Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Portobello dress

Last week I had to go to Portobello, a little seaside town on the edge of Edinburgh, to get my car MOTd. As it was a lovely day and it was going to take a while I wandered up and down the beach, read some of my oceanography book in the local library, ate a delicious but rather over priced burger and hit the many charity shops! Overall, as with all charity shops, you could tell the proportions of the local population- down in Portobello there are clearly a lot of old ladies who like to wear slightly shapeless things. In one shop however I spotted a shapeless garment in a lovely blue and purple flowered fabric-perfect for my Spring Palette, and my love of bright flowery patterns. I snapped it up for £3, a bargain! (more so than the MOT- turns out I needed a whole new set of tyres. Ouch!)

When I got it home however the scale of the task became more apparent. The dress, as well as being utterly shapeless, was also too small across the bodice. You can see the gape in the picture but what isn’t so obvious is the way it pulled me in about 2 inches around every button from the side. Super flattering. The waist is also far too high and big on me, the armholes were too tight, the neckline doesn’t work and the whole thing is clearly far too long (that glamorous “midi” length that is very fashionable right now. apparently –in any case it is definitely not for me!). To clarify the horribleness of the item, when my flatmate Lindsey saw me in it, she burst out laughing and now still laughs whenever the dress is mentioned. So clearly some work needed to be done!

I decided that in order to keep it as a dress, I would have to put in a waist section to drop the gathered skirt down to an appropriate level. I would also need to cut a lot of the bottom, so there was conveniently some fabric available for that!  I therefore divided the dress into three sections.

The bodice was the first thing to tackle. As it was it clearly wouldn’t do up, and the neckline needed to be changed. I decided, mainly through opening it up until I could breathe, to create a mock open shirtwaist top, by having most of the buttons open, the neckline cut down accordingly and put in an insert panel in a contrasting colour. This proved slightly fiddly, mainly as every time I cut off a bit I didn’t need so that I could see what I was doing, I immediately realised that I did need it. sigh. I also realised half way through that I could only sew in the insert panel on one side otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get it on and off. After a little thought I decided to use the buttons, sewing them onto the purple inset and then having buttonholes on the outer layer. This just about creates the impression that they are just attached to the outside layer like the rest of the buttons. (I’m not at all sure I explained that very well..)

To offset this trying experience however I had some pure joy-namely my new bias tape maker. I asked for one of for Christmas from my mummy after seeing the how to on the Colette Patterns blog. Instead of the regular sew hundreds of strips together approach I made the tape strip using the continuous tape method again from Colette Patterns, which worked like a dream, much less hassle than the other way (which I also tried as I didn’t make quite enough the first time!). After that you just poke the strip through the little folder tool and it pull it along, ironing as you go-frankly I was sceptical, thinking it would be fiddly and awkward, but it was AMAZING! I now love making bias tape. I used it to trim the slightly larger armholes I cut. Super easy, worked like a breeze, looks really good.

Then I had to make the waistband section. I had already measured how wide I wanted it to be. I think that flat waistband sections sometimes look a little bodgy, so I decided to make a pleated one, inspired by the beautiful wedding dress sewcountrychick had made using this tutorial. Basically, you just fold the material up, and then iron fusible interfacing on the back. For extra stability I also sewed up across the pleats in various places. It worked wonderfully, and looked really nice.

All I had to do then was sew the three bits together, and put on some buttons on the waistband section. Luckily, what with the one I cut off in the middle and the ones I cut off the adjusted neckline, I had exactly the right amount to do the waistband and insert buttons. Result!

I am fairly pleased with the final result, it’s certainly much better. As usual I am not entirely convinced by myself in gathered skirts, it just emphasises the sudden jut out of my hips, and the inset panel pulls slightly more than it did when I assembled it. But never mind. It‘s a nice dress for summer and very pretty fabric. Plus it gave me lots of button and buttonhole practice. And was only £3!


  1. Wow! Fabulous refashion! Such a great idea to add a panel in the front!! I've never been to Portobello and now I want to check it out :-)

  2. Nice refashion! I need to get into refashioning but don't have the "vision" to see what i could do with the things i see in charity shops.

    I'm impressed with all the different ideas you've put into this, especially the waistband, love it!

  3. Thanks guys! I am quite pleased with the waistband, its got a nice texture to it and breaks up the dress.

    Debbie- Portobello is nice, but there's not a lot there so I wouldn't go on a cloudy day! Lots of nice sandy beach though.

    Law - you made me wonder about how I refashion.. I've done a post for you and my friends who were also asking where to start. I'm not sure if it will be helpful but it was interesting to think about!

  4. What a beautiful dress! Love it! That waistband was such a brilliant idea. It's such a nice detail.