Go shopping in your closet! Find some inspiration in what you already have and join me in making an upcycled dress for summer.
Cleaning out my closet for inspiration
Lately I have been making a pile of clothes that no longer fit or I don’t wear anymore to donate. It has been an recent battle to figure out what clothes still work after having my second child.
For the most part I haven’t spent too much time agonizing over whether or not to keep certain items. If I have any doubt about an item I throw it in the donate pile. Then I came across a cotton robe I have had for years but never wear that made me think twice.
I really loved the pattern on the fabric, which is why I purchased the robe in the first place. In a moment of inspiration I decided I would try to make an upcycled dress that I would actually wear instead of keeping something I never used just because it had pretty fabric.
Figuring out the plan
I knew what I wanted to change and add to make the dress:
- Go from robe to wrap dress
- Tighten the sleeves
- Shorten the shoulder
- Add volume to the skirt
- Add a skirt lining
- Add pockets!
Because I was starting with a robe, a wrap dress seemed like the easiest transformation. I could still use the tie from the robe to close the dress and wouldn’t have to adjust the fit. I also happen to love a wrap dress since they are comfortable and easily adjustable.
To make the final dress look less like a robe I knew I would need to alter the sleeves and the shoulder so the top of the dress would sit nicely.
The robe was originally cut very straight, which didn’t leave a lot of volume for the skirt. To add the volume that I wanted, I planned to add triangular gores to the side seams.
The original fabric of the robe is fairly thin. While having a light weight fabric will be nice while wearing the final upcyled dress in summer, I also don’t want to be wearing something completely see through. An additional lining to the skirt would prevent too much showing through the fabric.
The final detail I absolutely knew I wanted to add was pockets! If I am going to take the time to remake a garment, it needs to have pockets. Since I would be taking apart the side seam anyway, I knew I could add them when I added the side gores.
“You’re tearing me apart (Ani)”
Before making any changes I had to pick apart quite a few of the seams. First I took off the sleeves, opened them flat, and removed the edging.
I also undid the hem and opened the side seam up to the waist. After removing all the little bits of thread left behind I ironed out the creases so the pieces were all ready to work with.
Cut it out
To make this robe into a dress I knew I would need more fabric to work with. I dug through my fabric stash and found a cornflower blue linen fabric that almost perfectly matched the blue in the pattern of the robe’s fabric. Using this, I cut out two large triangles to add to the side seams, two small squares to add to the sleeves (more on this later), two sets of pocket pieces, and all the pieces to match the bottom half of the robe (three rectangles and two triangles) to make a skirt lining.
The nice thing about this project is there is quite a bit of wiggle room. If the seams aren’t perfect, the fit isn’t exact, or the pieces don’t line up exactly, it won’t show when the dress is worn.
The sleeves were very baggy on me, so I trimmed them down on either side so they would fit better when I put the dress together.
I also cut the top of the robe so the shoulder seams would be shorter. To determine how far in to cut I measured from my neck to how far down my shoulder I wanted the sleeve to start. On me, this ended up being 9 inches.
With all the cutting done, I was ready to put everything together.
Sew it back together
I sewed the skirt lining together first. This way, I wouldn’t get lazy and skip the lining altogether later. Sewing the lining was also a good warm up for the rest of the dress. Sewing together rectangles and triangles is a fairly straight forward process.
I ended up trying a technique I have not tried before. When I was picking apart the robe, I noticed it was made using french seams. I had never used this technique before, but I knew it would be a good idea to use french seams on the rest of the dress.
French seams are essentially a seam sandwich with the raw edges safely tucked away in their own little pocket. This makes a very strong seam and a nice finish on the inside. I wouldn’t use it for thick fabric, but it worked great with these fabrics. Just make sure you have a hot iron ready nearby! Ironing down seams as you go is a necessity with this method.
Putting sleeves on the upcycled dress
The sleeves were my next target. Before putting the slimmed down sleeves back together I sewed the edging on to the end first while the fabric was still flat and easy to work with.
Remember those squares from earlier? They are underarm gussets that help sleeves fit nicely to your arm and give you more range of movement without pulling on the side of the garment. Have you ever had a button up shirt that you love but you can’t move your arms in it? Add some underarm gussets and you will see a huge improvement in your range of motion!
After getting my sleeves all sewn together, I added them to the main body of the dress.
An upcycled dress – with POCKETS!
I added the pockets and the side gores at the same time. The trick to placing pockets is to sew just the part where it joins the outer fabric on each side first. Then when you put the whole side seam together you can sew the two halves of the pocket together at the same time!
The best thing about making your own pockets is making them HUGE! These have more than enough room for anything I want to carry around.
With all the individual parts of the dress finished, it all just had to come together. I sewed the skirt lining across the inside of the waist then sewed the waistband on the outside so it covered the lining seam. I found an extra bit of ribbon I had lying around to make some ties for the inside of the dress so it would lay nicely while wearing it.
A quick hem on the skirts and my upcycled dress was done!
My upcycled dress for summer
I had so much fun making this dress! I love figuring out how to put something together. Trying out french seams for the first time was a bit of a challenge, but the beautiful final finish is worth it.
The dress is super comfortable. I love that it is a wrap dress so the fit is very adjustable day to day. And of course, adding pockets is a huge win.
It feels so good to know I took something I already had but wasn’t using and turned it into something I can wear all the time.
Do you have any clothes you would like to upcycle into something else? What improvements would you like to make? Let me know in the comments below!
Find more sewing projects here!