From shirt to dress: upcycling & transforming an Eileen Fisher linen shirt

At the thrift store a few weeks ago, an unlikely piece caught my eye and spoke to me.  Sometimes this happens to me: I see a piece of clothing that I would normally overlook, but it grabs my attention & won't let me ignore it.

This time it was an oversized navy linen button down blouse by Eileen Fisher:

 BEFORE:  The thrifted Eileen Fisher blouse. It's hard to see the scale, but it was a very baggy fit on me.

BEFORE:  The thrifted Eileen Fisher blouse. It's hard to see the scale, but it was a very baggy fit on me.

This shirt is not my style and it didn't fit me. It made no sense to me why it wanted to come home with me, but I bought it on faith for $3.99. I did appreciate the beauty of the linen; the navy is a really rich shade in person, and the linen itself has a softness and drape that felt really good.  I don't know if it's part of Eileen's collection using organic linen, but the quality of the fabric is beautiful.

The shirt sat in my studio for a few weeks untouched. I have been really busy with projects & I was getting work wrapped up in time to depart for SXSW in Austin, TX. I love Austin and I always look forward to the warm weather there, especially since it's been raining so much in the Bay Area where I live. I also love to make myself a new outfit before I go on a trip, but I really didn't have the time.

Again, the shirt insisted.

The Sunday before I left, I stole a few hours to myself, to create a dress out of the shirt. My goals were:

  • make an easy, wearable, comfortable dress for warm weather
  • make a dress I could wear a belt with (my sweetheart had just bought me a leather belt from an antique shop & I wanted to wear it)

I started without a plan.  First I basted the side seams to narrow them. Then I cut off the sleeves. Then I attempted to add length, piece by piece. I would baste, try on, adjust, stitch, then move to the next design decision. It was a bit like jazz; I know the rules and techniques of sewing and fitting a garment, but I was improvising as I went along.

I ended up using almost all of the fabric from the original shirt. Here are my leftovers:

 LEFTOVERS: Collar & a few bits of the sleeves

LEFTOVERS: Collar & a few bits of the sleeves

When I tried on the finished dress, I decided it needed some arrows. The last step was to hand paint gold arrows on the front and back.

I wore my finished dress in Austin and I loved it! 

 I made this dress from a button down shirt. Boots by Cobra Rock.

I made this dress from a button down shirt. Boots by Cobra Rock.

 I hand-painted metallic gold arrows on the back.

I hand-painted metallic gold arrows on the back.

It's hard to see some of the details in these photos, but I sewed the cuffs from the sleeves onto the bottom hem of the dress.  I sewed the front button placket shut with a criss-cross pattern. When I narrowed the side seams for the second time, I took the seam allowance that I cut off and sewed it onto the hems of the sleeves.  A lot of the edges on the sleeve and hem are left raw.

This was such a fun project and it gave me the opportunity to do some of my favorite things: sew, transform, upcycle, create, paint & wear something one-of-a-kind!