How to Sew Boutique T-Shirt Dresses – so cute and a little bit retro {free tutorial}


You can sew cute boutique style girls’ dresses with just a tee shirt, some elastic, and some cotton fabric! Let me show you how with a free step by step tutorial plus how to use the fabric to make a matching applique.

I can’t tell you how much Cadie loves the little tee shirt dresses that I made her. And they were so, so, easy!

If you want a sewing pattern to make similar tee shirt dresses starting from scratch, try this pattern from Ottobre Design Magazine.

I made all but one of these in one day! I saved the last one until the next morning so I could be sure to get good pictures for this tutorial.


These quilting fabrics are all from a collection called Lolly from Blend. It is adorable, filled with cupcakes, donuts, candy jars, and sweet necklaces! And it was perfect for these little handmade dresses. I used my scraps to make appliques for the top part of the dresses. The sewing tutorial for making novelty fabric applique patches is here.

Right now, let’s turn some store bought tee shirts into dresses. I got all of these shirts from Target for $4-6 each. You could use just about any knit shirt for this tutorial. You’ll also need 1/2 to 1 yard of cotton fabric for the skirt and less than a yard of 2” wide elastic for the waistband.

Sewing a t-shirt dress is way easier if you have the intended little girl around to make sure you are making it the correct length. But if she is not, I’ll give some tips for improvising.

This wasn’t a very good photo (sorry!), but you’ll need to start by cutting off the bottom of the shirt. Put the shirt you will be cutting on the child and tie a piece of elastic around her middle to find her natural waist. Mark the tee shirt 1 inch below the natural waist.

If the little girl you are sewing a dress for is not around, you would probably be safe in cutting off about 6”.

Also measure from the natural waist down to the knee, or how long you would like the skirt portion to be. My 6 year old’s skirt is 13” long. If the little girl is not around, add or subtract 1” for every year older or younger than 6 (for an average height child).

For the skirt portion, cut a piece of woven cotton fabric that is 1 1/2” longer than you would like the skirt to be (mine is 14 1/2”) and about 1 1/2 to 2 times the width of the tee shirt.

Note: If your skirt portion is 2 times the width of the shirt or larger, it will be more difficult to gather than if it is only 1 1/2 times the width of the shirt. Just keep that in mind. As you can see above, the shirt and fabric are both in a double layer and the fabric almost 2 times as wide as the shirt.

All of my tee shirts were girl’s size small or medium and I made it easy by using the fabric width after cutting off the selvages (about 42”). If you are using an extra small or toddler size tee shirt, you’d want to make the skirt piece smaller. If you are using a larger tee shirt, you could cut two skirt pieces (front and back) so they will be wide enough for nice gathers.

Cut a piece of 2” wide elastic the exact same width as the shirt.

Sew the skirt together along the side (or back) seam. Finish the seam if desired.

Press and sew a 1/2” hem at the bottom.


Fold the piece of 2” elastic in half (right sides together) and sew the short ends with a 1/2” seam allowance.

Finger press the seam open and sew the seam allowances about 1/4” away from the seam on both sides. This makes it nice and flat.


Mark the elastic waistband in quarters along the top and the bottom.

Mark the skirt portion in quarters along the top.

Mark the shirt in quarters at the bottom.

With the skirt right side out, pin the elastic waistband to it with the right side of the waistband against the skirt. Match up the quarter marks and place a pin at each of the quarter marks.

Start sewing at one of the quarter marks (this is the back of the skirt) and backstitch.

Then with your right hand pinching the skirt and waistband at the next pinned quarter marks and your left hand holding the fabric and elastic behind the sewing machine foot (I had to hold the camera with my left hand), stretch the elastic towards you until it matches the length of the fabric, and sew.

Use a 3/8” seam allowance.

Keep stretching and sewing from quarter mark to quarter mark until the skirt is sewn to the waistband. All gathered!

Turn the skirt inside out and place the shirt inside it, right sides together. Match and pin the quarter marks as before.

Sew the shirt to the waistband in the same manner as the skirt. It will be much easier this time because the waistband is only 1” smaller than the shirt.

And you are done!

Find a little girl to love it. If it is still cold where you live, sew up some cute leggings (free pattern!) to go under her dress.

Happy Sewing!


Full disclosure: Blend Fabrics sends me collections for time to time to use as I wish. I wouldn’t accept the fabric if I didn’t love it. 🙂

Disclosure: some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, so thank you for supporting SewCanShe when you shop! All of the opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂