I love madras plaids. I love the feel of the fabric, I love the way they look rich and complex, I love the way they conjure up the unmistakable feel of summer vacations. I always picture a photo that might appear in one of my mother-in-law's Yankee or Country Living magazines, portraying sophisticated madras-clad adults merrily drinking wine as they watch their ridiculously well-behaved and ridiculously well-dressed children frolicking on the ridiculously well-kept lawn. I have never been to Nantucket, but in my jealously-laden fantasies, this is what it's like.
So when I saw a madras skirt at the Goodwill during our annual trip to New Jersey last week, I snatched it up, knowing it would become something summery and wonderful. I might never live a life of luxury, even in the summer, on Nantucket, but I can still wear madras.
It's a size large, and I thought I'd just cut into it to make something entirely different, maybe a pillow or a new skirt for K. After all, there's a lot of fabric there, and since it usually costs over $10 a yard at the fabric store, I knew I had scored big. But when I tried it on and pulled it up right under my arms, I realized that it would make a perfect dress - for ME! I've heard people say that sometimes fabric just tells the seamstress what it wants to be, but I never understood what that meant until now. This skirt was clearly begging to become my newest sundress. I wasn't going to disappoint.
When I got home, I put it on Audrey
This is, in fact, the first time I've used Audrey in constructing clothes. I love the way she looks in my sewing room and she makes me feel like an authentic seamstress, but I have to admit that even though I got her last summer to celebrate the new season of Project Runway, I have never actually fitted clothes with her. Until now. I used her for the whole project, and I have to say, it was wonderful to not have to try on the dress myself, mid-construction, with it full of pins, to get a good fit. I just trusted Audrey, and I was not disappointed in the final result.
I didn't take pictures of my process (I was anxious to get it done and didn't realize how much I've love it, so I wasn't planning on sharing it), but it was one of the simplest and most rewarding refashions I've completed; the whole dress was done in under an hour.
In a nutshell, this is what I did:
1. Made the straps from a scrap of heavyweight, yellow, upcycled cotton from my stash. I made 4-ply straps, much like I'd make bias tape, but I cut the fabric in straight strips instead of on the bias. Here's how I did it:
a. cut two 15" x 4" pieces
b. folded them in half the long way and ironed them
c. opened them up, and then folded in the raw edges to meet the fold and then ironed again
d. folded in the ends about 1/2" and ironed them
e. re-folded the entire strip to enclose all of the raw edges
f. topstitched all the way around
Viola! Straps! I used this same method to make the belt and the belt loops, too.
2. Sewed the straps to the top (formerly the waistband).
3. Decided where I wanted the waist to be and shirred three rows around the middle, just to give the dress more shape. My shirring started at about 11" down from the top and the rows were about 1/4" apart.
4. Made the belt loops and sewed them on, right on the sides, centered over the shirring. The belt loops are not absolutely necessary, but I think I'm just belt-impaired, since non-secured belts tend to slip and slide all over me, so belt loops make life less frustrating. Whatever it takes.
5. Made the belt.
It just so happened that the skirt was exactly the right length for my dress (36"), and the "waist" of the skirt was exactly the right width to fit around the top of my bust comfortably, so I didn't need to address those two areas at all. Even if I had to, though, it would have meant a simple hem at the bottom and/or a simple casing at the top for new elastic. I could have made it shorter, but the length means I can wear it even on occasions when I'd rather not have bare shoulders; I can just add a sweater or shrug and it will be just fine.
I think I have some other skirts in my refashion stash that I'm going to use for the same thing. This one, though, is perfect for right now. I think maybe I'll sip a cool beverage at sunset tonight so that before our simple, un-gourmet dinner, I can sit on the deck and watch my loveable-but-muddy-and-not-always-behaved kids wrestle each other in our unmowed back yard. That's summer. And it's perfect.