Fast, easy, and inexpensive convertible dress
I was fooling around online one evening and I don't remember how I stumbled across these dresses, but they're just so cool! They are dresses that allow you to wear them a million different ways. I'm a babywearer and I have used woven wraps for well over a year now so maybe that's why it appealed to me so much. Or perhaps it's the fact that it is just a giant circle with a hole cut out for the waist and two crazy long straps attached. Plus a waistband to keep it from falling down. That's it. If you buy the right fabric you don't even have to hem it because it won't unravel. A cool dress I can make in three hours that looks fabulous? Right up my alley!
The only down side with the ones I saw online, whether ready made or DIY, was that it's pretty bare. I have a small bust so I never show cleavage. I mean, I have cleavage, it's just 6" wide. And side boob? Uh uh, ain't gonna happen. I'm a 40-something mom who's breastfed kids, after all. So I was concerned that if it was too revealing I'd never wear it. In the photo below, the straps just barely covered my chest and honestly, while this would be great for dinner out with hubby on date night, I wouldn't wear it with clients even if it were 100 degrees out.
Enter this tutorial:
She made a detachable tube top to wear under it. I tried it with my first attempt, the purple dress above, and now it was TOO conservative for me. I wanted to find that perfect line between skimpy and frumpy.
So as I was searching for an alternative I saw this photo on Amazon.
This was perfect! It's like an empire waist strapless dress with the infinity straps. So I made the waistband from Cate's blog post taller and voila, exactly what I wanted!
Now for the specifics:
When I made the purple dress I used polyester/spandex I found at Joann's Fabric for $15/yard (on sale for $10.) I bought 4 yards and had lots left over so I probably could have gotten away with 3 or so. It's stretchy and has a lovely drape and was somewhat thick. You wouldn't necessarily need a bra under it but I use those self adhesive bras that hook together in the front. They are unbelievably awesome and are right up there with the wheel and sliced bread in my book. In the summer I wear them almost every day.
For this project I totally lucked out and found a stretch jersey knit for $1.50/yard at Walmart, so I bought 6 yards for $9.00! It's like a t-shirt. Very soft, quite thin but not transparent, and most importantly it doesn't need to be hemmed because it doesn't unravel when you cut it.
I decided to do a handkerchief hem this time just for kicks. I did a circle skirt with the purple dress and had it hit just below my knees. For me, that was 26" long but I'm 6'1". For the handkerchief hem it's even easier than a circle skirt. Start by folding your fabric in half lengthwise. Match up the selvedges and cut off about 1" where all those little perforations are. Then fold it in half again crosswise (imagine you're making a paper snowflake.) Hold the edge that's folded twice in front of you at waist level.
Figure out where you want the dress to end and mark it with a pin. Then lay it back down flat and measure what that length was. For me it was 29". Cut straight across WITH A ROTARY CUTTER AND MAT! I can't stress this enough. I made the first dress with scissors and the edges are wonky. The rotary cutter is pure perfection. They're about $15 but you'll thank me later. Use a straight edge like a yardstick and roll your rotary cutter along it to make a nice big square. Again, this will NOT be hemmed so a straight cut is mandatory. This is your finished edge.
Now to make the waist hole. Make it smaller than you think you need - this fabric is super stretchy! You can always make it bigger but you can't make it smaller without a lot of work. I pinned my tape measure to the corner where all the folding is and measured out a semi circle 4" from the corner. Then I put a bowl on it to use as a guide while I cut it out.
I traced around the bowl with my rotary cutter and made a perfect circle. It was almost too big and I have a 34" waist! So I'm serious when I say make it tiny.
Now you're going to cut out the straps. Cate's blog recommended 105" long if you're tall or plus sized, 95" if you're average sized, and 85" if you're petite. I used 105" long for the purple dress and I was able to wrap those straps about four times! So this time I made 95" and it's just fine. Did I mention that I'm 6'1"? So make yours however long you want. But make them at least 85" long. You can always cut more off.
Strap width: This is highly variable. I a) didn't want to show cleavage and b) wanted the sides covered too. So with the purple dress I made 14" straps. I overlapped them by 5" in the center and it's way too much. Looks weird with certain variations. So with the red dress I made the straps 12" wide and only overlapped 3" in the middle.
I used my rotary cutter to cut a nice long straight line through both layers of fabric so I cut both straps at once. Then I cut the fold right off. I put my straight edge about 1/8" from the fold and cut it off.
Now for the tube top/waistband. Measure above your bust where the tube top's top edge will be.
Mine was 37". Subtract 7", so now it's 30". I cut two pieces for the tube and have seams on each side. I could have done one long piece with a seam down the back but I thought they'd be less noticeable on the sides. My two pieces were 15" wide and 8" tall. Use your machine's stretch stitch if it has one. It looks like a zigzag where the zigzag is on an angle instead of going side to side. If you don't have that option, do a zigzag with a fairly short stitch length. Sew the two pieces wrong sides together along the two outer edges with a 1/2" seam allowance. Optional: I also folded the top edge down about 1/2" and hemmed it. I don't know why exactly, except that I thought it would help keep the top up better. You could also make a casing and thread an elastic through.
IMPORTANT: Try it on! Mine was HUGE. I had to take it in twice before it fit without falling down. UPDATE: It was still huge. I ended up taking it in another inch on each side. The weight of the fabric just kept pulling it down even with a strapless bra underneath. The heavier poly/spandex fabric didn't do this so I'm guessing it's the fabric I chose.
Now for assembly! : )
Lay the skirt out flat with the circular hole in the center, right side up. Lay the straps coming down from the waist side by side, right side down. (With a solid color there probably is no difference but if you have an obvious right and wrong side, make sure the straps are right side down.) Overlap them in the middle as much as you want. 1" overlap = tons of cleavage. 5" overlap looked weird to me whenever I tried to cross the fabric in front before it gets to your neck. So I chose 3".
Pin the two straps all the way along the front edge of the skirt, like this.
TRY IT ON! Ok, this is tricky because there are a million pins sticking out but I'd rather get poked than have to use my seam ripper.
If you're happy with the look, start sewing! (In the photos above I didn't pull the tube top up. I left it down around my waist to see how bare the straps would be without it. I was perfectly comfortable with the way the front looked and the back would be great in hot weather, but I like having the tube top option.) Sew it with a 1/2" seam allowance using your stretch or zigzag stitch. An overlocking stitch is even better. It makes it look more professionally done and finished on the inside, plus I feel like it will hold up better to repeated washings since I'm not the world's greatest seamstress. UPDATE: I forgot to change the needle on my sewing machine before starting this project. It was a heavy duty needle for sewing the camo baby carrier (also posted in this blog) and now the needle holes are so large that the fabric pulls and you see daylight through all the holes. Arrgh! So be sure to use a ball point needle specifically made for sewing stretchy fabrics.
If you don't like the coverage, move the straps further apart/closer together until you're happy with it.
Now for the tube top. Turn it inside out and side the tube down over the skirt and straps (which are hanging down on the floor) so that the top edge of the tube is at the bottom.
The skirt is right side out, straps are wrong side out, tube is wrong side out and upside down. Make sense? Pin all layers together. If the tube is smaller in circumference than the waist hole stretch it until it goes all the way around, using lots of pins. It will kind of snap back together for a gathered look when you're done. Sew with your stretch stitch all the way around the waist hole. Use a slightly larger seam allowance so that the first line of stitching won't show. I didn't, but you can always do an overlock stitch or something to finish the edges if you want. I'm assuming you'd do that on the skirt and the waistband/tube top separately before assembling the dress.
That's it, you're done! It seriously took me about 3 hours and would have taken less if the baby hadn't been trying to pull out all my pins every time I turned my head. And put every spool of thread I have on the dress. Pay no attention to the potty chair in the background. He's interested in it so we carry it around the house for him to sit on whenever the urge strikes.
Here are some of the variations I tried. I am the world's worst selfie taker! Sorry about the focus and lighting.
Good luck! Hope you love it too.
Edited to add: I made another one! I bought some turquoise stretch knit off eBay, of all places, for $4/yd. It's gorgeous! Lightweight but not as thin as the red one above. This time I got the idea to make some gathers in the straps right where they go over your bust. I have a halter style bathing suit like this, which I love because it's so flattering, so why not? May I just say it was one of my more brilliant ideas. ; )
So I made the straps 14" wide but when I laid them down on the floor I made a few big pleats at the end where they will attach to the skirt. I'm so sorry I didn't take any photos because it worked great! But it kind of looked like this:
I still overlapped by about 3" in the middle so I have enough coverage for my sense of modesty and the straps wrap around the sides enough that I don't have any side boob showing. I still made the tube top style waist band but honestly, I haven't had to use it at all.