T-shirt Makeovers: Halter Minidress

This project started like most of them do hereabouts — with Sassygurl making an offhand comment and me saying “well, why don’t you?” In this particular case, she was bemoaning her lack of summer dresses. Now, I happen to know for a fact that her closet is just as jam packed as mine — and has just as huge a stack of “stuff I will never wear but can’t bear to part with.” The answer was imminent: we’d begin a series of joint clothing recycling ventures. The first of which launches this blog’s new category “T-shirt Makeovers.”

Wee note — this is the new incarnation of my previously little-used fashion sub-blog over at LJ. The LJ version is nothing more than a placeholder now, and these posts are instead being syndicated over to my original LJ because that’s where all my friends are 🙂

My first t-shirt victim in its “before” state:


…and “after”!


I went mostly off of Giannyl’s video tutorial with a only a few tweaks here and there. We actually did two versions — one with Sassy was done completely by hand (hopefully I’ll get pictures of her in it when she comes over this weekend), and this second one was done a few days later using my overlock machine. Step-by-tiny-step pictorial behind the cut.


Before we start, I want you to meet Heinrich. He is my overlock machine. Yes, all my machines and dressforms are named — it’s a long story going back several years involving sleepless caffeine-fueled nights trying to meet deadlines in our very own makeshift sweatshop. It was decided at the time that since a good portion of our machines were German, they should all have solid German names. Poor Heinrich has been living in the hall closet for the past couple of years, as you can see by the state of affairs when I brought him out yesterday. Rethreading an overlock isn’t hard, it’s just a bitch because there’s so many moving parts in such a tiny area. People who won the game “Operation” all the time as children grow up to be very good overlock rethreaders.


Before starting a surgery, you want to prepare the patient. In t-shirt terms, this means making sure you start with a laundered and ironed shirt. Aggressive ironing will save you from many a wrinkly stumbling block during cutting and sewing. You also want to be patient and remember to put the rubber stopper on the water reservoir before you start using the iron, or you’ll end up with a damp spot on your shirt like the one above 😛


Alrighty, here we go, the first incision. Pick up those fabric shears (or some other pair of very sharp scissors — it’s best to keep a pair that are used solely for fabric, since precise cuts are necessary and blades dull fast when they’re used for various other crafts) and cut off that offending baggy sleeve, following the original seams. Do this on both sides.


Fold your shirt horizontally right below the collar, making sure both sides are even. Iron the fold until it becomes a sharp crease.


Cut off the collar along that crease. Set aside all the pieces you’re cutting off — we’re not done with them quite yet.


Take the large piece of fabric and turn it inside out, lining up the edges again. Smooth out the point where the sleeves were detached, using a gentle slope towards the top. This will be where the hip meets the waist. It’s best to keep this line as straight as possible, because too much of a curve will result in an odd hip bump once it’s sewn in. Use a ruler if you don’t want to eyeball it.


Snip snip!


Sew up those side seams. If you’re using a traditional sewing machine or doing this by hand, make sure you’re using a thread suitable for knits or a zigzag stitch to allow for elasticity, since t-shirt fabric is stretchier than most normal threads. The last thing you need is to bust a seam the first time you put this thing on. Or, you can skirt the issue altogether and use an overlock machine like I did 🙂


Remember those sleeves you cut off? Line them up cut edge to cut edge and draw in a triangular shape from the lower sleeve outer hem to the shoulder. These pieces will be strapping in your girls, so shape them accordingly — if you’ve been blessed with a bountiful chest, cut those triangles bigger for more coverage.


Turn the triangles inside out and sew up the cut edges. Do NOT sew closed the edge that has the original sleeve hem on it. We’ll be working with that part later.

And now, excuse the change in picture quality. My camera’s batteries ran out so I had to switch over to my cell phone’s camera while I recharged them.


Turn them back right side out and iron the pieces out so they’re nice and flat. Now you have two self-lined chest pieces! Make sure they match in both shape and size. No uneven boobs, please. As I noted to Sassy, you can at this point put in some extra cup padding, if you’d like.


Pin the cups to the front bodice, right sides together and open parts to seam. It’s always better to pin extravagantly than to rely on memory — it’s a good way to see where the seams go before sewing, especially if you’re still trying to figure out which sides are the right/wrong ones for sewing. The worse thing that can happen if you overpin is that you’ll have to pull out more pins before you sew. The worse thing that can happen if you don’t pin is… well, I won’t name names but I’ve seen everything from four-armed jackets to bra cups attached to a backside. Pins are our friends.


Sew the darn things on, then iron out the seams. We have achieved cuppage!

At this point in the video tutorial, the girl just says to gather that gappy middle part between the cups and sew them together. It’s what we did on Sassy’s dress by hand. This time around, though, I decided to try something a little different. The point is mainly just to eliminate the gap.


Cut off a strip fabric from the bottom of the collar scrap. Give it a good hand-stretching so that it lengthens and curls a little at the cut edges. We’re gonna make a cute little chest bow out of this ribbon.


Center and pin the ribbon along the seam between the cups and about 1/4 inch into each cup. Sew it on.


You’ll end up with two loose ends. Tie one knot to make the two cups meet. Gather up the extra fabric that will have bunched up and wrap the ribbon around the top, knotting again. Then make a pretty little bow at the front. It will look neatly gathered and decorative at the same time!


It’s starting to look like a dress, huh?


Go back to that collar scrap and cut out the ribbing, as close to the seam as you can get. Cut it in half where the back tag was.


Attach it to the top of the cups and pin in place after you make sure right sides are together. Sew on the halter straps.

Try on the dress at this point. If you find that it fits okay with the halter intact, go ahead and keep it that way. If you find that it’s a bit saggy, cut the halter through the back middle and re-tie it tighter so that the bodice looks more fitted. As for the raw cut edge on the back — you can either hem it or keep it that way. I just left it alone. It won’t unravel because it’s a knit, and it actually looks casually decorative for a dress like this.


The front. I’m fairly happy with how this one turned out, especially since it took under an hour to make and I wasn’t being especially anal about the details. I was lazy and didn’t switch out the dark thread on my machine, so you can see a bit of it where the straps connect to the cups. The skirt would probably look a bit prettier if I’d cut all the way down the sides and sewn it straight for more of an A-line. I still don’t like that there’s a bit of roughness where the side seam stops in this version. I’ll probably do the altered skirt for later permutations. With a better t-shirt, perhaps some ribbon casing along the edges, and a ruffle on the bottom, this would definitely be wearable for a weekend out.


The back. You can see why I picked this shirt — it’s got an unwashable stain from lord knows what on the butt, so it didn’t really matter to me whether it turned out well or not. This particular dress will only ever be used as a nightdress or a swimsuit cover-up.


  1. Oh, wow. It looks great! It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have me sewing up the wrong things and getting in the way. LOL! I want you and Heinrich to make me one!

    Ah, yes. Die Sweat Shoppe…


    Several girls packed in a small room, bent over machines for hours. Sewing until our hands cramped, being beaten and denied breaks if we slowed down. Getting yelled at in a foreign tongue…

    Frau Ironfist: “You vil sew die clothes und you vil like it.”

    Sassy: “But…” [sniffle] “Heute ist mein Geburtstag…”

    Frau Ironfist: “MACH SCHNELL!!!” [SLAP!]

    [heavy sigh]

    Those were the days… Wonder whatever happened to my old machine, Olga?

    • LMAO. You just made me sputter water everywhere while I was reading that 😛 The whole thing with you, Laura and the German language was just… weird. Severely weird.

      Ah, the good ol’ days. I wish I’d gotten more pictures of when we were taking over poor L’s apartment, hehe. Not many people can use the term “my accidental sweatshop” in a sentence, so you can always treasure that *g*

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