06 Feb 09

Thrift Store Makeover

My local Goodwill is the best thrift store I’ve ever been to. Seriously, try to find thrift stores at the bottom of the hill from a ritzy neighborhood. It’s more like a vintage and antique shop with junk shop prices. A few months ago I found this sad, discarded muu muu bearing a tag from the Smithsonian Institution museum store:

I liked the appliqué on it, though I knew it would be ugly as sin once I put it on. But at seven bucks I have faith in the resurrection of pretty fabric cut and sewn wrong. When I got home and put it on, I saw I was right. The yoke is just boxy enough to take all the pretty out of a neckline, the sleeves were pufftastically square, and the design was guilty of the fashion crime Maddox so adeptly describes as “tit curtains.”

The main problem with muu muus is that they are basically just a big rectangle gathered right under the armpits. Bodies aren’t cylindrical. Clothing shouldn’t be made in that shape. Ever. I gathered my most important tools and prepared for the task at hand:

The first task was to detach the cute skirt from the hideousness of the bodice. Fate proved that this dress wanted to be remade into something worth wearing, as the length from the hem to the armpit was exactly the length from a low-rise waistline to my ankle. I amputated the ugly.

The next task was to turn this into more of an a-line shape. I still wanted some gathering at the waist, but a cylindrical skirt gathered into a waistband is always too full in the hips. I wasn’t going to do all this work to turn a Fat Dress into a Fat Skirt. So I sewed new diagonal side seams, moving the seam in three inches and sewing diagonally to about six inches above where the ruffle connected. One side was left open at the top by six inches so that I could put in a zipper later on.

Yes, I was totally too lazy to take the white thread off my bobbin and wind on some black. I just used up the white till it was gone and then put black thread on.

I cut away the surplus fabric — this reduced the waistline, which was originally 65 inches, by a whole foot. But more needed to go, so I put two darts in the front and two in the back to reduce the waist by another foot. This was tricky as the appliqué extended up pretty high. But I was able to put in nine-inch long darts that reduced the waist by three inches each. I didn’t dare reduce it any further because the skirt would have flared too quickly from the waist to the hips with darts that short. Stil, that left the waist at just over forty inches, which seemed about right for a little ruffle but not too much bulk.

I then cut the sleeves off to turn those into a waistband. I kept the last four inches of the sleeve because once I opened up the underarm seam the two sleeves together were several inches bigger around than my waist. Perfect! I cut the end of the sleeve into a rectangle, then divided that into the inner and outer layers of the waistband. The four strips were trimmed into trapezoids that were half an inch bigger along the bottom edge than they were around the top so that it will sit nice and flat on my hips. I only sewed one edge together because I still needed to leave the left side open for a zipper. The red trim at the bottom of the ex-sleeves was now trim along the waistline.

The most time-consuming part of making any skirt is gathering it evenly into one of the waistband pieces. That’s where the movie really comes in handy. I was pinning this during the really exciting part where Audrey Hepburn smashes the secret service guy on the noggin with a guitar. After pinning the skirt so that it’s gathered more or less evenly, I sandwiched the other waistband piece on top and sewed the skirt into the band. Fold the top line of the waistband pieces together, sew them down, add a zipper in the side seam I left open, and booyah!

It’s hanging at the right level if I’m literally going for a “hippy” look, but as I’m not particularly curvy it’s not feeling very comfortable. I think I may take the waist in a bit so that it sits higher up toward my natural waistline. There are two appliqués left on the yoke of the muu muu. I kept that piece of fabric after banishing the scraps to trash can hell for being part of a conspiracy to wreck cute motifs and good cotton. Not sure what I’ll make with them, but the little birds will probably come in handy sooner or later.

Either way, I’m now ready to go play in the Haight.

No more chit-chat, hoomans.