• josefinwanner

Beginner Upcycling Series - DIY Dress

Written by guest blogger Eva Winger (find her here).

When I first started my thrifting journey, I was 16 years old and the need was pure financial necessity. The idea that I was being 'green' was not even a concept in my simplistic teen mind. My mind-set was more "How can I achieve the same 'look' as the other girls with my $6/hour minimum wage job".

Not only until my late 40's I learned that the fashion industry is a huge contributor to carbon emissions, water pollution, and exponentially to landfills. And although we as a society donate our clothes to charity to help others in need or sell to others, there's a tertiary market of selling unsold donated goods to 3rd world countries which at first seems like a great idea, but actually is detrimental to their economies by reducing their industry and employment opportunities.

Although thrifting and upcycling clothing back out of the system is my blip in the effort, I still feel good about trying. And with many more people like me doing the same, collectively we can make a difference.

I will be producing a beginner upcycling series here which applies to ANY style of clothing. Sewing is Sewing regardless of style.

My Beginner's Upcycle Series will be in addition to my personal styling upcycles. Right now it will be in blogging form, but come Fall 2020, as my daughter moves out of the sunniest room in our house, videos will be coming out!

So let's get started !

I may be middle-aged, but I pride myself on not having lost my pulse on what styles are currently trending. It doesn't mean I follow all of them--let's cross off booty shorts or strapless anything. The first is just not appropriate for me and the second, well, I have never liked strapless anything, ever...just kind of how I don't like asparagus.

The thrifted dress below was Target's Merona brand. When I bought the dress, I thought I would wear it casually, with a belt and blousing the top over the bottom, in a boho 1920's vibe.

Well, in typically Eva-lutionary style, I got bored of that silhouette last summer (but not the pattern!), and knew the dress was begging for a face-lift.

My vision was simple:

...Maxi Dress to Short, Summer Ruffle Dress

You are probably thinking:

...this can't be a Beginner's Upcycler project?

My definition of Beginner Upcycler:

Can you do a basic straight stitch on a sewing machine?

Can you figure out where your zig-zag setting is?

Then you can do this!


Maxi-Dress Upycle OVERALL Parts:

Although for a beginner upcycler, this dress project might seem challenging, it helps to break it down into overall parts.

I designed this tutorial so you can do just the 1st & 2nd Part to create a bottom ruffle for your dress. If you feel like your dress needs more, you can continue to parts 3 & 4, which are easier tasks than 1& 2.

Part 1: Shorten dress

Part 2: Add bottom dress ruffle

Part 3: Make optional sash

Part 4: Make optional shoulder ruffle


1st Step

Decide Hem Length

  • Determine where you want to length of the ruffle to fall. (For me it was right below the knee.)

!!! Keep in mind!!!

--Higher the layer, then wider the ruffle

--Lower the layer, then narrower the ruffle

2nd Step

Create 1st Ruffle Layer Strip

  • Fold up hem to the new length of your dress. (For me it was right below the knee).

  • Put in about 2 pins to hold in place.

  • Measure the same length around entire dress

  • Press with hot iron

  • Pin layer up all around dress

3rd Step

Create 2nd Ruffle Layer Strip

  • Fold up 2nd time and pin.

  • Pin all around dress.

  • Iron down folds.

  • Use Chalk to mark final edge. This is where you will cut off the fabric.

4th Step

Cut off fabric

  • Look for your chalk line from Step 3.

  • Find a vertical seam (use what dress already has)

  • Cut up vertical seam to chalk line

  • Cut horizontally at chalk line all around dress

5th Step

Cut Along 2 Pressed Seamed Lines

  • Look at your removed fabric (Mine came out to 19 inches total width! Yours can be different, nothing to worry about.)

  • Find your your pressed edges

  • Cut up along entire length of fabric resulting in 3 strips

  • Pick out 2 strips for dress's hem ruffle and put aside 3rd strip

6th Step

Set Up Your Sewing Machine &/or Serger

  • Pick out your thread

  • Set up your sewing machine &/or Serger

(I leave this is up to you since each machine is different...tons of online tutorials to help you! Personally I have a Brother XR3340--and very happy. It's just the machine that was at Costco the time my other more expensive machine broke-down. I own 3 Sergers, Babylock Imagine (for tight, 3-thread, silky overlock stitching as I will use for my ruffles), a Juki-m1000 which is my seaming workhorse), and a $50 1980's Bernette I bought off Craigslist (dedicated only to white thread--never changing. I am not affiliated with any of these companies.)

7th Step

Connect 2 Strips Together at Narrow Ends

  • 1 & 2-- Put one side of your narrow edges together of both strips, front-fabric side together

  • 3-- Sew with regular stitch down edges

  • 4--Zig-Zag or Serge raw edges

  • 5-- Lay out long layer and connect 2nd set edges together to make a complete circle

  • 6-- Sew 2nd set of edges together

8th Step

'Finish' Edges of Ruffle

(PLEASE NOTE: Finish here does not mean completion! Finish here means to transform your raw edge into a completed edge so there is no fraying over time.)

  • Finish edges of fabric with either a narrow, fold-over hem with a regular sewing machine OR serge a silky edge with a Serger (finishing with a sewing machine takes longer, but has as nice of an effect).

9th Step

'Gather-Stitch' Entire Length of Circle

  • Find your machine's longest stitch (Basting/Gathering)

  • Stitch entire length of the circle leaving a little thread out (Mine is in neon yellow because it's easier for me to see, I have a ton of it, and I can easily take it out at the end of the process)

  • Pull that thread end and slowly pull while shimmying fabric down until it gathers

10th Step

Attach Ruffle to Dress Edge

  • 1-- Align your ruffle front fabric to dress front fabric at lower edge of dress and gathered part of ruffle. (You can see a blue hazy arc which I highlight to show you that I have not wrapped the ruffle yet around whole dress yet.)

  • 2-- You will need to adjust the length of the ruffle to your dress edge...if ruffle layer is too long, pull thread and adjust the gathering again, if ruffle too short, release some slack and your gathering will be wider apart. (This step does take some time, even for me, so don't get discouraged).

  • 2 & 3-- Pin ruffle layer to edge of dress.

  • 4 & 5-- Sew with regular length stitch the fabrics, and adjust ruffles if needed before being stitched down. (Again, take your time with this process...better to do it right the first time rather than have to take it all apart and start from the beginning.)

  • Zig-Zag or Serge seams together. (Not pictured.)

11th Step

Give Yourself a Gold Star!

Sit back and look at your new dress!

Do you want to make a sash and some sleeve ruffles? 

Not too much more work! The hardest part is done already!


12th Step

Create Sash

  • 1-- Lay out 3rd fabric strip that you put to the side in the beginning of the tutorial.

  • 1-- Fold over one edge to where the folded side is the same width as the front-fabric side (basically 2/3 of fabric to left, and 1/3 is to the right).

  • 2-- Sew all the way down the edge.

  • 3-- Cut off the 1/3 extra fabric.

  • 4-- Find a long slender knitting needle, or ruler.

  • 5--Start inverting the tube of fabric.

  • 6-- Iron and sew down pressed edge.

13th Step

Sew Ends of Sash

  • 1-- Lay out first unfinished end of tube/sash.

  • 2-- Turn under edges of raw fabric edges.

  • 3-- Sew down new edge.

  • 4-- Press Edge and repeat on other side.

14th Step

Give Yourself ANOTHER Gold Star!

A simple sash makes

a huge difference!

You can stop here if you want OR you can go to a couple more steps

to add the strap ruffles!


15th Step

Create Shoulder Ruffle

  • 1-- Lay out  the last 1/3 fabric strip.

  • 2-- Cut strip in half.

  • 3-- Trace a curved edge with chalk (doesn't have to be perfect)

  • 4-- Press Edge and repeat on other side.

  • 5--Trace the first shape out onto the 2nd shoulder strip and repeat!

16th Step

Attach Shoulder Ruffle

  • 1-- Sew a gathering stitch into the flat side of the shoulder ruffle, and pull the thread to create the ruffle.

  • 2-- Pin ruffle to shoulder strap.

  • 3-- Sew with regular stitch onto shoulder strap.

  • 4-- Feel accomplished!

You did it!

17th Step


Did you get your final Gold Star?

I hope you did!

Remember, you don't have to do all 3 steps!

Each way along the process is a stand-alone beautiful creation.

Now time to look what you've accomplished!

I just love the way it turned out!