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Living a Semi-Handmade Holiday: Part 1


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” So begins the opening of Charles Dickens novel, The Tale of Two Cities. While you may not be able to recite the entire first paragraph, you surely know the first two lines. Why? Because storytelling is powerful. Appealing to both our emotions and our intellect, we remember stories more than data, facts or figures. Successful companies and people harness the power of stories to be more persuasive, move people to action and progress their careers.


There are many ways to tell a story. While words are most likely the first thing you think of, moments are also powerful story makers. Some of those stories are like a Jane Austen novel – worth remembering – while others are like Herman Melville’s Moby Dick – total drag. Seven hundred pages of searching for the whale, studying the whale, obsessing over the whale and then “We-discovered-the-whale-and-it-threw-us-overboard!” The end. Wait, what?

Garments tell stories as well. While newly-bought, ready-to-wear clothing have a short history, vintage, upcycled and self-stitched clothing have a deep and rich parable to tell. Within their seams lies a record of experiences and people who have worn them, partied in them, cried in them, slept in them and more. As a hardcore seamstress, these are the stories I like to read and write, metaphorically speaking.

If you are a part of the Flanigan family, the holidays always make epic stories. It’s an obligatory, forced family fun situation that no brother, sister, father, mother or even pet can get out of. Believe me, I’ve presented the option, and my dad presented me with a plane ticket home. Thanks dad. In the past, I’ve allowed the chaos of Christmas to deter me from making gifts. As a self-proclaimed selfish seamstress, the only things I stitched in December were my holiday outfits. But this year, I’m different. More philanthropic. I want the story of Christmas 2015 to involve less mass manufacturing and more handcrafting. That doesn’t mean I will make everyone everything from scratch. Puh-lease! I have 2 yards of paisley wool knit that is dying to become a skirt before December 24.


The first project of several in my semi homemade quest is my attire. Did I already mention that I’m a selfish seamstress? I promise there is some juicy construction bits and bobs in this post and after, we can get on to my philanthropic ways. Deal?

On Christmas Day, there are three outfits we ladies wear. There are the jammies worn that morn while opening presents, there is the holiday outfit worn to dinner that evening, and there is the outfit worn in between. Outfit number 1 and number 3 are figured out. It is outfit number 2 that was undecided. Always in Florida for the holidays – it’s where I’m from and where my family still lives – I’ve struggled with looking festive while being climate appropriate. The solution? Hot pink. It’s the close sister of red, which is synonymous with all things St. Nick, and it is also tropical.

This year, I found a vibrant, vintage knit dress on Etsy that fit the bill. Size 16? Not a problem. Made of a heavy knit similar to ponte, the story that lied within its seams got interesting when I started to take it apart. Any sewer will attest that clothing is not made the way it used to be; old clothes have construction details that were ditched when mass manufacturing took over garment making. As I was taking off the armhole binding so that I could reduce the side seams, I found a lightweight tape inside. Modern day sewing tells sewers to stabilize an armhole by simply staystitching, and prior to seeing this method, I never considered doing it differently. Adding that technique to my arsenal stat. In the end, I couldn’t use the binding because when I recut the armhole, the circumference increased and the binding wasn’t long enough. So I replaced it with gold, store-bought binding gifted to me by Katy & Laney. Thanks gals!

Now that my outfit is on lockdown, what’s next? The gifts I’m making for my family – ties and tees – and how I’m teaching two women at work how to make a holiday skirt. Stay tuned!



  1. Reply


    Love your outfit! Your sewing blog is one of my favorites. I love how you express yourself. Have a wonderful Christmas holiday!

    • Reply


      Thank you! What a sweet comment. I hope you have a great holiday season as well!

  2. Reply


    Absolutely gorgeous dress! I love your minimalist tree as well. Merry Christmas!

    • Reply


      It’s a little Charlie Brown, but I love it!

  3. Reply

    Mary Behrens

    Love the dress. Is the lightweight tape in the armhole bindings narrow twill tape?

    • Reply


      I’m not 100% sure what it is. It looks like twill tape, but it’s not as thick. Do you have any idea and/or resource of where it’s sold. I need to use this technique going forward!

      • Reply

        Mary Behrens

        I have some 1/4″ twill tape that is not heavy like the wider tapes that I used to stabilize some paper wearable garments I worked on some years back. It’s strong but lightweight. I think I bought it from Banasch’s in Cincinnati but I am sure there are lots of suppliers out there. It makes so much sense to stabilize with the twill tape because it would help the armholes hold their shape and not stretch out. I hadn’t ever thought of doing anything other than staystitching. But seeing this post has given me something to think about.

        • Reply


          Thank you Mary! I see that Banasch has an online shop. I’ll reach out to them and ask if they stock this particular tape.

          • Janee

            I often use the selvedge of silk organza as a stablizer – it would probably work beautifully for this.
            Love your dress! Merry Christmas –

  4. Reply


    Lovely dress! The print is awesome! But I have to say that I’m a staunch defender of “Moby-Dick”… I think it’s really beautiful and inspiring (but of course, I understand that it’s not for everybody). 🙂

    • Reply


      To each his/her own! If you love it, great! I’m more of a Pride and Prejudice type of gal! 🙂

  5. Reply


    This dress is perfect for this time of year, but will also carry through well to other time of the year. It’s lovely. I love my vintage finds and always admire how they used to be made.

  6. Reply


    Lovely as always! Semi-handmade for me, too, this year. Happy December!

    • Reply


      Semi handmade all the way! Don’t want to overwhelm ourselves, now do we?

  7. Reply


    I love sewing from vintage patterns. I use a lot of patterns from 1940 to sew for my little girl. I love the sweet style of the 1940’s. It is fun to sew from a vintage pattern because they used to do things very differently than we do today. For example, a continuous lap, didn’t know what that was because we have updated the way we do them. I like knowing those other little tricks for doing the same thing in a different way that not many other people have ever done. Thanks for sharing your trick! Love reading your blog!

    • Reply


      I couldn’t agree more. Both vintage clothing and patterns have now-obsolete techniques that I want to add to my arsenal of sewing tricks.

      Thank you for the compliment on my blog!

  8. Reply


    Oh, you did a gorgeous job of re-making this dress; beautifully done! I love the cheerful colours. It suits you and looks like a perfectly fabulous dress for Christmas 🙂

    • Reply


      The colors are what I love the most. I’ll definitely need some bright colors in my wardrobe come January and February when the cold swoops in.

  9. Reply

    New Model Lamé

    Amazing dress! Comfy and stylish, ticks all my boxes.

    • Reply


      Super comfy for sure

  10. Reply


    A tropical Christmas sounds pretty good right about now! Love your new dress.

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