One of the biggest curses of do-it-yourself projects is that they can look so ... um ... homemade. Some people like that. Legions of DIYers embrace a certain prideful shabby chicness. They like declaring their aesthetic with anti-cookie cutter, non-factory-made garb with all its quirky imperfection. But that’s not exactly one-style-fits-all. Some of us prefer that you mistake our unique garment for high-end eccentricity, not shabby, just chic. Plenty of DIY fans want the look and feel of designer goods, but they don’t want to have to apprentice on Savile Row for a summer to do it.
Fear not. We’ve consulted with a few designers about quick and easy projects that have the look and feel of polished attire. It’s a great way to revamp items you already own or craft a show-stopping piece from something simple that you bought secondhand on the cheap.
And here’s the bonus: All of these projects can be completed in 30 minutes to an hour. Designer Wynette Jones of the Studio Place created and styled these projects with some ideas and materials contributed by sewing teacher and designer Deborah Waldman-Pontious.
It’s the perfect trifecta: low-skill, low-cost, high-impact.
Project: Look-at-me coat
Materials: Wool coat, heavy patterned fabric (upholstery fabric is recommended), double-sided interfacing (Wonder-Under sells for $3.99-a-yard at JoAnn’s Fabric & Craft Stores), sharp fabric scissors, pressing cloth (this can also be a piece of muslin, old cotton tea towel or bed sheet), iron.
1. Cut out the pattern from the fabric, or if you want to go minimal, cut out shapes from a coordinating plain fabric.
2. Play around with placement and shapes. Asymmetrical placements will probably look a little more interesting and unexpected visually. Pin it first and try it on to see how you like it. Don’t forget the back; more expensive garments will extend the pattern to the rear. You want to leave an impression when you walk away. Remove buttons and then add them back on top of the pattern to make it look more integrated. Consider mixing or layering, larger and smaller patterns. If you have to paste over a pocket to get the look you want, just make a slit in the design to accommodate the opening.
3. Trace the finished pattern on top of the interfacing and use that as a guide for cutting.
4. Layer the interfacing and pattern and then drape the pressing cloth over it to keep the heat from altering the finish of the coat. Iron.
5. Optional: Finish the design by doing a simple hand-stitch around the edges with a thick embroidery thread, perhaps in a contrasting color.
Project: Mullet skirt to party dress
Materials: Mullet skirt (also called high-low skirt because it’s high in front, low in back), 2-inch satin bifolded ribbon (suggested but you could use a narrower or wider fold), sharp fabric scissors, Stitch Witchery or other double-sided interfacing (we chose the lighter interfacing because the skirt is silk), iron, pressing cloth. Optional: A snap closure ($3.34 for six), a hook-and-eye closure if you don’t have one on the skirt already, material for straps.
1. Test the fit and see if you can wear the skirt under your arms. If it fits nicely but not too snug, you’re in business. You might consider straps if it’s a little too loose or a “cut-out look” if it’s too tight to zip all the way up. We’ll discuss that in the optional step.
2. Add the bifolded ribbon onto the top hem of the skirt. It will encase the hem front and back. Leave an opening for the back zipper (you’ll need to do something slightly different for the cut-out; see below). Don’t use a skirt with an elastic waist unless you’ve got more time and patience, because that will be a tricky operation.
3. Cut out enough interfacing to tack down the ribbon inside and outside.
4. Use your pressing cloth and iron it in place.
5. If the top lacks a hook-and-eye closure, add one.
6. Trim the mullet by laying the dress flat, folded in half sideways. You’ll see the curve, and you will have an easier time trimming. Use a ruler to make a few guide marks if you need to. You can also opt for an asymmetrical shape. We made ours slightly lower on the sides and nearly the same length front and back. Whatever you do we recommend going for something less drastic to keep it classic.
7. Optional straps: You can use the same ribbon folded smaller or a simple spaghetti strap made from trim or ribbon. Depending on the look you’re going for, you could even try a halter or one-shoulder dress.
8. Optional: If the skirt doesn’t fit under the arms, create a back cut-out detail if it’s not more than a 4- to 6-inch-wide gap. First zip the back up as far as it’s comfortable and then move the hook-and-eye down to that point or add a hook-and-eye closure to keep the zipper up. Now, depending on how noticeable it looks, you might be able to just cut the teeth that you don’t need any more off the zipper. By not removing the useless zipper track with a seam ripper, you’ll save some serious time, and you’ll still have that lovely finished hem. If you have to take a seam ripper to the zipper tracks, you’ll have to add in some interfacing and likely replace those removed stitches. If you opt for cutting the teeth, your next step is to add a snap or another hook-and-eye closure to the ribbon. For this version, you’ll have to measure the ribbon longer than the hem of the skirt. It will stretch around the top of the bodice and create an inverted triangle opening above the stopped zipper. The back of your dress will now have three closures – the zipper, hook-and-eye above stopped zipper and the hook-and-eye or snap closure for ribbon.
9. Optional finishing details: Leave the hem raw if that suits you or turn it over slightly and iron a smallish hem into the garment, then use your interfacing and a simple hand-stitch you can research on YouTube. You can use the same on the ribbon to finish a band across the top of the garment.
Project: Summer dress to year-round skirt
Materials: Pretty spring-summer dress (preferably one with a belt), heavy double-sided interfacing, scissors, pressing cloth. Optional: Needle and thread to move the hook-and-eye closure or add one, embroidery hoop ($2.95), needle and thread (99 cents).
1. Take a summer dress that you’re bored of but still love its pattern and start by simply tucking in the top to see how it looks as a skirt. It will probably sit a little lower on your hips. If you like the hemline, decide on whether you want to fold the top all the way down to create a more traditional waistband, or you could opt to fold it higher up for a high-waisted look or trash bag waist, which is cuter than it sounds.
2. Cut the excess, but keep the belt loops if you can. Note: You might have enough left of the top to create a crop top if that’s your thing.
3. Cut the extra teeth from the zipper instead of removing if possible.
4. Fold down, add the heavy interfacing and iron with the pressing cloth.
5. Move the hook-and-eye to match the new zipper height.
6. Optional: Hand-stitch the inside seams to give your look a longer lasting finish.
7. Optional: Use the embroidery materials to trace a few of the design elements if there is a pattern.