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Re-purposing: Women’s Knit Shirt into Dress

Fall is quickly approaching.
(Are you getting excited?  I’m thrilled.)
And I really wanted a new dress.  
But a Maxi style dress, with some great flow and length.  
But more fall-ish……and not the common spaghetti straps.  
Make sense?
So I quickly created one by using one of my knit shirts for the top, similar to the little girl version here……….and turned it into a nice and flowy, fall-ish dress.

One that is gathered along the front and back…..but not the sides.  
Nice slimming effect, right?
(My mannequin is clearly not as tall as I am.  Ha!)
With a nicely ruched empire waist………….. 
………that ties around to the back into a soft bow.
That way you can cinch in as tight or as loose as you’d like.
And we all know that the tops of dresses are the hardest part to make (especially with knit) so using a shirt you already own, plus some knit yardage…….isa great solution for a really quick dress.
(And it sure cured my desire for a new long dress for fall.  Speedy fast.)
And if you’re not sold on the length… can make this any length you want.  I went back and forth, trying to decide what length I wanted and I just really wanted a nice Maxi-style length.  But try making it more knee length with a nice contrasting strip of fabric around the bottom.  
(Like in my case, I almost made it knee length………with a chunky 3-4 inch strip of brown around the bottom. Would have been cute too.  Maybe the next dress.)
Ready to make your own?
First, you’ll need a more fitted knit shirt from your closet (start digging) and a few yards of coordinating knit fabric.  (Or head on over to store and grab an inexpensive one…)  Or try color blocking some nice solids together.  That would be cute too.
Then try on your shirt and mark with pins where you’d like the empire-waist-seam to hit on you.  Then cut the shirt off a 1/2 inch below that.
Then, decide how long you’d like to make your dress.  Measure down from the empire-waist line, down to the length you’d like and then add enough extra to this length for a seam allowance at the top and a hem at the bottom.  (So about an extra 1 1/2 inches.) 
Now an explanation before we discuss width.  I decided to make a gather in the front and the back, but not along the sides.  I have a few dresses that are like this and I appreciate eliminating the bulk along the sides of my dresses.  (Who wants to add more width to our middle?)  Designers probably do this to eliminate the extra ruffle at your side but also for the look and style of the dress.  It’s just lovely to look at with the little gather in the front.  Maybe?  I’m just guessing…  But then, I actually added more of a gather to the front and less of one in the back.  But if you prefer to gather evenly all the way around…..go ahead and do so and adjust the directions accordingly.
So for the front piece, I doubled the width that I need.  So if the front of your shirt (from side seam to side seam……while on your body) is 15 inches, then make the front piece 30 inches wide.  
And for the back, I use a little less and 1 1/2 the amount.  So since the back of your shirt is the same, 15 inches, you’ll need to make the back piece of the skirt 22.5 inches.  And then add another inch onto the width for the front and back pieces…..for a seam allowance.
Then sew the front and back piece together along the aide seams, using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.
Now open up the skirt section and iron those side seams flat.  Ironing will help your knit lay flat and hang a lot better.  So take a second and do so.
Then, along the top of the skirt portion, I placed pins a few inches from each side seam…..because I wouldn’t be gathering past these pins.  Because as I explained above, I’m not gathering all the way around and want the side section of the dress to lay flat against the body.  And I pinned in about 3 inches from each side seam, on the front and back pieces.
Then I made 2 separate basting stitches between the two pins, along the front and the back.  
 Then I removed those pins and placed one pin in the exact center of the front and back piece (to help with attaching to the shirt later on)……and then I gathered in the material.
(Need help with gathering?  Click here for more info.)
Then I placed a pin in the exact center of the front and back of the shirt.
Then, I turned the shirt inside out and upside down and slid it down over the skirt section, matching up the side seams and the center pins on both sections of the dress.  Make sure that the front section of the skirt is matched up with front of the shirt and the back with the back.
Then adjust your gathers to fit evenly along the raw edge of the shirt.  Pin both pieces together with plenty of pins. 
Then sew the 2 pieces together, using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.  Be sure to use a zig-zag stitch or an overlock stitch (like I did below), to allow for some stretch when you put the dress on.  Then, I made another stitch right next to the first one, just for added strength (but didn’t take a picture to show you).
Then I turned the dress right side out and ironed that center seam nice and flat, forcing the raw edges underneath, to point down.
Next I made a nice long tie for the middle from some other brown knit I had in my stash.  I cut out a piece of fabric that was 8 x 90 inches, sewed it into tube, turned right side out, and ironed flat.  (Need help with sewing a tube?  Click here for more info.)
 Then I placed the exact middle of the tie at the center of the dress and pinned it in place.
Then I took the left side of the tie and pulled it over to the side seam of the dress and pinned the top in place, then measured down two inches and pinned the bottom of the tie in places.  (And hid the middle seam, where the shirt is attached to the skirt.)  Then I just sort of ruched/gathered/scrunched the tie up a bit and pinned it in place. 
Then I sewed that ruching in place, making a seam right along the side seam.  Pull the tie along the front to the other side (making sure there is no excess) and do the same to the other side. 
And at this point, you can hand sew little tacks to hold the tie in place along the front……or just adjust after you get it on.  I didn’t hand stitch anything in place because knit isn’t slippery at all and the tie should stay in place and all ruched for you without any problem after you have it pulled and tied in the back.
Then, make sure the dress is the length you’d like it and then fold under the bottom hem a 1/2 inch, then another 1/2 inch, sew into place, then iron the hem flat.
And that’s it.
A nice new dress……made from a simple knit shirt and a few yards of knit fabric.
Now, make a few more.  You’ll want to after you realize how comfy these things are.
Ashley Johnston
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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!
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  1. Natalie says:

    I was just wondering how much fabric you used for the skirt part. I’m tall like you and would love to know how much you used! You can either post here or email me at


  2. Audrey says:

    We included your maxi dress in our round up of things to sew with knit fabric. Love it! (

  3. Valerie says:

    Wanted to make a minor correction to my comment #73. I meant the skirt portion was 100% cotton instead of using knit fabric as in the tutorial.

  4. Valerie says:

    I made the dress this afternoon. Instead of using knit for the shirt and belt I used 100% cotton. Tuned out nice and I was able to use up some fabric I’ve had stashed away for about 8 years now.

  5. Gerry says:

    I appreciate finding these instructions, because of my stash of too big T-shirts (I shrunk) that are easy to take in on side seams and some really pretty knits I have compulsively acquired. Yes, I am truly a Fabricholic, and my daughters tell me I need to join a support group! What I like about these instructions is that the finished dress results in such a classy look.

  6. Sharon says:

    You can also repurpose Jersey bedsheets for projects like these. I get them at thrift stores. The flat sheets are usually unused and great for this!

  7. Sunny says:

    Just got done making mine and was excited! It looks wonderful! I have a slouch tee and some blue and black rose material. For the person that was concerned with the belt color I just took some of my skirt material and used that with a bit of black double fold binding tape sewn in the middle! It was quick and easy to make! Thank you for the instructions!

  8. Kaherine says:

    This is a good way to use those too short T-shirts from a few yeas ago when short shirts were in style.
    I like my skirt attached at waist length. The instructions are the same.

  9. Wendy says:

    What if i dont want to really gather the middle that much and have it a little straighter. Do i just decrease the measurement of the bottom piece?

    1. Ashley says:

      Hi Jen, I have actually never seen that site before, so I assure you it wasn’t stolen from there. In fact, I have two other dresses that I constructed the exact same way (written on two different days), but were written before the “Talk2TheTrees” link that you mentioned.


      But even though my previous tutorials were written before hers, I don’t think she stole the idea from me either. I think there are many ideas that are used and then altered and then tried again. Many of us may not even know where an idea first originated because often times we take a little of this and a little of that and make something that is fun and do-able. And then if it turns out great, it’s fun to share…..and show others the process. And you know, so many times when we think we were the very first person to come up with something, someone else has probably already thought it up. But that’s the beauty of creating……you can still add your own personality and flair. No biggee.

      Anyway, hope that clears up the issue.

  10. Beth says:

    Sorry to be a spelling nerd, but I know this is probably affecting your SEO as well…Your article title reads “…Purpsoing…” rather than “….Purposing…”

    Hope this helps!

  11. margaret stel says:

    I love this dress, but was disappointed when I came to the instruction for the sash belt, that used some exact matching material from your stash- which I would not have!. Without the sash belt, it just would not look as good.

  12. Twana says:

    I have such a difficult time finding dresses that I like, that are flattering to my chunky-monkey figure, and that are comfy too. This looks perfect! I can’t wait to give this a try. And I have several t-shirts that will be perfect for this. I’m glad I haven’t sent off that bag to the goodwill yet. And to think I was getting rid of all these opportunities!

  13. Jana says:

    Found this tutorial via Pinterest and I just used it to make a dress! Your instructions were so clear. :) I linked the tutorial to my blog. Thanks a bunch!

  14. Jacinda Cote says:

    Love this Tutorial!! so easy!
    Linked it up at my blog:

    Jacinda :)

  15. Diane says:

    Love this and your instructions! I just made 3 t-shirt dresses for me! I used dress material for the bottom – various t-shirts for the summer for the top. Need to finish up the last two and now that I saw your belt – may go back and add that to at least one of them! Cute!!!!

  16. Patty says:

    Could you please let us know where you purchased the skirt’s fabric? I have been searching in stores and online for unique jersey knit to no avail. HOURS and hours. I realize this fabric may not be available anymore. Yet, if I knew the store or even better the fabric designer I am sure there would be other funky designs to choose from. Thanks ;)

  17. Hillarie JAckson says:

    i love this tutorial but i was just wondering how much fabric to get. How much would you add to your waist size to get the perfect fit? Please email me thanks for the great tut.

  18. Jami J says:

    You’re tutorials are SO easy to follow… I love them and this dress! I haven’t felt too motivated lately to sew anything because I just haven’t found the right project… I now have one! Thanks so much! :D

  19. Colleen says:

    So cute! I just came across this on Pinterest, and I LOVE this idea.

  20. Hannah says:

    My son was born in June and I just can’t help thinking that you could totally make this dress as a maternity dress. Or a nursing dress… I’m still thinking on it, but hope to give it a try soon! ;) Thanks for the wonderful ideas!

  21. Jenny Richins says:

    Thank you so much for this great tutorial. I am trying to expand my maternity wardrobe. I love to sew and I don’t want to pay the money for a simple dress that is sliming and still looks and feels great. I am SO excited to try this pattern. I really appreciate all your hard work you put into this and all the pictures. It is very helpful. Thanks. Jenny

  22. Andrew and Crystal says:

    I'm a little nervous about trying this. I did just re-purpose a too big skirt with a too shirt tee shirt for my daughter, but I'm going to make myself a dress and it scares me. Funny, huh? Anyway, I'm still nursing my youngest, so I decided to take a nursing top that was handed down to me that I don't wear too often to make a dress. I'm worried about the way the shirt crosses over to form a sort of mock wrap (to hide the nursing holes) because that's about where I want to cut it. So….wish me luck. I'll see about posting the finished garment, if it turns out!

  23. Brenda Sue says:

    This is more of a question than a comment.. I too am expecting a baby and plan on nursing, as much as I LOVE this idea, I was curious if they made knit tops that button????? Or if this pattern would work with another kind of fabric? Please email me with your response,

  24. Caren Smith says:

    OMG! You so ROCK! I just discovered your site while putting finishing touches on my 1st shirt dress for my daughter. I LOVE this site!! Great instructions!

  25. elise says:

    Thank you very much for the amazing dress tutorial,I L-O-V-E it!!


  26. Anonymous says:

    Another thing you could is cut of the top of a sale maxi dress and attach it to an old shirt

  27. stephanie says:

    The "Up to my Knees" corduroy jacket IS my 3 yr old daughter; purple, flowee, and a flower embelishment. Perfect.

  28. Leisha says:

    Love it! This will make a great maternity dress too! Thanks for sharing!

  29. Ashley says:


    I mentioned above that I found the fabric at Hancock fabrics a few months ago. It's worth a shot seeing if they still have any.

    Good luck!

  30. Garilyn says:

    This is great! I just finished one for my friend's daughter. Now I NEED to make one for me!!

  31. Christina says:

    I'm with the other ladies can you spill where you got the cute knit fabric or where we could find some. I have been searching for an hour.

  32. Christina says:

    Ooooh I can't wait to make it!

  33. Melissa says:

    Thanks for your creativity! You always have such amazing ideas! Love this dress!!

  34. TheHammonds says:

    So when I saw you at church today, I thought "No way did Ashley make that dress, its too cute!" ARE YOU KIDDING??!! You are AAAAMAZING!!


  35. Very Verdant says:

    I am so going to make myself one of these. Thanks for the detailed instructions and photos.

  36. GreenMomma88 says:

    I love this dress. I am going to make it for the colder weather. I am really excited to give it a try.

  37. scbeachchik says:

    I love this dress! Makes me wish I had a sewing machine! :o)

  38. Megan says:

    Beautiful!! Maybe I can squeeze in a weekend project between being a full time mom and a full time student.

  39. Clover says:

    Wow this is great. Thanks for the tutoral. I may have to try it. havent sewn anything for myself yet. Just my kids!

  40. Michelle says:

    Okay you are officially amazing! I love it AND you made it look super easy!!! love your color choices too!!! Awesome job!

  41. Beth says:

    This dress is fantastic! I've been seeing lots of dresses lately made with the top of a shirt, but none that I would be willing to wear, but this one is so cute and looks so comfy. I really need to look for some knit fabric now.

  42. * Nancy * says:

    love it! :)

  43. Brenda says:

    Lovely, gorgeous and wonderful choice of colours. SO soft and comfy looking while totally class!

  44. Audrey says:

    I'm sure you've never heard this before, but … you're a GENIUS!

  45. Alaina says:

    I LOVE it Ashley! It does look amazingly comfortable and cute! Did you use separate fabric for the tie or what was left from the shirt (not sure how that would be enough to make such a long tube)? It appears to match very well! I'm going to add this to my list of desired projects! Thanks! :)

  46. Ashley says:

    I bought the fabric at Hancock's, on the back clearance table about 3 or 4 months ago. I was just waiting for the perfect project. I'm not sure if any of the stores carry it anymore, but it's always worth a quick look. But keep an eye out while passing by any clearance tables…..they're great! :)


  47. Amy says:

    I love this dress!! I definitely plan on making one!! This way I can actually make it long enough for me! Thanks for sharing!

  48. the hatch batch says:

    Fabulous and amazing as always! Thanks for sharing! And you obviously have way better access to amazing fabric than I do in rural Montana! =o)

  49. Mam'Zelle Scrap says:

    so clever…it seems so easy to make it…realy love it…

  50. Delia says:

    Classy…comfy. Very nice job!

  51. Marion says:

    Thanks for that great tutorial.
    I'll be try this one next week.
    Hugs from Germany

  52. Mellisa says:

    seriously … is there no end to the genius you have in your mind?? LOVE this dress. Not suited to my body style but how I wish it was…

  53. greetingarts says:

    That's flippin' gorgeous. Do you *really* think I can do it, too?! And pull it off? I just might have to try!!! Thanks for sharing.

  54. SherriC. says:

    Ashley, this dress is beautiful……I want to make one, I love the fabric you choose…TFS, I just love all your tutorials

  55. Aubree says:

    WOW! Do you want to make me one? I LOVE the maxi dresses and one with sleeves is so clever. Thanks for sharing! Too bad I can't sew and won't be able to make one. : )

  56. Mary Franklin says:

    I love this idea so much! It was a great idea. Question for you – I have a few "Maxi" type dresses that are strapless, and bunched together at the top (I don't know what that is called). Its not comfortable to wear like that, so I roll it over to make a skirt (I'm really tall and can do that) but I hate how it is bunched in the middle. How can I make those dresses into a skirt? I've played a little with it and think the bunching in the middle would make a good waistline, but am unsure how to make it work…do you have any ideas??

  57. Sarahie says:

    Oh my goodness! I love this. I'm not a very experienced sewer, but you make it look so easy. My husband is giving me money to buy fabric for my birthday; this will be what I get fabric for!

    Thank you so much!

  58. Snapshotsofhappiness says:

    Totally love that dress!

  59. Lloyd and Sunni says:

    WOW!! I just discovered your website, and let me tell you… life changing!! :) You have given me the motivation to turn my outdated house upside down and make it adorable!! AND this dress is amazing!!

  60. Becki and Jeff says:

    This is one I will have to try! Wonderful idea and love the result!!

  61. Jessica says:

    love the dress idea. i, too, wanted a dress like this without the spaghetti factor. Such a good idea!

  62. Chelsea says:

    I went to the fabric store today with the thought to do this same thing! I'm so glad you posted this idea, I'm still hunting for the perfect fabric to make my own but now I know where to go when I need some instruction!

  63. Bree says:

    Ah! I LOVE this! I actually have fabric and a shirt I had planned to make into a dress but was worried about that waist seem, so I've been putting it off. The ruched tie is perfect! Thanks bunches! :)

  64. elle says:

    I LOVE the dress!!! The skirt fabric is gorgeous! Do you happen to remember where you got it? I would love to see the dress on you. The mannequin doesn't do it justice!

  65. Britta says:

    I love this! I think I'm going to try this. I need a new dress. Thanks for the tutorial!

  66. Jen says:

    The dress is darling. Where did you find the knit fabric? Cute knit fabric is so hard to find.

  67. Garilyn says:

    Love this! I'm in dresses most of the time anyway, so this would be great. I need to check my stash and see what I have…hmmm.

  68. Gabby says:

    Great tutorial! I've been wanting to make one of these!

  69. melissa says:

    I LOVE the dress and can't wait to get started on mine!! Thanks for the tutorial :O)

  70. Robyn says:

    Where did you get this fabric? It is amazing! And thanks for the great tutorial- I think I'll make one for myself and one for my little girl!

  71. Sandy (Your life, organized) says:

    I Love your dress!!! And you make it look oh so easy! I think I will have to try it out! Thank you for this wonderful tutorial! Love it!
    helping you store what matters most!

  72. Kelly's Korner says:

    That's adorable!!!! It's hard to get nice, inexpensive knits where I am. I wonder if regular cotton on the bottom would hang as nicely… maybe some voile… Love the tie waist idea!

    1. Mareen Bixler says:

      Try going to, they have wonderful fabrics at the lowest prices I’ve found.

    2. Susan says:

      Cotton would probably hang OK but you may not be able to get the dress on without the stretch of the jersey fabric
      Perhaps use a looser T Shirt for the top would work or try fitting a zip in the side which would then make it a far more complex project all together

  73. Linda Chapman says:

    This is the most CLEVER idea!!! Thank you for sharing this with us and I, for one, intend to make my own!! Your directions are priceless! Thanks for going to all the trouble of documenting the project. I love it!

  74. Daisha says:

    I'm totally in love with this dress. I'm thinking that it would also make an awesome maternity dress when I need one again one day! Love your choice of fabric and that you are always repurposing your clothes and saving money!! Thanks for all your amazing tutotials!

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

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