Plaid Shirt Jacket Blouse

Inspired by a Violette Room design, I refashioned this green & blue thrift-store medium size plaid shirt. I was reading through the Japanese sewing book Stylish Remakes and fell in love with their idea of upcycling old plaid shirts into fitted jacket blouses. I followed their instructions detailing sleeve and cuff adjustments,  however the rest I had to improvise given that I no longer have a waistline for this jacket to accentuate.

I cut my design a good 4-5 inches shorter than the book’s instructions in order for the jacket to fall at the top of my uterus, the smallest point of my body these days. I threaded a half inch elastic through the bottom hem and inserted a metal snap to the bottom hem, both of which provides a nicely cinched bottom. This also allows me to wear the jacket open or closed over long tank tops & dresses and voilà, my version of a maternity plaid shirt!

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Before & After
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Mère-Poule Dress

My mother made this mother-hen maternity dress 35 years ago. She wore it towards the end of two of her four pregnancies. Cassady and I were born two years apart in the summers of 1980 and 1982. This dress suited the season and the time well. Many of my mother’s friends are quite taken with how pregnant women show their bellies nowadays. The weekly bump photos I share with my mother, in which I sport snug knit dresses and fitted tunics, have been shared among some of her friends. She has only received lovely responses with the other common replies being “we certainly never dressed like that in our day.”

I had seen this dress over the years at the bottom of her storage bins, the print always made me smile. A mother hen with her eggs 🙂 My mother has always had a good eye for unique prints and a fantastic sense of humour. I was so touched when the dress was finally given to me to wear during my pregnancy. I had worn it a few times around the house but felt this dress deserved more, as I tend to feel with most great but outdated pieces. With my mom’s permission, I upcycled this dress to suit the season and the time.

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30 weeks pregnant!

I was inspired by the shape of a pinafore yet I couldn’t bring myself to deconstruct her beautiful collar, with its carefully crafted facing and button neck closure. I shorted it by 9″ and sewed a 1/2″ elastic into where my new waistline falls, creating a gathered waistline at the top of my current pregnant belly (approximately 4.5″ from my armpits). Paired with a turtle neck, cardigan or a long-sleeve and add a pair of tights and voilà, my mother’s mére poule maternity dresses another pregnant body!

What to do with the remaining 9″ of fabric?

My mother had made me a beautiful quilt with the remnant fabric of baby clothes and maternity dresses she had made. She used these precious squares to create a beautiful quilt which I have cherished and continue to use. I’ll be making something similar for our baby boy.

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The Declutter Dress

Etienne and I moved into our new home last month. The week preceding our move, my husband had me doing some serious decluttering. Etienne helpfully highlighted my closet as top priority and I didn’t fight it. I participated and I think I did a pretty damn good job. I donated nearly half of our (re: my) things to shelters and the Renaissance donation center. There were a dozen pieces of clothing that I felt the need to save. Some that I had either not worn in a while (re: years) and others that I had but perhaps shouldn’t have (re: dire need of an upcycle!).

Yes, that’s right folks, the upcycler cleverly upcycled her own clothes in order to keep them! Here I combined two doomed pieces of clothing into one that I would wear. The black long sleeve crop top and this old daisy knit pencil skirt were both snug and given that I was 25 weeks pregnant at the time, I didn’t need to attach an elastic to the waistline. This simplified an already straight forward process even more. I gently pinned the two pieces together and tried it on to measure the desire dress length. I chose something shorter as I’m pairing most of my clothing with leggings these days. I cut the skirt at the waist band and not at the bottom hem, allowing me to keep the original hem. I told you this was an easy project! I pinned and sewed the top and skirt waist seams together and voilà, my declutter dress!

My new dress!
My new dress!

I think if you’re items are made of stretch fabric and snug enough, even non-pregnant women can opt out of installing an elastic to the waistline. It can also be something you sew in later if need be.

DIY Blanket Coat

My belly is growing by the day as baby boy continues to fatten up. My clothes are fitting differently, some impossible to slip on and others taking on a new shape- quite literally! I’ve been relying on leggings & tunics/minidresses these days but outerwear has been slightly more tricky. Another week and I’ll be busting out of my winter coat which I’m hoping to rectify with a Kokoala coat insert. In the mean time, I had created this lovely blanket coat for October in Montréal.  I was looking for a fun, inexpensive & simple sewing solution for the in-between October weather. I came across the website of the Renegade Seamstress, a like-minded upcycler, and found her fantastic DIY Wool Blanket Coat tutorial. I used a pretty couch throw, an old leather belt and less than an hour later, voilà– my cozy & comfy blanket coat!

African Wax Print Dress

Yesterday, I upcycled a homemade Muumuuu-style dress I found at Village des Valeurs a few months back. The fabric looks more African wax in flavour, similar to many prints I admired throughout my travels in West Africa. The design however appears to be a more modern day take on the m’boubou or kaftan, a traditional West African ceremonial dress, as the sleeves are short. I was lucky with this piece as it’s extra large size allowed me enough fabric to create something completely new and to cut it on the bias. There is no zipper in this dress, only the magic of angling the fabric on the bias for more stretch and ease. I used my Tashenka pattern for the design and some strategic angling to accommodate the print- voilà, my African Wax Print Dress!

Shangri La Floral Scarf Upcyle

Two months ago, I attended my first clothing-swap party hosted by the lovely & talented Montréal-based designer Heather Lou. I was so touched to be included and I still can’t believe, at 32, this was my first clothing-swap party. Me? A lover of clothes and upcycling aficionado? What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than meeting new ladies and getting to exchange treasured-but-destined-for-goodwill pieces of clothing. It was honestly as though we invited the best part of the fripperie into her living room, along with fun anecdotes about the pieces and a spread of tasty treats!

I picked up half a dozen great pieces that day. One of which was this cute Nancy Bracoloni for Shangri La scarf dress. Karen said she never wore it and I couldn’t understand why not but when I got home later that afternoon, I realized I would never either. How could something look so cute on a hanger but look so wrong on a body. It was a pretty yet very unflattering floral sailor dress. This number was difficult to upcycle as there was too little fabric to work with. I removed the bottom scarf portion from the skirt, double folded the raw edge and inserted an elastic string. And voilà, a pretty simple scarf blouse! I’ll use the remaining black chiffon as lining for some upcoming sheer projects.

Tashenka upcycle dress to scarf-blouse
Tashenka upcycle, dress to scarf-blouse

Whirlaway Dress Upcycles

This morning, I upcycled a large Whirlaway Frocks’ purple paisley stretch polyester dress into a pair of leggings and a strapless top! I picked this number up last week at Montréal thrift-store Eva B for 10$.  All I needed was a little imagination, the new Van Morrison album & a cup of coffee and voilà, I have sweet top to wear today! Perhaps not to be worn together- maybe Amsterdam in the 90s…? I’m wearing the top today tucked into some high waisted jeans!

Before & After
Before & After
What I'm wearing today ;)
What I’m wearing today 😉

The Castle Dress

I found this crazy JR Continental dress in the nightgown section of my local Salvation army. I immediately knew that I was going to upcycle this bright and bizarre castle print dress using a self-drafted pattern from last summer.  I will tweak my Tashenka dress pattern over the next few months and uploaded it for download eventually. The dress was a size 10, made in Romania of 50% polyester & 50% staple fibres, something I was consistently reminded of as I pressed my seams open. The mix of polyester and staple fibres create quite a distinct odour as they were heated by my iron but luckily the synthetic blend wasn’t terribly apparent to touch.

I removed the sleeves, the collar and the bottom hem frill. I then shaped the front and back to my pattern pieces and inserted a long zipper up the back and voilà, my Castle Dress!

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Blue Nightingale Dress (Sewing-It-Forward)

This week I altered a blue Nightingales dress for the boutique at the women’s shelter. Two women commented on the dress as I left that day, with a twenty-something year-old expressing her interest in it if it was “a whole lot shorter”. The other woman, a forty-something year old, was still hesitant but agreed that the dress would be nicer if it was shorter. “I wouldn’t wear a mini-dress but you’d have to take off a good meter”, she finally said. A meter? I thought. ” You ladies are funny and exaggerating a little, no?” I half-heartedly joked. They both exclaimed “No!” in unison.

I brought the dress home and hung it up in my sewing space. How much to cut off? I thought to myself. The adventurous upcycler in me wanted nothing more than to separate the top and bottom, turning the top into a a fun peasant blouse, maybe add buttons or something, and the bottom into a circle or maxi skirt or even a pair of culottes (not quite shorts, not quite pants).

One thing I have learnt since starting to make my own clothes is that a woman’s measurements play a crucial role in where hemlines are the most flattering. I’m speaking from a purely mathematical standpoint as I recently read an article about mathematician Lily Serna‘s take on clothing hemlines. Serna has developed a formula to calculate your perfect hemline length- calculate your golden number here. I tried the dress on and played with the lengths. Everyone has their own style. Many women, regardless of their height, shape and proportions, like what they like. At the end of the day, just go with what you love. Although the dress has a tie to cinch the waist, the dress at full length hid my curves and created the illusion of a long bell shape that fell at an awkward ankle length. I’m 5’8″, this dress would have swallowed a shorter woman.

Hemlines

The most flattering universal length for most women is a hemline at the knee +/- according to their height and style. Since I’m trying to create outfits that would suit most women, I went with the at-the-knee length. It is a flattering cut that is suitable for all occasions from a job interview to a date. I chopped off 10″ and voilà, a really cute & flattering all-occasion summer dress!

Before & After Nightingales dress.
Before & After Nightingales dress.