Monday, January 12, 2015

Woman's Shirt to Girl's Dress

This winter one of my goals is to purge unneeded and unused items.  One day last week, that focus was directed at my closet.  Now, being a stay at home mom, I'm usually in jeans or exercise pants and a t shirt.  I do have some nice dresses and few nice slacks and some nice tops for church and the occasional bridal shower, baby shower or wedding.  While I tried on item after item, my daughters sat and played Barbies while admiring all my "be-u-te-ful clothes" (as my 3 year old, M, put it).  I had a pile for trash, a pile for donation, items to keep and an "alter" pile.  Another goal now---alter clothes to fit! 

One of my button down shirts was about to go into the donation pile when M's eyes lit up.  "I could make that a cowgirl dress!"  How I love that little girl! 

Today, we finally had the chance to try!  So when my one and a half year old, B, was napping, M and I set to work.  Unlike last sewing project (see my last sewing attempt) this time I went full in knowing a little set of hands was eagerly going to help me.  I knew it was going to take longer, but I was truly going to enjoy every minute with her!

First, a before shot.  As you can see, M was so excited she couldn't stand still:

 The basic idea is:
1. Remove sleeves
2. Recut body
3. Recut sleeves
4. Attach sleeves to body
5. Make a seem from wrist to armpit and down
6. Make cuffs
7. Make button hole and attach button to cuffs

I will break this down, but before I start I want to emphasize a few things I've learned over the time I've been sewing:

Get the correct needle!  Light fabric, light needle.  Heavy fabric...big ol' needle.  And if the needle is the correct size, but the stitching isn't working: time for a new needle.  They have a  limited number of hours before they go dull. 

The last big tidbit of advice is to baste stitch first (meaning uses wide stitches and no backstitches)!  If and when you have to pull out a seam, you'll thank me for this advice.

Now.  Let's break down Steps 1-7

1. Remove sleeves, pretty self explanatory:

2. Recut body.  To do this, I lay the piece in half (to make sure both side are cut evenly).  I then fold a shirt my daughter fits in well (reference shirt) also in half and lay it on top, folding the arms back so you get the outline of the body of the reference shirt.  Trace the outline of the refrence shirt (except the bottom, since you are making a dress).

Then, DO NOT CUT ON THE LINE.  This is the line you will want to sew on, so cut a bit away from that line (I go about one inch out).  You'll end up with something like this.  Notice I made the bottom huge so I could decide the shape of the skirt part later:

Step 3: Since you just cut the body, you know the drill, just do the same for the sleeves:

Step 4: Attach the sleeves to the body.  To do this, think "Right sides together."  Open up your shirt so the right (nice) side is up.  Make sure the arm holes are nice and flat.

Find the center of the armhole and line up the sleeve with the right side down and going toward the CENTER of the shirt:

You are now going to pin the center of the sleeve first.  It will and SHOULD be at an weird circular angle.  Our shoulders are curved, so our armholes are too:)  Once you pinned from the center, pin outward, making sure to put a pin EXACTLY where you need to stop at the armpit.  This will allow you to make one awesome stitch from wrist to armpit and follow it right down without having to go over it 1000 times.  It WILL seem bunched, so try not to get it to pucker up.

Then continue to pin the other side of center.

Notice how it curves, notice how your shoulder does too?  Coincidence? I think not!

Now, baste stitch from outside pin to outside pin.

Repeat for the other sleeve. and try it on.  Make sure that if you pinch together where the start and end of the stitching is on either side, that it gives your little one enough room to lift her little arms and not cut off circulation.

If all looks well, tighten up that stitch setting, pick a strong stitch and stitch over that basting stitch.  If it doesn't work, a tiny clip of the thread and a little pull will leave you thinking, "Thanks I don't have to pull out my seam ripper!"

Then, trim close to the stitches, so you don't have too much excess fabric hanging...being careful at either end not to trim too need to stitch down the side still.

Step 5: NOTE: (If you are making a dress WITHOUT a button wrist cuff, do step 6 prior to step 5). Make a seam from wrist to armpit and down by turning your shirt so nice sides are together.  Make sure everything is laying flat.  Pin those sides together.
Now, starting at the wrist stitch downward until you get to the armpit.  It will look like this:
Continue to stitch right until you get to the seam from your arm reattachment (extremely close up, but you want to get right to that stitch and no further):
Then when the needle is down, lift the foot and change the direction and follow the side all the way down to make the skirt whatever shape you wish.  Repeat for the other side, try that dress on, and if all is well, use a permanent stitch and repeat the process.  Cut off the excess fabric

Step 6: Make cuffs by taking a piece of fabric and cutting it 1 inch wider than you want.  (Note, if you are making a dress with sleeves the no button cuff, skip to the text after the next picture).  With right side together sew up the short sides (making sure the long side ends up the same length as the bottom of your sleeve).  Then turn it right side out and baste a line from short side to short side 1/2 inch in.

Then, pin nice sides of fabric together, with the cuff looking like it is going toward the body of the shirt.

Baste stitch, try it back on and stitch over, cut the excess fabric.

Step 7: Add a button and button hole to the cuff.  This step I didn't get pictures for because at this point it is very dependent on your machine.  I used mine to make a button hole on each cuff, then had my daughter try it on, lined up where the button should go. 

Done!  My daughter was so excited, had to get her cowgirl boots on and wore the dress immediately.

And for a little comparison:
If you have any question, please leave a comment, and I'll be sure to answer!  Good Luck and God bless the time you are spending with you little one!

Psalm 127: 3 Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.


  1. That is adorable! I love when someone remakes an old item into a new item. That is such a cute dress. It's been awhile since I've remade an item. I think I might have to find something else to remake....

    1. Thanks Sharon! It becomes addicting to remake things. Suddenly you see potential in everything! I really want to make hats from old sweaters, but I need to get some old sweaters. Let me know what you remake, I'd love to see pictures:)