Repurpose a Down Vest into a Cozy Skirt

I haven’t thought about insulated skirts in years but I was driving home last Thursday through a snow squall and the idea to have one popped into my head. I’m on a budget, so I immediately thought about how I could make one (solo commuting is one of my best times for idea generation). I mentally scrolled through my fabric inventory before remembering that we’d just placed a vintage mens’ down vest into our thrift store donation bag.

Once I arrived home I dug the vest out of the bag and did a quick google search to see what was out there for DIY insulated skirts from vests or jackets. Turns out there isn’t a lot – at least not that I could find on either up cycling or making one from scratch- but this post from backcountrywiththekids was all I needed to convince myself that this project was do-able. I threw the vest into the washer with a little down wash and headed out with Patches for a walk (solo dog walking is also a great time for thinking).

After my dog walk I put the vest in the dryer and then closeted myself in my basement sewing room and got to work. My starting point was a reversible green and blue mens’ vest from the 70s. While the boxy cut and snap closures aren’t exactly what I’d wear now, it was the perfect shape to convert to a skirt. One of us had picked it up at a thrift store so my guess is that we payed between $3 and $7 for it. I have an endless assortment of thread and such after inheriting my mother’s, Jon’s mother’s and my Grandmother’s sewing supplies so I was able to find matching blue and green threads without buying any.

I started off by cutting the vest right below the arm hole – I figured this was going to give me the maximum skirt length without creating a weird shape. I’ve never worked with down before so I was unprepared for the explosion of feathers that occurred as soon as I started cutting but by keeping the door shut and emptying each quilted section into a garbage bag as I went I managed to keep the loose feathers to a minimum.

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My cut ended up being about halfway through a quilted section of the vest, so that left me with about 3″ of empty fabric (once I’d removed the loose down) to make my waistband from with about 24″ of down stuffed vest left for the skirt portion. The original pockets on the vest turned out be located in an OK spot so I didn’t bother changing those, and the snap closure front seemed like it would work just fine so I left those as well.

My second step was to reduce the top of skirt to fit my waist. I had about 45″ of vest, and I wanted a 33″ skirt so I had a fair about of tucking to do. I didn’t want to lose the reversibility of the vest, so I decided not to do darts but instead used cuts that could be hidden by a waist band and would look good from both sides. I cut into my 3″ of material at the top of the skirt at the back (4 times, equally spaced between the two side seams) and at each side seam from the top of the waist section to the seam separating my unstuffed portion from the still stuffed quilt below it. Then I pulled one side of the cut over the other and pinned them in place. Before I sewed anything I tried the skirt on a few times, making adjustments to my pinning until the overlapping amounts had reduced the skirt waist to the size I wanted. Then I put a few stitches in the top and bottom of each fold to hold them in place.

{At this point in my project I broke my needle, replaced it incorrectly, and then spent several hours fighting with my Elna Supermatic by rethreading the bobbin a hundred times because the bobbin thread wouldn’t pick up before simply rotating the needle 180 degrees and solving the problem. Note to self: the flat piece of the needle goes to the back!}

Once I was back in business I began the process of creating a pretty waistband to hide all my tucks and folds. This actually proved more challenging than it should have – not because the concept was difficult but because I started to run out of materials. My goal was to create a wide strip of bias tape using the fabric of the vest so that I would be green on one side and blue on the other, just like the skirt. I’d used up the widest part of my vest so I ended up having to make several smaller pieces of bias tape and overlapping them to create the waistband.

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I started by cutting the collar off the vest, and decided that I would use that as part of the waistband. It had a snap closure, which I wanted to keep and use as the top snap in my skirt, but my waist is not the same size as a man’s neck so I had to cut the collar in half and extend it with another piece of fabric. After much cutting and folding I created a long enough band and pinned it in place (folding it over the rough seam at the top of my skirt and pinning it to match the start of the down fill).

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After that it was a simple process to sew the waistband in place using a green bobbin and blue top thread. I trimmed up the loose threads and it was done!

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I have to say I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Is it as trendy as something I could buy? Probably not. But it has a funky retro look and I like the fact that it is reversible. I’ve been wearing it to walk the dog after work – I throw my down skirt on over a pair of leggings and out we go. It looks good with either my winter boots or my Hunters and has been keeping me toasty warm. I’m also excited that I finally sewed a project on my Elna.

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Project Cost: $7 for the vest (thread was from my collection)
Materials: A vest (down or other insulated style), thread.
Time: about 4 hours
Difficulty: Not a complete beginning project since you have to be comfortable sewing without a pattern, creating your own bias tape and making adjustments as you go.
Equipment: My Elna only does straight stitch and that is all you need. Pins, scissors, and an iron for creating the waste band.

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