To Chop or Not to Chop

July 28th, 2011 § 8 comments

Plaid Skirt made from Dress



  • Skirt – chopped by me from thirfted dress
  • Blouse – Gap
  • Shoes – Kenneth Cole Reaction


  • Skirt – swapped dress chopped by me
  • Tank – J Crew
  • Belt – Old Navy
  • Necklace – gift from A2
  • Shoes – Banana Republic


I hope you don’t mind, but I decided to squeeze in one more post before my Top Ten/Goodbye post.  I wanted to fit this in because it answered some of the questions you all asked and because I’m kind of proud of my very minimal (but improving) DIY clothing skills (DIY house skills are another story).

As many of you noticed, I have chopped many a dresses into skirts. I’ve also worn a few dresses as skirts by layering a top over them.  So, how do I decided to chop something vs. leave it as a dress but layer over it?  Well I won’t chop it if I can see myself wearing it as a dress, even if that means always with a cardigan over it.  If the proportions of the garment as a dress work for me, I leave it as a dress.  Most of the dresses I have chopped into skirts had proportions that just didn’t work right for me. In the case of my full blue skirt and my white and black floral skirt, as dresses they had empire waists and were a little too short on me.  Chopping off the tops allowed me to lower the waist line and the hemline with minimal effort. In the case of my powder-blue midi skirt, it was an over-all unflattering fit with a smocked top and a skinny halter top, so I just chopped the very top off and use the smocking as anew fold-over waist band.  For the skirt above, I thrifted the dress very cheaply and while I thought it would work as a dress, I didn’t love the silhouette one I wore it out. So, I chopped the top off and left the elastic waist which now sits a bit lower (at my natural waist). 

Black dress chopped to skirt

With each of these, I simply took out a pair of scissors and chopped just above the original waist line.  The seem or elastic has then served as my we waist line, which sits where I want it to.  I left the tops unsewn – in part because I knew I would always wear a belt with the and in part because I had no idea how to even start finishing off the edges.I think this solution is a perfect one, and I’ll likely keep chopping old dresses or newly thrifted ones to make them work better in my wardrobe.

Plaid Skirt made from Dress

However, simply chopping and belting won’t work for every garment, so it was time to give the sewing machine a whirl!

Black dress chopped to skirt

I received  sewing machine for Christmas this past year (very much inspired by E. and all the other crafty blogers out there).  E. generously gave me a tutorial and even started me on my own tank-dress with pockets.  But then life got busy and we haven’t finished our lessons or my tank-dress. So, I decided I needed to just experimiment.  With the help of A2 I’ve started playing around and even managed to make baby e. (E.’s son) and little gift for his birthday. It was time to try the oh so intimidating clothing sew!  I grabbed a black sun dress from a clothing swap even though it was about 3 sizes too big for me not a style I could see myself wearing – it had potential.  This free item that I definitely wasn’t wearing as is, seemed like the perfect candidate for an experiment. I decided to turn it into a full black skirt.  I started by chopping off the top, but that left me with a skirt that was very a-line, didn’t fit my waist, and was several inches too long.  It had to be sewn!  So, I pulled out my limited sewing supplies (notice I used a permenent marker instead of a fabric pen/chalk) and measured an existing full skirt to figure out my length.  Since the bottom had a nice hem on it and the top needed to be changed in some way anyway, I took the length off by chopping more from the top.  This of course left me with an even bigger waist.
tank + chopped dresssupplies

But, this also meant I could make the skirt fuller.  So, I turned to E.’s tank-dress tutorial again and loosely followed her directions for gathering the skir and attaching a tank to it. Since I didn’t want this to be a a tank dress, I used an old tank that I don’t wear and choped it’s bottom off.  I used the bottom hem of the tank as the top of my new stretchy waistband

new waist band

Not the best sewing job, but good practice.  And, let’s be honest, I’m still always going to wear a belt with it!

I hope this has encouraged you to take a few risks and pull out you scissors one in awhile when that dress just isn’t working anymore!


Black dress chopped to skirt

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§ 8 Responses to To Chop or Not to Chop"

  1. Mia says:

    This advice is so great… I tend not to see the potential in garments if I can’t wear them as-is, but I will keep this in mind when I’m out thrifting next time. Your skirts turn out pretty fabulously!

  2. Colleen says:

    Hi, A!

    A possible solution to the raw edge conundrum – I have to hem ALL of my pants (I am just far too short to be able to purchase something and wear it without a slight alteration). Sometimes I run into an edge that unravels as I am trying to work with it. One of the things I have come to love is bias tape! Tuck your raw edge inside and simply straight stitch the top of it together. It makes a nice, clean edge, and the tape comes in a variety of colors. Here’s a helpful tutorial:

    (and it’s easy for the beginning seamstress!)

  3. Grace says:

    I love it! I recently chopped the top off a dress that I own after seeing you do it a few times and I like it so much better now. The way I finish my raw edges at the top is to leave a little bit extra and then fold it over and zig-zag stitch it. The zig-zag allows for some more flex instead of a straight stitch since it had an elastic waist already. I was thinking of leaving enough fabric on top to try to make a paper bag skirt but decided against it because I didn’t think it would look right.

    Happy chopping!

  4. Ashlee says:

    Have you tried sewing elastic in? You just make a casing for the elastic, thread it through the casing, sew the ends together and you’re done!

    BTW, this post just converted me 100% to thrifting. At my local thrift store, it’s full of clothes that several sizes too big, or just generally wouldn’t work on me…but I never considered altering the dresses into more suitable skirts! This is fantastic.

  5. Jane W. says:

    Looks great–I never would have know. I recently chopped a too-tight bodice off of a vintage, home-sewn dress to save the pleated skirt. Someone worked so hard on it, years ago. It would have been a shame to let it languish.

  6. Cindy says:

    I’m a fairly accomplished seamstress, and the posters above have given some good ideas. But I think your technique of using a tank top for the waist is GENIUS. It would be a lot more comfortable than lots of gathered fabric!

  7. [...] fingers are itching to make and embellish clothes and accessories, like button tees, ruffle skirts, dresses-turned-skirts, and basically everything that Academichic has collected in this post. (Except maybe the maternity [...]

  8. [...] struck me about the blog was not so much the fashions themselves (though one post on chopping up clothes did make me think about carving an old, too-blousy dress of mine into a skirt). More impressive was [...]

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