Hi, I’m Chris & Sandra’s friend Jan in Toronto. I’m not nearly as “green” as Chris & Sandra, but I did recently undertake an unusual recycling project – turning an old curtain into a ballgown – and Sandra has asked me to ‘guest blog’ about it.
About 10 years ago, while I was browsing in a local antique shop, a flash of turquoise (my favourite colour) caught my eye. It was an old brocade curtain. I bought it, intending to remake it into café curtains for my home office. I think I paid about $20 for it. I put it in the closet and never actually got around to making the new curtains.
But recently, I’ve started sewing again. One of my hobbies is English Country Dancing – the type of dancing you see in Jane Austen movies – and in the past few months I’ve made a couple of Regency-style gowns for fancy dress balls. I started with a “practice” gown in a Liberty print cotton, to learn the pattern and get the sizing and fitting right (since I hadn’t sewn anything from a pattern since grade 8 Home Ec.). Then I made a midnight blue taffeta version, from a remnant I bought at half price, which I wore to a ball in February.
Having thoroughly learned how this pattern works by sewing it twice, I thought I might as well continue to get my money’s worth out of it by re-using it to make more gowns in other materials. (After all, there are five Regency balls scheduled this year alone in Toronto, so I’ll have plenty of opportunity to wear the dresses.) And then I remembered that old curtain in the bottom of the closet – that turquoise & gold brocade would make a great ballgown!
The curtain had heavy pleats and interfacing along the top of it, so my first task was to rip out all the original sewing. I quickly realized that the curtain had been homemade, and as I undid the stitches, I wondered about the person who had initially sewn the curtain and what s/he would have thought of my intention to turn it into a dress.
After ripping out the stitches, I wound up with two panels, each just over 2 metres long and 43” wide. I zig-zagged the raw edges, threw the material in the washing machine, then hung it up to dry over the banister on my staircase. When it was dry, I ironed the material, pressing a central fold into both panels while examining the fabric closely for wear. One panel had a significant patch of sun-fading, so I laid out my pattern pieces carefully to avoid that area.
The brocade was too heavy and limp to make a nice puffed sleeve, so I decided to look for some crisp, sheer material for the sleeves. A trip down Queen Street West netted me the additional fabric and notions that I needed for the project. I was thrilled to find the lining material in a bargain basement for $1 a yard. I only needed a yard, but there were just 2 yards left on the roll, so I took the whole thing. For the sleeves, I found an organza that matched the colour of the brocade extremely well. This was also a bargain at $4 per metre. (I’ve since seen it elsewhere for $12/m). The gold braid was $1.50/m and the gold buttons were $1.50 for a card of 6. Including thread, I estimate the entire gown cost me about $35. As I recently heard a frugalista say about an evening gown she bought at a garage sale, “I paid more for my bra than the gown!”
Oh, and I think this would be the appropriate time to claim some “green” brownie points by pointing out that I did not use a car to collect my raw materials. (In fact, I don’t drive at all.) I did all my shopping on foot and by subway.
I was a bit nervous about the organza, since I’d never actually worked with a sheer material before. But, the sleeves turned out fine on the first try. And they look a bit like fairy wings!
But since the sleeves are sheer, that meant I needed to bind the raw edges so they wouldn’t show. That’s where the extra yard of lining fabric from the bargain basement came in handy – I cut it into strips to create homemade bias tape, which I used both to bind the sleeve seams and to finish the raw edges of the skirt seams.
I hand-stitched the gold braid trim to the neckline, sleeve bands, and waistband. That took FOREVER! I did the sleeve trim while watching the Oscars. I started at the beginning of the red-carpet previews and I had only just finished at midnight when Tom Hanks announced The Hurt Locker as Best Picture.
In the end, I wound up with a ballgown that I’d be happy to wear to the Oscars (if I ever get the chance to go). After all, when asked by the press on the red carpet, “Who made your dress?”, it would be great fun to be able to answer, “I made it myself – out of an old curtain!”
My next recycling project? Well, I found this length of lace that the previous owner of our house left behind and probably intended to make into a curtain. And hey – I think there’s enough to make another Regency gown out of it!
And if anyone’s interested in trying this particular pattern, it can be orderd on-line from Sense & Sensibility Patterns, for $15.95 US, plus shipping.