80s Dress Refashion

This was an 80’s dress from the Ra Ra stash that needed a bit of a makeover. The colour is absolutely beautiful, the most amazing shade of red! However, it had a lot going on and needed a bit of tweaking to make it less frumpy. It looks like two separate pieces (a long sleeved jacket and dress) but it was actually one piece, all sewn together at the waist with elastic. In true ‘80s style it had a decorated shoulder detail but as you can see in the close up below it was falling apart.

I wanted this piece to be young and sweet but still have a vintage feel. I looked to Grease for inspiration and styled it after the dress worn by Sandy (Olivia Newton John) to the school dance. It was a simple dress with a belt at the waist and an off centre flower. It was worn with a cape at the beginning so with all that extra fabric from the ‘jacket’ I decided to make that too.

Now that the design is decided, let’s get sewing! First up is the dress.

I took all the layers apart at the waist with a seam remover and then started working on the top portion. I removed the stitches at each side and as you can see in the image, the front was two layers of chiffon, and the back just one. The original dress was quite full on top and so to bring it in, each side dart was going to need adjusting.

To start I used a piece of chalk and marked where I wanted the new darts to go. As you can see in the photo, the original darts moved down on an angle and I took that dart and moved it up bringing the bottom of the top in.

The picture above shows what the new dart looked like. As you can see the fabric below the dart extended beyond the original side seem. That was trimmed back to be a straight line and then the sides were sewn back together.

Once the sides were sewn, the tighter top came up higher than the back so the back needed to be cut so that they were aligned.

With the new top finished, it was pinned to the original skirt (minus the peplum) and stitched.

The original elastic was a bit stretched and worn so a new elastic was stitched onto the waist. When stitching elastic remember that you want it to be the length of the actual waist, so it will be shorter than the fabric around the centre seam. When you are stitching, gently pull the elastic towards you so it goes all around the dress and creates a gathered effect in the process. The only tricky part is keeping the tension consistent.

I wanted the final skirt length to fall below the knee but the original dress was mid calf so I cut 10 cm off the bottom of the skirt. The skirt had two layers, a lining and a chiffon top. I cut 10 cm off both and re-hemmed both layers. I used the off cuts to create the belt.

I kept the strips as they were at 10 cm for the belt, but cut the length to the size I wanted. Then I pinned the two pieces together, right sides facing, and stitched the length of each side leaving the ends open. I put a safety pin in one end and threaded it through the tube that was created so the belt was right side out. The ends were then tucked in and stitched shut.

From the peplum layer on the original dress I cut four strips of fabric. Two of these were stitched together exactly like the belt, sewn along both long edges and then turned right side out. The other two pieces were stitched together on each end and along one length of the strip (right sides facing) but left raw along the other long edge.

The centre of the flower was made out of one of the belt loops on the original dress. The middle layer was made from the strip that had been stitched on both sides. It was formed into four loops. The second strip, with the raw edge, was hand stitched along the raw edge and then the thread was pulled tight to gather the fabric. It was then coiled around the existing flower and hand stitched to hold in place.

A circle of fabric was cut and hand sewn at the back to cover up the stitching. A brooch pin was then sewn onto that. Because the dress had an elastic waist, it would be able to fit a few sizes and I wanted the belt to have the same flexibility. Therefore the belt was made with a hidden loop on the inside to hold one end of the belt, and the other end (that is brought to the front) is secured with the flower pin.

Here is the finished dress with flower belt. Now on to the cape!

This is the top ‘jacket’ portion of the original dress. As you can see there were two belt loops attached. One was used in the flower pin as shown above. The second will be used in a minute at the neckline.

The sleeves were cut off and set aside.

The top was cut not at the shoulder seam, but through the centre of the piece that connected the gathering to the shoulder seam. A stitch remover was used to take off the remaining sleeves.

Take each front piece and fold in the raw edges where it was cut, then stitch shut. This is going to be the new front neckline on each side.

The back and the front pieces will need a bit of reshaping. When you have cut new sides, pin them together and re-stitch. Run a zig zag stitch along the raw edge of the new seams. Determine the desired length and shape of the bottom and cut. Pin the new hem and stitch.

Use the remaining belt loop and find a matching button. Hand stitch at the neck.

Here is the final dress with the cape. It’s up for sale now in the Ra Ra store if you want to check it out.

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