Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Making Adjustments to Vintage Clothing

I am of the firm opinion that altering vintage clothing is a no-no.  If its made it 60 or 70 years in its original form, who am I to change it?  And people who do 'upcycle' vintage should be hung, drawn and quartered.

Here is an example I recently found on Etsy.

That awful octopus is heat fused on there, so there is no going back.
And its not even a happy octopus - its frowning!  It doesn't like it either!!

However, repairing vintage to make it wearable again, and in doing so maintaining the integrity and style of the original dress is just fine.  For the above example, if there was a giant nasty stain or a hole where they stuck that octopus, I would have patched it, or covered it with SOMETHING SUITABLE AND MID CENTURY!!!  Not a giant bloody turquoise octopus!!!  Who on earth is going to wear that now!!!

*deep breath Beccie*

It makes me so mad!

Anyway, lets talk about the dress I adjusted on the weekend.  This discussion will not involve octopuses (octopi???)

Recently I purchased a lovely dress from the facebook group for buying, selling, and swapping mid century clothing - Ooh La La.  When it arrived I noticed that it was VERY yellow, had a few minor spot stains, and had a faint odour.  I decided that it was nothing that a good soak wouldn't cure, and I was right!  There is hardly any yellowing left and the spot stains have gone too!!  But gee the water was a revolting colour, and stank to high heaven!!!  I wish I'd taken some before photos... and had a way to record and play back the smell...  Actually, no I don't.

I put it on and realised that although the bodice was the perfect length, the skirt was not.  It was sooooo long - mid calf on me, the 'dowdy length'.  Even with quite high heels it still didn't look right.  Here is a before photo on my headless helper:

Isn't she gorgeous!  You can see why I completely fell in love with her!

I don't have a before photo of the dress on me, because I didn't wish to be looking dowdy even if it was for illustrative purposes.  So the photo above will have to do.

I loved the dress and wanted to keep it, so the skirt needed to be shorter.  And since there is a border design, I couldn't hem it.  Instead I would have to unpick the skirt from the waistband, make my adjustments and sew it all back together the same way to make it look original.

I was also going to be limited in the amount that I chopped off, due to the placement of the buttons.  To keep the distance between the buttons the same, I decided to cut the skirt at the first button down from the waistband. 

This would shorten the length of the skirt by 2 1/2 inches, from 30 inches to 27 1/2 inches.  Whilst I would have liked to get it to 26 inches, I figured that would be good enough.

So I started very carefully unpicking the skirt from the waistband, and started thinking about the dress itself.  I had decided from the shape of it (and I'm no clothing historian) that it was from the 1940s, and I had inspected the dress thoroughly and there was not a tag to be found.  I assumed it was an expertly sewn home job, but when I unpicked the skirt and noticed the 1/2" seam allowance, I was convinced.  This is because patterns printed in the 1940s were made with a 1/2" seam allowance!!  Does anyone have any further opinions on this?  Or have seen the pattern maybe???

I also enjoyed unpicking the parts of the waistband that went through the centre of a flower, because you could see just how much the print had faded over time.

The colours would have been so bright when she was new, but I still love her in all her faded glory.

Then came the moment of truth, when there was no going back.  Cutting off the excess inches.

I drew a line so it would be straight-ish, and went at it bravely.

Then I gathered and pinned and sewed and ironed and top-sewed, and put it back on my headless helper.

It is definitely shorter!

All I had to do to finish it was sew two buttons (one I cut off by mistake - oops!) and a hook and eye back on and I was done.  All in all a much easier project than I anticipated!  It is one of those icky jobs, but it was perfect for a down-in-the-dumps Sunday afternoon pick-me-up.

And I wore it yesterday with pride!

Its still long, but you can imagine how much longer it would have looked before...

This project was such a success that I've realised there are a few other dresses that could benefit from the same treatment!  However, I think they have zips in the side...which would make it much more difficult.  On second thoughts, I think they'll just stay as they are.

Please feel free to have your say about upcycling in the comments section!



  1. I love it! You look terrific!

  2. Gorgeous! And I say thumbs down on the octopus, too. Horror. I have a question for you - what did you soak the dress in to get rid of the smell/stains?

    1. Oh the horror!!!

      I used an Australian product called Napisan. I don't know what country you are in but maybe you have something similar where you are ??? Here is the link http://www.vanishstains.com.au/

    2. So Napisan doesn't fade colours and prints? (Urgh I sound like an infomertial). My mother always had some in the laundry when I was growing up - but it was used for, well, nappies (and towels and bed linen). I've thought about using it to clean up vintage fabric, old dresses, and general staining, however I was always concerned that is would have a bleaching affect on colours (and black!).

    3. It says that is safe to use on colours, so I did it without a second thought!

    4. Can't say for sure, but it looks like what we call Oxy-Clean here in the US.

  3. Omg that is so sad sooo sooo sad. How could anyone do that!!!!!!! Ugh. I think I would have a dress hemmed if I really really really loved it and would wear it a lot. Otherwise if a dress doesnt fit me well or look right on me I resell it bc I dont want to alter it. xox

    1. I'm the same Daffny, about as much as I will do is hem something. I will repair if there is issues, but I cannot comprehend sticking a giant unhappy aqua octopus on anything!

  4. Napisan is fabulous for these kinds of things. I had a 50's green brocade cocktail dress and jacket (now sold) that when I got it STUNK SO BAD! It made me gag it was that bad. Ugh. Horrible. It was even STIFF from all the god knows how old I dont know what gunk on it. *shudder*
    I soaked it for THREE DAYS in Napisan and when it dried, it was like new. No smell and the colour was amazing. Like polishing the tarnish off Bakelite.

    This dress of yours is gorgeous - that print and colour is to die for. I can only imagine how brown and gross it was before you soaked it.
    Awesome job on the shortening too.
    I would say from the style its very late 40s - that's when everyone was wearing those super frumpy lengths and the skirts were just starting to get fuller after war rationing.

    1. How does someone sell you something that stinks??? Don't they realise??? Or maybe they are just glad to be rid of it...

      Oh brilliant! Thanks for the extra info Esz :)

  5. Great job on that vintage dress! Now it looks as if it was made just for you! Love the border along the hem....

    I had some unpleasant experiences with vintage stuff as well, mainly with purses that were stained or smelling. Crochet purses can be soaked in soda (the one you use fort he kitchen), so it’s non-toxic and certainly not too aggressive on the material, and most came out fine. If there still is a „not so pleasant“ odour, I put it in a box filled with my own dried lavender, this neutralizes bad smells and disappears after a certain time as well (unlike perfume or such).

    I even had once a necklace bought on Ebay that smelled of cigarette smoke. A necklace! (If someone love to smoke, all right, but keep your stuff stored away...)

    However, I am quite desperate about a wonderful 50s fabric I recently bought on Etsy. The seller declared the yellowing along the edges would easily wash out. I have washed it 3 times at least, and I have soaked it twice in different products, and the stains are still visible. I think most sellers are maybe not as picky as their customers, as they obviously have a different approach to their merchandise than we that would like to wear and cherish these items. Fort hem it’s all too often only stuff to make money with. I could never ever sell something smelly, I am too sensitive about smells.

    1. A stinky necklace!!! Goodness!!!

      I wonder too if odours are intensified by being wrapped in plastic and shipped - cause it can take a couple of weeks to get to me (or you), and that it smells worse when we open it, than it did when it was packed...???

      And that is such a shame about the fabric you purchased!!! Are you using hot water when you soak it? Do you want me to send some Napisan??? (I will!!)

  6. I have some vintage clothing that is too large for me and I have tried selling it on ebay for next to nothing, but they haven't sold. They are not fancy wear, but still cute. I asked at the local thrift store and they said they do not keep clothes that are not "in fashion" so that is not an option. I am considering taking them in so that I can wear them, but it just seems a shame because they would have to be taken in so much and larger vintage clothes are not easy to come by. I have had them sitting in a box for several years now though and I am going to have to do something. Any suggestions?

    1. You are right, large stuff is hard to come by, especially cute large stuff (so many of the bigger dresses look like nanna dresses).

      I like Erika's suggestion (below) to list them on ebay as a lot? Or do you have a vintage clothing store nearby you could take them to (not a thrift store, a dedicated vintage clothing store), and my last suggestion - become a member of the Ooh La La group of Facebook and attempt to sell them there.

      Good luck!

  7. Brandy - You might consider selling it as a lot on ebay. A reseller might prefer it that way. Or, if there is a vintage clothing store nearby, try selling to them.

  8. Such a beautiful dress! I've altered length on a couple of vintage dresses and am always glad I did (I'm not tall and mid calf is a little dowdy for me, too).
    As far as "up cycling" I think most of it seriously stinks, but have no problem with some altering a vintage garment for a better fit. Except when they take a beautiful 1940s/1950s dress or skirt and cut it down to a mini length. I dislike that mostly because it makes a vintage garment unwearable for a lot of people and makes it no longer vintage looking.
    And you look gorgeous in that shade of purple!

    1. I think it depends how much you alter it to fit. Larger size vintage can be fairly rare, so if you take it in, in a permanent way, so the waist is 4" smaller, maybe it could have been passed on to someone who it would fit better in its current form.

      Hem's I have no problem with UNLESS, as you said, people chop the skirts off mid thigh and ruin the integrity of the dress as a vintage item. Those people need to be hung, drawn and quartered too!

      Actually, someone on ebay was doing just that to rare designer gowns, and a link was posted on the Ooh La La group about how awful it was, and several people sent emails to the person doing it telling them to stop.

      Moral of the story is don't piss of us vintage loving girls - some of us bite :)

  9. That dress is so sweet! And thanks for the info in the comments about soaking, I am always uncertain about how to treat vintage fabric/items.

    1. If its just cotton, soaking is fine. If its a different kind of fabric, I don't know... And if it has flocking, soaking it will remove the flocking.

  10. Excellent alteration!

    And now I am going to do my best to forget that first image, although I think it highly likely that an octopus nightmare may figure in my dreams tonight. What on earth were they thinking?!

    1. I don't know! And apparently (I couldn't bring myself to look, but someone else did) the octopus features on other items in her store.... I'm lost for words.

  11. Oh my god that Octopus ugh! That kind of thing almost makes me glad I cant sew or craft at least Ill never destroy some beautifl vintage in a mad fit. Your blog is adorable by the way

    retro rover

    1. The difference is that you already realise that its wrong to put an octopus on a vintage dress. This person didn't.

      And thanks for the compliment - I like the idea of being adorable :)

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