How to change an old dress into a new skirt!

It’s nice to be able to change clothes around so that you can save money, have a new look and be a little eco-friendly. I have a few dresses from my grandmother that I felt I could save and use later. Most of these dresses were made in France or Montreal which makes them even more valuable. I wanted to preserve the dresses and wear them but I decided to make a new garment out of one instead.

It sounds and looks pretty simple but for people who do not know much about sewing this is a useful tutorial. This is not an instruction for people who have studied fashion, but more for people who want to know how to make a basic skirt from a dress.

Before and after:

Tools you need:
- A dress or a long skirt you want to modify
- A closure system -  Visible or invisible zipper
- Something to mark and cut – Chalk that will disappear with an iron and scissors or a rotary cutter
- Something to measure – a measuring tape and a straight ruler would help
- Something to square (Create an 90 degree angle) – Not necessarily essential, however it makes it more accurate

Before you start your skirt decide what kind of skirt you want and what your dress will allow. For example, I am lucky because this dress is really flared so I have enough fabric to make a gathered skirt. If not, you can make a regular flared skirt with no gathers. Keep in mind that if you don’t have any gathers in your skirt, you need to make sure it will fit around your hips. These steps may not work on a very fitted dress.

1. Get measurements for where you want the skirt to sit on your body. So, if you wanted to have a high-waisted skirt, I would measure right at my waist. Make sure that when you measure it’s not too tight, or else the skirt will end up being uncomfortable. (Example: I want a high waist skirt, so say my waist is 27 inches)

2. Lay the dress flat on a table and make sure the hem on the back and front are at the same level. (So if you were to cut it across the back would end up the same length as the front. )

If you have a center seam in your skirt skip this step.

A. Measure from the side seams and mark the same measurement on both sides. Then join the two mark points so you would now have a straight line across the skirt

B. Do that again, but make sure the measurement is at least 10cm apart, it makes it more accurate. Measure both lines and divide it in half, marking the half points. Join the marks so that you create a center line.

Once you’ve created a center line you can use it to square your ruler and measure across straight. Now the step varies, depending on what kind of skirt you want to make.

4. If you want a gather skirt use step 4a and for a non-gather skirt use step 4b.

A. Usually for a gathered skirt, a good gather ratio is 1:2, so you would double the measurement of your waist measurement. Mine is 27, therefore I need to make sure that the circumference is 54 inches. (adding seam allowance won’t be necessary since it’s already sewn in a full circle.)

B. For a basic skirt or flared skirt you need the exact measurement of your waist measurement. Mine would be 27 inches, so I need to make sure that my circumference will be exactly 27. (adding seam allowance won’t be necessary since it’s already sewn in a full circle.) Also keep in mind where you’re starting the skirt from. Your hips need to fit in and if it’s a fitted dress you need to be wary of where your hips are going to be and if they can fit.

5. Now that you know what circumference you need, divide that in half (which would be the number you started with if your making a gather skirt). Square you ruler to get that measurement across and mark it.

Fitted dress note: If it’s a tight fitting dress you might need to adjust the back later on to fit your measurement, keeping in mind you can only adjust smaller. Since you have to be more wary about the hips, where you place your cut is more important.

6. Once you’ve got your measurement across the dress (mine would be 27) and it’s marked, measure where that hits at the side seams from the hem. (If its not the same measurement because your centerline is off, you can take the average)

7. Once you have the side seam measurement, apply that measurement from the hem at different spots and mark it. Make sure that you’re pretty straight or else it will be inaccurate. Hint: Imagine a center-point for the ongoing circle your skirt is making, so you get the right angle.

Note: This step makes the hem equal, because if you just cut straight on a flared skirt it won’t be straight when your wearing it because hems curve on flared skirts. If you have a tighter dress you probably won’t have to curve as much or at all.

8. Once you have a good amount of lines marked, join them, trying to make it as equal as possible. It should make a very flat “U” shape, though it may not be that noticeable, depending on the dress. It might help to have a curved object to make it more smooth.

9. Once you have your curved line measure it and make sure that it’s the measurement you wanted. If it isn’t and you’re gathering your skirt, it’s not a big deal to be off by a bit. If you’re not happy with the measurement, move up to make the measurement smaller, and move down to make it larger. This will have to work as a trial and error thing.

Note: You can take in excess length later on when you insert the zipper. You can’t have the length end up too short because you can’t make it larger.

10. Next, you need to add seam allowance. If you do not know how to add seam allowance click here. Seam allowance  depends on how far you want to sew from the edge. Usually you add one centimeter and sew at one centimeter. Once you’ve added seam allowance cut it at the seam allowance.

11. You now need to unstitch it open somewhere, so that you can open it up. If you have a center back seam it would be best to unstitch it there. It’s important not to cut it, because then you’re losing some of the seam allowance and making it smaller.

Note: If your fabric is stretchy enough and you don’t need to add a zipper you can skip this step.

12. Once you’ve cut it you need to make a waist band. Use the measurement you have and if it’s a thin waistband (smaller than 4 inches) you can get away with making it a rectangle. If you want it to be a thick waistband it’s a little more complicated. You have to measure your body where you want the waist band to end and start, and draft more of a trapezoid.

You can either make two rectangles that will add to your measurement, or one long rectangle that is your measurement, plus seam allowance. Your width would be double what you want the finishing waistband to be plus seam allowance, and the length will be your measurement plus seam allowance

Note: I used the top of the dress to make the waist band. If you don’t have enough fabric then just buy a small piece in any colour you like.

13. Once you have the waistband prepared, you can gather your garment. To learn how to gather click here. When you gather you can mark meeting points so that you’re gathering equal amounts. (So you can divide it by four, so you can match up the front, back and side seams) If you’re not gathering just go to the next step


14. Now you need to sew in the zipper. If you have minor excess length, you can cheat a little and take it in here. To learn how to sew a regular or invisible zipper Click Here. You can also learn to sew a visible metal zipper in: this is the best tutorial I could find and you would stop after the fourth step because we are adding a waistband not a facing.

Note: If your fabric is stretchy enough and you don’t need to add a zipper to can skip this step.

15. Now its time to attached the waist band to the skirt. Click here to learn how to attach a waist band.

16. I ended up keeping the original hem, so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it in the end. However, if you didn’t like the final length you can see how much shorter you want it and apply that measurement following the original hem. Then you will need to fold it over twice and sew to finish the hem.


FIN!

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