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Make a dress: The Upcycled ruffles dress tutorial – Color block dress

I know, making a dress sounds so intimidating! So why not try a simple recycled based project first? With this tutorial, you can get to practice making your own dress and if something doesn't work, it's totally fine because we are using old T-shirts to make it!

how to make a dress

Upcycling clothes to make dresses is something I'm so in love with and lately, I've been sharing a few of the ones I've made, like this dress! For the dress I am sharing now, I asked you on IG what colors should I go with, and it was 90% teal and gray, so and now it's finally time for a tutorial so you can also try it out as well!

To make this dress I used Ken's old sleeveless T-shirts and some fabric leftovers from a project I did years ago.

Actually, I was researching if those kinds of shirts had a special name here because in Chile they are called “musculosas” because guys wear them to show off their arms. All I found tho is tank tops, but I'm not sure if that describes that it is a men's sleeveless T-shirts, but you know what kind of shirts I'm talking about, and let me know if you know the right name for them =]

Anyways, you will need either one long sleeveless T-shirt or 2 short ones. Since Ken's were pretty long I only used one but it depends on how many rows of ruffles you want and how condensed the ruffle will be.

how to make a recycled dress

I love how comfortable this is, I actually wear it for a friend's (informal-outdoor) wedding, we danced all night and I could have not being more comfortable =] well until Ken made me spin around and I felt like I was showing my shorts, but that was a whole different problem hehe.

The whole project took me about 2 hours and I would say 1 and a half were ruffle making. I experimented a few different ways, hand-stitching and on the machine. So to me in the machine was faster and easier, but you can always make them by hand if you don't feel comfortable. Remember to always secure the beginning and end of all your stitch lines and sew everything with 1/4″ seam allowance.

The Materials

  • 1 or 2 sleeveless t-shirts
  • 2 yards or less of fabric depending on the length and how to gather you want the skirt portion of the dress. I also made a sash with the extra fabric I cut to form the bottom.
  • 1″ wide elastic (I used less than a yard)
  • Scissors and ruler pins
  • sewing machine, even tho if you want you can make it by hand with no problem.

The process

Making this upcycled dress is a perfect beginner project, but don't worry! If at any step you mess up, we intentionally are not using expensive fabric, so that we can just scrap the mistake and re-build the dress. =]

cut the pieces

1– First you need to try the T-shirt and mark a line under your bust, you will be adding about 2 inches with the elastic, so have that in mind. After that cut all the bottom in stripes of 3″

sew the edges

2– After cutting, set 2 of the stripes aside to be used for the elastic belt (inside and out) I cut the strips to make one long stripe and add 3 together to make a super long one, after that, I sewed both edges with zig-zag because I don't have a serger, that will prevent the fraying on the ruffles when you wash your dress if you like the fray look you can skip this step.

make a ruffle

3-Make the ruffles either by hand or using a sewing machine, I am breaking out how you can make the ruffles with a machine or by hand below, you can try both and pick the one that you like best, or just go with the option that would make you more comfortable, the decision is yours =]


There are 2 different ways you can easily make ruffles, by hand or in a sewing machine. I will be showing both here and I would recommend you to try both, just so you can see what way you'll feel more comfortable, because some projects require a lot of them, so being comfortable means making them faster =]

Making ruffles with a sewing machine

making ruffles

First, you will need to sew along (depending on where you want the ruffle, the center of your strip, top or bottom) with your machine's longest stitch length. Don't back stitch and leave a very long tail of thread at both ends.

making ruffles
Once you finish sewing gently tug at the bottom (bobbin) thread in the tails, one at a time. Your fabric should start to gather, creating a ruffle. You can sew one, two or as many lines as you want to make, it looks very pretty when you have two parallel lines when making a ruffle, especially for clothes =]

Making ruffles by hand

making ruffles

When you make it by hand you just have to be careful to follow a straight line, I actually marked by folding but with some kinds of fabric, you might actually need a line. As you can see below, the two different ways to make them work very similarly, but by hand, it will take a little bit longer.

making ruffles

Now that your ruffles are ready, let's get back to making the dress!

ruffles are ready

4– Measure around the neck of your shirt to know how long your ruffle or ruffles (if you decide to go with 2 or more rows) In this case I added 2 rows of ruffles and used 3 full straps of 3″ to make each set of ruffles.

adding ruffles to the shirt

5– To attach the ruffles first make sure the T-shirt is extended either by someone wearing it or set on a dress from. Why? because that way the t-shirt will not shrink, otherwise it will not fit correctly when you wear it. First, pin the ruffles and play with the ruffles to make them the length you need them to be.

making the skirt

6– For the Skirt, I used 2 pieces of 24 inches of a leftover fabric, I straighten the edges. I placed the elastic blow my bust and pin it in the end, comfortable enough for it to fit tight and loose enough to take the elastic above my head, sew it several times. I used the maximum extent of the elastic as my measure for the width of the top skirt, I made pleads around the skirt until I reached my desire measure.

pin the dress

7– After that with the 3″ wide strips you set aside we have to make a sandwich, keeping the skirt in the center, like it shows the image. Place the stripes wrong sides facing out.

add the skirt to the shirt

8– Sew on the top all the way around, after that turn both stripes up.

making a dress

9– Now it's time to attach both pieces together. Since the bottom is a little bit bigger, because it got stretched when sewing the skirt (remember that the skirt is wider than the T-shirt, that's why we will use elastic) we have to put pins to guide us.

center the union of the dress

10– Place pins on the sides, front and back like it shows in the image, that will make the sewing a lot easier. Place both right sides facing each other and pin it all the way around, remember to only pin the stripe that faces out because we will sew the other after we put the elastic. After you finish the dress should look done on the outside, but now we just need to add the elastic in the inside.

sewing them together

11– Now you just need to place the elastic in the inside, fold the edge up to the inside line and pin carefully, so that when you sew the seam line of the front goes below the back line, that way it will look clean on the outside and it will be secure on the inside. The pictures shown here are of the inside of the dress, and how I folded 1/4 inch on the top and then placed the stripe on top of the elastic, pin it and sew it.

To finish the look I made a 3 1/2 inch sash with the leftovers I had from the skirt, a very simple tube that I topstitch on both edges.

making a simple dress

full view of the dress

Now if you wish you can just make the ruffles with a second T-shirt and keep the length of the sleeveless t-shirt.

That way you can either wear a skirt or make the skirt separately so you can mix and match.

Wear a belt or sash to cover the top of the skirt and you are ready to have the exact same look, being able to mix and match with other skirts or tops =] Below you can see the other color option I made.

making a dress tutorial

And remember that you can mix and play with different color t-shirts and Fabric or old skirts to make different dresses and looks =] Below the first dress, I made!

Adding a belt and changing the colors

As you can tell, you can make them look so different, just with a change of fabric and some accessories!

making a dress tutorial

Just by adding a cool belt and making this same dress in a different fabric combination, I was able to achieve a completely different look! I love them so much and I got to re-use most of the t-shirt that Kenny was going to toss away.

adding a belt to the dress

Here a few more pictures of this other combination of colors!

making a dress tutorial

making a dress ruffles

making a dress tutorial

For the other top, I made two rows of ruffles, and I had just enough left for the cover of the elastic on the bottom, but the thing is that I have to decide what I want. So far I have a very dark gray and a teal color fabric that sounds really good, but I love them both.

making a dress tutorial

making a dress tutorial

making a dress tutorial

I hope you liked this tutorial as much as I loved making it! I am so excited to get to make a couple of more color options for the dresses. This was such a fun project to use Ken's old T-shirts =]

* This tutorial is provided for personal, non-commercial use only.
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Sunday 12th of July 2015

This looks so great! I saw it here and immediately had to try it. Thanks for sharing this wonderful idea :)


Monday 4th of May 2015

I have heard these called wife beaters but mostly muscle shirts which would be a direct translation I think from what you were calling them. If you shop for them at the store ribbed tanks.


Friday 17th of April 2015

Hello, great tutorial! I am literally about to hop up and do it, have my fabric and tank top picked out. I do have some questions though, but not sure if your still active or not? Number 6, what was the actual dimenstions that you used for the skirt? Was it a rectangle shape or like two pieces that were pleated and sewn together into a full circle? Not sure if i'm making sense, so i apologize.


Wednesday 29th of January 2014

Just want to add my 2 cents on the style of men's t-shirt used for the dress. Some manufacturers call them simply "tank", some call them "A-Shirt." Actually the community of folks who ride motorcycles (no, we are not trailer trash, because dah my husband wears them, oh and my son, and my brother-in-law, and lots of folks I know) call a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off a "wifebeater." Whatever! The dress is charming Joy. Kudos to you for coming up with a terrific way to re-purpose clothing. Wish my efforts had been as successful to repurpose one of my sweatshirts my son gave me. steph


Thursday 2nd of January 2014

Hi! So I would love to make this dress however I am having trouble understanding how to do the skirt. You said there are two pieces so do I have to sew then together at the sides? And are they just squares or rectangle pieces of cloth or a different pattern? Help would be wonderful! Thanks!

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