Dress makeover: church dress to cocktail dress

This dress needed a makeover. It belonged to my mom and she only got to wear it once or twice before she died. I wanted to keep it for myself—with a few changes.

The basic shape of it was good but I didn’t like the cap sleeves, neckline and that awful corsagey flower thing. And that pale pink color really washed me out.

So my plan was to remove the cap sleeves, lower the neckline, ditch that horrible flower and dye the dress a more flattering color. What made this transformation complicated were the strips sewn all over. I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to deal with them.

Closeup of dress before makeover

Closeup of dress before makeover

In fact, I wasn’t sure any of this was going to work, especially the dyeing since I had never dyed synthetic fabric before. But I really had nothing to lose so I dove right in.

Altering the dress

The first thing I did was to remove the offending flower decoration.

Flower decoration removed from dress

Flower decoration removed from dress

That felt SOOO good!

Then I ripped out the stitching from the strips of fabric at the top of the dress. I left the rest of them attached. They were hanging all over the place and kind of got in the way.

Strips being detached from dress

Strips being detached from dress

I cut the cap sleeves off and cut a new neckline. This was a little tricky because the neckline was asymmetrical. I had to try the dress on a couple of times and make pencil marks for the cutting line. Basically I wanted the neckline symmetrical and as low as possible.

I also had to take in the sides a smidgen.

With the alterations done, the next thing was to redrape and reattach those strips. I pinned everything in place, cut off the excess and then hand stitched them back on.

Altered dress before facings sewn back on

Altered dress before facings sewn back on

When all that was to my liking I reattached the armhole facings. I was able to reuse the existing facings.

The neckline was another story. The back facing was fine but I had to make a new front facing from excess fabric. I used fabric from the flower decoration. It was cut on the bias so it worked perfectly.

And here’s the dress after all the sewing was done.

Dress after alterations with facings attached

Dress makeover: after alterations

Dyeing the dress

With that being done, all that was left was the dyeing. I happened to find some dye meant for polyester and nylon. The color I chose was called violet.

When choosing dye it’s best to stick to the same color family which in this case was a darker pink, red or purple.

Note: The directions on the package say not to dye fabrics that are marked dry clean only. I completely ignored that because I know synthetic fabric can be washed. It doesn’t shrink like natural fabric does. Often the ‘dry clean only’ warning is used on washable fabrics because of tailoring, like a structured jacket, or certain types of embellishments, like the flower detail.

The directions called for using a large ceramic or stainless steel pot and boiling the fabric for at least a half hour. Once used for dyeing the pot can’t be used for cooking anymore. I wasn’t about to sacrifice one of my nice pots and I didn’t have a big enough pot anyway so I used the washing machine.

I did use my nice stainless steel pot to boil water though. I had to do it three or four times before there was enough water in the washing machine. It stayed REALLY hot the whole time.

Boiling hot water in washing machine

Boiling hot water in washing machine

Finally I was able to add the dye being careful to empty the packet close to the water. Even so, a few little particles managed to float around and get on my white cabinets and wall. I wiped them off before they stained.

I wore rubber gloves and used a paint stick to stir the dye. Then I took the dress, which had been previously soaked in water, and placed it in the washing machine.

The directions called for constant stirring for 30 to 60 minutes. I used the stick but also had to use my hands to move the dress all around. I stirred for 30 minutes.

Dyeing dress in washing machine

Dyeing dress in washing machine

This was a really nice steamy project to do on a hot summer day—NOT. Oh well, I didn’t want to wait ’til winter so it had to be done.

Having dyed fabric before, I knew the dress would come out lighter after it dried (if it took the dye at all). To get the same color on the package I would have had to use twice the amount of dye, but I was okay with that. Anything was going to be better than that ghostly pale pink.

This is what the dress looked like after being dyed.

Dress dyed but not washed yet

Dress dyed but not washed yet

After 30 minutes, I put the washer on the spin cycle to get rid of the excess water. Then I washed the dress with detergent on warm/warm setting for a medium sized load.

The final result is more of a lavender/medium purple. And I love me some purple so I’m happy.

Dress makeover: after dyeing

Dress makeover: after dyeing

I put the dress on a hanger to air dry while I cleaned the washer.

I ran the washer set for an oversized load with detergent and a cup of bleach using the same warm/warm temperature setting. Afterward just a little wiping around the top with paper towels and glass cleaner finished the job.

Before and after photos

Let’s take a look at the dress makeover as it went from a church dress into a cocktail dress.

I’m glad that’s done. Time to party!

Related topics

Sewing tutorial: fabric cuff bracelets

New pillowcase designs for women