DIY Nautical Dress Step by Step

Thank you everyone for your kind comments on my last post. I didn’t document the steps very well at all, but hopefully these photos help a little. I would say this project is simple enough for beginners who have a sewing machine. The tees were 100% cotton so I shrunk them before cutting or sewing. To prep, cut the second tee into three components: 1. A bottom piece to attach onto the first tee for some extra length (if the tee is too short to be a dress); 2. a rectangle piece (material is thin, so I double-layered it) for the ruffle bib, and 3. thin strip for the center of the ruffles (not pictured).

Next, I sewed the bottom of tee # 2 to the hem of tee # 1. As seen in the photo below, I tried to match up the stripes exactly and sew with white thread on the white stripes.

Optional – I wanted the center strip to “pop” so I wrapped white bias tape (thin pieces of fabric made just for piping and borders) along both edges. You can also use scrap strips of stiff white fabric.

After stitching both pieces of the rectangle together, I “assembled” the ruffle bib by folding it like an accordion. I eyeballed it and played around until it looked good. Baby brother Schuyler (pronounced sky-lar) was extremely interested.

Having no sewing pins, I could not figure out how to transport my meticulously folded rectangle to the sewing machine. “Real” seamstresses are probably rolling their eyes right now. I ended up using some of Schuyler’s chalk to mark up the areas that should be hidden by folds. I then sewed the folds down using a straight stitch down the center of the rectangle.

Final steps – adding the thin middle strip. To create bow-like ruffles, I bunched together two accordion pleats per center strip pleat, as shown, and tucked in the loose ends of the center strip. I stitched the strip onto the rectangle, and then hand-sewed the entire concoction onto the shirt.

All done! Or wait…not really. After trying on the dress I was horrified to find out that the ruffles were way too big. That’s what I get for not measuring or looking at the inspiration more carefully. I snipped inches off both sides of the rectangle, and re-sewed the double layers together. Refer back to this post for the end result.

I am feeling inspired to make more petite-friendly clothing. Please share any good DIY blogs or projects of your own in the comments : )

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  1. Find out our Latest men and women Tips Tips

    Posted 5.6.15 Reply
  2. Jenny wrote:

    Thank you for showing the ruffle technique!

    Posted 10.23.12 Reply
  3. vanglana wrote:

    Absolutely stunning. Love this idea:) You're fabulous!!!!!!

    Posted 3.4.12 Reply
  4. How do you come up with this stuff?
    Love this…. might have to try it sometime soon…

    Posted 2.2.12 Reply
  5. Rose wrote:

    Loved the idea!!! I can't recall how many times I've seen a t-shirt and thought it would be cute in dress form! Now I can do it myself!

    Thanks for the suggestion!!

    xo Rose

    Posted 7.27.11 Reply
  6. Justine wrote:

    This is great!!

    Just Better Together

    Posted 1.9.11 Reply
  7. amazing! it looks great on you!

    Posted 7.1.10 Reply
  8. Kristy wrote:

    argh, I don't own a sewing machine. I only know how to sew with thread and needles. I think it's doable but it'll take MORE time to do it :p
    Greaaaatt DIY 😀

    Posted 6.14.10 Reply
  9. sssdawna wrote:

    wow, that's awesome. i should really learn how to make clothes = ]

    Posted 6.14.10 Reply
  10. Great. You are a woman of many talents.

    Posted 6.10.10 Reply
  11. Pixie wrote:

    Just found your blog…LOVE IT! I'm a 5 foot tall non-asian girl and I have a bit more hip area than you but I love all the tips, links and ideas! I finally have a resource for petite jeans! I can't believe that many brands think 30in is a petite inseam. lol

    Posted 6.10.10 Reply
  12. Have you heard of

    She has some DIY and also some fashion tips. =)

    Posted 6.10.10 Reply
  13. What a great idea.. and it looked adorable..Love!

    Posted 6.10.10 Reply
  14. Serena wrote:

    Darn! I just missed the J. Crew sell. Oh well. It just wasn't meant to be. =P

    I think it's amazing what you did with that shirt. Your DIY dress is cute! I've been wanting to play around with old shirts but I haven't found the time. {*bleh}

    That's cute that your brother watches you work. My brother would probably just peep in and then go back to playing his games.

    <3s Serena.

    Posted 6.10.10 Reply
  15. Jimin wrote:

    ohhhh the tutorial is so detailed and has lots of photos! the photos definitely keep the steps easy to follow and the post more interesting 🙂 you did a great job! I hand sew everything.. which takes ages and it's much weaker than sewing machine work :/ my mom bought me a little singer machine.. still hesitant to try it though. This post was inspiring so maybe I will soon 🙂 thanks for sharing!!!


    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  16. Thanks for the tutorial! You make it look so easy 🙂

    I am inspired to try this one out.

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  17. Em wrote:

    I love this dress—you raelly did a fabulous job, and it looks adorable on you!

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  18. stylepint wrote:

    Great DIY! The ruffles turned out really awesome! =)

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  19. PetitePear wrote:

    Thanks for the tutorial. You did an excellent job matching the stripes.

    I'm about to start The Selfish Seamstress' minimalist cowl : Since it will be my first ever sewing project, I don't want to make an investment, so I'll be making it out of an old jersey bedsheet. (It's really too thin, but I just wanted to see how it turns out.)

    I'm hoping that by the end of the summer, I'll be able to sew well enough to make the coffee date dress.

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  20. Love it, love it! This looks like a great weekend project. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  21. hugstiem wrote:

    Man, your DIY project came out so well! I wish I had mad skills. I would do something with the million graphic tee shirts I have that I hardly ever wear anymore.

    I have the XXS Cara dress in the peachy pink color, and it's quite large. But cute enough that I'll probably take it to my tailor.

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  22. Ping wrote:

    the white tape that you used to used the ruffles together, omg that looks hard! you have so much patience and you brother is cute. i think my brother is about the same age as your.

    yeah jcrew is disappointing. i ordered a pair of pants in 00P Petite stretch twill Minnie pant from their website. the pants will fit fine (except big in the waist) in the morning when you put it on and as you wear it through out the day…it stretches and gets big and saggy. argh!

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  23. Kerry wrote:

    This looks great, and I use tailor's chalk to mark things on my projects, so you did what 'real' seamstresses do!

    I have been attempting to refashion some too large sweaters and some stretched out older long sleeve Ts into J. Crew inspired ruffly things. I'll post them as soon as I get a finished product that doesn't look totally awful.

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  24. nicole wrote:

    My sewing skills are terrible. I made a pair of pants in sewing class in grade 10 and the first time I wore them, they fell apart haha. I know I probably didn't surge the seams (I think that's the term?), but yeah, I gave up on sewing right then and there. I forgot to tell you my friend's camera is a Canon T2i and she is using the kit lens that comes with the camera.

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  25. I went to a class and learn how to sew once but have never sew anything 🙂 My Mom is actually a pretty good sewer. I did some research yesterday on how to hem a pair of jeans but keep the original hem. I might try it in a next few days. Thanks for the post. Very interesting!

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  26. Cydia wrote:

    You're so creative!! I LOVE it….

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  27. Angie wrote:

    absolutely amazing process 🙂 i'm going to keep this post in mind when i attempt to sew something 😀

    i've been wanting to do some diy projects myself: the miu miu print tights/leggings are super popular and expensive but diy ones with either nail polished on or sewed on birds is really neat. i also want to distress some jeans because i refuse to purchase pants with holes in them that cost more than normal ones do (though i'm not sure when i'll be comfortable enough to wear them), and rip a shirt 🙂 all experimentation for the love of fashion! however, i think it'll be a while before i can devote that much time and energy x_x someday!

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  28. Wow- you must have some major patience! I wish I knew how to sew!

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  29. PetiteXXS wrote:

    I did think initially that those ruffles looked a wee big 🙂 Thanks for sharing! It probably is much easier said than done. I still get the occasional urge to really learn how to sew… but sadly I don't think I've ever made anything that's actually wearable yet!

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply
  30. Irene wrote:

    I might not have any DIY projects now, but you are inspiring me again to dust off my sewing machine and give it a go. (where indefinite amounts of seamstresses will be rolling their eyes…thanks for teaching me what bias tape was!)

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Posted 6.9.10 Reply

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