T-Shirt Wedding Dress
By Donna Kroiz and Lauren Kroiz
Until the late 19th century, brides generally bought the fanciest dress they could afford and then wore it throughout their marriage as an evening gown. With the rise of mass-produced clothing, white became the popular color — maximally impractical, it signified the owner would wear the dress only once. Efficient women often married in white and then dyed their dresses to wear again.
In the 21st century, there’s no need to choose between anti-consumerist values and looking cute in white on your wedding day. Learn how to make an adorable, versatile dress using white cotton T-shirts — comfortable, repurposed, and perfect for years of reuse.
White T-shirts several, depending
on pattern and size
Pins straight and/or safety
Dress pattern choose any you like
Notions, zipper, buttons, etc.
as called for by your pattern
Sewing machine knit needle (optional)
Click through for complete instructions.
Step 1: Create or select a pattern for your dress.
If using a commercial pattern, pick one appropriate for jersey fabric. If creating your own pattern, remember T-shirt fabric is soft and has some stretch, so it will look best draped and loosely fitted.
TIP: Showing this pattern to people will help you collect T-shirts from those fearful of seeing you married in a pile of rags.
Step 2: Collect white T-shirts.
The number of T-shirts you’ll need depends on many factors, including how damaged the shirts are, the size of the person who gave them to you, what pattern you select, and how big you are! Having extra shirts is a great idea and will make the project easier to complete. Our experience indicates you should allow at least 6 men’s medium-sized shirts for each yard of fabric required by your pattern.
Wash the shirts in hot water and tumble dry to preshrink the fabric. Use bleach or another type of fabric whitener to help ensure that each shirt is the same shade of white. This is especially important if you’ve collected the shirts from a variety of people. Iron each shirt so that you can easily distinguish stains and holes from wrinkles.
Step 3: Check for stains and holes.
Lay out your shirts in a clean and very, very well-lit space. A table set up outside or under natural light is vital, especially if you’ll have an outdoor ceremony. Be sure to check that each shirt is approximately the same shade of white to ensure your finished dress won’t look patchy or yellowed.
Mark each stain and hole you find with straight or safety pins. Turn each shirt over and examine the back. Mark these holes and stains separately. (Be sure that your pins go through only 1 layer of the shirt.) This is a good time to find a fastidious friend for a second set of eyes.
Step 4: Deconstruct the shirts.
Remove the sleeves and the collar of each shirt. Cut around the stains and holes you marked, salvaging the biggest pieces you can from each shirt.
Save the scraps to use as rags. Identify symmetrical pieces; our dress improved when we created a V pattern in the skirt by lining up symmetrical sections of shirt. Begin cutting T-shirt sections to fit pattern pieces.
Be careful to keep the sections oriented so that the grain line of the fabric runs vertically from the collar to the bottom hem of the shirt. You may arrange the pieces with the grain on the horizontal or vertical axis. Don’t place the sections so that the grain falls on a diagonal (this will make your dress hang differently), and avoid mixing sections with vertical and horizontal grain, which may create uneven stretching and bagging.
Step 5: Examine the pattern.
Depending on your modesty, you may want to use 2 layers of T-shirt. We used 2 in the bodice of the dress, and used a slip for the skirt. Identify the pattern pieces for which you’ll need multiple layers, and duplicate them in paper. If dress pattern pieces are small enough, you may want to use 1 big T-shirt section. Not only does this reduce the sewing for you, but it’s ideal in sections such as the bodice of your dress, where you want construction details, such as gathering, to be the focus.
TIP: Consider patchwork as a kind of decoration that adds visual volume to your
dress body. You can use it strategically when designing your own dress.
Fit the remaining T-shirt sections to the remaining larger pattern pieces. To save time, arrange your pieces so that the bottom hem of the dress is constructed from the bottom hems of the shirts. Though it may be a bit tricky, it creates a polished look that can be otherwise difficult to achieve without a serger. If you can’t arrange your sections to utilize the existing hems, try using a fusible interfacing to stabilize the fabric, and practice several times before attempting to finish the hem of your dress. You may reconsider!
Step 6: Sew the dress.
Pin the sections to the pattern. Be sure to allow for at least ½” overlap if you’re piecing the sections together. Move to the sewing machine. When sewing the T-shirt sections together, both piecing and seaming, it’s important to avoid stretching the material or you’ll end up with uneven puckering. If you get skipped stitches or see holes in your fabric, try a new needle or a stretch needle.
Stitch together the sections that make up each pattern piece using white thread. Slightly overlap the sections about ¼” and use a small zigzag stitch along the edge of that overlap. This will both attach the section and finish the edge, because the T-shirt fabric, unlike a woven fabric, is not likely to unravel.
Practice seaming with scrap T-shirt fabric. Knits are often easily torn apart at the seam, so it’s important to choose an appropriate stitch. We used 2 parallel straight seams to prevent the 2 pieces from tearing apart. You can also use a zigzag stitch, but be careful to reduce its length so it doesn’t sew through when the seam is stretched.
Your machine may also have a setting for a stretch stitch, used specifically for sewing knits, but be aware this seam will be very difficult to remove so you should baste-stitch the seam first.
Sew the sections together following the pattern instructions. Be sure to check the fit several times throughout construction as the T-shirt sections may have more or less stretch than you imagine!
Step 7: Have a beautiful wedding.
Afterward, store the dress to show your children, or follow women of a previous era and color your dress with any cotton dye to wear again and again.
About the Authors:
Donna Kroiz is a Virginia-based seamstress. She eloped in jeans and a polyester shirt. It was the 70s. Her daughter Lauren Kroiz is a Los Angeles-based crafter raised to believe that everyone has the right to enter into whatever union they want wearing whatever they like. ticklishtortoise.com