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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sewing With Thrifted Sheets!: Cation Designs Guest Post

Today's guest poster is Cindy from Cation Designs. I love reading Cindy's blog and discovering her innovative and creative sewn creations, as well as enjoying her humor and wit. Cindy is a science teacher by day and a sewing diva by night!
We share a love of sewing dresses from vintage patterns and thrifted fabrics. Cindy has been such an inspiration to me with her many dresses made from thrifted sheets. And they fit her so well too!
Read on......... I hope you will stop by and pay Cindy a visit after reading!

My very first sheet dress, which still gets worn!

I remember my heart speeding up when I opened my email inbox and saw Justine's message inviting me to be a guest poster here at SCC; this is the first time I've ever had the honor of contributing to somebody else's blog content! She asked me to write about a favorite summer sewing project. Unfortunately, if you ask anyone who knows me, I have a very difficult time picking my favorite anything, so instead of picking just one project, I thought I'd talk about my favorite source of sundress yardage, which is coincidentally also my signature fabric: vintage sheets from thrift stores! In the past year or so that I've been sewing seriously, I've made almost two dozen dresses out of sheets that I've "rescued" from the thrift store. And while several were made from plain solid-colored sheets, most were made from fun (and occasionally ridiculous) prints.

I realize, of course, that many people get the hibbly-jibblies at the thought of wearing clothes made from somebody else's old sheets, but I'm here to tell you that I've been wearing sheet dresses for a year now and have yet to show symptoms of any communicable diseases! Honestly, the amount of yardage for the average price just can't be beat, even if one is armed with Jo-ann's 40% coupons. Add in the fun patterns that can't be found anywhere else, and I think the negligible risk is totally worth it. So if you're interested in sewing with vintage sheets, here are some helpful tidbits that I've picked up in my adventures:

Finding sheets: The best places to find sheets are large thrift stores. Many smaller secondhand shops may not even have a home goods sections, instead focusing on clothing and shoes. It may take some poking around, but I assure you they're out there! You may also need to visit fairly regularly, as some weeks the sheets might all just be stained, polyester pill-monsters. Be patient, though, and eventually a gem will show up! If you are having trouble finding worthwhile sheets in large city stores, chances are surrounding small towns will have a better, less picked-over, more unique selection. For example, when I was living in San Diego, I didn't find much in the city proper, but regularly brought treasures home from El Cajon and Poway. My friend Shayna, who brings me my best sheets, found my Star Wars, Spiderman, and Seamstress' Rendering sheets in the small town of Yucaipa.

I was lucky enough to find these sheets in their original packaging!

Worth bringing home? When you do find a sheet that you like, unfold it as best as you can and check for stains, bare patches, holes, or rips. If there are trouble spots, you'll have to decide if you can work around them. Twin sheets may not be worth the fussy cutting, but the increased yardage of queen sheets (and the greater likelihood that they're been gently used by adults, not abused by toddlers in potty-training) is usually worth it. Oftentimes, fitted sheets will have worn thin in the middle, but the flat sheet is still in good condition. Once you've decided that the sheet is worth getting, expect to pay anywhere from $1 on a good day to $8 in a more upscale store. I average about $3/sheet, and many places will not charge more for a larger sheet.

Cleaning and storing: Once you bring the sheet home, you'll want to wash it as soon as possible. I've made the mistake of leaving them in my stash, and the thrift store smell only intensifies. Wash the sheet on hot to get rid of any ickiness, and if it smells extremely strongly, throw a cup of vinegar into the rinse water. If there are any stains or dirt on the sheet, you can try pre-soaking the spot with either dishwashing detergent, hydrogen peroxide, or a cold saline solution. However, chances are that you won't be able to remove it, as the sheet may have already been dried with the stain in it, thereby setting the stain in the fibers. I like to dry my sheets in the sun when I can, as the UV rays will kill any lingering germs. When you're sure that the sheet is dry, you can fold it up for storage with the rest of your stash. Or you can sew with it right away because you're so excited to use it!

Here's an example of a fun kid sheet that worked well for a sundress.

Fiber content and care: Most vintage sheets are 50/50 cotton-poly blends, so they'll be difficult to get a good crease on when pressing. The flip side of that is that they'll also resist wrinkling to a certain extent. Since they're usually tightly woven, you can even get away with just pinking the seam allowances if you don't have a serger. My Nothing But Blue Skies dress has held up just fine through many, many washes, and even then it was a fairly loose weave to begin with. The other good thing about sheet dresses is that they're meant to be machine-washable and be able to stand up to regular use and wear! Unless your sheet is especially threadbare or fragile, you can usually just toss them into the washer and dryer with no worries. There's also no shrinking or dye bleeding to worry about, either, since somebody else has done that work for you!

This very soft, Art Nouveau-esque queen sheet made an

Sewing clothes: Depending on your sheet's drape and hand, you'll need to pair it with your pattern appropriately. My older, smoother, obviously well-cared for adult sheets are drape-y enough for circle skirts and looser, body-skimming cuts, but kids' sheets are often "crunchy"-feeling because of coarser threads and weave, and are best suited for structured bodices or very full, gathered skirts that are meant to have a lot of body. Sheets in general also don't have a lot of give, so be careful to factor in enough ease to move your arms and breathe! Speaking of breathing, since most sheets have a pretty high polyester content, you may want to consider lining your dress with thin cotton if you don't want to have the poly next to your skin. 

Suggested wear: It's easiest to find pastel and bright-colored floral sheets; these make great sundresses, especially in vintage styles from the 50s and early 60s. Sheets from the 70s with more geometric or funky patterns may need to be sewn into a sleeker, less full dress in order not to overwhelm. And don't be afraid to work with crazy kids' sheets! I know not everyone is into superheroes or other media franchises, but I'm always excited to find boys' sheets at the thrift store because it's a way to make clothing that shows off my geeky side. And of course, if you really can't find Star Wars sheets at your thrift store, you can always buy new at a big box store (I must confess to being seriously tempted by the thought of an X-wing dress!).

All the geeky dresses I've ever made from boys' bedsheets: Superman, Batman, Star Wars, Spiderman, and Clone Wars.

Other: I know I keep blathering on about sheets, but don't overlook the possibilities afforded by curtains! It can be trickier to find them in breathable fibers, but it's not impossible.

And lest you think sheet dresses must always be crazy prints, here are some examples
of dresses I've made from plain blue sheets: Alice, Pan-Am, and Ondine.

I hope my tips and pictures of past projects help you feel empowered and inspired to use old sheets as a fabric source! I love how this unlikely fabric can be so helpful to so many parties at once -- to the thrift store beneficiaries (they are often run by charities that help various disadvantaged groups), to the environment (since you are reusing old fabric instead of buying new), and to your wallet (it usually ends up being about $1/yard, which is pretty hard to beat!). And as a bonus, you are unlikely to ever run into anyone else wearing the same dress!

Thanks for having me here at Sew Country Chick, Justine. I hope you enjoy your vacation!

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  1. Thank you for an exciting read. A woman after my own heart even though my thrifted material goes to other projects. I just loved all these beautiful dresses!

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. LOVE this! I have a passion for up cycling and I've been using sheets as dress liners for a while but haven't used them as the main fabric. I love your sense of style! I especially love the Star Wars dress - how cool!

  3. I am always on the look out for vintage sheets, I have a whole stash! I've used them mostly for bags, messenger bags or diaper bags, but I have seen more lately using them for dresses. Thanks for all the tips. Love your dresses...I am inspired!

  4. I love this idea. I've admired some nice sheets at the thrift store but never thought to make them into clothes. This is such a smart thing to do. Your dresses look amazing- well made and flattering and I bet, few people would guess they are made from sheets. I am guessing that you line them? Maybe with more of the same fabric? Again, I love all your dresses. You're an inspiration!

    1. Thanks! I would hope most people wouldn't be able to tell that my dresses are old sheets!

      Since sheets tend to have a higher polyester content than regular apparel fabric, I would recommend lining sheet dresses with a thin cotton for better moisture wicking. Something like cotton batiste or lawn, or even a thin 100% cotton sheet. I've also used pre-washed/pre-shrunk muslin on occasion.

  5. What a great guest post. I love the variety of dresses you made with vintage sheets and not just the huge foral prints.
    I particularly like the star wars one. My husband had those sheets as a kid and my son uses the quilt that came with it, but I have been unable to locate the sheets, so either they got rid of them or they are still hiding in our attic somewhere (I did find my SIL's smurf sheets the other day when up there).

  6. Love this post! My only question (I'm a beginner sewer) is how do you tell the difference between the straight and cross grain? Or does it not really matter?

    1. Honestly, I've never really paid attention to the straight vs. cross grain, and I've never had issues, so I guess it doesn't really matter! That said, on twin sheets I usually find the selvage along the long sides of the sheet, so I would wager that queen or king size sheets are analogous. For sheets with prominent figures (e.g. Superman), I was more concerned with having the figures go right side up instead of side to side.

    2. Good to know! :)

  7. What beautiful dresses! I love the way Cindy placed the designs on the dresses, from the stripes, florals and superman, wonderful job. Definitely a must follow bog. Thanks Cindy and Justine!

  8. Hey there, Cindy! I love your blog and it's nice to see you here at Justine's blog. I love creating with sheets, too, and people have commented on my blog that they think it's gross to wear someone else's used sheets, so I'm glad you were able to confirm to the readership that upcycling old sheets is not only thrifty, it canbe downright cool! Love your dresses!

  9. Such beautiful dresses!! Cindy is quite talented!! Thanks for sharing! xo Heather

  10. Oh much do I love this post!!!! Sewing with sheets is so fun and the craftsmanship of the dress is awesome. They fit perfectly! Just loved reading this and looking at all the fun photos. THank you for sharing.

  11. Well done, Cindy, you are so our kind of girl! :o)
    We use thriftstore find sheets for children clothing a long time ago. Recently I cut up two of those really big (queen or king sized) sheets, each of them was enough for a small collection of clothes! One of our readers just commented that she would like same funny and happy colored clothes so we'll try to make adult size cuties too, soon.

    Happy sewing!
    Zsuzsi and Kriszti from Hungary

  12. Dear Justine and Cindy,

    Since I just wrote a post about finding good fabrics in thriftstores, I hope, that you guys, don't mind that I made a short post with links to this post and to both of your blogs. :o)

    Here it is, although it's in Hungarian. the Google translator can help you to read it. :o)

  13. What a lot of beautiful dresses. LOVE the one with the clouds! I would never have guessed any of them comes from sheets, cool!

  14. I loved your post about beautiful dress made from beautiful vintage sheets!!!!!! brought back alot of memories of times I made dresses for my daughter when she was in school back in the 80's!!!!!!!! especially on a short notice, or for a special
    assembly at school. Mom, Im getting an award tomorrow in a special assembly, and I need something special. So I opened
    up my sewing drawer and tried to find something(since I didnt get paid for another week, ) I had to do something. She had worked so hard to get this award, I had to make it as pretty as i could. So needless to say all i had was white sheets!!! so I grabbed some colored ribbon, lace and started in. I really surprised my self of how it all turned out. she stood still while i pinned it, sent her off to bed and the next morning it was ready!!!!!!!! her face just lit up when she put it on. Was on top of the world!!!!!!!! I was at the special assembly, a surprise to her( I had already been asked to be there by her teacher, I just didnt let her know that i already knew about it) and as she walked out to receive her award
    I could hear different people make remarks about her dress. And being a single mom, that really made me feel good, and take a deep breath. she had a homemade dress that was just as beautiful as the store bought ones on stage. there was 2 moms came up to me and asked where I had bought her dress!!!!!! when her name was called to come up and receive her award, and she saw me setting in the front row, her face lit up like a christmas tree!!!!!! all she could say afterwards was------mom, I really dont know which made me more happy, my award or my new dress that you made for me. needless to say she wore that dress alot that year. her prom dress was alittle different, but no one was the wiser!!!!!!! that dress was really special for her and it made memories for her. she turned 50 yrs. old a few weeks ago, and she showed me a photo of "old-times"---------her special dress receiving her award. she told me, Mom, I may have forgotten alot of things thru the years, BUT I will never forget what we did that nite to get that dress done all in one nite, how did you do it? I told her-----mothers have ways!!!!!!!! I thought to myself, IF YOU ONLY KNEW!!!!!

    We can always do alot of things when you think you cant. AND you want a smile on your daughters face.

    I know this is a long comment, BUT reading this post just brought back alot of beautiful memories for me and alot of smiles. There are alot of gorgeous things that can be made from vintage sheets, ribbon, lace and most of all, a mothers
    loving heart .

  15. I love your dresses! I have a serious yen for some appropriately geeky clothes myself...Avengers, maybe, or Wonder Woman....Savers is calling me....gulp. :)
    Anyways, I noticed you used wovens in all your dresses. Would you recommend jersey sheets? Decent-quality knits are so costly. Jersey sheets do have a certain texture, though...Do you think they'd be okay, or better left on the rack?

    1. Grace, I only just now saw this comment, but in case you ever see this, I'll go ahead and answer your question.

      I've tried sewing with jersey sheets before, and they seem to be okay texture-wise, although some cheaper ones may pill eventually. The problem that got me was actually the grain; most of the jersey sheets I come across (whether thrift store or Big Box store) are pretty warped, as there's not really any good reason to keep them on-grain for a bed! I had to do some pretty serious re-stretching and checking while cutting to make it work, and by the end I decided it wasn't worth it. So I guess my answer boils down to, is the savings on cost worth more of your time?

  16. Bravo! Bravo to Cation Designs and the blog owner Ms. Sew Country Chick. I stumbled upon Cation Designs yesterday and fell in love. I mentioned to her how I was teased by a girlfriend when I saw a pretty apricot sheet that begged me to sew her into an a-line skirt. Fooey on her, I am making that skirt.

    It did a heart glad to read this topic. Your skills are the bomb dot com young lady.

    Keep 'em coming and stay tuned as I join you in this effort.

    Lyric of Sew and Cro


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