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.


  1. Oh my goodness Karen. This is so adorable. I love the fabric and that bow! I can see a little girl twirling about as she receives this dress!

  2. Look forward to making some t-shirt dresses for Dress A Girl using your tutorial. Thanks for sharing your dress is gorgeous.

    1. We look forward to seeing your dress...please share with all of us!

  3. Extremely clear and detailed instructions. Well done, Karen.

  4. This is a Great tutorial.Thank You for sharing..

    Tee Dresses my favorite to sew..

  5. Thank you for this tutorial very clear and easy to follow...

  6. Thanks so much for the tip using the interfacing!!! I'm definitely going to try this method. Sometimes my t-shirt dresses stretch and sometimes they don't and I can never work out what I'm doing differently. Hope you don't mind, but I'm pinning.

    1. Worked like a charm!!! Thanks again for the interfacing tip. Here's my dresses made using your tip...

  7. Thank you for sharing. Your tutorial is so easy to follow. This project is at the top of my to do list. I have twin granddaughters and this dress would be perfect for them.

  8. Thanks for the tips re interfacing and cutting the bottom of the tee-shirt off. I think the tee-shirt dresses I make for Dress a Girl Australia will look better next time.

  9. Thanks alot for the wonderful tutorial about the t-shirt dress. I will definitely follow these tips.

  10. The "The Best T-Shirt Dress" is very good, just love your dresses.i was looking for vintage wedding dresses online uk, hope you can give me any suggestions!

  11. I have been searching for a tutorial for this dress! All the others I have found have been nothing compared to this! So detailed, explained very well and CUTE! love it! Thanks!

  12. Love the dress and can't wait to make one. I love the hanger just as much!! Can you tell me where I can purchase the hangers? My email is

  13. Cute dress and wonderful cause! Thank you for all the tips, especially about adding a little interfacing to minimize stretch! -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures

  14. Just made one of these dresses. The iron on interfacing works like a charm! Love the hanger too!

  15. I have made t-shirt dresses for my daughter but love your tutorial and cannot wait to try it. We are in the process of adopting 2 girls from Haiti, so I will be making them some as well as some for their friends in the orphanage, too.

  16. going to have a go at this way of making outfits

  17. Great directions, but the tee/skirt seam wouldn't fit over the child's head.
    I put a zipper in the side seam which was a real pain. I'd post a picture if I knew how! Any suggestions of what I might have done wrong???

  18. What a great tutorial. I'm going to try the interfacing tip right away. I don't normally have stretching problems, but I do love the crisp look it gives. Thanks.

  19. Love this simple idea - im going to try it with a tee made from a pattern and leftover stretchy fabric - will let you know if it works :) @bdmcdona - I read once - if the bobbin threads messes up, the problem is the threading above the needle, and vice versa, so I am guessing the issue is either something with threading your machine or with the tension on the thread. Tension used to give me fits on my Singer, in the shop getting adjusted every couple of yrs, then same issues with bobbin thread bunching up on the bottom no matter what I did; finally switched to Husqvarna and never a problem again... ($$$$ hurt a bit, tho!) Good look!

  20. Thanks for the info Organic, will keep it in mind. I have had no further problem since I quit using the iron on interfacing. But after completing about 6 or 7 of them (apparently I'm a slow learner) I may have the same issue that Maryhelen Bronson had about it not fitting over the head. There is no give to get the smaller ones on. I've looked the internet over and I can't see that I had to use elastic thread or stretch stitches. But even using stretch stitches, since the bottom material isn't stretchy, I don't see how stretch stitch would help. Maybe I was supposed to use stretch stitch on the outside topstitching. BUT I LOVED THE RESULTS I GOT, ONCE I GOT OVER THE ROUGH PATCH. THE DRESSES "LOOK" GORGEOUS. I just hope I can use them. And I too plan on getting new machine soon, but for now, it's the trusty old singer that is limping along.

  21. Found this JUST IN TIME!! I embroider and a lady asked me to make a tunic type "big sister" top for her daughter instead of a typical embroidered t-shirt. Of course I said yes before I knew what I was doing! :) I'm so excited! This looks perfect!

  22. I keep reading how great the instructions are... but when do you state to attach the shirt to the skirt? I'm sitting here with a skirt that is pleated and sewn with the side seam but it is MUCH WIDER than the top... doesn't make much sense to me. Any pointers???

  23. Turn the shirt right side out and put it inside the skirt that is turned inside out so the right sides are together. Pull the cut off end of the shirt upto and in line with the pleated top of the skirt. Pin the side seams of the shirt to the side seams of the skirt (this helped me to keep everything lined up properly). Then start sewing you pleats down while sewing onto the shirt. When you finish, turn it inside out and your ready to put the decorative seam on the front or skip to hemming the bottom. Hope this helps! And remember as long as you don't cut, you can always pull seams out and start over. Sometimes I have to do that to help me think it through.

  24. This dress is adorable! I was looking for an easy dress that I could make for our missions group at my church. I am part of "Sewing for the Nations." We make dresses, shirts and shorts for girls and boys in other countries. Thanks for posting!

  25. Very creative post !!!
    I'm so happy with your blog site, it contains all the matter which i was searching for.
    I really like your designs. I like the way you written the post. I have hobbies to buy t shirts online. I have so much of designer t shirts for boys.
    Thanks for sharing such a nice blog...

  26. I've tried in the past to sew dresses like this. Can't wait to try this with the interfacing. Don't know why I didn't think of this. Thanks for the tutorial, seems very precise and the pictures and very clear.

  27. Just finished making this dress and it turned out so cute. This tutorial rocks. Thanks again for the interfacing idea.

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  29. Do you need to add more width than just the width of the fabric for older children..... age 8?

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  32. Wow! I am really impressed by pictures given here. Thanks for sharing.

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  35. I love love love this tutorial! Thank you so much for taking the time to blog all the instructions and details. I've made my daughter a Princess Elsa dress using the pattern, you can see a few pictures here:

  36. I love this tutorial but would like to know where you purchased the t-shirt. I like the bindings around the neck and sleeve and feel they will last longer than a regular t- shirt. Could you write and let me know where it was purchased?

  37. I have just found this tutorial and its certainly the best Ive seen yet, just made the first dress for my granddaughter and worked out so well, l'll be make lots more thank you for your very informative tutorial.



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  39. Thanks for the great tutorial. It inspired me to make a dinosaur dress for my 4 year-old granddaughter who loves dinosaurs. Unfortunately, dinosaur themed clothes are not available for girls! Thank you.

  40. The dress is coming along great, I have attached the bodice and skirt but the only problem I see is there is no stretch. I tried it on my little on and it wont go over her head. How can I fix this?