Silk Purse From A Sow’s Ear – Charity Find Into Closet Must Haves!

Cambridge charity shops are famous for its ex-evening wear. May balls (held in June) are formal attire. There are two Universities of note and they each have their ceremonies and black tie dinners throughout the year. Invariably the local charity shops are well stocked with ball gowns and cocktail dresses of all sizes. As former students also have the right to have their weddings at Kings and Queens and all the rest of the historic and highly picturesque college chapels, charity shops can be flooded with the most sure-just-shorten-the-hem-you-can-wear-it-again monstrosities bridesmaid dresses.

I found these doozies in Oxfam (the good stuff is online). the first is a simple black UK 16 cocktail dress that while cute and basic, isn’t very versatile and was only £24.99. It’s not like you can wear it to work every day. It’s a once every other year or else they will all know that you only have the one dress thing. The second is a size UK18 cream/gold/brown/black striped cocktail strapless dress for only £14.99 that I will remake next week into a UK 22/24 pencil skirt to die for! But in the meantime back to the LBD.

This cocktail dress immediately screamed to me KILLER SKIRT! Could go with a suit, a really cool top and you could wear it to, well, anywhere; work, church, date night. This is a well made fully lined dress with kick pleat. the easiest way to tackle this is to just cut the top off. But first, its always a good idea to trace the waistline on a real human being.  ENTRE LSI! (Which stands for Long Suffering Intern) This particular LSI was a size UK 16-18.

We put the dress on LSI and zipped it up past her waist. We could have zipped it up all the way but LSI was an absolute spoilsport and insisted that she could not hold her breath for the next 30 minutes while we faffed and took pictures. I then used tailor’s chalk and marked LSI’s waistline.

An easy trick to make sure you get an accurate line around the waist is to tie a piece a string before chalking the waist and to use the string as a guide.

Once off LSI, I tacked the layers of the dress, lining and top fabric, with RED thread. As you can see I was incredibly neat and even with my stitches. Actually, it doesn’t matter at this point being neat, just as long as the tacks (which was actually a running stitch in this tutorial) are visible and easily removed later. In the first picture above you can see how it seems (get it haha) that the line is incredibly uneven? That’s because a line around the waist is NOT flat. It’s a curve; an oval which can rise at the front and fall at the back or sides. An easy trick to make sure you get an accurate line around the waist is to tie a piece a string before chalking the waist and to use the string as a guide. Once I had completed tacking the waist all the way around I cut the dress apart starting at the back zipper (FIRST making sure the zip was all the way down to the bottom – unzipped.)

That’s the beauty of turning a dress into a shirt. The zip is already there. I am the world’s worst at sewing in zips so I do it the old fashion way and hand sew it first. Which is why I love it when I don’t have to!

I next used a 4 inch strip of black satin I had lying around used it to sew on a simple “facing” waistband. I put right sides together and sewed along the top. Then using a very steamy iron, I flipped over the waistband and ironed the top seam flat. I cheated like a pro and used bondaweb to tack down the inside before hand sewing the lower edge and side with a blind stitch. Whenever you cut a zipper like this it is best to add a shirt hook to take any stress off the top teeth. Here I added a replica renaissance cloak hook (the same ones used in GOT) to give a bit of bling to the back. In the second image above you can see how a natural waist curves.

By this time LSI had gotten tired of being my living voodoo doll and f*cked off back went home to London. So here we have the ever faithful and even more cheaply paid Matilda to show you what the end result looks styled with a simple sheer black blouse. From that frock you only ever wear once to that fabulous skirt you wear everywhere and don’t have to dye or shorten. 😉

NEXT IN THIS SERIES: Party Frock to Street Style


Abigail Tyrrell

With degrees in Psychology, Silversmithing, and an accredited Holistic Therapist (FHT), Ms Tyrrell is an enigma wrapped in chocolate. After 18 years as a professional web developer (LAMP and .NET) and designer, she left to focus on making pants for a living. At some point during the last 12 months, she also thought creating this was a good idea...

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