Reusing Vintage Wool – Sheath Dress and Sew & Gather Weekend Retreat – 28-30 October 2016

We’ve had a few weeks of cold weather (well, cold to us warm blooded Sydney-siders at least) and I’ve been working with wool.  I love sewing with wool, it is my hands down favourite how it responds so well to steam and pressing.

Today I wanted to show a dress that was made from a very old piece of fabric.  It’s always so satisfying to give something old and unused a new lease of life – this kind of sewing is among my absolute favourite kind.  If you hang in there till the end I also wanted to help get the word out for a fantastic sewing themed retreat being planned for October here in Sydney.

This dress is from an old piece of beautiful quality wool from probably the 1940s.  It was originally a pleated skirt for most likely a great-great Aunt.  The fabric still holds the crease marks from the original pleats and has a slight moth-ball smell which remained after washing.  What I should have done prior to sewing this up was use all the very useful tips linked to from when Kristy made her beautiful grey wool dress from a pleated skirt but I was in a rush and also not really sure this shape would work out for me.  Now that it is sewn up I am loving it so I will try those suggestions on the finished dress to remove some of the remaining creases, which I hope will also help with the aged wool smell also.  Has anyone got any tips on that old fabric smell?


The bodice is my TNT true bodice that I nearly always use, it’s just a standard bust and waist darted bodice.  The sleeves are my favourite triple darted Butterick 5813 sleeve, although I should mention the sleeve cap on this sleeve is very tall and unless you want a gathered, puffy shoulder, it needs a good lowering.  I probably took it down a good 1/2″ as well as pushed the slope of it forward for a my forward shoulder adjustment.  I talk all about that when I made my black wool crepe dress on this post if you want more information on that.  I squeezed this dress out of the available fabric, which dictated the sleeve length, cutting it off just before the darts to elbow length.  I also widened the sleeve slightly for a looser fit.


The skirt is my TNT Jenny Skirt  from Burda, I use this as my basic block whenever I want a single darted pencil skirt.  It is pegged quite dramatically, probably about 4″ reduced from hip to knee.  The back is a simple vent .  All the details on how I do both the pegging and the vent are all in my pencil skirts posts here.


I didn’t line this as the wool feels lovely against the skin and I plan to wear it with a silk slip.  I made a facing for the neckline using the last remaining scraps.  The neckline of the bodice I both staystitched and also added a strip of interfacing – the line of the v is on the bias and really easy to stretch out.  I pressed the waist darts on the bodice and skirt to opposite sides to help reduce bulk, as well as pressing the waist seam open for the same reason.

The back has an invisible zip, and I stabilised the centre back seam using some strips of organza, I find the zipper area always needs a little something to get a nice finish, that plus plenty of basting prior to sewing.  Overall, I am really pleased with how this dress turned out, and it’s going to get lots of wear.

Finally, I wanted to help spread the word about a sewing retreat that is being planned for October here in Sydney.  I am not associated or affiliated in any way, its just the kind of thing that I know would appeal to anyone who sews and thought I may be helpful to mention it here in case you are not already following the Facebook Sydney Spoolettes Page.  The retreat is to be held not far from Manly, in Ingleside and offers the option of a full weekend away, all meals and workshops provided, or you can just attend for a half or full day.  The full details for the weekend can all be found over on the UsefulBox Make Sew and Gather website.

  • This has turned out so elegantly! Wow. To think you managed that from fabric for a skirt. How do you go about finding the grainline on a refashion like this? It always fascinates me. And the retreat is exciting and I’ll be teaching! Are you attending?

    • Thank you very much Jillian. It helped that the original skirt was pleated and also in a large size so once it was unpicked I had two large rectangles to work with. The grainline was easy to find as the original selvedge was still in place, plus I know my great aunt’s sewing was always spot on so I knew the hemline was perfectly perpendicular to the grainline. That helped in this case, otherwise I either pull a thread along the grainline to find it, see if I can see it from the weave or if it’s a fabric like a crepe that doesn’t have an obvious line of the threads, if you fold the unpicked pattern piece in half vertically, side seam to side seam, the vertical crease made down the centre will usually be the grain, assuming it was originally cut on grain. I have really noticed that vintage fabric is just beautiful quality and this really helps in establishing the grain.

      I’d love to come to the retreat, but I’m dealing with some health issues that keep me rather limited in capacity so I don’t think I can make it, I don’t have the energy for it. I’ll satisfy myself by living vicariously though those that do go. I noticed you are teaching, that’s wonderful!

  • Sharon

    Simply gorgeous dress and so impressed that you used you TNT patterns and this gorgeous wool.