In the middle of revision week I got it into my head that I needed a tailors mannequin. Ok, maybe ‘needed’ isn’t the right word. Perhaps, ‘wanted’ was more appropriate…[I tried the ‘need’ argument with Tree and he gave me one of those who are you trying to kid looks…]

But as you do during revision time, you let yourself get preoccupied with anything else but the books sitting open on the desk gathering dust. So I went on the hunt for a mannequin which would be both practical and pretty and entered a fierce Ebay bidding war (which I won. Mwah ha ha!). And lo and behold it arrived (mid exam week!) providing a much needed pick-me-up!


It’s from I Love Vintage Mannequins featuring a ‘traditionally made mannequin’ (I’m not sure what that means, but I specifically didn’t want one made from dense polystyrene) and a lovely cast iron base. All hyped up with excitement about my new toy I sent my mum a photo to which she replied with a one worded message: ‘Crazy’. And when I called her up to clarify the meaning of this message she just laughed at me. And I mean: she just laughed at me. She was laughing so hard she could barely breathe in-between calling me ‘paagol’  (which is basically ‘crazy’ in another language). Clearly the ‘need’ argument wasn’t going to work on her… But after a few “back when I was younger we didn’t have all these fancy things” stories, she warmed to the idea and begrudgingly admitted that maybe a mannequin would come in use.

Now, having convinced half my family that this was a useful purchase and not just an impulse buy, I had to prove it by actually using it! (Although, I still stand by using it as a hijab stand as a valid use…)

So prepare myself for the mammoth task of making myself a dress, or more specifically, my can’t-believe-I-made-it-that’s-six-years-of-my-life-I-won’t-be-getting-back graduation dress, I decided to brush up on my sewing (non)skills and warm up with some simpler projects.

Task 1: Upcycling

Whilst on our travels in Zanzibar we set up camp in the wonderful Stone Town. A beautiful town, steeped in a rich history of spice and trade….but also the hottest place I have ever been. Everything I had carefully selected to pack in my backpack became completely redundant and I ended up buying (and living in) the colourful kaftans worn by the locals. On our return I brought a few of my favourite ones homes but they’ve been sitting miserably in the deepest depths of my cupboard since. But rather than letting the vibrant print go to waste I decided to make it into a maxi skirt.


I chopped off the top (just above a conveniently placed hidden pocket!) and seamed it with the idea of making an exposed elasticated waist band. I’d never done this before but having seen the people on the Great British Sewing Bee do some shirring, I figured: how hard could it be? Watch one, do one, teach one and all that jazz (although watching someone on TV doing something loosely similar to what I wanted may not count as ‘watch one’).

kaftan-to-maxi-skirt-upcycleI measured out the elastic to fit around my waist and also have enough stretch to go over my bum (no.1 lesson learnt from “A little bit of frill and a little bit of failure) and seamed it together to form a loop. I then sewed it directly to the top of the skirt. This is where I got a bit puzzled. The cloth measured around 180cm whilst my elastic measured just under 70cm… How to make the two match up? So bearing the not-so-similar-but-similar-enough Great British Sewing Bee shirring task, I stretched the elastic as much as I could, keeping a steady amount of tension on it as I sewed the skirt on and then at the end, released it to find that the elastic pinged back into shape, forming an even spread of frills all the way around the skirt. Another set of running stitches above the first secured everything into place and I was all done!

Now, if I don’t say so myself- it looks pretty darn good….apart from (of course there’s a caveat! You can’t be as slap dash as I am, with my minimal sewing skills and end up with a perfect project!) I had messed up my elastic measurements again (I again refer you back to A little bit of frill and a little bit of failure) and this time ended up with too much elastic! Something I only discovered when I had sewn most of the way around the skirt. And obviously, being the lazy bum I am, I couldn’t be bothered to unpick all the stitching I’d just done and instead, chopped of the excess elastic and seamed the two ends together. What’s the problem then, you’re asking? The seam of the elastic waist band sits about 5cm to the left of the seam of the skirt. Whoopsies. But to date, no one has noticed!

So the moral of the story? I make mistakes, so you don’t have to. But even if you do- it doesn’t matter. It’s better to have tried than not to give something a go. In the words of Thomas Edison:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Overall, it seems like a pretty simple technique which just needs some refining. What do you think? Fancy a tutorial?

In the end, despite my mistakes I’m so happy that I’ve been able to rekindle this outfit. It’s got so many good memories attached so I’m glad I’ve found a use for it.

Task 1: Upcycling; Kaftan to maxi skirt. Complete

And I obviously couldn’t have done without my mannequin, could I?….


little pomegranate

P.s. I apologise for the quality of some photos- they’re off my iphone!

2 replies on “The little chronicles of a small time sewer: upcycling

  1. That is a truly cute little mannequin pomegranate! It could be used for so many things other than try out the fit for dresses – such as a coat hanger?? it’s perfect vintage.

    1. Thanks! You’ll like this story Z (m)umm. Tree read this comment when it came up on my phone and said, “they don’t sound like they come from England”. Of course I showed him your email address and he’s kicking himself now. Thought you’d appreciate that- you can give him a poke with a fork when you come home.x

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