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How To Easily Turn A Dress Into A Skirt

Making a skirt from a dress can be a practical sewing project, especially when you have a piece that you adore but no longer fits properly. In this tutorial, I’ll share how to make a skirt from a dress.

Turning a dress into a skirt is a great way to upcycle old clothing and create a unique, stylish piece for your wardrobe. Here’s a general process that you can follow to make a skirt from a dress.

how to make a skirt from a dress - sewing tutorial

What You’ll Need

  • An old dress
  • Fabric scissors
  • Measuring tape
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine/serger 
  • Elastic (if creating an elastic waistband)
  • Seam ripper
  • Fabric marker

Steps To Turn A Dress Into A Skirt

#1. Choose Your Dress 

Select a dress that you want to transform. Consider the fabric, pattern, and overall style to ensure it will make a good skirt. Dresses with a defined waistline or those that are loose and flowy work best for this transformation.

#2. Measure and Mark

Decide how long you want your skirt to be. Measure from the hem of the dress upwards and mark this point with a fabric marker. Add an extra inch or two for seam allowance and hemming.

#3. Cut the Dress

Lay the dress flat and cut across the waistline. Make sure to cut evenly to ensure a straight edge. If the dress has a lining, cut through both the outer fabric and the lining.

#4. Prepare the Waistband 

If the dress has a zipper, you may need to remove it using a seam ripper. Decide on the type of waistband you want:

  • Elastic Waistband: Measure your waist and cut a piece of elastic to this length. Sew the ends of the elastic together to create a loop.
  • Fabric Waistband: You can use the fabric from the top part of the dress or another fabric to create a waistband. Cut a strip of fabric, fold it in half, and sew the edges together to form a loop.

#5. Gather the Skirt (if necessary) 

If the skirt portion is wider than you need, you’ll need to gather it. Sew a basting stitch (a long, loose stitch) around the top edge of the skirt and gently pull the threads to gather the fabric until it matches the length of your waistband.

#6. Attach the Waistband

#7. Finish the Hem 

If needed, finish the hem of the skirt. 

#8. Final Touches 

Try on your new skirt and make any necessary adjustments. Trim any loose threads and press the seams with an iron for a polished finish. Don’t be afraid to add embellishments, pockets, or trims to personalize your new skirt.

By following these steps, you can easily turn a dress into a skirt, giving new life to an old garment and adding a unique piece to your wardrobe.

Now that you understand the general steps involved in turning a dress into a skirt, I will provide a more detailed tutorial. In the following sections, I will guide you through each step of the process with specific instructions and tips based on my own experience. This detailed tutorial will cover everything from selecting the right dress to finalizing the waistband, ensuring you have all the information you need to successfully transform your dress into a stylish and unique skirt.

How to Make a Skirt from a Dress – Step-by-step Instructions

I had a dress that became too small, but I didn’t want to part with it because of its unique pleated skirt. The skirt had an unusual yellow/green color with beautiful floral patterns on a lightweight chiffon fabric, making it perfect for hot summers in Florida. Given the nature of pleated fabric, it’s also quite easy to enlarge, which makes this project even more appealing.

my old dress that became too small

This project not only saved my beloved garment from the donation pile but also gave me a fun, creative challenge.

So here are the step-by-step instructions on how I transformed my too-small dress into a perfectly fitting skirt. It’s a great way to keep wearing something you love, with a twist!

Step 1. Choose A Dress

Not every dress can be easily turned into a skirt, but many can. The suitability of a dress for transformation depends on several factors. 

  1. Fabric Type: Dresses made from lightweight or medium-weight fabrics are generally easier to work with. Heavy or stiff fabrics may be more challenging to repurpose.
  2. Dress Style:  Avoid dresses with intricate bodices, complex seams, or many embellishments. Dresses with a defined waistline or those that are loose and flowy are ideal candidates.
  3. Dress Length: Longer dresses have more fabric to work with, making it easier to achieve the desired skirt length.
  4. Condition: The dress should be in good condition, with no significant wear or damage, especially in the areas that will become the skirt.
  5. Design Elements: Consider the placement of zippers, buttons, and other design elements. These may need to be removed or repositioned, which can complicate the process.

In summary, while many dresses can be turned into skirts, the ease and success of the transformation depend on the dress’s fabric, style, length, condition, and design elements.

For example, if your dresses resemble those shown in the images below, they can be easily transformed into skirts – with features like defined waistlines, simple silhouettes, and flowing or A-line skirts.

these dresses can be turned into skirts

In contrast, if your dresses look like those in the images below, they are not suitable for making into skirts due to their complex designs, heavy embellishments, and structural elements.

these dresses can't be turned into skirts

Step 2. Wash The Dress

Give your dress a good wash. You want to start with a clean slate, free from any dirt that might have accumulated. Plus, it’s just nice to work with fresh fabric. 

Step 3. Cut The Skirt From The Dress

Now comes the fun part – cutting the skirt from the dress. My dress had a lining, so I cut through both the outer fabric and the lining together. This is where you’ll need a pair of really good fabric scissors. Cutting through multiple layers and seams can be a bit of a workout, but those sharp scissors will make the job much easier.

cut through both the outer fabric and the lining together

Step 4. Deal With The Zipper

My dress had a zipper, and I needed to remove it without damaging the fabric it was attached to. Enter the seam ripper, my reliable assistant in such situations. So I ripped the seams holding the zipper in place. I usually take my time with this step – patience is key. This part requires some precision, but taking it slow ensured that the fabric stayed intact and ready for the next phase of the project.

✅ Related tutorial: Master the Seam Ripper: Your Ultimate Guide to Precision Stitch Removal

Step 5. Preparing The Lining

Now, I decided to keep the lining because the fabric of the skirt was see-through. The lining matched the color of the skirt perfectly, blending seamlessly with the yellow/green floral chiffon. Although I wasn’t thrilled that the satin lining was polyester – something I didn’t pay much attention to when I bought the dress years ago – I decided to make the best of it.

✅ Related tutorial: The Chemicals We Wear Everywhere

I didn’t want any zipper in my new skirt. Instead, I opted for an elastic waistband – so much easier and more comfortable. But before I could proceed, I needed to ensure that the lining would work with this new design. Specifically, I had to check if the waistband of the lining was big enough for me to pull the skirt on over my head. Thankfully, it was, but there was still some stitching to undo.

The lining presented its own set of challenges. It had French seams, which meant I had to carefully rip open the side seams. This required some patience, as French seams are double-stitched and can be tricky to undo without damaging the fabric.

carefully rip open the side seams

✅ Related tutorial: How to sew a French seam

Also, the edges of the lining were finished with serger overlock stitches. I had to undo these stitches to separate the layers cleanly. 

Here is how to do it correctly. 

How to rip serger stitches

#1. Identify The Needle Threads

Serger stitches typically involve multiple threads: one (or two) needle threads and two looper threads. Start by identifying the needle threads, which are usually the straight stitches running parallel to the fabric edge. 

#2. Cut The Needle Threads 

Using a seam ripper or even sharp scissors carefully cut the needle threads every 3/4 inch or so along the seam. Be cautious not to cut the fabric or the looper threads.

#3. Pull The Looper Threads  

Once the needle threads are cut, you can start pulling the looper threads. These are the threads that form the loops over the fabric edge. Gently tug on one of the looper threads, and you’ll notice the stitches starting to unravel very fast. Continue pulling until the entire seam comes apart.

#4. Use A Seam Ripper For Stubborn Stitches 

If the fabric has been worn or washed multiple times, some stitches might have settled more firmly into the fabric. So you might have some stubborn stitches that didn’t come apart easily. Use your seam ripper to carefully tease them out. Insert the seam ripper under the stitch and gently pull up to break the thread.

#5. Remove Any Remaining Threads  

After the bulk of the serger stitches are removed, there may be some stray threads left behind. I use a special seam ripper to take these out, because I want the fabric to be clean and ready for the next phase of my skirt transformation project. What makes it particularly useful for this task is the rubber end on the opposite side. The rubber tip is perfect for gently rubbing over the fabric to catch and remove any remaining threads. It works almost like an eraser, lifting the stray threads without damaging the fabric.

✅ Related tutorial: Swamped with Snipped Threads? The Surprising Seam Ripper Trick You NEED to Know!

remove Any Remaining Threads

Next, I aligned the edges of the lining, making sure they were even and straight. Pinning the layers together helped keep everything in place. Then I stitched the new side seam of the lining. I took care to use a stitch length appropriate for the delicate satin fabric – 2.5 mm. 

 Step 6. Matching the Pleats

So, everything seemed ready. But now came another challenge. These narrow pleats in the fabric had to be perfectly matched. The goal was to hide the seam inside a pleat so it wouldn’t be visible on the side of the skirt.

I took my time aligning the pleats meticulously but it was essential for maintaining the seamless look of the skirt.

Once I was satisfied with the alignment, I carefully basted the pleats in place. Then, I sewed the seam on my sewing machine, taking care to stitch precisely along the pleat lines. I was satisfied with the finished seam that blended seamlessly into the pleats, making it virtually invisible on the side of the skirt.

aligning the pleats meticulously for maintaining the seamless look

Step 7. Finishing the Raw Edges

After sewing the side seams, the next step was to finish the raw edges to prevent fraying and give the skirt a professional look. I usually do it by serger.

I didn’t have serger thread that matched the lining fabric exactly, so I decided to use a variegated thread (multicolored) instead. I think it looks nice.

finish the raw edges to prevent fraying

I serged all the raw edges of the seams. This included the side seams of both the outer fabric and the lining. I also finished the upper edges at the waist, preparing them for the elastic waistband.

✅Related tutorial: What Is A Serger & What Can I Do With It?

The serger made quick work of the raw edges, and the multicolored thread added a delightful detail. Now, with all the edges neatly finished, the skirt was ready for the final steps.

finished edges with multicolored threads

Step 8. Redoing The Narrow Hem

Next, I needed to redo a small section of the narrow hem at the bottom of the skirt and lining. This part was near the side seams and only about 2 inches long, so I decided to do it by hand for better control and precision.

I carefully folded the edge of the fabric twice to recreate the narrow hem, ensuring it matched the existing hemline. I hand-stitched this small section with tiny, even stitches. Doing it by hand allowed me to blend the new hem seamlessly with the original, maintaining a consistent look.

✅Related tutorial: Narrow hem tutorial: how to make a narrow hem using a Ban Roll tape

Step 9. Basting The Lining To The Skirt

With the hems finished, my next step was to baste the lining to the skirt. The pleated fabric of the skirt was a bit wider than the lining.

gather the pleated fabric to match the width of the lining

To resolve this, I needed to gather the pleated fabric a bit to match the width of the lining.

Using a long stitch on my sewing machine, I sewed along the top edge of the pleated fabric, leaving long thread tails at both ends.

Next, I gently pulled on the bobbin threads to gather the pleats, adjusting them evenly until the width of the pleated fabric matched the lining. Once the gathers were evenly distributed, I pinned the pleated fabric to the lining, making sure everything was aligned correctly.

I basted the two layers together by hand to hold them in place.

I basted the two layers together by hand to hold them in place

✅Related tutorial: Basting Stitch: Why, When And How To Baste In Sewing

Step 10. Preparing To Attach The Elastic Waistband

I chose a golden black elastic, which not only looked stylish but also had good stretch and recovery. This is important because if the elastic doesn’t recover well, it could become a problem later on, causing the skirt to lose its shape.

First, I measured the length of elastic I needed by wrapping it around my waist, making sure it was snug but comfortable. Then, I cut the elastic to the appropriate length and sewed the ends together to form a loop. As expected, the elastic was smaller than the skirt waist, which is good because it allows the skirt to stretch when putting it on and then fit securely.

cut the elastic to the appropriate length and sewed the ends together

To ensure even distribution, I divided the elastic into eight equal parts.  

Here’s how to do it. 

#1. Divide into Quarters 

Use the seam of the elastic loop as your first reference point. Fold the elastic in half, aligning the seam with the opposite side, and mark these two points with pins or chalk. These marks represented the halfway points. Then, fold the elastic in half again, aligning the seam and the first marked point, and mark the new folds. This gives you four equal sections.

#2. Divide into Eighths 

Next, take each of the four sections and fold them in half again, marking the new midpoints. This process resulted in eight equal sections around the elastic loop.

Repeat the same process with the waist of the skirt ( including the lining)

With both the elastic and the skirt waist marked into eight equal sections,  the elastic would be evenly distributed around the skirt.

Next, pin the elastic to the skirt at each of the eight points. Gathers will be evenly spaced and the waistband will stretch and recover properly.

take each of the four sections and fold them in half again, marking the new midpoints

Step 11. Sewing the Elastic with a Coverstitch

With the elastic pinned in place, it was time to sew it to the skirt. For this, I used my serger, which I had converted to a coverstitch machine. The coverstitch provides a secure, stretchy seam that can handle the tension and movement of the waistband.

First, I set up my serger for the coverstitch function. I used a matching thread for this.

Coverstitch machines typically use three needles. The needles create parallel rows of straight stitches on the top side of the fabric.

✅Related tutorial: Coverstitch vs. Serger

Instead of a bobbin, a coverstitch machine has a looper underneath that interlocks with the needle threads. This looper thread forms a chain stitch on the underside of the fabric.

The coverstitch is designed to stretch with the fabric, making it ideal for knit materials and elastic. This elasticity ensures that seams don’t break when the fabric is stretched or pulled.

Starting at one of the marked points, I carefully began sewing the elastic to the skirt. The coverstitch allowed me to sew through both the elastic and the fabric without losing the stretchiness of the waistband. As I sewed, I gently stretched the elastic to match the fabric, ensuring an even distribution of the gathers.

sew the elastic to the skirt

I continued sewing around the entire waistband, making sure to keep the elastic and fabric aligned and the gathers evenly spaced. The coverstitch created a professional-looking finish, with a secure seam that could stretch and recover without any issues.

Now, with the elastic waistband securely in place, my new skirt was complete. 

While the coverstitch is an excellent method for attaching elastic, there are several other techniques you can use, depending on the tools you have. 

#1. Zigzag Stitch on a Regular Sewing Machine. A zigzag stitch allows the fabric and elastic to stretch without breaking the thread.

#2. Three-Step Zigzag Stitch. This stitch creates a wider zigzag pattern with three smaller stitches in each zigzag, providing extra strength. Great for attaching elastic to thicker fabrics or high-stress areas.

#3. Stretch Stitch (Lightning Bolt Stitch). This stitch looks like a zigzag but is more compact, resembling a lightning bolt. It allows for significant stretch.

#4. Elastic Casing. This method involves sewing a fabric tube (casing) and threading the elastic through it. The elastic is fully enclosed, protecting it from wear and tear.

#5. Serger

This project is a great example of how to make a skirt from a dress. I love how the skirt turned out. The combination of the unusual color, the pleated fabric, and the comfortable elastic waistband make it both stylish and practical.  The narrow pleats create a beautiful texture and movement, making the skirt flow gracefully as I walk.

In the image, you can see me wearing the finished skirt. It pairs well with a variety of tops, from casual T-shirts to more formal blouses.

dress turned into skirt

Enjoyed this tutorial? Don’t forget to save this pin to your sewing Pinterest board for future reference! This way, you can easily return to this guide whenever you’re ready to turn a dress into a skirt. For more creative sewing tips, tutorials, and daily doses of inspiration, make sure to follow me on Pinterest.

sewing tutorial on how to turn a dress into a skirt

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