Friday, January 3, 2014

119 Steps From Dress To Cardigan

There's a great lesson in it - it's all about the work. It's not about what people might say or about how dangerous it might get. But it's about staying focused on what you do, and doing what you love. - Julia Alvarez

In a comment at the end of December, Towanda said she hoped I'd teach a class on working in series... and I would absolutely love to... at some point in the future... when the time is right... and all the stars align. Until then, I've been taking notes so that when I have a potential learning experience to share, I can present it in more detail. I'd appreciate some feedback so I know whether these postings are valuable or not as they take a lot of effort. Thanks.

Refashioning is one of my favourite ways to work. I enjoy the not knowing aspect and the limitations of the starting garment. Below are the 119 steps it took to evolve the dress above into a cardigan. Really, there were more than that. You'll see where I write x2 or x5. Those are the additional steps because there are two shoulder seams and two side seams and two... and so on. Forty-one more steps in fact for a total of one hundred and sixty-three steps plus a whole lot of sampling and thinking. Here they are:

1. See silk knit dress at second hand store, think it has potential, and leave it behind
2. Dream about silk knit dress for several days
3. Return to second hand store located on the complete opposite side of the city
4. Decide that $5.98 is still a ridiculous price and buy the dress anyway
5. Wash dress
6. Identify problem areas - hole and two stains
7. Decide whether to refashion or use as a fabric source
8. Use as a fabric source
9. Choose a pattern - Vogue 8691
10. Use traced size - may or may not fit

Lay out pieces to avoid problem areas and maximize the material available
12. Cut center front and center back from lower skirt
13. Cut side back from sleeves including a portion of the cuff
14. Discover that what material is left is not large enough for the remaining pieces
15. Redraft side front into lower and upper pieces
16. Cut lower side front from upper dress back
17. Cut upper side front from upper dress front
18. There is not enough material for the sleeves so choose a coordinating cream lace and grey stripe, two sided knit
19. Cut sleeves from lace-stripe knit
20. Begin to contemplate ways to blend the sleeve fabric into the main garment

Contemplate exposed seaming
22. Test black, light grey, and taupe serger stitching - reject as not quite right
23. Test striped side of knit as seam piping - reject as too bulky
24. Test cream serging right sides together
25. Test cream serging wrong sides together - choose this option
26. Zigzag applique serged seam to one side with wide zigzag in cream thread
27. Test stitching the seams with a walking foot and then with the serger for less stretching and decide to use this method even though it adds an extra step to each seam
28. Go knit and think about the direction of the project
29. Stitch…
30. … and serge left upper and lower side front together

Repeat on right side
32. Press - x2
33. Applique seam in place using open toed embroidery foot - x2
34. Fuse 3/8" interfacing to stay front neckline edge - x2
35. Stitch…
36. … and serge side front and center front pieces together - x2
37. Press - x2
38. Applique seams toward center front using open toed embroidery foot - x2
39. Fuse 3/8" interfacing to stay back neckline edges - x2
40. Fuse 6/8" interfacing to stay back shoulder edges - x2

42. … and serge center back seam
43. Press
44. Applique seam to one side using open toed embroidery foot
45. Stitch…
46. … and serge left side back to center back
47. … repeat with right side back
48. Press - x2
49. Applique seam toward center back using open toed embroidery foot - x2
50. Place completed sections on design wall to contemplate

Go knit and think about the direction of the project
52. Stitch…
53. … and serge shoulder seams - x2
54. Press toward back - x2
55. Applique seam in place using open toed embroidery foot - x2
56. Stitch…
57. … and serge left armhole seam
58. Repeat with right armhole seam
59. Press toward sleeve to maintain cream fabric visible on top - x2
60. Applique seam in place - x2

Pin and fine tune fit of side seam.
62. Decide to make it more fitted under the arm
63. Cut off 1" at underarm point blending into the original cutting line 6" in each direction along underarm seam - x2
64. Leave side seam pinned while contemplating how to use the striped side of the knit on the sleeve
65. Experiment with ideas by pinning fabric bits in place
66. Decide to turn the sleeve hem toward the front
67. Decide to allow a small bit of the stripe knit to show at center front and then forget all about the idea until proofing this list
68. Fuse 1" interfacing to the lace side of the sleeve hem with the stretch going around - x2
69. Serge bottom edge of sleeve - x2
70. Press up 1" toward lace side to show stripe - x2

Baste underarm seam - x2
72. Try on and realized it's now too tight - Oops ! ! !
73. Analyze options - add a gusset, remove and replace the sleeve, constantly wave my arms around, live with it, or …
74. …choose to remove stitching on underarm and re-stitch at the narrowest width merging into the original stitching line - x2
75. Have an ah ha about the fit of this pattern and realize that the problem I've been trying to correct is not too much ease, it's too long of an armhole. I need to raise the armhole. YES YES - Iove how I can sew a garment numerous times and then have a new awareness.
76. Stitch…
77. … and serge left underarm seam
78. Repeat for right underarm seam
79. Press toward back - x2
80. Applique in place using open toed embroidery foot - x2

Fold up sleeve hems toward right side, pin, and stitch in place - x2
82. Serge around neck edge
83. Stop to deal with the second needle thread in the serger that keeps breaking - ANNOYING ! ! !
Go knit and think
Begin to contemplate hemming possibilities - pin and make samples, settle on a plain hemline but don't stitch yet
86. Begin to contemplate collar possibilities - pin and make samples, settle on plain neckline
Fuse interfacing to the striped side of the two-sided knit
Cut two 1 5/8" strip - x2
Zigzag stitch one strip along the inside edge to the front on the left side
90. Zigzag stitch one strip along the inside edge to the back on the right side

Serge the outside edges attaching the lace-stripe knit band to the main garment - x2
92. Pin together to make sure center fronts are the same length
93. Serge the hem
94. Zigzag over the serged hem for a softer look
95. Search through the entire button collection for cream, gold, brown or black buttons
96. Drive to Fabricland to buy buttons and find that they're closed. Return home. Assume this is divine intervention and an answer is within the studio.
97. Search through button collection and find silver buttons that are PERFECT ! ! !
98. Play with ideas for patches beneath the buttons
99. Decide the inside neck edge needs to be finished first

Sample possibilities and end up detouring to explore new ideas for finishing the collar edge
101. Go knit and think
Create "bias" strip by serging two sides of narrow sweater bits
Pin strip to neckline edge
104. Zigzag both long edges of the bias strip to finish the inside neck edge and cover the line of interfacing.
105. Stitch a abstract patch - stripe side up - to the center back neckline to blend the lace-stripe fabric
106. Add a button
Play with a patch for to the top button hole position on the right front
Determine a shape and stitch in place
Pin buttons in place to decide spacing

Measure and mark buttonhole positions - x5
Find a million things to do somewhere else in the house to avoid making the buttonholes
Make test buttonholes on scrap fabric
113. Stitch button holes - x5
114. Treat with Fray Check and impatiently wait to dry
115. Cut buttonholes… carefully - x5
116. Survive
117. Sew on buttons - x5
118. Place finished cardigan on Millicent and admire
119. Evaluate

Working through this project, I was intrigued by how knitting has become a thinking part of my creative process. Other times, I'll clean something or go for a walk or something read but it seems I need breaks outside the studio to think about my choices and what I want to do next and then I make a decision, come back, and keep going. It's probably why I've been just fine with knitting scarves for the past year and a half. You start, knit to the end, cast off and you're finished so they're very easy to think around.

I like the cardigan. I think the evolution worked well and that the end result is pleasing. In fact, it's already been claimed which is great since beige is not my color. I particularly love the irregular patches on the back and at the top of the button band and the uneven spacing of the first two buttons and I think the fabrics are well blended and not jarring.

One thing I've noticed is that I'm more conservative than I want to be. It's not bad and obviously it's my natural tendency but I want to work at being less conservative and slightly more eccentric. My wall art is predominately asymmetric and that might help - to start with an asymmetric line so that I'm balancing the design elements in a different way. LOL - we'll see.

Right now, I'm going to clean all the fuzzy bits off the studio and take the pile of cream scraps and try painting on them because I've realized that if I don't figure out how to fit surface design into the working process, I won't get to it. I'm testing painting between projects until I'm ready to paint on projects.

Talk soon - Myrna

Grateful - Howard exchanged some clothing for a different size and came home from the store with the same number of garments and a $76.00 refund. They were having a better sale after Christmas and gave us those prices. GREAT customer service.

2 Corinthians 6:1 - We beg you, please don't squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us.


  1. I love it! What a great transformation....

  2. Wowza! Absolutely fabulous what you did here. And yes, I love the step-by-step process you listed, it is so similar to the way I decide what to do next. One thing you didn't mention, though, was how long the process took, from the time you made the first cut, through all the decisions and trials, to the finished garment. Sometimes this takes me several days...just interested to know if the process is quicker for you. Great work and very inspiring, as usual. You are so generous with your creative gift. Thank you.

  3. Great refashioning! Step 116 is my favorite: Survive. :-D

  4. LOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (is that too many exclamation marks?)

    This is really amazing Myrna and I am again inspired by your creativity! I love all of the details AND am now a bit more sure about my decision to do a project with exposed seams.

  5. Awesome! I am not good at refashioning....I so admire those who are! ~Teri

  6. Wow, what a great result! You may think it's still more conservative than where you want to be -- I say it's about where you're going, not about where you've been. (You know what I mean?)

  7. I like how you detailed the thinking aspects. My projects involve lots of thinking breaks, and this is an important part of the creative process.

  8. Really love how this came out— especially the triangles at the top of the button band and on the band. I like how they echo each other. I've been dreaming abut piecing projects but waiting for some unobligated time to appear.

  9. Great post. I really appreciate indicating when you thought about the project. Whenever I do something that isn't just following the pattern, it seems like I have to do more thinking than sewing. It's nice to know I am not the only one who has to think about a project.

    I have a question, how many days did you work on this? I am asking as I think I am the worlds slowest sewist and if I did this it would take me forever.

    1. I completely forgot to tell you how much I like the end result. Sorry 8-)

  10. Reply to Anna - Thanks. It was a fun transformation.

    Reply to Juliane - The whole process took about three days. I'm trying to think of how many hours that was because I certainly didn't work steady. Probably something in the range of 10-15.

    Reply to Xtine Hutch - LOL, yes, survive was one of my favourite steps too. I was afraid of overcutting the buttonholes or having the yarn pull.

    Reply to MrsSmith - definitely not too many exclamation marks. Loved them. I'm glad you were inspired. Do play with exposed seams. They add a certain punch that can be really interesting especially with double sided fabrics.

    Reply to Teri - You could become good at refashioning. It's more about starting, learning as you go along, and letting go of expectations. I only started working this way two years ago. I've learned to do the work by doing the work. Go for it. There's not much to lose and a lot to learn.

    Reply to emmyjaymakes - Thanks. I agree that it's about where I'm going. And I am getting there. Garment by garment. What I want to do is find the path to facilitate the less traditional images that I see dancing in my head out on to the garment.

    Reply to Little Hunting Creek - Over the last while, I've paid a lot more attention to the thinking points of the process and I find they are critical to the evolution. A valuable awareness.

    Reply to Kathy - LOL, I really like those triangles too, especially their organic shape. I do hope you have some time to piece a project soon. Not only would it be fun but help with all those other busy things in life - nurture the nurturer.

    Reply to ElleC - it seems to me that if we're constantly growing and moving in new directions, that thinking will be part of the process. Perhaps more involved at some points and less at others but even just thinking through the order of sewing can be really good for training your brain and more independent creativity. Good I think. I think it took about 10-15 hours over three days to work on this. Just a bit at a time will get you there. LOL - I like the results too.

  11. Hi Myrna: This was a very helpful posting. I've been interested in refashioning clothing and haven't really known how to get started. Your step by step from beginning (not very inspiring dress) to end product (totally cool and inspired sweater) was witty, accessible and motivating! and done in a very generous spirit. Thank you!

  12. I loved the "go knit and think about project" interludes.

    Here's the thing: When we're working creatively, specific kinds of breaks are part of our work. For me, as a writer, I'm "writing" when I go for a walk, do some yoga, read, or garden....

    Love how the sweater turned out!

  13. What a wonderful post and a beautiful outcome for a reused refashioned dress. Gorgeous.

  14. It's always interesting to me how the stepping back--pondering, walking, knitting (and especially for me, sleeping/dreaming) is as much a part of creation as the "work" itself is. Lovely sweater. Elle

  15. Reply to Helen - I'm glad you found the posting helpful. YEAH. Just start. See what happens. Work one step at a time. It really doesn't matter if it works out in the end, you'll learn something and take that experience forward.

    Reply to Jean S - I write while I'm driving or walking too. Taking a break is so good for us. I can see why "they" say it's so vital that employees get their lunch and coffee breaks. Too bad that they often don't or don't take them.

    Reply to BeaJay - Thank you.

    Reply to Elle - The more work I do without a pattern, the more vital those stepping back moments are. It's good.

  16. Thanks for this; I can imagine that such a post is a big time investment, but for me it is inspirational, and also humbling....sometimes your results look so natural that I imagine effortless because of your talent and creativity; this illustrates how much plain old hard work is also in the mix.


  17. Reply to Ceci - You're welcome. I'm glad it was inspirational. You're right. It's work that flows easier and gets more comfortable as you go along because the only way to learn how to do the work is by doing the work.

  18. I found this post to be very inspiring and useful, having not thought about how many steps there are in any project, much less one that needs as much thinking about as active doing... Now I want to log how many steps some of my projects take to complete, or at least to where I call them completed... I have a few sort of re-fashioned garments that I am not very happy with, perhaps one of these days I will get bolder about recombining them... How vital do you find having a dress form is for your creative work? (In my dreams I have a dress form and a design wall...)

  19. Yes, yes and yes, this is so helpful and inspiring. I have a piece of sweater knit and some leather that I have been trying to figure out how to merge together. You have given me some ideas that I need to think about this weekend. Thank you a thousand times.

  20. Love the results! yay for patience, persistence and problem-solving. So many places where I think I might have abandonned ship and you kept going. Great start to the new year.

  21. Reply to Alison - do get bold with those refashions. That's the only way to learn. I was able to keep track of the steps with this project but I have a terrible time keeping track of the hours. I get so distracted. I'll try that for a future project. It is quite interesting.

    I don't use my dress form for fitting purposes. I use it from a pondering/designing perspective and it helps to pin and position elements before I try the garment on and fine tune the fit. I highly recommend having one. It was my gift to myself when I retired and I can't imagine how I worked without it before. LOVE it.

  22. Reply to Towanda - I'm glad it was helpful. I'd hoped you'd enjoy it. Thanks for asking the question. Hope the ideas lead you on an interesting journey. You're welcome a thousand times.

  23. Reply to Liz - It was a great start. I learned not to abandon ship when I was doing the wall art equivalent of refashioning and have thankfully been able to transfer it to this format. Occasionally I give up but it's rare. Mostly I can hang in there and work my way past the uglies to something of interest.

  24. I found this post extremely useful, so thanks for taking the time to write up your process, it is much appreciated!

  25. I absolutely love the transformation! And it was so interesting to read your process steps -- love the knitting breaks and of course the fact that you survived the "cutting of the buttonholes"! I love reading about process, as everyone has a different approach to get to the same goal -- a beautifully made project.

  26. Reply to Sue - I'm glad you found the information useful. Thanks for letting me know.

    Reply to Jean - Some transitions flow better than others. I'm working on one now that is doing a lot more kicking and screaming along the way. It is fun to observe how people work and what we each do differently. I learn a lot that way.

  27. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post! Especially # 75 and 111... ... I can relate!
    Itemizing the steps...even stopping to great insight into the process -- it is not as simple as start, do, finish. Love this! I thought about you the other day as I was sorting some clothes...i have a sweater that is too large...never worn, still with tags on it...and considered refashioning as you do (but wondered if I could make it work!). I will never acquire the skill if I dont start, eh?
    Thanks for the inspiration and motivation!

    1. Thanks for letting me know. Gave me a laugh when I re-read 75 and 111. I'm writing the decision making process of my next project - a sweater - and hopefully that will help you as well. It is all about starting. GO GO GO.


Thanks for commenting. I appreciate the feedback and the creative conversation.