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Girl’s Sweater Dress Tutorial

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Learn how to sew a girl’s dress using an old sweater!  This tutorial will show you how to refashion the sweater and add a circle skirt to make a pretty new dress!

Girls Sweater Dress Tutorial (Instructions on upcycle an old sweater into a pretty new dress.)

Valentine’s day is just around the corner and I wanted to get something new made for my missy.  I had this hot pink quilted knit in my stash- bought it in the fall and I’ve been itching to use it.  My original intention was to make some sort of jacket with the fabric, but Spring will be here soon (along with warmer temps) and I probably will not get to a jacket this year.  So the next best thing?  A pretty little dress for her Valentine’s Day party!

I really like how this dress turned out.  Being able to reuse the original neckline and cuffs of the sweater really made the dress look like something I might have bought.

I will say, this old sweater was kind of funky to work with.  I wasn’t sure whether to stretch the ribs of the fabric out before cutting; or to cut it just as it came out of the dryer.  Turns out- don’t stretch the fabric.  I did and it’s slightly more slim fitting than I imagined it would be.

girls dress tutorial

The ribbed detail of the fabric was also not exactly straight, (it kind of meandered off at an angle) but somehow with the appliqued heart and attaching of the skirt, it helped straighten the vertical lines out.  I had her try the sweater on at multiple stages to make sure it was going to work and it looked so darling at the sweater vest stage, I almost stopped there.

My missy liked the look of the sweater vest too, so I guess I need to go through my old sweater drawer again or be on the lookout for fabric that would work for a vest.  (This sweater was perfect for a sweater vest- nice and thick, plus a neutral color.)

upcycle a sweater into a dress

The grey and pink look so pretty together in real life!  I have not actually hemmed the skirt yet.  I better get moving on that.  I still haven’t decided if I want to turn the hem up and stitch or just serge along the bottom.  (I do have hot pink serger thread.)

Such a sweet, sweet kitty we have here- my parents “re-homed” their 17-year-old barn cats to our property.  I knew Callie would join us in our photoshoot if we went outside.  She is so affectionate- all you have to do is hold your hand out and she will pet herself, lol! (Just don’t try to pick her up.) I imagine you will be seeing more of her in future pictures….

Ready to make this dress?

Materials Needed

  • Sweater to upcycle
  • T-shirt that fits (or your favorite t-shirt pattern)
  • Tracing wheel and paper
  • Fabric marker
  • Additional fabric
  • String or twine that does not stretch
  • Basic sewing supplies

Tutorial tips/notes:

  1. Use the right needle for the fabric you are working with.
  2. When sewing with stretchy knits, you may need to use a zig zag stitch, lengthen your straight stitch and/or use a walking foot.  (I was able to get away with a straight stitch and a walking foot.
  3. Depending on the fabric you use, you may need to finish the seams and/or topstitch.  (I will leave it up to you to decide.)
  4. The seam allowance used in this tutorial is 1/4 inch.  You are welcome to use a larger seam allowance, you will just need to adjust it in my calculations.

Products used and recommended in this post:

Knit fabric suppliers: Funkalicous Fabrics and Fabric.com

Sewing instructions

Step 1:  Measure your child from shoulder down to desired dress length.

You will need this number in step 4.

Step 2: Assembling the bodice.

Line up the neckline of your pattern or t-shirt on to the sweater.  Trace around the sides with a fabric marker and use the tracing wheel and paper to copy the arm scythe pattern.  Add 1/4 inch seam allowance to your traced pattern.  Cut out the bodice pieces.  Depending on how big the neckline is on the sweater- you may need to do the front and back separately.

Line up your t-shirt (or pattern) with the sleeve cuffs and top edge of the sleeve.  Use the marker, tracing paper and wheel to copy the sleeve shape.  Add in 1/4 inch seam allowance and cut out the sleeve.  If you are working with a huge sweater and a small size- you might need to resew the bottom/inside of the sleeve.  (So don’t forget to add in a seam allowance to that seam.)

If you are adding an embellishment to the front, you will want to sew it on before sewing the bodice back together.

Sew the side seams (and shoulder seams if needed.)  (My daughter is wearing a 7/8 now and the crewneck neckline of this size small sweater was perfect as is.)

how to sew a dress

Right sides together, slip the sleeve into the bodice, lining up the side seams.  Pin in place and sew the sleeve to the bodice.

Step 3: Adding a contrasting fabric strip.

If you don’t want to add a contrasting middle layer, skip to step 4.

Fold the contrasting fabric in half (so the selvages line up.)  Decide the height of your contrasting fabric piece.  Add 1/2 inch to that number for the top and bottom seam allowance.

Use a ruler to follow the shape of the bodice and trace out the contrasting fabric strip with a slight A-line shape.  Add a 1/4 inch seam allowance to both sides.

Cut out the contrasting strips.  Right sides together, sew the side seams together.  Next, line up the raw edges of the top of the contrasting fabric and the bottom of the bodice.  Sew together.  Fold down and press.

Step 4: Creating the skirt pattern.

I only had enough of the pink quilted fabric for a quarter circle skirt.  My favorite way to calculate the waist radius for circle skirts is to use this circle skirt calculator.  I am demonstrating a quarter circle skirt, but you can add quarter, half, full- whichever you like.

A.  Determine skirt length measurement: Measure from the shoulder of the bodice to the bottom of the bodice/contrast band.  Subtract this number from the measurement you collected in step 1.  Add 1 inch to the calculation for the seam allowance and hem.  This final number is the length you need to cut for your skirt.

B.  To calculate the waistband: Measure the bottom width of the dress so far.  (The bottom of the contrast strip or bodice.) Multiply times 2 for waist measurement.

Navigate to the Circle skirt calculator.  Choose your skirt type (quarter/half/full.) Unfortunately, this app is for adults, so just choose mini and I’ll show you how to figure out the length.

The bottom of my dress measurement was 31 so the waist radius is 19 1/4 inches, yours will be different.

Fold your fabric like the diagram on the calculator shows.  Yours will look different if you are adding a half or full circle skirt.

My trick for cutting out the pattern of a circle skirt is to:

1.  cut a piece of twine to the length of the waist radius.

2.  Cut a second piece equal to your waist radius plus length measurement.

3.  Then use a fabric marker and the twine to draw out the pattern directly onto the fabric.  (I added a video demo below if you need a visual.)

To draw the skirt pattern, pin or tape the twine to the corner of the fabric, then use a fabric marker and draw the pattern as shown in the video below:

YouTube video

Step 5:  Adding the skirt.

Right sides together, sew the side seams of the skirt.

Right sides together, line up the bottom of the skirt to the bottom of the dress/bodice.  Pin and sew with a 1/4 inch seam allowance.

Fold skirt down, press and hem the bottom using a 1/2 inch hem allowance.

how to add a circle skirt to a dress

That’s it!  You’re done…

Have fun showing off your creation!

Are you following me on Facebook or Instagram? Be sure to follow and tag me when you post a picture of anything you make. I would love to see it!


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  1. A GAL NEEDS says:

    That is the cutest sweater dress ever! OK, I might not be trying it anytime soon, but I can see how someone with a sewing machine and a little bit of time could end up with something really darling! May I please link and feature this on #MyPostMonday? Thank you!

    1. I would love it, thank you!