Charity Sewing,  How To,  Sewing Tips

Empire Angel Gowns: part 2

Recently I posted about up-cycling vintage wedding dresses to sew “Empire Waist” angel gowns for preemies, that are more fancy and embellished than traditional angel gowns. One question I received was “How many of these can you get from one wedding dress up-cycle?”

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The quick answer is “Not as many, since more fabric is required.” However since some of the hospitals that I work with ask for the fancier gowns, I challenged myself to see how many Empire gowns I could get out of the wedding gown shown before:

Can you guess how many? Follow along and I show you what I did to maximize the use of this stunning donated gown.

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The first step is to dissemble the gown as much as possible. Yes it’s easier to use the already-embellished parts “as is”, but the trade-off is that you may not be able to squeeze out as many angel gowns. For example if the hemline has a beautiful lace edging but the fabric is cut at an angle towards the train, it may be more useful to remove the edge-lace from the back area and then stitch it back on after the new little skirts are cut:

Next, plan out how many baby skirts you can get from the original skirt. Of course this depends completely on the original dress style, also on the structure of the fabric. Heavier fabrics might only be able to gather up 1 1/2 times to stitch onto the bodice, whereas softer/lighter weight skirts can be gathered more tightly. This is a bit of a guessing game, but time invested in careful planning will help you get the most out of the dress. I suggest taking the Empire skirt pattern from the previous tutorial and making adjustments
for each new donated wedding gown that you work with. For this particular gown I was able to squeak out 5 gathered skirts:

Next cut out the bodices. These can be cut from the scraps of the original gown’s skirt, as well as the sleeves, and even the back bow if there is one. Be sure to keep them on grain, or else they will be quite difficult to stitch together. I fit in 8 bodices.

Of course this means that there was an opportunity to create more angel gowns if there was more skirt fabric. In the spirit of up-cycling, I used a vintage jacquard-weave cotton tablecloth to make 3 additional skirts. Hint: it’s extremely difficult to find fabric that will exactly match a vintage wedding gown. It’s almost always easier to use something in the same color category but with a different texture, to coordinate rather than match. An allover lace is perfect, an allover embroidery, tulle, etc. all work well.

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The next step is to cut linings for all of your bodices and skirts. I prefer to up-cycle vintage cotton bed-sheets, which are readily available at thrift shops, sometimes even brand new in packages (I always wash them before using of course). Where I live they usually cost under $5 each. (Some hospitals do insist on cotton flannel so be sure to ask).

Once all that is done, you can “Ice the cake”! The creative visual challenge is to utilize the original laces and embroidery details to get the most out of them, while keeping them in proportion to the tiny gowns. I find it easiest to concentrate first on the bodices:

…and then use what is leftover to embellish the skirts. What if there isn’t enough trim leftover to decorate the skirts as you would like? Feel free to add complementary trims from your sewing stash. Ebay is a good source for vintage factory-stock trims:

Once all of bodices and skirts are lined, then mix and match the bodices-to-skirts, and finish stitching per the directions in the previous post.

So now do you want to see all EIGHT of the angel gowns I was able to maneuver out of the original wedding dress? Here they are:

PS: Another question I sometimes get is “Isn’t this getting expensive, if you add in the cost of the Velcro, thread, lining, extra trim?” and the answer is yes…although the bigger cost is usually storage and packing and shipping. Personally I use the profits from my little Etsy shop to finance my charity-sewing hobby.

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For sewing groups, one possible source of funds is to rent out the newer wedding gowns that are donated. I know of one Angel Gown group that does this ( Eve Foundation).
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I would never cut up a current-style wedding gown anyway, if it looks like a gown that a contemporary bride would wear. If I’m shopping at thrift shops, I leave the new gowns on the rack. If someone wants to donate a current dress to me, I suggest giving it to Brides Across America instead. It can always be cut up later, after it’s been worn a few times.

Please feel free to ask questions or give suggestions!

Happy sewing,

Janet

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