Crafts

Upcycling Adventures: Turn a Vintage Sheet Into a Woman’s Dress

Are you tired of posts that start with “So I saw a pin on Pinterest…”?

Then you may not want to dive into this one. Because, you see, I saw a pin on Pinterest and it led me down a deep rabbit hole that eventually resulted in my FIRST EVER HAND-SEWN DRESS.

Ok, sorry for the shouting. But I’m super stoked about this project.

We’ve got Pinspiration.

We’ve got thrifting.

We’ve got new skills tucked into the toolbox of life.

We’ve got sustainability.

We’ve got a cute dress – with pockets!!!!!!

Now I’m just getting ahead of myself.

The Inspiration

A long time ago, around the time when I was first learning to sew, I came across the most scrumptious little pin featuring a sewist’s collection of dresses made from vintage sheets. I was immediately desirous of a wardrobe equally stocked with such yummy little dresses.

The pin led to a old blog post that talked of the dresses, but didn’t include anything of the pattern used, where the sewist found her sheets, or the process by which she made the dresses. That’s fine. Everyone’s creative process and creative journal looks a little different than my own.

But as an aspiring sewist, I desperately wanted more.

Down and Dirty Q&A

Okay, so this post is a bit lengthy and if you want the quick details without reading through everything, check this Q&A for some fast answers that’ll save your scrolling finger!

Who is this make for?

This project is for me! It’s actually my first self-sewn garment!

What materials did I use?

A single cotton-poly percale sheet. Coordinating thread.

What machine(s) did I use?

Just my Janome 2222.

What pattern did I use?

The Tea House Dress pattern by Sew House Seven.

How much did the final product cost?

The sheet set me back $1.50. I bought it from our thrift store on half off day. On a normal day, I’d have paid $3 for it.

The pattern is $18. Some people really balk at the price of indie patterns, but you know what? Spending money on indie patterns is money in a fellow creative’s pocket. Plus, I’ll use the pattern again, so the relative cost for a single project isn’t actually $18.

I didn’t buy special thread for the project – I simply used part of an Aurifill Mako thread spool in my stash. I bought it from Craftsy for $10.50 a while ago, and I didn’t use a huge portion for this project. Let’s say that the thread for this project cost $1, just to be safe.

Grand total: $1.50 + $18 + $1 = $20.50

On a scale of 1-10 how much do I love the Tea House Dress pattern?

I’m going to go with a 9 here. The pattern is awesome: it’s well written and the finished project fits so well.

My only hesitation in giving it a 10/10 is that I’m still a relative novice and haven’t worked with enough patterns to know when one is truly perfection.

Why use a pattern rather than self-drafting something?

Hi. New sewist here. I’ve attempted self-drafting, but you know what? I am not awesome at it. (Yet.)

I realized I need to learn a lot more about garment construction before I just assume I know what I’m doing. Pattern sewing is basically like a crash course in garment construction.

I never knew how much I didn’t know until I picked up my first pattern. I also want my clothes to look not homemade, if you know what I mean.

Would I make it again?

100% yes! I’ve already got a second dress lined up, and am considering making a top from the pattern as well.

What’s it like to sew with vintage sheets?

I think they’re the bomb-dot-com! I don’t know why more sewists aren’t using sheets in their work. Maybe I’m not a real sewist because I prefer cheap to free fabrics? I don’t care. Sheets are awesome and upcycling sheets totally fits my sustainability game!

Will I actually wear this dress in public?

Definitely. I already have, like less than 12 hours after I finished the final hem. It’s going to be pretty high in my summer dress rotation, for sure.

How long did it take to sew this dress?

A few weeks? Maybe a month? BUT this is a quick pattern. My relative newness to sewing and my three needy small children contributed to the lengthiness of this WIP. Don’t take my timing as a baseline for how long it might take you to sew the same dress.

Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post!

The Search for Sheets

So, the original blog post I found from Pinterest doesn’t give a ton of detail. But I really like the idea of upcycling old sheets into dresses for myself.

Sheets are a fabric gold mine, in my opinion. They’re flat, large and super versatile for sewing just about anything.

Plus, they’re great for experimenting with different patterns and new techniques. If I totally screw something up, I can simply save the fabric for scraps and I’m not out much but my time. I also don’t need to worry about making a muslin, which saves me a lot of time.

I start combing my thrift store for vintage sheets, which come in many varieties. My thrift store doesn’t always have a fantastic collection, but I can usually find a sheet or two per trip. In fact, my sheets-to-be-sewn pile is growing a bit more quickly than my project pile. Whoops!

Most of the vintage sheets I come across are percale and a 50-50 cotton/poly blend. I usually avoid synthetics, but in this case, they’re not completely horrible. I won’t touch anything that’s more than half polyester, though, unless it’s going into a non-garment project.

The sheet I chose for my project.
Modeling the sheet before cutting into it.
Can you see it as a dress??

Finding a Pattern

I love empire waist dresses that have a classic fit. They’re cute and have a vintage vibe that obviously pairs perfectly with vintage sheets.

However, these dresses aren’t the most breastfeeding friendly, and my closet is already sitting with a bunch of dresses that are waiting until I don’t have a little nursling needing meals around the clock.

Plus, a classic dress requires some more advanced closures – like zippers – which I’m not at all confident with attempting for my first dress (or seven). I also don’t have a proper zipper foot for my sewing machine and didn’t want to invest in one at this time. Thus, I need something that went on with button closures, or better yet, without any closure, and that’s somewhat breastfeeding friendly.

Enter the Tea House Dress pattern by Sew House Seven. (Yes, I did come across this on Pinterest haha!)

This dress is one I’d pinned a while back and come across when searching my sewing inspiration board. It doesn’t have closures and looked reasonably breastfeeding friendly (or at least easily hack-able).

Once I see the pattern for a second time, I know it’s perfect for my first self-made vintage sheet dress.

The Tea House Dress has multiple versions from which to choose. I decide on version “B”, which features a slightly above the knee hem and a sash that ties around back.

Then I pair the dress with a floral-patterned sheet from my collection. And my project is ready to go!

Cutting the Pattern

The version I chose for my Tea House Dress calls for four yards of fabric. My sheet is, I believe, a double/full sized sheet, so I know there’s enough material to go around.

My husband and I put on an episode of Star Trek and I set to work cutting out the pattern pieces on the living room floor. This part is pretty easy, although cutting the pattern pieces from printed 8”x11.5” paper and piecing all of them together is kind of a pain.

One blog post I looked for inspo when deciding to purchase the Tea House dress pattern recommended sending the pattern to a printer for professional printing (there are complete layouts/instructions included in the pattern).

I normally don’t bother with this step, since all of the patterns I’ve previously used are for children’s garments and really aren’t that big of a problem. However, I may look into finding a printer for my future pattern prints. I did waste quite a bit of creative time piecing all the little paper scraps together.

Anyway, once the pattern pieces are cut, I file them in a folder by shape with the coordinating pattern pieces, like I did with the boys’ Oxfords.

Putting the Dress Together

With the pieces ready, I can start on putting the dress together. The Tea House Dress pattern is very well written.

It’s rated as an intermediate sewing pattern, though I have no difficulty following the instructions. I don’t attribute this to my sewing skills – which I consider to be more novice to adventurous beginner – but rather the expert pattern writing.

The dress comes together well, though it takes me a while to get things sewn up. Of course, this is a result of my little ones needing constant attention, which is just a challenge of this season in life. Some days I can only get a seam or two in, and some weeks I clock zero sewing time.

Let’s be clear: this is not a multi-week project. It’s actually one that would sew up easily in a weekend if you have the time and focus to do so.

Most of the seams are ones that I can sit down and stitch without a second thought. The neck facing takes me the longest, since I sew it by hand. I know that I technically didn’t have to do that, but I reason that if I want to wear the dress in public (which I obviously do), I want it to look really nice. Not merely passable. Nice.

Now that the dress is done, I’m grateful that I did take the extra time to hand sew the facing – it falls so nicely and isn’t bunchy at all. Of course, now I’m spoiled and I need to hand stitch every neck facing I ever sew again. But that’s a problem for my future self to face.

The Finished Dress

I definitely want to sew the Tea House Dress again. The fit is phenomenal and oh so comfy. And did I mention that it has POCKETS?

Like, generous throw-your-cell-phone in them pockets. I love them dearly. Especially since I’m one of those women who responds to a compliment on a dress or skirt with “Thanks. IT HAS POCKETS.” (Why do we say that?!)

As I was cutting and sewing, I worried that the dress would be completely prohibitive to breastfeeding. However, I’m able to wiggle enough out to keep the baby happy. So we’ll call this a win.

The fabric is fun, although I’ve decided that I’m not crazy about a white dress with a scattered pattern. I’ll wear it, for sure. But I probably wouldn’t reach for this dress in this color/pattern from a store rack. I would definitely reach for this dress though!

My husband loves the dress because he’s into anything retro. I love that he loves it.

My little brother says that it looks slightly like a retro nurse’s uniform, but that it makes me look like a “happy nurse”. Um. Ok? I’ll take it.

In a different color and with some modifications, this dress definitely does not have to look retro. Since I’m going for the vintage sheet upcycle vibe anyway, the retro-ness is kind of a given.

So much retro goodness!

IT HAS POCKETS!!!!

Future Modifications

I will definitely make another Tea House Dress. Maybe I’ll make ten. Goodness gracious, I’m in love with this pattern!

That being said, there are a few things I’ll do differently to make it a bit to my liking. Here are the things I’m going to change next time around:

1. Length:

I like the above the knee hemline, but I think that this dress screams to be tea length. It is the “tea house” dress after all!

I avoided going tea length this time around, because that length can look a little awkward on me, since I’m a bit on the short side. However, with the way the skirt is styled, I’m confident that a longer hem will flatter, rather than make me look boxy.

2. Yoke length:

The yoke goes down to just above my natural waist, and the sash extends from either side of the bottom of the yoke.

When I tie the sash, it rests at that point just above my waist, and it’s not the most flattering look for me. The color/pattern of my dress, combined with the higher sash kind of makes me look pregnant at certain angles. When I’m not pregnant, the last thing I want is to look bumpy!
I’d like the sash to go around my waist, since I know that’s going to be a better look on me.

3. Sash length:

The Tea House Dress is incredibly versatile, from the styling to pattern modifications – the pattern even comes with a whole section on making a Tea House Shirt (dress without the skirt part). One of my favorite mods is a sash that goes around the waist in back and comes back around to tie in the front.

Unfortunately, because the sash on my current dress ties at the bottom of my ribcage, it’s not long enough to go around twice and tie into a cute little bow at the front. This is my biggest disappointment in my Tea House Dress.

Next time, I’m going to make an extra-long sash to ensure that it ties all the way around with plenty of room to spare.

4. Size up:

The Tea House Dress is a loose dress that’s made to be worn with plenty of positive ease – meaning that it’s not clingy or skin tight in any way. The dress is simple, but pretty in its simplicity.

Oversized and boxy garments can drown my figure in a very unflattering way. When I did my measurements, I fell between two sizes, and decided to go with the smaller size to stay on the safe side. It fits perfectly and wears like a dream.

But again, because the dress is so versatile and flattering as it is, I’d like to try it out in the larger size. The next size up will give me a little extra length, slightly longer sleeves, deeper pockets, etc. And with the sash, I can adjust the waist to the width that I prefer and enjoy the benefits of larger dress-ness all over the rest of the garment.

Plus if/when I get pregnant again, I’ll be able to wear a larger dress much farther into a pregnancy than my current model. (No, we’re not planning on this at the moment, but I like to think ahead.)

Whew!

So, there you go! This is how I turned a vintage sheet into a dress for myself. Every time I do an upcycling project, I’m so inspired to jump right into a new one.

Pal-y Pal wanted to be in on the photo fun!

What’s up next on my sewing table? I’m going to be turning some shirts – one linen and one chambray – into fun summer-ready pom pom shorts for myself.

Stay tuned!

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Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt is a writer by day and a writer by night (because writers never sleep), who spends time balancing client orders, a couple of books and her blog at Raising Rystedts. She’s a business school grad who’s dabbled in management, both at the project and company level. She loves coffee and crafting, and enjoys settling down with a good book. Though as mom to three kiddos in three years, she realistically spends most of her time reheating her coffee and typing away like a crazy person on a laptop keyboard while surrounded by (clean) cloth diapers and cheddar bunnies.

What are your thoughts?