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  • Writer's pictureLonda

Sewing with Sentiment via Up-Cycle Sewing

A Day Stitching with Mom

I had a precious memories of my Mom in my Sunroom Sewing Studio today.  Though she has been in Heaven for 5 years now, working with this sweet cotton print dress she made me when I was around 8 to 10 years old made it feel like she was in my Studio with me. While cleaning through EVERYTHING in our house in prep to move,  I came upon our ‘Dress-Ups’ in the basement, I collected these garments for a ‘someday project. ‘At that point, I found the picture of me in the dress as well! That ‘Someday’ arrived Today  as midnight is the deadline for entering a contest with Up-Cycling at Pattern Review.  Here are the garments I collected – basically because of color:

  1. Cotton print dress

  2. Gym suit from my junior high years

  3. Talbot rib knit top

  4. Jersey knit skirt from my daughter that had been chewed by their dog



Creative Design & Sewing Process

Walk with me through the process to create this modern-day tunic that ‘echoes’ the original dress. And yes, I’m wearing Pants, not skin tight white leggins.  NO white leggins’ on me out in public, thank you very much!


Inspiring Style

I always find it easiest to ‘get started’ if I identify a basic style framework.  Pinterest is my ‘go-to’ for those ideas and above at the right is that garment for this project.  The lowermost print skirt quickly was my dress’ skirt, and the solid top, my Talbot rib knit top.  Off to the races………

Neckline & Sleeve Design Decisions

I  feel the neckline is extremely important on a garment.  As I checked over the original Talbot’s rib knit top, it became obvious that I would need to change the neckline, as it had started to ‘run’ at the center back. I immediately had the thought that keeping or re-creating the original straps might be a precious idea, but I also considered a ruffle of the gym suit. If I used that darker color at the neckline I knew I’d have to also use it somewhere else to ‘connect’ and to bring that darker color down in the garment.  No decision being made, I went on. to trying on the Talbot top,  It was way too big and loose, so I put it on inside out to pin fit a size I liked for this tunic. The jersey skirt of my daughters (chewed by a dog) was also that dark color, so I played with those points for the sleeves.  I immediately liked that idea, and during a fitting, I played with tying those pointed ends into a knot which was a ‘WALA’ moment!    The sleeves do not span the entire armhole.  I utilized my Lastin Clean Finish technique for the underarm area, approximately from notch to notch.


I love designing with ‘red tape’ like they do on Project Runway, and you can see me using that in the photo in the middle above.  I defined the finished edge of the neckline and lowermost edge of the sweater.  On the shoulder, you can see the pocket from my gym suit on which I know Mom had ME do the embroidery.  The bow at the center front?  I love it because I could just feel my Mom’s fingers fashioning it and whipping it together.  However, placing it in its original location at the center front seemed way too childish.  I continued to play with where I might add these as interesting accents, but never came up with a place that didn’t seem corny or looked like I tried too hard.  Whispering in my ear is what I always teach:  “If in doubt, leave it OUT!”.  They will end up on a purse.  It’s too bad the contest deadline looms too quickly, so that purse will have to wait…


Finishing Design Plans

Where or where to incorporate the gym suit?  The collar was way too small in scale for my ‘today’ body.  Shucks!  I’d dreamt about using it most of the night before….  The waist with the snap closures still fit though!  Not at my waist, but at my midriff.  I figured since it was VERY tight that I could use some of other suit fabric to extend it… I cut the waist out of the suit, WITH a seam allowance at both top and bottom.  I love the elastic inner tight portion on the legs and thought perhaps those might be useful, so I cut them off.  I did consider them as sleeves, but not for long.  Now I know that they will be part of the purse I create next.


Here’s where I was up to at this point in the design process.  It was obvious that cutting the top and designing and cutting the skirt were the next tasks to tackle.  For the armhole, I got out my trusty basic T pattern:  Terrific T Top.

side bodice line


I truly believe that this is the ONLY garment in my possession that my Mom made for me as a child.  That’s kinda sad.  I’m going to be sure to lecture my daughter to SAVE at least some of the garments I make for my granddaughter.  I did save the important ones I made for my daughter as well, but she didn’t want the majority of them.  Most got sold on Etsy, but I was stubborn and kept a few.  I will take to her the smocked dress I made for her 1 year birthday when we visit for my granddaugter’s 1 year birthday next month.  Now that she really has a daughter, I bet she’ll kick herself she turned down ANY of those dresses.  I digress….. Anyway, as a tribute, I want to take a moment to give you a ‘tour’ of this home-sewn dress, as it is really quite precious.


Pinked seam finish


Raglan Sleeves with faced hem, and square corner of neckline with which she obviously struggled.


Waist AND Bustline darts about which I’m sure I was quite excited! Note the piped waistline – a touch I just bet she added to the pattern.


Double rows of stitching to gather this 108″ total width skirt to the bodice. I was picking out the thread remnants of those stitching lines even in the final pressing of my garment’s skirt!


Full 6″ hem which had been lovingly stitched with very tiny Tailor’s Hem stitches. I had removed them already when washing to try to get the hemline to disappear. The initial hemline crease remains….

The Flounce Skirt

It worked out absolutely PERFECTLY to have just enough fabric for a flounce skirt.  I knew I would like that look much better than a gathered skirt, as that would be way too “Little Girly”.  I do say that flounces are the Big Girls’ ruffle – and it is true.  Here is the skirt yardage I had – THREE 36″ wide pieces!  I had to measure my midriff, allowing some extra to be able to get this garment on over my shoulders and bust.  I went to my closet to measure the side seam length from armhole down to give me a finished length I knew I would like.  Holding that measurement up to my dress form wearing the ‘top’, I could figure how much length this flounce would need to have.  Armed with the How-To’s from my Flirty Flounces pattern, I created this newspaper flounce pattern. I am still absolutely AMAZED that the fabric available was EXACTLY what I needed for the skirt!  Mom was smiling down at me…


There ARE seams going every which way in the flounce skirt, but since it is a print, that is all disguised.  Once I stay-stitched the upper curve and clipped, I tested the ‘fit’ and it ripped a few inches down – EEKS!  That led to another inserted piece at the center back for a bit more width to enable actually putting this tunic on – and off! As I serged the seams of this skirt, I thought of how amazing Mom would have thought a serger to be back when she made this dress.  I have and use the serger she bought from me when I had my retail store.  She hated that thing as she could never ever seem to thread it.  I realize now, asking for help to thread it each time was probably just her way of getting me over to her house for a visit.  I am sad to realize now that the demand on my time of those shop years robbed me of many precious hours with my mom.  If only I could go back and change the past…..

Neckline Finish

With the skirt completed, it was back to finishing the neckline.  Ripping the waistline piping, I realized I had just enough for the front and back pieces, meaning I’d just have to re-create the piping for the sides of the square neckline.  The bodice of my dress offered the needed fabric, along with string from the kitchen for piping – which is exactly what it looked like Mom had used as well.  Lingerie straps to hold my bra in place were called for, AND found in my drawer, though I must admit that seeing to snap them is quite a challenge!


Gym Suit ‘Waist’ Band

Alas, the only place remaining for a touch of the gym suit was to piece together a band of that duck fabric for a transitional band between the knit top and the skirt.  I kept the snap front closure.  The looseness of the fabric construction allowed for some pressed in shaping and it is simply stitched on top.

Conclusion and Contest Voting

Sew…I’ve entered my first online Contest with this garment!  Voting starts June 3 and ends June 9.  Not that I need the prize, but winning would be … fun!  Hop over this link to enjoy the other entries and to vote – hopefully for yours truly.

I’ll conclude this lengthy sharing with the same words as on my contest entry.  Perhaps I’ll just start a contest of my own at my Creative Sewist Facebook Group!  First step:  Ask to join that Facebook Group.  Stay Tuned….  For a jumpstart, check out my pattern:  Upcycle Memento Tops. 

Now for my closing thoughts:   My goal in this type of sewing and sharing the process is to encourage others to keep/collect garments from their childhood as they become available in the process of cleaning out your parent’s homes. Also, as grandparents and parents, to save select special garments for the express purpose of creating a ‘Memento’ garment to be enjoyed for years and years to come.

Your Comments Below are appreciated and most welcome.  Share with me and others about your up-cycling experiences.


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