Anatomy of an upcycle

upcycled maxi dress

When I first dipped my toes into making clothes, upcycling- that is turning a piece of clothing you don’t want to wear into something you do want to wear- was an easy, nonthreatening way to start. Through reading sites like New Dress A Day and Paris Ciel, and with practice, I got better at recognizing pieces with potential and transforming them. My most-worn pieces to date include this blue sundress and this red button down .

why so much sleeve?
before: too much sleeve, too much boob

The brown maxi dress pictured here is my latest success. When I was still living in Philly, post Philly-blogger-meetupAndrea and I went thrifting (sorry for all that name dropping). She spied this beauty at Philly AIDS Thrift, and despite my reluctance at the $15 price tag convinced me to buy it.

The first thing I focus on when choosing a piece of clothing to upcycle is the fit. If the part of the dress I want to keep fits- I keep it. It is easy to change the hem length, but can be much harder to change the shoulders or waist. On this dress the bodice fit perfectly. No changes needed there. The first thing I did was cut about 7″ off of the skirt length and used my serger to sew an easy rolled hem. Be careful while hemming knits- removing fabric (and weight that stretches the fabric out) allows the hem to spring up. The hem can end up shorter than you intend, so it’s best to cut fabric off a little at a time.

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Next I had to address the matter of boobage. You can see my bra in the before picture- the neckline plunges waaay too low. I sewed the sides of the neckline together with a blind stitch to add a couple inches of coverage. You can see in the above picture what a difference a couple inches make to the neckline.

After that, I chopped the sleeves off, leaving some space below the arm. The original sleeves attached to the band at the bottom of the bodice, so I needed to leave fabric there so I could raise the armhole. I pinched the fabric together and sewed it in a straight line, creating a new side seam. You can see the line down the middle of the V under the arm  hole that this created:

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The last thing I needed to do was finish the straps and neckline. I used tailors chalk to draw the neckline I wanted on the front and back of the dress. Sometimes I make a paper pattern to ensure that both sides are even, but I eyeballed it on this dress since I wasn’t making a super drastic change. I widened the front neckline by about an inch, narrowed the straps, and lowered the back of the dress by 2 inches.

Before
Before
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After

The neckline and straps were intimidating but not very difficult. I used bias tape to finish the edges, first pinning and stitching the bias tape along the chalk lines, then trimming off the extra fabric, and finally turning the bias tape under and topstitching it in place. The dress was originally finished with facings, and I wanted to keep this feature. I made sure to catch the facings as I sewed the bias tape.

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And then I was done. Another great dress added to my closet. Have you had any upcycling successes recently? What techniques do you use to complete an upcycle?

E-DSC_0795 (2)-Recovered E-DSC_0830 (2)-Recovered

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