I got this dress, new with tags, at a thrift store for $1 (AH!) when I was pregnant, just knowing it would fit once the bump was gone. Well, I tried to wear it to a funeral a few months ago and it wasn't long enough, had a skirt shape I didn't love once it was on, and the sleeves weren't my favorite length or shape. In it went to the refashion pile (by "pile", I mean 2 rubbermaid totes of clothing to refashion...I need more hours in the day! ha...), and I just recently pulled it out and gave it a new life!
Please enjoy my scribbly little picture, I find it helps to visualize the changes I want to make! If it's hard to tell (lol..), I'm going to change the skirt shape to be less flared, add a section of another color to lengthen the skirt, shorten the sleeves, and add a bell sleeve of the same color as the lengthening at the bottom!
Surprisingly, these are all super simple updates - hopefully this inspires you to add some cute details to things in your closet!
We’re basically just going to make sure that changing the dress shape is symmetrical! After trying on the dress, I decided how much I was going to take off of each side, and measured in from the side seams this amount along the hem.
Because I'm making the skirt straighter, I'm just going to mark straight up from my mark on the skirt hem, and put a pin where I want the new seam to meet the old seam.
If you like, you can mark the line you're going to sew on your garment , or put extra pins between the two marks to guide you. I'm going to just eyeball it, because it's not too long or complicated of a stretch! Do whatever is comfortable! Here's my trusty pink scribble so you can visualize where I'm sewing.
Ta-da! Here's the new dress shape, after trimming the excess fabric!
Here's one of my new seams - if you have a serger, that would be a perfect way to reinforce them, but a good, old-fashioned zig-zag stitch will do! Make sure it doesn't overlap your straight stitch, or you'll mess with your nice, straight seam.
To be sure your transition from old to new shape is smooth, overlap your new seam at least a 1/2 inch or so, and make sure the two lines meet smoothly so there are no bumps in your garment. You should be able to trim the excess in a pretty straight line.
Here's what it looks like, right side out. Now to add some length!
I decided the seam between my two different fabrics at the hem would be smoother if the original hem wasn't there, because sewing through or over it adds extra bulk! I cut the hem off, but I would much rather have un-picked the seam at the hem before I tapered the skirt - so if you're changing your original side seams, and also want to take off the original hem, my advice would be to pick the hem seam first, update the side seams, then add your length! It gives you a cleaner line to undo the hem than to chop it off. Either way will do, though!
Here's my victim for the refashion, an old skirt! It isn't the exact same fabric as my dress, but they're both stretchy, and will be pretty cohesive together when they're sewn up!
Alright, since my "fabric" already has a hem, I'm going to make use of it! If you're using plain fabric, make sure to add a little extra room to hem the bottom. To make your hem piece, cut out two rectangles that are as wide as your skirt, and as tall as the length you want to add to your skirt, plus 1/2 inch for seam allowance, or a little more if you're hemming it also. If your fabric/skirt is big enough, you can also cut out one long rectangle that is as wide as the whole circumference of your skirt.
This is what your rectangles should look like, give or take.
Trusty pink lines, again! Your next job is to turn your one super long rectangle, or two less-long rectangles into a loop. Keep in mind that you need to add a seam allowance to the sides of your rectangles, also, so the loop you create has the same circumference measurement as your skirt/dress.
Now that we have our hem addition sewn, it's time to put the pieces together.
Slip your dress, right side out, into your loop - so the right sides are together. The new fabric's raw edge (not the edge you're hemming, or that is already hemmed) and the dress/skirt edge will line up.
The best way to make sure your final product looks as put together as possible, line up your side seams on the hem piece and on the original garment. If you have one long rectangle with just one seam, you can put that seam in the middle back of the skirt, or choose one of the original side seams (if there are any!) to line up your one new side seam with!
Pin your edges together, starting with your side seams, and sew on the pink line, all the way around your skirt circumference. Don't sew all the layers together and your skirt opening closed...I have truly, actually done that before when I was sewing very late at night....don't mention it to anyone please...HA okay, anyways...
Finished! Nice, clean (longer) hem! Now to tackle the sleeves.
The easiest way is to create a similar sleeve to one you already have...so you can just copy the measurements. But if you don't have a bell sleeve to copy, figure out where you want the bell to start on your arm (like near your elbow, etc.), and how long you want the bell to be, and make measurements accordingly.
Mark where you want your bell to start, plus around 1/2 inch for a seam allowance.
Cut your sleeve off at your mark (I always go to the slightly larger side of my mark, just in case. You can always make a measurement smaller once you cut, not bigger!), parallel to the original end of the sleeve.
The easiest way to make sure your angles and measurements are the same on your sleeves is to take the end you just cut off of one sleeve and line it up with the other sleeve, then cut it exactly along the cut end. Boom, two matching sleeves. (side note - you don't necessarily have to cut your sleeves, I just wanted to make the sleeve shorter than it was originally, even including the bell. You do you!)
To figure out the right flowy-ness to make by bells, I measured the opening and the gathered end of the bell on the sleeves I already had. The wide end was a little less than twice the circumference of the gathered end/sleeve opening. I used a similar measurement for my bells, since I liked the ratio on my original top. If you want a more gathered sleeve, make your circumference larger. Less flowy bell? Smaller circumference.
Cut two rectangles of your lengthening fabric that are as wide as the circumference you would like (plus 1/2 inch seam allowance), and as tall as the length of your finished bell (plus 1/2 inch seam allowance and an extra 1/2-1 inch if you need to hem the fabric). Pink is the first step - sew your rectangles into loops, then follow the blue and hem all the way around one edge of each loop.
Here's what my finished bell rectangles look like.
Alrighty, now to sew the bells to the sleeves! (And actually turn the rectangles into the bells...haha) Keep the right sides together, so you should see the wrong side of your bell as you pin to the sleeve, which should be right side out!
It usually looks cleaner to hide your seams, so start by lining up your rectangle’s seam to the armpit seam on the existing sleeve. This way, your bell seam will be on the inside of your arm. Pin these seams together!
Now that you have one edge pinned, smooth out your rectangle and find the opposite edge, and pin it to the sleeve, opposite the armpit seam.
With those pins evenly spaced, you can use them to find the middle of the remaining fabric edges, and pin those middle points to the middle of the sleeve edges.
Repeat a couple of times until your pins are fairly close together. Then you can do the same on the other side of the sleeve!
Here’s what my sleeve looks like, with the bell fabric pinned to the sleeve at even intervals! I find this is much easier than measuring both circumferences and calculating how big to make each section of fabric.
Here’s the pinned sleeve, your bell should be inside out and heading towards your shoulder. You’ll be sewing on the pink line around the circumference of your sleeve.
Once you have both pinned, it’s time to sew!
Ignore my chipped polish...I can’t get manicures to last more than a day or two! Anyways, time to gather your bell while attaching it to your sleeve! Gathering stretchy fabric (or attaching non-stretchy fabric to something stretchy, it works the same!) is so super easy. (P.S. If you aren’t working with stretchy fabric, you can either gather your bell fabric with a basting stitch or pleat your bell fabric to the circumference of your sleeve, then sew it on!) First, line up your raw edges on your machine and put down your foot AND needle.
Woth the needle down and holding your fabric in place, gently stretch your sleeve fabric at the base to be the same length as your looser bell fabric. Sew with your fabric stretched, and the bell will gather itself! It’s easiest to pause at each pin, take the pin out, and stretch your next section of fabric. Make sure your needle is DOWN before you try to stretch your section, if your machine doesn’t do it for you when you stop sewing!
When you’ve sewed all the way around, your fabric will gather itself when the base fabric stops being stretched. It’s magic!
Here’s what my seam looks like....
....ta-da! The easiest pair of bell sleeves you ever did sew!
Here’s the finished dress! We totally altered the style of this dress with three easy changes! Now use your shape-changing, lengthening, bell-sleeving skills to shake up your closet or thrift finds!
Let me know below if you have any questions or comments!
Hey there! My name is Kirstie. I'm here to jot down what it's like for us to make our way in the world - having fun on a budget, refashioning and DIY-ing our hearts out, pursuing business ventures, and raising a sweet babe in this crazy world. Join me for a slightly haphazard journaling of my little family and our pursuits and adventures!