Turning a Fashion Don't into a Fashion Do
June 19, 2007 6:48 PM   Subscribe

How do you alter a dress into a skirt? Or should to go to a tailor?

I got a dress at a thrift store and I find the top part hideous. Ruffles are involved. However the bottom part is this nice light fabric with this really awesome graphic flower print. It's an A-line dress so there is no waist therefore plenty of fabric. I would like to make it into a skirt. The most I've done with sewing is mending buttons and tears. I feel this is way beyond my capacity, but do you know of any books or sites that might guide me towards a possible if futile DIY answer?

Otherwise, if I do go to a tailor, are the ones in a typical dry cleaners educated/advanced enough to do this or should I go to a professional tailor? Or should I go to craigslist and try to get a Parsons student? What should I know/communicate when I'm talking to them?

And NY MeFites, if you happen to know any good tailors or fashion students, share the wealth :)
posted by spec80 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've had a professional tailor do that. It turned out really cool, too. The one I went to was a little more expensive & not at the dry cleaner's though. I'd give you the name but it's on the other side of the nation from where you are.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:53 PM on June 19, 2007

Does the dress close with buttons or with a zipper? If you are dealing with buttons, start hacking. Just leave enough of the upper part of the dress so you can fold it over to make a nice waistband.

If you're dealing with a zipper closure and you've never dealt with them before, find a good tailor or an eager fashion student. Your dry cleaner would be a good place to start looking for leads.
posted by Alison at 6:57 PM on June 19, 2007

I have done this by using a very basic sewing pattern for the skirt I want, ripping the dress apart at the seams, then using the fabric as you would normally use a bolt of fabric to make the pattern.

Sometimes the pieces of the original dress are oddly shaped and require a little patching together to work, but in the end it has always looked awesome.
posted by Brittanie at 8:24 PM on June 19, 2007

Best answer: Sure, you can do it, but if your experience so far has been buttons and tears, you should probably leave it to a pro for now. The person at the dry cleaner's is probably fine.

Meanwhile, get hold of a pattern you like and try making a few dress or two from scratch. It's probably helpful to have a good general reference book on hand, too, in case you get stuck. After you've done that a few times, you'll have a sense of the basic engineering involved, and you can then gleefully start dismantling thrift-store monstrosities for parts.
posted by tangerine at 9:03 PM on June 19, 2007

With your experience you would probably want to do either a drawstring or elastic waistband, but it's likely you'd end up wanting to keep the waist covered by your shirt when you wear it due to bunching. If you want to be able to wear short tops or tuck your shirt in, get it done by a professional.
posted by waterlily at 9:17 PM on June 19, 2007

Looking for an FIT or Parsons student on Craigslist is probably a good idea. The fix is not difficult if you can sew, so they are unlikely to make a hash of it, and I have been severly underwhelmed in my dealing with NYC tailors. (I know there are good ones somewhere, but I have only run into hacky, expensive ones. Honestly, next time I need something fixed up, I am stealing your idea and hitting Craiglist.)
posted by dame at 7:13 AM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: Amen to the FIT or Parsons student, they'll have the sewing skills to do it and the fashion knowledge to do it in a non-ugly way. I'd be afraid of a dry-cleaner tailor doing it the easiest possible way (probably drawstring or elastic) with no regard to how bad that would look. I would put a picture of the dress, front and back, in the Craigslist posting and say, "I want this to be a skirt, can you help me out?" $20 would be a reasonable offer, presuming there's nothing weird or complicated about it. If they have to put in a brand new zipper or something, it might be worth more.

And ask if you can watch while they alter it- you might be able to learn how to do it yourself next time.
posted by doift at 8:23 AM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: I'm assuming you don't have a sewing machine, which leaves you with two options:

1. If there's enough fabric, use a wrap-skirt pattern/tutorial like this one, and either hand-sew the hems or use that iron-on fusible stuff.

2. Take it to a tailor to have a zipper and waistband put in. I can't remember the guy's name, and I'm having trouble googling it, but the best tailor I've found was recommended by the guys at Fan Club, an amazing vintage store on 19th Street between 5th and 6th. His shop was just above the store. Just go by there, drool over the clothes, and ask for a referral.

All that said -- Indulge your crafty DIY urges! What you're talking about is really not at all difficult, once you've acquired some basic skills, and you'll love being able to do your own simple alterations to make clothes fit better. The big stumbling block is, of course, a machine. If you have a place for it in your apartment (ha!) you can find a perfectly usable one for $200 or less.

Take some lessons. That'll give you no-commitment access to a machine, the basic skills, and some idea of whether or not you want to pursue this further. FIT has a course listed here (scroll down for "Learn to Sew Like a Pro 1"). Sew Fast Sew Easy also looks pretty good. I'm sure there are others.

In addition to Sew Mama Sew linked above, here are a couple more good sewing-centric sites:

Learn to Sew, from the Home Sewing Association.

Disdressed, a former fashion-designer's blog. (Link goes to the first page of a tutorial for a v. cool skirt with a scalloped hem.)

If you haven't already, check the archives at Craftzine blog and Whip Up for other sewing resources.
posted by vetiver at 10:05 AM on June 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

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