Wednesday, June 29, 2011

My Big Refashion--women's tunic/muu-muu to my favorite baby dress ever!

While I was doing this project, I thought I might attempt to make this post a tutorial.  Therefore, I took a zillion pictures of the process (none of them very good quality, unfortunately), and then when I was just uploading them I realized that I'm not sure I can remember what exactly I was trying to document in each one.  I'll try my best!

Here's a preview of how the dress came out, and if you're impatient (or if you're just not interested in all of the gory details of the process), you can scroll to the very bottom of this post to see the final product.

Also, this tutorial is probably completely useless unless you happen to have a very similar dress to this one that I found on clearance at Target for $5:

The bigger the garment, the more fabric you have to work with!
That's a tip I picked up on someone else's blog (make it and love it, I think?)
Screamin' deal--I don't know if you can see that it was originally $39.99, marked down to $5.04,
but that's the kind of thing that makes me happy.  Even if I am just going to chop it up.
So, it's actually kind of a nice safety net to have for my first tutorial attempt--it's a really specialized tutorial, so probably nobody will ever make it!  But I will try to include things I figured out that would be helpful for other things you'd want to repurpose as well.

So, here goes:

My advice in a project like this is to look at the original garment and figure out which parts of it you want to re-use so that you don't have to make them yourself.  In this particular case, the dress is two contrasting sheer chiffon-type fabrics with a rayon lining.  I knew I wanted to use the ruffles, and I also wanted to refashion the neckline so that I could make use of the clean two-layers-sewn-together finished edge that was already there. I went from there in figuring out my design.

First, I cut the dress into front and back halves, and started working on the front.  I started by removing the contrasting side panels (and I saved every scrap, since I wasn't entirely sure what parts I'd be using).

Then, using one of Little Sister's dresses as a template (another favorite measuring technique of mine, since I'm usually working on this when Little Sister is asleep and therefore unavailable for measurements), I figured out how wide I wanted the square neckline to be.

TIP:  Make sure the dress you're using as a template actually fits your child!  Okay, back to the tutorial.

I wanted the square neckline to be 5 inches across, so I folded the original dress in half and measured two and a half inches away from the strap on either side, then pinned it together and sewed through the neckline so I had a little tube that stood up.  Hmm, that doesn't sound like it makes sense--let's see if a picture helps.
 I then pinned the tube flat and sewed across the top and bottom of it, making a nice little pleat in the center of the neckline, which 1.  added a cute detail, 2. made the neckline the width that I wanted, and 3.  meant that I didn't have to sew two layers of fabric together for the neckline.

The pins are hard to see, but there's one at the center of the neckline, and one
in the center where the dotted fabric meets the floral.  That's where I sewed them flat.
Next I decided how long I wanted the dress to be.  I knew that I wanted to use the part of the fabric where the ruffle was already connected to the floral fabric (so I didn't have to do that), so I'd be cutting out the middle part of the original dress, therefore I wanted a contrasting waistband to join the top and skirt together.

I measured the top part so that I had 8 1/2 inches from neckline to waist, then CUT!  This part totally made me nervous, because all that extra fabric seemed like a safety net.  I knew I had to cut it off eventually, but I put it off as long as I could. I know the saying is "measure twice, cut once,"  but I'm more of the "cut it big the first time, then cut more" school. I then cut the skirt from the bottom of the dress up.  Again, I used another baby dress as a template to figure out length and where I wanted the waistband (I ended up with 8 inches from waistband to hem here, approximately--a little tougher to measure because I wanted the top sheer layer to hang down a little lower than the lining.  The rectangle I cut out for the front of the skirt was 13 1/2 inches wide and 8 inches long.  If I'd had enough fabric all in one piece, I could have cut this out at 27 inches long and had the seam in the back, but when you're repurposing you don't have that option sometimes!

Eek!  Now I have to make it work with just this much fabric! (Oh, and I didn't actually sew the neckline
flat until later, but now that I know that it actually worked I would go ahead and sew it right away.)
Sooooo, next was joining the top and bottom.  I just laid them right-sides together, then because the skirt was wider than the top, I folded in a couple of pleats as I was pinning.  This is flowy fabric, and I wasn't too precise--just eyeballed two places where a little extra fullness looked good to me.  Actually, I did start by pinning the outside edges and center point together to try and keep things symmetrical, now that I think about it.
The backside, with the top and bottom sewn together

The front, sewn together.
Adding the pleat to the already full top gave me a cool blousy effect that I wanted to maximize.  I thought about elasticizing the waistband, but I thought that a flat waistband would show off the blousiness more.  So I just measured a rectangle of the dotted fabric and the lining, sewed it into an inside-out tube, then turned it right-side out.  I tried ironing it, but this fabric doesn't iron.  The good news is, it also doesn't wrinkle, so it should be good packed in a suitcase for our trip to a wedding next week!

TIP:  Make the waistband tube longer than you think you need it to be.  It's much easier to cut off the excess once it's sewn into the seam than it is to add more fabric.  Mine was 12" wide and it was a close call--I would have felt better with a 13-14 inch one and then trimmed off the ends.
inside-out tube

right-side-out tube

Waistband, sewn flat over the seam connecting the top and bottom.
You could totally thread elastic through here if you wanted.  I stitched one row at
the top of the waistband and another at the bottom.
The next step for me was cutting out the armhole shapes.  I knew I wanted the strap to be 1 1/2 inches wide, and I used a dress pattern that I had to cut the curve of the armhole out, but I didn't cut it out low enough because I was looking at the wrong part of the pattern (not taking straps into consideration with armhole placement, or something like that).  In any case, I hadn't realized yet that my arm openings would be too small, so it was a really good thing that I tried the dress on Iris while I still had a chance to remedy this!  Seriously, I would have cried if I finished this thing and it hadn't fit.

SO the moral is, make sure you're putting the armholes in the right place, and double-check, preferably on your baby, if she's not sleeping.


Cut too high.  I eventually cut these about 2 inches lower than what you see here.
To finish the armholes, I did a tiny rolled hem on the top layer and lining layer around the armhole.  I left it open (as shown below) so that I could eventually place the flutter sleeve between the two layers and sew them together for a finished edge.
I opened up the two layers to do the rolled hems, then later (after joining the front and back of the dress together) put them back together with the flutter sleeve inbetween and stitched them all together.
So anyway, before I got to the trying-it-on-the-baby phase I had to sew the back together.  I used much the same concept as I did to create the front, except that instead of the pleat detail from the front, I wanted a row of buttons in the back, so I cut the top section into two pieces to remove the extra fabric.

The plan was to use the same method as I did with the sleeves (roll hem then topstitch the two layers together on the button side, do something similar but put elastic loops for the buttonholes in the other side), but then...

It was late at night and I totally went on autopilot and just sewed the two pieces of the top of the back together.  I figured it out soon afterwards and just decided to leave it until I was at a point where I needed the back to open up, then fix it, so please ignore the fact that the back is just sewn together in the next pictures!

I measured the skirt for the back to be the same length as the skirt in the front (good idea, don't you think?)

I sewed these pieces together, just like I did in the front:
Right sides together, the skirt and top of the back side of the dress
 Then I lined up the front and the back so that I could match the armholes and finish them in the same way.  Too bad they didn't fit!
Hard to see, but the front is laying on top of the back here to use as a template.

For the back, I made two tubes of the same length (they were each about 12 inches long) and attached them over the top of the seam just like in the front, except for leaving about 6 inches of seam exposed so I could cinch in the waistband with a bow.

Next step was to sew the front and back together.  I started by lining up the armhole, waistband, and hem.  The tricky part was the hem.  I would have liked to have the lining separate from the outer fabric, but it was so much easier to just sew them together down the side, so that's what I did.  I made sure that the same amount of top fabric was hanging down over the lining on both sides then just stitched up both sides.  At the armholes, I opened the seam and stitched it down so that it wouldn't fray up into the armhole.  I wish I'd waited to do that, since I just had to reopen it all up when it was time to make the armholes the right size, but oh well.

The two sides, pinned together.  The waistband is sticking out slightly past the hem,
which I trimmed after sewing together so that it wouldn't be irritating.
Okay, so this is the point where I decided to try it on Little Sister to see how long I should make the straps.

Oops--no buttons yet!

This one shows how tight this was looking under her arms, so I marked where the
armholes should be with a safety pin before taking it off.  I also marked the strap length, but had
to leave them flapping since I couldn't fit the dress over her head without the buttonhole opening in the back.

After fixing the armholes, I then joined the tops of the shoulders together about halfway, leaving them open at the outer edge so that I could insert the flutter sleeve.  The straps were 7 inches long from neckline to...backline?  What do you call the top of the opening at the back of the dress?  Anyway, at the shoulders on the back of the dress, I folded the fabric under where the seam would be, and did a rolled hem there, so that I could tuck the shoulders from the front of the dress inside to have a finished seam at the top.  I didn't take any pictures of that part, which is unfortunate, because that description was terrible and confusing.  Sorry about that!

For the flutter sleeve, I used scraps of the existing ruffle.  I centered it in the armhole and started pinning the part of the ruffle that was stitched down inbetween the two layers of the armhole.

Here's what it looked like when I put in the flutter sleeve between the two layers.  You can also see the bigger armhole here.

Next I pinned the cut edge of the ruffle the rest of the way around the armpit.  It was just the right size so that the ends met under the armpit--nice!  Then I stitched all around the armhole so that there was a finished edge with the flutter sleeve inbetween the two layers.
You can see the finished sleeves here.  Also the rubber band that will soon come into play!
 Now it was time to reopen the back with my trusty seam ripper.  I did the small rolled hem again on each side, then stitched them back together separately, one side for buttons, one side for the button holes.  To make the button holes, I cut up a hair elastic into three equal pieces, then divided them up evenly along the button placket and sewed them inbetween the two layers of fabric.  I saw the idea of using an old hairband for the button loops on someone's blog tutorial, and now I can't find it for the life of me, but it was an easy way to get colorful button loops for free.

Oh, then I sewed on the buttons--I found three matching vintage shank buttons in my stash that were perfect with the fabric, so on they went!

The only thing I think I didn't mention was tucking in the ends of the tie in the back of the dress and stitching them down, but you would have figured that out on your own I bet.

If you're still with me, here's the payoff--the finished dress!  I'm hoping to update this post later when I am able to get a better picture of the front of the dress.  Little Sister is getting better at standing up all by herself every day, so I should be able to photograph her without standing her next to a chair soon :)

the front

the back
And here it is in action:

A close-up of the pleat detail on the neckline

the best pic I could get of the front
So there you have it!  It was a lot of work, since I was basically figuring everything out as I went, but it was so fun to see it take shape, especially because in the end it came out pretty much exactly how I had pictured it.  Can't wait to do another one (hopefully simpler next time :).

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