In this tutorial, I will show you how to turn a sweater into a super cute dress. I’m going to be upcycling a really big thrifted sweater that I’ll show you how to tailor down and turn into a dress with a funky ruffle at the bottom.
How to Sew a Ruffle Sweater Dress
Tailor the sweater
The first thing you need to do is try on the sweater and see if you need to take it in. The sweater I’m using is from the 80s, so I need to take in the batwing arms and the really big boxy fit so that I can make it tighter on me. I’m going to be putting it on a dress form and taking it in. If you don’t need to take in the sweater, no worries, you can skip to step 4, where I’ll show you how to make the ruffles for the sweater dress.
The first thing you need to do is determine how much you need to take it in. It's up to you whether you’d like your dress to be somewhat fitted or a bit looser. You need to turn the dress inside out. If you have a dress form, then place it on this, or otherwise try it on yourself. If you’re going with the second option then a good tip is to get a friend to help tailor the sweater on you.
Grab your pins, and you’re going to start taking in the sides and the arms. I’m using a dress form so I’m going to find the form and stick my pin in and out. You need to do this going all the way down the side of the sweater. Now you need to pin the arms. The sweater I’m using is super 80s, and the bottom of the armpit is really low down. I’m going to bring my new armhole up by about 2 inches (5cm) [but how much you take off of your sleeves, if anything, is up to you]. Place pins where you would like the new line to be so that it is fitted and tailored to your body.
Right now is a great time to try it on and make sure that it fits exactly how you want it to, especially if you’re using a dress form. Where the pins are is going to be your new stitching line. The material outside the pins is the chunk of material that you’ll be taking off.
Mark the fabric
Using your fabric marker, you need to mark right where the pins are so that you’ll know where to sew. After you’ve marked, you can go ahead and remove your pins. Now go ahead and do the same thing to the other side of your sweater.
Cut off the excess material
The serger I’m using is the Husqvarna Viking Amber Air s400, but you can use any serger for this. (A serger is different from a sewing machine in that while the serger is sewing the fabric together, it also cuts the fabric as well). If you don’t have a serger, you can just zigzag this stitch by hand and then cut off the extra material you have left.
Feed your sweater into the machine and cut along the marked lines. When using the serger, make sure that your edges are lined up, and you don’t have any ticks or bumps or gathers on the back side.
Now that you have the body and the arms taken in, your sweater will start to look more like a sweater dress.
Make the ruffles
Now we need to cut some ruffles, which we will add to the hem of the sweater.
For my sweater dress, I want my ruffle to be 5 inches (~13cm) long. If I need a ruffle that is 5 inches long when the dress is complete, that means I’m going to cut a 6 inch (~15cm) wide strip so that way I have enough fabric for a seam allowance at both ends. It’s up to you how long you’d like your ruffle to be; just be sure to add an extra inch when you cut the material.
To determine how much fabric you need, you need to measure the dress’s circumference and then times that by two.
Once you have cut multiple strips to get the amount of material you need to sew all of these strips together using a straight stitch so that they end up in one giant circle. You need to sew these at a half-inch. My fabric doesn’t fray, so I don’t have to worry about surging it or overcasting it, but if your fabric frays, make sure you surge it or zigzag it first. You’ll have a nice half inch seam, go ahead, and iron open your seams.
Gather the material and attach it to the sweater
You’re now ready to gather the material and attach it to the dress. To gather up this fabric, you’re going to need to do a zigzag stitch. For guidance about zigzag stitching, check out my video at 9:03-9:47.
This gathered up piece of fabric will make the cutest ruffle at the bottom of the dress. You now need to attach the ruffle to the bottom of the sweater.
Have your sweater faced right side up and your ruffle faced right side up. Stick half an inch of your ruffle under the edge of the sweater and pin it down. Work your way all the way around the sweater pinning it to the ruffle. Then use a zigzag stitch to attach the two together, taking the pins out when you get to them.
You did it! You now have a cute dress with a super cute ruffle bottom. The ruffle adds such a fun element. After this you’ll want to turn all of your sweaters into beautiful dresses like this!
- Rotary cutter
- Rotary cutter ruler
- Fabric marker
The author may collect a small share of sales from the links on this page.