Each year I think *this* is the time I’ll enter The Refashioners, a challenge/competition to take old clothes and transform them into something new. This year, Portia said it would likely be her last running the competition and I guess that was the boost I needed to get on with it (the jeans year I did actually turn a pair of my old jeans into pants for my son, but didn’t finish them until after the deadline).
The theme this year is “inspired by”. I’m not a huge user of Pinterest but I do maintain a board of sewing inspirations because it’s easier than having screenshots and photos scattered throughout my phone’s albums. I had a scroll through these looking for something that still inspired me, would be nursing-friendly, and would be able to be made from something easily found in an op shop since I don’t have much patience for a big hunt.
Enter Joan Watson.
A few years back there was a spate of Sherlock Holmes adaptations. My favourite of the bunch was Elementary, which transplants Holmes to New York in the modern day. A big part of why I like this so much is Lucy Liu’s Joan Watson, both for character and style. I have several of her outfits on my inspiration board – I especially love her coats – but this one grabbed me as meeting my criteria. Thanks to Worn On TV for identifying this as a Narciso Rodriguez dress I also had images of its back and a description of it as “cotton-blend striped dress”.
I figured with all that panelling it should be fairly easy to make from men’s business shirts – plus I liked the idea of taking a women’s dress worn by a gender-flipped Watson and creating it from men’s clothing. The white shirts I could find at the op shop weren’t great quality fabric but there were several blue shirts all from the same brand. I chose three (each an ever-so-slightly different shade of blue, of course, and one with a woven stripe) hoping the fabric would have similar qualities when sewn together. This reasoning proved semi-successful, and probably would have been more so if my iron didn’t decide to stop producing steam and regulating its temperature, which had odd effects on the cotton-poly blend of the skirt part in particular. I also picked up a black pillow case to use for the contrast. Total cost: $14.50, plus a zipper and thread already in my stash.
Having kept the Watson inspiration dress in the back of my mind for some time, I had come across a sewing pattern that had the same style of V-neck yoke and exposed zipper and bought a copy thinking it could be a good starting base. But at the trace and toile stage I could not work out how its bodice side gusset was inserted and how the resulting stepped waist seam attached to the skirt so I abandoned that idea. The key elements from my inspiration I wanted to incorporate were the shift dress shape, contrast yokes, exposed zipper, cut-on sleeves, and striped details. After poking through my pattern stash I decided to mash up Butterick 5277 (one of the first patterns I sewed, now out of print) with By Hand London’s Anna dress. Drafting the pattern involved a certain amount of swearing as I tried to figure out seam allowances for the yoke sections but it mostly worked in the end – although I will say construction was far from elementary…
The bodice is cut from one shirt (the front from the shirt front, the back from its sleeves, and bias sleeve bands from the shirt back) and the skirt from a second (using the shirt front and back). I decided on the fly to incorporate the shirt hems at both the front waist and the bottom of the dress, which made for some creative thinking about how to do the seams. I also used the button bands either side of the zipper contrast, partly to include that extra nod to the original garments and partly for width reasons.
I couldn’t decide how to do the striping without it looking too amateur. On the original garment it appears to be ribbons attached at the side princess seams. My first idea was to use velvet ribbon but this proved to be prohibitively expensive. Then I considered doing embroidery with a wide, close zig zag stitch on the machine but I wasn’t confident in my skills to pull it off. In the end I settled for a subtle nod to the inspiration, top stitching in black along the waist seam and including the side seam stripes. I may yet go back and add more top stitching detail. Otherwise I am happy with how I nailed the inspiration, particularly the zipper band and yokes.
This dress may have involved the most unpicking of anything I’ve made yet – pulling apart the original shirts and pillow case, re-sizing the side seams, and an unfortunate late-night session where I flat out forgot how to attach a facing – but it was worth it in the end. I’m not sure refashioning will become a long term part of my sewing practice but this sure was a good challenge. And I quite like the pattern I’ve come up with here so maybe it will return in another fabric in the future.