dressmaking · Upcycling

The Make Do and Mend Dress


If you ever think I look like I’m wearing a pair of old curtains, I probably am. Secondhand curtains are a great way of acquiring large quantities of good quality fabric at a bargain price. There is something very rewarding about making yourself a new dress for a few pounds, plus there is the added satisfaction of breathing new life into something that no longer appeals in its present form.

Last summer, my flatmate Laura and I went to Imperial War Museum in London to see the Fashion on a Ration exhibition. It was all about the wartime motto ‘make do and mend,’ which encouraged women to repair and recycle old garments. It was so inspiring to see the wonderful things they made from old suits and parachutes. I have since gone on to upcycle everything from old jeans to charity shop dresses and -of course- curtains. You can see some examples at the bottom.

My latest project is a dress made from some curtains I picked up for £4 in a charity shop in Yarm. As curtains they were certainly past their best, with several patches of discolouration. However, I liked the subtle print and the weight of the fabric. I also love the combination of a white/cream dress or top with tan leather accessories -perfect for work in the summer.

The dress pattern I used was created from my basic bodice block. I wanted it to be panelled at the front so I swung the dart to the shoulder and turned it into a seam. The photos below kind of show how it is done. I found a course with Jane White Couture really helpful. There are also some great YouTube tutorials out there.


As our office at work is like a sauna, I opted for a sleeveless design and finished the armholes with bias binding. The skirt is a simple A-line that finishes just above the knee. To create the A-line flare, I started with my basic pencil skirt pattern and drew a straight line from the bottom of the skirt to the tip of the dart. I then chopped all the way up the line but stopped at the dart tip. The next step is to fold and glue the dart over which causes the skirt to open and transform itself into a lovely A-line.

Here are some pictures of my finished dress, along with some other ‘make do and mend’ projects. They include a circle skirt made from curtains, pyjamas made from my old duvet cover and a dress made from four pairs of my boyfriend’s old jeans.




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