Sustainable Sewcialists: A Sewing Redemption Story

Hi there! I’m Becky, from Sew Adagio. Since I was one of the people who suggested sustainability as a potential theme month, I’m excited that I get to write for it too! Refashioning has been a fairly steady part of my sewing life since I was a teenager, when I took an unwanted pair of my brother’s super-baggy 90s jeans and some fabric left over from curtains that my mom made for my room, and pieced them together into a messenger bag that lasted well past my college years.

I’ll admit that a big draw of refashioning for me has always been the idea of getting to sew something for basically free (or whatever the thrift store item cost), but in recent years, I’ve found myself thinking a lot more about the environmental aspect of it. Especially now that I have kids of my own, because who wants to leave a giant trash heap for them?

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The original dress

Right after my older son was born, I had a time period of about a year where nearly everything I made was a fail in some way or other. So I’ve been doing a sporadic series on my own blog where I take those projects that didn’t turn out, and remake them into something better. (I’m calling it my Refashion Redemption Project. I’m a sucker for a good redemption story.) This is probably my most ambitious take on that so far!

This particular project started life as a Megan Nielsen Darling Ranges dress that I originally made about 3 years ago in hopes of having a nursing-friendly dress, but it didn’t really work that great for me. I love the fabric, but I had a lot of difficulty getting the bodice to fit, and it ended up uncomfortably low-cut and way too short for me. If I didn’t have leggings on, I couldn’t get our infant seat into the car without flashing the entire neighborhood! Since that really limited its practicality, I put it away until I could figure out what to do with it.

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Cutting the front

When this theme came up, I was ready to see what it could become. I knew I wanted to reuse the buttonholes and that I wanted something with simple lines, so I decided to try out the Seamwork Akita top that had been sitting on my hard drive. If you haven’t made that one, it’s a one piece pattern that is just seamed up the sides. I knew right away that I’d have to add a few seams since I wasn’t working with uncut yardage, so I decided to turn it into a raglan sleeve top.

It did take a little preparation to get the dress ready for that, since the skirt wasn’t long enough on its own to cut the front or the back. So I removed the gathering stitches, and sewed the bodice pieces back on to act as a yoke– with a little patchwork right next to the front sleeve seam where the bodice just wasn’t quite wide enough, thanks to all of my original fitting tweaks. (Another reason to love this print—it disguises the extra seams very well!)

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The finished sleeve (and a stuffed animal photobomb, thanks to my boys)

The sleeves were another challenge, as I did not have nearly the width I needed on the original sleeves to cut a raglan, nor did I have enough left from the skirt to fill in. But this is one of my favorite aspects of refashioning—it really forces you to get creative! The solution I settled on was turning it into a cold-shoulder sleeve of sorts. I cut a few inches into the sleeve pattern on either side, then added some triangular bits at the neckline to make it bra-friendly, some straps in between (made from the original back ties!) and finished the whole thing off with bias strips that I seamed together from the scraps and pockets. I’m absolutely thrilled with how this part turned out! I made enough of the bias tape to finish off the neckline as well.

Even though the way I had to piece this together made it not quite the quick and easy top that was advertised, the pattern was a great blank slate for the necessary hacking. I think this new top will get much more use than the dress ever would have, and I also got very close to a zero waste project! All I had left at the end were two buttons, which went back into my stash, and a pile of small scraps, which got stuffed into some giant floor pillows that I’m making for our play area (my current textile recycling plan, since I can’t seem to find anything locally).

I had a lot of fun working on this refashion, and am quite happy to know that my sewing fail won’t end up in a thrift store’s reject pile. I hope this encourages you to take a second look at some of the unworn pieces in your closet and reimagine what they can become!