Old tees, old tanks, new garden dresses

By Sharon Brown (Sharon) on July 22, 2012

I love dresses, long flowing skirts moving with the breeze. Maybe it's from growing up with my grandmothers. I don't think I ever saw either of them in anything but long dresses, even while gardening. Here's an easy and quick way to get rid of old tees and have a new dress all at the same time.

This isn't an original idea, but I thought it would be fun to try. I'd collected all the old tee shirts I had around here and was going to sort through them. Some would go to the rag drawer and some would be given to a thrift shop. I like to recycle, even clothing.

Once the shirts were all in a pile, I noticed certain color combinations looked good together. Some looked like citrus: lime green and melon and lemony yellow. Some just looked like summer days. (Click the photos to enlarge!)

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It's been too hot and dry to work in my garden so I've kept my sewing machine handy just to have something to do. Usually sewing is a winter task, but not this drought laden year.  Looking at the throwaway shirts, I remembered an article I'd read back in the winter.  The article was about turning old tees into sundresses.  It had been awhile since I read it, but at the time, it seemed easy enough to do.

*I started by cutting the bottoms off several old tees. It's easy if you match the bottom of the front to the back then fold horizontally at the underarms.  Cut on the fold through both layers of fabric.  Cut off the hem, close to the seam.

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*Fold the cut off bottom of the tee in half horizontally and cut on fold.  This forms one layer of ruffle for the skirt.

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*Open the two pieces you just cut from the shirt by cutting along one of the seams; if there is no seam, then just cut the two pieces so they open completely then sew them together end to end to form one long loop.

*Do the same with at least one or two more colors. I like my dresses to be long, so I usually determine the number of ruffles by the length they create when stitched together.

*In the meantime I found some hardly worn tank tops in my clothes stash and decided they would serve as the tops of the dresses, much like sundresses (appropriate for this very hot summer).

*I cut the hems off the bottom of the tanks. This makes the fabric stretchier, easier to hold taut while stitching, so that the longer loop that forms the ruffle will gather as you stitch.

*With front sides together, pin your first ruffle on to the bottom of the tank, stretching the tank to fit the ruffle as you go. Now stitch the two together.

*Do the same with the second ruffle, stitching it to the first, stretching as needed.

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*Continue until you have the length and the colors that you want in your dress.

*Tee shirt fabric doesn't have to be hemmed, but it can be if you want. Most of the time I just give the bottom a ziz zag stitch and am done with it.

On the first dress above, I added flowers made from fabric scraps cut in 1/2 inch widths and stitched onto the tank in a circle. If you stretch the strips, it sort of gathers as you stitch. Leave the edges raw, they'll fluff out on their own.

The black and white dress has ruffle layers from a couple of old broomstick skirts that hadn't been worn in years. That works well too, but the bottom edge of that fabric must be hemmed.

It took less than an hour to make a dress;  I pressed the seams lightly just so they weren't bulky.

This is a great project for a rainy day or for a day that's too hot to work outside. I find myself grabbing one of the dresses every morning; they are much cooler and more comfortable than jeans or capris or shorts.

That reminds me:  we had another name for capris years ago in the '50s; we called them 'pedal pushers'. Remember? 

Have fun with your tee shirt dresses; fun to make and fun to wear!

Related articles:
recycled tee shirts, sewing

About Sharon Brown
I am a retired art and humanities teacher. I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of southeast Kentucky and now live in the flatlands of western Kentucky. I am an artist and a writer and sometimes I have interesting gardens.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Petal Pushers Sheila_FW Jul 25, 2012 12:38 AM 11
Untitled denimangle Jul 23, 2012 9:54 AM 5
Sew Simple Seray Jul 22, 2012 1:42 PM 5

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