Today I’m going to try my best to show you how to turn a button-up or shirt dress into an adorable skirt – and it’s really not very hard! This tutorial could be useful if (like mine) your dress is a bit too tight upstairs, or just if you don’t think the dress suits you very well. Or if you simply want some quick, easy and cheap skirts because why not.
First of all, you’ll need to find yourself a dress. I found mine in a charity shop for £5.
You can’t see clearly in this picture, but the fabric is covered with these adorable rabbits:
I bought this dress intending to wear it just as it was – and it fitted pretty well when I tried it on in the charity shop. But mysteriously, when I tried it on again at home, either the dress had shrunk or I had grown, as I was now dealing with some unfortunate gaping:
So I figured I couldn’t really wear this in public. It lingered at the back of one of my drawers for several months, because I couldn’t bear to throw out those sweet little rabbits. But it seemed such a shame that the fabric never got to see the light of day. Upsizing dresses is pretty complicated, so, as heart-breaking as it was to chop up a perfectly good dress, I decided to turn it into a button-up skirt.
This tutorial is aimed at dresses with buttons up the front, like mine, but can be adapted with a little thought for dresses with zips or even elastic.
STEP 1: Rip rip rip! Get out your seamripper (or embroidery scissors if you don’t have a seamripper) and unpick the stitches at the waist to detach the skirt from the bodice. If possible, take care to avoid any gathering stitches your skirt might have, as this will make your life easier later on. You’ll also need to unpick a few stitches on the button placket to free the skirt from it at the waist, and then cut straight across the button placket at the waistline. But leave the rest of the button placket attached to your skirt!
You should end up with this lovely looking skirt piece:
STEP 2: Put the skirt piece aside and lay out your bodice. We’re going to use this to cut out a new waistband for your skirt. Measure around your natural waist so that the tape-measure is snug but not tight, and take note of this measurement. Then carry out the following little calculation:
waist measurement + 3cm ease + 3cm seam allowance + width of button placket
You’re adding on the width of the button placket to allow the waistband to overlap at the ends just like the button placket does. For me, the calculation turned out like this:
79cm + 3cm + 3cm + 2cm = 87cm
If you can, cut out one long rectangular strip from your bodice which is the length you’ve just calculated, and 12cm wide. If you can’t – because your bodice isn’t wide enough, or because (like mine) there are darts in the way – then unpick the side seams and any other darts or seams, cut several strips 12cm wide and as long as you can make them, sew them together, and cut the resulting strip to your calculated measurement.
I ended up cutting three strips from my bodice:
I sewed them together and cut the strip down to 87cm.
STEP 3: Cut a piece of iron-on interfacing in a similar weight to your fabric which is the same size as your waistband piece from Step 2. If it makes it easier for you, you can halve your calculation from Step 2 and cut out the interfacing on the fold. Iron the interfacing onto the wrong side of your waistband by using a hot, dry iron and pressing it onto the fabric for several seconds. Then lift it up and place it onto the next bit of the waistband. Do not move the iron along the fabric as you press down, as this can cause the interfacing to stretch out of shape.
You now have a waistband so grab a coffee and watch Netflix for a bit.
Are you back? OK.
STEP 4: We’re going to attach the waistband to the skirt now. Fold under 1.5cm along one long edge of the waistband and iron in place. Then, pin the other long edge of the waistband to the top edge of the skirt piece, right sides together. You want your waistband to extent beyond the skirt by 1.5cm at each end. Make sure any gathers in your skirt are distributed evenly along the waistband. You can do this by dividing your skirt and waistband into four quarters, putting a pin at each quarter, and matching up the skirt quarters with the waistband ones. If your gathers don’t quite fit, you can re-gather your skirt. Sew a line of long, basting stitches along the top edge of the skirt (use a 1cm seam allowance), and pull on the top thread only to gather the skirt. Once you’ve pinned the waistband to the skirt, it should look like this:
Then go ahead and sew these pieces together, using a 1.5cm seam allowance. I find it easier if you sew with the waistband on top. Trim the seam allowances down to 5mm and press the seam towards the waistband.
STEP 5: Now we need to sew up the edges of the waistband. Fold the waistband in half lengthways, right sides together, and pin both edges of the waistband together, making sure both the seam allowance and the 1.5cm edge you pressed under in Step 4 are facing towards the waistband.
Sew up the ends using a 1.5cm seam allowance. Trim the seam allowance to 5mm, clip the corners, and turn the edges right sides out. Use a pin to coax the corners into neat right-angles.
STEP 6: Ready for an ironing session? Good. Press the whole waistband in half lengthways so that it encloses the top of the skirt. You actually want the inside of the waistband (the unsewn edge) to cover slightly the seam line at the top of the skirt. Pin the inside of the waistband to the skirt along the whole length so that the pins do not catch the outside of the waistband. Then, carefully transfer each pin one at a time to the front of the skirt. You should have a lovely long line of pins which sit just below the front of the waistband, but are just catching the back of the waistband.
Now it’s time to sink-stitch (aka. stitch-in-the-ditch) the waistband in place. Sew this bit from the right side of the skirt. Sew a line of stitches as close as you can to the waistband, without actually sewing over the waistband itself. That way, you’re catching the inside of the waistband underneath. It’s a good idea to go slowly, and don’t fret if your stitching isn’t super neat, because literally no-one is going to notice.
Give it a good press and yay! A waistband!
Go and get yourself a chocolate biscuit because that was hard work.
STEP 7: Now we have a fully functioning skirt, complete with waistband!
Oh no wait…
That’s right. We need to put some buttons on that waist. On the side of the skirt that has the buttonholes (normally the right side on women’s clothing) mark either one or two horizontal lines, depending on how big your buttons are. I marked two because my buttons are on the small side. If your sewing machine has an automatic buttonhole stitch, then great! Use that to make your buttonholes. If it doesn’t, or if your machine straight-up refuses to do them (like mine), then you can make them by hand. It takes a bit longer but you only have to do a couple. There’s plenty of tutorials online if you don’t know how to make a buttonhole.
Do up the skirt and place the buttonholed end of the waistband over the top of the other end. To mark where you need to sew on your button or buttons, just poke a chalk pencil or air-erasable pen through the buttonholes to make a mark on the waistband below. Then steal some buttons from the leftover bodice and hand sew them in place.
EXTRA STEP 8: My original dress had belt loops on so I saved those and hand-sewed them to my new waistband:
And tada! You’re done and you now have a swish new skirt that actually fits you and everything!
I have already worn my new skirt more times in a week than I wore the original dress in several months. It just goes to show that it can be worth the heartbreak of cutting up a perfectly good garment, if you’ll end up with something you’ll wear much more often.
Happy New Year everyone, and best wishes for a crafty year ahead!