The Most Sustainable Clothes are the Ones You Already Own- Two Skirt Alterations

The most sustainable clothes you can wear are the ones that are already in your closet. I have skirts in my closet that I have not worn for a very long time. Partially to blame is the pandemic, but really the reason I haven’t worn them is more than that.

I’m waiting for my post pregnancy belly to go back to “normal”. I’ve been waiting for four years. I have now come to terms with the fact that it is not coming back. And that’s fine, but I still want to wear these skirts! Luckily, I have found ways to alter them so they fit comfortably. Not only do I get to wear these skirts that I love again, but I have stuck with clothes I already own rather than purchasing new ones. Double win for the books.

Jean Franklin Skirt

I had the lovely opportunity to work for my friend's sustainable clothing brand Jean Franklin for a bit. I remember being particularly excited about a bright red large floral print fabric she found, and the matching crop tank and midi skirt set she was planning for it. So naturally I was delighted when she gifted me a set.

author of blog/owner of brand, white woman with short brown hair and clear glasses, in a car with her hand on her pregnant belly 

My son was born during my time patternmaking for Jean Franklin, so it is understandable that at the time, I thought the size Small skirt would fit me *once my post pregnancy belly disappeared*. Well time passed and although my waistline did retreat some, it was not getting back to where it was. IS not getting back to where it was. While I completely accept my new body, it does not change the fact that I cannot fit into this skirt. So it’s time to make some changes. To the skirt.  

close up view of bright red floral shirt with square wood buttons up the side

Square buttons up each side, my first attempt was to move them out a bit to make the waist bigger. All fabrics and trims used for Jean Franklin were deadstock, which makes you value the good finds even more.

The skirt buttons up on both sides, so at first I thought I could just move the buttons closer to the edge of the placket, and that would give me enough ease to fit into it. WRONG! Wishful thinking. That was not enough. Luckily, this is a full skirt gathered into a waistband, so the extra fabric I needed was there, I just needed to release it. To figure out how much I needed to add, I buttoned up one side the whole way and held the other side closed to a point where I was truly comfortable. Wishful thinking indeed, I needed to add a total of 3” all the way around in order to be comfortable.

I decided to add it to the back only, so the look of the front stayed the same, and so I only had to open the skirt in one spot. I also didn’t mind if buttons shifted a bit forward because of it; it shows them off a little more. I conveniently had some small scraps of this fabric since I developed the pattern and proto samples for these styles.

The waistband is 1 ½” wide and on the fold so I cut a rectangle 5” wide (3” to add + ½” seam allowance for each side of the extension + 1” to compensate for the seam allowance I’d have to take from the waistband itself to sew the extension in) and 3 ½” tall.

Using my seam ripper, I picked apart the seam at the center back of the back waistband. I made sure I had enough room to work with the waistband easily and cut the waistband in the center. I sewed in my little extension piece, and then spread out the gathers in the skirt to lay nicely across the new waistband length. I was kind of expecting the fabric to be completely flat but there was enough fullness to still have some small gathers.

close up of bright red floral skirt waistband where it was altered with a rectangular piece of fabric to make the waistband bigger 

Small rectangle inserted into the waistband to make it bigger, and still enough gathers to keep the back skirt from being flat at the waistband

I pressed the waistband in half, pressed the inside seam allowance under and topstitched the whole thing down. It’s so nice to have it fit comfortably now, and to finally be able to wear it!

author of the blog/owner of the brand, white woman with short brown hair, wearing bright red floral midi skirt and cut off grey muscle graphic tee with yellow race cars, standing on path in rocks and greenery  

Military Green Taffeta Skirt from Zara

I bought this skirt right before my daughter’s first birthday (she is now 6 ½ years old), I remember that only because I wore it for her first birthday party. It was on the small side when I bought it, but I bought it anyway because I loved it and the next size up was not available. With enough wiggling I could get it over my hips, I just had to endure tighter waist than I preferred.

Fast forward five years and another pregnancy, and I can’t even get it over my hips anymore. As with my Jean Franklin skirt, I thought given some time I’d be able to wiggle into it again. Nope. I hoped maybe it was just an elastic issue, like if I just added more elastic it would work, but the fabric of the skirt itself was fully extended as well.

Looking closer at the construction, I determined the skirt in the back was fullness gathered by an elastic waistband in addition to pleats in the front and back.  This allows the front to lay smooth on the waist, but the back stretches and gathers to get the skirt on and off.

The front waist is smooth with pleats.

The back waistband has pleats and an elastic waistband.  

As mentioned before, I knew I couldn’t just add more elastic because even fully extended, I couldn’t pull it on over my hips. But, since there are pleats all the way around, I knew I could let some of those out to give me the extra fabric I needed. Again, I chose to work only on the back. I compared the extended skirt measurement of 34” to my hip measurement of 38.5” and thought I needed 4.5 more inches.

At first, I thought I could just let fabric out of the pleats without touching elastic, but I remembered the waist felt tight even once I could get it on. And if it was tight then, it’d be even tighter now. I measured the pleats and found that one pleat will give 1 1/4” inches of fabric so I decided to let out two pleats in the center and two pleats on the side.

After letting out 2 center ones, it occurred to me that my hips were never 34”, and I did get into the skirt at one point, so if I could squeeze it passed my hips before, I might be able to now. I tried in on, and I was right, I could get it on! The elastic waist felt better than I thought it would, but I decided I’d be happier on a night out for beer and pizza if I made the elastic a little bigger.


In progress view of the waist opened up and pleat released, then elastic and inside waistband cut to make room for insert. 

To my amazement I had elastic in my stash that was a close enough match for me: the original elastic in the skirt is black and  1 1/4” wide, and mine is white and 1 1/8”, in similar quality. I cut the elastic 1 3/4” for seam allowance and to grade up half a size. I overlayed the elastic (rather than sandwiching) so it stayed flat. I tried it on without sewing up the elastic tunnel yet, and it was perfect!

Next was to add fabric to the inside waistband to match what I let out of the pleats. I chose some scrap fabric I’ve had in my stash forever- black with a white grid in a wool blend. I guessed that I’d add 2 1/2” from released pleats plus 1/2” seam allowance each side, plus seam allowance taken from waistband so 4 1/2” total. I confirmed this by pinning 1/2” from each end of cut waistband to mark the seam allowance, stretching until the fabric was flat and measuring on my handy ruler on the side of my sewing machine table.

Inside view of a skirt waistband with elastic, being measured against a ruler 

 Double check those measurements!

It looked good so I sewed it in and topstitched the waistband down.

Inside view of a skirt waistband with a rectangle of fabric inserted into waistband

The mismatched fabric on the inside of the waistband is my little secret.

Another skirt back in rotation!

author of blog/owner of brand, white woman with short brown hair, in military green taffeta skirt with long sleeve hand embroidered top standing in front of wood gate

I hope this inspires you to fix clothes you might have been skipping over as well. If it truly is something you want to wear, you will be so happy you put a bit of effort in to wear it again.

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