Thursday, 14 November 2013

Fashion Fix: Making a new garment using your existing clothes as a pattern


In every girl’s wardrobe there is that one faithful dress that fits every occasion, attracts compliments and envious glances. Mine was a French Connection navy blue silk shirt dress. After 5 years of faithful service, it was undeniably on its last legs, and would have been in the bin years ago had my mother had her way.  The idea arose to reincarnate the cut and style of the dress in a new fabric by dismantling and turning it into a pattern for countless replicas.

Day 1:‘Oh no NOT that dress!’ were the horrified words from friend and fellow seamstress, Bianca. She had been called up to the studio to administer the dress’s ‘final photoshoot’ and had managed to convince me in a matter of minutes that this was a bad idea. I sent her on her way, unpicked the seams and looked to the future. It is only when you deconstruct a garment that you see the true cost of years of wear - the fabric was so threadbare in places it was almost indecent. 

As painful as it was to say goodbye to such a beautiful garment I couldn’t wait for the project to be realised: I had picked out 2.5 m of an Erdem-inspired floral print from Biddle Sawyers Silks on Berwick Street, Soho.  It is advisable to take along your garment when picking out fabric as you will often be surprised at how much you need. Erdem has pioneered the importance of prints, his acid bright colours have supercharged the generic floral print and his careful placing of pattern on the body has introduced a new way of sculpting fabric into a garment.

Day 2: I was left with a raggedy set of jigsaw pieces, which quickly needed to be labelled before I forgot which bit went where. The best way to create a pattern from a previous garment is to cut the original pieces out along the seams. Once pinned to calico and cut out you can then place that upon new fabric and create your own seam allowance. Make sure to mark out all darts and other details on to the calico piece. Using a chalk wheel I marked out the seam allowances on my new fabric.

Day 3: there is a lot to be said for doing this project over a short amount of time. I had only a fading recollection of how the original dress was put together and felt rather overwhelmed at where to begin…I couldn’t shake off the impending sense of doom that I had just cut up my favourite dress and was arrogantly assuming that I could recreate the masterpiece. 

By that evening I had managed to create the basic dress structure at an alarming pace. Once you get into a rhythm of piecing the puzzle back together, your own instincts and memory of the original garment take over and it is really quite straightforward. That is the advantage of working towards a finished product you know so well as opposed to starting cold with a new pattern.

Day 4: in dissecting pieces like the collar and cuffs, I was met with the challenge of inserting ‘facings’ to stiffen the pieces. Again, this was pretty straightforward and it wasn’t until inserting the button placquet down the front that I really faced some resistance. Too much close work was turning me blind so I sent for reinforcements: I cruelly roped in my friend Polly to cover some buttons and shout encouragement from the sidelines.  

After some tussling with the sewing machine and a quick flick through the manual we achieved button-holes. The covered buttons were sewn on, and there was my favourite dress staring back, reincarnated in the fabulous Biddle Sawyer print.  

We all know the power of a print: horizontal stripes can broaden the figure, whilst vertical lines can lengthen. Erdem’s sections of block colour and patterned prints give add shape and texture beyond the seam structure of his dresses.  I specifically chose to create ‘rings’ around my sleeves and skirt, with the stripe in the Biddle Sawyer fabric, adding elegance and breaking up a dense print.


 Next time when looking for fabrics, take special notice of the print and see how you can make it work for you.

Here is the first of my new style of finished shot. 

Amanda Thomas and I spent the day hopping about the exhibits of Bristol City Musuem to create some interesting backdrops for my Autumn Collection
photo Amanda Thomas

photo Amanda Thomas

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