When it’s time to clean out the closets and get rid of garments that are no longer fashionable, think twice before tossing them away. It takes only a little ingenuity and some basic sewing skills to recycle an old outfit into something completely different that will feel new and exciting to wear again. Old dresses, in particular, have the potential to be converted into something else because there is usually enough fabric in the skirt to fashion a new, smaller piece of clothing. Most dresses will have enough fabric to easily make a pair of shorts.

Things You'll Need

Preparing the Dress Fabric

Turn the dress inside out. Lay it flat on a work surface. Use the seam ripper to detach the top half of the dress from the bottom half along the seam line. If the dress has a very wide skirt with lots of fabric, it will be faster and easier to separate the two pieces by using scissors to cut just below the seam where they are attached. If the dress is constructed in one piece, measure and mark a straight line just under the bust-line darts. The line will go from one side seam to the other. Cut along the line. Set aside the top half of the dress.

Open the side seams with the seam ripper or use the scissors to cut off the seam. Cut as close to the stitching of the seam as possible so that no fabric is wasted.

Separate the back and front pieces of the skirt. Iron these two pieces to remove all wrinkles and folds that might have been sewn into the waistband.

Making the Shorts

Fold the skirt pieces in half lengthwise with the wrong side facing out. Lay out the pattern for the shorts and pin the pattern pieces in place. Make sure you follow the grain lines in the fabric to straightly align the pattern. If the skirt fabric is not long enough to cut the full length of the waistband pattern piece, fold the pattern piece in half and cut two smaller sections. Sew the two shorter pieces together to form the longer strip needed for the waistband.

Cut along the think black lines on the edge of each pattern piece.Transfer all pattern markings to the skirt fabric and remove the pins.

Sew the front and back seams, keeping a 1/2-inch seam allowance. Press the seams open by laying the sewn pieces flat on the ironing board and spreading both edges of the seam open. Sew the front sections of the shorts to the back sections along the side seams and along the crotch seam. Press open those seams.

Pin the waistband to the shorts, keeping the two right sides of the fabric facing each other. Sew all the way around the circumference of the shorts to attach the waistband to the shorts. Fold the band over lengthwise toward the wrong side. The top edge of the waistband should overlap the seam where the band attaches to the shorts by 1/2 inch. Pin in place. Press along the fold. Stitch along the seam, stopping the stitching 1 inch from where you started to leave a gap.

Place the elastic to fit comfortably around your waist and mark the required length. Add 2 inches to this length and cut away the excess elastic. Attach a safety pin to one end of the elastic piece. Insert this end into the gap left in the waistband and thread the elastic all the way around the circumference of the waistband. Pin both ends of the elastic together, making sure the elastic is not rolled or folded. Pin the ends of the elastic together. Stitch with the machine. Stitch over the gap that was left for the elastic.

Try on the shorts. Mark the desired length with the tailor’s chalk or a pin. Remove the shorts and use the ruler or measuring tape to mark the finished hemline. Fold the fabric to form the hem and pin in place. Finish the hem by folding the raw edges inside a double fold and stitching in place or follow the manufacturer’s directions. Press the shorts.


  • When laying out the pattern pieces, place the cutting line for the bottom of the legs of the shorts along the hemmed edge of the dress. This will save you from making a new hem on the shorts.

  • Instead of elastic you may prefer to add a drawstring. Create a buttonhole in the front center of the waistband and thread a long cord all the way through. Tie knots in each end of the cord.