Friday, January 3, 2020

The Two-Shirt Dress: Smart Fashion Tricks for Modest Women on a Budget

Cost Challenge

When you don't have funds readily available to buy clothes, you're always looking for ways to give yourself new clothes without spending money on them. When I discovered the following frugalista dressmaking technique, it opened to me an exciting world of fresh opportunities within my existing wardrobe.

Here are the items I started with. I had two favourite shirts that I could no longer wear because my biceps and wrists had increased in size (a novel problem for me). The shirts were still in good condition. I loved their fabric. Hated the thought of parting with them.

Inspiration suddenly bubbled when I realized they shared the same colour palette. I pulled out my unpicking tool (Quick Unpick) and carefully got to work.

Creative Challenge

Is there enough fabric in two shirts to make one modest dress?

I removed the long sleeves from one shirt and opened up the long arm seams. I used bias binding from my stash to neaten the armholes on the now-sleeveless shirt.
I removed the short sleeves and collar from the other shirt, and dismantled it at the shoulders and side seams.

Now to rearrange the parts, trim them to size, and put the jigsaw together. The trickiest part for me was lining up those two shirt pieces with the long sleeves and deciding how to get the most length out of them for the skirt. I used a coordinating crepe fabric from my stash to add fullness.

When I'd stitched the skirt pieces to each other in a circle, I gathered the top edge and joined it to the hem of the sleeveless shirt.

It's so much fun showing people my two-shirt tunic dress.

"See one shirt? See the second shirt?And here's the sleeves!"

It always makes them smile. It makes me smile too. It's become one of my favourite dresses. I didn't have to lose something I loved. Instead, I gained something special by upcycling it into usefulness again.

Learning the clothing tricks defined in this post has vastly increased the quantity of secondhand garments that are useful to me. I no longer feel so limited or frustrated by my clothing options.

Look out for more Boutique Narelle posts detailing frugalista dressmaking and liberating modest fashion techniques.

Fiat lux!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Resurrecting the Love Blues: modest summer wedding outfit gets tweaked

Modesty Challenge:

Create a modest outfit for a laidback summer wedding in the park. It needed to protect from the sun, receive layers for evening chill, and be casually elegant to accommodate both my sense of occasion and the outdoor theme.

Cost Challenge:

Try not to spend any money on it because I just spent the year's clothing budget on underwear.

My Solutions:

Fourteen years ago, I attended a summer wedding in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand, known as the Mediterranean of the South. The season can get very warm despite the southern latitude, and the sun is fierce. For the occasion, I found at SaveMart a viscose button-front dress with a lovely swish to the hem for NZ$8, and set about improving its style and usefulness.

I removed the short sleeves and replaced them with long sleeves (no sunburn for this fair skin, thank you). I replaced the boring shell buttons with shiny silver anchors (all twenty of them), and where the button placket still gaped, I added invisible plastic domes. I sewed matching loose trousers. And I decorated a navy hat to match.

Some ladies look at the trousers and long sleeves and think the outfit looks hot. Actually, it's very comfortable. The fit of the dress is so good no underwear is required, yet it's loose enough to allow air to flow. The fabric soaks up sweat which, with air flowing over it, turns the outfit into a personal cooling tent. The colour, design, and type of fabric make wet patches invisible. Wins all round.

That labour of love got worn once and has been hanging in my closet since. I pulled it out this Spring to inspect its state of wellbeing.

There was a little rust on the collar, which a scrubbing session with soap and finger soon made more or less invisible.

I'd put on weight so the trousers no longer fit. I removed the side zip, dropped the fitted waist to hip level, and inserted a soft elastic waistband.

All that remained to be done was redecorate the hat and decide what shoes to wear. (The ivory roses are tied to the jandal thongs with white thread.) Add a fan for the heat, an umbrella for the rain (yes, you can expect both in one afternoon), and I was ready to enjoy my friend's wedding in the park!

I hope you've found something beautiful and inspiring here today.

Fiat lux!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Modestly Seeing Red: 5 ways to tweak a top to get the coverage you need

Modesty Challenge

Even in an enormous shop with a huge range of stock, it can be difficult to find a garment that has modest coverage and meets all of your needs for fit, colour, and style. I'm currently blessed with easy access to such a store, but it is rare that I find a garment perfectly ready to wear.

Cost Challenge

When they're not perfect but MIGHT be made better, the trick is in assessing whether the items you're looking at are worth the time and effort to adapt them.
I spotted a mid-calf length cotton sateen coat-dress with three-quarter sleeves at SaveMart recycled clothing shop.

It was in beautiful condition, but I shook my head over the neckline, the hem, and the sleeve length. At NZ$14 ("branded" price level), it was pricey. There was nothing else on the racks that day that demonstrated potential for winter warmth and modest coverage. I decided to take the risk.

Figuring Out How to Do Shorter Well

First round of remodelling, I shortened the mid-calf hem to just above the knee (I thought) so the dress silhouette would work with wide-leg trousers. This combination meant I could cycle in the outfit, provided the trouser cuffs were clamped at the ankle for safety.

As an early starter in my exploration of tunic lengths suitable for cycling in a breezy environment, in hindsight this one is shorter than necessary. I had to learn, by testing how different fabrics respond to diverse air movements, what is too long to be safe and what is too short for best coverage.

I also forgot that what looks covered in the mirror isn't so covered when you perch or sit down.

Placket, Button, and Dome

The double lapel took a deep plunge, and gaped at my narrow collarbones, so I folded half of one lapel back on itself to create an extended placket, installed a gold feature button with buttonhole, and secured the rest of the new placket with large domes.

Shorter Again

After a winter's wear, I'd had enough of trying to slide a fleece jacket over the three-quarter sleeves, so the second round of remodelling took the sleeves up to a flattering (and practical) quarter length.

The dress is occassion-adaptible. I've worn it for everyday activities like cycling and shopping, to meetings, and to a birthday party. I recently found out it goes well with red poppies and the New Zealand flag. I clipped a corsage (designer BN) on the dress collar while filming an ANZAC Day music video.

Click here to view music video

I hope you've seen something beautiful and inspiring here today.

Look out for more Boutique Narelle posts detailing frugalista dressmaking and liberating modest fashion techniques.

Fiat lux!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Thrifty Tricks for Modest Sporty Women #2: African Dress

Low-budget fashion tips to keep you stylish, safe, and covered while active outdoors


Modesty Challenge:

What to wear for outdoor cycling and gardening activities? I want modest garments covering me from neck to knees while allowing easy, safe movement, with expectation of getting grubby and sweaty.

Dollar Challenge:

Try not to spend money on it, because my income doesn't include a clothing budget. 🤔😬

My Solutions:


This is my Ghanaian dress, a gift from Africa, originally made with sleeves. I removed the patch pockets and sleeves, let out the massive side seam allowance and shortened the hem for ease of movement, and turned the exterior patch pocket and sleeves into an internal side pocket. Yay for dress pockets!

Learning the clothing tricks defined in this post has vastly increased the quantity of secondhand garments that are useful to me. I no longer feel so limited or frustrated by my clothing options.

Look out for more Boutique Narelle posts detailing liberating modest fashion techniques.

Fiat lux!

Swinging into Art Deco Style