A Great Little Fixer-Upper


This dress jumped out at me at my local Goodwill a few months back — I thought it was Liberty. (It looks very Liberty-ish, doesn't it?) It's not — the name on the label is "Isabella Bird," which seems to be a possibly-discontinued brand of A Territory Ahead. (Named after this Isabella Bird, perhaps?) 

It was only $5, so despite being not-Liberty, I grabbed it. And it has hung in my sewing room for yonks, because as pretty as it is (and as well as it fits!), it didn't have pockets.

Now it does:


(Sorry for the fuzzy picture.) 

The pockets are white batiste. It was easy-peasy to put them in — this dress zips up the back, so all I had to do was unpick the side seams, add pockets, and then sew things back up. It took (including cutting out the pockets, doing the seam-ripping, and sewing) about an hour.

I've been working on more of these fixer-uppers lately, because doing so reduces the number of useless objects in my house (if I can get them back into wearing rotation) and because it's faster than sewing something new from scratch. It's also less stress: if I screw something up or it turns out to be unfixable, well, I wasn't wearing it anyway! And it can go to the ragbag or right back to the Goodwill.

It's surprising (to me) at how satisfying it is, though, when these projects do turn out well — I usually hate alterations. (It probably helps that some of my other recent fixer-uppers have been dresses I made long ago that now fit again … I've been mostly upgrading the zipper/pocket combos in those, too. I'll try to post more pics soon.) 

Anyone else on a tear of renovation-sewing lately? I still refuse to alter anything tailored, but just about anything else seems like fair game!

 PS It turns out that this exact dress is up on eBay right now. Sans pockets, of course, but they're so easy to add … 

15 thoughts on “A Great Little Fixer-Upper

  1. Lovely dress, and great idea to add the pockets. I’ve recently gone through my entire closet, and dragged everything to the work pile that didn’t fit exactly the way it should–it’s revamping time. Definitely faster than sewing from scratch, and a fun project too.


  2. I love it when turning something from a ‘I’d like this except for’ into a ‘oh yeah!!!” The fact that all it required was in-seam pockets is great. My usual problem is lack of sleeves…


  3. I’ve been doing a lot of fixer-uppers lately, too. I had a baby last year and started law school (in addition to keeping my day job), so fixer-uppers are about all I can fit into my schedule. I used to hate those kinds of projects because they were not inspiring, but now I love them because I feel a sense of accomplishment in such a short amount of time.


  4. Love this little dress. Your addition of pockets is impressive, and I’d like to do some. Do you have a source for good (easy) directions on adding pockets to dresses & skirts? I’m assuming there have to be side seams, and I grasp that you somehow open the side seam, add a pocket you’ve cut, and then sew the seam back up. But exactly how does all this magic take place? Would love to have a link to directions!…Thank you for your wonderful blog, which I read every week!


  5. My re-style project of late has been to take a wide leg and too short pair of black pants with good fitting hips and taper the legs to make them Audry Hepburn style capri pants (yea!).


  6. Have been recently restyling garments (most of them from thrift stores) for my 21-yr-old daughter. She’s lost over 30 pounds this summer, and is excited to try new styles. Thank goodness she spends her tiny salary at Goodwill instead of at the mall, for “maybe” wardrobe purchases!


  7. I try to alternate fixers with new sewing, but I admit I have a daunting backlog of both right now. I do love that nearly-instant gratification of making a small change to an existing piece. Also, with the price of fabric, it seems I can get three or four dresses from the Goodwill 50% Saturday for the price of one hand-made of quality materials. And there’s definitely much to be said for renewing and recycling existing products. Still, nothing beats the satisfaction of an entirely new, custom-fit garment you’ve created from scratch. It’s nice that we have the skills that give us all these choices.


  8. I would love to do this, but sadly my sewing room has become the “junk room” that unfortunate place that the rest of the family drops stuff they don’t want in their own rooms. I like the idea of recycle/renewing existing dresses though. I don’t know how Tea (sp?) is doing it all with a baby, school, work etc. I will be starting school next week to get a degree in Art, plus I’m working and of course my family. Way to go and kudos to her 🙂 Great fix to a very pretty dress Erin!


  9. Thank you, Erin, for the link to the tutorial! It is excellent! I have both bookmarked and printed it. It is just what I needed, and I can see lots of pocket additions in my future. I enjoy your blog VERY MUCH. Thank you for sharing with us! It pleases me to know you are both a sewer and a wordsmith; I’m a librarian, so there you go;-)…Thank you again for all, Erin!


  10. Very cute! If it were my dress, (because I like strong colors) I would add an edging in a sharp color (like color dissonance – a step away from clashing) and accessorize with a great hat or head decoration of some sort.


  11. I have a lot of fixer-uppers I need to work on but for some reason I procrastinate on those worse than anything. But I did finally start one. This dress I’m working on has a print skirt and solid bodice. In a moment of extreme stupidity I bought a cotton/poly blend fabric for the bodice. It was the right color so I told myself “Don’t be a fabric snob.” Turns out it is so horribly uncomfortable I can’t wear it. So after years of hanging in my closet I’m finally replacing the bodice with 100% cotton.


  12. I’ve been enjoying quick fixes too. In the past I’ve even got a high from…. mending??!!! for a little while. My quickies lately have been turning my favorite pair of RTW slacks (with horribly shabby, worn knees) into a pair of shorts and making my old RTW shorts a little more modern by making the legs not so flared. Next I’m going to adjust some sleeves on a blousy t-shirt. It’s nice to fix things to make them more appealing to wear. I have too many things that I bought on the spur of the moment and don’t LOVE wearing them so they hang a lot and only get worn occasionally out of obligation too. Maybe I can do some fixing of them.


  13. I’ve been trying to get through my mending and easy alterations (11 down ,who knows how many -at least a laundry basketful-to go!).
    BTW I highly recomend trying Sharpie markers on pulled threads in silk or polyester blouses.I had a nasty catch on a poly peasant multicolor [black,brown,teal,white,grays,olive greens] blouse right over the left breast.I snipped off the pulled threads and used various different markers to hide the flaw.
    Hope this can help someone else save a favorite-thought-to-be-ruined garment.


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