Monday, July 6, 2015

Two dresses to one skirt

I really loved the princess dress my boyfriend bought me in Indonesia, but for one thing: Indonesian dresses are generally sized for Indonesian people, and as you can see, Indonesian people are smaller than me!

Tall person next to a bunch of short people, tilting head to appear less tall

So the sleeves of the dress came to an awkward length just above my wrists (pulled up in this photo to hide that fact) and the skirt ended right at the middle of my calves, which, combined with the empire waist, just looked wrong to me. When I wore it, I felt like I was trying (and failing) to fit into a child's dress! The other issue with the dress was that even the bust was short—so every time I lifted my arm, the empire waist raised itself above my boobs and stayed there. The epitome of awkwardness.

I kept the dress in my Projects Box over the winter, examining it periodically and pondering how I would ever make it look good on me. The ill-fitting bodice was pretty much a loss, so I concentrated on salvaging the skirt. I couldn't shorten it – even though it would look much better shorter – because its best feature was the graduated design that extended down its entire length. I decided in the end to just turn it into a midi skirt and hope it wouldn't make my legs look stubby.

The next question was what to do for a lining. I had removed the original lining that had come with the dress, because it was almost as see-through as the gossamer top layer. So when I wore it as a dress, I just layered a satin navy blue nightgown underneath it. But that wouldn't work so well with just a skirt. After waiting around for months, hoping I'd run into the perfect large swathe of fabric I could use for a liner, I decided to go ahead and make it without a liner, hoping it would look good over pants or another skirt.

The first step was cutting the skirt away from the bodice. I didn't worry about doing it carefully or laboriously ripping out the hem, because when I'd removed the lining originally, I'd accidentally cut the outer layer in several places, so that whole top portion of it needed to be trimmed anyway.

Then it was time to work on the waistband. I had an elastic waistband salvaged from a pair of pajama pants, but it was blindingly white, and I worried that it would be too obvious through the sheer fabric. Rather than buy a darker elastic band, I doused it with some leftover not-quite-"black" hair dye mixed with a little water and let it soak in a plastic cup until the liquid had evaporated. That left me with a kind of blotchy red-brown that would look pretty horrendous by itself, but would probably be nicely camouflaged under the colors of the skirt.

I attached the two separate pieces of elastic together, and then wrapped it around my waist unstretched. I figured this loose fit would give me a lot of leeway for positioning the skirt at various heights. Then I pinned the center of the elastic to one inner side of the skirt, pinned the new ends of the elastic to the opposite inner side of the skirt, and, stretching the elastic to match the width of the fabric, pinned in a few more spots.

Then I sewed it down as close to the raw edge of the fabric as possible, stretching as I went. When the waistband was all sewn in, I cut off its dangling tail and attached the two ends together permanently. I thought I would just flip the elastic over once when wearing the skirt, to hide it (kind of like the opposite of what cheerleaders do with their Soffe shorts), but the fabric was too lightweight and bulged too much at the top.
So I stretched and pinned again, this time working on the outside, and sewed the waistband to the bottom edge of the elastic band on  the outside.

Zoom in and you can see the two lines of stitches, one that's only visible on the inside, and the second one, that's visible on the outside as well.

Now I realized I had gotten so gung-ho about actually adding the waistband, that I had neglected to rinse the dye out of it, which would surely lead to laundry disasters farther down the road. I was hesitant about this part, certain that I would end up discoloring the skirt, but the other option was to remove the painstakingly made waistband.

So I turned the dress upside-down in my bathtub and liberally ran water over the waistband, letting the tub fill up as I went. Then I swished the fabric around in the water to allow more dye to rinse out. There was still some dye coming out when I quit, but I wasn't about to kneel over the bathtub forever. I pulled the skirt out and set it in the window to dry. None of the dye transfered to the skirt, thank goodness.

Weeks had gone by, and I still hadn't come up with a liner or found a skirt that looked good underneath this one. So I found a dusky pink dress in my costume box, one that had never looked good, and decided to sacrifice it to the fashion gods, lopping the bodice off and keeping the skirt.

Since I'd already sewn the waistband up, my objective in adding the liner was to not create any more visible seams. There was a little bit of exposed elastic remaining on the underside of the waistband, so I decided to attach the liner there.

Leaving the skirt and liner right side out (just the way they would be when actually wearing), I put the liner inside the skirt with its top edge poking out.

Then I turned the waistband over so the exposed elastic was on the outside.

Then I pinned the waistband to the liner at the side seams and on each of the front and back.

Next, it was time for sewing! I stretched the fabric between the pins as I went, so I would get a bit of a gathered waist.

When all was sewn, I turned the waistband back to its normal position, and I was done attaching!

I did wear the skirt once at this point, but I still didn't feel it was finished. The bottom hem had always bothered me, since it wasn't cut on a line with the printed pattern, so I later removed the bottom hem, cut it so that the bottom border of the pattern was also the bottom of the skirt, and re-sewed it.

I'm still learning how to do a good rolled hem, but I achieved an acceptable one with this attempt.

And that concludes my alterations.
When it was time to wear my new skirt in public, I decided to embrace its dark and mysterious side (the aspects that had made it look "gypsyish" in the first place. So I wore it with a drapey black shirt and black shoes.

Meanwhile, I still have the bodices from both of the dresses that went into this skirt. I wonder what kind of black magic I can work with them....

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