ruffle skirt dress

Shelley is quite the ‘Tinkerbell’, tinkering with our patterns and coming up with fantastic creations. She’s here again to get you thinking outside of the pattern envelope. Thanks Shelley for this wonderful tutorial!

Hi, I’m back today with one of my favourite kinds of sewing. Knit t-shirts with a twist!


Ruffle skirt dress tutorial


Have you sewn a knit top yet for your kid? They can be quick and simple or you can turn a basic T-shirt pattern into something quite fancy. When the Parachute Polo pattern was released, Liesl showed us some gorgeous girl’s versions with added ruffles. My daughter had a dress that was similar that she was growing out of. Time for a re-make!




I’ve used the School Bus T-shirt, but this could easily be done with the Parachute Polo, Butterfly Blouse or Hopscotch Knit Top as well. Perhaps the best thing to do is to use last summer’s t-shirt (handmade or ready to wear) that is now a bit too short!

After I’d made mine I was browsing through my Flickr favourites and rediscovered this gorgeous version sewn by Nicole last year. She used a slightly different technique to me, and her dress is fabulous. Perfect proof that there’s no hard and fast rules when it comes to ruffles.


Nicole's ruffle skirt dress


One of the reasons I like sewing with knits is that there is less need for precision. The fabric will stretch or gather to make up for any inaccuracies in your pattern altering or sewing. You could even repurpose some adult size T-shirts for the ruffles and preserve the hems.

Since there are no strict rules for adding ruffles to a T-shirt I’ll show you what I did and give some guidelines, but I promise to avoid too many calculations.

Firstly you might want to shorten your T-shirt pattern (or old T-shirt). You can have the ruffles start wherever you like, natural waist or dropped, it’s up to you. Now, measure from this point down to decide how long you want your skirt to be.

Divide the skirt length by the number of ruffles you want to have. The top ruffle will be this length plus just ¼” seam allowance at the top. The subsequent ruffles will have ¾” added. This will allow you to sew each ruffle on such that there is at least half an inch overlap to cover your stitching. Yet they will still look to be the same length. If you want to hem your ruffles, and you certainly don’t have to, then add any hem allowance to the heights you’ve worked out just now.

The next pattern piece you need to draft is a trapezoid. The top of the trapezoid will be the same width as the flat pattern piece for the front of your top. The bottom should be about 1.5 times as wide, this gives the skirt an A line shape and allows for easy movement. The height of the trapezoid is the length of your skirt minus one ruffle (the bottom one).

The ruffles can be as wide as you want, depending on how much fabric you have or how full you want the gathers. I’ve chosen to go with three ruffles and I’ve made mine 1.5 times the width of the top, middle and bottom measurements of my trapezoid.


Ruffled skirt dress tutorial


After cutting two of everything, join the short ends of each pair of ruffle pieces and the angled sides of the trapezoid together.

Since I’m a bit weird about finishing the edges of fabric, I’ve also serged the top edge of my middle ruffle. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.

Now sew two rows of gathering stitches at the top of each ruffle, starting and stopping at the side seams and leaving the thread tails long to allow you to pull them and gather the ruffle. I find it easiest to tie the needle thread and bobbin threads together on one side of the skirt and then gather from the other side.


Ruffled skirt dress tutorial


Now, you could pin the ruffles to the trapezoid and gather them to fit, but I find it much easier to gather them to a set length. I’ve gathered the top ruffle to match the top of my trapezoid, the middle to the middle and the bottom to the bottom (of course!). Because I’m sewing fairly fast and loose with my serger this also saves me having too many pins in the way. I have the horrors of one day hitting a pin with that serger blade!


Ruffled skirt dress tutorial


To attach the middle ruffle(s) to the trapezoid, divide the height by the number of ruffles and mark horizontal lines around the trapezoid on the fabrics right side. Attach each ruffle with the top edge about ¾” above this line. These ruffles are sewn on with the ruffles wrong side facing the trapezoid’s right side. I’ve used a double needle, but you can use a stretch stitch or zigzag stitch on the sewing machine. Try not to sew over your gathering stitches as it makes them a beast to remove.


Ruffled skirt dress tutorial


The T-shirt and top ruffle are attached to the top of the trapezoid at the same time. With the t-shirt right side out, pin the top edge of the ruffle to the bottom edge of the T-shirt with right sides facing. Now pin the top edge of the trapezoid on top of them both with the right side down. You’ll have the ruffle sandwiched between the t-shirt and trapezoid. Stretch sew or serge all three layers together.


Ruffled skirt dress tutorial


Finally, attach the bottom ruffle to the bottom of the trapezoid. Now you can leave the hems raw and just tidy up your side seam threads, or you could hem the ruffles or do a rolled hem with your serger. I went with some contrast thread for this one and it gives it a bit of a Flamenco vibe!


Oliver + S School Bus T-shirt transformed into a ruffled skirt dress


Her favourite dress is, of course, the purple one where I added jewels to the neckline. That pink centre jewel is where she keeps her power and it shoots out pink lightning! See, you can turn a T-shirt into anything!


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  1. Sarah Helene

    CLEVER, INDEED, ADDING A TRIO of RUFFLES for a SKIRT to an existing T-shirt — VOILA! a darling & unique girl’s dress! COOL purple dress highlighted by a “jewel” neckline, no wonder your daughter LOVES this ruffled dress. THANKS for sharing! Sarah in Minneapolis

  2. Nicole

    So cute!! Love the colors on both of your dresses! Thanks for including my photo from Flickr! I need to make another one of these dresses 🙂

  3. Beverly

    I love this idea! I see the instructions for adding the ruffles to the polo shirt but can you post directions to make the pleated versions? They would be perfect for school uniforms.

  4. Hi Beverly, pleats would be cute and sporty!
    If you look at your t-shirt/polo width and decide how many pleats you want and how deep you want them to be (and that’s purely down to personal taste) then there are some diagrams halfway through this post : that will help to calculate how wide your skirt piece needs to be.
    Hope that helps. Now you’ve got me wanting to make a little tennis polo!

  5. Ava

    Is it possible to add gathers by ruffling on the sergers for knits? I know you can do with cotton but I am failing with knits, I’m either missing something or assuming can’t be done on the serger for knits.

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