Crafty Recycling: A DIY Toddler Dress

Our beautiful firecracker of a granddaughter turns two next month. Can you believe it? I can’t. She’s changed so much over the past few months. Her language skills have improved. Her dancing skills have improved. Her patience at meal time has not improved, but nobody’s perfect. She’s just the sweetest, funniest, spunkiest little cutie-patootie ever. Yes, I am biased.

One of my favorite hobbies is making stuff for the grandkids. I usually have one project or another going for them, which brings me great joy. This week, I was cleaning out some old clothes when I found an old men’s underwear tank. You know the kind… your grandfather probably wore them under his dress shirts. I threw it into the trash can, even though it was barely used, then pulled it right back out and thought “What a waste. There’s got to be a way to recycle that.” It was so soft, it just begged to be turned into something useful. I chose to covert it into a lightweight summer dress for little Lilly Bug. All it needed was some “taking in” and some embellishment to girly it up a little.

Here’s what I did:
1. I cut the shirt in half, horizontally, about 6″ below the front neckline.
2. I folded the back side of the top over and stitched it down (see below).
3. I pinned the shoulders and cut off 1 1/2″ to shorten, then re-stitched them.
4. I folded the top of the “skirt” down 3/4″ and stitched it to finish the edge.
5. I pinned the top back onto the bottom, with the “skirt” overlapping the top.
6. I stitched the two pieces back together with a zigzag stitch so it would stretch.
7. I pleated the sides to take them in & stitched them along the top of the skirt.
8. I ironed a cute print onto 2-sided fusing and cut out 3 flowers (freehand).
9. I did the same thing with a green print and cut out stems and leaves.
10. I peeled off the fusing paper and ironed the flowers & stems into place.
11. I used a zigzag stitch to stitch/embellish the flowers, stems & leaves.
12. I stitched a red bow to the back, just to jazz it up a little.

The details - front, back and hem. All it takes is a cute print, fusing & buttons. Click anywhere on the photo to enlarge, then hit your back arrow to return.

Cost: Zero dollars
The shirt was recycled, and the fabrics, ribbon and buttons came from my scrap piles. And now Lilly Bug as a super soft, lightweight little dress. Or a nightgown. I’ll let Lilly Bug decide if this is day or evening wear. It’s a girl thing.

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28 Comments

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28 responses to “Crafty Recycling: A DIY Toddler Dress

  1. That is so cute! I can’t believe it’s a men’s undershirt, I love the appliques and details you put on there. And your granddaughter’s curls are just gorgeous! L. turns two next month also (Sept. 2) and it’s such a sweet — yet challenging — age!

    • It’s a fun age, isn’t it? They’re changing so quickly and their little personalities are starting to really shine. Lilly Bug is a hoot. In some ways, she reminds us of her brother Jonah. In other ways, she couldn’t be more different. It’s SO much fun to watch them grow and change. We just love them to pieces. The dress was easy to make, and you can’t beat the price. I thought the flowers turned out cute with the button detail. Now we just have to see if Miss Lilly approves. Happy early birthday to your sweet L. She’s a cutie bug.

  2. First of all your grandaughter is just gorgeous! Second, you are one crafty Nana! I love this! LOVE the darling button flowers! There are so many ways you could embelish: strips of finished cloth turned into a layer of 3 ruffles across the top (like are so in right now). I was also thinking for a taller/older toddler you could add a fabric ruffle or two to the bottom hem. You are a GENIUS!!!!

    • There are a buhzillion ways you could embellish this little tank dress. You could stitch a ribbon around the neckline and tie it at the shoulder in a bow. You could tie-dye it. Or use fabric paint & stencil it. You could also make these from ladies’ recycled colored tanks to make them even more colorful. Time to clean out your drawers and/or closets to see what you can find, ladies!

  3. Kat

    I would say that I’m pretty much impressed by every project you take a whack at, but I think this one might take the cake. I love how thrifty it is and the embellishments you added-in!

    Obviously we will need to see a snap of little Miss Lilly sporting this!

    • Thanks, Kat! I’ll happily share a snap of Lilly in her new dress. I just have to schedule a trip to Austin first. Lilly Bug is already showing signs of being a fashionista, and she loves sparkly shoes. You would be so proud of her.

  4. Cute dress! I’m looking forward to your next DIY toddler outfit but for a boy! :) I was actually interested in trying to find some appliques for football season, Halloween,Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I know I could Google it but since you are so crafty I was hoping you would know the best place to look online to buy appliques and how much they should cost? And if I did purchase some, is it easy to learn how to put it on a shirt?

  5. Adorable! I’ve been keeping up with this season’s Project Runway, and now I’m totally convinced I need to learn to sew.
    This cute dress only strengthens my convictions.

    • Sewing is easy. Just start with simple projects and work your way up to the harder stuff as you learn. You should totally give it a try. Anyone can learn to sew. I even had Jonah on the machine last month. I have a tote bag tutorial on the blog. You could start with that. Go, Mads, go!

  6. Excellent and beautiful! She’ll enjoy it for sure. I like to find ways to reuse, like two wool sweaters with holes/stains that became throw pillows. You are a great Nana!

    • Thanks, LLB – and thanks for the great idea. I was just looking at two old fuzzy sweaters in my closet yesterday, thinking “Man, I hate to give these away. What could I do with them?” Now I know – pillow covers!

      • If the sweaters are at least 80% wool, you can felt them in hot water in the washer. Afterward, cut up the center of the front, trim the cut edges with cute ribbon, then attach frog clasps for a quick “boiled wool” jacket. I’ve done that with XL or L men’s fair-aisle sweaters. They end up able to fit a M or S sized woman. Depending on the size, your sweaters should easily fit Lilly-Bug after felting. Also, small holes will disappear during the felting process.

      • Okay, you’re going to have to post photos of your felted wool projects and perhaps throw in a tutorial. I’ve seen (and fell in love with) felted wool projects, but I just can’t wrap my head around how it’s done. How do you boil it down? How do you cut up a sweater without it coming unraveled while you work with it? I don’t think my sweaters are wool. I’m not sure they even sell wool sweaters this far south. We only get about 3 days a year when you could actually wear a sweater (okay, maybe 5). For Christmas and New Year’s, we’re still wearing shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. It’s sad, because I really love sweaters. And snow. And fireplaces. I need to live farther north. Like Alaska.

      • Both sweaters were 100% wool. I washed them twice, I think, in hot water, dried them, and then cut the front and back to size. One I was able to sew together on my machine, but the other was too thick, so I hand stitched it, including closing up the front as it was originally a cardigan. I’ll take some photos and post them on my blog shortly for you. Cotton sweaters I’d wash and dry well, then use a covered pillow insert so that the stuffing doesn’t pop out of the knit. You could definitely use a piping around the edges. If they are cardigans, just sew up the middle first, then cut your squares. The buttons can be a cute accent and if you don’t want them smashed into your face while napping on the couch, you can turn the pillow over.

      • Good point about the button and napping, Lisa Bear. I hadn’t thought about that. I agree with using pillow inserts, too. I tried regular polyester fiber-fill years ago, but it just wads up when you wash it. Lately, I’ve been going to my local Home Good store and buying really ugly or slightly damaged decorator pillows off the clearance rack and recovering them. For example, I have a big 24″x24″ floor pillow, and when it needed to be washed, it bunched up. (ARGH!) That size pillow insert at JoAnn’s fabrics was $49.99. Homey don’t play that. So I went to Home Goods and found a brand new but really atrocious hot pink, brown & teal clearance pillow that measured 24″x24″. Perfect! I got it for $5, brought it home and re-covered it in an upholstery fabric I found on sale, and BAM! Brand new floor pillow. Total cost: about $12. I love it when a plan comes together. Thanks for offering to post photos of your sweater pillows on line. I’ll be watching for them!

  7. So, SO cute! How you came up with the adorable little dress from a man’s tank t-shirt, I’ll never know. I am in awe of your creativity with fabric and thread.

  8. cindy

    You never cease to amaze me!. That is definitely something I have never seen before!!!! ADORABLE, just like you!

  9. Amy

    What an awesome idea! That is such a cute little dress! I love using stuff that I already have on hand and turning it into something even better than it was originally. Plus, it’s always special for kids to have something hand made by someone they love.

    • When My Baby was little, my mother always made stuff for her – dresses, stuffed animals, blankets, etc. I have carried on that tradition, making clothes, dress-up stuff, quilts, blankets, pillows, etc. Jonah is now at the age where he’ll pull his quilt or a blanket up on his bed at bedtime and ask “Did you make this for me Nana?” When I say yes, he gives me a kiss and says “Thank you, Nana. I love it.” I’m telling you – there’s nothing better in the whole wide world.

  10. This is just brilliant! I can hardly believe this was a man’s tee shirt! I think I see a business venture in your future! Your granddaughter is just beautiful and I bet she will look adorable however she decides to wear this! (thank goodness I had boys…I’m horrible at sewing and doing hair, etc!). But you really have a gift… : )

    • Thanks, Anne. I think it’s a pretty good use of an old t-shirt, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the first to try this. If Lilly likes it, however, I’m sure I’ll be making more of them. As for kids, I have one daughter and I was one of five daughters. TCP has one sister who has two daughters. When our first grandchild was a boy, I thought for sure I’d have no idea how to deal with it. But the truth is, Jonah Bear was a revelation. Everything he did was unique and different and wonderful. He has been an absolute joy. Sometimes the unexpected can be a beautiful thing. I hope some day you’ll have a granddaughter so you can see what I mean. I’ll bet you’re better with hair bows than you think. You might just surprise yourself!

  11. bamaboy

    “You should totally give it a try. Anyone can learn to sew. I even had Jonah on the machine last month.” -Nanabread

    Not cool… Not happy…

    • Oops. Hey, wait a minute…. I will NOT apologize for showing Jonah how the sewing machine works. Some day he’s going to need to know how to take in a shirt or patch a hole in his underwear, and he’s going to be able to do that on his own because his Nana loved him enough to teach him to be self-sufficient. There’s no shame in that. BUT, if it helps make you feel better, my dear son-in-law:
      1. we were making a sword holder, and
      b. Papi immediately took him outside to help work on the motorcycle.
      So there.

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