Refashion: turning a Lady McElroy dress into a boxy top and shirt

A model looking exquisite in the dress. Photography: Renata Stonyte

Last year I created a pattern hack for Love Sewing magazine using the Juliette tie-back blouse, a Simple Sew pattern. This basic top has a boat neck and ties behind to create soft gathers. I prefer a round neck, so I changed the neckline and turned it into a maxi with a split at the back and a neck fastening.

Due to covid restrictions, I sent the dress into the studio to be shot on a model, so I had a few months without its company. And when it returned I’d had plenty of time to look at the photos (taken by Love Sewing’s super talented photographer Renata). The model looked great in it but, strangely, being able to see it objectively on another person made me realise it wasn’t for me.

Reunited, I tried it on again. I knew I wouldn’t wear it. I am the woman who trips over her own feet. Maxis, however much I love them, are a risky proposition.

At first I was a bit annoyed with myself. Yet another ‘not quite right for me’ garment that looks perfectly fine on anyone else. Why the fuss, Grinlow?

In the end, this fabric – a beautiful spotty Lady McElroy viscose purchased from Sherwood Fabrics – was far too good to go to waste at the back of the closet, or meet an unknown end in a charity shop, so out came the scissors and a cunning plan…

Time for the chop

The great thing about this dress was that the pattern pieces were HUGE. I had divided the back into two, to create the neck fastening and split, but the front piece was enormous (shaping on the Juliette is created entirely by the ties).

I spent a good while ruminating on what to do with it. Make it into a shorter dress? Turn it into a skirt? Finally, I settled on a plan that would create not one but two garments from the dress.

The Juliette top dress hack hacked into a top…

The first step would be a straightforward crop, creating a short unstructured boxy top. The sleeves and neckline would remain the same. This was a very quick win. The only fussing involved was tapering the back seam in towards the waist as, when I tried it on, it billowed and hung a little awkwardly (the top has ties for a reason!). Once done, though, I was chuffed with the results.

I could have left this refashion right here and been very happy. This top will be worn until it falls apart. It’s comfy, casual, with a whiff of chic. Right up my street.

The back of the top with neck fastening and a button from my gran’s collection

But there was still a huge amount of fabric leftover. Plus I had kept some of the offcuts from the initial make – mostly odd-shaped strips that ran up the side of the pattern pieces when making the dress. I keep these in one of my Closet Core poufs – I have one just for offcuts that might be useful one day… Just goes to show that this pouf strategy, which I often worry is just an ostrich sticking its head in the sand about wastage, does actually pay off from time to time!

So I dug out my favourite button-down shirt pattern – a Prima pullout I bought a few years ago on eBay – and started laying out the pieces. Using the centre of the dress as the grainline, I could lay out the back piece and yolks on the front of what remained of the dress, and position the front pieces on the two back panels.

Finding the grainline can be a bit of a palaver when refashioning, so it was really helpful to know how the dress had been cut out, and that the grainline ran along the centre front and centre back. This made both garments really easy to create and the wastage from this project pleasingly minimal.

The sleeves fitted onto an offcut, and the collar and cuffs came out of some of the remaining odds and ends. Getting the shirt out of what was left felt like a huge win.

There’s not much more to say about this transformation. I’m so glad I took the plunge and cut the dress up rather than letting it sit at the back of my wardrobe. Now I have two garments for the price of one, both of which will be worn aplenty – hurrah for sewing!

So, tell me! Do you like to refashion your makes when they don’t get worn? Or are you comfortable waving goodbye when things don’t turn out as you expected? I’d love to hear – let me know how you feel about refashioning in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “Refashion: turning a Lady McElroy dress into a boxy top and shirt

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