Retro Recycling

Hello, lovely followers! As we come to the end of yet another week of lockdown, I thought I’d share with you my latest dress experiment.

One of the positives of lockdown is I’m finally having time to experiment with projects I had on the back burner of my brain, so to speak.

I am very well known for my hand-ombred-hem dresses, but less well known for my passion for upcycling and bringing new life to sad and forgotten gowns.

I am a hoarder!!

There, I said it!! I am the proud owner of over 250 vintage and retro gowns, all of which need either TLC or a blast of fresh air and creativity.

Usually the only time I get to do this is if I, or another creative colleague, has an idea for a photo shoot, in which case I rummage through my collection and select a likely candidate to be upgraded -given the Phoenix treatment – so it can rise from its ashes of neglect and have a new lease of life.

Sometimes it’s a radical makeover with dye, or pigment.

Sometimes it’s changing the sleeves (the 80s are best remembered for their awesome pop songs, and not their sleeves…)

Sometimes it’s changing a 1970s neckline that satisfied great aunt Mavis and her delicate views, but today’s bride would rather risk a raised eyebrow.

Sometimes it’s changing the hem length, or a combination of all of the above.

So this week I decided something, after my tie dye mother-daughter experience last week (which was great, and means all the fake tan-ruined tops can now be salvaged!)

Last weeks mother daughter experience…

I decided to try it out on a sadly forgotten 1990s silk 2 piece. It was a beautifully made piece, never worn, but just lacking that little bit of “wow”.

1990s silk two piece looking a little woeful

I decided to go all out and go for a vibrant pink! I had some fabulous pink floral applique I’d been itching to use… So I shot off to the most exotic location I could find – my studio car park!

Revitalised with bright pink tie dye and floral applique.
Plus of course we can add an ombre overskirt

So that was this week’s lockdown project … Cannot wait to see it on a bride who has a head and arms!

If you are a size 16-18 and love pink, check it out!

Here are a few 1970s dresses I have changed necklines on, removed sleeves, made into separates etc. over the last few years, that I have been meaning to blog about, and now I have the time to

Changed the neckline and waistline
Changed the neckline,  the back and made into seperates.

Here is another that I made into separates (can’t find the before image in the depths of my files…)

And with it ombred to grey.

With and without ombre

These are all 1970s dresses that were either really short or far too small a size for today’s bride. I made them separates and added fringing etc.  I’m always really excited when I find a 1970s  gown as the sleeves are usually epic.

Emma Ryan Photography
Emma Ryan Photography
Emma Ryan Photograpy

If you liked these you can (after you get to the end, don’t wander off yet…) check out this lovely feature on

This dress has had a couple of outings on shoots with the sleeves cut back and the damaged and ridiculously small bodice opened at the back.

Helen Russell Photography