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DIY Girls T-Shirt Dress

Lana Hawk

I love learning and trying new things. I’m constantly reading and looking up tutorials online (thank you Pinterest) to find something new to try. Over the last several years, I’ve taken up (or returned to) sewing. I love the idea of creating something from a square of fabric. Even with sewing classes, detailed instructions, and tutorials, I’m a trial and error kind of girl. One of the first lessons I learned in a sewing class was measure twice and cut once. Not me. I just go for it and fix mistakes as I go! Not the best method, but it works for me. It also explains why I will probably never take up serious, precise quilting as a hobby. I would probably go insane or break something. All that to say, I like to keep sewing projects simple and leave room for imperfections. As I said in my camera strap tutorial, imperfections are what make it homemade and personal. Right? At least that is how I see it.

So, for about six months now I have had fabric prepped, primed, and readied to make a dress of some sort for one of my adorable nieces. I wanted to try and make an easy dress using a t-shirt with a gathered, fabric skirt. Finally, I got around to focusing on completing my incomplete project. Anyways, I did a little internet search and found a couple tutorials to help me in the process. I used this tutorial (here) to get me started and then made my usual modifications to complete my own version. I have now made two dresses with each taking me just about an hour to make. To be honest, the darn cutting is what took me forever. Measuring. Always with the measuring.

**Note: Since I have made two dresses, pictures go between my first attempt (pink and purple) and second attempt (white and yellow). Sorry for any confusion.


Supplies Needed:

1 1/4 yard of fabric

1 coordinating t-shirt or tank

coordinating thread

sewing machine and other sewing tools (if you’re like me, a seam-ripper)

1. Start by prepping the fabric. Wash fabric on delicate, dry, and iron. This is one lesson from sewing class that has stuck with me. Best to prep it so it lasts longer with future washes.

2. Once fabric is ironed, it is time to cut. Cut your fabric into a 14 inch by 42 inch size piece. My niece wears 4T to 5T, so these measurements work well with a 5T top. The picture below shows how long the fabric is compared to the shirt. Adjust as needed. I actually used a dress at Target to get an idea for length.

3. Time to prep your shirt. Take your shirt and lay it flat out on your cutting mat. Be sure your edges are even and there aren’t any major folds. Then, measure approximately 4 inches (give or take) down from the armpit of the shirt. Place your ruler down securely and cut across the shirt. Your shirt is now ready to go!

4. Now, bust out your iron again to create a nice pressed seam at the bottom of your fabric. Fold up the fabric on the long edge a tiny bit (told you I was exact). I’m talking less than 1/4 inch. Press it with your iron without burning your fingers. Then, fold up that edge again making a slightly larger (about 1/4 inch) folded edge. Press again with the iron. Go ahead and place a few pins in your bottom seam to keep it still for sewing.

5. Time to sew! This is where it gets scary and seam-rippers sometimes make an appearance (mine was used on attempt #1). Start by sewing a seam along your pinned bottom edge. Make sure the folded edge is secured with your stitch.

6. On the opposite, long edge do a long basting stitch. Basically, all you do is lengthen your normal stitch as long as it can go. Mine went to 5.0. Sew a 1/4 inch seam along the top edge of your fabric. Again, make sure this is the longest stitch length possible and DON’T backstitch.

7. Put the right sides of your fabric together and sew your fabric into a tube of sorts. I start at the top, just below the basting stitch. You want to make sure you can still use the basting stitch to gather the fabric so avoid anything that might make it permanent.

8. Now comes the fun part, gathering! Gently begin pulling one end of the basting stitch. As you pull, gather the fabric and slide it down to make room for more gathers. Do this from both ends of the fabric (now sewn together) until you have a fairly tightly gathered tube of fabric.

9.  Once you feel like you are tired of gathering, grab your shirt. Keep your shirt right side out and place face down into your tube of fabric. Line up the seam of the fabric tube to the middle of the back of the shirt. Line up the edges of your fabric with the shirt. If your fabric is too large or too small, adjust your gathering accordingly. Pin up your edges and take a deep breath… time to REALLY sew.

10. Select the slanted zig-zag stitch on your machine. Make your stitch longer (I went with 3.5) and wider (I went with 2.5) and test it on a similar fabric until it feels right. Yep, that’s how I did it. Does it look okay? Have a little give? Okay.

11. Time to sew. Sew around the inside of your tube using a 1/4 inch seam. My machine wouldn’t backstitch using the zigzag stitch, so I did a backstitch at the beginning and end using a normal stitch before switching to the zigzag. Then go for it. As you go, make sure you are keeping the gathered fabric from clumping up under the seam. My first attempt ended in a beautiful seam with a giant clump of extra fabric sewn in smack in the front-middle of the dress. Thank goodness for seam-rippers!

12. Last step, turn it right side out, admire your work, and put it on the cutest little girl you know! It may be a bit basic and the seam may not stretch as much as it should, but for a simple one hour dress… I was happy.