By Kezia Rice
Today I’m going to be writing about the more complex sewing projects I’ve attempted during lockdown - not groundbreaking stuff, but a dress to dungarees makeover, a top from scratch, and a crotch refit on some very baggy shorts... If you want some inspiration for simpler projects, check out my earlier article where I detail cropping or lengthening hems! But in this article, we’re going to delve deeper into the possibilities sewing your own clothes can provide - a process which is for me very much trial and error. Instincts come into play here, as well as endless try ons where you inevitably have pins stabbing into your crotch. If you have a willing sewing assistant, ask them to help you with the trickier bits of fitting. My fittings are conducted solo, throwing clothes on and off and adjusting pins in between, with my projects spread out across my bedroom floor. These are the sewing successes I’ve managed during lockdown - when I can get my hands on a sewing machine and some new fabric, I’m hoping there’ll be many more.
Equipment needed: sharp scissors, tape measure, needle, thread, pins
I bought these Adidas shorts on Depop, thinking I’d go for a Princess Di in the 80s vibe (am still undecided, they may be that bit too wavey for me to get away with, but they are suuuuuper comfy for chilling round the house/cycling in). As you can see from the before picture (taken by the Depop seller, not your reckless, haphazard, hacks-into-garments-with-scissors-before-she-thinks sewer aka me), these shorts were way oversized. I decided to try and give them a refit to make them a bit less bulky and a bit more wearable, which began by pinning up the hem an inch to take some length off. Then, I unpicked the crotch/just hacked into it with scissors (a very respectable method if you’re going to be resewing these parts anyways), so it was no longer connected in the middle and gave me plenty of scope for resizing. This is where the holy trinity of instinct, pinning and repeated try ons come into play: I knew I needed to reduce the amount of material available in the crotch to make the shorts less baggy, but wasn’t initially sure how to do this. I pinned the front and back together with a large overlap, reducing the crotch size by a few inches. After trying the shorts on and realizing that I was on the right lines, I spent a long time repinning the material to ensure an accurate and neat fit on both sides. Whilst I’m by no means a perfectionist sewer, I would definitely recommend spending time at the pinning stage before you jump in with the needle: this is where your garment will take shape and if you make the right moves here, you’ll be golden when it comes to the actual sewing. Once I was completely happy with the fit, I began sewing the shorts back together at the crotch, as well as sewing up the hem I’d pinned up earlier. I was super happy with the result of these, and whether I wear them out and about or just to channel an 80s vibe during workouts, they definitely feel much more wearable.
Maxi Dress to Dungarees Transformation
Equipment needed: sharp scissors, tape measure, needle, thread, pins, chalk, scrap material
These dungarees were a true work in progress that took a few re-sews before they were completely wearable. The project was ambitious and high stakes - I’d found an old dungaree maxi dress of my mum’s in my sister’s wardrobe, and whilst she said she didn’t mind me transforming it, I would have felt really bad if I’d reduced a completely wearable item into useless scraps of fabric. So, the pressure was on, and with that I began by unpicking the middle seam of the dress on the front and back and pinning them up again to create two legs. I initially sewed the legs completely straight up one end and down the other, but after trying them on and discovering the restricted movement I’d created, I did a bit of googling and discovered something called the ‘crotch curve’, which is the necessity of fitting a crotch to the curve of your body to create a perfect fit. After unpicking the failed crotch I’d sewn, I went through several iterations of pinning and trying on before I found the perfect fit. I sewed the dungarees up once again at the crotch, then moved onto the straps which I needed to make detachable. I unpicked the straps from the front panel of the dress-dungarees amalgamation, then re-hemmed the straps before making buttonholes and attaching two gold buttons. This was the initial final step, and I wore the dungarees quite happily for a week or so, before my fragile sewing wore away at the crotch, resulting in a tiny but unfortunately placed hole. I solved this by finding some scrap material in a similar shade of blue to the dungarees, and cut out a small patch to reinforce the crotch from the inside. Several wears later, and I’m happy to report that my sewing is holding! I’d recommend trying this transformation with any kind of skirt/maxi dress you’re not the biggest fan of - I’ve got my eye on a maxi dress to boiler suit sewing project next!
Green Silk Top from Scratch
Equipment needed: sharp scissors, tape measure, needle, thread, pins, chalk
This top has been a long time coming - I’d kept the green silk material that was a slip for another dress for years, and had always wanted to do something with it. With lockdown giving me lots of time on my hands and a rediscovery of my sewing skills, I finally returned to this project. I can’t honestly think how I began bringing this top together, because it was an endless cycle of trial and error. First I envisaged it as a square neck cami (the slip was essentially a strapless cami to begin with), and set about making spaghetti straps, or rouleau, out of some spare green silk. When I pinned the top together like this, however, it didn’t sit right at all - it fell awkwardly in the middle of loose and flowing and tight against the skin, and I realised I needed to veer towards one of these two options. I went for a tight fit, which felt like an easier option in terms of sewing and wearability, and decided to make the top backless for ease of getting into and out of it (always a crucial consideration that I on occasion do forget about).
I initially thought of having the spaghetti straps as tie straps at the back, but I soon realised this would leave me with lots of bunched up fabric. I then had the idea of using the fabric itself as an attachment by simply tying the ends together - this worked surprisingly well but left me with two unused straps that had taken an age to sew! I utilised them as reinforcement by sewing them onto the side of the garment to be tied at the back as well. If this all sounds simple and easy, it’s worth pointing out that during a stage of this transformation (I’ve lost track of when exactly I did this) I had to hem the edge of the piece of silk. Silk is a notoriously tricky fabric to handle because it is so slippy and therefore difficult to sew straight - for once I was glad I was hand rather than machine sewing so I could take my time and be really accurate with my stitches. The result is essentially an oddly shaped piece of material (pictured above) that ties together to form a strapless, backless top. I don’t really have a lockdown occasion to wear this to, so I’m hoping it gets an outing soon when the pubs reopen and normality returns. Like my leaver’s ball top I mentioned in my last article, I will be assuaging fears that my sewing will fail with several drinks, and probably reinforcing my efforts with a bit of body tape besides. Bring on that day - until then, I’ll be sewing up a storm with any projects I can get my hands on!
Kezia Rice is the Founder and Editor-in-chief of imprint mag.zine. As well as running imprint, she has made a podcast @kezsbookshelf, and can often be found taking scissors and a sewing needle to her clothes or having a refreshing dip in one of Lancashire's rivers. She has previously written for imprint about everything from living without a car to the problematics of Love Island to her passion for charity shopping, and also wrote the Part 1 of this article.