The Prince is Giving a Ball: Purple dress with Velvet insert (Plus size upcycle)

When I am out thrift store shopping if I come across a great garment in a plus size I am pretty excited ,and I have a low threshold for picking things up for my stash.  These finds are typically infrequent, in part because the people wearing vintage clothes were often smaller than many people today  (anyone who tries to wear or use vintage clothes knows how sizes have changed in the last 50 years).   When I came across this dress several years ago I picked it up “just in case”, and, it was just what I needed for one of my cast members in “Cinderella”.

Dress #1:

This dress was a pale purple sheath style dress with a modest skirt and long sleeves.  The top and underskirt are satin.  The sleeves and overskirt are chiffon.  The dress had contrasting beaded trim around the raised waist.  It had a zipper back.

I paired this with Dress #2:

detail of halter top dress #2

Dress #2 was a deep purple velvet halter style wiggle dress with a decorative beaded applique on the front.   The bodice was fully boned, and the dress had a dramatic leg slit in the front.  The color of this dress was really gorgeous and it toned with the pale purple in Dress #2 quite well.

My plan was to use the purple skirt as an insert in the front of Dress #1.  To prep Dress #2 I removed the beaded panel and set it aside.  I stitched the leg slit closed, removed the zipper, and opened the back seam up.  Then I measured the skirt length of Dress #1, and cut the skirt of Dress #2 to that length (plus a seam allowance.

Next step was to work on Dress #1.  I took the beaded trim off the bodice.  Then, I opened the front seam up where the bodice met the skirt.  There was nice amount of fabric in the seams.

inside of dress #1--lots of seam allowance

I opened up the underarm seam to add a bit more room to the dress.  The lower part was easy (seen on the left).  It would have been much harder to extend that up into the sleeve.  The sleeve had very nice binding on the seam (picture on the right), and while there was lots of fabric, it would  have been more time consuming that worth the effort for a costume to open up the armscye any farther.   This is one of the reasons when people call and ask me to alter things, I am  “Sorry, but no”.

more seam allowance

I carefully cut the front of the skirt up the center front of the chiffon and the satin underskirt.  Interestingly, the front of the skirt was shaped by darts that extended partially down into the skirt.  The chiffon and the satin were stitched together and the dart was trimmed, so I couldn’t easily separate them.

I stitched the velvet panel in between the cut front edges, and then restitched the skirt and bodice together.  The skirt was gathered to fit, which gave it extra fullness on the sides.  I put the majority of the fullness toward the front, because the dress is seen most often from the front.

velvet dress spliced in to the front

To give the dress a bit more color, I added some purple glitter tulle as a new overskirt.  This tulle had a wired edge on one side.

wired tulle for overlay

After this, the purple beaded piece  and the pearl trim were stitched back on by hand (by a volunteer).

The (almost) finished dress:

beading and bodice trim pinned on

On stage:


on stage

I  thought this dress turned out quite well.  It looked good on stage and was very flattering to the cast member.  I like the drama of the dark purple, and while I had mixed feelings about the purple beaded  piece when I made the dress, from a distance I think it adds to the period-feel, giving definition to the bust area, and almost a corset look.  From the pictures it looks like I must have sewn the velvet to the inner lining of the skirt and left the satin and chiffon unattached, and it looks like the satin is fraying a bit.  Clearly the pinking shears wasn’t enough.  I probably should have finished the edge with some fray-check, zig-zag or a narrow hem (I WILL learn to use my serger soon–that is a summer/empty nest goal of mine!),  I also like the way the single layer of tulle enhanced to overall look.  I am a big lover of layers, and I like the movement.

I read in a costuming book along the way that fabrics that absorb light, for example velvet, give a richer look onstage than ones that reflect the light.  I think this dress helps illustrate that opinion.

Cost:  Dress #1 $6, Dress #2 #3, tulle $4




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