Hook & Needle

From old t-shirt to too-cute girl’s dress

I’ve had this purple t-shirt for a long time. In fact, I’ve had it since my husband and I were dating 11 years ago. It got me through from the eyeing-each-other-across-the-room stage, the does-he-really-like-me stage, and all the way to ’til-death-do-us-part. It slowly got worn less and less as I realized that midriff-baring-tees weren’t quite the thing anymore. But I kept it.

For a while, it was in my maybe-I’ll-wear-this-again pile. After lounging there for quite some time it got moved to the maybe-I’ll-sew-something-with-this bin. It sat there for quite a few years.

Along came my daughter. She grew from a squishy combination of giggles and please-change-me-diapers to a charming, and rather willful, 4 year old.

At first I was so busy as a working mother of two that I set aside most of my hobbies, other than binge-reading young adult novels at an alarming pace. Then I started to remember how much I liked to make things.

My favorite thing to do now on a Saturday morning is to dig through my pile of goodies for something fun to make. My daughter enjoys this a little too much, assuming that everything I make is for her. A doll blanket? A rainbow scarf and hat? Can you make mitts and leggings to match?

So we rummaged through the fabric bin. And came across this lovely soft t-shirt. I googled around for a while but didn’t find anything that was just right. Being the DIYer that I am, that turned out to be just the motivation I needed.

The dress I’m showing you is pretty quick to make since we’re re-using the collar seam and hem of the existing shirt. Less is more, right?


If you’d like to make a dress like this, you’ll need a few (most likely readily available) items:

  • A dress or t-shirt that fits your child, for tracing
  • A used adult-sized t-shirt
  • 1 package of bias tape or around 1 meter of cotton to make your own
  • Sewing machine, needle, thread, scissors
  • Fabric paint and glitter (optional)

Let’s get started

After reading through a few tutorials online, I came across one that recommended tracing your child’s current dress on to your fabric to get the right size/shape. This turned out to be a brilliant idea.


If you don’t have bias tape or are making your own like I did, you’ll need to make some now. I found this perfectly matched polka dot fabric at a yard sale for $1, and there’s nothing quite like the supplies you have on hand:

  1. Cut your fabric into a 1″ strip – on the bias (diagonally) is better where possible since this makes your tape more stretchy and shape-able
  2. Fold it in half lengthwise and press
  3. Flatten out the fabric, then fold each raw side into the middle
  4. Fold back in half and press
  5. You should end up with 1/4″ bias tape that looks something like this:


Cut out the dress

  1. Measure your child from collarbone to belly button to get the height from neck to waist.
  2. Lay the t-shirt you want to cut out flat on a table.
  3. Measure from the bottom middle of the t-shirt’s collar to the point where the waist should be. Add an extra 1/2 an inch down for a seam allowance, then draw a line across the t-shirt from side to side with fabric chalk or a pencil. Cut the shirt in half.
  4. Lay the child’s existing dress on top of the top half of the t-shirt, lining up the shoulder seams of each.
  5. Trace out the shape of the dress onto the top half of the t-shirt, adding a 1/2 inch for your seam allowance. Remove the dress, and cut out the shirt.

You should end up with something like this:


As you can see in the picture above, the “skirt” part of the dress will be a lot wider than the body. That’s as it should be.

Figure out how much the ‘skirt’ needs to shrink:

  1. Measure the width of the top part of the dress/bodice (mine was 10″ wide)
  2. Measure the width of the skirt fabric (mine was 16″ wide)
  3. The difference between the two (6″ in my case) is how much narrower the skirt needs to be to fit with the bodice.
  4. Measure the halfway point between the two sides.
  5. Make a small chalk mark here. This will be the center of your pleats.
  6. Measure 1″ on each side of the chalk mark to get to where you want your pleats to start to fold
  7. Measure the remaining space, and divide into even portions. So if I want 4 pleats total, and I have 6″ of fabric to use up, each pleat becomes 1.5″ (6″/4″) deep.
  8. For each pleat, make 2 chalk marks – one where you want the pleat to be, and one where you want the pleat to end. This is 1.5″ in my case.
  9. Match up the chalk marks, folding the rest of the fabric behind (see below) and pin in place


Once you’ve got the skirt to the right width, I’d match it up to the bodice to make sure it’s the right size, keeping in mind that the top will be 1″ narrower after sewing. Once the skirt is the right size on the front, flip it over and pin your pleats in the back.

Put it all together

Now that you’ve got all your cutting done, it’s on to the fun part – the sewing! I love to see things take shape. My favorite part of any project.

The first thing to sew is the bias tape. Wrap it around the cut edges of the arm seams, and topstitch to attach the bias tape. This also creates a finished edge at the same time.


Once that’s complete, fold the bodice inside out and sew your 1/2″ seam allowance down both sides. It should look something like this if you turn it right-side-out again after sewing:


Make sure the bodice is turned right side is out. Turn the skirt inside out, then tuck the bodice inside. Match up the two unfinished seams (top of the skirt, the bottom of the bodice) and pin.

Adjust your pleats slightly if needed so everything lines up smoothly. Then stitch together with your 1/2″ seam allowance. Fold the dress right-side out and top stitch over the waist seam.

If your daughter isn’t addicted to glitter like mine is, you’re done. Congratulations on making a sweet new dress for your child!



Bring On The Glitzah

I was so excited to show my daughter her new dress, like the proud maker I am. She seemed a lot less impressed than I was with the finished product. When I asked why she told me it wasn’t sparkly enough.

One trip to the craft store later, we were in possession of 1 bottle of fabric paint, 1 pack of glitter, and 1 impatient child.


I had black glitter in mind, but unfortunately, Michael’s stocked no such thing. So I painted on the fabric paint with a paintbrush, then sprinkled black glitter on top while the paint was still wet. After washing about 2/3 of the glitter remained, so I’ll call it a success.


So there you have it.

An adventure in re-purposing, reinventing, and the true value of glitter.



By Martha

Martha is a miniature-making, Hary-Potter-and-Back-To-The-Future-loving designer with a thing for her grandma's pot roast. And really swank vintage chairs.

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