Saturday, August 17, 2013

How To Make a Dress from A Pack of Men's T-Shirts

While my sewing machine was in-hock this week for its bi-annual checkup, I spent a great deal of time thinking about sewing since I couldn't actually sew.  I thought back to the first dress I ever sewed - a Simplicity pattern v-neck dress number 9559 in a lavender and white Timeless Treasures quilting cotton (my mother has it now because it ended up a little too big).  And then I suddenly realized that it wasn't my first dress.

The first dress I sewed was the spring of my senior year in high school - in 1982 - as a result of seeing an article in a magazine (probably Seventeen since that is what I read at the time) which showed you how to make a dress from a package of three men's t-shirts.  The directions looked easy enough that even I could do it.  I followed the instructions, using my mother's sewing machine.  I was thrilled when it actually worked!  Unfortunately, no known photos of this dress survive.

My college roommate and I wore it relentlessly.  In summer we wore it with sandals; when it got colder, we wore it with a jean jacket, pearls, and saddle shoes.  Our waists were small enough that we used a bandana as a belt.  When "Flashdance" was released, I cut off the collar and left the collar edges raw.  We rolled up the sleeves.  I don't know what happened to the dress after college, and the magazine article is long gone, but I wondered if I could remember how to make it again.

So on Friday evening I was able to spring my Bernina out of maintenance prison and I decided to go to Target and buy a three pack of men's T-shirts:

Things have changed since 1982 - back then your only choice was white Fruit of the Loom.  I found you could get black, gray, blue, or a mixture of colors.  I went with black and it only cost me $ 12.99.

So here is how you make the dress.  Buy a 3 pack of men's shirts - whatever size fits you.  I went with a Small.  Wash 'em first.

Take one shirt and cut off the hem.  I decided I wanted the skirt to begin on my high hip.  I tried the shirt on, and marked my high hip with a pin:
The pin mark was 4 1/4 inches from the bottom of the hem, so I cut that amount off the t-shirt.  Here's what it looked like after I cut the hem off:
This will become the bodice of your dress.  Next take the other two t-shirts and cut the bottom of the shirts off right below the sleeves:
 Here's what one of the bottoms looks like after you cut it off:
Do the same thing for the other shirt.  These two bottoms will be used to make your skirt.  Cut up one side of each of the shirt bottoms.  You want to sew the two shirt bottoms together to form your skirt.  Basically, you are going from two short tubes to one long tube.  Join the two pieces together like so:
Sew your two side seams to form your bigger tube which will be your skirt:
Next, gather this long tube and pin it to your first shirt that you are using as the bodice.  I remember the original instructions had you gather it by handsewing; this time I used a long machine stitch (stitch length 5).  Once gathered, sew your skirt to your "bodice":
I marked the sides and center front and back on my "bodice" and skirt to assist in adjusting the gathers, but I didn't get too precise about it - this is a $ 12.99 knit dress, after all.

This took less than an hour, even with taking photos.  Here it is:

I ended up cutting off the crew neck collar and turning the fabric under by one quarter of an inch and top stitching it down, rather than leaving it raw, Flashdance style.  The crew neck just seemed too high and itchy.  Of course, the accessory potential for this dress is endless.  I tried it on with jeans underneath and it makes a pretty cool tunic, too, which is how I am wearing it now as I type.

Here's a close up of the skirt:
Okay, I'm not as thin as I was in college, but this was fun to make.  You could also take a t-shirt you already own, use a 2-pack of men's shirts (Hanes t-shirts seem to come in twos these days) that either matches or contrasts for your skirt.  You could also use an old t-shirt you own, and look for an XL or XLL t-shirt at a thrift store to make a longer, but less gathered skirt.  Again, the possibilities are endless.

The major advantage of making your dress this way?  No hemming!!!!!  : )


Ayana said...

This is a great story, and the dress turned out really cute!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,
Clever lady! I like the dress and you placed the gathers in the perfect spot on the high hip,the perfect tunic for anyone. I don't care for the tighter crew neck either. You are always generous to share your latest. Thanks.
This reminded me that I recall making a "bathrobe" at the age of 12 out of two large bath towels-with a slit for the neck....ha! Love, Janie D.

Anne Weaver said...

My mother used to make similar dresses for me! Though I think mine were just straight dresses with the skirt made from a single t-shirt. I think I would have worn the gathered skirt version more. I've linked to your tutorial over at Craft Gossip:

Anne Weaver said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jackie Gertz said...

such a great idea, now use the top neck that was cut off, to make an 'over the head' baby bib. Just cut the sleeves off!

Audrey said...

Its amazing that you remembered how to make this dress. I can see why you wore the original one to death. It looks very versatile and comfortable.