Upcycled & Re-Styled Vintage Victorian Lace Dress

Today is the start of Me Made May 2017, an annual event encouraging people who sew/knit/crochet/refashion/upcycle garments for themselves to wear and love them more.

In honor of the event, I'd like to tell you about a vintage Victorian lace dress that I upcycled & redesigned.

I absolutely love upcycling & remaking because:

  • it requires problem solving (which I love)
  • I can find superior materials & natural fibers (much harder to find new)
  • it costs more time than money (perfect on an artist's budget)
  • it's sustainable and eco-friendly
  • I never have to worry about someone else wearing my same outfit

A few years ago while shopping at the Alameda Antique Fair, I found a wad of beautiful old lace at the bottom of a pile.  I can't remember how much I paid for it, but I'm positive it was less than $20 because that's how I roll.  After I got home, I realized it was a dress, stained and damaged but with beautiful eyelet and lace, and probably dating from the early 1900s.

Last year, while thinking about what to wear to the inaugural Ohana Festival, I decided I'd like a lightweight lace dress to stay cool in the heat, so I set about re-designing the vintage dress.  Here's what I started with:

For this project, my design challenges were:

  • the waistline was miniscule
  • the silhouette was outdated
  • the lace was damaged and stained in a few places
  • the lace and cotton is extremely delicate so it won't withstand any pressure or pulling

I believe the original front of the dress was the V-neck, but to be honest I'm not sure.  I wanted to showcase the lace in the front, so I chose to make the V-neck the back of the bodice. I also chose to keep the long sleeves, which worked for a summer dress due to the sheerness of the cotton and lace.

After I surveyed the damage and stains, I decided on a cropped, somewhat loose silhouette which would allow me to wear the dress without being in constant fear of ripping it.  Again, the material is so light and airy that it drapes well enough for a loose silhouette.

When I re-design a dress, I start with a basic idea of the silhouette I want, then tackle one area at a time, stopping to try the dress on after each basting or stitching. I do a lot of pinning on the dress form, then stepping back to observe and make design decisions. I don't make or use a pattern and I don't really measure too much, I just go slow and see what looks good and allow the garment to guide the design as I go.

The neckline needed reshaping, the shoulders needed repair and reinforcement, and I needed to repair the lace in a few other areas.  I was able to leave the sleeves as is, long and with closed cuffs, only because I have really small hands and wrists (our ancestors were tiny humans).  After I reversed the bodice, I noticed that part of the skirt had a continuation of the same lace so I oriented the skirt to match the lace at the top. I created an empire waist that is just wide enough for me to slip the dress over my head (and bustline).

(Forgive the color differences, I took these photos under very different lighting conditions.)

I'm really happy with the way the dress turned out, and it's managed to survive long active days at two different music festivals. I wore it this weekend to Stagecoach, styled with a black vintage slip, vintage jewelry and my Heritage boots.

With my gorgeous girlfriends Kime & SueBee in Yucca Valley, CA.

With my gorgeous girlfriends Kime & SueBee in Yucca Valley, CA.

As I said, the dress has survived two long and active music festivals, but at the very end of the night, when we were almost home from the Stagecoach festival, I bent forward in the passenger seat of the car and heard a rip, which happened in the back of the skirt. One of the many things I've learned from Exene Cervenka is that ripped clothing has soul, so I'll repair it and wear it again.

Featherweight Trunk Shows in Oakland & Los Angeles!

Join me at Crown Nine for a trunk show!

I'll have brand new T-shirt designs, plus a batch of fresh new one-of-a-kind upcycled jackets.  Soft warm wools; hand-painted metallics; appliqued vintage textiles; the perfect pieces to stand out from the crowd & wear your individuality on your sleeve.  BONUS: this upcycled style is sustainable, so you can love the earth and look good too.

And if you're in LOS ANGELES, you can shop my jackets at these events:

DEC 3rd:  A Current Affair  Cooper Design Space Penthouse (860 South Los Angeles St, 11th Floor) **Look for Kime Buzzelli's booth (The End Yucca Valley)

DEC 10th: Bitchcraft Winter Faire  Kinship Studios (5612 N. Figueroa ST.)  **Look for Kime Buzzelli's booth (The End Yucca Valley)

DEC 17th: Goldmine Holiday Party 5-9pm @ 4225 San Fernando Rd Glendale CA 91204 ** I'll be there in person, come by & say hi!

Inspiration: Vintage pompoms

Often my inspiration for a new design comes as a full picture that pops into my mind.  When I'm not thinking about it, not looking for it.  It pops in my mind, complete, and then I have to translate that mental image into the physical object. 

The past few weeks I've been making fresh batch one-of-a-kind jackets out of repurposed, upcycled & vintage materials. (I'm preparing for 4 pop-up events in December.)  I've been following my inspiration and started out with a couple of neutral colors and tone-on-tone effects, doing a lot of painting.  Then one day, I think I was walking somewhere, a totally off-the-wall image popped in to my head.  I almost ignored it, because it didn't resemble any of the materials I had, and it had a bold, simple color combination.

But these images, when they pop into my head, they don't leave until I create the physical object.  (That's how Featherweight started; two images rolled around in my head for almost a year until I finally gave in and figured out how to make them into T-shirts.)

So I put this colorful image on the backburner and went about my business.  Today I was in my studio, after finishing several jackets & shipping them off.  I was a little keyed up with energy and I needed to calm myself and clear my head, so I started straightening my studio.  As I was straightening, I remembered a vintage trim I bought awhile back.  One of those "I don't know what I'll use this for, but I need it" purchases.  

I rummaged around and found the tangled yardage of vintage royal blue pompom trim. I'd gotten it at a thrift store.  Then I remembered the vintage red wool jacket I hadn't customized yet.  And then THAT off-the-wall image came back into focus.  See, I told you. I had carried that image around in my head for about three weeks before I realized what it was showing me.  

So I'm about to customize a cherry red wool blazer with royal blue pompom trim. Hopefully it's awesome.

Time Lapse Video: Sewing an Upcycled Leather Pouch

I've been working on my second design collaboration with Crown Nine, and decided to film a video of me sewing one of my upcycled leather pouches from start to finish.

This is a pattern I created myself. I made a lot of the design decisions based on the fact that I don't have any tools or machines that are made for leather work; these are all sewn on my Singer Featherweight sewing machine from 1947. I designed the pattern for durability, usefulness, uniqueness and of course I wanted to make the final product beautiful and stylish.  You can't necessarily tell from the video, but I pay special attention to tying good, hidden knots.

For those of you who don't know, the leather is considered upcycled because I sourced it from a pre-existing garment, but I manipulated the material to add value.  Basically I'm putting some hideous 90's leather garments out of their misery, while not contributing to the waste stream and environmental hazards of using new leather.  Check out all the UPCYCLED items in my web shop.

I wish I could work this quickly in real life!