Friday, April 2, 2021

Mint Check Men's Shirt Makeover: Smart Fashion Tricks for Modest Women on a Budget

How to Turn a Men's Shirt into a Woman's Dress

This summer, I felt very frustrated with the lack of quality fabrics in the women's section of the secondhand clothing shops. Almost everything was stretch knit or polyester. If I'm going to spend time and effort upcycling a garment, it's got to be made of a natural fibre that will be durable as well as comfortable.

Sighing in disappointment after another fruitless assessment of the women's racks, I passed by the men's section and did a double take. I blinked at a row of crisp cotton, long sleeved shirts in summery colours. The cotton was soft, in pristine condition. All I needed was for one to be larger than me...

Following in the pattern of the two-shirt dress (which I wrote about here), I prepared to remove the sleeves for functional reassignment. Taking these "Before" photos before ripping into the stitching with a seam ripper, I learned why the former owner had rejected his brand new shirt. Some of the buttons didn't line up with the button holes, creating puckers in the placket. So easy to fix once you know what the problem is!

Well, his loss was my gain. One shirt renovation coming right up.

1. Dismantle the shirt carefully.

Remove sleeves. Remove cuffs and buttons from sleeve placket (but leave buttons on cuffs). Press open sleeve seams. Topstitch cuff plackets closed.

2. Upgrade the centre front button placket.

Remove buttons on shirt placket. Measure, mark, and sew new buttonhole between each existing buttonholes. (This prevents any gaping at the bust, and makes the buttons more of a feature.) Sew buttons back in place, using those from the sleeves for the new buttonholes.

If you're going to use the cuffs as pockets, you may want to leave the cuff buttons in place. If you're short of buttons for centre front, check the tag in the side seam, which usually has extra buttons stored there. You can also use the buttons from the collar.

3. Adjust the shirt to fit your body.

Classy dressing begins with perfect fit. Take your time on this. I do not have the muscled shoulders that this shirt was designed to accommodate, so a number of darts were necessary to remove gaping around the armholes. The two shoulder blade darts extended so far across the back, I joined them together for continuity. The front darts begin at the armhole and extend down to the chest pockets. If I didn't point them out, most people wouldn't even notice they are there.

The last step of fitting the shirt is choosing where the waistline is going to be and trimming the hem thereto. Remember to allow wriggle room for getting the dress over your hips or over your head. The more fitted you make the dress, the more difficult it will be to climb into it. If you're not creating a dropped waist, you don't have the benefit of the button placket descending below your hips.

One more thing to consider before you cut the hem: straight across is quick and simple, but a curve will be more pleasing to the eye. I didn’t think about this until after I'd attached the skirt and was feeling frustrated by the boxy look. To mitigate this, I added a bias binding trim topstitched in a swoop up over the hips and down front and back. I'm much happier with the feminine look this gives.

4. Plan the skirt.

What shape skirt?
What style waist fitting?
Side pockets or patch pockets or both?

I chose a fitted waist, an A-line flare, and a contrasting waistband. I placed the sleeves cuff-upward this time (on the two-shirt dress, the cuffs are at the hem), allowing the armhole scoop to be a feature of the hem.

It was a challenge gleaning enough width from the small quantity of coordinating fabric I had available. I would rather have had more vertical bands of narrower width, and perhaps a third coordinating fabric, but sometimes you just do the best you can with what you have. (Ok, let's make that you *always* do the best you can!)

When you're satisfied with the skirt layout, cut and sew the pieces. If you've planned side pockets, apply each of the four pockets pieces to its corresponding side seam as your first step. Next, join each of the two side seams, stitching around the pocket shape as you go. Press the pockets forward. Now join the rest of the skirt pieces together.

5. Prepare skirt lining.

I had intended to use an emerald polycotton remnant for the lining, as it brightened the floral layer above it, but I hesitated over the coarseness of the polyester fibre in it and the knowledge that it would pill quickly. Contemplating my options, I realized that I had a supersoft lawn that matched the chambray colour of the collar and shoulder facings. Nobody would see the skirt lining except me, but I knew having the upper and lower linings match each other would please my eye. I also knew which fabric would be more pleasing to my skin.

Cut the skirt lining to fit the skirt. Sew the pieces together. Place the lining inside the skirt, and with wrong sides together, sew them together close to the seam allowance at the waist.

6. If you have a waistband.

You can join the waistband to the skirt and then join the skirt to the shirt.

Because my waistband added two parallel seams across my belly, I decided to create a smoother internal finish by lining the waistband as well as the skirt. I cut a band of lawn to match the floral cotton and pressed up the lower seam allowance. Laying the upper seam allowance against the shirt/skirt seam, with right side of band to wrong side of shirt, I sewed the inner band to the seam allowance. After I attached the skirt to the shirt, I pressed the inner band down over the raw edges of the two waistband seams, and handstitched it close to the lower band seam.

7. Join top and bottom.

Place skirt and shirt right sides together, and sew around the waist with a normal seam allowance (15mm or ⅝ inch).

8. Hem the skirt. Hem the lining.

9. Make bias binding to edge the armholes.

You might choose to do this step before you join the skirt to the top so there's less fabric to manoeuvre around the sewing machine. I did this step last, because I needed to use the largest floral scraps for the skirt. I used what was left over to cut the strips for the armholes.

To make bias binding:

Cut 40mm wide strips of fabric across the bias (at 45 degrees to the selvedge).

If your strips aren't long enough, cut the ends at 45 degrees and stitch together with a very narrow seam. Press seams open.

Press the strip in half, then press one side in towards the centre fold. Stitch the other side to  the garment at 10mm seam allowance (right side of tape to wrong side of garment). Press the seam open. Turn garment right side out. Pin or tack the tape to the right side of the armhole, and topstitch close to the edge.

For an adaptable fit:

After trying a variety of ways to bind armholes, I've decided adaptable fit is my priority, so I no longer sew a circle that fits the armhole and sew it to the armhole.

For an adaptable fit, open up an inch or two of the side seam and sew a straight piece of tape around the armhole from one raw edge to the other. Pin the folded edge to the right side, and topstitch close to the folded edge.

Now pin the side seams for best fit. Sew up the rest of the side seam where your pins are, edge stitch the seam, trim any excess tape to the seam allowance, and press the seam allowance to the side. If it's still visible when you're wearing the garment, add a few stitches to keep the seam allowance out of sight.

This method means if you put on weight, you can easily let out the seam and give yourself more room.

10. Add patch pockets.

Shirt cuffs make dinky patch pockets. Make sure all seam allowances are tucked under. Pin or tack the cuffs flat so they sit even to each other. Place them on the skirt and pin. (I use a cardboard sleeve poked between the skirt and lining to prevent pinning to the lining as well.) Topstitch pockets to skirt.

Voila! That's another satisfying Frugalista Fashion project completed. I find the blend of colours and patterns very pleasing. I adore the feel of the cotton shirt and the soft skirt lining. The fabric quality is excellent-- no ironing required. The design elements fall a little short of what I was aiming for, but I love wearing the dress, so I am content.

I hope you've found something beautiful and inspiring here today. Look out for more Boutique Narelle posts detailing liberating modest fashion techniques.

Fiat lux!

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