Upcycled Denim Trench Dress: Conquering a Rough Patch(work)

I was eager to pursue fashion after sewing my first upcycled project. I researched Seattle’s fashion scene and found Chance Fashion, a non-profit which organized monthly runways for new or up-and-coming fashion designers. I saw an Alternative Fashion & Clubwear runway on their calendar and paid to reserve my spot immediately. I sketched out a mini collection featuring upcycled, recycled, and non-conventional looks but miscommunications and misleading e-mails led to forfeiting my spot. I was devastated and avoided my sewing machine for months. When I found my sketches again, something clicked – why wait for an opportunity when I could make my own?

The original design featured more directional variation of the houndstooth pattern but I opted for a simpler approach.
Especially considering this was my first wearable garment.

I wanted to create my favorite look from the collection; a trench coat dress made of patchwork denim. The original concept took the familiarity of a denim jacket and elevated it to an unexpected place – a trench coat dress. I decided a denim trench dress wasn’t bold enough so I decided to patchwork my favorite pattern, houndstooth, in varying shades of denim. Admittedly this wasn’t a beginner-friendly project, especially for my first garment, but I’m not exactly one to “play it safe”. I easily learn with a hands-on approach, so I was ready to conquer this project despite its difficulty.

I hadn’t discovered the magic of a rotary cutter. I can’t believe I traced every shape and cut them all out with scissors.

After sorting the design logistics of the trench dress, I started by making a muslin template. I also drew a houndstooth template onto thick poster board so I could trace the pattern on denim. Looking back, I wouldn’t recommend this approach for a houndstooth pattern. I should have broken the houndstooth shape into four vertical parallelograms, which would create a houndstooth shape when sewn together. Sewing the sharp interlocking corners of a single houndstooth shape resulted in some puckering that the eye is immediately drawn to. I plan to tackle another project for my houndstooth redemption in the near future.

Moments after taking this photo, the sense of accomplishment was replaced by the weight of amateur design flaws.

I was ready to choose a color story after the houndstooth pieces were cut. I landed on a 2 x 2 repeating color scheme and immediately started sewing shapes into columns. After finishing every column, I ran into miscalculations, requiring 3 more houndstooth shapes per column. Even worse, I didn’t have enough matching denim to continue the same color scheme. Quick problem solving led to seam ripping columns to insert white and gray houndstooth pieces, expanding the 2 x 2 color scheme into a 3 x 3. It was quite a happy accident since I loved this color story more than the original plan.

The final color scheme is further proof that success comes from failure!

I disassembled my muslin trench dress into panels, pinned the panels to the patchwork fabric, and trimmed the fabric to match the panels. I sewed the patchwork denim panels together to reform the trench dress, added a lightweight polyester lining, and added solid black trim to its edges to give the garment extra definition. I feel the solid lines help the eye interpret the form of the trench dress, especially where the busy patchwork patterns would have overlap. I’m so thrilled with the finished product, especially considering this was my first wearable, upcycled garment.

Sneak peek into the photoshoot with my friends: Jenna James (photographer) and AJ (model).

In hindsight I should have tailored this trench dress to improve its appeal when photographed. Tailoring seemed so intimidating and I was worried I’d ruin the trench dress in ways I couldn’t fix. I had a photo shoot scheduled in the near future and I didn’t want to indefinitely postpone because of my amateur mistakes. Before I knew it, I was wandering downtown Seattle with a photographer shooting a model dressed in my denim trench dress. It was such a surreal, educational experience and sharing it with my friends only made it that much better.

*This blog post was originally hosted here on August 21, 2018. It has been re-written, with new images as part of a rebranding of What’s Upcycle.

One response to “Upcycled Denim Trench Dress: Conquering a Rough Patch(work)”

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