sew: summer dress from a thrifted bed sheet

That’s right, this dress began as a thrifted bedsheet. One trip to the thrift store, three dollars, and a couple of washings on hot water later, I had loads of fabric in a pretty vintage print just asking to be made into a casual summer dress.

I love wearing dresses in the summer because they are so comfortable and cool, but I prefer casual styles because I get tired of being asked what I’m dressed up for. Oh, you know, just glamming it up for the grocery store or the park… Anyway, I had an empire elastic waist dress with a crossover top in mind, so I decided to start cutting up the sheet and see what I could work out. Here’s what I did:

I started by folding the sheet in fourths and cutting off the elastic around the edges (it was a queen size fitted sheet). Since the sheet was just a little sheer and I had plenty of fabric, I decided to cut double of each pattern piece so I could make the dress from two layers of fabric. I started with the skirt. I cut four pieces that were 27 inches wide at the bottom and 22 inches wide at the top, and about 29 inches long. (Note, that 22 inches around the top got smaller as I put the dress together – I probably could have cut it at 20-21 inches. BTW, I wear about a size 10 and these measurements made a roomy, comfy dress.)

Next I cut back and front bodice pieces. I used a shirt to get an idea of how big to cut them. They are each 12 inches from top to bottom, and the back pieces (on top in the the photo below) are 11 in wide at the bottom, expanding out to about 13 inches at the top (so the top will curve over the shoulder and make a sleeve). The fronts are about 3 inches wider at the bottom to allow for overlap. There are four front pieces and two back pieces (cut on the fold).

I started by unfolding one back piece and laying two front pieces on it, then sewing the shoulder seams. I realized pretty quickly that I hadn’t cut these pieces tall enough – they probably should have been 14 inches tall instead of 12, so I unpicked the shoulder seams and added a 4 inch piece of extra fabric across each shoulder.

I did this twice, with both sets of front/back pieces, to make two complete bodices. Then I laid them RST and sewed along the neckline, then turned right side out and pressed. This gave me a double-layered (not see through!) bodice for my dress. I tried to bodice on to make sure it would fit.

Then I sewed the side seams together, topstitched the neckline, and hemmed the sleeves. I also took a little width out of the back and overlapped the front a bit more, so the bottom edge of the front and back were each 20 inches across now, instead of 22 (the original measurement).

I sewed two skirt pieces together at the sides, then repeated with the other two skirt pieces. I made sure the top of the skirts was the same width as the bottom of the bodice, then sewed them all together.

That got the basic dress shape for me, but I needed to add elastic in a casing at the empire waist. Since I had two skirt layers, I simply sewed a straight line 3/4 inch away from the seam connecting the bodice to the skirt, which created a casing between the two layers. I left a few inches open so I could thread elastic through, then sewed the elastic ends together and closed up the opening.

The elastic in the casing gathers the dress in at the empire waistline:

And this is where the dress was to at this point. I serged around the bottom edge of the skirts, cutting the top layer an inch shorter than the bottom layer to add a little interest. I also decided to unhem the sleeves and serge those edges so they’d match. I had originally planned for the dress to be complete at this point, but I didn’t love the way the sleeves looked like wings, and the neckline was a little too gapey (a result of having to add in those shoulder panels), so I pulled out the elastic thread.

Elastic thread is super easy to work with and comes in really handy. Search “shirring tutorial” if you don’t know how to use it. I promise it’s easy!

I added four rows of elastic thread on top of each sleeve. After sewing in the rows they looked like this:

And then I shot some steam at them with my iron to get the elastic thread to shrink up, so it looks like this:

The shirring pulls the top of each sleeve down a bit so they look more like sleeves and less like wings.

I also added two rows of shirring around the back of the neckline, just to pull it in a little so my bra straps wouldn’t always be peeking out a really wide neckline.

And that’s it!

Now I have a new summer dress, casual enough to wear to the park, long enough that I’m not flashing any cellulite, and light and cool enough for the rapidly approaching summer. Now that I’ve worked out the kinks in the pattern, I might make a few more!


  1. 2

    Meg says

    I have a question about the front pieces. You said that each front piece is 3 inches wider at the bottom for the overlap. How wide is each piece at the top? I’ve had a sheet sitting around for months just longing to be “something” – it just didn’t know what until I saw this tutorial! Thank you for sharing it.

  2. 3

    autumn says

    Meg – sorry to be slow answering this. Cut your back piece first and then use a shirt you have to trace a slight scoop in the back for a neckline. Then measure the width of each side of the back from neck to shoulder end. That’s how wide each front piece should be at the top. HTH!

  3. 4

    trish says

    awesome tutorial! very clear and easy to understand. the elastic casing between the two layers of fabric is ingenious! thank you for taking the time to explain everything.

  4. 5

    DeLuka says

    What a brilliant way to upcycle a comfy, breathable, vintage sheet! Thanks for sharing…will certainly try this.

  5. 7

    Penny says

    Just found this tutorial and love this! What a great idea to do with sheets – would never have thought of it. I’m gonna have to try this with a couple. Need to resize it a bit for me – I’m taller and a bit thicker. Thanks for your great blog and wonderful patterns and ideas. Can’t wait to get started!

  6. 8

    Rita says

    I just finished reading your entire blog. You have great ideas and not afraid to try anything! Can’t wait to try this dress from a lonely sheet stashed in the closet.

  7. 9

    Mollie says

    Great tutorial for an adorable dress! I have one question though: are you wearing a cami/tank underneath or did you add a modesty panel under the ‘wrap’ bit?

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