Autumn Cambie: Sewing Ugly Fabric Into Something Pretty

What do you guys think of this fabric? Ugly, sort of? A bit of a weird print? It’s a cotton twill, slightly heavier than a quilting-weight cotton but much drapier than expected.

sort of ugly fabric

I was drawn to the autumnal colours when I bought it, but looking at it next to some of the prettier, brighter coloured fabrics on my shelf, it started to look a bit ugly. For a fabric that borders on the ugly, a pretty sewing pattern is a must!

That’s where the Cambie Dress pattern comes in – it even looks good in ugly fabric!

can't go wrong with a Cambie Dress!

You may have noticed this dress in my February recap post, I wore it for my high school talks as it’s a crowd-pleaser!

I quite like how this version of the Cambie Dress turned out. When it’s cool outside, I tend to wear and love warm, earthy colours, so this dress fits nicely into my fall/winter wardrobe. (And I find it hard to reach for bright or pale colours on gloomy days.) Mustard, brown and forest greens feel natural to wear in the cooler weather.

cambie dress in autumn colours

I went with the straight-across neckline (see how to create your own straight neckline here) to echo the blocky lines of the geometric print. Because the skirt is so fully gathered, the patchwork-like design is hidden in the folds of the skirt, showing flashes of colour as the skirt swishes, instead of straight lines. It’s worked out very well!

cambie dress showing the skirt

I pinned a vintage brooch to the bodice where the straps connect, for an extra touch of gold. Fancy! I think that concept would look even better on a solid dress.

vintage brooch pinned to the cambie dress

There was a bench nearby, so I sat for a couple of photos. Let me tell you, sitting-down photos look really strange if you don’t stretch your legs out. That’s my amateur modeling tip of the day!

cambie dress, sitting down

I was lucky to get a couple hours of dry weather to take photos outside – a welcome break from the non-stop rain!

I lined the fabric in a forest-green rayon. I had odd pieces on hand so the skirt and bodice are different shades of the same colour, but no one will see! (You can’t even tell the lining is green unless I show you. Or if I ride my bike on a windy day…)

cambie dress - showing off the lining

I really like this dress! I thought the fabric was doomed but in the right pattern, it works quite nicely I think!

cambie dress

Do some of the fabrics you buy start to look less attractive or dull next to the others on your shelf? Have you ever bought a piece of fabric that seemed awesome, but started to look ugly when you brought it home? How did you make it work?

Want to make your own Cambie Dress? Get the pattern here.

One last thing! I also did a hand-picked zipper on this dress, and I think I’ll do a quick post to demonstrate how to sew a hand-picked zipper into the Cambie Dress. I did a few things differently from the instructions to make it easy to insert and finish off the opening edge. It’s not difficult to do at all!

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68 Responses to Autumn Cambie: Sewing Ugly Fabric Into Something Pretty

  1. Alison Esther March 11, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    This fabric isn’t too impressive sitting on your ironing board, but it looks really great made into a Cambie dress. It’s funny how fabric can kind of transform depending on what you do with it. I love it when I buy a sort of ugly looking fabric because I know it will look great when it’s all sewed up, and then it does. But the worst is when you buy an ugly fabric and you think it will look great when it’s made into a garment and it does not. Always disappointing haha.

  2. Elikit March 11, 2013 at 6:36 am #

    I really did not think that fabric was going to turn into something cute when I saw the first picture. Then I scrolled down and I was wrong with a vengeance! And I love the pattern placement on the bodice!

  3. CGCouture March 11, 2013 at 6:44 am #

    Yes, I have brought home multiple pieces of fabric and thought later “why on earth did I buy this hideous stuff?!” But then, sometimes I buy something really pretty and I can’t figure out what would best showcase it too, so perhaps I just don’t have a natural sense of style.

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

      I have the same thing happen too – usually, the pretty fabrics are harder to cut into because I want that project to be perfect! With something like this, I figure if it doesn’t turn out, oh well, but if it does, it’s a win! I’m less concerned about the ugly fabrics, but hoard the pretty ones.

  4. Sabs March 11, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    Wow, that’s such a transformation! When I saw the photo of the fabric on the ironing board, I actually hated it (sorry!) but as the Cambie, it looks fab. Is it the outside light that makes it look zingy orange rather than dull brown on the ironing board? It’s perfect for autumn too, and the colours really suit your tone.

  5. Charity Shop Chic March 11, 2013 at 6:55 am #

    I do it all the time – buy some pretty ‘out-there’ fabric thinking it’s awesome and then get it home and think it’s ugly. Funny how these fabrics always look great in the shop!

  6. nothy March 11, 2013 at 7:09 am #

    I love the dress but I have to confess, I would never have seen such potential in the fabric….I’m looking forward to the post on hand-picked zippers

  7. Diane @ Vintage Zest March 11, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    Wow! I do have a piece of fabric that I bought and thought to myself, “why did I get this?” as soon as I folded it. I was going to use it for my serger class as an enormous scrap, but I may try to salvage it in a cute pattern… Thanks!

  8. Seattlerain March 11, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Your post inspired me to cut into some fabric that looked great on-line. 3.5 yards worth later I realized that I didn’t feel the love for it. Now I’m going to turn it into a Pastille Dress and hope for the best. I’ll be lucky if I can get it to look as great as the autumn Cambie!

  9. March 11, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    Wow, it looks amazing! The fabric fits the pattern a lot! great job

  10. Naomi March 11, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    I was so inspired by your dress that I just had to buy the Cambie pattern! :)

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      Excellent! I hope you enjoy sewing it!

  11. Kate March 11, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    Just the inspiration I needed. Thank you.

  12. Amy Nicole March 11, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    Love the way that fabric looks in this pattern! This gives me inspiration to do something with this awkward stamp print cotton I bought one random whim a while back. Thi print is a smaller scale but the colors are almost the same.

    -Amy Nicole “Lady M.”

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      Stamp print cotton sounds fun! I’d have probably bought that on a whim too :)

  13. Maggie March 11, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    You eye for potential is amazing! I would have deemed this destined for Goodwill or for a muslin. I will have to take a second look at my piles now and see if I missed something :)

  14. Ann V. March 11, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    I agree with Maggie–your ability to see something wonderful out of this fabric is amazing! I have two pieces of fabric that may just move forward in the stash!

  15. Tasha March 11, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    I think that fabric is super as a Cambie!! It’s really cute, love it! Very autumn feeling is right, but I think it can be perfectly suited for spring as well! :)

  16. Lynn March 11, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    I love the dress. I have a question…would you have any suggestions for
    making a Cambie with an A-line skirt rather than gathered or straight? I am a bit straight up and down with a thick middle and the gathers are not flattering and a straight skirt does n
    ot define my waist at all. I am tempted by the dress but harbor doubts about it looking good on me.

  17. kristonlion March 11, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    YES! that looks gorgeous! Usually I think ugly fabrics are kind of cute. I always buy the ones that next time I go in, they are on the sale shelf…I love your cambie! I need to find some fabric for mine!

  18. Truly Myrtle March 11, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    I think my mum had a dress in fabric like that when I was small – very 70’s!! Actually I rather like it :)
    Fabulous dress though – I had to laugh about your sitting down photos. I had some sitting down photos the other day – some not so good – I channelled the royal family… legs tilted to one side – Unfortunately I didn’t remember to sit up nice and straight in all of them…
    Looking forward to the zip tutorial :)

  19. Judi March 11, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    Wowsie…did that (ugly) fabric ever turn into a gorgeous dress!!! Amazing! And it fits perfecty…looks beautiful on you. It’s happened to me both ways. Fabric that I thought was beautiful didn’t turn out that way. I’ve bought fabric that I liked until I got it home, then stashed it…in fact I did that last week…embroidered butterflies…in the store it was pretty…here it looks like it should be made into curtains!!! You have inspired me…I’ll make the shrug…it might be pretty. Thanks!

  20. Laura March 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    Amazing transformation – well done!

  21. Sassy T March 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    Very cute.

  22. Claire March 11, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    I’m amazed that the original fabric turned into something lovely. I would have walked past that fabric in the shop but this makes me think again about fabric choices, especially those I pause around for a few seconds before moving on.

  23. Stephanie March 11, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    Very successful attempt to turn ugly-duckling fabric into a wearable swan!
    Goes to show how much of an impact the pattern-fabric pairing can have.

    In the quilting world, we say that if you’ve got an ugly fabric you just haven’t cut it small enough yet. I have some borderline hideous quilting fabrics in my stash that are stunning in narrow strips or small bits. Always fun to see the transformation.

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

      I like that, if it’s ugly you haven’t cut it small enough! I will have to remember that when saving my scraps. :)

  24. Bec March 11, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    Oooh i likey, very Autumny haha :)

  25. Rebekah March 11, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    Your dress is lovely! I think the fabric is pretty, it just needs special treatment. :)
    Thank you for sharing, your posts are always fun and informative!

  26. Sue March 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

    I like the brownish red the outside photos seem to show, but I for one like the ironing board pic too of what looks like a medium brown background. Bonus points for the teal bits of color–maybe decorative teal buttons where the straps join the bodice?

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

      It’s probably in between those two colours, with the lighting being a major factor! Teal buttons would be nice too.

  27. Sandy March 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    I’d call that “hippie imaginative,” rather than ugly, and probably have made a long, half-circle wrap skirt out of it, to wear with a rust or brown turtleneck (but then, I’m abou twice your age, judging from your photos, and actually remember those skirts when they were first popular!

    “Ugly” is really context-dependent; I think that’s a nice dress, and I’d rather see that print, in ANY dress, than anything in a neon color!

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

      Oh exactly, ugly is in the eye of the beholder, just like beauty! Neon, yeah, that is hard to wear. (And probably hard to sew too, looking at bright colours for that long would be hard on the eyes!)

  28. StephanieK March 11, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    It’s so funny that you posted this because I’ve noticed as I’m shopping online for fabric most things I find are just “ok.” But then I imagine it being sewed into a cambie and I start loving it. The cambie dress is my favorite pattern of all time. I should probably stop making them because pretty soon I will just have an entire wardrobe full of printed cambie dresses. I guess there are worse things :)

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

      Awesome! It is my favourite pattern of them all to wear. I’m not going to be much help here because I also would like a wardrobe full of printed Cambie dresses! (And striped. And dotted. And solid in bright cheerful colours.)

  29. Jessica March 11, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

    Wow! I can’t image ever reaching for that fabric on a bolt… but you have me curious to step outside my comfort zone.. as it is so gorgeous sewn up!

  30. Joyce Wilson March 11, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Very pretty. Looks very nice. You really have an eye for turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse. Love your blogs.

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

      Thanks! With this fabric there was a chance it would still be ugly all sewn up, but I’m glad it worked out!

  31. Kelly March 11, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

    Wow, what a transformation! That will teach us to at least give less-than-beautiful fabric a try :)

  32. Amy March 11, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    I can imagine that stuff in the sale bin at my local. I think I’ll have to start getting more adventurous with my buys. Great post.

  33. Deb March 12, 2013 at 3:35 am #

    The ironing board pic made me groan – but the dress in the sushine – wow! Very Aztec!!
    I too have about 3mtrs of a fabric my brother hand-picked for me in Thailand. He watched it being woven, and its hot pink and royal bue kind-of tribal pattern (in a thai way). Woven and flat, rather than sheen and silky. Love the colours, but can NOT imagine what to do with it – and I’m pretty creative! What to do? What to do? Any thoughts?

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

      Ha! I was kind of hoping to have that effect – first wondering what I was thinking buying fabric so ugly, then being surprised by the actual dress!

      Sounds like an amazing fabric! Those are the hardest types of fabric to decide to use, especially when it’s so beautiful and rare and special. My first thought is to keep the pattern simple, to show off the fabric. After that it’s hard to say without seeing the fabric, but I would think of what kind of garment you’d wear most, and how to best show off the fabric. Do you wear skirts all the time? Maybe a skirt is a good idea, with a lining to protect the fabric from wear. How about a jacket? A dress? Look for images of similar fabrics and similar garments to get an idea of what it might look like made up. Drape it on a dress form to get an idea of how much volume you want to wear in this fabric – is it a short skirt type of fabric? Long dress? Pin it on the dress form and walk away, and let the ideas come to you. (Sounds kind of silly, but it might work! Sometimes I walk away from ideas and come back with an ‘aha!’ moment.) I hope this helps!

  34. sewing princess March 12, 2013 at 6:20 am #

    Looks definitely better as a Cambie dress and on you than on the ironing board. This is not to say that you’re prettier than an ironing board, though :o) I wouldn’t want to compare the two!

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

      Haha! Yup, it’s better in real life, sewn up into something, than draped on a board. Some fabrics look good both ways, not this one!

  35. Amanda March 12, 2013 at 7:00 am #

    I love this!! It reminds me to never pass up those “ugly” prints I see on the sale rack. I think as long as you’re in love with the colors, that’s what counts! And those colors look so nice on you!!

    Lovely dress, Tasia. I cannot WAIT to make my own Cambie!! I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to dive into it, but it’s definitely on my “to-sew” list this spring.

    Thanks for the inspiration!!
    xo ~ Amanda

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

      Thanks! I do love the colours and they do look better in natural light, as opposed to in here with the overhead lighting. Have fun making your own Cambie! By now there are tons of inspirational projects to check out!

  36. Tina March 12, 2013 at 8:46 am #

    Tasia, I love the dress in that fabric. Of course, you look good in just about anything! I am thinking about using this pattern to make me my “mother of the groom dress” for my son’s wedding in June. Any suggestions as to how to make it a little more formal/fancy for a wedding. I am thinking I will probably make view A, leave off the pockets. I was thinking of adding a peplum since that seems to be the fashion statement this spring. I would love your suggestions.

    • Deb March 13, 2013 at 3:09 am #

      I thought you might make it in a plain darker colour and with the square neckline and have a couple of rhinestone brooches at each corner, instead of on one corner like Tasia’s. A peplum could also look stunning, with a tiny narrow belt sewn at the seamline of the peplum and dress – maybe even a sparkly buckle that coordinates with the brooches at the neckline corners, but not too over the top. Belt, shoes and bag the same colour. very 50’s chic glamour!

      • Tina March 13, 2013 at 10:49 am #

        Oooh, thanks for the ideas! They sound enticing.

      • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

        Great ideas! I agree, a solid colour is more glamorous, and I love the idea of little rhinestone brooches. Bonus if you can find two exactly the same, worn like they were part of the dress!

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

      I’d say – solid colour, in an elegant fabric like silk dupioni. I loved the suggestion of adding rhinestone pins to the neckline. Unless it’s more of a garden-style, casual wedding, then a soft watercolour floral, the kind with blurred lines so it’s hard to tell it’s a floral, would be nice. You could make it longer maybe for more of a formal look? I hope this helps! Find out what the colours are for the wedding so you don’t clash in the photographs. (I once went to a friend’s wedding who had a photobooth, the photobooth background was dark red and white but I wore a pink and white dress, so it wasn’t the best match. Not a big deal as I wasn’t in the wedding party but if I’d been in group photos that might have looked odd.)

      • Tina March 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

        Will silk dupioni be hard to sew? I have never used it. What did you use for the pictures on your pattern page where it shows view A in what appears to be a grey color? It is not a formal wedding and the brides maid’s dresses are just above knee length so I think I will go with same length but I did want to fancy it up a bit. Yeah, I agree with the choice of color; I did think of that. What do you think about adding a peplum?

        • Tasia March 15, 2013 at 8:49 am #

          As far as silks go, it’s not the hardest. It’s a bit papery and crisp, as compared to some of the softer and slipperier silks. (You could always try to buy 0.1m or 1/4 yard to test sewing with to see how it handles for you.)
          In the photos it’s a navy (I know! it looks anywhere from grey to purple depending on people’s monitors) wool-poly-viscose blend. Very office-appropriate, not quite dressy enough for a wedding.
          About the peplum, it’s not totally my style to add on a dress like this. But, it can be gorgeous! Check out Liz’s amazing Macaron dress with added peplum here –

  37. Melissa March 12, 2013 at 6:04 pm #

    I just made my first Cambie dress over the weekend out of cloth that I sorta liked. I faced my fear and inserted a zipper and successfully tackled the lining. I absolutely love the dress and can’t wait to make another one.

    I have made 3 Alma blouses, 4 Renfrew tops; one more cut out, 3 Pendrell Blouses; two more planned and ordered the Hollyburn this afternoon from Pink Chalk. I have to say, you are a designing genius with the way your clothing is constructed. I absolutely love your patterns! I may even tackle the pants.

    And did I mention that I am a Sewaholic?

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      Yay! So many projects from my patterns. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the patterns and the construction, I try to design things that are logical and fun to make as well as wear. Hello from one Sewaholic to another! :)

  38. Thea March 13, 2013 at 1:30 am #

    I love the colours, they look so lovely for autumn and the grey weather! I’ve definitely made some more questionable fabric choices – 3m of a very strange floral print which I fell out of love with at home, some other floral print which will now be a skirt, also 3m. I bought them for dresses (that’s why there’s so much of them!), but it turns out I’m not a flowery girl, and the thought of turning them into dresses has me running for the hills… Lesson learned though – just because other bloggers look great in floral prints does not mean I’m going to love them on myself. I haven’t bought a flowery fabric since ;-)

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

      That’s a great lesson to learn – I am all about the flowery prints! But not everyone is. Just like some people look amazing in straight, short, shift dresses. I don’t, I’m too short and I look better with waist definition. Practice and experimentation is really the best way to decide what you like to wear and what feels best on you. (I say ‘feels best’ rather than looks best, because you might look amazing in flowery dresses but it doesn’t matter at all if you feel funny in them.)

  39. Lindy March 13, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    I wish the underling showed a little more like a longer underskirt or in the sleeve caps? It contrasts so well with the not-so -ugly fabric.
    Also, most important: thank your for the excellent photos of handpicking a zipper. It is one handsewing skill I have been looking for.

    • Tasia March 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

      Great! Glad I could help. I do like how well the lining matches. I could make a cardigan in that green colour, that would be pretty!

  40. Ash March 19, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    Wow! I didn’t have high hopes for the fabric after seeing the first photo… but it looks so fantastic in the Cambie dress. I bought the pattern last year and ran out of time, but I have a wedding coming up this spring and no dress to wear. You’ve inspired me to dig it out and put it together, finally! :)

  41. Cheryl March 21, 2013 at 2:35 pm #

    Hi Tasia,

    I bought my first two patterns during your birthday sale. I just cut the muslin for my first Cambie dress and I’m so excited. I’m actually going to reuse fabric from another dress that I had made that just didn’t end up fitting right. I’m also going to make the Minoru for my best friend for her birthday; red with black and white hounds tooth lining.

    I can’t wait to get it done! Your blog is fantastic! Thanks from a fellow Lower Mainland sewing gal!

    • Tasia March 21, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

      What a nice friend you are! Love the idea of houndstooth lining in a red coat, it will be quite striking. So glad the Cambie is turning out and you’re able to re-work a dress that didn’t turn out – saves it from the scrap bin!
      So glad you are enjoying the blog, it’s always great to hear from local sewers. Hope you’re enjoying the sunshine today!

  42. Nicole March 25, 2013 at 8:12 am #

    Wow I’m stunned by the result!

    I have a lot of fabrics like this (ones that make me wonder why I bought them). I usually have a hard time picturing them looking good once they’re made into something but this…wow it’s absolutely gorgeous, sophisticated, and special. I love it!

  43. deb May 16, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    i like the dress, but i REALLY like the shoes!! Where are they from?

    • Tasia May 16, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

      Ah thanks! They are from Town Shoes, the brand is Kate & Mel. I bought them over a year ago.. January 2012 I believe? I looked for a link online but couldn’t find them. They are quite comfy although the laces untie themselves and the shiny tips bump around and make noise. So cute, but not perfect. (Isn’t that always the case?)

  44. karen, uk December 10, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    that worked really well

  45. Socks? February 20, 2014 at 6:48 am #

    Title is misleading – that fabric is gorgeous!

    I was looking online for what to do with truly UGLY fabric like old pilled & worn socks. Other than using as uneven stuffing, it just has no use. I’ve collected these socks for a decade now & just don’t know what to do with it! Such a shame to be thrifty for ‘pretty’ things but toss the sturdy ugly ones…