Published on March 5th, 2012 | by Julie Finn3
Project Show-and-Tell: A Child’s Rainbow Dress (with Detachable Wings) Sewn from Prom Dresses
Each year for our town’s Trashion/Refashion Show, my younger daughter and I have a system: she designs the outfit of her dreams, together we thrift or scavenge the clothing that we can repurpose for it, I sew it for her, and she models it on the runway.
I would never lie and tell you that I am an expert seamstress. I sew very well, but dressmaking is not my passion, and therefore there are a lot of fiddly bits and details of dressmaking that I just don’t know yet. Nevertheless, I’d do anything for that kid of mine, and armed with six rainbow-hued thrifted Prom and bridesmaid dresses, a ruffler foot for my sewing machine, and not a little hot glue, I made Sydney’s Rainbow Fairy Dress a reality. Here’s how:
I started with a thrifted red velvet sleeveless dress in Sydney’s size, and I hacked off the skirt about four inches below the bodice, hemming it as the first ruffle in the rainbow series. I used the extra skirt fabric to add short sleeves to the sleeveless dress, simply by looking through all of my shirt patterns in Sydney’s size and using the sleeve pattern that fit best when basted as a muslin to the armscye.
I debated lots of ways to make a skirt of cascading ruffles, but thanks to whichever beautiful, bounteous bridesmaid donated her violet dress to Goodwill, I had so much purple fabric that I finally decided to cut it off from the bottom, keeping the existing bottom hem, and sew each of the layers of cascading ruffles to that skirt.
Each cascading ruffle started off as a pieced together length of 8.25″ fabric, as long as I could make it by cutting apart each Prom or bridesmaid dress. I hemmed both long ends, sewed the two short ends together, and, using a ruffler foot, gathered each piece until it matched the width of the skirt. Using chalk, I marked the placement of each cascading ruffle, pinned it well, and sewed it down so that each ruffle would overlap the one below and would descend in rainbow order. I then gathered the violet underskirt at the top edge and sewed it to the lining of the red bodice.
I used the same method to sew the bell sleeves for the dress, cutting each piece to 3.75″ wide (before hemming) so that the hem would fall at Sydney’s wrist, and making each successive ruffle only a couple of inches longer than the preceding one, to limit the final width of the sleeves.
For the rainbow wings, my partner duct taped two big wooden hoops together and covered them in stash tulle. I handed my daughters the hot glue gun, a pair of pinking shears, and all the leftover fabric from the Prom and bridesmaid dresses, and together they created their own feathery, piecemeal, rainbow masterpiece. The whole contraption is surprisingly light (lighter, even, than her wire hanger and cashmere sweater wings of last year), and so I tie it to her back with two shoelaces.
The fun thing for me about these projects is that this dress is something that I would never choose to sew on my own–honestly, to me it looks like Rainbow Brite puked out a Prom dress. But I get to sew exactly what I want almost all the time. My five-year-old, she may get to choose one of the flannel prints for her pajamas, or decide which of three pants patterns she’d prefer, but it’s so rare that she has the privilege of designing EXACTLY what she’d like to wear, and I have the wonderful challenge of constructing it for her.
On just this occasion, if she wants to look like a violently ill Rainbow Brite, then by golly, she gets to look like a violently ill Rainbow Brite.