How to convert a garment using a scarf

22nd February, 2022   |   How To...Guides

How scarves can be used to convert clothes and create accessories.

This dress is one of my all-time favourite conversions.

  • Take one damaged Victorian underskirt and repair it
  • Deconstruct one preloved twilly (scarf) and turn it into a top
  • Attach them together and design your own dress of dreams…

Creating the Hermes twilly dress:

Choosing the scarf

Scarves are amazing to convert with, especially when they have small repetitive patterns delivering neat, punchy statements.

This maxi-twilly’s electric blue stripe was exactly the same hue as the luminescent Victorian underskirt. Plus, the powerful pink and coloured details were strong enough to hold their own and offer balance. If there was a way of turning the twilly into a top, there was the potential to create an incredible dress.

Tip: Choose a scarf that has a colour that connects with another element in your garment. Lay them out on the floor to see how they work together – you won’t know until you see it. Do not try and guess!

Creating the design

The beauty of conversion is that you never really know exactly what the end result will be, but the fabrics and shapes of the pieces you already have will inspire the design every time. It is essential to play around with the pieces in front of the mirror, mocking up potential designs by positioning the fabric as it would be. It becomes so clear when you have this visual what you are going to like and what works best on you.

As this scarf was doubled over it meant there was twice the fabric and twice as many options.  Once it was opened up, it became clear that the two opposing diagonal ends of the scarf, each with its own version of the same pattern, could be joined together to create one complete image.  As the zigzags tallied up, amazingly, the gorgeous little bird appeared as the natural centrepiece. Conversion wizardry in action!

The opposite side of the fabric became the back panel and amazingly, there was still enough fabric left over to create additional elements for the top.

Tip: The key really is to mock up your idea and, if it’s not right, keep moving the fabric around until you hit upon the formula that feels right. With scarves, start by finding the big feature – the centrepiece – then watch everything flow and work around it.

Copying a collar

There was enough twilly fabric left over to create a collar, helping to balance the proportions of the top with the skirt. This mandarin collar was copied from a much-loved dress already in the closet, using sections of the scarf which were symmetrically ideal.

Tip: You don’t have to design your conversions from scratch – if you love elements of the clothes you already own, why not copy them?

Creating the sleeves

The leftover twilly fabric had a dramatic stripe down the centre, with a different pattern on either side. This provided the perfect design feature for the sleeves, giving them a strikingly modern look when juxtaposed with the vintage skirt.

Tip: Let the fabric lead the way and influence your designs – that’s the joy and magic of conversion.

Lining the scarf

The top needed lining to ensure it was strong enough to support the skirt. A section of white organza left over from another conversion was delicate enough for the silk to lie smoothly over the top, whilst being tough enough to take the weight of the skirt.

Tip: Always match the weight of your lining to the weight of your skirt so it’s strong enough to hold the skirt and maintain the garment’s shape and flow as you move. Avoid using an iron-on lining because it takes away the fluidity of silk scarves.

Using the scarf scraps

There’s huge power in tiny scraps. Covering small buttons with left-over fabric and adding them to the cuffs and neck introduced a high-end design feature and gave the dress the polished finish it deserved.

Tip: Re-worked scraps can become embellishments that add a sophisticated finish to your garment and elevate it beyond anything you’ll find on the high street.

Putting it all together

A small ruffle was used to disguise the seam which joined the top and skirt creating an additional design feature, while also giving the dress a sophisticated, professional finish.

Tip: Covering seams with some form of embellishment e.g. a frill or piping, helps give your garment a more polished look and smooths the transition between two elements.

Using scarves to convert your clothes

If you are thinking of making a top, always check with your dressmaker that your scarf is big enough to create your vision.

If not, you could use it to create feature pieces on an existing garment. Perhaps you could create a bib panel for a dress along with cuffs, collars or buttons made from the scraps? There are so many options – Pinterest is a fantastic source of inspiration so it’s always worth going down that rabbit hole for ideas.

Making matching accessories from scarves

There are plenty of fabulous accessories you can make out of scarves, from glam beachwear to small bag charms. Here are a few to get you going:

  • Hairband
  • Sarong
  • Bag charm
  • Bracelets/Jewelry
  • Cuffs
  • Bags
  • Pouches
  • Covered Beads
  • Small cross-body phone cases
  • Neck ties
  • Bow ties
  • Brooches
  • Rosette earrings (cut out a small disc of the fabric and skewer it with a stud earring to create co-ord jewellery)

Over to you… dig out your old scarves, raid Granny’s wardrobe or check out the selection on preowned sites like eBay and Etsy. These small squares and rectangles of fabric have the power to turn an old garment into your favourite bespoke piece that gets you compliments wherever you go.

Do I need to be able to sew?

Never! Unless you’re a sewing genius, I always recommend taking your conversions to an alterations person at your local dry cleaner or to a dressmaker.

If you’ve got any questions or have any cool patching ideas, just leave me a comment below.

Read more of Kate McGuire’s How To… blogs 

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