Over the years, I have steadily amassed a lovely collection of vintage but some did not stand up well with the test of time. These “wounded birds” require a lot of TLC to revive them to be enjoyed for many mores years to come. Very rarely do I take on these big projects myself but when the most beautiful treasures come along, I feel compelled to take it under my wing. Late last summer I was very fortunate to come across this gorgeous vintage 3D floral applique dress, which is quite famous as the lovely Dita Von Teese owns one herself. Sadly, she was in very poor condition with the velvet flocking missing in many areas, several loose seams with a torn zipper therefore the seller decided it was too much for her to take on. Her loss was my gain…but I sure had a big undertaking on my hands.
The very first step was to ensure the dress was structurally sounds before focusing on the esthetics. I inspected every seam and zipper to confirm how much reinforcement was required. The front waist seam was letting go, the side zipper was ripped around the waist area and there was a tiny hole from the strain on the fabric. I suspect someone tried to force the zipper close meanwhile the dress was clearly too small for them. Although I am comfortable around a sewing machine, I decided to ask my mom for help as she knows zippers like a boss. Reinforcing the waist seam was super easy but the zipper mending took some finessing but we were successful. The zipper is sturdy again and fully functional despite missing one tooth on the track. Our inside patch job did the trick and cannot be seen from the outside. I’ll be sewing on a new hook and eye to replace the rusted one as well.
Now onto step two, esthetics! I consulted with the vintage community for recommendations on DIY techniques to restore the velvet flocking that was missing in several areas on the bodice and skirt. With a few suggestions in hand, I eventually landed on sourcing black flocking by the roll online. After watching tutorials and reading reviews on various brands, I decided to use “Silhouette Heat Transfer Material” from Craftdirect.com since no local stores carried it here. Once I had the Silhouette flocking in hand and compared it to the dress, I was confident it would be a good fit for the restoration project.
- To begin, I grabbed some trace paper and a fine Sharpie marker to create the stencils for the appliques. One by one, I traced the leaves on the bodice along with the branch located on the shoulder. Next, I traced the long branches on the skirt portion that were missing from the waist to the middle where the flocking was still present.
- After carefully cutting each stencil out, I then double and tripped checked on the dress to ensure they were correct.
- Since the heat transfer material is meant for a digital cutter, you only need to follow one very important thing…place the stencil on backwards, then trace! Make sure you have very sharp scissors for this part, I used hair scissors as they are more precise for this small detail work.
- TEST!!! Take your first applique and use a scrap piece of fabric to see if it will transfer correctly for your application.
- Using a hot iron (cotton setting, no steam), apply a piece of material over the heat transfer applique, and iron for 45-60 seconds. Let cool completely before trying to remove the protective plastic film. Success…now onto the real thing!!!
- Now trace all of your stencils onto (backwards) the roll of heat transfer material and cut them out very carefully, avoid any burred edges since that will show on the application. I suggest doing them one section at a time, it is less overwhelming that way.
- Take each applique and take the time to triple check that they match perfectly with dress. I had to painstakingly trim each one to mimic the original design, shaving off the slightest amounts to get them just right.
- Make sure all old flocking is scrapped off, I used my fingernails mostly to ensure the fabric would not be damaged. In some areas where there was a lot of patchiness, a sharp kitchen steak knife (not serrated) was necessary.
- Repeat steps 5-6 for each applique. Leave the protective film on until each section is complete to avoid damaging the new flocking.
As you can imagine, this is a very long tedious process and needs to be done precisely for the best results. Restoring the bodice portion of this beauty took approximately 3+ hours. One word of caution, make sure to clear away any heat transfer shaving from your project before applying the heat. This was a small mistake I made which resulted in tiny black marks on the cream fabric that I now have to treat as pesky stains. DOH!