Vintage silk maxi dress upgrade

I don’t live at Savers. I promise. But I do seem to visit regularly and my recent visits have been very productive.

I went a couple of weeks back, 25% off voucher in hand, and plucked a long cocktail frock from the rack. Feels like silk, I thought. And has that extreme-Photoshop-saturation-levels look that pleases my eye. I didn’t even try it on; just eyeballing it I could see it was too narrow for my hiptacular region. But the Savers pricing department – you know the one, that seems to be OUT OF THEIR MINDS sometimes, charging STUPID money for old tat – had relaxed the insanity that day and priced it at $15. With discount, $11.25. Figured I’d chop it into a skirt or something.

I didn’t realise just what I’d scored til I got it home. The skirt was too narrow, yes, but the top fitted well. It was beautifully made and the long slits up each side of the skirt had very wide hems. Aha! Wide enough to expand the skirt!

A little selvage detective work turned up some happy news indeed – handwoven Thai silk. (when sewing, always include a bit of labelled selvage for future frock archaeology.)

I figured if I hacked the middle out, widened and darted the skirt, sewed it all back up again, it’d be swellegant.

So that’s what I did! Sheesh, it took a while though. Why do alterations take longer than just making the whole thing from scratch? I also felt a terrible responsibility to do a Good Job because of its age (early 70s?), its glorious fabric and its high-quality construction. To botch it with half-arsery would be tragic indeed, and probably anger the Gods of Thrift so much that such bounty would never again be laid across my path.

I took it for a cocktail-drinking test drive and I’m pleased to say it worked quite well in that particular role.

And my tip to you for finding your true waist before chopping into a vintage marvel? Knot some old elastic in a circle slightly smaller than your waist. Wiggle into it and put it over the frock. It will settle at your narrowest point, ie, your waist. Then use a sliver of soap – which is guaranteed to wash out, not like some other markers, ASK ME HOW I KNOW – to mark exactly where your waist sits, all the way around your middle. You can see on the top snap of the still-maxi frock faint soap marks where I’ve traced waist and cutting lines. Worked perfectly.

LA thrift to proof-of-concept

The last day we were in the USA, we were loitering around LA before boarding an 11pm flight home. We spent about three hours in the sublime Museum of Jurassic Technology and a block or two away was a Goodwill. With a burning desire to use up my last USA paper money, I launched into the half-price sale therein a determined woman. I bought a huge, tent-like rayon shirtdress, 1980s I think, in an almost tropicale but slightly naff floral print. I didn’t try it on. It was way too big, but had pockets and a buttoned placket down the back of the skirt. For four bucks, I could do something with it. If nothing else, I could use it as a proof of concept.

Imagine my delight when I got home and tried it on. Prepare to be dazzled!

Gaw-geous, right? *shudder*. I’ve seen so many dresses just like this and thought, that could be reworked, but who can be bothered? Here’s what I did – you tell me if if it was worth the effort.

1. WASHED it to rid it of traces of previous ownership. Stain remover on a couple of spots.

2. Removed the big ugly pocket on the bodice.

3. Took off the skirt. Added extra darts to reduce the waist diameter of the skirt.

4. Added six darts to the bodice front. Evened up the bottom of the bodice where it had stretched out.

5. Reattached skirt, gathered the back and inserted a strip of elastic in the back waist seam.

6. Cut off sleeves. Made thick bias strips from them and attached them around the armscye like a cuff.

7. Sewed up side bodice seams, taking it in a couple of inches each side.

8. Reattached a button and sewed up the bottom of the front placket where it gaped a bit.

And lo! Whatcha think?

I reckon:

  • Fit is good, and why didn’t anyone tell me rayon was so damn comfortable to wear?
  • Pity about the placement of those two yellow flowers on the bustular area.
  • That print is still a bit naff.
  • The modifications weren’t that hard.
  • I think I like it.
  • Maybe it’s time I got a better camera.

I love the suburbs

I was out east today for work and since it causes me physical pain to pass an op shop without stopping in, I thought, look, spare yourself the agony and go have a poke around. It’ll be fine.

And fine it was. I already have Reader’s Digest but two won’t hurt (one in each room of the house, I say!) plus this one was $2.50. And never, ever used – still with the RD order form within. Then there was a cute 70s striped floral and a 40s seersucker with a nice nanna pattern of violets. Anyone know proper name of this fabric? Very fine, sheer seersucker? Perhaps it’s a bit later – 1950s? Enough here for a short-sleeved shirt.