Monday, July 27, 2015

Garden transplants

Enough with the baggy waists! Enough!

This ruffly, gathered-just-below-the-waist tank top wasn't doing my figure any favors, but I really loved the pattern, so I uprooted and replaced some of the elastic to make it a better fit for me.

Step 1: Turn inside out and pick out the elastic band that runs around the inside near the bottom.
Step 2: Reattach that elastic to the back of the shirt, near the top.

There were some intermediary steps, mainly a lot of trial and error to determine how much fully-stretched elastic I would have to add to remove 5 inches of fabric when unstretched (apparently it's 6-and-a-quarter for this particular piece of elastic), but you get the gist of it.

By following this fairly simple method, I got a nice comfy tank top that's fitted at the top and flared at the bottom.

I wore it to a conference last week.

As you can see, I went all warm and conservative (because conferences are notorious for being overly air-conditioned) with long black pants and a blue sweater and flat shoes because I also planned to do a fair amount of walking....

But once business hours were over, it was time to get glam with bare shoulders, some stylin' (free from a vendor!) shades, and – last but not least – a dramatic pose!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Field of butterflies


I recently added a pair of straps to this formerly strapless green dress (stay tuned for the blog post on how). But even though it's no longer a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen, I still prefer to keep my shoulders a little less bare at the office.

Enter the butterfly scarf! Lightweight and summery, yet big enough to cover even the most scandalously exposed skin, it is the perfect addition to this breezy outfit.

Of course, butterflies always beget more butterflies—at least in my wardrobe (in case you're curious, I have no less than 11 pieces of butterfly jewelry), so adding on a butterfly pendant was a natural choice.

 Now it doesn't take much imagination for all these butterflies hovering over an expanse of green to evoke visions of a butterfly-filled meadow, so it's no great stretch that my next accessorizing moves all involved flowers. 

The pink floral shoes, which I'd been about to relegate to eBay because they're pretty hard to coordinate with anything, turned out to be the perfect – though somewhat garish – complement to my pastoral getup. And, though I could have gone with butterfly earrings as well, I chose instead to use more flowers.

And there you have it. I am now a walking screensaver!

Monday, July 20, 2015

A top-down T-shirt trim

In 2013, I went well out of my price comfort zone to purchase this T-shirt dress. It had all the elements I love—flowy, organic shapes, fancy goldfish, and, most importantly, a bicycle, my transportation mode of choice!

The first time I saw the dress, at Artscape in Baltimore, I didn't buy it...and then I regretted my decision for weeks. Finally I discovered the company that made it online, and they told me I could find them at Adams Morgan Festival. After investing so much effort into finding the top, I pretty much had no choice but to buy it—even though it was 30 dollars, plus tax!

Imagine my disappointment when I tried it on at home (for some reason, I just trusted it would fit when I bought it) and found it entirely unsuitable. I had imagined it would be a sort of long T-shirt, but it was definitely more of a minidress. It had no tailoring, so it made me look dumpy, and it was too tight around the hips.

I tried taking in the waist and stretching the bottom portion out a bit, and wore it once or twice, but a T-shirt minidress really has no place in my life (too short for comfort, too casual for dressing up), so I knew it had to change.

If I could, I would have just shortened the bottom hem, but the focal point of the shirt happened to be right there, so I was going to have to do things an odd way, and shorten it from the top down.

Fortunately, the original construction was what I would call "minimal" – raw sleeves and collar, and, as I mentioned, no tailoring – so it wouldn't require a lot of re-hemming.

I started by opening up the bottoms of the armholes so I could try it on and pull it a little higher.

When I had determined the perfect length, I marked lines that paralleled the original shoulder seams, which would become my new shoulder seams.

Then I sewed the new shoulder seams and cut off the top.

I cut a new neck opening, using the original one as a guide.

Finally, I tried the shirt on a bajillion times, cutting tiny slivers off the arm openings until I was satisfied that they looked OK.

Then I was done! The whole process was not nearly as painful as I had imagined. I think I would prefer it if the lady's hair were not flowing dramatically into my armpit, but I guess I'll have to be content with having a biking-themed shirt that I can actually now ride my bike in!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

DIY Christmas in July

Remember the green tank top with the red stripe that was too short for me to wear as-is?

Well, after months of careful crafting and at least a few weeks of reposing in my closet, it finally had its time to shine today!

But before I share the whole outfit photos, let's take a look at how I converted it from not-quite crop top to something of a more wearable everyday length!

It was really simple (so simple that I got carried away and forgot to take a before photo, but I think you can guess how it looked before by looking at the after!), but basically, since it started with a red stripe down the side, and since I happened to have red T-shirt fabric (from a refashion that I'll share later—promise!), it was logical to simply use more red to give the shirt a little length.

I laid the skirt on top of the red fabric (two layers of it) and marked a line that would continue the side seam of the shirt.
Then I stitched the two layers together down the line.
I used a glue stick to temporarily hold the green layer to the red while I worked. I thought this would be easier and more consistent than sewing over pins. In the end, I don't think it was.
Then, working as close to the original bottom hem as I could, I stitched the red fabric to the green.
I tried it on, but it needed a little something more. I had neglected to consider the way the red band made the original hem slightly uneven, which didn't jive well with the very straight-edged red adddition.
 The fix for that was pretty simple; I just loosely ran some thread down the length of the red layer at the point where the red strip attached...

Then I used the thread to gather the red up. Later, because these two simple strips of thread broke easily, I sewed the bunched area down with several rows of stitches.
To fix the uncannily straight side seams, I tried a lot of things involving re-sewing the seams, but ultimately none of them worked. I finally just snipped up the side seams so that they had a little breathing room.
The finished product!
I wore the finished product today to a friend's birthday party at the park, where a lot of gallivanting on playground equipment ensued.

Naturally, I had to have my headband match my shirt, so I made one out of the remaining T-shirt fabric, and then tried out a brand new pair of navy blue boat shoes, which I was pleased to learn really pulled the whole outfit together, since they reflected the color of the jean shorts.

No, no, I take that back. What actually pulled the whole outfit together – for real this time! – was the green oversized cat-eye sunglasses, which happen both to be new and to complement the green shirt! Who could ask for anything more? I dare say this Christmas-colored outfit was a present from myself to myself. What good taste I have!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Teal and Amber


The bohemian patchwork pattern on this dress opens up lots of possibilities for accessorizing.

It looks great with brown (used in the lace-up sandals, which, by the way, are pretty cool and though I've had them for over a year, I'm wearing them in this blog for the first time) and tan (used in the shrug). And also with teal and orange—so I decided to mix up my jewelry and wear an amber necklace and earrings in three shades of blue-green.

This is a far cry from my usual monochromatic color schemes, but I like to think they create a cohesive whole.

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....

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Homemade spaghetti straps

Shopping hasn't become any more difficult since I declared a moratorium on strapless dresses, but it has forced me to be more creative with my alteration game. In this post, I'll show you a method I devised for cooking up your own spaghetti straps!

I'll be adding them to this strapless blue dress, which, while adorable, wouldn't stay up for even 5 minutes while I rooted around in my closet for things to wear under it. In the past, I've used convertible bra straps as a quick and easy tool to keep a strapless dress where it belongs, but I don't have any straps lying around that match the color of this dress.

Fortunately, the dress has pockets! And while I love that in theory, in practice, I probably won't ever actually use the pockets. So in this case, I was able to cannibalize some of the fabric from them to make into my straps.
I started by sewing an additional seam about one inch from the edge of the pockets, when they were turned inside out.
Then I cut around the outside of the new seam to get two curved pieces of fabric, which could be stretched into some semblance of a straight strip. I ripped out the original seams and removed the beige lining layer.
Now I faced a challenge—how to turn these strips into usable straps.
Normal spaghetti straps have completely hidden seams (as pictured)—made, I presume, by folding the fabric in half, sewing along the raw edge, then turning inside out. However, I've tried this, and I just can't seem to find a way to turn such a narrow tunnel of fabric inside out. So here's where I had to get innovative.
One problem with the strips was that, because at least parts of them were cut on the bias, they were extremely stretchy—not ideal for something you want holding up the weight of an entire dress. To bolster them, I decided to put a less-stretchy fabric inside them. I cut two pieces of Paracord (you could use any kind of ribbon or string or shoelace) to match the length of my straps.
I then laid each strip down on newspaper and sprayed one side with spray adhesive (rapidly becoming my favorite tool for fabric crafting because it's instant, flexible and repositionable!).
Then I lined up a piece of Paracord with one edge of the strip.
I began rolling the fabric up until the Paracord was completely encased in fabric and I had a tubular strap.
To finish it off and keep fraying to a minimum, I also sewed down the length of each strap with a zigzag stitch.
Then it was time to attach my new straps to the dress! I pinned them in place on the backside first...
Then tried the dress on in the mirror to figure out how long they needed to be, before sewing them down permanently.
And here's the finished product!

The perfect patriotic dress for a Fourth of July celebration!

Of course, you can see that, over the course of the day, a little fraying did occur, but better a slightly fraying strap than none at all. I'll cut off all the ratty bits and then my homemade spaghetti straps will be as fresh as they ever were!