Friday, May 10, 2013

The Best T-Shirt Dress - A Tutorial

I want to give a shout out to everyone that has enjoyed my “How To Make The Best Dress Ever” tutorial.  Thank you for your thoughtful comments and suggestions on how to make it even better!  To date nearly 30,000 people have dropped in to take a look at it.  That is pretty awesome!

How To Make The Best T-Shirt Dress Ever is my newest tutorial.  T-shirt dresses are so easy to make that even a person with very little experience can sew a cute dress. If you already know how to sew you might want to make several. 

So without further ado let’s get started! 

First you need to gather up your materials.

One t-shirt 
½ to 1 yd of fabric depending on the size
Thread and sewing supplies, scissors, pins, tape measure

Have you ever noticed that little girls, particularly when they are young, have protruding tummies? It is for that reason I cut the lower portion of the t-shirt off so that the fabric falls loosely from above the tummy.  

Cutting the tee will make the t-shirt dress look more like a dress and less like a t-shirt with a skirt sewn on the bottom of it.  I know you hate to cut off a perfectly good t-shirt but it will be worth it and you will be able to use the bottom of the tee for a headband or braided bracelet.  Trust me on this one.

We’re going to start by making a well constructed dress.  After we finish it up you can embellish it anyway that you like.  Okay enough chit-chat from me let's move on.

I’m using a solid navy blue sleeveless top I bought on sale at the end of summer last year.  It is 100% cotton.  

For the skirt choose a 100% cotton fabric.  Do not use solid white or pastels or sheer fabrics like voile or gauze that you can see thru.  Just to make sure that you’ve chosen a good dress fabric slip your hand in between the layers to be certain you can't see your hand. If you aren't sure you should probably leave it on the shelf and choose something else.

I think I can safely say that all little girls like bright colors and playful prints.  

Ready?  Let’s start off by cutting part of the body of the t-shirt off.  Turn the t-shirt inside out and measure down from the top of the arm opening 3” on both side and mark with a pin.  Your top should look like this.

One of the things that really bugs me about t-shirt dresses is how the t-shirt stretches when the skirt is attached.  Here’s a little trick to eliminate the problem.  Cut two 1” strips of light weight iron-on Pelon interfacing. 

Lay one of the strip of the Pelon across the shirt right above the pins that you used to mark where you are going to cut.  Now flip the t-shirt over and do it again on that side.  This is the scary part...cut all the way across the t-shirt along the bottom edge of the white strip you just ironed on.  You're going to feel like you cut it too short but it won't be.  Does it look like this?  Good job!

Trim the ends of the interfacing if needed and sew along the side seams and reinforce with a zig-zag stitch.  


 Put your bodice to the side while we work on the skirt. 

All sizes use the full width of the fabric…selvage to selvage.  By using the selvages it will keep the seam from raveling.  Make sure if you have a printed selvage like mine that the seam is deep enough to hide it.  On this fabric ½” should be deep enough.  You want to sew just over far enough that the white edges are hidden.  Here we top to bottom.  Don't worry about the length of your fabric we are going to hem it later.  

After you’ve sewn in the side seam press it open so that it lays flat.

In this tutorial you are going to put the seam on the side so that the front and back of the dress appear seamless.  Years ago we might have put the seam down the back so that it could button or a zipper sewn in but not today.  The skirt will appear to be virtually seamless with the seam on the side under the arm.  I promise you will be thrilled with the results when you finish.

So let's lay the seamed skirt flat on the table.  Place a pin on the side opposite the seam to mark the other half of the dress.  Then two other pins go in the middle of the front and back.  I measured with a tape but you can fold it in half if that is easier.  Basically you want to mark both sides and the center front and the center back.  The dress is now marked on both sides and center back and front.  Like this.

Now the magic begins.  Lay the dress on the table with the pins and raw edges at the top.  Starting at the center back or center front (it doesn’t matter) start putting in pleats.  No measuring necessary.  Start in the center and pinch pleat from the center toward the side seam, like this.  All of the pleats move away from the center.

This is one half of my front.

My pleats are about 1 to 1 ½” wide and a ½” deep.  Go ahead and pleat all around the top starting in the center and pleating toward the side seam.  You be able to put in 3 or 4 and the 4th one might be a little skimpy but that's okay keep going.

This is sort of an aerial view of the pleats.

When you are finished pleating it will look like this.

Congratulations you just finished the most difficult part of the dress!

Why pleats rather than gathering you might wonder.  Pleats are faster to put in and lay flatter for shipping, which is a good thing when you are packing hundreds of dresses.  

Sew all the way around pressing the pleats down as you sew over them.  If you have a serger use it and if you don’t you can zig zag the seam like I did in this photo.  Mine isn't pretty...but it's secure and won't ravel.

Remember that little piece of stabilizer that we ironed in at the beginning of this tutorial?  This is going to keep your knit shirt top from stretching when you sew around.  Pretty awesome!

Clip all the threads and turn the dress right side out. On the outside of the dress on the knit top stitch about 1/4" to 3/8” all the way around.  Start at the side seam and go all the way around. 

Now all that is left is the hem and you’re finished!

My t-shirt is a size 2-3.  So using the pillowcase dress length chart below measure down the front from the center of the arm opening to the hem.  I want my finished dress length to be 20” so I am going to cut the bottom of the dress off at 21” and that will give me 1” for a hem.

Size/Years old                    Finished Dress Length
Infant                                  14-16”
1-2 years                            17-19”
3-4 years                            20-22”
5-6 years                            23-25”
7-8 years                            26-28”
9-10                                     29-30”
11                                         31-33”
12-14                                   34-35”

I cut the excess off with my rotary cutter or scissors.  Set the scrap to the side.

When I learned to sew years ago I was taught to put in a generous hem so that it could be let down as a child grew.  Today sewers are using a new method, one that I admit I resisted in the beginning….but no longer.

Let’s hem the dress using the Easy Peasy method.  Put that tape measure or ruler to the side you won't need it.  Fold up ½” all the way around the hem pressing as you go.  I don’t measure I just fold and press and you can do it too.  After you get all the way around do it again, this second fold will be really easy.  Press as you go.  When you finish pressing your hem stitch as close as you can to the fold.  That's it you’ve finished your t-shirt dress!

Slip your dress on a little hanger and put it up so you can admire your work, and have a cup of tea.

I am so proud of YOU!

Feeling confidant?  Want to put a little polish on the cute little dress? Let's use that piece of fabric that you cut off the bottom and make some ties for the back.

Cut it in half.  You can make a long tube and turn it inside out OR you can fold and steam ¼ inch on the sides and one end.  Fold it in half matching the long sides and one end.

Edge stitch the end and the length of the tie.  Sew as close to the edge as you can catching all the layers.  You might want to pin it OR live dangerously like I do and match it as you sew along.  Make a second tie – fold, press and sew.

At the underarm of the t-shirt side seam pin one of the ties.  The ties will be toward the front which will seem wrong but it’s fine.  It is hard to describe so look at the photo below and attach one of the ties.

Now fold the tie back on itself so that the ties are facing the back of the dress and tack it down with machine stitching about ½” from the side seam. 

You did it!  Great job!

If you would like to make a dress for a little girl who needs one I invite you to click on the little Dress A Girl button at the top right of this tutorial and learn how you can or go to

Also with regard to this t-shirt dress pattern...some mission groups prefer pillowcase dresses as they are easier to pack and take up less space.  If you have questions about this contact your Ambassador.  If you don't know who your ambassador is please go to to find a list of names.