I made this thing. It’s pretty cool. It’s a convertible dress that’s basically a circle and two straps, so it’s really easy, inexpensive, and crazy versatile. It’s been around forever and everyone seems to love it (in fact, part of the reason I’m posting this is to answer some questions for people I’ve run into), and I can hardly believe how close I came to not making it at all.
I first found the instructions at a blog called rostitchery, and then I came across a second set at Cut Out + Keep. It sounded so easy. Cut out a circle with a hole in it, sew on two straps, and voila, a dress you can wear a hundred different ways. Sign me up! I have a sewing machine! Sure I can sew a straight line! Let’s get this done!
So I bought some material, spread it out in the living room, cut out my pieces, and…
I didn’t understand the next step.
Turn the skirt inside out? But it’s just a circle. I can turn it… upside-down I guess. That doesn’t seem right. Why would I want to sew the straps straps to the back of the skirt instead of with the right sides facing? If I do sew them to the back, should I pin them flush with the waistband, or should they overlap the waistband and hang the other way?
And what’s this about making them overlap each other? By how much? Why?
There’s, like, a band of fabric involved? It goes around your waist somehow? And its only purpose is to create a finished edge around the back of the dress? So it’s supposed to go behind the straps instead of below them? And you’re supposed to pin it and sew it all together at once? Even the overlapping straps? With one seam?
I figured I was just being thick. Other people had figured this dress out from the very same instructions. So I googled every blog and article I could find and looked at every available photo of the dress, but there wasn’t much in the way of diagrams or clear photos of the process. I read about 15 pages into the 140-page forum thread on Craftster. I saw people who seemed confused like me. Unfortunately, the craftsters clever enough to figure it out were posting photo after photo of their successes, and didn’t go into much detail. The photos showed the dresses in action with the straps wrapped all around the area I needed to get a look at. There just wasn’t much to grab on to, for someone as dumb at sewing instructions as I am.
So I folded up my circle and my straps and I put it all back in the bag it came in. Cheerfully, I declared, “This isn’t fun anymore,” though I felt heavy with disappointment. “I quit.”
And I went upstairs to watch TV.
A couple of hours later, some of the concepts had settled in a bit, and I thought I might finally be able to make some sense of things if I stopped worrying about the words and tried to put the dress together the way it seemed like it should go. I decided to go back and give it a shot.
I was wearing my new dress after about half an hour. I’ll be honest… I still don’t understand the part about turning the skirt inside out, but I do know that even without understanding everything, I was finally able to conquer the project and ended up with something lovely. There was a whole lot of research involved on the way, though. And a lot of frustration because I hadn’t really ever sewn anything without a pattern. So here are the things I wished someone could’ve told me before I started (and a few answers that I was able to find, but didn’t realize the importance of until later). Start by reading the original instructions at rostitchery and/or Cut Out + Keep, and then use the information below to hopefully help clarify anything that might’ve gone over your head.
- Select a stretchy knit with spandex in it. The straps have to be super stretchy to form and twist around your body. And choose a fabric that doesn’t have a distinguishable reverse side, because you’re going to see the back of the straps.
- The fabric-choosing rules don’t really apply to the skirt. If you want to use a material that doesn’t fit the bill, you can use it for the skirt as long as you can find a complementary samey-sided stretchy knit for the straps and waistband.
- Here’s how you figure out how much material you need.
- A square for the skirt (so if you’re using 60″-wide material, you need 60″ length), plus
- 1.5 times your height (if you’re five feet tall, that’s seven and a half feet, or two and a half yards… but you can round down if you’re five and a half feet, no problem), plus
- about 20″ for the waistband.
So for me, using a 60″-wide knit and being 5’5″, my dress takes almost five yards.
- You’ll have a bunch of leftovers, because the straps have to be cut along the length, which leaves a big rectangle of material. Want to be clever? You should have plenty left to cut out a second set of straps/band. You can then pair it with a square of any coordinating material for a second skirt and make another dress. Thrifty!
- It’s going to be a pain in the butt to cut your straps. That’s not a tip… I just don’t want you to be surprised.
- Subtract about three inches from your waist/underbust measurement and cut the waistband to that new number instead of your actual measurements. It’s stretchy!
- Although this calls for a single seam, it’s tough to pin four (and in some places, five) layers of fabric all correctly at once. If you, like me, have a geometrically-clumsy brain, you can sew your straps to the front of the dress first, and then do the waistband separately with a second seam over your first.
- The straps have to overlap one another in the middle, but it’s hard to tell how much. Plan on about five inches of overlap at the seam, but angle them slightly so that there’s only a 5″–7″ triangle of overlap above the skirt. This part isn’t an exact science, but if you overlap too little, you’ll have to wear something under the dress because it won’t cover anything.
- Oh, and if you use a jersey material that’s likely to curl up at the edges, take that into consideration when determining your overlap.The width of your straps might end up smaller than what you cut. (Typically, cutting the straps along the length should keep them from curling in that direction, though.)
- You’ll end up pinning your overlapping straps to your circle skirt with the right sides facing and the cut edges aligned. See diagram below.
- On the finished dress, the band will hug your middle and be visible above the top of the skirt, but only in the back. In the front, it’ll be hidden behind the straps. The top edge of the dress, therefore, will be the folded-over edge of the band, and below that will be the nice finished seam that’s created when you sew it to the skirt. Make the band wide enough so that when you turn the dress backwards, it will cover your bust.
- Then you’ll pin your band, folded in half (with the “right” side out—although of course there should be barely any difference between the right and wrong sides), over the seam where you just sewed the straps. The cut edges will again line up with the cut edges of the straps and the circle-opening.
- Even if it’s three inches smaller than your true waist measurement, the inner circle cut to the new measurement will be too big. It’ll probably fall right off your hips. But the waistband, cut to the same measurement, should fit nicely. So you have two choices: either cut your circle-hole even smaller in the first place, or gather the circle evenly around the waistband when you pin it together. I like the second option, because it makes the skirt fuller.
- You’re going to sew the waistband into a ring. Plan for its seam to land behind one of the straps, but just barely. Try to get it as close to the side of the dress as you can. It should be under your arm, but slightly forward so it’s hidden by the strap.
- I think this diagram might help:
Mind you, in spite of all my whining, the original directions from rostitchery and Cut Out + Keep are extremely helpful, and I would never have known where to begin if it hadn’t been for both of those posts. I’m pretty sure it’s my impatience and lack of experience that made the project so tough for me to figure out. However, if my diagram and the links I’ve collected below can save at least one person from the frustration I experienced, then it’s all been worth it. It really is a simple project that anyone can make.
And once you’ve finished yours, bully for you! Check out all the ways you can wrap it. And these are just the basic ones! It’s fun to stand in front of the mirror and make up new styles. You can twist the straps or not twist them, wear them in the front or turn the whole dress around backwards, and choose between keeping the waistband at your waist, hiking it up above your bust to make a minidress, or pulling it down just above your hips to wear as a skirt. Cross the straps? Knot them? So. Many. Options!
The design itself has dubious beginnings. Some call it a classic, other cite a designer. This blog talks about that a bit, and one designer who’s been credited with first designing the dress (for “Butter by Nadia,” as pictured, left) chimes in to explain her role in the story. The fact is, lovely and simple as this dress is, a lot of people have probably designed it independently from one another. It brilliantly sort of strips the idea of a dress down to its most basic concepts. Surely by now it belongs in the crafty version of the public domain, at least for sewing-types (and the rest of us) to make their own.
Since you’re not using an actual pattern, I guess it’s even okay to sell your own version of this dress, and many people certainly do. I’ve posted a couple of links below as examples. As for me, I’ll continue making them for myself and friends until everyone I know is sick of it and doesn’t ever want to see a dress again as long as they live.
Rostitchery blog instructions
Cut Out + Keep project page
$895 somewhat-comparable version of this dress from Donna Karan
List of infinity dresses for sale on Etsy, from $30–$200