So I like to make my girls a pair of matching dresses each year. Sometimes it’s for Christmas, sometimes it’s for Easter, and sometimes it’s just for whatever. Two Easters ago, I made my daughters these:
Aren’t they cute? I’ve always loved shirt-dresses, and I kept on seeing this idea on Pinterest for turning a men’s shirt into an adorable dress for a young girl. So I started scoping out the men’s clearance section at Superstore. . . and finally found a pair of matching shirts for $10 each!
Pretty huge and baggy, eh? I got an XL for J, and an L for A. The size difference between my two girls is obviously a lot more than that, but I figured that any extra fabric I might have left from A’s shirt would probably be useful. I would have bought both in XL, but there weren’t two on the rack.
Now before I start, you should know that this is not a project for sewing beginners. Some basic knowledge of shirt and dress construction is needed, and pattern drafting experience is helpful. I made these dresses to fit my girls at the ages of 7 and 3, and this is meant to be more of a guideline than an exact pattern. Maybe it will inspire you, and hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. And just so it’s clear, instructions refer to the photo ABOVE the text, not below.
On to the tutorial!
Step 1: Cut the sleeves off along the seam line. I LOVED that I did not have to use a seam ripper for this!
Step 2: Cut the curved hem off of the shirt. You could leave it, but I wanted a straight hem on my girl’s dresses, and I had plans for that piece of fabric.
Step 3: Cut the shoulder seams apart, right through the collar. If you think there’s something weird-looking about the collars of my shirts, it’s because they are Mandarin collars, and not the typical Western style that we see here in North America.
Step 4: Figure out how much of the shoulders you need to trim off in order to make the neck fit your child (minus seam allowances!). Obviously little girls don’t have 15-17″ necks like grown men. Since the top button is generally left undone, the fit doesn’t have to be perfect. I left both of mine a bit looser than needed. Trimming the shoulder fabric will also make the yoke on the back fit more like it should.
This next part is a bit tricky. . .
Step 5: Get out the (dreaded) seam ripper, and rip the stitching about 1.5″ into the collar pieces. Pin only the shoulder pieces, right sides together, and sew.
Step 6: Sew both outside collar pieces together. Press.
Step 7: Sew both inside collar pieces together. Press.
Step 8: Turn collar pieces right-side-out. Insert shoulder fabric into the bottom collar opening, pin, and topstich closed, matching original topstiching. Topstich top of collar together as well, unless you have a Mandarin collar that you want to change, like I did.
Phew! Onto an easier part! Or at least, less fiddly.
Step 9: Cut the fabric to the correct size of arm hole for your child. Lucky for me, J had a white dress shirt that fit her perfectly at that age, so I used it as a guideline for most of her measurements. Don’t forget to add seam allowances!
Step 10: Cut the side seams to the correct size for your child. I wanted a fit-and-flare look for my girls, so I tapered the fabric in towards the waist (which I first figured out the location of and drew a line there, as you can see in the pic), and then angled out to the widest part of the hem. I would later regret the waist taper in A’s dress, because I forgot about her toddler tummy. . .
Step 11: Pin, sew, and press the side seams.
Step 12: Decide if you want long, medium, or short sleeves on the dress. I happen to love elbow-length sleeves, so I measured my girls and cut the fabric accordingly. Again, having J’s dress shirt was very helpful in getting the correct curve, but you can also just mimic the curve that the sleeve is already cut in, down-sizing it.
Step 13: Cut the sleeves apart along their bottom seams (that is, the bottom of the sleeve, not the curved edge at the bottom of my picture above).
Step 14: Trim the sleeves as needed, since little girls don’t have big man arms.
Step 15: Pin, right sides together, and sew.
“But wait! Why didn’t you do what you did for the collar?” Because that was fiddly and annoying. Also, if I had done this to the collar, it would have been visible, and most likely uncomfortable for my girls. Arms are less sensitive to fabric annoyances than necks (in my experience), and being on the inside of the arms, no one will even notice. Thus. . .
Step 16: Fold the seam allowances on the cuffs twice like a hem, and topstich down.
See? Looks just fine, and was faster and easier. Now for another kind of fiddly part. . .
Step 17: Set your machine stitch length to its maximum. . .
. . .and do a single (or double, your preference) line of stitching along the top half of the sleeve, within the seam allowance.
Step 18: Choose either the top or the bottom thread(s) and pull gently. The fabric will start to gather.
Step 19: Fit the sleeve into the sleeve opening (right sides together!) and adjust the gathers as needed until everything fits and is evenly gathered. Pin and stitch together.
Those of you who started out with Western-collared shirts could hem the dress and be finished at this point. I had two Mandarin collars that I wanted to turn into Western collars, so. . .
Step 20: Seam rip the entire top of the collar.
Step 21: Draft a collar pattern. Don’t forget to add seam allowances! (I use cheap IKEA paper on a roll, so the Kleenex box in the picture is holding the paper flat for the photo. Otherwise it curls up.)
Step 22: Pin collar pattern piece to extra fabric (I used the bottoms of the shirts) and cut out. Also cut one from a piece of light or medium-weight interfacing.
Step 23: Pin collar pieces, right sides together, with interfacing on one side, and sew all edges but the bottom. Clip seams, curves, and corners.
Step 24: Turn collar, press, and topstitch.
Step 25: Insert collar piece into collar opening, pin, and topstitch to attach.
Step 26: Hem dress (if you didn’t cut off the original hem).
The dresses were pretty much finished at this point, but I still had leftover sleeve material to work with. I wanted to make belts!
I cut the sleeves into four strips each.
I sewed the strips together, end to end, and pressed the seam allowance in.
I pinned the top and bottom pieces, wrong sides together, and topstitched them.
I also added front and back darts to both dresses, and belt loops (sorry about the picture quality here). I had to add a button and button hole between each one that was already on the shirts to avoid gapping all along the fronts, so I did that, too.
Ta-da! A finished dress. Add a bolero sweater and leggings, and you have an Easter outfit warm enough for an Alberta Easter.
You can see that cute little A’s dress is a bit tight across her chest. J’s, on the other hand, fit her perfectly. It sure helped to have a dress shirt to use as a guideline in her case!
My lovely J.
Overall, I enjoyed this project. I generally shy away from refashions and working without a pattern, but I think these dresses turned out pretty good. In some ways, it was harder to make a dress out of a shirt instead of just starting from scratch, and in other ways, it was easier. For instance, I had to do less cutting this way, and some parts were completely pre-sewn for me.
Would I do it again? Sure, just not with a Joe Fresh shirt, or another cheap brand. I was pretty disappointed when I washed the finished dresses, and one of them came out of the machine with a hole in the fabric! Not a snag or anything; just thin, low-quality fabric that wore out easily. Still, for $10 a shirt (dress), it’s not too bad. I even had enough leftover fabric to make C a matching bowtie!
Bowties are kind of a family tradition for us, from my husband’s Southern Gentleman roots. (Let me know if you’d like to see a genuine, self-tie bowtie tutorial!)
I’m going to leave you with one final picture of my adorable children. . .