Tutorial ~ Shirt Into Gathered Neckline Sweater Dress

by Destri on January 30, 2011

Sweater Dress Refashion
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One of my favorite shirts started to get a little holes around the neckline.  It was made with that great kind of lightweight knit sweater-ish material that always washes up nice, clings just right, but not too much.  You know what I am talking about, right?  Anyways, as I still suffer from the I can’t throw anything away, cause I could totally re-purpose it disease, and came to the conclusion that I could make it into a dress for Eleni.  Keep in mind that this tutorial is meant to show you a technique more than anything.  The idea is to gather the neckline and add elastic for a fun pullover dress or shirt.  It certainly doesn’t need to be a sweater.   Actually, I have a few shirts in that re-purpose pile I might try this on.  If you get to it first let me know how it works!

How To Add An Elastic Neckline For A Shirt Refashion


  • all your sewing stuff
  • elastic – I used 1/2 inch, but you can go bigger or smaller
  • old shirt

Shirt For Refashion

So this is the shirt I started with.  If you look in the comments at my picture, that is the shirt I am wearing :).  I started by putting the shirt on my little girl and seeing how much I would want to take off the sides, arms, and neckline.  You may have to use your imagination.  Just pretend you’re a tailor for a minute and really look at where you will need to make adjustments.  I was lucky, the length was perfect, and the sleeve length was just right as well.  You may have to hem yours, just fold things up a bit to see what looks good and what doesn’t.  I decided I need to take about two inches off each side, and just a little under the arm.

Cut Shirt For Refashion

Lay the shirt down on a flat surface , with the wrong side out, and make sure you have smoothed out the fabric so that all the seams are lined up.  Pin if you need to, mark with a washable pen, or just sit down to the machine and sew.  I started at the underarms and just sewed a continuous stitch all the way down the side.  Then cut off the sides about a 1/4 inch from the seam.  You could cut before you sew if you are using a woven fabric, but since I was working with knit, I cut after.  Zigzag or serge your seam if you need to.  Also if you are sewing on knit, use a slightly longer stitch length, this will give you a little stretch.

This gives you an idea of how I sewed under the arms. Before you go to the next step, you may want to try it on your little one and make sure you don’t need to make anymore adjustments.  Remember we’re playing tailor :).  That just made me think of that one Friends episode…did you see that one?  Too funny!

Cut Neckline For Refashioned Shirt

Now for the neckline.  This will vary depending on the shirt you are using, but the idea is to make the neckline large enough that you can have a nice gather.  For me that meant just cutting off the trim.  Remember that you will be folding it under to make the casing for the elastic, so don’t cut off too much!

Sewing Neckline

Now with the wrong side out, fold the neckline over large enough for seam allowance, and for the elastic.  For me that meant folding it over 3/4 of an inch.  Then sew around the perimeter, leaving a small opening to thread the elastic.

Safety Pin On Elastic

Now put a safety pin on the end of the elastic and thread it through.  I would wait to trim the elastic to the length you need after you have threaded it.  I didn’t and it was a pain to keep it from slipping into the casing.  So just leave it long until you have threaded it :).

Stitched Elastic

Now decide how big you are going to leave the neckline.  I just held it up to my little one and adjusted until it looked right.  Cut the elastic leaving an inch for sewing together.  Just overlap the ends an inch and sew a zigzag, making sure to go back and forth a few times.

Now close up the opening, and you’re finished.

Gathered Elastic Neckline

See, that was easy!  I love doing projects with old clothes.  I swear I have learned more from that than anything.  So don’t let it scare you.  You won’t be out anything but your time if it doesn’t work out, your fabric is already pre-washed, and you can experiment with all sorts of fabrics.  If you have never sewn with knit, this is a great way to play around with it.  So dig through your closet and find some old shirts you can cut up!

Sweater Dress

I am kind of in love with how this turned out too.  She can wear it alone this spring…

Gathered Neckline Sweater Dress

Or with a shirt underneath while it is still cold out.  For free!  Wahoo!

If you do make something using this technique would you mind adding it to our Flickr pool?  That way we can all see the different ways it can be used.

Hope everyone had a great weekend.  It was in the 70′s here!  Crazy!  And make sure to check in tomorrow, I will have that little something for the men in your life.  It turned out so cute!  Really, so so cute, and so easy!

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Destri January 30, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Just commenting so you can see my shirt ;).


Destri January 30, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Okay, so you can see the sleeve of my shirt….oh well you get the idea!


Admitted Fabricaholic January 30, 2011 at 3:08 pm

this is absolutely adorable! I love it! It will get tons of use, and you don’t have to feel bad throwing away a favorite shirt – double bonus!


Kim January 30, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Love the dress! I am really in love with those photos. They are great!!


Suzanne January 30, 2011 at 8:43 pm

adorable, love, love that super cute model you have there. You really caught a great photo of her! The dress is cute too!


Amy @ The Savvy Kitchen January 31, 2011 at 8:03 am

This is simply adorable!! And your little model is just precious!


Emily January 31, 2011 at 2:50 pm

So cute! Love that she can enjoy your favorite shirt! It looks great layered and I’m sure it’ll look great unlayered.


carola January 31, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I absolutely love it. About what size do you think this fits…


Katie January 31, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Super adorable. And simple! :) I think I may have to give this a try on some old shirts for my daughter. Thanks!


Kathleen January 31, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Love it!! I have a whole bag of old sweaters and tee’s that I’m working through because I have the “I can’t throw anything away” disease too. I did one sweater and then ran out of fresh ideas. Now I have a new idea that I can’t wait to try!! Thank you!

Have a great week,


Aubrey February 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm

You are becoming quite the photographer and sewer Destri! If only you lived about 8 hours closer you could help me with all of your fabulous ideas!!


Aubrey February 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Opps I should have said seamstress huh? :-)


Phil Chwalinski February 2, 2011 at 7:21 am

Cute as all get out! Love the first picture. She’s so cool.


Julie @ Practically Spent February 8, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Oh, and P.S. “That’s how they do pants!”


Heidi February 9, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I love it. So adorable on your sweet little girl. I don’t know why sewing intimidates me but I gotta get over it because I see so many ideas like this I want to try.


°° Bull °° March 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm

soo cute.. thank u

°° arc-en-bull °°



Katherine September 11, 2011 at 8:00 am

So cute! I wish I had a little girl to sew for…I might just make them anyway! Great step-by-step pictures, by the way. Thank you!


Destri September 12, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Oh sure, why not?! I saw the cutest sweater the other day at Goodwill and it was 3 sizes too big, I didn’t even think about making me one like this. Shall have to go back and see if it is still there! Thanks Katherine :)


Lori Trimm September 13, 2011 at 7:59 am

The dress is adorable, and I’m definitely going to try this……. but SERIOUSLY, where did she get the hat? Did you make that also? I LOVE IT!


Destri September 13, 2011 at 5:55 pm

I love that hat too, I bought it at Target for $7 last year! Thanks Lori


Sativa April 26, 2012 at 12:21 pm

LOVE This!! I’m definitely going to try this for my Daughter!


Vicki June 4, 2012 at 7:23 am

When I’m threading elastic like that, I always pin the tail end to the garment, close to the opening, so it won’t slip inside.


Destri June 26, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Yes, love that tip! Thanks for sharing Vicki.


Noelle June 5, 2012 at 9:00 am

I’m going to be linking to this on my blog tomorrow as part of the “I’m not just a pinner!” Challenge.
I love this tutorial. Thanks so much for posting it. It’s been a lifesaver for dealing with my too rapidly growing four year old’s closet needs!


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