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 I had worn it a few times around the house but felt this dress deserved more, as I tend to feel with most great but outdated pieces.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.

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.

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!

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.


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.

The Garden Party Dress

The Tashenka Garden Party Dress.

This dress was inspired by my recent makes with the Salme Kimono dress pattern. I love the silhouette of a kimono, however I wanted to design something that accentuated the curves underneath the clothes. I like the design of a kimono, particularly how the bodice and sleeve are a complete unit- one large piece. In true Tashenka style, I highlighted the waistline by joining the bodice and skirt portions at the true waist and cinching it nice and snug with an elastic band in a casing. I also have added short sleeves, my brother-in-law Jules calls them kimono cap sleeves. Traditional kimono designs have unattached sleeves, particularly in the underarm portion, however I reduced this draping look by redesigning the underarm portion in a more tight figure-hugging curve line down to the waist. And voilà, Tashenka’s Garden Party Dress.

Tashenka’s Salme Kimono Dress

This is my second Salme pattern make. Their patterns have become some of my absolute favourites. Elisa and her team certainly know how to design beautiful patterns for women. I recently purchased two to use in the teaching sessions with the women at the shelter. I think they’re great teaching tools as the designs are fashionable yet also uncomplicated. I prefer designs that are simple, my musts are clean lines, few pieces and straightforward instructions. The Salme website also has fantastic and clear sewing tutorials with step by step instructions. For the top of this dress, I used their understitiching tutorial, as well as Tilly and The Buttons’ tutorial on collar facing. I was so pleased with how this collar turned out. I will never make another collar without a facing ever again. Well, maybe not never, but almost never.

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I used two pieces of fabric to make this dress, both of which were rescue-upcycle garments. The top was created from a Léo -Danal by Normie Hum Ltd dress, a now-defunct Montréal clothing line. I found this floral XL dress at Village des Valeurs for $5, a real steal as once I ironed out the pleats I was left with a substantial amount of fabric. The skirt portion of my dress was made from a beautiful large vintage scarf which I got for a whopping 50 cents as it had a couple burn holes, lucky for me they were near the edges. I used the Salme Kimono Sleeve dress pattern, only tweaking the measurements slightly. I also inserted a 1.5″ elastic casing to the inside waistline which I inserted a 1″ elastic through, providing a more snug cinched waist. And voilà, the Tashenka’s take on the Salme Kimono Sleeve dress!

Burda’s Member Model Challenge Dress

I’m certainly no model but I always appreciate a good challenge. Burdastyle.com was hosting another one of their member model challenge projects and I decided why not? (Spoiler: I didn’t win) The featured dress for this month’s challenge was their Gathered Tube Designer dress 04/2010 #165, a simple and flattering strapless number that can be sewn in a variety of fabrics for a mix of different looks. The sewist can create an elegant evening dress or a casual day dress or even a beach number. The pattern is extremely versatile and you can certainly notice this when browsing through the contest entries.

I decided to make mine using this beautiful soft turquoise paisley-esque cotton I picked up in the Đồng Xuân Market in Hanoi last summer. The dress is very comfortable, highlighting my true waist line and falling at a nice length above the knee. I double hemmed mine as the fabric will fray with washing so my next one- yes, I’ve already planned for a second in black- will be 1.5″ longer. A perfect addition to the summer wardrobe, dressed up or down.

The pattern comes in two pieces with instructions to cut out a third thin strip for the inside elastic waist casing. The instructions are straightforward and to the point, perhaps a little too straightforward for this novice sewist. I was a little confused with how the top of the dress was folded and sewn to accommodate for the elastic in upper dress edge. I folded the top of the dress inside 1 inch, pressed, then folded her again 1 inch and pressed. I sewed nearly all around, following the marking to not sew the space in the middle front. You then slip the elastic through, pinning the ends of the elastic on either ends. Sew in place and sew the vertical lines at these edges to hold the elastic in place. This method allows for subtle contrast in gather for the upper edge of the dress. I really enjoyed creating the elastic waistline as it called for an inner casing. A 1.5″ wide strip that is sewn to the inside, all around to the dress waistline, which your waist elastic is pulled through and then sewn in place. The casing makes the inside looks clean, laundry safe and allows for access to elastic for any future adjustments.

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Four finalists were chosen this morning by the Burda staff, opening the voting session which will run until March 16th, 2015. The chosen four made lovely dresses which they modelled beautifully in their photographs. These women know how to represent themselves and their work in front of the lens.

Even though I didn’t make the cut, It was a lot of fun to participate and see how we all created a unique looking dress from the exact same pattern. They all look so different. This truly highlights how a vision and personal style can truly influence our interpretation of a pattern so differently.

The D’Allaird Dress (Sewing-It-Forward)

This week’s Sewing-It-Forward project was transforming a violet chiffon D’Allaird’s dress into updated and fashionable pieces. I used the bottom portion of the dress to create an elastic waist pencil skirt and a cardigan blouse from the top portion.

D’Allaird’s was a Canadian clothing store, a subsidiary of Marks and Spencer, founded in the mid-70s and closed in 1996. I have to admit the original number wasn’t terrible. I know Vie Domestique would second that notion and even went as far and said she liked it. And I quote, “J’aime un peu ça. Shame on me”, she wrote after I had I texted her the before photo. Haha- busted! The truth is, the dress was beautifully constructed- it accentuated the waistline properly and draped nicely, but it was dated and had been sitting in the donation boutique at the women’s shelter for too long.

Before & After x 2
Before & After x 2

I stitched ripped the bottom skirt from the top blouse. I measured my hip circumference and added a couple of inches. I cut the bottom fabric into a large square using the measurements. I sewed the two pieces of chiffon in place. Chiffon moves and shifts too easily and I can honestly say I don’t enjoy sewing it.  I managed to sew the side seams of the skirt while keeping the original back bottom hem slit in it’s proper place- the middle. I created an elastic casing with the top hem and slipped in an inch wide elastic.

Refashioning the top portion into a cardigan style blouse was far more simple to create however it did require a lot of carefully executed stitch ripping. I separated the blouse portion from both the skirt and from what I’ve been calling the waistline-skirt, that extra bit of flowy gathered fabric (see before photo). I stitch ripped the blouse open, separating the left and right fronts and then double hemmed the bottom so it wouldn’t fray. The double hemming also provided more weight for nice draping. And voilà, two lovely wearable pieces for some new owners!

Homemade Lace Lingerie

Last week, I had the pleasure of catching up with my friend and fellow sewist Mlle Vie Domestique. Amidst the beers and laughs we shared, we discussed the possibility of collaborating on hosting Do-It-Yourself workshops. Among the dozen ideas we brainstormed that evening, facilitating a session on hand-stitching your own lingerie became a fast favourite. Perhaps a themed workshop for Valentine’s!?

Later that night, fuelled by a mild buzz and a surge of inspiration, I dug out some stretchy red lace I got off fabric.com last summer and got down to work. I picked out a short nightdress from my closet and using its shape I drafted a pattern template. I cut the lace to my pattern- three pieces, a heart-shaped front, a straight back and an extra section of the front top portion to serve as a bust lining. I hand-stitched the bust portions together. I made small tight stitches in order to give the edges a ruffled texture. I enjoy hand-stitching but to save on time I opted to use my sewing machine for the side seams and back-top & bottom hems. I initially thought of using red bra straps but decided to use lace strips instead. I feel the lace straps gives the lingerie a seamless and polished look. Voilà, my homemade lingerie!

I believe a camisole or bra version of this number would be fun for a D-I-Y Valentine’s Day workshop, what do you think?