-set challenge has ended. She’s created not one but two wholly local outfits. She’s an unselfish sewist and an occasional costume-maker. She also knits.

Carolyn sews a mix of dresses and separates, and she’s a pro at mixing, matching, and layering the items in her closet. Many of her garments would superficially qualify as basics, but they’re far from boring. She often turns to Vogue or Japanese pattern designers to inject her projects with visual interest through unusual style lines or clever construction. Her approach to wardrobe building means that she not only looks fab day to day, but putting together a coordinated travel wardrobe for any climate is a breeze.

What I’d sew: A miniskirt with statement pockets or a knit top with a draped neckline would be a great way to add both versatility and punch to my wardrobe. A woven dress with hi-lo split hem (and perfectly mitered corners) would easily take me from work to weekend in style.

Inspiration #5

Klara.JPG

Sewcialist: Klara of A Robot Heart

Sewcializes at: Blog, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest

Style notes: Vintage prep & whimsy

How she inspires me: A Robot Heart dwells at the intersection of dreamy fairy tale landscapes and serious reflections on identity, beauty, and sustainability. Striving for balance is a recurring theme in Klara’s personal style journey, and her outfits are a delightful contrast of tough and sweet, practical and playful, classic and quirky. Likewise, her wardrobe is a varied collection of garments she’s sewn herself (many self-drafted!), accessories made by independent designers, thrift shop finds, and vintage hand-me-downs.

Klara’s a veteran re-mixer, but the common thread throughout her looks is a touch of the romantic, the whimsical, the just-a-little-silly. As her style has evolved, various influences have waxed and waned, but her outfits remain undeniably her, which in my mind is the definition of style.

Each of Klara’s outfits has a larger story beyond the sewing, one she tells in a voice that is lyrical yet raw with honesty—no mean feat considering English isn’t her first language. She doesn’t shy away from sharing her own struggles with responsible consumption, self-acceptance, and mental health, and she’s a model for using sewing and fashion as an avenue to look thoughtfully at all areas of life.

What I’d sew: Balance and contrast are touchstones for Klara, so a fitted denim jacket with metal hardware or an oversized knit cardigan with leather elbow patches would bring a good mix of yin and yang to my closet. To inject a dose of fun into my otherwise sedate work wardrobe, Klara would no doubt approve a button-up shirt in a cheeky print.