If you’ve ever wondered what to do with old bridesmaid dresses that you just can’t wear anymore (and you’ve already tried my tree skirt idea), this might be just the project for you! I recently took two lovely satin bridesmaid dresses and turned them into elegant chair covers and a tablecloth for a perfect little dining set.
This is a great way to turn otherwise useless dresses into something new and functional. If you’ve got a closet full of dresses in different colors, you can mix all the fabrics together to create a bunch of different chair covers. Or, if you want them all to match, try hitting up your old bridesmaids and see if they still have the dresses they wore in your wedding… you may be able to get your hands on several dresses in the same color.
Because my table and chairs will differ from yours, I won’t bother to list exact measurements in this post, but will focus on the general technique instead. If you’re comfortable with pinning and simple sewing, you ought to be able to customize this technique to suit your furniture.
Gather your supplies
I am a big fan of the color combination of sky blue and chocolate brown, and I have two friends who wore dresses in those colors last year. They were happy to give me their dresses, and excited to see them put to good use. I cut all the seams out of the dresses to get large pieces of fabric to work with. I was even able to use the dress lining for some parts of the project, because it matched the dress color exactly.
For the chairs, I used two of my STEFAN chairs from IKEA, but you can use any chairs you’ve got. This would be a great technique for covering boring, old, folding chairs. The table I used was one of those cheap, round, accent tables with the screw-on legs. (You know you’ve got one in the garage or closet… everyone does!)
Covering the chairs
I decided I wanted my chairs to be brown with a blue stripe down the middle. By mixing the colors up like this, it made it easier for me to have enough fabric between the two dresses to cover two chairs.
The first step was to make a wide strip of blue fabric to run down the middle of the chair, from front to back. I pieced this strip together using various pieces of fabric, doing my best to put the seams at crease points on the chair (like the top or the front corner) so they would be less noticeable. I made sure to make the strip long enough to reach the floor on both ends, and leave enough room for me to make a hem.
I then made two more strips of brown fabric, and sewed them to either side of the blue. I ironed the seams flat and was left with a length of fabric that was wide enough and long enough to cover everything except the sides of the chair. (Be sure to measure a LOT when you do this, and cut carefully.)
With the fabric inside out on the chair (ugly side showing), I pinned it together along the sides of the chair back. I put pins exactly where I wanted to sew, and followed the contour of the chair. I used two pins to mark the corner where the back of the chair meets the seat, so that I would know where to stop sewing the side seams. Then I took it to the machine and sewed along the pinned lines.
At this point (and at many points throughout the process), I flipped the fabric right side out and tested it on the chair to make sure it fit. Then I flipped it back inside out before continuing to the next step.
For the sides of the chair cover, I cut two pieces that were big enough to cover the sides of the chair. I pinned each piece in place along the top, left, and right edges. Then I took the cover off the chair and sewed along the pinned lines. (If you can’t get the cover off the chair, it’s probably because you made the cover too tight on the bottom. If this happens, go back and loosen up your pinned seams a bit.)
After sewing the hem with the machine, I put the finished cover back on the chair and was so happy with the results! Then I started all over again and made a second cover for the other chair. The second one was a lot easier because I saved the measurements from the first one.
Making the tablecloth
For the tablecloth, I wanted to reverse the color pattern I used on the chair covers. I decided to do a blue tablecloth with brown stripes. I did this because I liked the effect, but I admit that a big part of the decision was because I had used up most of my brown fabric already and had lots of blue left!
I decided to do two stripes that intersected in the middle of the table. I used the smaller scraps I had leftover to make the criss-cross in the center. Then I used the larger pieces of blue and some strips of brown to create the sides of the tablecloth. I pinned the sides in place (while it was all inside out on the table, of course), sewed it in place with the machine, and then hemmed the bottom just as I did with the chairs.
To accessorize the table, Jo and I used her trick for painting seashells and added some of Martha Stewart’s awesome glitter to decorate some seashells in blue and brown. We arranged them in a tall glass vase with a short string of battery-operated clear Christmas lights The whole thing made for a gorgeous centerpiece. As a final touch, I used the last bits of leftover blue fabric to make two cloth napkins.
Using your linens
So now I’ve got this gorgeous table setting, but when do I use it? Well, I plan to use my linens for a romantic dinner for me and my husband on Valentine’s Day. A set of two chair covers and a tablecloth is perfect for any special occasion for two, like an anniversary or a romantic date. If you have enough spare dresses to make seating for more than two, then you can easily use them spiff up a tea party, baby shower, or bridal shower — imagine how fun it would be for the bride and her friends to be sitting on chairs covered with old bridesmaid dresses!
The benefits of upcycling
Recycling involves re-manufacturing items into the same or lower-quality items, but upcycling involves re-purposing existing items into new and better items, in simple ways. Re-using the fabric from bridesmaid dresses that have lost their appeal is a perfect example of upcycling. To illustrate that point, Jo and I entered our project into Craft: magazine’s Upcyclist Party Contest last fall. We were honored to be selected as a runner-up in the contest. The other entries in the contest served as a real inspiration to us to look for more ways to upcycle in the future.
If you’ve got any great ideas for upcycling old dresses, we’d love to hear them!