Upcycled Girl's Pioneer Costume From Thrifted Square-Dancing Dress

December 17, 2019

Last Time I Square-Danced Was...

Last time I square-danced, I was in 2nd grade!...and that was several decades ago.


Let's address the 2nd grade thing first...Square-Dancing...understood...great cultural introduction. Now throw in a slow-dance for the 2nd graders too!...girls' hands on boys' shoulders, boys' hands on girls' waists swaying back and forth to "How Deep Is Your Love".


This was a weekly class at school which culminated in a dance show production of a variety of dances for the parents.


Upon reflection of the year, maybe appropriate for 1978? Star Wars and Saturday Night Fever were the movies of the time, and the Bee Gees came out with hit after hit.



The Lawrence Welk Show

Another early childhood connection to Square-Dancing was watching The Lawrence Welk Show (1951-82) with my chain-smoking, whiskey-on-the-rocks drinking grandparents.


Oh, those were great summers in Santa Cruz, a beach town about 1.5 hours south of San Francisco.


My brothers and I got busy getting sunburns and sand in our swimsuits, playing skee ball at the boardwalk, and  running in and out of neighbors' houses without a care in the world.


The evenings did not vary much, but were truly some of the best memories of my childhood. We ate homemade french-fries, ice berg lettuces salads drenched in Thousand Island dressing, and hamburgers, all the while watching The Lawrence Welk Show, one of an era's last TV variety shows featuring performers singing solos, or duets, trios or even yodels, Mr. Welk conducting big band songs, and dancing--all kinds of dancing, mostly considered kitschy in our modern day views.



I Was Not Sophisticated

The singing bored me. The big band bored me. I was kinda impressed with the Bubble Machine. I wasn't sophisticated at 7 or 8 years of age. This was what we all know as FFGF "Forced Family/Grandparent Fun".


Only one thing kept my interest--rather, fascinated me....Square-Dancing! The order, synchronicity, military-like formations of this dance style hypnotized me.


Lacquered Hair Does Not Move

As intrigued as I was by how the women's lacquered hair of this time did not move at all, I was even more so sucked-in by the flounce of the skirts...so generous, so full, and the petticoats underneath seemed endless. And the colors?...geeze, where to begin? Maybe the whole set was a coordinated pastel number, or an American Flag themes, or just a traditional country western vibe...it was all fabulously fantastical to me.


Introducing The Cast-Off

When I found this Square-Dance Dress a couple months ago at the local thrift store, it immediately triggered all these random memories of Square-Dancing (2nd grade and my grandparents).


What a long stretch of non-memory though! 40 years! But it's not like I see Square-Dancing (otherwise known as 'the self-extinguishing dance style') anywhere.


Rarely do I find a Square-Dance dress at a thrift store. If I do, fabric wise, they are not in good shape, typically enjoyed, worn, thin with holes.


But the beauty below was a an exceptional find...brand new...just a busted zipper...and yards and yards of fabric to be upcycled into a Pioneer Dress. To boot, the print, small flowers, and a calico print were perfect for my project.

Thrifted Square-Dance Dress to Upcycle into Girl's Pioneer Dress


Doesn't The Square-Dance Dress Looks Ready To Go???

This dress look like it's ready to go for a small petite 8 year old, however, what you don't see in the pictures is a darted bust-line, blouse length for a 5' 5" woman, and full adult arm-holes...would never fit a child. Plus, the neckline plunges, so that needed a complete re-do.

(I promise my future photos will capture more steps...I was in an exceptional hurry to make this costume.)


Skirt Fabric Removed From Square-Dance Dress

6 yards of 23 inch wide...(3 yards regular width fabric)...2 different patterns & 1 Robin Egg Blue fabric


Plenty of fabric to turn one tiered skirt into 2 tiers for a 8 year old girl! I was tasked to remove all the ruffle on the bottom, which stayed in tact.

Removing lower ruffle from Thrifted Square-Dance Dress


 Lower Fabric & Lace Ruffle Removed, 'Robin Egg Blue' Fabric Panels Removed


The Blouse Removed


Cutting Out A Child's Size 8 Blouse From A Woman's Size 6 blouse


Since armhole proportions are completely different, I opted to take apart adult blouse size 6 to resize for child's size 8. Using a pattern for another costume, helped guide me. You can see above the shoulder how much bigger the adult size was!


People always ask how I learned to sew. I've learned the most about sewing from taking apart thrifted garments and altering. This process has taught me about proportions, techniques, problem solving, decreasing sizes...and so much more.


A Summary of an Upcycled Girl's Pioneer Costume

 My Happy Customer/Pioneer Girl!



 Before & After












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