Home » DIY Tutorials » DIY Sewing » Sewing: Clothing » Baby Clothing » Re-purposing: Shirt to Dress with Boat Neck/Pockets

Re-purposing: Shirt to Dress with Boat Neck/Pockets

Looking for the Pip and Bean giveaway?  Scroll down or click here.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Remember how I have several projects going, and then I suddenly set them aside to try something new?  (Read the post here…)
Well, sure enough, that happened again. 
I was walking through Old Navy looking for new flip-flops for our little guy and on the way, glanced at the leggings and little dresses in the girl section.  I saw a cute and simple little knit striped dress and loved it.  I remembered that I had some similar knit in the recycle cupboard at home, snapped a picture with my cell phone, and decided to bump this project to the top.  
I have looked for the dress online to show you but it’s not available online I guess.
But it looks similar to the project today.  (Except for the neckline.)
And goodness, how fun are little stripes on a comfy knit dress.
  • Save
Complete with large side pockets…..and little buttons to keep them closed.
  • Save
And another button near each shoulder, to lock the overlapping boat neck in place.
  • Save

Hmmmm……does she like her new dress?
Of course.
Especially the new buttons.  
(She thinks buttons are little treasures/jewels for some reason.) 
 Do you have some stripes at home that you’re ready to transform?  
Or even a solid?

A print?

(And let me tell you, it easier to use the existing neckline and hem of a women’s shirt to make this dress, rather than starting from scratch……so find one you can use.  But you can create this dress from scratch too if you’d like.)
I started with an older knit shirt of mine, that was originally a boat neck shirt.  I decided to carry that over to the little dress and make it a boat neck dress.  
To begin, I used the same technique as some of the other re-purposing dress ideas here and here, and used another shirt to measure how wide to make the dress shape, and how big to make the arm holes.  I made sure to leave extra fabric up near the top and keep it a bit wider and extend the fabric near the shoulders up into points, to construct the boat neck in the next few steps.
Then I folded over each point, overlapping the two points, and lined up the raw edges of the arm hole.  And then pinned it in place.
Then I did the same to the other shoulder.
Then I opened it up and sewed along the edge of the overlap, 1/4 inch from the edge.  I used a basting stitch to keep these pieces in place for now.  (A basting stitch is using a really long stitch length.)
Then I folded the dress back together but with right sides together.  And then I pinned each side together.
Then I cut my sleeve shapes (remember to use the links above for more help cutting your sleeves) and made sure that the arm hole opening of the shirt was the same length as the arm hole section of the sleeve.  This will allow you to fit them together properly.
Here is the sleeve shape opened up.
Then I folded each sleeve in half and sewed them together with right sides together…..only along the inner edge.  And actually made a second seam, to make it nice and secure.
Then I sewed the sides of the dress closed, leaving the arm holes open.  And it’s not pictured here but I sewed another seam right next to it, to once again, secure the seams.
Next, with everything still inside out, I pinned the sleeve to the dress, matching up the side seam of the dress and the bottom seam of the sleeve.  I pinned all the way around the sleeve, attaching it to the dress.

Then I poked the sleeve down inside of the dress so that I could lay it flat as I was sewing.  Then I slid the raw edges under the sewing machine needle and sewed all the way around the opening of the arm hole.

I made another stitch right next to it, securing the sleeve in place.
 And my dress ended up being a little longer than I wanted it, So I folded the dress under just a bit, and then created 2 new seams (to give it that manufactured look) about 3/4 of an inch from the bottom.
  • Save
Then I cut pockets out of the remaining scrap material (from the original shirt sleeves).  I cut 2 squares that were 7 x 9 inches.  (This dress will fit my 4T wearing daughter……adjust your pocket size as necessary.)  Then I folded under each side a 1/4 inch, sewed them in place, then tucked under the bottom edge 1/2 inch and sewed it in place.  For the top, I folded it over about 2 inches and then sewed about 1 1/2 inches down, then about 1 1/4 inches down… it a nice fold and seaming along the top of the pocket.
  • Save
Here’s a look from the front of the pockets.
Then I matched up the center of the pockets along the side seams of the dress and pinned them in place.
Then I sewed each side pocket in place…..sewing on top of the original seams.
Knit sewing tips for this dress:
This was a flimsy knit, that was more annoying to work with.  I just used my straight stitch for everything and just adjusted the stitch length to help move the fabric under the needle more quickly.  Also, I didn’t back stitch unless it was a final seam and I needed to (you know how back-stitching tends to jam the fabric under the needle)…….and only then did I back stitch at the end of a seam and not the beginning of a seam.  (And then I’d flip the fabric around and back stitch the other end coming from the other direction.)   But when the fabric was bunching up under the needle, I always lengthened my stitch length a bit more or lifted up the foot and moved the fabric along just a bit.  It seemed to help a lot with this finicky stuff.  Stiffer knits are a bit easier to work with so keep that in mind while selecting one to sew with.
 And to finish off the dress, I added 2 buttons to each pocket.  (Or use one big button…..that’s what the dress at the store had.  I just didn’t have any in my stash.)
  • Save
Then I adjusted each overlap of the boat neck and attached a button at each side, to keep the neck line in place.
 And that’s it.
A very basic dress………ready to dress up with tights and a sweet bow or dress down with some leggings and flats.
Thanks Old Navy, for a great dress idea for fall.
Ashley Johnston
  • Save

Ashley Johnston

Owner at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with the craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!
  • Save


  1. Olga says:

    This is a great tutorial! Thanks for posting this. Your blog is great and full of very good sewing tutorials. Love your work :)

  2. Jessica says:

    A tip for working with the flimsier knits- starch! I make a lot of clothes for my kids from old t-shirts, and the easiest way is to cut the seams out of the old shirt, get some spray starch, and starch & iron each piece of the shirt before you cut your pieces out.

  3. vivi S says:

    This is exactly what kind of instructions i was looking for. you have so much patience taking pics of each step. thank you.

  4. Harmony says:

    OH! One real suggestion: It's actually easier to sew the curved part of the sleeve to the shoulder part of the body and THEN sew just one long seam down the inside of the sleeve and body all at once. Give it a try sometime!

  5. Harmony says:

    Another cute creation!! Thank you for showing it. The only thing I can say to you for your sewing life is that you should seriously consider buying a serger. It makes seams of all kinds faster, and more secure. Once you get the hang of using one you wouldn't be able to imagine how you sewed without it!

    1. janessa says:

      i no i just got that and i can never use the other kind nnow!!

  6. Su says:

    I see a lot of dresses and night gowns coming my little girl's way!

    1. janessa says:

      i no my girls wearin a different dress almost every day not quite!! so cute and easy!!

  7. dana says:

    Cute Ashley!

  8. Twigs @ Twiggles and Trunks says:

    so awesome! i have a ton of shirts in my pile i could do this to. thanks for a fantastic tutorial!

  9. Wendy Leow says:

    Hello from Singapore!! Thanks for the great instructions. I finally made one!! Now I can't wait to refashion my old t-shirts to dresses for my girls!!

  10. Audra says:

    Hey Ashley!! Love the idea! The best part…I have this exact shirt! I just wish I had a girl to go in it! I'll just have to hold out for this dress!!

  11. Jason and Danielle says:

    I love this I think I might try this tonight thank you for all your wonderful ideas. You are always inspiring

  12. Aaron and Kristi says:

    haha! My daughter totally owns the Old Navy one! But I am SO going to swipe the idea and make up a few more! They are so comfy and versatile! It's one of her favs!

  13. Roselee says:

    This is the second re-do with this shirt I have seen. I HAVE this shirt, and am thinking I shouldn't be wearing it if everyone else is repurposing it into something else! :)

  14. CraftyGal says:

    I love your blog! Your re-purposting projects are some of the best I've ever seen. I love to sew, but I am in awe of your ingenuity and skill. Wow!

  15. bethanndodd says:

    Another LOVE IT! Thanks for sharing and have a great Saturday!

  16. LEF says:

    Seriously, your creativity amazes me. Love the dress, thanks for sharing.

  17. Tari McDonald says:

    Ashley I think you should do a "how to" post on sewing knits. I've tried a few projects with it and it always stretches way too much!
    P.S. I love looking at your blog for re-purposing projects. They are fab!

  18. KJ@letsgoflyakite says:

    I have a bunch of shirts like this from my maternity gear. This would be a great repurpose for them. Your instructions are so clear.
    (Found you on Craft Gossip!).

  19. Silent Princess says:

    beautiful dress dear… i always thought that boat neck was too complicated and i have never tried that before… thanx alot for sharing… its just way too easy :D

  20. Aneczka says:

    I love your ideas. The dress is so cute. My daughter would love it. I think I have to work a little bit with my sewing machine :)
    Thank you for your ideas!!!!

  21. Catherine Patacsil says:

    You make it look so simple! :D that dress looks pretty! even better than when it was a shirt.

  22. Cammy says:

    Now this is my kind of sewing! I don't see an ounce of paper pattern ANYWHERE! Haha, I have no patience for patterns but I still have a long way to go before my projects turn out the first time!

  23. PDCScarbroughpage says:

    Such a cute idea! Your daughter looks especially ADORABLE in this one!

  24. Kelley says:

    I absolutely LOVE this!! Can't wait to sew one for my little girl!

  25. Rockstargirlz says:

    I am loving all your girl projects. Awesome job and ideas.
    Thank you.

  26. Lynn says:

    Great project I'm sure your daughter loves her new dress, it's lovely. Have you tried sewing the sleeves into the armhole before sewing the sleeve and dress sideseams? it's not as fiddley then you can sew the complete sideseam in one go (both sleave and bodice together)

    Lynn x

  27. Melissa says:

    I just found a cheap woman's striped shirt at Old Navy that I bought for this exact purpose. I was going to search around for some tutorials for ideas, but since I'm a subscriber this just popped up in my reader! Thanks so much, found my weekend project!

  28. Jaimie says:

    This is so cute I might have to try it this weekend. I think this is my first time commenting, but I've been a subscriber for a while and always love your ideas.

  29. Rhonda says:

    LOVE! Great job on this – I'll have to add this to my ever-growing list of stuff to make!

    1. janessa says:

      me 2 and ill never b board again even though i barely am!!

  30. Alida L. says:

    That is adorable! I love the pockets and the 'jewels'.

  31. Nancy's Couture says:

    Great transformatin. I love the boatneck!

  32. Katie says:

    Thanks you for this, It is just what I needed! I've been making nightgowns for my daughter out of Men's Medium T-shrirts I found I clearance, but couldn't quite get the sleeves sewn on right. You make it looks so easy. I think I am going to go beyond nightgowns now and make some dresses!

  33. Mindy says:

    Love it, as with all your projects.

  34. Caroline @ Atelier Caroline says:

    Maybe one day I will get over my "knit fright". When shown like you do it's not quite as scary. The dress is darling… and the little model even more


  35. Cara says:

    Very cute! I was thinking about the sleeves. With many patterns you sew the piece for the sleeve onto the shoulder part before sewing the sleeve into a tube and before stitching up the side of the dress. That way your measurements don't have to line up perfectly. Then you turn the garment with right sides together and stitch the sleeve into a tube and the sides of the garment at the same time. Does that make sense? What's your take on that idea?

  36. The Wife says:

    You are so talented! So jealous!

  37. Valerie says:

    SO FUN!
    I have just decided I would like for you to adopt me. I would happily be your model and the recipent of all the adorable clothes you make for your sweet little daughter…
    Just a thought… :)

  38. Mardi says:

    Your daughter is adorable! She's probably the best dressed chic around. And I love that she can strike a great model pose (especially the last picture). Now if I only had a girl…guess I'll save my old clothes a bit longer. :)

  39. Amanda Joy says:

    Very cute, and as soon as the weather gets colder it will work p[erfect with some little leggings:)

  40. Gena says:

    Thank you for these great instructions! I've attempted to small-ize my t-shirts for my baby but they haven't turned out how I planned. This tutorial will be very useful the next time I try!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hi, I'm Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

Back to Top
Share via
Copy link