Convertible Dress/Skirt

This dress/skirt is made with rows of ruching for lots of elastic-ey stretch, and a hidden drawstring so you can easily adjust the fit depending on how you plan on wearing it. The drawstring also ensures that if a toddler pulls on your dress/skirt, it won’t fall down! This was my first experience with ruching but now that I’ve got it figured out it’s a great way to make skirts! I’m already planning other clothing ideas using this technique.

For materials you’ll need:

  • 1 spool elastic thread
  • regular thread
  • knit fabric (approx. 1 yard of fabric, 36″x60″, but detailed measuring instructions are below)
  • approx. 1 1/2 to 2 yards 3/8″ twill tape (found by the bias tape), ribbon, or something similar for the drawstring (length depends on your measurements and if you’ll be using the dress as a halter or not)

To get started you’ll need to measure the widest part of your body. I’m a pear shape, so I measured around my hips. Then multiply that measurement by 1.25 and that will be the width of your fabric. For the length, I wanted the dress version to fall just below my knee and the skirt version to fall to just below my ankles. If I wear the skirt just slightly lower on my hips, the measurement to meet both requirements was 35″ (and I’m 5′ 5″). Add an extra 1″ that will be folded over at the top to create the drawstring casing. If you plan on hemming the bottom, add another 2″ to the length.

For ruching you’ll need elastic thread. I found it in the notions department of Joann Fabrics and it came in either black or white. Wind this by hand onto your bobbin and do NOT stretch the thread as you wind. Next you’ll thread the bobbin into your machine exactly the same as you would with thread. For the top thread, you’ll use just standard thread that matches (or contrasts with) your fabric. Using the longest stitch option, test out the stitching on a scrap of fabric. When I first tried this with my newer model Singer 4830C, the elastic was pulled so tightly through the bobbin assembly that my fabric just bunched up as I sewed and it was too tight to stretch properly. I have an old model singer (6212C) and when I tried it on that it worked just fine. From what I’ve read, most sewing machines will do fine but it’s a good idea to test yours out before getting too far into the project!

Start sewing 2″ down from the top of your fabric with the right side facing up. Leave several inches or more of thread and elastic hanging out at both sides of the fabric and do a little backstitching. As you sew, slightly pull your fabric so it’s nearly flat as it goes under the needle. Continue sewing rows 1/2″ apart for as far down as you like. I did 8″ of ruching. The photo below on the left shows how I gently stretched the fabric, and the right photo shows how the fabric looked without any pulling.

When finished sewing each row, tie the thread and elastic ends together. Between this and the backstitching, you should have very secure threads. After tying trim off the excess thread.

Switch your bobbin from elastic to regular thread and with right sides together, sew up the side seam. If it bothers you to only have a seam on one side, you can add a seam to the other side by sewing along the fold as close to the edge as you can.

Then using the steam setting on your iron, gently steam the elastic thread without pressing down the iron directly onto the fabric and it will scrunch up a bit more.

Now we’ll work on the drawstring. At the top of the dress, use your sewing machine and normal thread to create a 3/8″ buttonhole 1/4″ away from the edge of the fabric where you want the drawstring to come out. I put mine right in the front center so I could use it as a halter top but you could also put it off to the side if you don’t plan on using the halter option. I used pins to mark where I wanted to put the buttonhole.

Online Quilting Class

Fold over the top toward the inside of the dress so the raw edge is just below the first row of stitching. Then, with the right side facing up sew all the way around 1/8″ above the first row of stitching. This is the trickiest part of this dress because you’ll need to sew very slowly and keep checking underneath the fabric to make sure that it’s being sewn down correctly.

Then thread your drawstring through the casing and out the buttonhole and you’re finished! The photo below shows the inside of the dress.

Optional: Hem the bottom of the dress/skirt.

Additional notes:

  • When deciding on the width of your fabric, the 1.25 times my widest measurement ratio worked well for me, but before deciding on your fabric width, you may want to wrap some fabric around yourself and make sure it feels comfortable for your preferences and not too loose or not too tight.
  • For the drawstring you’ll want to use something fairly flat because you’ll be tucking it inside the garment. The flat cotton twill is hidden by the ruching but a cord or something round would show through a little.
  • I was able to sew six rows of ruching with each really full bobbin. Before sewing each row make sure you have enough elastic to finish, otherwise you’ll need to rip out the row and start over.
  • If you haven’t sewn a buttonhole before, there’s a great tutorial over at the Purl Bee.
  • To avoid having to thread the drawstring through the casing, I sewed a length of embroidery floss into the casing of the dress and had the ends coming out of the buttonhole. I had to make sure not to stitch down the floss, but when the casing was done I just tied the floss to a safety pin, pinned it to the strap and pulled it right through!

And here’s how it looks using the straps as a halter top.

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  23 comments for “Convertible Dress/Skirt

  1. August 1, 2011 at 9:21 am

    I love the way this does double duty. :-)

  2. August 1, 2011 at 10:51 am

    This is so cute! I think I like it as a dress best, but I like that you have options!

  3. August 1, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Love this! What a great and versatile way to make you dress.. beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing with the Pink Hippo party.. can’t wait to see what you share next!

  4. August 1, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    eeeek!!!! You are my BFF today! I have a swimsuit cover up that looks exactly like this – only black. I too wear it as a skirt or as a dress! It’s awesome to have something in my wardrobe that I can dress up or dress down. Today I went to the fabric store to buy elastic thread, thinking…”I’m going to figure out how to make another dress/cover-up/skirt on my own.” Well-Well-Well!! Looks like you’ve saved me a lot of time!! Thank you!! Is it okay if I share your blog on my blog sometime? You’re awesome!

    • August 1, 2011 at 9:09 pm

      I love when that happens!! So happy this will (hopefully) help you out! Sure, you can share our blog as long as you link back to us! You’ll have to share your finished product in our flickr group!

  5. August 1, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    This is great! Shirring is addictive :)

  6. Jill
    August 1, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    Beatiful skirt/dress and great tutorial too!

    Thanks for linking to a Round Tuit!
    Hope you have a great week!
    Jill @ Creating my way to Success

  7. diane
    August 1, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Love it! So cute! :)

  8. August 2, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    I love these dresses! Very cute!

  9. August 5, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Hey, I wanted to let you know I featured your link on SewHappyGeek today! Thanks for linking up to Manic Monday!

  10. August 8, 2011 at 11:07 am

    What a cute idea. If you get a chance I would love you to link your skirt/dress up to More the Merrier Monday. It lasts through Wednesday so you have plenty of time to stop by. See you there.

    • August 8, 2011 at 6:26 pm

      Linked up the dress and added your button to our Linky Parties page, thanks!

  11. alona cayanan
    August 30, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    So cute, love it! I will defenitely make it for myself and for my daughter.
    Thanks for sharing.

  12. Debra
    October 1, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    This is a lovely pattern to use as a maternity dress for my daughter. We are going into summer in South Africa and her baby is due end January when it gets hot and humid. Thank you for a wonderful idea I will definitely try it – for both of us.

  13. May 23, 2012 at 12:18 am

    Like to get the pattern to make the skirt. I like the look of dress.

  14. Sara
    June 2, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    The skirt and the dress are the same. If you wear it around your waist without the halter straps, it works as a skirt.

  15. BevB
    June 23, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Thanks for sharing. I did not know about elastic thread or that you could put it in a machine.
    Cute idea. I like the dress but not so much the skirt. Perhaps it would look better if you wear a nice longer top to cover the elastic and/or a more contrasting top.

  16. April 25, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    I read this all the through and I think I finally get how to do the elastic thread. Definitely giving it a try. I decided if you looked amazing in this dress (nice and summery) I might too!

  17. allison
    April 26, 2013 at 8:00 am

    SWEET! I love these sorts of dresses. . . they’re perfect for everything in the summer, my problem has always been they never make the ruching to accomodate my epic tits. . . Now i can do it myself!


    • susan
      April 30, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      lol i have the same probably and am very excited too

  18. susan
    April 30, 2013 at 3:48 pm


  19. Danielle Kelsey
    June 2, 2013 at 2:44 am

    So awesome!!! I’m making three of these so I have color options. Thank you for posting this and making the instructions so clearly worded.

  20. Nikki Howard
    May 24, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks so much! I made my first shirred item using your tutorial! 😀

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