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After making a prototype plus-sized 20’s flapper style dress for myself from some scarves and a refashioned skirt, I felt confident about trying another and using the “better” scarf. What I liked about it was that it had a very period appropriate, Art Deco pattern and sparkly details. I’d also found a black satin, tiered skirt to use for the bottom.

Having had a trial run at the design, I knew exactly the length I needed for the front and back panels of the dress. This scarf was a bit shorter than the “practice” one, but was the same width. I still cut from the middle, but this meant there was a bit less left-over for the sleeves.

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To finish the top, the cut seams were sewn together to close the shoulders. I then cut out the neckline, working around what looked good with the pattern and my comfort. The scarf looks like silk but is polyester, so I was able to finish the edges of the neck-line by careful burning. This is a great trick when it works but you MUST do fabric tests before risking a bigger piece. It’s also important to keep safety in mind at all times when setting fabric on fire!

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The sides were done with pieces of a fine black crepe from the stash. I used the same fabric for most of the sleeves but was able to edge the top of the sleeve slits with what came out of the middle of the scarf. A vintage black button with a white rhinestone, closed each sleeve slit.

A pretty black silk burnout scarf was used to make up the dropped waistline. It had beaded details on each end as well as long beaded fringe and a pair of small black fur balls on each end. All of these were perfect for the period and I wanted to show them off as much as possible. To do so, I figured out how much I’d need of the ends to get the look of a knot and some swing. Those pieces were cut from each end. The centre piece was then roughly hand-sewn down to a strip of black satin along the top and bottom edges. The satin was slightly narrower than the scarf so it has some bag and movement, to further sell the look of the waistband being a scarf. The centre wasn’t long enough to cover the whole waistband but I had another black silk scarf and I was able to cheat and use it on the back. The removed ends of the scarf were shaped into a knot and then hand- stitched back on to the waistband.

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The light satin skirt that was chosen for the bottom started with 3 tiers of fabric. The top tier was too small to use so it was taken off. The gathering along the top of the second tier was really helpful because it made it very easy to exactly match the width to the bottom of the waistband. I just had to let the gathering out enough to line them up! Losing the top layer also kept the length from being too long. It came to below the knee on me, but would be almost floor length for a shorter person.

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We had some beaded trim in our supply stash that not only matched the beading on the waist scarf, but also tied into the bead and sequin details on the skirt! A line of the trim was added between the top and waist and again between the waist and the bottom skirt. There was also a fine fringe on the main body scarf that was left and it falls over to further accent the beading.

This design came together very quickly with the waistband details being the most complicated sewing involved. The finished dress has great swing and flow and is light and comfortable to wear. There is still the issue of the burnout in the velvet being see-through but I just wore a camisole under it and that worked perfectly. I realized after you could tie in any other colours you wanted by wearing a close-fitting tank or even long-sleeved shirt underneath and it would show through.

I made a headpiece to go with it, but that will get it’s own post.

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With the refashioning and remaking of men’s shirts, I’ve been mostly making casual and “work” wear plus-sized dresses but that’s not all I’ve needed. One of the other problems with finding suitable plus-sized clothing is when you have an special event or need things a bit more costumey. Last fall I was going to a 20’s themed event and wanted a period flapper style dress. There are some places doing repro dresses, but I couldn’t find anything I liked in my size so making it became necessary. I did a bit of research into period dress styles first to see if I was going to have to invest in a pattern but looking at how big the range of variations was, I decided it was possible to get away with just upping my modding game.

We had a couple of beaded/sequined jackets in the stash and the original plan was to salvage panels from them, mix the panels with silk or crepe fabric and make the bottom from another skirt or a scarf. We had a couple of black silk burnout velvet scarves but went looking and found another silk scarf and 2 large polyester velvet ones.

As I was laying out the various possible parts, and sketching some options, I realized that the scarves were large enough that we could just skip the whole plan of fussing with the beaded stuff and use the scarves as the upper body of the dress. The 2 polyester scarves were quite large and rectangular and had designs that were already very 20’s while the new silk scarf was long and narrow with a great chevron pattern and beading that coordinated with some beaded trim in the stash. I had seen a few period dresses that used a faux scarf detail as the low “waist” so that seemed like a good way to transition to a skirt and complete the dress.

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It seemed like a good design concept, but I was concerned about how well it would work out in practice and I wanted to be sure that the fit would be right. Rather than making a muslin prototype, I figured that we had 2 of the big scarves and a pair of possible skirts so I might as well go ahead and make a second dress.

The first step was basic math. I measured the scarf in both directions and then myself, both around the widest section and then down the front to get the dropped waist length. The scarf was quite a bit longer than needed for the top so a section was taken out of the middle, leaving 2 pieces the right length. (and handily with finished hems on 3 sides) I calculated the size for a pair of fabric inserts for the sides. They were a bit narrower at the top, and slightly curved there since that was the bottom of the arm-holes. The thin black crepe that was used for the inserts also made up the bottom of the sleeves. The sleeve tops were done using the left-over section of the scarf. The split-top style really appealed to me since it gives a sense of being sleeveless without actually exposing the upper-arms and is still period accurate.

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For the bottom of the dress, I used a pleated black satin skirt. It was small, but I only needed the bottom 1′ or so and there was enough flair to it that it fit just fine. It had some nice button details on the waist band so that was removed and used as the front panel of the transition section. The back was cut from some black satin we had in the stash.

The donor scarf was dark pink/purple as well as black and we had some beaded trim that matched so a line of it was added between the bottom of the scarf and the top of the transition section.

The neckline had to be hand-finished with a rolled hem but I cheated on the inside of the sleeves and did those with the machine.

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The whole thing came together really quickly and mostly had simple straight seams. Making the trial version helped out since this one came out a bit bigger than needed as well as too short for me. I also found the beaded trim more of hassle than expected but figured out how to work with it by doing this one. It didn’t help that the trim was on a bright pink ribbon so any spots where it wasn’t perfectly caught are super obvious.

The biggest issue is that the burnout velvet is partially see-through. I’m wearing a sports-bra in the pictures, which is an option, but any black or colour coordinating slip, tank or camisole worn underneath will work.

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Having succeeded with my first refashion of a men’s shirt to a skirt graft, I was looking to make another plus-sized dress in the same style. The second attempt started with a men’s 3X plaid shirt. While it was in mint condition, the dullness of the colours had kept me from using it as one of the basic tunic tops. A pretty little black linen skirt looked to be a good match so I put them together. The skirt was quite small, a 6 or 8, but had a very wide flare to the bottom so I was able to keep around 8” and still have the top edge line up with my shirt hem. I really liked that the skirt looks like it has a couple of layers due to the edging of black eyelet lace on it’s bottom.

There was enough room in the shirt that I was able to do some shaping around the waist. I put in a pair of darts below the breast-line as well as taking in the side seams slightly at the waist. This was done before altering the rest of the shirt.

Once the waist shaping was done, I cut out the side seams to just below where I’d come in at the waist. Then, a pair of triangle inserts were cut from the skirt fabric and sewn in. They give both some accent to the sides and a bit more swing to the hemline.

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The bottom of the shirt was cut to a straight line, folded over and sewn down to the skirt cut-off.

The shirt was more than wide enough on the arms so they were simply cut off at 3/4 length.

It was starting to look pretty dressy at this point so I decided to run with it. I had a black silk velvet scarf in the stash and used it to both trim the sleeves and make a new top for the collar. As before, the original collar was removed and used as a pattern for the replacement. In this case, I wanted a bit more drama to it, so I kept the same shape at the bottom of the collar but expanded it at the top. To do it, I traced the original on some craft paper and then sketched out some possibles. Once I had something I liked, I folded it over and cut the second side to make sure they matched. Since the new pattern had stayed the same at the bottom, it fitted perfectly. Black interfacing was needed, due to the transparency of the silk velvet.

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Finally, a set of fancy buttons finish the look. While they look great, they are a bit too big to fit through the buttonholes so the front was sewn down and the buttons sewn into place over their buttonholes. Making them completely decorative was optional but the sew-down should prevent future ironing problems.

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(I want to mention that while the pictures make it look like the skirt is significantly lighter than the collar and trim, it really isn’t. I had to fade the pictures out a bit so you could see any detail on the skirt due to the intensity of it’s blackness!)

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This is showing how I remade a regular sized men’s plaid shirt into a cute plus-sized ladies top. I may very much enjoy “dresses” I can wear over leggings, but I do live in Canada and the winters are cold. Since there is a chunk of the year that I have to wear real pants, I also need tops to go with them. Plaid is lovely stuff for winter with it being so soft and cozy but as usual, finding nice options in plus sizes is difficult. I also wanted a bit more a feminine feel than most men’s plaid shirts provide. I’d seen examples of ombre bleach fading and I liked how it both softened the look and added a bit of style. It seemed simple enough that I had to try it.

Finding a few suitable starting pieces took a bit of hunting but I came across this beautiful rainbow plaid from American Eagle. It was an extra large, but their sizing runs small so it was too tight for me, including the arms.

The first thing was to do the ombre fade. I tried a few levels of bleach dilution and realized that you have to start with pure bleach. I used a spray bottle, outside on the cement driveway. To get a visible fade, I never went below 50% dilution, but just finished the fade out by lighter spraying. As soon as it was where I wanted, the whole thing was rinsed several times in clear water and then dried. (if I had realized exactly how I was going to alter the sleeves, that should have been done before the fading)

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It needed to be made quite a bit larger so the sleeves were cut off to the elbow length and then I fully cut out the side seams, including down what was left of the arms. The sleeves were enlarged by adding some of the cut-off forearm along the bottom. It was then finished along the top with the salvaged cuffs and a rolled hem completing the space between the cuff edges.

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The fade helped to soften the style, but I wanted to make it even more feminine and used a cream cotton eyelet lace to make the side inserts. (it also matched the lightest bottom of the fade) It was quite long for eyelet, but was still only about 2/3rds of the length of the sides. To make it fit, I layered a second panel over the first. This gave a bit of ruffle feel to the sides without adding much volume and it meant there was a second layer of fabric under the higher eyelets which made me more comfortable.

In this case, the buttons were left since they read as more decorative on the lightened fabric.

I love this top! It’s so soft and cheery and the swing of the expanded size combined with it’s bright colours and lace accents make it read as quite fun and feminine.

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Realizing that I was moving towards more complex clothing modifications, I started collecting a broader range of “donor” items. This was also during the days of occasional deep discounts at our local thrift store. While my collecting looked (and was) kinda random, I was still sticking to a few basic guidelines.

Starting pieces for me need to be (in no order):

  • good quality fabric that feels nice (there is no point in investing your valuable time in low quality materials)
  • in a limited colour range that suits me
  • generally at least a “large” or “XL” size and preferably long sleeved.
  • a fabric type that is reasonable to both sew as well as wash and wear
  • cheap enough that I can accept the risk of failure/loss
  • not too damaged or worn/faded
  • built in such a way that it can be fairly easily remade. (Simple, boxy/flowy things with few seams are much easier to work with than detailed, fitted items made up from many small pieces.)

There will always be a few exceptions here and there, but I’ve mostly stuck to these limits.

The basic colour palette was especially helpful in that, over time it meant that I started to have pieces coordinating with other. Much like my prior assemblage art work, once the stash got to a certain size, I was able to start matching things up from it. One pair, a skirt and shirt, lead me to make the first of a dress style I’ve come to really like.

men's shirt before being refashioned

I have not been good about taking “before” pictures but I did grab a few (terrible) ones so you can see one pair that was matched in the stash. A dark taupe basic men’s XL shirt and a plus sized linen skirt. While the skirt was in a size that would fit me. I don’t like short ones and would not wear it as is.

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The base shirt was a pretty good fit on the top for me. The top of the arms didn’t bind and it had room across the chest but was too tight around the hips and it was also shorter than I wanted.

The base skirt was short but had a full, flounced bottom that was able to provide all the additional length I wanted. I cut into it just above the edge of the flouncing and opened one of the vertical seams. I then measured the length of skirt I had and figured out how much I could widen the sides of the top.

Measuring the bottom hem of the shirt and subtracting that from my skirt length and dividing what was left by 2 gave me the bottom edge of a triangle insert into the side seams of the shirt. I was able to make those inserts from the rest of the skirt leftovers, but had to piece them. At least the fabric pattern was forgiving!

a fat woman wearing a plus- sized dress upcycled from a men's shirt and a salvaged skirt

The opened edge of the vertical seams on the skirt were both folded over and finished and then the whole thing was added to the bottom of the expanded top. The donor shirt had a straight bottom hem so I just set the raw skirt edge behind and sewed them together that way so it has a very clean look with a single line of stitching.

plus-sized dress made from refashioned shirt and skirt

I was very happy with how it was coming together and decided it was worth investing a bit more work. I had been able to remove the skirts waistband intact and was able to use it to edge the sleeves, which had been shortened to my preferred 1/2 length. There was also just enough of the skirt left that I could replace the top of the collar. The trick to making that work is to remove the existing one and use it as the pattern for the replacement. (we also had scored a bag of assorted interfacing so I had lots of bits on hand) The last thing was to swap out the buttons for some vintage mother-of-pearl circles.

The finished dress is very comfy with great range of movement but still reads a casually dressy and it has a lovely swish to it’s bottom that makes me happy.

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While I was getting more comfortable with making shirt dresses, which I’ll be showing, I also wanted to keep trying some new things. The success rates for some of these varies, but I learned from making the attempts so figure it’s worth sharing them.

For a while, our local thrift store would mark older items down severely, so I was able to collect a number of pieces to play with for practically free. Several of what I made from them were more about trying to see what was possible more than expecting to get wearable items out of them. This sweater is one of the experimentals. The starting sweater was far too small for me but coordinated perfectly with a (also too small) plaid shirt.

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To make a plus-sized shirt it would have been possible to simply cut straight up the side and widen it and the sleeve together, but I wanted to see if they could be done in such a way that it looked a bit more like a design choice rather than simple enlargement. To do it, I cut up the side seams and fully removed the arms. (I often find that cutting out the seams is a better use of your time than ripping them. This is especially relevant when the seam has been overlock sewn as these were)

Panels were added to sides and another pair with equal width, at the top, was added to the sleeve. For the sleeve pieces, I cut down the middle of the top and added the plaid fabric in there. The sweater was knit, so to do an easy finish for the sleeve ends I added a band of the plaid. This gave it an even more finished look and prevented the ripple you can get from sewing knitted fabrics. (I also don’t have a Serger so this is one workaround)

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The sweater also had a turtleneck. It was too tight and I’m not fond of them so I cut a scoop neckline and grafted in the top of the plaid shirt. To do the graft, I cut the plaid part much larger and fitted it into the opening I wanted and then cut off the extra from the seam once it was in. It’s vital that you make sure you keep the grafted part with a big enough opening that it still fits over your head.

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Due to my generous use of the plaid, pretty much the entire shirt was consumed so it took a full two small pieces to make this one plus sized top.

Overall, I wasn’t in love with the finished product. I think the sleeve/sides work fairly well, but the grafted neckline didn’t end up the way I’d hoped. I think a prettier option might have been to go for a simple yoke neckline edged in the plaid, but that would be more work than I think I would want to invest in these starting materials.

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I started making long tops from oversized men’s shirts and while they were comfortable and did the job, they sometimes felt a bit too casual and the shorter length wasn’t totally within my modesty comfort range if I was out running around.1 I started to want something that would give me all the same benefits but would have more of “dressy” feel. (and yes, that word works both ways)

For my first attempt, I started with a Chaps men’s shirt in 4X. It had a lovely soft, strong fabric in a nice plaid and was very generously cut. (Higher end men’s shirts often have beautiful, comfortable fabrics that are wash and wear as well as typically coming with at least one pocket! They may not be all that common at the thrift stores, but are worth the hunt) It was quite large and long on me already so it was a fairly easy alter.

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The sleeves were too long so I cut them off right around the elbow. 2 I then removed the cuffs from the cut-off arms and the buttons. (I use a razor blade for most of my seam cutting but a seam ripper will do the job) I then lightly gathered the bottom of the new sleeve and reattached the cuff. About 4” or 5” of the sleeve, at the bottom of the arm, wasn’t inserted into the cuff but double folded over and seamed so make a hem for that section. This gives a bit of puff on the sleeve while keeping it roomy and the cuff is a low-effort finishing detail that helps sell the whole thing. If you have very skinny arms, and the cuffs are really large, you don’t have to add the hemmed space but can just pleat it all into the cuff. This process can be used to create whatever sleeve length you want.

I’ve seen examples where people have removed the sleeve and taken the length off the top, resetting it in the shoulder, which is an option, but for my plus sizes, I want to keep the room on the upper arm. (I also think that moving the cuff is less hassle than resetting a sleeve, but others may disagree)

The base shirt was large enough that I had a couple of good sized pieces left over after shortening the sleeves. To make things even more dress-like, I opened up the side seams from the bottom. The seam was cut high enough to match the length of the leftover arm fabric. Those pieces were cut into not-quite triangle wedges. I kept a bit of a flat line at the top and gathered it slightly. They were then sewn into the opened side seams. (I should mention that this particular shirt had a very soft, flowy fabric, so this addition just gave fullness without being too poofy) If you want to do this type of alteration but want as little emphasis on the hips, you can skip the gathering and just insert triangles, staring at whatever point lets you put the widest part where you want it.

Like many men’s shirt, this one had a downward curve that ran from the side seams to give extra length at the front and back. With the larger hemline from the side inserts and the already abundant length, I decided to simply cut it off. This gave me a straight line for the hem. I was going for a “dress” look so added a band of cotton eyelet lace. A fold-over hem ended the lace in line with the edges of the shirt so it can open at the front.

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All that was left was four simple darts to shape it at the waist and I replaced the buttons. The button change had a HUGE impact on the total look and I highly recommend it if you want to dress up anything you make with a shirt. In this case, I used antique mother-of-pearl from my supply stash, but any “pretty” button will do, just check to make sure they will fit through the buttonholes. If the perfect ones are a bit small and you don’t want to worry about them popping open, you can just run a seam down the front, so long as you keep the neck wide enough for it to be pulled on.

1I’m using the word “modesty” to describe my personal comfort point for having my body exposed. You do you, no judgment.

2I always want my upper arms covered. See footnote #1

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