Remaking a Formal Dress

Last May I bought a dress. I bought it, not because of what it was, but because of what I could make from it.

I loved the bright color and the full swing of the skirt. It reminded me of all those long dresses that Ginger Rogers used to wear when dancing with Fred Astaire. Or perhaps the fancy dress Grace Kelly wore in High Society. I knew I could make something from it, but first I had to get rid of the lace and ruffles.

You can see that the skirt was extremely sheer. There must have been a slip or underskirt which got separated from the dress. My first step was to solve that problem by adding additional layers of chiffon. I chose a yellow with a hot pink underskirt. The different colors would show through creating shifting highlights as the skirt moved.

I used the skirt of the dress as a pattern. It was pretty simple since the skirt was a full circle.

The skirt was also far too long. Its original owner must have been taller than me or habitually wore seven inch platform shoes. So I trimmed the skirt and hemmed it.

There is a lot of sewing involved when you have three layers of full-circle skirt. Particularly when you have to hem around twice to get the proper narrow roll. The resulting dress was wearable, but exceedingly simple. It was time for me to take some of that ruffle and some of the left over yellow chiffon and make the dress much more attractive.

I played with draping and wrapping the fabric that I had available. The waist of the dress was high, so I knew that I wanted to add a wide belt to create a better silhouette. I also decided that those triangle sleeves needed to go. Unfortunately none of the pieces of orange chiffon were wide enough to make sleeves. So I got creative.

I sewed together two segments of ruffle so that the hemmed bits were together.

I used the sleeve piece from a dress pattern I had, making sure that the seam ran down the center of the sleeve. Once the sleeve was constructed, I slit open this sleeve seam so that it gaps open attractively along the top of my arm only being joined at the top of the sleeve and at my elbow. I’ll try to get a picture of this the next time I try on the dress.

I decided to make long drapes off my shoulders to add interest in the back. Besides I had to do something with all that left over ruffle. You can see the huge pile of it on the floor. I still have a pile of it even after the dress is done. I’ll hold it against future alterations or repairs.

The next steps involved a lot of hand sewing. Most of the things could have been done on machine, but tacking things into place by hand made unpicking and re-sewing much easier. I did a lot as I was figuring out the best ways to accomplish the look I’d hoped for.

I am pleased with the result. I’ll take pictures when I’m wearing it and all dressed up, but for now you can see it on the hanger.

I loved this project. I loved breathing new life into an old dress. I loved taking it apart and re-using the old pieces. My brain is already burbling with ideas about how to do this again, only with a completely different dress. For now I need to put my dress aside until a week from Saturday when I get to wear it to the Hugos.

4 thoughts on “Remaking a Formal Dress”

  1. Wow Sandra. That turned out GREAT! You really had a vision. I look at the start, and would have NEVER seen the end result.
    I am in awe.

  2. Sandra, it’s gorgeous! I so envy you talent for sewing and your artistic eye, and I’m so excited to see it on you! So beautiful!

Comments are closed.