Oliver + S

Working with an heirloom dress

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    Profile photo of melelizameleliza @meleliza

    This is off topic, but I know I’ll get some good feedback here. I am working with an heirloom first communion dress. It’s from about 1978, complete with long puffy sleeves, a stand up ruffle collar and a yellowed, crunchy acetate lining. It belongs to a friend whose grandmother-seamstress made it. Her daughter wants to wear it, but hates the sleeves, collar and lining. Oh, and the whole thing is about 3″ too short for my liking and the skirt features an embroidered on lace hem. You know the kind that was along the selvedge. The fabric is a organdy-like embroidered net, so I’ll have to be super careful taking it apart. And since she constructed it more like an underlining than a lining, I will have to take every last stitch apart.

    So far, my thoughts on lengthening include adding a band around the middle, either reeking out fabric from the sleeves I will shorten or using a contrast fabric that will also be used for a new collar.

    Any suggestions on working with vintage fabrics would be appreciated!

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    Profile photo of TamaraTamara @justsewit

    Oh it sounds like something out of a photo album! Nostalgic and rather interesting! No wonder she hates the collar, sleeves and crunchy lining, I would too. But that was the trend back then – thank goodness it hasn’t resurfaced as yet.

    I don’t have a lot of experience working with vintage fabrics. I was asked to restore a one hundred year old christening gown and I said no way because I didn’t want to ruin it!

    All I can suggest is to try and match up as much as possible and selvage as much as you can. Maybe you can make the collar (presuming it is something like a peter pan or similar) out of the excess of the sleeves? Maybe look at lengthening the skirt by using a fancy band to elongate it somehow. I know you might be really over the idea of fancy bands after the previous dress but it is a way of using the current fabric and keeping it uniform. Another way you could do it is use the original fabric of the outer skirt as a tier and use organza or something that is very similar to the dress fabric as the lower tiers.

    I need to see a photo. Could you post a picture at all?

    How does she want the skirt to go? All poofy? Or a little less meringue?

    Sounds like a very interesting project to undertake.

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    Profile photo of melelizameleliza @meleliza

    My plan is to use new fabric for the collar, white sateen, so I could use the sateen in a band too I guess, but I somehow prefer a band in the dress fabric and a separate sash or belt. Maybe I’ll just let them decide. Would you believe I forgot to get a good picture? I snapped a few quick ones with. Y phone for reference, but I want a good before and after too. I guess she’ll have to come back again.

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    Profile photo of brenda1652brenda1652 @brenda1652

    You could remove the skirt from the waist and toss the old lining. Then add a new underskirt that extends several inches below the old lace edge skirt (which is now the overskirt). In fact, that was the style of my First Communion dress in 1959. No need for lace on that bottom layer, unless that layer is more white than the top layer, in which case you may want to insert an off white lace into the bottom layer to carry over a white/off white color combo, which is quite elegant. If the fabric is sheer for the bottom skirt you may want to add a white lining to that layer. You could remove the sleeves and collar and add a new full lining to that bodice, a full lining that will encase the neck and armscyes and make a collarless sleeveless dress, or add a sleeve and simple collar, thinking petal sleeves using the fabric from the new underskirt, again add a full bodice lining. Have fun!

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    Profile photo of SarviSarvi @Sarvi

    Heirloom sewing is well above my skill level but just chiming in to say it sounds so interesting; please post photos of the process as well as the end result, possibly in your blog? I often make notes of ‘advanced’ stuff for future reference and am sure others do as well.

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