make do Dahlia: a refashion

This, apparently, is the 50th post here. Dear readers, no deep thoughts on the occasion of the 50th post. Just a thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to drop me a line here. My favorite part of blogging is definitely the conversations that it can spark (yes, I know I’ve said it before — it’s still true). I raise my coffee cup to you.

With the weather warming up, I’ve veered off the sewing list into the sartorial version of a hitch-hiking vacation. This most recent project was exceptionally spontaneous and risky. No muslin! And with a new-to-me pattern. And a fabric I wouldn’t have chosen if I was buying fabric. But I wasn’t.

Let’s take a trip back in time to the day college-age me stumbled into a sale and picked up a really strange dress in shiny chocolate-brown polyester. I remember that college-age me didn’t have much of a clue how this dress was intended to be worn (other than likely without a bra) and so never wore it. Inexplicably, this dress accompanied me in several moves, always inevitably getting relegated to a dark corner of the wardrobe.

Finally, I fished it out of the pile of clothes I had a vague intention to donate (and haven’t because I don’t believe anyone really needs my old clothes). And I ripped, ripped, ripped those seams.

At this point you’re probably wondering what that dress looked like before I ripped it up. Please bear with me as I fulfill my dream of putting together a “Before” and “After” photo:

Same woman, definitely same body weight, same vile shiny polyester. Different dress. And, if we’re nitpicking, different lighting, so the polyester doesn’t blind you so much in the “After” photo. But you still might have bad things to say about it. I know I do.

I imagine that the previous dress wasn’t the original product from this fabric. No, I’m pretty convinced this fabric must have originally been Satan’s bedsheets. It’s shiny, slippery, doesn’t breathe, refuses to be pressed.

There wasn’t that much fabric to play with, so it was really lucky that I noticed that version 2 of the Colette Dahlia only required 1.5 yards of fabric. There is a bit of piecing on one side of the front bodice, but apart from that it all worked out. I used the center front seam to gauge the grainline. Mostly, though, I just kept my fingers crossed. The hem on the original was pretty deep, so I was able to rescue precious inches by carefully unpicking it.

That fabric, though… That wonky hem and strained-looking seams in the “After” photo — they look like they could use a date with the iron, right? Well, the iron had at this point taken them out on several dates, with a dinner and a movie, short of stopping by for a night cap. The fabric won’t budge.

Cutting it was equally tricky. I made it unnecessarily difficult for myself but cutting on the fold. But I couldn’t be bothered to trace whole pieces. This was supposed to be low-pressure, off-the-map (that is, off the sewing list) spontaneous sewing. But, as you may guess, the further I got, the more I cared about the end product.


The pattern didn’t make things easy due to the order of sewing. In normal circumstances I definitely would have started with a muslin. But this was supposed to be a “wearable muslin” so I decided to fit on the fly as much as I could.

As a result, the top of the front bodice looks a bit different from the pattern photos. Looking at them now, it seems to me that the underarm falls pretty high on the model. That was something I was struggling with, so I recut it twice to lower it. However, I don’t know how much the pattern is to blame here and how much my pretty erratic cutting of this slippery fabric. Similarly, I’m not sure about the bust gathers — I think the shaping might be slightly off, probably because I didn’t secure them properly when sewing them in. But I might also have to reconsider their placement if I sew this pattern again.

I can’t give an honest pattern review beyond saying: try it, muslin it, I think it might work nicely if you don’t use a fabric with a grudge. This is a lovely version in silk. I really like the long-sleeved version in plaids, and Ingrid’s beautifully altered and hand-painted Dahlia is truly stunning. So, yes, I think another Dahlia is likely at some point in the future.

While this project didn’t quite work as a muslin, there are lots of reasons for happiness. This was probably my quickest zipper insertion — because I wasn’t too stressed about it. I did try to be careful and precise but wasn’t too hard on myself, and that felt nice.

I really love how much I was able to re-use in this dress: the fabric, obviously, but also the original bias binding from the underarms (on the underarms again), supplemented with a bit of brown bias binding for the neckline that I had left over from another project. The 12″ zipper came from a bargain bundle of vintage zippers I picked up a while ago. Yay for re-using!

Thanks for reading. This one was wordy.


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I write about sewing, knitting, and may sometimes be tempted to talk about books.

4 thoughts on “make do Dahlia: a refashion”

  1. Good on you for using up an old unworn dress 🙂 a comment on the “no one needs my clothes…” everything in that article is true, but that doesn’t mean people don’t need your clothes! obviously the best solution is to buy less and throw less out, but clothes that do get sent to Africa support multiple small businesses. I’ve seen people selling charity shop clothes in a lot of different countries, and it’s how a lot of people make their income, and how a lot of people get their clothes in an affordable and fashion forward way 🙂 when “first hand” clothes shops are generally prohibitively expensive, even for foreigners, the second hand clothes market is a lot of people’s favourite place to shop!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi! Thanks so much for sharing what things are like in reality! What you hear about what happens with second-hand clothing can be really confusing.

      Not that it’s good news that new clothes are too expensive — I’m certainly not happy that people struggle to get the clothing they need — but I do wish second-hand clothes were still able to compete with new clothes in the West. Fast fashion has turned second-hand clothes into a mere curiosity that can’t really compete with its brand-new but already almost threadbare products.

      I’m bad at shopping second-hand — wait, I’m bad at shopping, period — but I have fond memories of second-hand clothes-shopping with a good friend. That was back in high school, so about a hundred years ago. She was able to teach me a little bit about how you look for good clothes, how you keep an eye out for the new delivery schedule, and how to be patient (ha, ha). I bought some of my favorite clothes with her. And though I shop (second- or first-hand) rarely, I seem to find the best clothes in second-hand stores. That’s how I own the only wool skirts and jackets I’ve been able to locate anywhere.

      Overall, though, sewing is luckily replacing shopping in my life. I’ve never enjoyed shopping, so it’s more than welcome.

      Do you shop second-hand?


  2. I like how you’ve reused something you didn’t wear into something you could wear now, and I also really like blog conversations. Since I’ve moved, I don’t have many people to talk to. 🙂 Have you checked out the blog Treadling in Benin? The blogger, Cathy, wrote about her sewing adventures while teaching abroad, and she noted how people sold secondhand American/western clothing and textiles (like sheets and curtains) there.


    1. Hello, and thanks for the blog recommendation! I hopped over to check out your blog, by the way. I really like the fabric you used in the McCall’s 3830 skirt. It’s always great to learn about new blogs! 🙂


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