I’m a thrift shop enthusiast. Let me loose in a second-hard store, and I’ll treasure hunt for hours.
I recently came across one of my greatest thrifting scores, ever — a practically mint condition 1970s designer slip dress in black silk, fully lined.
It looked about Erin sized and the price was right, so I snatched it up without hesitation.
Following is the story about how I reconstructed this dress to fit my figure and, in the process, got a crash course in hand sewing, sewing with silk, high-end stitching techniques, and alterations.
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Sewist Meets Slip Dress
I bought this dress at a closet clean-out sale at Mount St. Mary’s University in Milwaukee. Mount St. Mary’s has a fashion program and a designer fashion archive, and the fashion department occasionally edits its collection by selling garments.
There was no place to try on clothes at the sale, which was held in a basement corner of an academic building. When I bought it — for $5 (!!!) — I didn’t know quite how it would fit.
I told the fashion student who checked me out that the dress looked about my size, and if it didn’t work out, at least I had some silk to play around with.
Who is Eva Chun?
The archival tag said the dress was from the 1970s, so it’s definitely older than I am (made in ‘81, baybee!). The designer is Eva Chun.
I did a wee bit of research on Chun. According to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, she was born in South Korea and attended design school in Los Angeles. She founded her fashion company in her living room after a Neiman Marcus buyer placed a big order.
Chun bowed out of fashion in 1994 when she became a mother and has since been a big player in the art scene in L.A, according to a New York Times article. In fact, she and Leonardo DiCaprio are longtime co-chairs of the Art + Film fundraising gala for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, of which she is a trustee.
You can find vintage Eva Chun dresses on eBay, Poshmark, thredUp, and The RealReal.
Silk Slip Dress at a Glance
This maxi dress has a mostly column silhouette, save for a slight narrowing at the waist and widening at the hip. When I measured the finished dimensions (in inches) they were:
- Bust: 32.875
- Waist: 34.625
- Hip: 36.25
It’s made of a black silk that I *think* is crepe de chine. (TBH I’ve never sewn with silk before and nor really shopped for it.) This silk has a plain weave, is basically matte BUT has a little bit of luster, and drapes magnificently. (If you know what this is, PLEASE leave a comment! TY!)
The dress is fully lined in a lighter-weight black silk, from the straps to the hem. Speaking of the straps, they are not separate pattern pieces; the straps are part of the front and back pattern pieces (respectively).
The lining is sewn to seam binding at the hem; there’s no visible stitching from the outside.
The closure is an invisible zip with a hook and eye in the left side seam. A center-back slit at the hem allows mobility. The slit is a little higher than the back of my knees.
The neckline is a not-too-low scoop, and the back also is a scoop that’s 2-3 inches lower than the front.
IMO, this slip dress is completely classic and completely seasonless — a real wardrobe cornerstone.
How to Make Dress Alterations
I worked on and off on these alterations for about two weeks, and I took videos at different points to record the process. (You can see the compilation of those vids above!) I also made notes about the best sewing supplies for the different steps.
Here’s how the alterations went down.
1.) Compare My Body to the Dress
I gave you the dress measurements above. I measure (in inches): 34.25 bust, 28.5 waist, and 38 hip.
When I tried on the dress (yes, I could get it zipped), the only area that wasn’t squished was my waist.
(You can see a before of the dress in the above sewing makeover video.)
- Helpful Tool: tape measure
2.) Calculate Adjustments
The seam allowances were about 1 inch, so I had a good amount of fabric to play with. Based on my calculations, I needed to add about three-quarters of an inch to each seam allowance, which meant the final seam allowances needed to be sewn at one-quarter inch.
To get this quarter-inch figure, I found the difference between my measurements and the dresses measurements. Then I took the difference and divided it by six, because the difference needed to be distributed between six seam allowances — four side seam allowances and two center back seam allowances.
Also of note: I think one-quarter inch seam allowances probably were the smallest SA I could sew, because if the SA’s got smaller than that, I was concerned the seams would be too weak for regular wear without a wardrobe malfunction.
- Helpful Tool: “Pattern Fitting with Confidence” is how I learned to divide and distribute width into seam allowances with the pivot-and-slide pattern adjustment method
RELATED: Pattern Fitting Tips for Woven Jogger Pants (Pivot-and-Slide Method)
3.) Unpick the Lining from the Dress Exterior
I removed stitches at the hem and zipper. I didn’t fully unpick the lining from the neckline, because most of the neckline would stay as sewn.
- Helpful Tool: seam ripper
5.) Unpick the Lining Side and Center Back Seams
La la la, unpick unpick unpick. After unpicking I pressed the fabric edges as flat as possible to make basting easier.
- Helpful Tools: iron, ironing board, press cloth
6.) Baste Quarter-Inch Seams in the Lining
Why baste? I basted all seams FIRST and then tried on the dress to see if it fit. If the quarter-inch seams worked, I’d sew over them with a short permanent stitch.
Back to the lining…
The lining was very shifty and very lightweight. To this end, I used A TON of pins; I was pinning about every inch.
I used a quarter-inch quilting foot to sew the seams. If you didn’t know, quilt seams are one-quarter inch. The quarter-inch quilting foot has a guide on which to move the edge of your fabric one-quarter inch from the needle.
For a gal sewing quarter-inch seams, this quilting foot was stupid useful! The main thing I liked about it, though, was that the foot opening for the needle is a small circle, similar to what you’d find with a straight-stitch foot.
The small needle opening is wonderful for sewing lightweight fabric. It prevents fabric from getting pulled into feed dogs and/or tangled with thread.
Another way to keep lightweight fabric passing smoothly under the presser foot and needle is to pull the bobbin thread up and to the left side (keep the top thread and bobbin thread together). If the bobbin thread is pulled out, it can’t get nested up in the throat plate-presser foot-feed dogs zone when you start a line of stitching.
Finally, for the ultimate in lightweight silk lining basting success, I used a smaller needle and sewed S-L-O-W-L-Y to always keep the fabric under control
- Helpful Tools: pins (for thin fabric), quarter-inch quilting foot, 75/11 sewing machine needle, straight-stitch foot
7.) Unpick Side Seams and Center Back Seams of the Dress Exterior
I pressed the fabric edges to make basting easier. I made sure to press the wrong side to protect the right side.
8.) Baste Quarter-Inch Seams in the Exterior
All the same lining basting tactics were applied.
9.) Try on the Dress
It’s time for the moment of truth!
The quarter-inch seams were just the ticket to making this dress fit, yay! P.S. When I tried on the basted dress, the zipper was not installed and the back slit was not sewn.
10.) Stitch Over Basting Stitches to Make Quarter-Inch Seams Permanent
For this I shortened my stitch length. The basting stitch was nice because it:
a.) showed me EXACTLY where the permanent seam needed to go; I didn’t need to watch a guide for perfect alignment
b.) held the pieces of fabric together so I didn’t have to pin them again!
11.) Press the Permanent Seams Open
So, pressing silk is tricky, because water weakens silk and can leave spots on silk.
My internet research recommended placing a damp cloth over the silk to be pressed and using an iron on low heat. The damp cloth plus iron create a lil’ bit o’ steam to press out those former one-inch seams.
I did a better job pressing the exterior fabric vs. the lining, because I don’t care much if the seams on the INSIDE of the dress don’t look perfect. I want the seams on the outside to look original to the dress. (That’s the goal, anyway.)
- Helpful Tool: cotton flannel cloth
RELATED: Buying an iron for sewing: 5 irons less than $100 from Amazon
12.) Add Seam Extensions to the Slit
When I reduced the seams to a quarter-inch, I took away seam allowance real estate that you’d normally stitch lining to. I was particularly concerned about how to sew the lining around the slit.
I consulted a seasoned sewing friend, and she suggested creating seam extensions around the slit out of a lightweight fabric, such as tulle or mesh. I would regain the lost seam allowance for easier sewing, and the lightweight fabric wouldn’t change the body of the exterior fabric.
I used black tulle from Joann and cut it into 1-inch-wide strips, and I sewed it to both the exterior fabric and lining. I sewed it with a tiny zig-zag close to the edge.
The big idea is that the lining and exterior will be joined together at the quarter-inch (seam allowance) fold, and the tulle extensions will be folded to the inside of the dress.
13.) Baste the Lining and Exterior Together at the Slit
I used a long running stitch, sewn by hand, to baste the fabrics together. It was a lot of delicate handwork, folding each fabric at a quarter-inch and arranging them so that the lining was encouraged to stay on the interior.
I found Wonder Clips helpful for holding the folds in place. Definitely easier than pins!
As I aligned the exterior and lining fabrics at the slit, I hung the dress to check my work and make sure everything was smooth and aligned.
- Helpful Tools: Wonder Clips, hand sewing needles, beeswax block (for thread)
14.) Hand Stitch Together the Lining and Dress Exterior
The basting made this as easy as it could be! I used a sort of slipstitch that (mostly) invisibly brought the edges of the folds together.
At this point I left the hem near the slit unfinished; it would be finished later.
15.) Install the Invisible Zipper in the Exterior Fabric
I was SUPER careful here because the seam allowances were so small — not impossible for zipper installation, but worthy of caution.
I pressed the quarter-inch seam allowance to the wrong side to give the fabric “memory” of the fold (and to give me a visual cue). I then drew a chalk line on the fold so I had another visual cue to help me place the zipper teeth. Then I basted the zipper in place before taking it to the sewing machine.
I sewed the zipper in the usual way using an invisible zipper foot (of course). I made sure to NOT RUSH. Everything turned out OK, I’m happy to report! It was one of my best invisible zippers yet (I actually don’t have a lot of experience with invisible zips), and it was installed with tiny seam allowances and in silk! Sewing achievement unlocked.
- Helpful Tools: Chaco marker, invisible zipper foot
16.) Hand Stitch the Lining to the Zipper Tape
Here I turned under the lining seam allowance, basted it to the tape, and gently sewed it to the zipper tape, making sure the lining was far enough away from the teeth so as to not get caught when using the zipper. The lining was originally hand sewn to the zipper tape, so this was a return to form.
17.) Hand Stitch the Lining to the Neckline and Armscye
I used a hand backstitch to understitch the lining to the interior seam allowance. I had to re-secure the lining to the upper part of the dress at the back neckline, right side seam in the armscye and left side seam above the zipper.
At this point I also sewed the hook and eye closure above the zipper.
18.) Sew a New Seam Binding to the Hem Raw Edge
This dress has a fancy hem that, IMO, you don’t see much anymore (at least not in everyday garments). Seam binding is stitched to the hem raw edge of the dress exterior. Then the exterior hem is turned up to the desired length and held in place by catchstitching between the seam binding and exterior. The catch stitching is invisible on the outside.
Finally, the lining is turned up so it’s shorter than the hem and catchstitched to the seam binding.
Because I increased the circumference of the dress, I needed new, longer seam binding at the hem. So I unpicked the old seam binding and sewed new seam binding (from my stash — got it at a flea market, I think) to the hem raw edge with my sewing machine.
- Helpful Tool: seam binding
19.) Sew the Exterior Hem in Place
Like I said before, the exterior hem is invisibly catchstitched. I kept the catchstitches fairly loose because I want the hem to move freely and not create puckers on the dress. This is an instance where a tight stitch IS NOT the preferred stitch.
Also worth mentioning: To get an even hem, the seam binding is lower at the front of the dress than at the back and sides. That’s because the front of the dress must accommodate a bosom, which pulls up the bottom hem.
20.) Sew the Lining Hem to Seam Binding
I turned up the lining hem and loosely catchstitched it by hand to the seam binding.
21.) Finish the Unlined Edge of Slit
The lining stops before the bottom edge of the dress, which means there’s a smidgen of the slit that’s unlined.
I finished this raw edge with a bit of binding made from the black tulle. I sewed a strip of tulle to the slit edge, right sides together. Then I turned the tulle to the inside, tucked under its raw edges, and hand stitched the tulle to the exterior. The hand stitching is invisible from the outside of the dress, and the whole slit, from top to bottom, has a clean finish.
22.) Finish Attaching the Lining to the Slit
There was a little bit of lining that wasn’t attached to the slit exterior, so I hand stitched it in place. Then I got to pull out the last bit of basting — SO SATISFYING!
Final Thoughts About the Black Eva Chun Dress
Overall, I’m glad with how the alterations went, and I’d call them a success. The dress fits my body with appropriate ease.
All things ‘90s, including slip dresses, have been having a moment for a while. Did you know that Closet Core Patterns recently released a slip dress pattern? This is a trend I can get behind.
I’m looking forward to wearing my dress styled for fancy AND casual occasions. I mean, a black maxi slip dress layered with an oversized sweater and combat boots? It’s my moment, fer sure.
I actually came around to hand stitching during this project, because there was A LOT of it. I found myself searching for “sew with me”-type videos on YouTube to keep me company during these hand sewing sessions.
That said about hand sewing… there are spots where I wish I had taken more time and care. The most obvious spot is the slit. The lining is a little lumpy/wavy at the edge, and that’s probably because the stitches are too tight.
I finished the dress on a Friday, and I thought all weekend about going back and redoing the slit hand stitching. In the end, though, I decided against it. I had other things to work on (sewing and non-sewing tasks), and I had given myself a deadline for the dress that I wanted to keep.
This time, good enough was good enough.
The last teeny-weeny thing I did was loosely tack the bottom corners of the lining slightly toward the interior of the dress. That way, they were less visible from the outside. And then any of that slit-edge lumpiness would be even less obvious.
This project gave me a crash course in the fundamentals of sewing silk, and in doing so, gave me the itch to sew this fabric again. I might try the Seamwork Cinnamon slip dress and camisole; I have some Seamwork credits burning a hole in my pocket… We shall see.
Over to you: If you were at a vintage sale and had seen a dress that was *almost/probably* your size, would you have snatched it up? How hard would you have gone on alterations? I’m curious if I’m some sort of cheapskate loony (verdict: almost certainly yes) who spent too much time on this dress.