New Dress a Day : The Ultimate DIY Guide to Creating Fashion Dos from Thift-Store Don'ts

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2012-10-16
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books

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GO FROM THRIFT-SHOP CHEAP TO RUNWAY CHIC EACH AND EVERY DAY! Based on her wildly popular blog of the same name, guerrilla seamstress Marisa Lynch shows you how to easily (and affordably!) transform your wardrobe from frumpy to fabulous! With just a snip here and a stitch there, your basement bargains will rival anything in designer collections. Yes, with a little imagination-and DIY tools like needles, thread, and safety pins-you too can update an outdated castoff. Inside you'll discover how to ace the sewing basics (remember: safety first!) create DIY designer look-alikes cut Flashdance-inspired sweatshirts make an old, tired muumuu a smashing must-have give bridesmaid dresses a second life dye your way to a vibrant new wardrobe whip up accessories in seconds style the same dress seven different ways Complete with colorful before-and-after photos, fun sidebars, and even a groovy sewing song playlist to get you in the zone, New Dress a Dayproves that you don't need a sewing machine or a big budget to turn unfashionable trash into stylish treasure.


chapter one

sewing 101

hese are sewing’s basic moves, moves I learned in middle school while hammering out a teal sweatshirt (yes, teal) and humming Boyz II Men (“Although we’ve come . . . to the end of the rooooad . . . ”).

In practicing these basics, grab your needles and thread and make sure you’ve got lots of light (and a good playlist on in the background) (see p. 123). Working at a desk or dining room table where you can set out your needles and spools of thread is ideal; however, you can couch it as long as you don’t have butterfingers! Hidden needles in the upholstery are nobody’s picnic. (Tush + needles = a bloodcurdling scream rivaling Janet Leigh’s in ­Psycho.)

hand sewing

If you’re one of those people who say, “but I can’t even sew a button,” prepare to remove that excuse from your vocabulary. With just some needles, a little bit of thread, and the ability to tie a knot, you can hand sew your little heart out!

There are a bunch of different kinds of stitches that you can learn, but we’ll begin with the easiest and most useful (in my humble ­opinion)—the top three I use all the time.

Running stitch: Prepare to master this basic stitch in no ­time—easy, breezy, and doable for anyone.

1. Grab a piece of thread. I usually trim thread longer than necessary because it’s better to have too much than not enough and run out before you’re done. A good amount to keep in mind is about 1.5 to 2 times the length of the piece you need to stitch. Tie a knot at one end and take the other end and thread it through the eye of a needle.

2. Bring the needle up through the underside of the fabric (the knot will let you know when to stop). Bring the needle back down about ­1⁄8 ­inch away from your first point.

3. Begin stitching from right to left, with evenly spaced stitches. The spacing between these stitches should be small, technically, but you can eyeball about ­1⁄8 ­inch between ­stitches—do what works for you and the piece.

4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until a seam is finished, a hole is mended, or you want to take a snack break to Yogurtland.

Backstitch: This stitch is one of the strongest, great at keeping seams ­together—meaning you won’t have to worry about your pants tearing at the seam again when you drop your phone for the hundredth time.

This happened to me and I ­didn’t have anything to tie around my waist. Two words. Epic. Fail.

I think of this stitch as drawing an ocean ­wave—it goes forward, then back a little, then forward more, and back a little more.

1. Bring a threaded needle up through the underside of the fabric. Bring the needle back down 1 inch forward from where the needle came through.

2. Bringing your needle backward through the underside of the fabric in the middle of the stitch that was made, go another inch forward and bring the needle back down through the fabric.

3. Now bring your needle backward through the underside of the fabric again (in the middle of the last stitch) and make another stitch forward.

4. Continue this forward, backward, forward, backward movement until the seam has been stitched up.

Overcast stitch: There’s nothing foggy about this stitch, (insert drum ­badump-ump here,) which is perfect for sewing appliqués or fabric on tank tops. The ­zigzaggy overcast stitch is my favorite for putting patches or felted shapes on outfits because it gives a total handmade look.

1. Bring the needle through the underside of the fabric and bring it back down about 1⁄2 inch through the top of the fabric, on a slant.

2. Bring the needle back through the fabric from underneath and continue until you’re through. With each stitch continue to move along the edge of the fabric, progressing farther along as you go.

3. Continue making diagonal stitches along the outside edges of your fabric or appliqué, and back through the fabric.

It’ll look like a pine tree/feather you drew in elementary school.

machine sewing

Sewing machines can be daunting if you’ve never used one. However, when you become one with the machine, you’ll be hanging out and having cocktail hour together.

Beginner machines: All the major ­brands—Elna, Brother, Kenmore, and ­Singer—make great machines for beginners, from mechanical to electronic and ­computerized—it’s like Max Headroom is running the machine! You don’t have to spend a lot ­either—many are under a hundred dollars! Head to retailers like Target or Walmart for a ­brand-­new one, or scope out Craigslist for deals from people getting rid of the machines collecting dust in their attics.

If you’re nervous about jumping into a sewing machine purchase, or want to test the waters first, sign up for a sewing class at a local community college or sewing store. They’ll have a machine (and a teacher) to help you get comfortable before you decide to throw down Benjamins and buy your own.

Machine stitches: Each sewing machine gives you a bunch of different options to choose from:

The straight stitch is the one I use most often and it is exactly what it sounds like. Straight stitches in a row, forming a line across the fabric.

The zigzag stitch is perfect for attaching patches for a homemade look, making buttonholes, sewing stretch material, or even creating ­free-­form letters. This stitch looks just like the front of Charlie Brown’s shirt.

There’s another zigzag stitch, the three-­step zigzag stitch (not to be confused with a ­square-­dance move), that looks similar to the zigzag stitch just mentioned. This stitch is most ideal for elastics or jersey knit because the zigzags are wider, giving more room for stretch and movement.

The blind hem stitch works as an invisible (kind of like Patrick Swayze in Ghost) stitch, perfect for hemming curtains or a skirt bottom. It’s a mix of straight and zigzag stitches.

Many machines also include decorative stitches (like the blanket stitch, satin stitch, or whip stitch) for those who want to showcase their ­super-­excellent sewing skills with fancy monograms.

Machine stitch lengths: Just like the saying: “Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear; beer before liquor makes you sicker,” I came up with a line for cautioning about stitch lengths:

“Short and sweet with no repeats; long and loose probably reproduce.”

This reminds me that the shorter the stitch the more durable it will be (hopefully you won’t have to sew it more than once), and the longer the stitch the greater the likelihood you’ll have to redo it. Stitch lengths will range from less than 1 to 6 millimeters, or 4 to 24 stitches per inch (these are the two scales of measurement). Looking at lengths, finer fabrics (satin) will be 1 or 2 mm; medium-­thick fabric (cotton, linen) will stay right in the center at a length of 2.5 or 3 mm; and thicker fabrics (denim, corduroy) will be 4 or 5 mm.

Machine needles (also see “Needles” on p. xvi): Choosing the right needles for sewing different fabrics is like wearing the right clothes for each season. In summer you wear lighter clothing (and less of it), while in winter you wear layers of thicker clothing. Likewise, the thinner your fabric, the smaller the needle you’d use. Machine needles are sized “60/8” (smallest) to “120/19” (largest), with the first number associated with the diameter of the needle’s shaft multiplied by 100 and the second number associated with the U.S. measuring system

Bobbins (also see “Bobbins” on p. xv): Bobbins are a necessity for the sewing machine. A bobbin is to a spool of thread as Kid Sister is to My Buddy. Sorry if I got that commercial jingle stuck in any of your heads. They are mini spools that the thread is wound around beneath the throat plate inside the machine. The throat plate creates the stitches on the underside of the garment when sewing—­the thread from the spool makes the top stitches—­and without bobbins, the machine is just a big rectangular paperweight.

Wind That Bobbin!

1. Pick your thread and put it on the spool holder.

2. Take an empty bobbin and put it on the bobbin winder.

3. Pull the thread to the left and wrap it around the tension disk once, bringing it ­toward the bobbin winder on the right.

4. Wrap the thread clockwise around the bobbin a few times or bring the thread through the pinhole in the top of the bobbin, depending on the kind of bobbin you’re using. Place the bobbin on the winding spindle.

5. Push the bobbin winder (with the bobbin on it) to the right until you hear the winder click in place.

6. Begin to press the foot pedal and the bobbin will spin, winding thread around it.

7. I like to have full bobbins, so continue to press the foot pedal until the bobbin is almost completely wound with thread. Some machines automatically stop when the bobbin is full, but if your machine ­doesn’t, keep an eye on it at the 3⁄4 point and stop it before it overflows at the bobbin’s edge. You want the thread as smoothly wound as possible.

chapter two

muumuu transformations

rs. Roper, Homer Simpson, Erykah Badu: What do these folks have in common? They’ve all famously rocked a muumuu at some point. I’m all about vegging out in this shapeless robe/nightgown/cloth dress in the privacy of my apartment, but I won’t leave the house in one unless I’ve done a little bit of mending first. Scratch that, a lot of mending.

To ring in my thirtieth birthday, I transformed my first frockish muumuu from drab to fab. The celebratory outfit kicked off my year of new pieces, and I pulled it off with little more than a pair of scissors and some cinching!

The main essence of this remake was going from long to short, a totally easy fix on a ­too-­long garment or a muumuu plucked from an estate sale at an Edie Beale look-alike’s home.

This is an easy starting point for all levels, so all you ­non-­sewers out there, get ready for your mind to be blown because you’ll be able to nail this in a jiffy too!

option #1

machine it muumuu



Chalk, pencil, or a fabric crayon

Ruler (or ­straightedge ­object)



Straight pins


Sewing machine

If you are using a sewing machine, continue the steps below. If you are hand sewing, skip to p. 20.

1. Decide how short to go. Pick your desired length and, using chalk, a pencil, or a fabric crayon, mark the muumuu where you want it to end. Remember to use your ruler or phone book, or other straight marking device to create a straight line. This line will be your guide as you snip, snip, snip across the fabric.

2. Cut about 1 to 2 inches below your marked line. This will be the excess material to assist with your hem. Also, keep those trimmings because you’ll use them later.

3. Now that the piece has been cut, plug in an iron. Fold the piece under at the chalk line and use the iron to press down, making a crease along the line. Continue ironing the fabric along the chalk line, making your way around the piece.

4. Now it’s time to do it all again! I know, I know, we had so much fun the first time. Fold the raw edge in half (raw edge is folded under, touching the wrong side of the fabric) all the way around the dress, and again, use the iron to press down on the new crease, getting it super flat.

5. As you iron, pin the folded fabric in place. This will keep everything you’ve pressed from moving or coming undone.

6. Once the garment is pressed and pinned, a sewing machine makes creating a hem super easy. Pick your thread and use it to wind a bobbin (see “Wind That Bobbin” on p. 9). Lace up your sewing machine with that same thread and put in your bobbin!

7. Adjust your machine to the appropriate stitch setting. With a cotton muumuu like this, a medium stitch, 2.5 mm to 3 mm, will work the best (see “Machine Stitch Lengths” on p. 8).

8. Lift the presser foot and slide the bottom of your garment (where the hem is pinned) underneath the presser foot of the sewing machine, right side up.

9. Align the garment with the 5⁄8 mark on the throat plate, which is a good hem allotment. Feel free to choose whatever amount you’re happy with, as there is no right or wrong, and put the presser foot back down.

10. Use the handwheel to stitch forward 3 or 4 stitches.

11. Then press down the reverse lever and go backward a few stitches, directly on top of what you just stitched. This backward and forward action reinforces your stitches so that everything stays in place before you get farther along. After sewing forward, then backward, begin stitching forward again and continue stitching along. You can do this once more for extra ­security—there is no right or wrong.

12. After your first stitches are secure, slowly slide the rest of your fabric along the throat plate, using the 5⁄8 seam allotment mark (or whichever seam measurement you chose) as a guide.

13. As you reach the place where you began your stitches, repeat Steps 11 and 12, going backward and forward over your last stitches to keep them in place.

14. Use the reserved material you cut in Step 2 and trim it more if desired to use as a belt, gathering your muumuu at the waist. (At least ­1-­inch wide will cinch the waist without being obvious, and a wider piece will make the fabric more ­beltish-­looking.) You now have a gorgeous hem and matching ­cinch-­erific belt, and your muumuu transformation is complete!

option #2

cut & go!



Chalk, pencil, or a fabric crayon

Ruler (or ­straightedge ­object)


Non-­sewers, you’ve got a few options to create the same look without using a machine.

If you’re working with a polyester blend, leaving the edges raw is a perfectly fine option. Just make sure your snips are straight. Leave the jagged edges to Glenn Close and Jeff Bridges.

1. Follow Step 1 on p. 13 to mark your desired length.

2. Use scissors to cut your piece along the marked line. Straight snips = fab ­post-­cut muumuu!

3. Using the leftover material, cut another strip (at least ­1-­inch wide), and you’ve got an ­insta-­belt!

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