Introduction: Refashioning Project - Boho Chic, Ethnic, Romantic Dress Made From an Old Skirt and Cheap Shift Dress

About: I live in a forest garden by the sea in an old Celtic longhouse in the Baie de Mont Saint Michel, France, which I share with Andy and our poultry. Before I escaped and became a happy peasant, I had three jobs …

This was a fun project to make and the reason for it was that I was the costume designer on a recent independent film, The Golden Goblet. Like many small independent film companies, budgets are tight but this suited me, as when I design and make clothes I like to upcycle fabrics and use a lot of vintage. I had a whole load of items hanging in my wardrobe and stuffed into drawers just waiting to be refashioned.

One thing I find particularly annoying is that traditional ancient festivals and holidays have moved away from the simple very personal idea of creating something original and enjoyable into something that is hugely commercial. There is also a great deal of waste involved too, so I thought I'd combine these two annoyances and offer this up as an antidote. After all a witch is not just for Halloween...

(The pictures above show the actress Rosie Willis on set in Scotland in full costume and make-up)


To make all the film costumes I first began to set up a picture/mood board to give me some added inspiration along the lines I had discussed with the director, i.e. that each costume should be references by a signature wild creature. For the 'old woman' I chose the raven. I set my boards up on Pinterest and there will be a link at the end of the Instructable, if you would like to take a look at them. As the film is based around an Estonian folktale, I decided to base the main dress on the Russian sarafan or traditional Eastern and Northern trapezoidal pinafore dress. This also meant I could use two pieces I already had in my wardrobe and which together would create not just a costume but a Boho chic ethnic gown that could be worn every day, to a party and/or make a great maternity frock.


Two items that I guarantee you already own or someone in your family or a friend has, hanging in a wardrobe, is a sheath dress and an embroidered and/or beaded skirt of some sort. These are standard items which flow in and out of haute couture and up and down the runway every couple of years and end up in various forms and manifestations in the high street or shopping mall. The silk sheath dress, pictured above, is one I bought over two decades ago from Next to Nothing Sale Shop in Birmingham U.K. for a couple of pounds. I've never worn it because like many of it's ilk, it is cut way too tight over the hips and there is no allowance in the seams to let it out. It was ideal however for what I wanted.

The skirt was a present from years ago and the lining was very worn, It was from Atmosphere, Primark and though minus some beads and embroidery, with the way I was going to cut it, I realised I would be able to repair anything missing from the remnants. I calculated that I could cut at least two if not three inserts from it to fill out the skirt of the sheath dress and that there would be enough left over to make reasonably full, leg o'mutton sleeves. An added advantage was the colour which was a great match and broke up the rigid lines of the stripes on the sheath dress.

Step 1: Cutting the Skirt As a Fabric and Making the Sleeves


I cut my three inserts from the front of the skirt, thus exhibiting the best of the beadwork for the hem of the dress. I then cut the sleeves from the back of the skirt, with the sleeves and the inserts running in opposite directions on the fabric. Thus I used the gathered sections of fabric, which made up the waistband of the skirt to full effect. In the former case this was to create the triangular side and back pleat and in the latter to create the cuff of the sleeve and the leg o'mutton top.


I just used an old sleeve pattern that I liked but it would have been as easy to cut the sleeve out simply by eye, as the back of the skirt, once folded makes a natural sleeve shape! You can see how the cuff forms by itself and the leg o'mutton top is a natural progression from the shape of the skirt.

I eased the top of the sleeve into the sheath armholes, neatened the cuffs and embellished them with a hem ruffle from an another defunct old skirt in the same tones. As you can see I toyed with the idea of using a fake fur remnant left over from a wolf puppet but eventually settled for real chicken feathers from my own poultry.

However, I did use a fake fur motif on one cuff and on the other one, added a few of the beads from remnants of fabric from the front of the skirt.

(I used an adjustable pallet wood dummy Andy had designed and made and the link to that will be at the end too.)

Step 2: Making Up the Dress.

Adding the Skirt Sections to the Sheath Dress

In the case of this silk sheath dress, I fully expected it to be cut to the absolute limit to save on fabric and therefore costs, so adding the gussets was an ideal way of modifying it to fit.

As already explained, I had decided to split the silk sheath dress to the hip on both side seams but I found that the length of the gusset or insert made from the whole length of the skirt was just a few centimetres short. I therefore, cut some triangular pieces out of remnants from the skirt back and embellished them with a few beads to match up with the design on the hem. I also added another row of embroidered stitching.

Here you see me easing these latter into the sides of the dress. As I mentioned before, typically the front panels of the skirt are more luxuriously embellished, here with bugle beads, some of which were missing and I replenished from remnants. These beads also added some weight to the finished frock's hem, improving both the way it hung and the way I envisaged it would look when Rosie moved.

I then fitted the gusset at the back of the dress by opening up the back seam, this again added weight and movement to the final costume.

This then is the pinafore dress/skirt sheath fusion, before I started adding the elements to make a complete costume but quite ready to be worn out on the street or to a party. The trapezium-shaped shift was also a traditional maternity dress, so here too you have the chance to make a chic, romantic party frock from refashioned presently unwearable garments.

Step 3: Accessories, Links and Film

The rest of the costume comprised a chatelaine, (you can see part of this in the previous pictures) a feather collar and a hat and veil. These I am in the process of writing up on my blog and will publish here asap.

The link for my Costume Inspiration Board on Pinterest

The one for the Pallet Wood Dress Form - on Instructables

The blog article that accompanies this project Refashioning Project - Boho Chic, Ethnic Gown. A skirt and sheath dress fusion

and the film

All the very best from Normandie, Pavlovafowl aka Sue