The Refashioners is baaaack, and might I go as far as to say, better than ever!! Masterminded by Portia Lawrie, the annual challenge of taking second hand, unloved, unwanted, discarded clothes and/or materials to refashion and rework into something entirely new, unique and fabulous has been going strong since 2011.
The challenge - which has a different theme each year - typically kicks off with a month long inspiration smorgasbord as each day a different sewing blogger chosen by Portia presents what they have created, and I feel incredibly proud to have been part of that line-up for many a year. The following month, the challenge is then opened up to the sewing community at large, as sewists around the globe post their creations online using the relevant hashtags (this year they are #TheRefashioners2018 and #inspiredby) for us all to ogle and wonder over. There are prizes to be won, fun to be had, and the word of refashioning to be spread.
This year, the theme is 'Inspired By'. We had to choose an image as our starting point, and work towards recreating that image, look or feel using at least 80% second hand materials. As soon as Portia told me the theme, I knew that this was going to be a serious Scarlett O'Hara moment for me...
One of the things I like to do when I'm refashioning, is to create something so sickeningly fabulous that you'd never guess it had been made from somebody else's trash. No one ever did this better than Scarlett and Mamie with their opulent green velvet gown made from a pair of tired old curtains so that Scarlett could give the impression of wealth to the unsuspecting Rhett Butler (*faints*), when in reality they were dirt poor living hand to mouth on their war-torn farm, and trying to wangle a loan out of him.
The moment Scarlett O'Hara shows up at the jail in Atlanta in her green velvet curtains dress to visit Rhett Butler and ask him for a loan
I didn't want to recreate that specific dress, mostly because woah dudes, and also because I didn't want to end up with something that was so obviously a replica of such a recognisable dress. But I did want to follow her lead, and that of Maria in The Sound of Music, and create my refashion from old curtains...
What I was actually #inspiredby, was Dolce & Gabbana. And in particular, this gown from their Alta Moda Autumn Winter 2017 collection:
To my eyes, this is perfection. Timeless, universally flattering, joyful, unapologetically feminine, just perfect. A quick eBay search and before long I was planning a trip to Brighton to collect a huuuuge pair of vintage Sanderson curtains that had a similarly whimsical pale yellow and blue colour theme as the D&G dress of my dreams.
The best thing about curtains is the insane amount of fabric you have to play with! I made a whole gown, and I probably have enough leftovers to make another. They were made up of three layers: the main fabric - a lightweight cotton sateen with a smooth surface sheen; the interlining - almost like a fine quilt batting, the interlining gives the curtains their weight and opacity; and the lining - a lightweight calico.
For the pattern, I started with the same off-the-shoulder hacked Elisalex dress bodice pieces that I made for this velvet NYE dress, and there's a tutorial in there if you'd like to see how I did it.
I kept the curtain's interlining in place as I cut the pattern pieces so as to give the dress' shell more structure, and having this extra structure at the seams would also mean that the princess seams would be stronger and hold up nicely, without the need for boning. I do feel like I have to mention that if I were making a dress like this for, say, a bride, I would definitely not forgo boning for curtain interlining! For this dress I wanted to stay as true to the theme as possible, and I imagine that Scarlett would not have been able to order in some steel boning to give her curtain dress the structure she needed. In desperate times, you work with what you got, and I really enjoyed taking on that mentality for this challenge!
In this picture you can see the bodice front pinned to the curtain's interlining. At this point I was considering hand sewing on a bunch of costume jewellery (sourced from my local charity shop), an element which featured heavily in that, and other D&G couture collections. In the end I felt like that would be too much and would even go as far as to cheapen the overall look of the finished dress, so I discarded that plan. I do have a bunch of old (faux) pearl necklaces though, and am still considering sewing on a few cluster-bursts of pearls to enhance the dress... One day....
For the off the shoulder sleeves I draped a rectangle of fabric while the assembled bodice shell was on the mannequin, pleating and pinning until it resembled the delicate little upper arm pouff of the D&G dress.
At this point I decided that the neckline would have to be significantly lowered, and cut sweetheart for good measure!
With the bodice shell assembled, sleeves draped and basted, and the lining sewn in, I put my bodice on the mannequin to see how things were progressing... I was squealing inside as I snapped this picture to send to Portia as an update!
For the skirt I started with a basic rectangle, multiplying my waistline by three so I could get some nice big pleats in there. Then I sliced up the length of the skirt from the hem to the waist so I could spread it out and make it more A-line and voluminous. This one pattern piece has lines and instructions for the skirt front, skirt back (with a little train) and the lining.
Once I'd cut out the skirt pieces I pinned them onto the mannequin so that I could decide on pleat placement...
The rest of the dress came together fairly quickly. I have to just take a moment to say a huge thank you to my beast of a sewing machine who managed to sew through multiple layers and seam intersections of fabric and interlining, without so much as breaking into a sweat. The extra huge area under the machine's arm also meant that feeding all that fabric through was less of a struggle (and when I got to inserting the zipper, believe me I was literally wrestling with the gown!).
The dress is fully lined with the curtain's lining. I bagged out the hem, which for a gown such as this, gives the most beautifully soft and kushy finish in my opinion. It's also quick to sew and cuts out what would be hours of hand hemming....
One of my favourite things about this dress are the skirt front pleats. They start all the way over at the side seams, which enhances the hourglass silhouette, while keeping the centre front tummy area nice and flat. Also, please just take a moment with me to admire that flawless bodice seam - skirt pleat intersection right there:
I am really, really happy with how the dress turned out! My only critiques are:
- that I forgot to understitch a length of elastic around the neckline, which would have helped keep the off the shoulder sleeves in place and less droopy.
- that the skirt could have been much more voluminous in order to better match the original Dolce & Gabbana dress... However, the way it is now makes the dress feel more like something out of My Fair Lady, which is fine by me!
The only part of the dress that is new is the blue ribbon. The fabric came entirely from the curtain, and the zipper was harvested from an old pattern sample I made that didn't quite make it to 'wearble toile' status.
Luckily, I remembered that I had a coupon for a free blowdry so I cashed in on that the morning of the shoot, and having found the perfect little dead end end street in Knightsbridge that just oozed old London luxury, my princess moment was complete!
I really did feel like a queen swanning around in that dress, so much so that after the shoot, we went for lunch at a nearby pub and I didn't change back into my normal clothes! If anyone wants to bring this sort of dressing back into everyday style, count me IN.
Oh, and I totally forgot to mention that it has pockets! To think that in my panic to get the dress done on time, I came close to not bothering, but I am SO glad that I did! Honestly, pockets made a dress like this so much more comfortable and wearable.
There are still a couple of weeks left of the blogger element of The Refashioners to get you inspired! Make sure you're following @portialawrie to see everyone else's creations as and when they are published. And there's still time to get involved! Here's all you need to know...
- Blogger Element: Running from 3rd Sept to 28th Sept this year. A month of inspiration posts to get your creative juices flowing.
Community Challenge: This will run right from 1st Sept to 31st October. There will be the usual phenomenal prize package for our winner(s) at the end. You can share your creations any time between those dates to be entered into the competition. To enter you’ll need to SHARE your refashions (We want to see the inspiration image, the before image(s) of your source garment(s), and the after images of course! Extra kudos given for how closely your “after” images resemble your inspiration images!) Share with us in one of the following ways:
- On Instagram: Share a pic using the hashtags #therefashioners2018 #inspiredby (if you do not use these hashtags Portia will not be able to find your entry and it will not count)
- On Facebook: There is a community board here where you can post your makes (You will need to request an invite to join)
Only entries shared via the above 2 methods will be entered into the competition. Closing date for entries is 31st October 2018 Midnight GMT.