A friend asked me a few months ago how I choose the right length when shortening a full skirt. I wrote a bit about this in a post for Tall Tips Tuesday –Thrift Long and Alter 🖖🏼 – but I don’t think I went into enough detail, just some hand-waving math proof shenanigans #imamathmajor. Since this is one of the key moves in my repertoire, I thought it would be worth it to break it down.
curious sparkle dirt’s Keys to Altering Success
When thrifting clothes with the intent to alter, choosing a garment with the right fabric is so important. It doesn’t matter how deft you are with a pair of scissors, if the fabric isn’t weighty enough, the best alter will fail. What does this mean? The next time you’re in your closet, grab onto some garments and feel the weight of the fabric. Is the fabric very light and airy? Or is the fabric heavier with a bit of weight to it? A long skirt or dress made of a lightweight fabric might only work because the length gives the dress the weight it needs to lay the way it does. This is especially true of pleated skirts/dresses and skirts/dresses made from the type of cotton used in button-down shirts. Shortening such a garment might result in looking like a cupcake. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re going for! Real life: I learned Tip 1 when I ruined a thrifted, Pendleton lightweight, wool, pleated skirt a few years back. You might ruin a thing or two before you get the hang of it – that’s okay! Just start with thrifted garments.
Now that you have a qualifying garment, you need something to copy for the length.
. You can make a pattern yourself, but I vote for using your favorite skirt/dress that’s waiting eagerly in your closet to be of service. I have a dress from Old Navy Tall that fits PERFECTLY and that I use as my “measuring stick”.
3. How you approach this next step depends on your crafting style. We’re going to cut the garment. A rule of thumb that I use is that if the skirt has lots of gathers, I’m more perfectionist and I’ll get out the pins and my sewing guage. If the skirt can lay flat, I’ll wing it – but only because I’ve done this 1000 times now.
I cut this red dress without pinning, but then was an overachiever and pinned so that I could hop on my Singer Featherweight, Zeby, and sew up the raw edge. I also cut the sleeves on this dress, but did not sew them.
A Few Notes:
Make sure you think about your body and how clothes lay on your booty. I cut and pinned the dress so that the back would be an inch longer than the front. I have a booty and if I cut the front and back to be the same length, the back will sit way shorter than the front.
Good scissors are important. If you don’t have good scissors, don’t let this keep you from altering, but get a pair of nice scissors as soon as you can and reserve them only for fabric. I use these Fiskars scissors and they’re a lifesaver. My husband knows to never use them on anything but fabric because it will dull them, rendering them useless to me. Why are sharp scissors so important? Because if your scissors are dull then they will mangle your fabric, and you ultimately may have to cut off more than you wanted to, by the time you’re done correcting your mistakes.
Do I hem or not? It depends on the fabric. Will it run like a sprinter? If not than the next question I ask is: what color thread is currently on my sewing machine? If it’s compatible, I’ll run a quick hem. If not, I’ll say eff it and call it good enough. A girl’s only got a finite number of spoons and had better spend them carefully. #spoonie!
A few of my favorite transformations!
Before. Skirt and shirt thrifted in Germany.
After. I’m obsessed with these sleeves!
After. Sunglasses from Rethreads Cville, headscarf by SLEEP&SPARKLE.
After. Necklace by Rethreads Cville, skirt and shirt from Goodwill, scarf by SLEEP&SPARKLE.
Before. Dress from Goodwill.
After. JCrew jacket from Rethreads Cville, bow by SLEEP&SPARKLE.
After. Express jeans jacket from Goodwill, bow by SLEEP&SPARKLE.
This week’s tip is my favorite: buy yourself some shorts and let ‘er rip. Not the shorts, but your life. Yes shorts can be that life changing. If you are tall, chronically ill, and/or like to play, then this tip is for you.
My favorite brand of shorts is Jockey’s women’s slip shorts from Target because they are a lightweight athletic material AND they cover me up. Also they’re NOT SPANX! They’re JUST shorts! #FREEDOM!
Today I went jean shopping in Cologne, Germany and you know what I decided? Fuck denim. I went thrifting and got sweaty and discombobulated. And then I said “this is crazy just go to a store” and I found a nice store and went in and couldn’t get the jeans over my sweaty ankles.
I’m going to look up some fancy denim boutiques to hit up and start there. I’m generally about 100% thrifting everything but blue jeans in a thrift store dressing room is just too stressful for my delicate sensibilities.
BUT! I found this Native American-ish scarf and said HELL YES! I LOVE Native American patterns but the colors don’t work for my winter complexion. Good thing it was big and thick enough to want to be a skirt!
About this photo (and why WordPress won’t let me caption it):
headscarf by MOI!
Heart glasses from consignment store
Earrings (full price) from nickel and suede
Black necklace (full price) from White House Black Market
Yellow necklace from grandma
Striped top by Zara via the Goodwill
Scarf skirt by…?…via Humana in Cologne
Black booties (full price) from Nine West.
Okay I talk a big game about hating denim but I think it’s only because I want it SO BADLY! So many of my favorite outfits in my head are with fantastic blue jeans.
Why can’t I find jeans that a) hit the ground, b) don’t gap around my waist, AND c) don’t expose my pubic hair? So far I’ve only found pairs that meet 2/3 of those criteria.
In which I make a dress for a tall person (me) and then I tip over.
Today’s Tall Tip Tuesday is brought to you by this fantastic vintage dress that I bought at Goodwill a few weeks ago. I’ve always been a thrifter but it wasn’t until I understood my measurements and my proportions that I actually got good at thrifting, or shopping in general for that matter.
There have been many many many times that I have thrifted something only to donate it without ever wearing it 2 years later, either because it didn’t actually fit my body and my style, or because I had ridiculously ambitious alterations in mind that never came to be. Due to over-buying and under-altering I made a rule a while back that if I couldn’t make it wearable (or usable with respect to furniture, etc) within 24 hours then I can’t buy it.
I broke that rule for this dress because it took me a month to get to the alterations but now they’re done and I have a dress that fits perfectly!!!
So this Tuesday’s Tall Tip is to: thrift long and alter.
Dresses will always be too short for me. It’s just my reality. (Except for the year that Old Navy Tall made dresses with a long waist and I bought all of them.) Since I love fun, patterned fabrics that rarely come in tall, I started lopping off big portions of thrifted dresses to get exactly what I want.
Before. Dress from Goodwill.
I used the Old Navy Tall dress that fits perfectly as my “measuring stick” and cut the red dress to be approximately the same length. I have my Singer Featherweight fired up right now so I decided to pin it and hem it, but I have many a dress with a raw hem, especially when the fabric is one that won’t run. I pinned the dress so that the back would be a touch longer than the front, based on what I know about my body, sewed it up, and boom! Done! Oh also I cut the sleeves.