Garment 7: Knit dress to sweater transformation


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After spending over four weeks transforming a bridesmaid’s dress into a chiffon blouse, I decided to give myself a bit of a break by carrying out what I thought would be a couple of straightforward transformations. Ha! Transformations are actually never that easy. You are constrained by the industrial construction techniques of the garment, the limited fabric and often the poor cut of the original design. It is, in fact, much easier to start from scratch with a fresh bolt of cloth.

This striped sweater started out as a knitted dress. I wore it often, especially to work during the winter. It looked good with boots and big red scarf. With time, however, it started to ‘seat’ in the way that knitted dresses inevitably do. The baggy bottom and hanging back hem was not a chic look so the dress disappeared into the back of a drawer. It was destined for the bin (not good enough for charity) but I thought I’d try to eek a sweater out of it. And success!

Of course, it took much longer to do than I’d expected. Doesn’t everything? I struggled to put the new hem through my sewing machine without horrible stretchy puckers so I did the whole thing by hand. I also removed the beaded lace at the neck. It will look fine with jeans and sits nicely at my waist. I’ve even given myself a couple of brownie points for recycling. #Everylittlehelps.


Garment 6: Grey tunic transformation


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I am a little cross with myself for forgetting to take a ‘before’ photograph of this garment, so this post can really only serve as a record of progress for myself, though I hope it might be of interest to some. Basically, I have owned this grey tunic for about eight years. I bought it in H&M because I loved the faded grey chambray fabric. It was originally a pull-over-the-head tunic with only three buttons on the front placket. It was always a terrible fit: the back was very baggy due to my swayback and the poor cut of the garment; the skirt section was gathered and sat at an odd angle over my backside; and the front swung forward so much it made me look about 8-months pregnant. Yet I still wore it constantly, which is testament to our willingness to wear ill-fitting clothes in the modern era.

It was put to the back of the wardrobe for some future fixing that I honestly thought I’d never get round to. I was about to donate it to charity when I thought I would at least try to salvage it and I’m so glad I did.


I took the skirt section off completely, removed the gathers and took in the side seams.  I reshaped the darts on the back of the bodice and, using my skirt sloper, created plain darts on the back of the skirt. I cut the skirt up the middle of the front and took it in there too but I left enough fabric to create extend the button band turning the whole thing into a shirt dress/tunic. I really wish I had remembered to take ‘before’ photos because this really is quite a dramatic improvement. I’ll get a lot more wear out of this practical garment. The pockets are a good size for pens, pencils and erasers when I’m drawing.

Garment 5: Frumpy Dress to Cool Tunic


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After the challenge of the chiffon shirt (Garment 4), I decided to give myself a bit of a break with an easier and faster project. I bought this L K Bennett dress about 10 years ago and I have never worn it. It was quite expensive, which is why I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it but, honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking. This is the right way round on the dummy with the boat-neck at the front and the V at the back. It sat a few inches below the knee.

Although it’s good quality, heavy jersey, I knew this thing was either going to the charity shop or it would sit in my wardrobe for another 10 years. So I got my scissors out!

Voila! A little tunic that hits me a little above mid-thigh and has been turned around to give me a V-neck at the front. I had to alter and stitch the V-neck as it was far too revealing otherwise. There’s a little wrinkle under the bust but it’s not too noticeable. I’ll be able to wear this with a pair of skinny black jeans, heels and a sparkly necklace. I’m quite pleased with it as transformations aren’t always that easy and I feel as if I’ve got something for free, though that’s not quite true.




Garment 4: Loose-fit shirt in silk-chiffon


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To say that this project has been a labour of love is something of an understatement, but I never was one for backing off from a challenge. I had never worked with chiffon before. If I had I would have tackled an easier garment, a plain scarf perhaps. Moreover, I didn’t actually have a pattern for a loose-fit shirt when I started, so my first task was to draw one up.

In my innocence, I thought that I would create the perfect loose-fit shirt by using my fitted-shirt block and eliminating all the darts, because that’s what it says in all the pattern-design books. Now, I have a medium sized bust but also quite a marked swayback. When I tried the no-darts approach, I ended up with a garment that a) ballooned over the small of my back and b) made me look about eight months pregnant. Back to the drawing board – several times.

I realised that, as a ‘swayback’, all of my garments, even the loose-fit ones, will need to be darted. It is the only way to get a decent fit. Here is the fifth muslin (fifth!) that I made, though I opted for a three-sectioned back in the end.

A couple of months ago, I bought this silk bridesmaid dress in a charity shop for £10. I dismantled it before remembering to take a photo. The chiffon shell is draped over the shoulder and there was more than enough fabric for this project. It was quite tricky to identify the right side and the grain of the fabric.

I made a quick illustration of the shirt I had in mind with a little camisole made from the silk satin underneath (still to be made).

Having read a ton of YouTube videos about how to handle chiffon – which put the wind up me, frankly – I gingerly laid out and cut the pattern pieces. I put the fabric on top of ironed tissue paper and pinned the pattern right through to it. It definitely make cutting out the pieces easier.

I tested several types of seams on spare scraps but the winner by a mile was a very narrow French seam for the darts, the side seams and the sleeves. It was a palaver but it was worth it. It looks really neat.

As well as working with chiffon for the first time, and making a loose-fit shirt for the first time, I also decided to make a double yolk for the first time (naturally!). This could have been make-or-break for the project but I held my breath and pulled it off, mostly due to such a good YouTube video that I’m adding the link:

How to Sew a Shirt Yolk

I was uneasy about my ability to create neat buttonholes down a chiffon button band, and also unsure about how smoothly buttons would sit, so I opted for concealed poppers and this worked well but it was a lot of work. I stabilised the bands with silk ribbon.

As with all sewing projects, putting the large pieces together gives the impression of an almost completed garment but it just isn’t so. It took ages to finish the button band, set in the sleeves with French seams, add a collar with collar stand and then the cuffs. But the hem! The hem took three attempts! I am glad I let my perfectionism win, though, because I am happy with the end result.

It has taken four weeks to make this shirt but I do have a sense of accomplishment. Furthermore, the total cost of this custom-fit, handmade silk garment comes to just £9.65, though this doesn’t take account of the hours of work. I think I’ll make a simple T-shirt next time.




Garment 3: Minky Fleece Jacket completed


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I am not going to be rushing to work with minky fleece again but the jacket has actually turned out quite well. It is cosy, which is good as it’s just been snowing in Scotland. The fabric does not fray but it does moult at newly cut edges. This stops with a few swipes of a lint roller, though I did get through about six of them.

I made up a muslin in cotton, which was not ideal but did give me an idea about general fit and any pattern-drafting mistakes I might have made. I was very tempted to put a bust dart in but I am glad I didn’t because the thickness of the fleece seems to ‘absorb’ the excess fabric. A dart would have made it too tight. Making a muslin is essential if you’re lifting a pattern from a garment because, as well as checking the fit, you have to work out the construction sequence. The pocket binding had to go onto the front piece first, then the pocket was stitched to the wrong side of the front piece, then it was sewn to the side panel.

I struggled with the collar as the first attempt stuck out at the front. It took four drafts to get it right. I made the collar sit closer to the neck than in the original garment and also made it narrower.

I tested various stitches for the minky fleece as I don’t have an overlock machine. I finally settled on two rows of 3mm straight stitiches, 1 cm apart, with the top tension down to 1. For the turn-ups at the hem, collar, cuffs and centre fronts, I used a zigzag right along the raw edges. The 1cm fold back along the centre front was especially tricky because I knew I was going to have to stitch-in-the-ditch to insert the zip. I think I held my breath for each seam. I also covered the collar seam with herringbone tape. This is common in shop-bought garments. It holds the seam down and stops it irritating the skin on the back of the neck.

So here it is. I hope it is sturdy as it will be worn a lot. I’m wearing it as I type this post. It’s certainly a big improvement on the old one.

Here are the pattern pieces, adjusted to my own size. I transferred these onto A4 graph paper as a storage solution. I don’t have room for too many life-size card blocks.

This project has taken ten days, although the construction of the garment itself only took four (about 15 hours). The final cost was £14.97, though I think I could have found minky fleece for less than £7.99 per metre.


Garment Three: Minky Fleece Jacket


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It is week three, though my weeks are not necessarily running concurrently. A few weeks ago I impulse-bought two metres of baby-pink minky fleece, known as cuddle fleece in the UK. This stuff is really for blankets, toys or ‘indoor’ clothes such as dressing gowns, so I thought I would use it to replace a battered old fleece top that I have worn down to its threads. I bought it in a supermarket one cold Scottish day about ten years ago and put it on in the car outside. I’ve worn it constantly ever since but it is now so stained and worn that I am embarrassed to be seen in it.

Here is the dear old thing and the fabric I am going to use to replicate it.

I used the push-pin method to trace the pattern pieces onto card underneath. More precisely, I use heavy duty lining wallpaper (1700 grade plain Anaglypta) and iron it flat on a cotton setting. It cost £5 for 10 metres, which is about a fifth of the cost of the fancy manilla card that professionals use. It works just fine. You can also use ordinary dressmaking pins for this process. They go through the fabric and card more easily but it can be sore on the fingers.

After joining the dots, I got a decent pattern outline which I then matched to my measurements using my sloper. This photo isn’t great but you can see the difference between the original tracing and my adjustments. I have a lowish bust line and broad shoulders but I also think the neckline on the original garment is too wide so I’ve moved it in.

I have ended up with seven pattern pieces (collar not drafted yet) for the muslin. Note the cheap white greaseproof paper that I use (£1.50 for 10 metres), though I have to use pencil, not ink.

I also made ‘flat’ technical drawings because it concentrates the mind on details and contruction issues.

I am going to make the muslin up in cotton, which is not ideal but should reveal major fit issues. The minky fleece moults like a shaggy dog at its edges. I think it’s probably going to drive me nuts but part of this project is learning how to handle different fabrics, so here goes.

I’ll also work on better photographs!



Garment Two -the final shirt


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Well, this has taken three weeks instead of one due to the number of adjustments needed at the muslin stage. It was worth the extra effort. This light cotton shirt fits really well. It is not perfect but it is definitely a wearable shirt that will get worn a lot over the spring/summer.

Finished turq flower shirt

Tweeks for the next shirt:

The collar is a bit too high so I shall take 1.5 cm off the top of the centre front. Also the cuff plackets are too long. I usually wear shirts with the sleeves rolled to ¾ length so it’s not too big a deal, though I will still alter the pattern.


Total cost £11.36

Total hours 24½

Garment Two, Week 2-ish


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Man alive, this fitting lark is a tricky business. My first shirt (garment 1) was OK but feels a bit twisted when worn, and the button bands hang out to the sides when it is left open. I manipulated the dart to the side seam but there was clearly a big problem with the subsequent muslin. The front pieces also swing way out to the sides and I had to put in additional darts half way up the centre.


Back to the drawing board – several times. Although it has taken ten days, the final muslin is straight and comfortable.

I hestitate to include the next image but it documents my struggle and how frustrating it can be to get a garment to fit well. Six attempts until I got it right.


Lessons learned:

  1. Get the side seams of a garment right before taking in a waist dart. Waist darts should be as small as possible and should not be compensating for side seams that are too wide.
  2. If a paper pattern has a huge waist dart, something is probably wrong unless you have the figure of Dolly Parton (I don’t)

So, finally, it is time to tackle the actual shirt. The effort to get the muslin right is worth it for the sake of a wearable garment, but it is a little exhausting sometimes.


Garment Two, Week Two


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I am rather stretching the definition of a week but the main aim of the “A Garment a Week for a Year” project is to sustain momentum. I expect to be a bit slower at the start as I am still on the steep part of the learning curve. There will be some weeks when I’ll be faster as I’ll just be making a Tshirt or refashioning a thrift-bought item.

Here is the illustration and fabric for my next shirt. I have lengthened the pattern from Garment One as well as some other adjustments. I am pretty determined to nail a pattern that will allow me to run up a well-fitting shirt whenever I want to. It seems a bit of a dream at the moment!

I have also completed technical flats by hand, though this shirt will have more scalloped hems. I hope to create these flats in Inkscape in the relatively near future, so I will be able to make corrections quickly. These still give the general idea.

Next stage is another muslin as I have manipulated the dart and made other changes.




Garment One, Week One – complete


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Here is the completed shirt. This took a total of 24 hours of work over three days. Making a shirt is a fiddly job. The fit is rather better on me than on the mannequin but the big flaw in this garment is that it is too short. I think I was so busy concentrating on getting the collar, cuffs and sleeves right that I didn’t spot the problem with the length. It should be far more scalloped at the front and back. It is still wearable – just.


I managed to squeeze the pattern pieces onto just one metre of fabric (115cm/45″ wide), although lengthening the next shirt will bump this up to 1 metre 6 cm, which means a purchase of at least 1.5 metres and much potential waste.

Skills used

Sewing curved princess seams

Attaching collars and cuffs

Setting in sleeves

Lessons learned

Check ALL the details on the muslin, including where the final hem will be – rookie mistake.

I would not choose a fabric with such an obvious wrong side for a shirt again. I think it makes the garment look homemade.

Next time I will choose a fabric with better drape. This fabric is a bit too stiff.