Changing Your Clothes

Shopping, Sewing, Upcycling, Repairing: Make the most of your clothes!


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Makeover Monday: Ballroom Dress to Tango Top!

Previously on Makeover Monday, I showed you how to change a top’s long sleeves into cap sleeves, making a little-worn garment much more versatile. (Since this top is black, having cap sleeves also means showing a little more skin, as opposed to looking like I’m being swallowed up into a black hole. This is a good thing.)

Today, I’m doing another quick project: converting a dress I made a few years ago for ballroom dancing into a top I can wear with multiple tango skirts— and I just might get another skirt out of it too*!

Here’s my dress, pre-makeover:

Velvet dress

Velvet ballroom dress, before its makeover.

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Basics: Repairing a Hem

Because I’ve been making clothes nearly all my life, sometimes I forget that certain skills are not, in fact, second nature to everyone. Even so-called basic sewing techniques involve specific instructions, as I discovered this week when I had to fix a dress whose hem had started to come undone. Just photographing the various steps in the process of hand-sewing approximately 11″ was eye-opening— there’s a lot to this seemingly simple repair!

Here’s the situation: It’s a sheath dress in a substantial stable knit, meaning it has some give, but also holds its shape; this quality has to be taken into consideration, as I’ll show you in a bit. Somehow, between the last time I wore it and, well, now, the hem started unraveling between a side seam and the center back seam. (This is a ready-to-wear dress, originally hemmed with the commonly-used clear monofilament that doesn’t tend to wear very well.)

Hem coming undone

The hem of my dress coming undone. For such a small section to be restitched, it’s actually quite a project.

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Cutting a New Hem: The Tango Skirt

The Tango Skirt. I spotted it languishing on an overcrowded rack in a consignment shop. It flirted shamelessly with me on the hanger, looking all cute and mysterious, and I just knew we would be going home together. I admit, I didn’t know anything about it, really, just that it was the dark, rich brown of the best espresso, in a soft, slinky fabric that was ruched and gathered at the back in an utterly beguiling manner. I didn’t even try it on, just handed over $18.00, and dashed out, clutching it to my heart. It was a magic moment.

Alas, poor Tango Skirt! The magic died when I pulled the skirt on at home. Yes, the ruched-and-fishtailed back was nearly as flattering as it had promised on the hanger, and I loved the way it swished around the backs of my calves. But the front! The front of the skirt, so plain, cut straight and drooping sadly below my knees, was not flattering at all. It was as if I had brought home two different skirts instead of one. Brokenhearted and embarrassed, I hung The Tango Skirt in a dark corner of my closet, where it stayed, unloved, for several months.

The Tango Skirt The Tango Skirt, pre-alteration. Looking at the plain-Jane front, you’d never guess such fabulousness could be lurking in back! (The pin in the front of the skirt marks the length of the lining, something that’s important to know before you start cutting anything! (Trust me.) Continue reading


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Stay! Taming a Beastly Narrow Hem

I was working on sewing a printed silk charmeuse top a couple days ago, the one-shouldered tunic from my Santa Fe wardrobe. This top, I might say, was by far the most straightforward garment I’ve made in quite a while; I have a tendency to complicate things by, say, adding a sheer or lace layer, tuxedo stripes to pant legs, or maybe just choosing a fabric that makes matching stripes or patterns necessary. But since I’m working with a gorgeous print (rare for me), I decided to let the fabric do the talking.

The only issue I had was the hemming of the one sleeve. It’s a slightly belled shape that forms a curving hemline; it’s also the only place on the entire garment where stitching shows on the outside  (I’m doing the lower hem by hand). And the soft, slinky, yes, silky nature of the fabric makes it among the more difficult to manipulate into a narrow hem, especially one stitched by machine.

Narrow hems: Usually, when a pattern says to finish a piece with a narrow hem, they mean a hem that’s folded under twice (hiding raw edges), then stitched. And since it’s called a narrow hem, it usually means 1/4″ wide, possibly slightly more.

I thought maybe I could do a modified version of the multi-step machine-stitched hem that I’ve used on chiffon; this technique involves stitching, trimming, stitching again, folding, pressing, stitching a third time. For my sleeve, the plan was to make good use of stay-stitching, mainly to stabilize the hem edge. (Remember the ripply original hem on my white linen skirt? This is how to avoid that.)

Stay-stitching: This is simply a line of stitching, usually worked inside the seam allowance, that’s not meant to be seen; its function is to stabilize, and sometimes to reinforce certain areas, such as the V of a v-neck, or a curving edge that needs to be clipped to lie flat.

Step 1: Stay-stitch 1/4″ from cut edge, fold to wrong side and press,  just inside stitching line.

Tip: be careful to use a stitch length that’s a little on the long side (I used a stitch length of 3); this will help prevent puckering.

Narrow hem, stitched, folded, & pressed Narrow hem, stitched 1/4″ from cut edge, folded to wrong side just inside stitching line, & pressed (in that order). Continue reading


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Hem My Skirt, Part 2: Happily Hemmed In!

It’s interesting how projects evolve. In Hem My Skirt, Part 1,  my main objective was to cut off the stained lower edge of my white linen skirt, to at least make it wearable (albeit 6.5″ shorter). The challenge was to mark and cut the skirt to its new length— said skirt being bias-cut, with a curving, A-line-verging-on-semi-circular hem. End of Part 1 found us with a newly-trimmed skirt, hanging for a couple of days before hemming (a necessity when working with bias-cut garments).

However, once I started working on preparing the trimmed-and-hung skirt for the sewing of the new hem, I realized that, along with getting rid of the stained part of the old hem, I could also improve on the finishing of the machine-stitched hem. Here’s how it looked originally, folded under twice, then sewn:

Skirt with original hem Skirt with original hem, turned under twice before machine-stitching; note the ripply edge, not a good finish for a bias-cut skirt, in my opinion. We can improve on this. Continue reading


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Hem My Skirt, Part 1: A Short (& Biased) Story

I have a white skirt dilemma, and it’s almost Labor Day— I think it now qualifies as an emergency! If I don’t fix this skirt now, I’ll have to bow to the Goddess of Fashion Rules and pack it up until next Memorial Day.

Here’s what’s going on. Last week, when temperatures here in Portland were hovering around 100, I finally fished my one and only white linen skirt out of the ironing pile. (My working theory was that just wearing white linen would give me the psychological advantage over the weather forecast. The jury’s still out.) Well, when I was about to start ironing the skirt, I started to notice a series of strange stains, all more or less near the hemline; strange because they all felt sort of hard, as if wax or something like that had fallen on the skirt and stiffened up. (Don’t ask me how this happened. I’m still scratching my head. I’m thinking these are some of those phantom things that happen in the laundry, much to my mystification.) It’s a little hard to see the stain in this photo,  since it’s more hard than dark, but you can just make it out:

Stain on White Skirt

One of several mysterious stains on my white linen skirt. No amount of soaking or treating seemed to make any difference.

I found stains like this one in several places, but they were all within 5 inches or so of the hem. Now, this skirt is bias-cut, A-line, and (originally) 30″ long from waistband to hem, which translates to mid-calf length on me (I’m over 5’8″ tall). So I thought it might be possible to simply re-hem the skirt to a shorter length, cutting off the offending stain-ridden area. Aha, I thought, I can get rid of the stains and make my skirt a more modern (and flattering) length simultaneously! Brilliant!

Of course, these brilliant ideas often don’t take certain issues into account. As I said, the skirt is bias-cut; this doesn’t necessarily make it more difficult to cut, but the stitching of the new hem will be a little more involved. So for today, I’ll show you how I measured and cut the skirt to its new length, and I’ll cover the finishing (including sewing) in my next post.

What you’ll need:

Something to mark your new hemline before cutting;

sharp shears;

tape measure or ruler;

sewing machine or hand-sewing needle

Okay! First, I’m going to lay my skirt out as smoothly as possible, lining up the front and back hemline edges. (Because I usually photograph things on a white backdrop, I’ve removed the background here so you can see the skirt a bit better.)

Skirt laid flat for cutting My skirt laid flat for cutting. Notice the curve of the hemline. Continue reading