the ballet dress {a simple girls sewing tutorial}

add a tulle skirt to a store bought tee for an adorable ballet dress

My 3 year old daughter and I tend to disagree on her clothes. She wants to wear pink and sparkles and princess dresses every day, while I prefer more modern little girl’s clothes that include colors like navy blue, grey, and gold. And sometimes when I make her dresses that I think are beautiful, like the pretty mint green sweater dress I made recently, she’s not as happy about wearing them as I’d like. So I decided to make her a dress I knew she’d LOVE – a pretty polka dot dress with a ballet style skirt. This was a pretty easy project as sewing goes because I started with a long sleeved tee from Target and just added the elastic waistband and skirt. Here’s how:

Gather your supplies: a t-shirt that fits, enough soft elastic to go around the wearer’s waist, 1/2 yard of knit material, and 1 yard of tulle. I used a “jet-set” knit from Joann’s because it’s lightweight and a little slippery, so it won’t get bunched up under the tulle. I got my tulle from Joann’s as well – it was called foiled tulle and was more expensive than regular tulle, but quite a bit softer as well, plus it has a subtle sheen.

how to sew a tulle skirt ballet dress for girls

I started by getting all my pieces cut out (see photo below). I sliced off the bottom of the t-shirt at my daughter’s natural waist, which was about 4 inches below the armpit. Then I cut a piece of elastic long enough to go all the way around the bottom of the t-shirt, plus 1 inch for seam allowance. Next I cut two underskirt pieces from the knit. At the top the underskirt pieces are the same width as the shirt plus 1 inch for seam allowance, and then I just angled out in an A-line shape. I cut it long enough to reach from my daughter’s waist to just above her knees. (I actually cut the skirt a little short, so she usually wears this dress with tights underneath. Learn from my mistake and cut it longer than you think you need!)


Finally, I cut four rectangles out of the tulle for a double-layer overskirt. The rectangles were each about 36 inches wide, and two inches longer than the knit.

To put the dress together I started by sewing the ends of the elastic together to form a loop, which was the same size as the bottom of the shirt. I slid the elastic up over the bottom of the shirt (overlapping by about 1/2 an inch) and sewed in place using a zigzag. It looked like this:


Next, I put together the underskirt and overskirt as shown below (more explanation after the graphic).


1. Sewed the two underskirt pieces together down the sides, backstitching at the bottom. Press seams open and turn right side out. 2. Sew two overskirt pieces together down the sides, backstitching at the bottom. Press seams open and turn right side out. Repeat with the two remaining overskirt pieces to make 2 layers. 3. Place one overskirt layer inside the other and treat them as one layer. Run a gathering stitch (long stitch at low tension) along the top of the overskirt, then pull the bobbin threads to gather until the overskirt is the same width as the underskirt. Place underskirt inside overskirt and pin together along the top.

Then you can slide about 1/2 inch of the skirts under the elastic and pin it all together VERY WELL. Use a zig zag stitch to sew the skirts onto the elastic. This can get a little tricky, so be sure you use lots of pins and go slow. The good news is once the skirts are on, the dress is done! Neither the knit or the tulle will fray, so you don’t need to hem either skirt.

Here’s what it looks like all put together:

simple sewing tutorial for a cute girls' ballet inspired dress

My daughter is convinced she’s a ballerina every time she puts this dress on!

easing sewing tutorial for girls tulle skirt ballet dress

linked at: Make it and Love it, I Heart Naptime, Whipperberry


      • 3

        kathleen says

        I just loved this and I know exactly what you mean as too daughters attitudes but after 4 daughters 2 stepdaughters and 5 granddaughters they will be who they are every single one of them hahahha but do you know what they secretly love what we make and do for them.

  1. 5


    I have a confession. I’d love to make this for myself! (I was a ballet and polka dot girl when I was your daughter’s age, so she may never grow out of it…haha) How much fabric do you think you’d need for an adult sized skirt? Thanks for the great tutorial!

    • 6

      autumn says

      hmm…I’m not really sure. Let’s think through it. I made my daughters skirt about 3 times the width of the shirt (so the front of her shirt was about 12 inches across and I used two front skirt pieces at 36 inches wide and two back skirt pieces at 36 inches wide). So maybe you could figure out dimensions for an adult sized skirt that way. I did use foil tulle, which is more expensive, but it’s softer and lays a lot nicer – if you use the normal old cheap tulle there’s a good chance that much tulle gathered up will poof out from the waistband and might not look great. You might want to look at this tulle skirt tutorial: She makes a circle skirt with the tulle so it lays flatter. You could do the same thing, just without quite so many layers. Good luck!

  2. 8

    Lauren says

    Would you be able to machine wash this dress? I didnt know how the tulle would hold up. Im wanting to make a dress similar to this. So cute! 🙂

    • 9

      autumn says

      I used the foil tulle, which is more expensive than normal tulle (and it’s much softer as well) and it’s held up beautifully! She wears hers at least once a week so it’s probably already been washed 10 times and it looks as good as new. The raw edge isn’t fraying at all. I was a little worried about how it would hold up, so I’ve been really pleased. I don’t know if the cheap $1/yd tulle would hold up as well or not. Thanks!

  3. 13

    Sarah Helene says

    CLEVER IDEA for your Ballet Dress tutorial: using a polka dot T-shirt cut shorter, wide elastic for waistband and for the skirt, knit fabric plus double layers of tulle. VIOLA . . . a darling dress for your 3-year-old to wear everywhere! LOVE your sweet girl’s smile and pose in the first photo. I like the fact that the tulle is double and the coral color does not “match” the pink polka dots in the top. Your design is “spot on” as is your sense of color! Your girl will be noticed wherever she wears this stylish dress. I’m certain Moms will ask: Where did you buy this? Then, how can I sew one? Meaning you’re creative revealing your sewing talents– BRAVO! Sarah in Minneapolis

  4. 16


    So cute! I too prefer more modern, no-pink, more-grey outfits for my daughter. But she’s only 2 and has not yet expressed an opinion. But when she does, I am very aware that she might choose to dress entirely in pink (yikes), but until then, momma will continue with the neutrals 🙂
    Can’t wait to try this pattern

  5. 17


    What a great idea!! At first I was like…there’s NO way I’m sewing that t-shirt top…and then I kept reading. 🙂 Thank you so much for this wonderful tutorial! Can’t wait to try it out on my little girl.

    • 18

      Cara says

      This is exactly what i needed!

      Is foil tulle listed under any other name ?
      I know exactly what the material looks and feels like, but I just can’t seem to find it anywhere!

      • 19

        autumn says

        I’ve only been able to find foiled tulle at Jo-Ann Fabrics, so I don’t know if it’s listed under a different name elsewhere. It is available on their website, though!

  6. 21

    Jane Kirsch says

    A couple questions. How did you sew the elastic together? Did you overlap it?
    Did you sew the tshirt to the elastic sewing on top of the elastic?
    Did you sew the skirt to the elastic sewing on top of the elastic? Top stitching?
    How wide was the elastic?

  7. 24

    MaureenT says

    I know you said it washes well. Did you put it in the dryer and does it need any pressing?

    Thank you

    • 25

      autumn says

      I dried it in the dryer all the time and it came out perfect, no need for ironing! I have never found ANY other tulle that will do that, so I love the foiled tulle.

  8. 26

    Alice McLeod says

    Hi AlwaysAutumn.
    I love this dress so much! It is very simple but beautiful (and I especially love cheating on the top). I am making this dress for my niece, but i have purchased a top that is a bit wider (like 7ish cm) than her natural waist (she has quite a big baby gut). The tops width at her waist is 61 cm but the elastic that goes around her waist is 54 cm. I know that if i slip a 54 cm long elastic loop around a 61 cm dress and sew, it will gather the top, which i notice you do not do in your tutorial. So now I’ve finally got to my question: Do I just make the elastic loop the same width as the top and it hang a bit loosely on her and she can grow into it? Or should it just gather it? Thanks heaps, I love your tutorials, they are detailed and can be made in custom measurements so I do not have to print out a pattern to size, which is great! Ps. Your daughter is just gorgeous!


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