The Thrifty Kid – Knit Dress (or How to make a Girl’s Dress from an Old Top)

refashion a woman's knit top into a girl's dress
Today in The Thrifty Kid blog series I’ll show you how I refashioned an ill fitting knitted top/dress into a cute drop waisted dress for Emma. I bought this top at a thrift store because I loved the colour, but the style just didn’t suit me.

With a little imagination and only a few alterations, I turned it into a comfortable everyday dress that was perfect for pre-school.

Even though the tops you may want to refashion will not look exactly like this original garment, you can still use the basic concept and adapt it to refashion what you have on hand.

The Thrifty Kid: List of clothing refashion tutorials

refashion a woman's knit top into a girl's dress

How to choose a garment for this project:

Style – Short (or cap) sleeve cotton knit top or short dress with knitted hem, sleeve cuffs and neckline.
Fabric – Stretch fabric knit or cotton sweater knit.
Sizing – The longer the top, the longer you will be able to make the body and skirt. Make sure the neckline is not too large or it may fall off shoulders. Scooped or V-necklines can be modified with a modesty panel as I have done.

Garment features to keep

Neckline – Make sure this is in good (not stretched out) condition and is not too large or the scale will look strange on your child.
Cuff on sleeves – Sewing neat hems on stretchy fabric can be tricky, especially on small openings like cuffs, so keeping the existing cuff finish give the dress a professional finished look and saves time because it can be the the most difficult part.
Bottom Hem – Sewing neat hems on stretchy fabric can be tricky.


  • Suitable top
  • Top or t-shirt that still fit your child to use as a template
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Stretch/jersey needle for sewing machine is recommended
  • General sewing supplies (matching thread, pins etc…)

Note: I’ve used a normal sewing machine to make this dress. You will need to set your stitch to a medium length very narrow zig zag which will allow the fabric to stretch without breaking the stitches. Here is a handy post about sewing knits with a zig zag stitch, don’t worry about fancy sewing machine feet at this stage, your normal foot will work fine.

How to:

Yellow dotted line = Cut
Red dotted line = Sew
refashion a woman's knit top into a girl's dress
1. Turn your garment inside out and lay flat. Use your child’s top (or t-shirt) as a guide to the determine the width of your finished garment. Cut as indicated in picture.
Note: For a Drop Waist Dress cut the body a little longer than your child’s t-shirt. For an Empire style dress, cut the body shorter than your child’s t-shirt and make the skirt part longer. Keep excess if you need to add a modesty panel for low necklines.
Sewing Bodice/Top
refashion a woman's knit top into a girl's dress
2. Sew under arm and side seam. Straight stitch is ok here as there is no real stretch in the fabric, but if your fabric has stretch in both directions use a zig zag stitch.
refashion a woman's knit top into a girl's dress
Note: Don’t worry too much about seam finishes, knit fabrics won’t unravel like woven fabrics, so you can save yourself a step here.
refashion a woman's knit top into a girl's dress
3. Finish sleeves neatly by opening up seam so it lays flat and adding a couple of stitches to reinforce the cuff.

Sewing Skirt
How to gather fabric
4. Using a straight stitch set to the longest stitch length, sew right around the top of the skirt panel close to the raw/cut edge. Leave a long (few cm’s) tail of thread when starting and finishing.
How to gather fabric
5. To gather, gently pull the bobbin thread, and slide the fabric along the thread to create gentle gathers. Be careful not to pull thread out totally or you will have to start again.
refashion a woman's knit top into a girl's dress
6. Gather the skirt section to approximately the same width as the top section. Try to distribute the gathering around the skirt evenly.
refashion a woman's knit top into a girl's dress
7. With top section the right way out, pin the skirt section to the waist of top, right sides of fabric facing. Your skirt should be upside down and wrong side out like in the picture. Take care to match side seams on skirt and bodice/top.
Sew waist seam with a narrow zig zag stitch (to allow for stretching).
refashion a woman's knit top into a girl's dress
Trim threads and you are done!

UNLESS…you have a low cut neckline like this garment, then it’s easy to add a modesty panel.
I’ve used remnant fabric from this same dress, but you can use whatever fabric you like. Why not add a contrasting panel with faux buttons or maybe a patterned fabric?
Bodice Panel
Make a modesty panel for a dress
8. Cut a square of double the depth of your finished panel and just a little wider than the neckline. Make sure you allow for seams. Fold panel in half so folded edge is at the top.
Make a modesty panel for a dress
9. Pin panel to inside of neckline, don’t worry about excess fabric at this stage, that can be trimmed later.
Make a modesty panel for a dress
10. Sew with a narrow zig zag stitch as close as you can to the seam of the neckline ribbing. If you match your thread it is hardly noticeable.
Make a modesty panel for a dress
11. Trim excess fabric on back and you are done!

That was pretty easy! Only 3 main seams, 4 if you need to add a panel on the front.

If you don’t want to go to the effort of downsizing an adult top, you can still use the same skirt attachment technique to add a skirt (made out of an adult t-shirt) to a child t-shirt or tank that is just a bit too short but still fits well on the body.
Have fun mix and matching fabrics, you are limited only by your imagination.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial. There are plenty more refashions to come in The Thrifty Kid series so stay tuned.
x Cinti


  • Sarah Helene says:

    HOW UTTERLY CUTE — HOW CLEVER — to re-purpose a woman’s cotton knit green top/dress to a darling drop-waist gathered FAB dress for your little girl, EMMA! I’m impressed with your creative design. LOVE LOVE LOVE this style. First photo of Emma holding balloons is GREAT! Thanks for the detailed tutorial with 11 easy-to-follow directions with accompanying photos. Looks like a versatile dress for a few dollars (thrift store purchase) & simple sewing . . . and LOTS OF LOVE from MOM! CONGRATS for participating in The Thrifty Kid blog series. Sarah Helene in Minneapolis

  • Elyse says:

    Cool! I am about to go through a pile of clothes I don’t wear to make some stuff for my three and a half year old, so this is very inspiring. When she was little, I used to make her tops with her old leggings as sleeves, which worked really well. My aim is not to buy any new stuff for my daughter (except for undies and shoes!) – just up cycle, sew from scratch and get secondhand, so I look forward to seeing more.

  • Mary says:

    Great tutorial! Very clear and very cute!

  • Margo, Thrift at Home says:

    this is so clever! LOVE the results and the clear directions. I share your philosophy with kids’ clothes and I’m planning to play close attention to these tutorials. thanks.

  • Fiona says:

    So very lovely..

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