The Refashioners 2016 – my ‘Jeanius’ entry!



As I write, the deadline for the Refashioners 2016 is fewer than 3 hours away. I feel like I’m bashing out this post like a last-minute essay – J’s teasing me for being such an arts student, always fired up by the pressure of a looming deadline. But you know what? I finished my entry a few hours ago. Finished with hours to spare? That’s an achievement in my book.

To be honest though, I’d sort of left it this late on purpose. I LOVED last year’s Refashioners challenge and it got me absolutely hooked on the whole refashioning business. I refashioned 4 shirts for that contest; since then I’ve turned 3 pairs of jeans into a comprehensive tool storage solution, two old dresses into children’s clothes for charity, a man’s shirt into an off-the-shoulder top and a Japanese kimono into a wrap dress. But the subject of this year’s challenge, jeans, had me rather panicked. Firstly, the last and only time I’d brought my trusty old Brother into contact with denim it had had a meltdown and required emergency treatment for a serious tension ailment. Secondly, my formative years involved some slightly dubious trends in denim, trends I was loathe to revisit…

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What is it with the denim stetsons?

So, yeah. I felt pretty daunted.

But hell, I love refashioning, and I wanted again to be part of an fantastically fun community challenge. I mean, the worst that could happen would be ending up looking like the fifth member of B*witched two decades too late, with a broken sewing machine. No biggie.

I was really taken by a fitted denim shirt-dress worn by Alexa Chung (actually, any denim worn by Alexa Chung) and decided that was my route. As I’ve mentioned before here, I love my refashions to include a nod to their original state, and thus I wanted to use the jeans, not just the denim. At the same time I really wanted to make something I would wear and wear, even if it meant making something too simple to wow and win. So I scoured the local charity shops for three pairs of jeans in a matching shade of dark denim. Amazingly, I managed to find two similar pairs of ladies flares that offered beautiful fabric with slight stretch, and the flare lines were exactly in keeping with the A-line look I was aiming for. I purchased a third pair, these ones men’s, just in case.

Using my sloper I drafted the dress pattern myself, with princess seams from the shoulder and a button band down the centre front. 8 panels – 1 for each trouser leg half from my 2 pairs! I allowed a decent amount of ease as I want to be able to wear layers underneath the dress this winter. The length of the flares from pockets to hem was just long enough to fit my short body – thank you, tall people! And so I was able to use the original hems. The really pleasing part was how the marks on the denim (slight lines for the backs of the knees, fading on the front of the thighs) could be incorporated into the design of the dress – the knee lines now sit across the centre-back waist and the lighter shading down the side panels for a (hopefully!) slimming effect.



I also used the original waistband off one pair as my top button band. It was tricky because the band had a slight curve, but I put an invisible nick in the shorter edge and stretched it whilst top-stitching so now it sits straight. The under button band uses leftover denim from one of the pairs of flares – using the other waistband would have been too bulky. My buttonhole foot couldn’t cope with the bulk as it was, so the buttonholes were done with bar tacks. I managed to get a whole pack of old Jigsaw jeans buttons in a bargain bin at the Tooting Craft Superstore. Oh, and I shaved down the pockets off one pair of jeans and assigned them a new home on the bust of the dress…


I then top-stitched each of the princess seams, on both sides, because brassy top-stitching is such an intrinsic feature of classic jeans I wanted to echo it here. Ditto with the bias-binding-finished armholes and collar. The collar is actually the only part which comes from that pair of men’s jeans. Which means leftover denim. Which means… more refashioning!

Then came the really fun part, the embroidery! I was so inspired by images across Pinterest of embroidered jeans and jackets – flowers, skulls, slogans – all in glorious bold colour leaping off the denim. (It’s funny, isn’t it, how denim acts as a neutral against all other colours? A pair of blue cotton trousers simply wouldn’t work the same way.) Anyway, I tried satin stitch for the first time, only stitched through my finger once and am seriously proud of the result. I made up the design as I went along, adding in more and more flowers until it seemed finished.



And then I did the front.




It was actually a good thing I only had a few hours left to enter the dress, or else I think I would never have stopped embroidering. Anyway, finished it is, and I’m very much looking forward to wearing it. Once again, I’ve loved taking part, loved seeing everyone else’s wonderful makes and loved being stretched – new fabric, new skills and techniques. My machine did a stellar job with the denim and now I feel fired up to go away and refashion myself some dungarees, denim pinafores, denim shorts, denim shoes… x



Easy off-the-shoulder top tutorial

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Today I’m sharing with you a tutorial on how to turn a man’s shirt into this season’s most on-trend top! This super easy refashion is my absolute favourite thing to wear right now, as anyone who’s seen me in the last week can testify, and it only takes a couple of hours to whip up. Off-the-shoulder tops are everywhere right now; check out these for inspiration…

Cotton poplin top, £235, Milly
Poplin top, £29.99, Zara
Warehouse, Cotton Off The Shoulder Top Neutral Stripe 1
Cotton top, £32.00, Warehouse

To make your own fab version (for a fraction of the cost), you’ll need the following:

  • A man’s long-sleeved shirt (the larger the size, the more volume your top will have – mine was XL) – I got mine from a charity shop 🙂
  • 1-inch wide elastic, sufficient to reach around your body where you want the ‘neckline’ to sit, including your arms – I used 1 metre/39″ plus a little extra for overlapping
  • A ruler, and a way to mark your fabric (I used biro as this is simply for marking the cutting line, but if you want to play it safe, a soluble marker would be better)
  • Matching thread, scissors, pins and a safety pin (to pull through the elastic)

1. Firstly, decide if you want to retain the button placket or not. If not, do up the buttons, fold it to the inside and sew so the placket disappears into seam allowance.

2. Try on your shirt. Pull it up at the shoulders so the bottom of the armscye sits where you’d like it to in the finished top, and pin those shoulders to hold this fit in place. Then place pins to mark the height of your desired neckline. Don’t worry about the sleeves at this point, just mark the level across your front. (Sorry I don’t have any photos of this; my hands were busy with the pins!)

3. Remove the  shirt and place more pins (or use a pen) to mark a straight line right across the front at your desired neckline level. Measure the height of the neckline from the bottom of the armscye and use this measurement to ascertain the position of the back neckline (also straight across).


4. Mark a line 1.5″ up from your line of pins. This will be the cutting line. When you reach the sleeves, carry the line on at a right angle to the sleeve grainline. If you’re using stripes, this is especially easy!

5. Cut all along the marked cutting line. Now is the time to stitch your button plackets together if they remain. Then press under a narrow 1/4″ hem and stitch in place.

I made the hem slightly deeper at the button plackets for ease of sewing through all those layers.

6. Press over another 1 1/4″ to form the channel for the elastic. Stitch in place, leaving a 2″ gap for elastic insertion. When you reach the sleeves, because they get wider towards the top, you’ll find you have excess fabric gathering; this is absolutely fine and you should sew right over the gathers, trying to spread them as evenly as possible. The gathers will disappear into the overall gathering once you’ve inserted the elastic.

You can see the sleeve gathering in this pic.

7. Insert the elastic through the gap you’ve left using a safety pin. When the elastic is all the way through, pin the two ends together and try on your top. Adjust the elastic for your desired fit and stitch the ends together accordingly.

8. Stitch over the gap where the elastic was inserted. You can now decide on the length of your top, and trim and hem accordingly (I did an enclosed hem by turning up 1/4″ and then turning it up again).

9. It’s also up to you what you do with the sleeves. I liked the puffy look of keeping all the fabric so simply cut off the cuffs, stitched the plackets together at the bottom and put in 1/4″ elastic to gather the new cuffs and enable me to push them up, creating a voluminous sleeve. But there are lots of options here!

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10. Wear your lovely new top with pride!

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Eating lots and sewing little (dresses)

Hello! I hope you all had lovely Easter weekends and survived the wild winds of storm Katy. I’ve been making up for six severe Lenten weeks without chocolate by looking for any excuse to crack open another Easter egg… Cambridge win the boat race, hurrah! Eat an egg. The storm brings a tree down across the drive and we might get stranded in Suffolk! Eat an egg. Hey, it’s breakfast time…! You get the picture.

But amazingly I didn’t spend the entire weekend gorging myself – I squeezed in a bit of sewing too. When going through the seeming bottomless fabric chests in my mother’s house back in January, I’d identified a couple of dismantled ex-dresses of mine with fabric and prints well suited to children’s wear, so this weekend saw these refashioned into tiny dresses for tiny people. Turns out small is not only beautiful, but easy, and fast. Like, so fast.

animal sundress

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The Refashioners 2015 – my stripey sleep playsuit!

This refashioning thing is just fantastic! The Pinterest board is overflowing with fun and surprising takes on the challenge, and it’s got me so fired up. There have been babies’ outfits, shorts, aprons, jackets, patchwork; some ladies have managed to make whole dresses out of shirts and get this – even a little dog has a new coat – amazing! It’s probably a good thing I’m going on holiday next week, otherwise I’d end up with an entire wardrobe of refashioned garments. J looked genuinely alarmed the other day when I complimented him on one of his shirts, as though the next time he saw it, it might be a pair of hotpants.

And so here’s what I actually made, crafted from and inspired by the stripey shirt I showed off last week…

The photos are rather dark and orange because I was experimenting with my new camera!

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Get Shirty – my idea for The Refashioners 2015

I was so excited when this year’s Refashioners challenge was opened up to the wider sewing community. It’s such a great idea, an inspiring and thought-provoking challenge, and a wonderful way to remind us that there’s already vast amounts of fabulous fabric out there in the world and we don’t always have to buy off the roll to satisfy our sewing addiction. Plus there is THE BEST PRIZE EVER. Seriously, I know I’m weird, but I get goosebumps thinking about how much amazing sewing stuff is in that prize. It’s ‘sewing-life’-changing in scale, I kid you not.

So the challenge is to refashion a button-down men’s shirt into something – anything – else. When I look back at my home life and sewing past, I can see that refashioning has always been something we’ve done – my mother made us dressing up clothes out of old nighties and scarves (my dressing-up ‘ballgown’ was a refashion of an adult bridesmaid dress; my ‘second best ball outfit’ was a petticoat from my grandmother) and our toys were similarly equipped. Favourite T-shirts became cushions for the garden, charity shop skirts became teenage vests and a little scrap of everything would in the end make its way into a patchwork spread of some sort. But by the time I was old enough to sew, we had become a girls-only household; there wasn’t a lot of men’s refashioning to be done.

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