The Many Lives of a T-Shirt Pattern, Part 2: Hacking a T-Shirt into a Dress

Image of a woman standing in front of a wall covered in vines. She is wearing a black knit dress with flutter sleeves and knee-length skirt and brown boots.
Plantain T-shirt Hack, Empire-waist Dress with Flutter Sleeves

When I first started sewing, I wanted to sew ALL the patterns. I used to go to Joann when patterns went on sale, and I would buy however many the limit was (usually 10). I amassed a collection of hundreds of patterns, so large that I don’t have enough room to store all of them. They are in a file cabinet, in a rolling cart, in a comic book collector’s bin. I hardly ever use any of them.

There is no way I will ever be able (nor do I want) to sew every single pattern I have. Getting the right fit on a garment is hard work—at least for me—and doing that for every single pattern that I have would be impossible. Instead, I learned that I’d rather get the fit right on a handful of patterns and use them as the basis for lots and lots of pattern hacking.

It is so easy to hack a t-shirt pattern into a dress that everyone should be doing it. My two favorite t-shirt patterns for hacking are Deer and Doe Plantain and Forget-Me-Not Vera. I’ve made so many Plantain dresses that I can create a whole capsule wardrobe with its hacks. I have started to explore the possibilities of the Vera, and I can see it providing me with its own capsule wardrobe. 

Straight Skirt Dress

Image of a woman standing in front of a wall covered in vines. She is wearing a short black and white knit dress with a diagonal bird print and brown boots.
Plantain T-shirt Hack, Straight Skirt

This is the easiest way to hack a t-shirt pattern. All you have to do is add the desired amount of length to the front and back center line of your t-shirt dress. Then, add the same amount of length to the side seam, making sure that the hem is the same or slightly wider than the hips. Want the tutorial? Click here.

A-Line Dress

Image of a woman standing in front of a wall covered in vines. She is wearing a short black velvet knit dress with golden stars, bell sleeves and black boots.
Vera Top Hack, A-Line Dress with Bell Sleeves

For this version, you will make the hem wider than the hips, giving the skirt a flared look. Because the side seam will fall closer to the bias line of your fabric, make the hem at this point an inch or so shorter than the hemline at the center. 

If your fabric is really stretchy, you might want to hand it for a couple of days before you sew your hem—this will give your fabric time to stretch and help you determine how much to chop off from the hem at the side seam.

Square the corner where the side seam and the hem meet so you don’t end up with a weird “beak” where the two pieces of fabric meet. You have an adorable A-line dress! Tutorial here.

Empire-waist Dress

Image of a woman standing in front of a wall covered in vines, her side to the camera. She is wearing a knit black dress with flutter sleeves.
Plantain T-shirt Hack, Empire-waist Dress with Flutter Sleeves, Side View

This hack is a little more involved, but only minimally. We’ll start by measuring from the middle of the shoulder going over the fullest part of the bust to end at a point below the bust but above the waist (your empire-waist line). Write this number down.

Make a copy of your t-shirt pattern front and back pieces. Starting with the front, use the number you got above and draw a line that is the same length starting from the middle of the shoulder seam and ending at the chosen point. This line has to be parallel to the center front. Then, draw a perpendicular line to the front center and this line, going from the center front to the side seam. Do the same for the back piece.

You are going to cut all the way through the perpendicular line. One t-shirt pattern is now two pieces, one the bodice of your empire-waist dress, the other what will become the skirt. Add length to the skirt part to make it as long as you’d like. If you are flaring the skirt, make sure to read the instructions for an A-line dress above.

Now, this is REALLY important: You need to add seam allowances to the bottom of the bodice and the top of the skirt. I always add ⅝” seam allowances, but you can get away with ½”  or even ⅜”—up yo you! Tutorial here.

Hack that Pattern!

The best part of this strategy is that I’m starting from patterns that I know fit me well. I can focus on the changes that I am doing knowing that the most difficult part—the fit—has already been handled. I don’t need hundreds of patterns; with a chosen few, I can hack my way into multiple garments.

Do you have questions about how to hack a pattern? Leave them in the comments below.

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