Ok y’all, I was going to start out nice and simple with my tutorials on t-shirt dress-making, but where’s the fun in that? Let’s just jump right into the deep end. What’s the worst that could happen?
This dress was made from a unisex 2XL t-shirt, specifically the Pipe Vault shirt by Fangamer. (If you aren’t familiar with this company, check it out. They make some absolutely fabulous shirts and other stuff.) They sent us a bunch of great stuff to auction and give away during Desert Bus for Hope in November. They also sent us all a free shirt for ourselves, because they’re really sweet like that.
As you already know, I don’t wear many t-shirts, but I wear lots of other garments made from t-shirts. When it came to choosing a Fangamer shirt, I thought this Pipe Vault design would offer some great dressmaking possibilities, with its a-symmetrical printing and the fact that the graphic goes so far down the side of the shirt. Turns out I was right.
Let me just quickly say that this may not be a project for brand new sewers. I do this kind of sewing largely by feel, so you’ll want to have some sewing experience to make sure the piece is working out for you, especially when it comes to making your own pattern for the bodice. Or, if you’re a new sewer, start with a non-special t-shirt that you don’t really care about, just in case the project goes south, and treat it like a rough draft before you create your final project.
I also apologize for the many dark photos, and for some steps that are missing photos. I wasn’t sure when I made this that it would work out (since I was making it up as I went), so I wasn’t as careful as I should have been about documenting each step. I also had a great deal of difficulty getting enough light, as I was working on the project mostly in the evenings. And sometimes I simply got lazy because I just wanted to get the darn thing finished. But enough excuses.
Ok, I’m going to break this tutorial up into 4 main categories: the bodice, the shoulder pieces, the skirt and the pocket. Let’s get started.
What you’ll need:
- an oversized t-shirt (probably 2XL or larger to get enough length, unless you’re making this for a child)
- another t-shirt or other material in a corresponding colour
- butcher paper OR a large paper grocery bag
- paper scissors
- fabric scissors
- straight pins
- thread (in a colour that matches the oversized t-shirt)
- sewing machine
- needle and thread (for hand sewing)
- iron & ironing board
- [optional] buttons
1) The first thing you’ll need to do is take some measurements. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’ll assume you’re making the dress for yourself. But obviously the measurements must be of the person for whom the dress is being made, be that you or someone else.
Take all measurements without a shirt on, but do keep your bra on (unless you plan to wear the dress bra-less) for the most accurate possible measurements.
- Measure your bust. This means measuring around your torso, with the measuring tape sitting across the largest part of your breasts.
- Measure your torso just below the bust. Put the measuring tape around your torso immediately below your breasts.
- Measure the length from your shoulder to just below your bust.
- Measure the length from your shoulder to your armpit. It might be difficult to get an exact measurement for this, but you really just need a pretty good idea of the length. It will determine where and how long you make the arm holes on your pattern.
- Measure your hips. Place the tape around the widest part of your hips and bum to get this measurement.
- Measure the distance from just below your bust downward to the widest part of your hips.
Once you’ve got all your measurements, add 1 inch to each of them. (This is for seam allowance.)
2) Next you must make your pattern. Get a large piece of paper (a cut up paper grocery bag works well, or a piece of butcher paper). Use the basics of pattern-making to help you out here. Fold your paper in half, and draw half of your final pattern shape along the fold line.
You want a pattern the shape of the one below. Use your measurements to determine the length of all your lines.
- The distance from A to B is 1/4 of your waist measurement.
- The distance from B to C is your shoulder-to-beneath-the-bust measurement minus your shoulder-to-armpit-measurement.
- The distance from C to D is your shoulder-to-armpit measurement.
- And of course, the distance from B to D is your shoulder-to-below-the-bust measurement.
- You probably want the shoulder strap to be 3 1/2 to 4 inches wide.
- Draw a shallow curve downward from the shoulder strap to the fold line. You are currently making a pattern for the back piece of the bodice.
When you’ve cut out your pattern piece, hold it up against your torso to get a general sense of whether it’s the right shape and size.
3) For the front bodice pattern, fold another large piece of paper in half. Place the first pattern piece (folded) on this paper, and trace it. Remove the first piece. Now take that shallow neckline and bring it down lower. This is the only change you need to make for your front bodice piece – once you’ve done it, cut the piece out.
3) Next, turn your shirt inside out and cut the sleeves off. Cut right along the seam line, on the inside of the seam, so that the shirt itself does not have any of that bulky seam left attached to it. Set the sleeves aside.
4) Turn the shirt back right side out and lay it flat.
Ok, let me explain a couple things. You want to keep the bottom of the shirt completely intact at this point to use for the skirt later on. But you need to cut out the back bodice and the front bodice separately, so you need to cut the front top of the shirt away from the back top of the shirt. In order to do this, cut the t-shirt apart along the shoulder seams. Now push the back of the shirt down so that the front piece of the t-shirt is the only layer present at the top of the shirt. The bottom half of the shirt’s front and back should still be attached.
Now pin your front bodice pattern piece to the front of the t-shirt. Cut it out.
5) Next, repeat this process with the back of the t-shirt and the back bodice piece.
6) Take your corresponding fabric or t-shirt and cut one front bodice piece and one back bodice piece from it. You should now have 4 bodice pieces: 2 front and 2 back.
7) Pin the 2 front bodice pieces together, with right sides facing together. Pin the 2 back bodice pieces together, with right sides facing.
8) Sew the two front pieces together. Sew the two back pieces together. DO NOT sew along the bottom edge. For seam allowance, simply match the edge of the fabric up to the edge of the presserfoot.
9) Very carefully, use your scissors to cut small tabs from the edge of the fabric up to the line of stitching. Do this along any curves, to help them curve smoothly once the piece has been turned right side out. (In the photo below I’m using this technique on the pocket, which will come later. Use it here on the bodice as well.)
10) You should now have a sewn-together front piece and a sewn-together back piece. Turn each piece right side out. Use a chopstick or pencil to poke all the edges and corners out.
11) Iron the two pieces flat along the edges. Then sew along all the edges (except the bottom), about 1/4 inch from the edge. This will keep the edges flat and the lining hidden.
12) Pin the front and back piece together at the sides, with right sides facing (so the lining fabric is showing).
13) Sew the sides together. You now have one bodice piece, with the 2 shoulder straps still separated in the middle and hanging loose. (Ignore the band on the bottom of the bodice – we haven’t gotten that far yet.)
14) Sew the bottom edge of the bodice closed.
Set this piece aside for now.
1) Take the bottom part of the shirt turn it inside out, then lay it flat. (As you can see from the photo, this is an example of me telling you to do something I did not – turning the shirt inside out – because I forgot to do it myself but should have.)
Cut a straight line across the top so it has a flat, even edge. Make sure the bottom edges are even, then pin them together.
2) Fold the piece in half.
3) Now you will make two marks. At the top edge of the fabric, measure in from the fold line. Measure a distance that’s 1/4 of your just-below-the-bust measurement (measurement #2 from step 1). Add 1/4 inch and make a small mark.
Next, measure downwards the distance of your below-the-bust-to-widest-part-of-the-hips measurement (measurement #6 from step 1).
Now, at that point in the fabric, measure in from the fold line 1/4 of your hip measurement. Add 1/4 inch and make a small mark.
4) Using your yardstick and a pen, draw a line from your mark at the top of the piece, going through the mark in the middle of the piece, and on down to the edge of the piece. Basically, you’ve just created a slightly flared skirt that will fit comfortably over your hips.
5) Cut along the line you just drew.
6) Unfold the piece. You now have two skirt-shaped pieces of fabric, pinned together along the bottom edge. Pin the pieces together along the sides.
7) Sew the pieces together along the sides. That’s the main skirt piece done. Notice that you don’t have to hem it, as we’ve kept the original t-shirt hem intact. This is one of the perks of sewing t-shirt dresses – make them right and they don’t require hemming. If you’ve ever tried to hem jersey knit, you know what a beautiful thing that truly is.
9) Turn your attention to the scraps of fabric left over from the sides of the t-shirt. If necessary, you can also use one of the sleeves for this next step. From these scraps, you will need to cut two strips. Each strip should be 3 to 4 inches wide. Lengthwise, each strip needs to be 1/2 of your just-below-the-bust measurement.*
Cut two strips from your t-shirt material, and two matching strips from your other (lining) shirt or material.
*If you just don’t have enough leftover t-shirt material, you can cut all 4 strips from your lining fabric. This just means you’ll have a band of other-coloured fabric between the bodice and skirt pieces of the dress. You might choose to do this deliberately, too, in order to create a more colourful dress.
10) Put each t-shirt strip on top of one of the lining fabric strips. Pin the long edges, then sew them together. You now have two double-sided strips.
11) Now pin the two strips to each other by their short ends, with the t-shirt fabric sides facing together. Sew the ends, so you now have a complete loop.
Now we move on to:
ATTACHING SKIRT TO BODICE
1) Take your bodice and make sure it is right side out. Now take your waistband (the fabric loop you just created) and make sure it is inside out. Place the waistband around the base of the bodice. Right sides (t-shirt fabric) of the bodice and the waistband should be facing each other.
2) Pin the bodice and waistband together, then sew them together. You now have 1 piece that’s the bodice with the waistband attached to the bottom.
3) Take your skirt piece and turn it inside out. Place the bodice piece inside the skirt, with the shoulder straps facing down, towards the skirt’s hemline, and the edge of the waistband matched up with the top edge of the skirt.
4) Pin the waistband and the skirt’s top edge together. Sew them together.
5) When you turn the whole thing right side out again, you should have a whole dress, with the waistband connecting the skirt and bodice pieces. There should be no raw edges showing (though your shoulder straps will still be unattached in the middle.
3. SHOULDER PIECES
1) Take some of your scrap pieces of t-shirt material and cut two round-cornered rectangles from them. The rectangles should be about 6 inches long. They should be the same width as your dress’ shoulder straps (but remember to add about 1/2 inch in width for seam allowance).
Use the basics of pattern-making to create a template for these rectangles.
2) Cut two round-cornered rectangles from your t-shirt material and 2 from your lining material.* Be sure to leave one of the t-shirt sleeves intact and set aside still – you’ll need it for the dress’ pocket.
*Again, if you don’t have enough t-shirt material left, you simply cut 4 shapes from your lining material and give your dress a more multi-coloured look.
3) Place each t-shirt rectangle on top of one of the lining rectangles, with right sides facing. Pin them together.
4) Sew the rectangles together, but leave a gap at one of the short ends so you can turn the pieces right side out.
5) Turn the pieces right side out. At the gap you used to turn the piece right side out, tuck the edges of the fabric under and neatly hand stitch them together.
6) [optional] Use your sewing machine to sew a pattern of lines onto each shoulder piece. It’s for visual effect and some extra stability. I sewed increasingly small rectangles inside the rectangle of each shoulder piece for my dress. (You can see the stitching I did in the picture in step 9.)
7) Take your dress and pin the should straps together, flat and with the linings together. Use a simple ladder stitch or slip stitch to hand sew the flaps together. Then flip it over and sew the flaps together on the underside as well.
8) Lay the dress out and pin each shoulder piece over top of the shoulder straps. Make sure they’re even.
9) Sew the shoulder pieces into place. I did this simply by following some of the lines I’d already sewn on the shoulder pieces.
10) [optional] Sew some buttons onto the ends of the shoulder pieces for visual effect.
And now, at last, we reach the final step. All the very best garments have at least one of these…
1) Take that sleeve I told you to set aside and keep intact, and again using the basics of pattern-making (sick of it yet?), draft yourself a bulbous pocket shape. Or you can just wing it, as I did in the photo below (the pocket is folded in half in the picture).
This pocket can really be any shape you like, within the constraints of the amount of material your sleeve gives you to work with. I wanted a bunched up, gathered pocket, so I cut a shape with a flat top and a large, rounded base.
Cut one pocket piece from your t-shirt material, and one from your lining material.
If you use the hem of the sleeve as the top of your pocket, you won’t need to hem it. For your lining material you can do the same if you’re using another shirt, or just cut it slightly taller and run a quick hem along the top edge.
2) If you didn’t use the shirt’s pre-made-for-you hem, sew a short hem along the top edge of both pocket pieces.
3) Pin the two pocket pieces together, right sides facing. Sew them together along the sides and bottom.
4) Turn the pieces right side out and pin the top edges together. Sew them together as close to the fabric edge as possible.
5) To do a gathered pocket, as I did, take a needle and thread and, starting about a third of the way down one side of the pocket, make large stitches along the very edge of the lining fabric.
When you get to the same place on the other side of the pocket, stop. Do not knot or cut your thread.
6) Hold onto the fabric with one hand and pull gently but firmly on the thread with the other. The fabric will bunch up along the thread. Ease the fabric along so that it’s evenly gathered. When it’s as gathered as you want it, knot your thread and cut it.
Your pocket should look something like this:
7) Pin your pocket onto your dress, wherever you want it to sit. You may want to actually put the dress on to make sure you have the pocket situated exactly where you want it.
8) Using a needle and thread again, sew a tiny blanket stitch all the way around the pocket – down one side, across the bottom and up the other side. That’s all it takes to secure it to the dress.
9) Preen! Show off, model your new dress for all and sundry. But above all, be supremely, smugly comfortable in a custom-fitted, breathable, soft cotton dress. With a kick ass graphic on it.