Sustainable Sewcialists: Polka Dot Dress Refashion

Hi Sewcialists! When the opportunity popped up to write an article for the Sewcialists, I jumped at the chance, especially when I saw it was the topic of sustainable sewing, since the bulk of my sewing experience and a huge part of my learning process was actually disassembling and altering thrift store finds to fit my frame and style.

For this article, I chose to refashion this monstrosity:

I’ll admit, I’m a little ashamed about this purchase, and even more ashamed that I own it in another color as well. In my defense, I bought them when I was pregnant and pants were the bane of my existence. It’s about two sizes too big now, shapeless, and slides off of my shoulders. It does have some redeeming factors though. It’s a nice color, very soft, and I’m a sucker for a good polka dot, which makes it a great candidate for a refashion! If you’re looking for a garment to give a makeover to, always look for fabric or color that catches your eye or has a nice drape, because you can always alter the shape or style of the garment.

The first thing I do when getting ready to refashion is, of course, put the clothing item on. I look at the fit issues. In my case, the dress hangs low under my arms, and is cut too wide across the chest for me, causing the straps to slip off my shoulders. It is also lacking any sort of waist definition, which I feel is a big help when dressing my particular pear shape. Also, even though I love the color and pattern, it’s a bit bold even for me. So I decided I wanted to be able to break it up into separates but still have pieces I could wear together if I wanted.

With that in mind, I started pinning and measuring where I would make my cuts and alterations. When you do this, it’s also important to note any construction elements that would act as obstacles. In my case, I had a zipper running up the back and pockets along the side seam. I originally planned on keeping the zipper and pockets in the skirt, but changed my mind during the process. I’ll share some tips for preserving both of those features along the way in case this comes up for you.

First, my cuts:

I used a combination of my rotary cutter and scissors to make my major cut across the bodice. Normally, if I knew I wasn’t going to keep the zipper in the finished garment, I would either sew up the back seam and cut out the zip, or use a seam ripper to unpick the zipper and save the whole thing. If you want to keep the zipper but need to make it shorter, you can cut it to length, and secure the top of the zip teeth (sew back and forth across the new top of each side of the zipper teeth to keep the zipper pull from sliding off the top of the cut zipper.)

I was originally going to sew the bottom portion of my dress into a semi fitted pencil skirt silhouette, but decided a fuller bottom would be more flattering, so the zipper could be eliminated altogether. A couple pins and a quick bit of stitching to close-up the gap behind the zipper worked for the change-of-plans.

I did this on both the top and the bottom piece of my dress, making sure to take in the back of the top about two inches, which fixed my fit issues on the top portion. I did the same along the sides to eliminate the pockets (they’re great, but they added bulk where I didn’t want it.) I just sewed slightly inside the original side seam and cut the excess fabric away.

If you want to keep the pockets you would have to make sure you left enough fabric above the pockets to fold over for a waistband OR be able to salvage fabric from taking in the sides, back or taking up a hemline to create a new waistband. I chose to get rid of the pockets so all I had to do was fold over the top of my fabric twice and iron to create a casing for the elastic I was using for the waistband.

Then I sewed along the bottom of the casing, leaving an opening to thread my elastic through.

Next, I cut my elastic to size, thread it through (I use a safety pin), and zig-zag stitched the elastic ends together.

Then I moved on to hemming the top. I was trying to conserve as much of the length as possible, because although I was aiming for a cropped top with matching skirt that could mix and match, I wanted to keep it to just a little flash of skin. So I opted for a tiny rolled hemmed. I know a lot of people are intimidated by rolled hems, but I promise they are easy with a little practice! It’s a great way to use scraps too, make doll clothes and practice those little rolled hems!

I’ve found that starting a rolled hem is the biggest challenge but if you start by pinning a bit and running a few stitches, pulling the pin out and then guiding your material into the rolled hem foot, it’s much easier. It’s also helpful to note that the rolled hem can cause the hemline to flare out if your fabric is stretchy at all; you can usually fix this by adjusting the tension both on your machine and how much tension you hold the fabric with as you sew, and by adjusting your stitch length for a longer length. I kept my settings as-is since I liked the floaty effect it gave the top.

Here’s the finished separates:

After finishing that, it was just a matter of styling the finished pieces. I love the versatility of separates and I think my refashion is way more flattering fit-wise! I tried to style it for fall weather but it is still in the 80s here in California, so that didn’t last long. I was surprised at how comfortable I was in the top with jeans, as it’s a little daring for me. I also had an awkward exchange with my mailman as I was taking my “after” pictures since I was in my front yard. So embarrassing. I don’t know how fashion bloggers do it.

And here’s my side-by-side, before and after:

I’m hoping my post helps inspire you to undertake your own refashion project, and helps you incorporate sustainability in sewing through recycling garments! Please let me know what you think in the comments.

My name’s Jewelene from Wonky Bobbin and I’ve been sewing for more than 20 years, but still consider myself a student level sewist. Also come find my stuff on Instagram at @wonkybobbincrafts.