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

Category: Independent Study (DIY), Proportionally, Reaching New Heights, Skirting the Issue, Teaching Outfits, Weekend Wear
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Resource File: Our Favorite DIYs and Weekend Workshops

July 27th, 2011 § 3 comments §

One of the great things about the internet and the blossoming of the blogosphere is the amount of information and inspiration that is now at our fingertips. We, in our little corner of the web, have over the years hopefully sparked some ideas for your own do-it-yourself projects. None of us are expert sewers or crafters, but we’ve still dabbled in creating or reimagining garments, crafting storage solutions, and making a few extra pretty things along the way. Beyond concrete DIY projects, we’ve also tried to be self-conscious about showing you our thought processes for more amorphous projects like “What do you pack for a research year abroad?” or “What do you wear to an academic conference?” Here we’ve compiled some of our personal favorites and hope you still find them as useful as we do!

Do It Yourself

19 April 2010 - A Pocket Full of Allergy Meds 9 May 2009 - Evening Shower

E. shows you how she made a tank dress — with pockets! and turns a maxi halter dress into a knee-length dress with draped kimono sleeves

Paper bag waist Target dress before

E.’s guide to re-fashioning existing garments

DIY Embellished Ts

DIY: cardigan embellished with Amy Butler fabric DIY Cardigan

E. embellishes a cardigan with applique and A. sews on some rosettes for a change

30 March 2011 - Maternity top 'After' picture 3 September 2009 - Independent Study

S. elasticizes the bottom of a shirt for maternity wear and E. shows us how to “skinny” your jeans

Home-made Bouquet
DIY: The Wedding Collection

DIY Jewelry Hanger - detail Paper Flowers

How to make a simple jewelry hanger and How to make tissue paper flowers

Weekend Workshops

How to re-purpose your jewelry

On the Road Again: Packing for Anything

Arty Top + Skinny Jeans24 April 2009 - Evening

Finding Wardrobe Inspiration

Skirts Dresses Sweaters and Cardis Tops Accessories

Capsule Wardrobe Roundup

Click here for a full listing of our How Tos and here for additional DIYs and look here for more Weekend Workshops!

Category: Independent Study (DIY), Resources, Taking Notes, Weekend Workshops

30 March 2011 – Mini DIY Project

March 30th, 2011 § 17 comments §

30 March 2011 - Maternity top 'After' picture


Top – Liz Lange Maternity for Target, via consignment store
Jean skirt – Liz Lange Maternity for Target, via consignment store
Cardi – very old H&M
Brooch – vintage, via consignment store
Tights – TJMaxx
Yellow shoes – Gianni Bini
Scarf – Vintage Threadz on Etsy


This skirt and top are two more finds from my maternity shopping spree with E. The best part of going maternity clothes shopping with E.? She has such a great eye for the potential in items. I found this teal top and instantly liked its color and drapeyness, but once on, the drapeyness was a little too much and it felt a little long and frumpy…

Maternity top 'Before' picture

But E. suggested two ways in which this could be quickly and easily remedied. One way would be to add ruching to the sides of the fabric (see a simple tutorial here), gathering it with that puckered effect symptomatic of many a maternity shirt. I loved that solution for keeping the top structured while allowing for extra belly fabric, but didn’t think that my remedial sewing skills could produce it. So I went with the second – and easier option – which was to add an elastic band along the bottom seam bringing the fabric in that way.

Shirt hem DIY

This was a very quick and effortless project that only cost me a couple of dollars in elastic and a few minutes in DIY time. I used a seam ripper to cut an opening into that bottom seam and ran the elastic all the way through. Once I had the elastic in, I tried the top on to see how wide I needed my elastic to be to fit comfortably around my hips. I pinned the ends in place with a safety pin while I had the shirt still on, then sewed them together, cut the excess elastic off, and stitched the shirt seam back up. And voila! The new and improved version…

30 March 2011

For comparison purposes, here is the top once more with the ‘Before’ and ‘After pictures…

Maternity top 'Before' picture 30 March 2011
Maternity top 'Before' picture 23 weeks preggers

I much prefer this more nipped in and tailored version, as it hugs the belly while still being loose and comfortable but without looking shapeless and frumpy. It’s such a minor change but still one that makes such a difference. Thanks, E., for a great idea! Being able to see the potential in items makes shopping for a maternity wardrobe (or any wardrobe) much easier, especially when scouring thrift stores and consignment shops. The selection may not always be as great as in a retail store but the pricer are much better and the possibilities after altering something to suit your shape and aesthetic make the find all the more rewarding, don’t you think?  S.

Category: Beltless, Independent Study (DIY), Maternity Style, Proportionally, Skirting the Issue, Taking Notes
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DIY: Ribbon Belt with Button Closure

March 3rd, 2011 § 18 comments §

Ribbon Belt in action


  • Shirt: Target
  • Sweater: thrifted
  • Skirt: Banana Republic
  • Ribbon Belt: by me!
  • Stockings: Calvin Klein via Filene’s Basement
  • Shoes: Tahari via DSW

Belts were my gateway drug into the world of style. I so envied the sleek/stylish/fun/creative belts that the other Chics wore, that I finally drank the Kool-Aid and got some for myself… and I’ve never looked back. I have pink belts, custom made belts, wide belts, skinny belts, obi belts, stretchy belts, scarf belts, metallic belts, and belts that are literally made out of metal. I have worn belts to define my waist, turn a dress into a skirt, and add color to an outfit, and I keep looking for new inspirations for using my growing collection. Needless to say, I love belts and today’s is no exception. In fact my entire outfit is based off of the colors in the belt. Pink, pale blue, gold and cream are picked up in my shirt, sweater, and shoes – unfortunately I did have to wear sheer stockings today because my brain couldn’t figure out a pair of tights that would work – Do you have some suggestions!?

Ribbon Belt closeup

I dug this fantastic vintage ribbon out of a box of sewing equipage that was my grandmother’s and have been meaning to do something with it for a while now. It is so fabulous with the bright pinks and greens, subtle blue, tiny gold detailing and stuffed (yes, with real batting!) damask flowers and butterflies that I knew I wanted it to mostly stand on its own, and making it into a belt was as easy as 1-2-3!

Click “more” for the DIY of How to Make A Ribbon Belt with Button Closure
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Category: Color Combinations, Independent Study (DIY), Reaching New Heights, Skirting the Issue, Taking Notes, Teaching Outfits
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Weekend Workshop: DIY Jewelry Hanger

February 12th, 2011 § 26 comments §

In today’s Weekend Workshop we’ll be making a jewelry hanger.

I (L.) used to keep all my jewelry in a drawer or jewelry box, but I found that I would cycle between a few pieces that would live on my dresser and I’d never get to the other things that were stashed away. I decided to combat “out of sight, out of mind” by making this jewelry organizer that would allow my jewelry to hang in plain sight. I took the idea of those ribbon bulletin boards that were popular a few years ago (I definitely don’t pretend to have thought this up myself!) and put some leftover fabric and ribbon to use. True to my assumption I have been wearing a much wider range of necklaces ever since!

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Category: Independent Study (DIY), Taking Notes, Weekend Workshops
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January 20th, 2011 § 77 comments §



  • Cape – F21
  • Mustard yellow top – free from swap
  • Jean skirt – Urban Outfitters
  • Striped tights – Anthropologie
  • Boots – Dillards
  • Faux vintage locket – thrifted


First of, thank you all for your many wonderful comments on my last two posts! It’s been so nice to not just get the many maternity style tips from you, but also the candid and thoughtful comments on what it’s been like to balance pregnancy, motherhood, and academia (or a professional life in general) for many of you. I’m really grateful for this space where I can continue to reflect on these topics in the coming months and where I know I can rely on a community of intelligent and strong-minded readers to engage in discussion with me about these things. So thank you!

On to the outfit: I decided to make this jean skirt last a little longer by employing the elastic band trick to loosen the waistline. I tried this trick with jeans but I really don’t like the feeling of my zipper being down. It’s not as bad with this skirt though, since the distance to the next lowest button isn’t too large…

Elastic Trick

And to make sure that I could safely raise my hands while pointing to the overhead screen in class without flashing my students my belly and gaping skirt waist, I layered this longer sweater cape over a long sleeved tee. I then played off the mustard yellow and navy color combo of the tops with the addition of navy and yellow striped tights and gold based jewelry.

Vintage Inspired Locket

We’ll see how much longer I can pull off this skirt this way. I have added a denim pencil skirt to my maternity wish list but am having trouble locating one I like so far. Maybe I can get really crafty, find a regular one at a thrift store, and convert it to a maternity item myself à la this tutorial submitted by reader Sarah. Also note that Sarah used a bella band rather than a t-shirt to make the waist panel on her jeans – what a clever idea!

Please keep sending those maternity clothes DIYs and tutorials my way, I plan on putting them all together into a bibliography to share on the site with you. Thank you! -S.


Category: Beltless, Color Combinations, Independent Study (DIY), Layers Upon Layers, Maternity Style, Pregnancy in Academia, Reaching New Heights, Skirting the Issue, Teaching Outfits
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DIY: Turn a T-Shirt into a Strapless Top with Pockets

May 17th, 2010 § 17 comments §

My friend L. emailed me one day with this link, asking if I was up for trying this simple T-shirt refurbishing project. Since she was offering her crafting expertise and sewing machine, I could not refuse. I struggled a bit with the initial instructions, so I decided to document this DIY project in every minute detail to help other novices (like me) be able to do this even without the help of an expert seamstress. (Thanks, L!)

Materials Needed:

  • Old t-shirt (we thrifted these discarded German Army shirts for under 3 Euros each)
  • Elastic (approx. 1.5 meters per shirt)
  • Scissors
  • Sewing Machine (preferred)


After you’ve chosen your t-shirt to deconstruct, begin by measuring the circumference of your chest (watch L. demonstrate…)

Cut the elastic to size so that it will fit around your chest snuggly (this will hold up your top, so a snugger fit is preferred.)

The bottom hem will now be your new top hemline, running across your chest. Using a seam cutter, tear a hole large enough to run the elastic through it. (Tip: choose a spot on the side of the shirt that will likely be hidden under your arm when worn, rather than in the front or back).

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Category: Independent Study (DIY)
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DIY: Tank Dress with Pockets!

May 11th, 2010 § 71 comments §

At long last, I present a tutorial for the tank dress I made a few weeks ago before the end of the semester blindsided me. I’ve been seeing these tank+patterned skirt all over the place lately, but frequently they were too short or too short-waisted for my particular proportions. After some googling, and studying the really excellent skirt tutorial and t-shirt dress tutorial at Ruffles and Stuff and the skirt with pockets tutorial at Freshly Picked, I decided that even my fairly rudimentary sewing skills could handle this project.

And since I celebrated my height yesterday for Dress Your Best week, it seems appropriate to post a sewing project prompted by my need for a longer-than-in-stores dress.

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Category: Independent Study (DIY)
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7 March 2010 – Embellished Cardi DIY

March 7th, 2010 § 12 comments §

7 March 2010 – Embellished Cardigan DIY, originally uploaded by academichic.


  • Grey Cardigan – H &M, embellished by me
  • Purple Tank – Gap
  • Denim Skirt – Gap
  • Boots – Banana Republic, via ebay

I’ve had this grey cardigan for years.  For a while it was a staple in my wardrobe (making almost as frequent appearances as my beige cardi does now) but eventually, I just stopped wearing it much.  I got bored with it, but I couldn’t bring myself to toss it in the donation pile.  When E. decided to do a cardi-embellishing project, this seemed the perfect item to breath new life in to.

Despite the fact that E’s sewing and crafting abilities are far superior, I took on a slightly more difficulty DIY…but, trust me, if I can pull it off, so can you.

To make these little flowers you will need:

  • Scrap Fabric (I used a purple jersey)
  • Thread in to match your fabric
  • Scissors
  • A Needle
  • A few pins

Cut  your fabric into 1-1 1/2 inch wide strips, 4-6 inches long (I used a variety of sizes). Fold the fabric strip in half and pin it to keep it folded.

Then do a running-stitch across the bottom (where the folded ends meet).

Pull the thread on one end to gather the fabric together. Use your fingers to adjust the gathering and shape the fabric into flowers.

You can either make a few stitches to keep the fabric in this shape, or tack the flowers directly to the cardigan, shaping a bit as you go.  I played around with the placement of the flowers for a while, but eventually settled on a keeping them on one side of the neck line.  I still have some fabric left over, so I can always add a few more flowers later.

I know have the DIY embellishment bug and I’m excited to go through my drawers looking for tired pieces just begging for a few ruffles or a corsage of purple jersey!

7 March 2010 – Embellished Cardigan DIY, originally uploaded by academichic.

Category: Beltless, Color Combinations, Independent Study (DIY), Our Best Flatware, Skirting the Issue, Weekend Wear
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DIY: Floral Applique Embellished Cardigan

March 5th, 2010 § 38 comments §


  • Embellished cardi: Target + Amy Butler fabric + a little DIY
  • Navy top: Target
  • Denim pencil skirt: Banana Republic Factory
  • Gray knee socks: mom’s from college
  • Boots: Steve Madden Iriss

End Notes:

I adopted this little green cropped cardigan from one of my sisters-in-law, but shortly thereafter it developed a little hole in the shoulder. Rather than throwing it away, I thought that it would serve as the perfect base for trying my hand at cardigan-embellishing. I started with this Blushing Bouquet cardigan from Anthropologie as my general inspiration:

A few simple steps:

1.  Select a fabric with a strong print. Iron on a length of fusible web to the back of your fabric.

2.  Cut out the pattern you want to applique. I tried to get a variety of sizes of flowers and leaves from my fabric.

3.  Lay out the cut-outs on your cardigan. I wanted mine to go all the way around the neck, so I couldn’t lay everything out at the same time. Instead, I selected a few flowers as anchor points and ironed those into place.

4.  Keep ironing the cut-outs onto your cardigan until you have the desired look. And… ta da!

A Few Notes: Any time you adhere a woven fabric to a knit, you lose the stretch of the knit. So, if you need your cardi to keep that stretch — particularly around the bust, for example — then refrain from appliqueing embellishments there. Also, be sure to follow the directions on whatever brand of fusible web you purchase for best results. And finally, I think this is going to be a handwashed laundry item from here on it. But I think it’s worth it.

If academia doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll just become a full-time cardigan embellisher. I know that, given time and supplies, I could very well make something like this or this or this. And look how many fabulous — and often surprisingly easy! — ways there are to fancy up your cardigan using ribbon or just scraps of fabric!

As always, we’d love to see what you’ve come up with yourself!

Category: Independent Study (DIY), Our Best Flatware, Skirting the Issue
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