Librarian Chic: how to turn a dress into a skirt
This video will walk you through the quick and easy 1 hour process to upcycle, recycle, or otherwise change an unwanted dress into a librarian chic skirt and give it new life.
I found this adorable strapless red calico rayon dress at a local thrift/charity shop. The bustier was twisted around so much that it couldn't be revived as a dress, but the bottom half was too adorable to chuck in the rubbish bin.
Sewing skills to the rescue! For a $4 dress, a $2.50 zipper, this kind of time-friendly project is perfect for DIYers and beginning sewists alike.
Follow along in this video to learn how to take this dress, add a zipper, define a new waistband, fix the hem, and voila! Add to your collection of adorable librarian chic skirts, cardigan not included.
Step 1: Turn an Old Dress Into a Skirt
1. Calculate the width of your waistband (in my case, 1.5″) and add a 1/2″ seam allowance. I’m cutting 4″ up from the waistband seam and ironing the top down by about a 1/2″ for a clean inside look.
2. Next, cut open a side seam where your zipper will go. If you’re able to open the side seam with seam rippers, terrific! Otherwise, if it’s serged (as mine is) you may have to cut the seam open. If this is the case, be sure to cut as close to the serged edge as possible so you don’t take up too much slack in the size. If the zipper creates a pucker at the bottom because the seam is cut open too much (like mine is), you can fix this by creating a small dart on the seam itself, angling the top down to meet the hem of the skirt in a graceful arc or angle.
3. Now, find the top of where your zipper pull should end up; this is halfway up the waistband width.With “right” sides together (zipper pull facing down onto the outside fabric), pin your zipper in place, making sure to avoid the lining fabric–we’ll baste that down later for a clean finish on the inside.
4. Get out your zipper foot and think of how good your librarian chic fashion will be as you stitch one side of the zipper onto the outside fabric of your skirt, avoiding the zipper teeth. Repeat on the other side, making sure you always have “right” sides together so that your zipper ultimately ends up with the edges hidden on the inside of the skirt. Zippers can take some practice and finagling, and about halfway down the length of the zipper, you will have to pause, make sure the needle is in the fabric, lift your presser foot, and zip up the zipper to get around the zipper pull.
5. Once you have your zipper stitched to the outside fabric correctly, we have to sew the lining to the zipper, as well. You can do this by hand, or you can topstitch the zipper, catching the lining fabric blindly on the underside.
7. To do this, make sure your lining fabric is ironed or folded and does not cross the zipper teeth (you don’t want the lining to get caught in the teeth as you zip and unzip your skirt). Starting at one side of the zipper on the “right” side of the fabric (in other words, you’ll be seeing the outside or front side of the skirt, not the lining on the inside), slowly topstitch the zipper, using your fingers to feel the folded lining fabric underneath so that it catches. This, like stitching in the ditch, is a blind technique, but when practiced and mastered, it can help you avoid copious amounts of hand-stitching finishing work on conversion and fashion pieces.
7. Once you’ve repeated this blind stitch on both sides, it’s time to sandwich the top of our zipper in the waistband. Fold down your waistband with right sides together. Fold any excess fabric at the top of the zipper pull to the outside of the seam (we’ll stitch it down and then trim it off). With the topmost part of your zipper sandwiched in between the “right” side facing fabrics of your waistband, stitch along 1/2″ in, creating a ‘pocket’ corner. Cut off excess zipper fabric and trim the top corner at an angle. Turn the waistband right-side out, revealing the top of your zipper, neatly pocketed in the side of the waistband. Repeat on the other side.
8. Now, we have to close our waistband. This process, like the lining of the zipper, is a blind one. Called “stitching in the ditch,” the goal is to fold the inside of the waistband down and catch it as we stitch in the seam on the right side of the fabric. If this is all too confusing for you, just watch the video for a better idea of how this works. Start by ironing your seam allowance down if you haven’t already. Then, fold your waistband in half, “wrong” sides together, revealing the “right” side of the fabric on both the inside and outside of the skirt. Now, using your fingers to help guide you, start at one end of the skirt waistband with the outside/right side of the fabric facing up and stitch in the waist seam. As you make your way around the waistband, take a peak and use your fingers to make sure the underside of the waistband is getting caught by the stitch, thereby closing up the waistband without having to hand-finish the inside. This blind technique is very quick, but it does take some practice.
9. Finally, for my skirt, I had to hem up the inside lining to match the hemline of the calico. The rayon calico had shrunk over the years, apparently, and revealed the polyester lining in a very non-librarian chic way. A simple straight stitch all the way around brought the lining up one inch and finished off this skirt.
Having the power to modify charity store clothes is a terrific boon to the bottom line. Let me know what you come up with!