Winning at Sewing: DIY Maxi Dress

So a few weeks ago, I suddenly decided I NEEDED a maxi skirt. This happens to me from time to time — I am just struck with a strong urge (call it an obsession if you like) for a certain garment.

But rather than doing what normal people do and going online and buying one, I began my quest to find a maxi skirt for, like, 25 cents. Because that is how I roll. After a few frustrated trips to the Salvation Army that failed to yield the perfect maxi skirt (or really anything even remotely close — where have they all gone?), inspiration struck. Well, I should say, Pinterest struck. 


Honestly, I don't remember if I stumbled across the pin, or went looking for it. All I know is that when I saw it, I had a Jeremy Clarkson moment of complete overconfidence and decided I could definitely sew my own maxi skirt. And then I found a jersey knit bedsheet at the Salvation Army for 99 cents and IT WAS ON.

This is the part of the blog post when I am supposed to be able to present you with a detailed, step-by-step guide complete with photo illustrations. But here's the thing: I had no idea what I was doing for most of the process until it was already done and I said, "Oh, lookit, that worked out great!" Which is why you're looking at a maxi dress, not a maxi skirt (more on that later). Not to mention, I did a lot of this either a) at night or b) while attempting to entertain my daughter. Neither of these scenarios is conducive to snapping photos. So instead, I can offer you this general set of guideposts, and some really awful photos of the final stages:

1. Get a load of jersey knit. 

My bedsheet idea turned out to be an OK one, except that this was the world's most warped, stretched out jersey knit bedsheet EVER. Which presented me with some immediate problems, and which is why you will not be seeing any photos of the back seam of this skirt. Would you like to know how many yards I used? Yeah, I would too, but I have NO IDEA. I'm gonna say it was about half the bedsheet, and I think it was a twin. Was that helpful? No? Then what I would suggest — because this is what I did — is to take your bedsheet (you are using a bedsheet, right?) and drape it around yourself, all scrunched up at the top, until you get the nice, flattering pools of fabric that you want. Then that's how much you should use.

2. Get an old tank top
Or a new one, I don't care really. I picked this one out because it had strong straps, unlike my 9 zillion Gap tanktops (which I bought at a yard sale for like 10 cents each) which have the stretchiest necklines known to man. Theoretically this would be a good refashion opportunity for tanktops that have stains or holes on the lower half, but definitely pick something that's sturdy.

3. Cut the jersey into a big rectangle and seam it into a tube. 
With the right sides facing. Mind you, I said this to myself (literally, out loud. I sat there at my kitchen table and said, "Right sides facing, dammit!") several times, but I STILL pinned things together wrong several times. So I just thought I would mention it. When it's all seamed, turn it back right-side out.

4. Put the tank top and skirt fabric together (again: right sides facing). 
I followed this tutorial's instructions on how to gather the skirt fabric, which worked like a charm. But the next part is kind of tricky, because you want to think about proportions. If you get the skirt to hit at just the right spot, you're all done and you can go celebrate. But if you are like me, well ... read on.

I cut several inches off my tank top, pinned it to my skirt (right sides facing! Dammit!) and sewed them together beautifully. And then I held it up to my body and realized that the tank top part was waaaay too long and was hitting in the least flattering place, ever, and that I would have to do something to fix it.

I had a chunk of fabric left over that fortunately included the big overlapping hem of the sheet (you know, that part that usually goes at the top). Which looked to me like it would be just the right width for a wide belt. So I cut it loose, leaving a little bit of extra fabric past the hem, and started pinning it to my tank top.

I stitched this down with a zigag stitch, which I used for all the other seams on this project as well, since I am not fancy enough to have a serger (note: I'm just jealous, I really wish I did have one). Here's how it looked with just the top edge sewed down:

I chose to only stitch it down to the side seams, leaving a sash that I can tie in the back. I was still a little worried that it would be baggy and saggy, so I wanted to be able to cinch it if needed. After this, I pinned down the bottom edge of the sash in the front, and hand-stitched it down, using a basic slip stitch (basic tutorial here). I absolutely love hand-sewing like this — I find it really meditative. And it was a fairly short distance to sew, so it's not as if it took all day. And once I had secured the sash on the top and the bottom — I was done!

This photo accurately represents how I was feeling when I finished this project. You guys: I made a DRESS. I have been feeling really down on myself for a long time about my abilities and had myself convinced that I was lousy at sewing. Well, you know what? I may not be Tilly Walnes, but I still MADE A DRESS. And it turned out, really, the way I wanted it to (even if there were some twists and turns along the way to get there).

I am super excited to style this dress, which is totally comfy and feels versatile (although, note to self, a black bra wouldn't hurt). And I am emboldened to try some more sewing projects! I am still working on a dress sewn from a vintage pattern, but I am proceeding very very slowly with that one, because I absolutely adore the fabric and I want to try to get it right. But I hope to attempt some more creations soon! Now to find another bedsheet ...


  1. I ran across this on pinterest. Let me just say, thank goodness I'm not the only one that frankensteins something together and has issues because I can't seem to remember, "Right sides TOGETHER!"

    1. Haha, I go through this every time I sew! The actual construction / pinning things together part of sewing is definitely the most challenging for me :)

    2. Girl you did really good on the dress! Right sides or not...just think no pattern, no instructions just your own creativity....I've been sewing off an on for a VERY LONG TIME (like more than 40 years!!) and I STILL have to remind myself "RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER DUMMY!" then I often proceed to place wrong sides together, saying D... (depending how verbal I am that day) and begin ripping the seam apart. Just keep it up...YOU ARE DOING GREAT!! Becca

    3. Haha so glad I'm not the only one! It's so ridiculous how hard it is for me to remember right sides together!!!

  2. Way to go! Not only did you make a dress, but you found a creative way to "fix" it when it didn't turn out just the way you wanted it the first time around :) Others might have been discouraged and given up at that point - cheers to you on your creativity and persistence!


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