I’m super excited to be part of the Refashioners line up this year. It’s a stella cast which includes some of my favourite makers. I do love a good refashion and I have to say, this years brief is probably the most challenging to date. In previous years it has been about refashioning a specific garment like jeans, suits or shirts. This year there are no restrictions, this year it’s about finding your inspiration through a style icon, a garment you covet or a look you want to recreate. Ahhhh, an open brief! Creatively more interesting, but harder to navigate. So, where to start?
One of my New Year’s traditions is watching Jool’s Holland’s Annual Hootenanny on the BBC. It draws me closer to home when I feel the most homesick for my friends and family. It also is everything wonderful about music. As I’m here in Australia, I can watch this at a more reasonable time on New Years Day while nursing a little hangover. It was during this show in January that I spotted ‘the dress’. I actually paused the show and took photos of the screen, marvelling at it’s glory.
The dress was worn by Zoé Colotis, lead singer of the French electro swing band, Caravan Palace. She is such an incredible performer and is effortlessly cool. This lady has STYLE!
The dress blew me away. It’s everything I love. It’s black, it is simple but it has something extra special, it has massive gravity defying ruffles. When Portia’s refashioner brief came through there was only one image that popped into my mind. It had to be this!
This year, I have booked my ticket to Melbourne’s Frocktails. Frocktails is an event held by the sewing community where we can meet, chat all thing sewing and generally paw each others clothing without being frowned upon. The first time I did this was back in 2016. It was a chance to meet my Instagram sewing friends in real life. I’m attending this year’s event, so it seems appropriate that I make something wonderful.
I decided to take this a step further, I decided to refashion the original dress I wore to Frocktails back in 2016. I really love the original, but I have only worn it a couple of times. So time to shake things up and wear it again in a different guise. I like the idea of this dress making a second appearance.
The original outfit:
My base garment is actually a two piece ensemble. It is a loose fitting v-neck top and an A-line skirt with 2 large ruffles running around the skirt. It’s a relatively simple design from a Japanese Pattern book called Stylish Party Dresses by Yoshiko Tsukiori. If you want to read more about this make, you can read here.
The fabric was originally a second hand fabric, scored in my local charity shop for $8. I think it’s a taffeta, it has an amazing bronze backing. The front of the fabric has a slightly textured feel too, which is perfect for this transformation. I needed the texture and some structure.
All my refashions start with a toile. I like to work out how all the pieces fits together and also to get a basic idea on fit. I found a bodice section in an old Burda magazine so worked up this rough toile using the pattern as a guide.
I made a few tweaks to the pattern and moved on the the next step, unpicking. Lots of unpicking! I decided to pull the top apart, including removing the darts. I removed the ruffles from the skirt but decided to leave the main body of the skirt intact as I was unsure how to tackle this part.
I ended up with a front and back of a top, an A-line skirt, 2 very long stripes of fabric and armhole and neckline facings. It was then a case of playing pattern tetris.
I managed to get the centre front and back panels from smaller ruffle and the side panels from the front and back of the original top. Those cuff pattern pieces you can see are potentially a turtleneck collar which I didn’t cut but pinned on incase I decide to add them at the end. This is the thing about refashioning, it’s fluid, I find it a really creative process (or maybe it’s more of a ‘make it up as you go along’)!
I managed to get the new shoulder ruffles out of the larger skirt ruffle. I placed the pattern piece on the fold, the original seam in the centre.
The design itself is fairly simple. It’s essentially a princess panel bodice and a slightly A-line skirt with a fabric belt in the middle. The construction wasn’t really the issue, it’s the fit, always the fit!
I started by sewing the centre front panel and the centre back panels together at the shoulder seam. I then basted the ruffles between the front and side princess panels. I then worked on the fit, making a couple of extra tweaks to the arm holes and neckline.
There is a seam in this ruffle which I placed on the shoulder seam. In hindsight this was probably a mistake. It may have been better to hide this seam in a less visible area at the back of the top. I did have the fabric available too, oh well!
I then added the belt. This belt piece was originally allocated to the turtleneck which I abandoned. I’m not a huge fan of a turtleneck and I also thought a lovely clean facing would be more me.
I had avoided tackling the skirt part of the dress until this point. My problem was, the original design had a side seam zip but I needed to insert a back zip. So, I cut the back skirt panel in half knowing it probably wouldn’t fit. It didn’t, of course! It left me with a gap of about 5cm on either side.
I managed to pull it together by panelling a couple of left over pieces from the original skirt ruffle. I’m not unhappy with how the skirt looks, could I possibly pull it off as an intentional design feature? It’s fine, it’s a good reminder that we need to be flexible when refashioning.
I forgot how long finishing takes. Particularly when refashioning, I don’t seem to possess the art of finesse! At this point it’s was also painful obvious that I was out of useable fabric. I was given a piece of second hand black silk, originally sourced at Achieve Australia. Second hand fabric is definitely in the spirit of refashioning!
With the silk, I made some bias binding to finish my arm holes and then added a strip of the silk to hide the ‘mess’ in the middle section of the dress. I really had to hide that interfacing and dreadful overlocking.
And, I am thrilled to say that this is all that is left after my refashion!
So, here it is. How I love this dress and those ruffles are gravity defying!
I am super happy of this refashion. A cocktail dress that lives on in a different guise. I am also proud of the fit. I have been anxious about wearing anything fitted for a while now as my body has changed shape quite significantly in the last 10 years. I am surprised how flattering it looks.
I really enjoyed the brief. A little daunting at first as all open briefs tend to be but I didn’t overthink it too much. My inspiration was sitting front of mind and when I found the original two-piece gathering dust in the wardrobe, it was a match made in refashion heaven.
Thanks to my very lovely and talented friend Louisa Eagleton, it was so much fun doing this shoot with you. I have some amazing photos to document this make, forever grateful. Thanks Lou!