Bandana Dress – Quick and Easy

May 24th
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Nothing says 4th of July more than this red, white, and blue bandana top for a girl.  Using bandanas and store bought knit top, this easy to make dress requires no pattern cutting, and sews up quick and easy with beautiful results.  Customize your own by using any lightweight (handkerchief weight) fabric in coordinating colors, and a store bought knit top.  Varying the length of your bandana fabric will allow you to make a dress or a top.

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Bandana Dress: Back view


Bandana dress: here’s what you need:


  1. One thick or two thin cotton knit shirts, of any sleeve length (why two if the knit is thin, you ask?  Because you want double the thickness to avoid having to wear a cami underneath; you’ll sew the two shirts together to make one thick one).
  2. Two to Four Bandanas, pre washed and ironed.  I got mine from BandanaWorld that had a pretty large selection.  PRE WASHED!!!  Those new  bandanas will bleed badly.  If you don’t wash them to get all the color out, then they will stain your finished garment.  I had to put mine through 8 washes to get the water to run clear.  The number of bandanas you’ll need depends upon the size of the child, and the length of the finished garment.  It also depends upon the size of the bandanas.   Try to find bandanas that are at 24-27 inches wide.  You may need more than four if your child is large, or you are making this for an adult.  For example, the top garment was a size 8, and took 3 bandanas.  It worked best as a top,  not a dress.  The garment pictured at the end was a size 4, and took 2 bandanas, and worked well as a dress.
  3. Thread
  4. Optional decorative button


  1. Sewing machine
  2. Scissors
  3. Ruler or measuring tape
  4. Pins
  5. Iron
  6. Sewing needle, optional if you are sewing on the decorative button
  7. Serger, optional but makes things go faster
  8. Disappearing fabric marker, optional


Bandana Dress:  Theory & Measurements

The bandana dress is made by attaching a long tube of fabric (made of bandanas) that consists of  “flaps” to a pre-made bodice (the knit shirt).   Because the long length of the fabric tube, it is very important to make sure that the fabric used to make it is lightweight.  Bandanas that have been through the wash many times to remove all the sizing are perfect.

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Bandana Dress: This tube is over 150 inches long!

The bodice top is made by cutting off the shirts about an inch below the bottom of the bust (not the bust line itself).  Have the child try on the top, and with it on them, mark on the front the bottom bust. Now measure down another inch, and you have your cut line.   Also measure from the bust line down to where you want the finished length to fall.  Add an inch to that measurement for the length to cut your bandana. The bandana bottom is made by sewing together six panels of fabric.  The width of each panel is the width of the bandana (usually about 24 inches after washing and shrinkage).  The length of the panel is the measurement you took above.

Bandana Dress:  Cutting it Out


Using the measurement you marked on the bottom bust of the shirt, measure down another inch, and cut the shirt straight across.  If you got two shirts because the knit was thin, you’ll sew the two shirts together first (more on that below) then cut the bottom off.

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Bandana Dress: Shirt cut for bodice

You now have the bodice (the top with the shoulders and armholes/sleeves) and a dust rag.  But put your scraps to good use!  You can  go to Cherry Street Cottage and use her tutorial to make a great flower with that scrap piece of fabric for a hair pretty to match this outfit.

Bandana bottom:

It is important to realize that the finished dress/top does not have a visually straight hem line.  This allows you quite a bit of flexibility in the actual finished length of the dress/top, which in turn gives you flexibility in cutting out your bandanas.  Use this flexibility to your advantage to save fabric when you cut. Lay out your bandana and find the longest side.  Bandanas are not always square.  This will be your width (the long side).  Now measure down the length you need (that measurement you took on length before, plus the extra inch).

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Bandana Dress: Cut Bandanas

Depending upon the size, you may be able to cut the bandana in half, and get two panels from it.  Or you may be able to get 1 with some waste.  Before you cut, see if you can make due with 2/3 of the total bandana length.  If so, you can then sew  two of the 1/3 pieces together to make another panel, saving you a bandana.   Look carefully at the dress above, and you can see that one panel is pieced this way.  That allowed me to use only three bandanas to make the top dress, which was a size 8. Remember to cut out 6 panels.  You do not need to worry about including the sewn edges, you’ll take care of those in assembly.  If you have scraps, save them.  You can use them to make a sash for the dress.

Bandana Dress:  Sewing it Up

Sew the Bodice

If you have one bodice top, you don’t need to do anything at this step.  If you  bought two shirts because they were thin, then place one inside the other and line them up,

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Bandana Dress: two shirts for bodice

matching seams and edges with pins.

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Bandana Dress: Pinned Bodice

Set your regular sewing machine to a zig/zag setting, and sew together the neck and arms. For my example the tank tops were sewn by the manufacturer with a cover stitch around the neck and armholes.

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Bandana Dress: Zig-Zag Close Up

I set the width of the zig-zag to fit just inside the cover stitch, and used contrasting thread that matched the red in the bandana to join the pieces together.

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Bandana Dress: Top Stitching

That gave it a nice bit of visual interest to tie the top to the bottom. Pin the two bottom pieces together and baste 1/4 or so from the edge.

Sew the Bandana Bottom

Sew the tube:

When sewing your panels together, you want to strive for a thin, finished seam.  If you use a serger, a narrow 3 thread overlock works well.  If sewing on a regular machine, sew a narrow close zig zag right near the edge of the fabric. Take your 6 bandana panels, and one by one, sew them together, insuring that the inside seams are all on the same side.  Alternating colors seems to give the nicest effect.  When you get to the sixth panel, make sure to attach it to the first panel.

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Bandana Dress: Finished Edge

You should now have a very long tube of fabric. Now sew the tube edges with that same type of narrow seam to finish off the edges.  Do NOT fold up and make a bulky hem, as it will affect the final drape of the top. Press .

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Bandana Dress: Press Flaps

Sew the flaps:

You now should have 6 panels joined together with 6 seams.  Pick up a seam where two panels meet, and press the two panels together (the wrong side will fold onto the wrong side).  Measure 7 1/2 inches from the  joined seam edge at the top where the two panels meet.

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Bandana Dress: Flap size

Mark with a pin.  Do the same at the bottom.   From the top pin that is holding the two pieces of fabric together 7 1/2 from the seam,  and using a straight stitch, sew in a straight line to the bottom mark.  I found it helpful to mark this line by pressing the fabric over with the iron, and then sewing on the ironed fold.

   You now should have a “flap” sticking out from the main tube of fabric.  Go to your iron, and make a diagonal fold from the top inside corner  of the flap (where the flap meets the tube) to the bottom outside flap corner.  Press this with the iron.

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Bandana Dress: Press in the folds to sew

Using a straight stitch, sew along the diagonal line that you ironed through the two pieces of the flap fabric, from corner to corner.

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Bandana Dress: Sew Flaps Vertically and Diagonally

You now should have a flap of fabric attached to the tube that is  sewn through diagonally. Repeat for all seams where two panels meet, to have a total of 6 flaps.

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Bandana Dress: Tube with flaps

Assemble the Bandana Dress

Take the Bandana tube with flaps, and sew a basting stitch along the top 1/4 or so from the edge, leaving long thread tails so you can pull on the fabric to gather it to fit to the bodice.  Pull the gathering thread to gather.    Be sure to fold your flaps out of the way when you sew the basting stitch.

Take your bodice top, and at the bottom edge, make marks or pin to show the center back and center front.  Measure the distance between the center front mark and the side seam, and divide by three (let’s be fancy and call that measurement X).  Make another mark or pin on the front bottom that is X distance from the side seam on each side of the front.  You should now have three marks on the front.

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Bandana Dress: bodice measurement

Repeat this on the back for a total of 6 marks on the bodice. Pin the right side of the bandana bottom to the right side of the bodice,  matching the top of the flap seams to the marks you just made on the bodice top.  Using the gathering thread you basted to the top, evenly distribute the tube fabric between the flaps to fit to the bodice, and pin in place.  Be mindful of the flaps, and pull them down so you don’t catch their edges when you stitch the bodice to the bottom.

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Bandana dress: pinned bottom to bodice

Baste the bandana bottom to the bodice, and finish the edge by either straight stitching at 1/4 inch and then zig zag stitch, or serging with a standard 3 thread overlock which is also about 1/4.  You don’t want too deep a seam here. Your dress/top is done!

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Bandana Dress: finished!

Finishing Touches

If you have left over fabric, you can fancy up this dress by adding a decorative button, fabric flower, etc.  You can also add a sash.   I made one from left over scraps of bandana that I ran through the serger with the narrow seam used for the edge.  You could also use a pretty ribbon.

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Bandana Dress: sash added

Just sew with the zig-zag stitch right over the seam where the bodice and bottom meet.

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Bandana Dress: Back View


How did you make your dress?  Send me a photo of the one you made from this tutorial so we can post it for all to see.

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