Sunday, 31 March 2019

One for the DIY enthusiast

I don’t know if it's still the case, but the phrase 'Would suit DIY enthusiast' used to be an estate agent's euphemism to describe a property which was in a terrible state and needed a lot of work. And I recently bought a dress which may just be the clothing equivalent.

I came across it when I was on holiday in Somerset the other week. I had gone to a vintage fair in Wells Town Hall (or, for viewers of Poldark, Warleggan's Bank - the building is used for the exterior shots). Normally when I go to vintage fairs, I don't tend to look at the clothing in any detail: because I prefer to make clothes myself, and because I know that dresses in particular won't fit me as the bodice will be too long. However while browsing, I overheard this conversation behind me:

Woman 1 (who turned out to be the stallholder's mum) - This collar is coming off this one.
Woman 2 (the stallholder) - It just needs a bit of sewing.
Woman 1 - A bit? It's coming apart here, and here . . . and here. Someone will need to know what they’re doing.

Well to paraphrase slightly, you had me at 'needs a bit of sewing'. I turned around to look at the offending item. Yes, it had seen better days, but I absolutely loved the fabric and the basic shape. My guess is that it dates from the early 1960s. I tried it on and, apart from the bodice length, it fitted. The price reflected its sorry state, so I rescued it. This is me wearing the dress, and demonstrating why ready-to-wear clothing and I do not play nicely together.

So. Much. Bunching.

The dress is home-made, and is a curious mix. Some parts are skilfully stitched: for example the seam edges are well finished, and there is a neat stay tape holding the waist seam of the bias-cut bodice front in place.

Stay tape round the waist and sewn-down pleats

Other areas are a mess; sewn with large stitches in white thread. On top of this, there are signs of wear and (literally) tear, which suggest that it was too small for one of its wearers and was altered - badly.  The hem has been let down and finished with bias tape, which is coming adrift in places.

Neat seam finishing, not-so-neat hem tape

The zip only just works, and needs replacing

Coming apart at the waist . . .

. . . and at the side vent . . .

. . . and at the armscye and facing, which is coming away from the dress

The kick pleat at the centre back is torn

And the collar. I have no idea what is going on with the collar.

Collar - front view

Collar - back view

So the plan is to: mend all the tears and unravelled stitching; take out the zip; unpick the waist seam: shorten the bodice and re-attach it to the skirt; and put in a new zip. Oh, and to work out how on earth the collar is meant to lie, and fix it. For the bodice length and the collar, I'm planning to enlist Mum's help and advice.

There is one previous mend which I am leaving well alone. It was only when I looked at the dress closely that I noticed that it had been torn near the hem, and very carefully darned with embroidery floss. That someone had taken the time and effort to do this just made me like the dress even more.

Darning as seen from the back and the front


  1. What a wonderful find - and lovely story. The fabric is beautiful: so worth giving the dress another incarnation!! I really look forward to see any updates as it is reworked...

    1. Thank you!I don't have a lot of time for sewing at present, but there will definitely be another post once the rework is completed.