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The One Hour Dress


So it’s the holiday season, and I bet (if you’re anything like me) handmaking is going to play a significant part in your gift giving.  You’re probably inundated with ideas and projects for others- gifts, of course, but also all the various bits of creativity that go into creating a celebration, like decor and cooking.  In other words, I bet you don’t have a lot of time to do things just for you. That’s just fantastic, because this one?  Doesn’t take a lot of time.




Sometimes you just need to be selfish, and this one is perfect for selfish-around-the-holidays: it’s custom, it’s cute and it’ll satisfy that “what about me?” itch without laying waste to your selfless crafting schedule.  It is the One Hour Dress… or, more accurately, less than one hour if we don’t count shopping time.  Hell, I bet you could spit it out in 30 minutes if you’re determined, plan a little before you start, and know what you’re doing (ie: if you are totally and completely unlike me).

Let’s break it down.




Raid the thrift store, your stash, or some unsuspecting and trusting person’s closet and obtain the following:


  • One fitted knit top.  If it doesn’t fit you just perfect, tailor it before starting the dress.
  • Three large or extra large men’s t-shirts in whatever colors tickle your fancy.  Be careful that they have little to no designs printed on them which will get in the way of your work (unless chopped-up-t-shirt-prints is the look you want, of course).
  • Basic sewing skillz (and the associated sewing toolz).  But that’s a given for this crew, isn’t it?




Try on the fitted shirt (which will be the top of your dress) and take three measurements:


A: From the bottom hem of the shirt to the point where you want the lowest hem of the dress to fall.  Mine was a little bit above the knee.

B: The widest part of your hip, plus about four inches.

C: The circumference of the bottom hem of the shirt while worn (and thus stretched).  If it turns out you’ve got a long shirt and B and C are equal, add a few more inches to B.

Figure out what order you want your t-shirts to be in once turned into a skirt.  On my dress, the bottommost is white, the middle is grey, and the top is black to match the shirt.

We’ll cut out the bottom (white) layer first.  We’re shooting to make an A-line skirt, slimming out the layers at the waist a bit to reduce bulk, while keeping some poof at the hems.  Lay the t-shirt flat, smoothing out any wrinkles.  Start at the bottom edge of the shirt and measure up, marking a line at measurement A.  Then divide measure B by two, find the center point of the shirt, and center measure B on the line you just do.  Connect the ends of B with the corners of the shirt.

Wow, that came out a hot mess, didn’t it?  Maybe a diagram would help.

Wow, that came out a hot mess too!  Only the best for my readers!  And wait, you might be saying, what about measurement C?  We’ll come back to that one, so don’t lose it.

Are we clear as mud?


Moving on.  Cut along the lines, being sure to add some seam allowance to each edge. This will give you a pair of matching trapezoids (isoceles trapezoids!  Look ma, I’m a geek!).  Repeat this with your other shirts, decreasing the length of A each time to that the trapezoids get progressively shorter (I subtracted 5″ each time).

Next, take what left of whatever one of these shirts you want to make the waistband/bow from and cut a four inch wide strip from it.  Hopefully you’ll be able to get multiple strips; I wanted two myself, but could only get 1.5 because of the design printed on the shirt.  Curse you, design! I thus ended up with one long loop and one short strip, and being neurotic, cut the loop into two pieces to make sure, when I sewed it all together, the seams were evenly spaced around the waistband.

So that’s that.  We have all our component parts: the shirt, the three layers of skirt, the waistband.  Here’s how it fits all together:

Apologies for the blurry.  I can usually coax something out of this little cheapie camera, but sometimes it just refuses to cooperate. Anyway: we’re ready to sew now.  Before we start, let’s lay down some sewing-knits ground rules:

  • Use a ball point needle, sometimes labeled a stretch or knit needle.
  • When sewing vertical/along the body seams, use a straight stitch.  When sewing horizontal/across the body seams, which will need to stretch, use a zig-zag stitch.
  • If you have a serger, discard the above and serge away.

First, we’ll turn our trapezoids into A-line skirts by sewing the side seams of each respective layer together.  Make sure the right sides of the fabric are facing each other when you sew (yeah, I know, that’s basic, but I’ve spaced out many a time in my years of sewing and found myself with a  seam on the wrong side of the fabric, so I figure those of you who are rocking the absent-minded scientist deal like me might appreciate a reminder).

Once you’ve turned your six trapezoids into three skirts, turn them all right side out and put them one inside the other in the order you want, matching the waists and pinning them together.

Now remember those basic rules for sewing knits I just laid down a few paragraphs above?  We’re going to break one already.  We’re going to run two rows of basting stitches around the waist of this t-shirt layer cake, removing the pins as we go, so that we can gather the whole pile to fit measurement C (toldja you’d need it).  Now there’s three layers of stretchy, skooshy knit there, so you’ll want to make the gathering easy on yourself: set your machine to its longest straight stitch, AND lighten up on the tension dial a bit.  Trust me, it’ll save you heartache (I speak from experience).

Once basted, grab onto the bobbin threads and gather away!  Stop when the waistband of the layer skirt matches measurement C (easiest way to tell: divide C in half, then measure the skirt while it’s laying flat).  Then pin the waistband of the skirt to the bottom of the shirt with right sides together.

This time, make sure you use a zig-zag stitch for your horizontal seam when you stitch the skirts and shirt together.  You may want to trim down the seam allowance to reduce bulk- those layers of knit really stack up, and the last thing you want is a lumpy line around your midsection.  You also might want to remove those sloppy basting/gathering stitches.

Now it’s time for the waistband.  Stitch however many strips of knit you have together to give you one long strip (straight stitch this time; they’re vertical seams), then put on your dress and go stand in front of the mirror.  We’re going to pin the band on while we’re wearing everything, to make sure it all fits right while stretched.

I highly recommend using safety pins.  Then, when you take the thing off, you don’t have to worry about stabbing yourself, or worse, pulling a pin out.  Place the waistband over the seam between shirt and skirts, and figure out where you want your bow to be (mine is just slightly offset in the front).  Pin, pin, pin.

Starting where you want your bow to sit, sew the waistband to the dress with a zigzag stitch, at the top and bottom of the band.  Be careful to make sure everything’s laying neatly as you sew so it doesn’t pull or bunch funny, and don’t join up the circle of stitches- leave a little gap so that you can tie your bow.  Et voila!  Your awesome dress is done!




Go rock it.  And if you really want to make it yours, there’s a ton of elements that could be altered to your taste.  You could start with a different top: long-sleeved, maybe, or tunic-length.  You could change the length of the skirts, or add more or fewer layers.  You could offset the bow in the front, or maybe even move it to the back, or eliminate it altogether.  You could change how wide the waistband of the skirts are, so that there’s more to gather and thus, more volume; you could even gather it into a faux bustle, keeping the front of the skirt smooth and gathering the back.  You could add trims and lace.  And don’t even get me started on the possible color combos!  Personally, I think a Neapolitan dress would be adorable (if I ever wore pink, that is).


Experiment!  If it turns out garish, it’s not like you spent a lot of time or money on it. For one hour, your crafty wiles are yours to explore, exploit and celebrate!  For one hour, you can be an utterly selfish crafter!




But when you’re done with that, you might want to get back to your holiday crafting.  The clock’s ticking, after all.


(Side note: the fantastic socks are from

4 Comments leave one →
  1. madmoon permalink
    11/20/2010 6:05 PM

    That is adorable. Too bad I don’t wear dresses or skirts anymore.

  2. 11/20/2010 7:45 PM

    Great tutorial and I can see this technique on a skirt, a handbag or a shirt.

  3. 11/21/2010 10:01 PM

    The original winner of the Three Scoops of Love giveaway on my blog never claimed her prize and so we picked again and the winner is YOU! Shoot me an email to to claim your prize!

  4. 11/25/2010 11:46 AM

    Great little dress, too cute, my daughter is going to love this, and I know just the t-shirts to use.

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