Bamboo vs. Betty Draper

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I bought this men’s cotton shirt in the Save the Children shop in Whitby for £3.49 after I fell in love with the print. At the time, I thought it was palm trees, but now that I look closer, it’s more like bamboo – it’s a green and beige print on a navy background. It’s actually not all that big, despite being a Large. Since the cotton is relatively heavy, I earmarked it for a dress, but then forgot about it for several years. With an upcoming trip to (spoiler alert) Portugal, I dug it out recently to be given a makeover as part of my holiday wardrobe.

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Selecting a shape for this summer dress that would lend itself to a refashion wasn’t particularly difficult. I have a great A-line dress which is a good fit on me (I often choose non-waisted things because RTW bodices are usually too short) which was ripe for a rip-off. It’s a very simple shape with no darts.

I simply laid out the shirt flat with the buttons done up….

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…laid the dress on top, lining it up at the shoulders and centre front…

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…and cut around it, trying to leave a fairly even seam allowance of 1.5 cm all around. You can see that I actually pinned it in place for more accurate cutting. I left the shoulders/yoke intact, and decided to leave the collar on to make it more like a shirt-dress, since the buttons were staying anyway.

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I trimmed a little off the front arm holes compared to the back, since that’s how they were on the original dress. Happily, the pocket is intact, but it is rather close to the arm hole.

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Of course, the shirt was nowhere near as long as the dress needed to be. An additional panel was required, giving me a great opportunity for print mixing. I dug through my stash in earnest before striking gold – this bit of green stripy sheet was almost the same shade of green as the bamboo, and the vertical stripes echoed the bamboo nicely. Also, the weight of it was fairly heavy, similar to the shirt. Winner!

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Long time readers will remember this sheet from my version of this summer dress as worn by Mad Men’s Betty Draper. A reader recently left me a comment on the original post saying that this dress is from Season 3, Episode 9 – thank you, Emily, whoever you are!

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My Betty Draper dress was made from a single sheet which I picked up from Oxfam in Streatham for £4.99, along with two matching pillowcases (which, incidentally, are still in stash).

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Here’s a reminder:

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Betty Draper also went to Kenya at the end of 2013, which you may or may not remember.

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Anyway, I digress…

Sewing the new side seams of the bamboo shirt was pretty straight forward. After that I turned to finishing the armholes. As usual, I am using bias strips. I know you have seen me do this a hundred times, but here is a quick summary.

I cut 3cm bias strips from one of the shirt sleeves.

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I joined them together to get two long-ish strips.

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Folded the strips in half lengthways.

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Pinned them to the armhole with the cut edges facing the cut edge of the armhole, about 1cm from the edge.

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Sewed them on 5mm from the edge of the strips and trimmed the seam allowance of the dress right down.

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Then I folded the strips to the inside and pressed it (the inside/wrong side is shown below).

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The final step is to topstitch the strips down, so you get a nice clean finish inside.

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My thoughts then turned to adding the contrast panel. I actually trimmed off the hem of the original shirt, knowing I had plenty of length in the sheet panel.

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Having re-measured the new width of the bamboo shirt at the hem, I made side seams up the side of the sheet panel at the right width, and pinned it onto the shirt, right sides together. I then sewed a seam joining the panel to the shirt.

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I actually marked the hem as per the original dress.

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A nice big hem allowance means the hem could be turned up twice and the added weight helps it fall nicely.

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Here’s how it came out. It fits pretty well, and only a couple of the buttons have to be undone to get it over my head. I did test it to see whether it would be necessary to sew up the button placket, but it stays closed nicely, so no problem there.

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This was my first time in the Algarve and I must say, it is absolutely stunning.

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Every corner of the coastline contains these hidden small beaches with no-one around.

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The coastline is craggy, with lots of tunnels, arches and ‘islands’ where arches have collapsed. Pretty dramatic!

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Being fairly sensitive to the sun, I accessorised with sunglasses and a huge hat.

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I can also report that the dress did just fine on the beach!

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26 comments

  1. Claire

    For a moment there I thought you were going to add the contrast panel in the middle, but I think the print is too busy for that and to have it all in one block is obviously best as your new shirt dress is lovely!

  2. Kasia

    Oh dear me, this is just so lovely! A perfect quirky summer dress :) You are certainly an inspiration :))) Bodices in most commercially produced dresses are too short for me (I think I’m too tall) and their waists land somewhere on my ribs. I like to add a contrasting panel between the bodice and the skirt–last time it was a flowery panel in a checked dress. I am certainly looking forward to trying your method of lengthening the dress. :)

    • charityshopchic

      Hi Kasia, I can empathise! You are not too tall, the dresses are too short… I have the same problem which is a big part of the reason I make my own clothes.

  3. Linda

    It’s lovely! Really love the Betty Draper dress from a sheet too, I am a bit behind and just starting to watch my box-set of Mand Men!

  4. The Peppermint Journalist

    Your blog makes me want to get to sewing! My house is in some kitchen remodel disarray right now but once that’s cleared out I want to make a back room my “craft room” and bust out the sewing machine again.

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