My First Tutorial: Making a Girl's Nightgown from a T-Shirt

Whew! I have referenced plenty of other people's tutorials over the years, but this is my first stab at creating one. And goodness me! Until you make one, you don't realize how time consuming it is. Especially if your sewing is done as mine is; a few minutes here and there. Throw in taking pictures on top that and it's quite a task. I've gained a whole new respect for people who do this sort of thing regularly!

I'm sure that there are parts of this that are confusing or don't make sense. Please feel free to email me (my contact info is on my 'About Me' tab) and I'll clarify!

With that said, let's get going! We're going to take this:

and turn it into one of these:

What You Need
t-shirt--a men's large would have been large enough-I had XXLs and had lots of leftover fabric
1/4 inch elastic
ribbing--if you don't want to take the neck apart on the t-shirt
sewing machine

basic sewing supplies (scissors, pins, etc.)

Making the Pattern

The first step is to make our pattern. Dig out a nightie from your sweetie's drawer that she likes. Tuck the sleeves to the inside and carefully fold it in half. Place that folded side along the edge of your paper and trace around your nightie, adding about half an inch for a seam allowance.

I'm tracing the back in the above picture, so I'm following the neckline of the back of the nightie. Then trace your nightie again, adding about 1/2 an inch for the seam allowance again, but this time follow the front neckline. Now you've got two pattern pieces--a nightie front and a nightie back. Sleeves are next!

Lay out the sleeve of your nightie on a piece of paper and trace it, adding the seam allowance. If your sleeve is gathered like mine is, you'll need to straighten it out a little bit so that you have something to gather too.

Now you need to make that part where the sleeve connects to the nightie. Draw a sloping line to connect your upper arm and your lower arm lines. The line you're filling in is indicated by arrows in the shot below.

None of these pattern pieces need to be exact! This is a nightie after all--not evening wear! And since we're going to gather this sleeve and add elastic if it's not perfect you'll never know.

Cutting Out the Nightgown
Now, let's cut apart your t-shirt. Cut up one side seam, around the sleeve (keep the sleeves whole, we'll need them later) across the shoulder seam, around the neckline (save that ribbing, too!) across that shoulder seam, and around that sleeve. Cut the final side seam and you should end up with 5 parts. 1) shirt front 2)shirt back 3 & 4)shirt sleeves 5)shirt neck ribbing.

Next you need to pin your pattern pieces to your shirt. Since we made the front and back pattern pieces on the fold, you'll need to cut them on the fold. So fold either the front or back of your shirt and lay down the pattern piece and pin.

To take advantage of the hem that's already in the bottom of the shirt I scooted my pattern piece all the way down to the bottom of the shirt so that the bottom edge of the pattern mostly lined up with the bottom edge of the hem on the shirt. Now here's why it doesn't matter if your pattern isn't perfect. We can fix part of it here. See how the bottom of my pattern piece doesn't line up with the hem all the way across? No biggie--ignore it and just cut the up the side. That way you won't have to hem the bottom of the nightgown.

Cut both the nightie front and back, using both the front and back of the t-shirt.

Now let's cut the sleeve. Like the front and back we made the pattern with the nightie folded, so we need to cut it on the fold, too. And like the front and back we want to take advantage of the existing hem on the t-shirt sleeve, so place your pattern piece at the top fold of the sleeve and all the way out to the hem, as pictured below. Just like the front and back, if your pattern doesn't line up exactly no biggie. Just straighten it out when you cut. Repeat this on the other t-shirt sleeve so you have two nightie sleeves.
To make things easier when we sew, cut a tiny little triangle off the top inside edge of the sleeve. This marks the center and will help us when we're gathering and sewing the sleeve.

You should have four pieces cut out now: nightie front, nightie back, and two nightie sleeves. Now let's sew!

Sewing the Nightgown
The first step is to pin your nightie front and back together with the right sides together. In single knits (most t-shirts are made from single knit) the right side is the side that looks like a lot of tiny v's when you look closely. So put the sides with the tiny v's together and pin it at the shoulder seam. If one piece is a little wider than the other, don't worry. Just line up the neckline part and we'll trim the arm side in a bit.

So pin the front and back together at the shoulder and sew, using that 1/2 inch seam allowance. If you have a serger you can use that, but if you don't you can just use the 'knit' or 'stretch' setting on your sewing machine. Refer to your user's manual if you need more help setting up your machine.

After you've sewn those shoulder seams, you can trim the armhole a tiny bit to make the pieces line up if you need to.

Next up--sleeves! We need to gather our sleeves a bit to make them fit into the armhole, so run your gathering stitch along the upper edge of the sleeve. (If you need help with how to gather, there's a great tutorial over here The Handmade Dress: A Little Gathering Tutorial.) After you run your gathering stitches you can run elastic through your sleeve hem if you want to make it more of a puff sleeve. Below you can see that I tried it both ways--the nightie on the left has elastic in the sleeve and the nightie on the right doesn't.

If you want to add elastic, measure around your little lady's arm and then add about an inch to give you a little play. Attach a safety pin to one end of your elastic and thread it through the wide part of the hem of the sleeve. Use your sewing machine to tack the elastic at both ends so that it stays put until we sew that underarm seam.

Now let's put in those sleeves. Open your nightie up right side up and turn your sleeve right side down. Line up the left and right edges of the sleeve with the ends of the sleeve opening and pin. Also line up the little notch you made at the top of the sleeve with the shoulder seam on the nightie and pin. This will help you evenly distribute your gathers. Now pull on those gathering threads and gently gather your sleeve until it is the same size as your sleeve opening. Pin and sew. Then remove the gathering threads. Repeat for the other sleeve.

Now we're going to sew those side seams. Fold your nightie (right sides together) as shown below and pin. Sew along the bottom of the sleeve and down the side seam.

Hey--it's really starting to look like something now! If you want a ribbed neckline, now's the time to add it. If you want to put a ruffle around the neck (like this--scroll all the way to the bottom to see the finished product) you can stop here.

To add ribbing to your neckline you want to cut a piece that's an inch or so smaller than your neck opening and about 2 1/2 inches wide. If you're like me and live 60+ miles from the nearest fabric store, you can do what I did and take apart the neckline of the shirt and use that ribbing. If it's a little stained you can turn it inside out and no one will ever know!

With right sides together, sew the ribbing together to form a circle, then press it in half all the way around so that the raw edges of the ribbing are together. Fold it in half to find the center front of the ribbing--hold the seam in one hand so that it's the center back. Ignore my extra pins below.

Now fold your nightie in half, matching up the shoulder seams so that you can find the center back and center front. Mark with pins. Put the ribbing around the neck hole, matching center back of the ribbing with center back of the nightie and likewise with the center fronts. Stretch the ribbing slightly as you go around and pin it in place. Sew.

Now it looks like this. If you press it, the seam will flatten out a bit. I wanted it a little flatter still, so I added top stitching around the neckline. My machine has a neat-o little foot that helps keep top stitching straight, but even if you don't have something similar you can easily run a line of stitching around the neckline.

Now it will all lay down a little flatter. Doesn't that look nice?
And you're done! Now you can embellish it if you'd like! I used freezer paper stenciling (Dana over at MADE has a great freezer paper stenciling tutorial) on these two:
And I did some applique and ruffles on these:

There's no limit on what you can come up with to personalize it, I'm sure!

Have fun and sweet dreams to your little ones!


  1. I'm gonna try this! Of course my girl is a little bigger than your girls so I will start with a bigger t shirt. Otherwise. . . you may hear from me later. c

  2. Good luck, Cindy! Let me know if you need any help!


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