DIY: how to turn an old bed sheet into a beautiful dress

by Meghan Fowler

how to transform thrifted sheets into gorgeous fabric and make this dress!

This was a super satisfying project. Taking a cheap white cotton sheet purchased at MCC (who doesn’t feel good buying things from MCC?!) on a journey through natural dye and fabric painting fun and all the way to a useful and pretty clothing item was so rewarding! It combined into one event my great enjoyment of saving money, making things, creating beauty, and doing so in a globe-friendly way (neither exploiting underpaid workers nor destroying the environment!).

So many of the items we dismiss as boring or garbage still have tons of life left in them. We just need to have our creative-eyes open and be able to imagine what something could become with a little joyful effort!

Keep reading to learn all the steps I took for this project!

FIRST STEP: Dying Fabric

It all started with a fascination with HOW AVOCADOS CAN DYE FABRIC THE MOST GORGEOUS PINK. I had read about it. I saw pictures. But I could hardly believe this was possible!!! I had to try it. So I collected them pits. I stole them from my friends’ garbages. I filled a zip lock with them and kept it in the freezer. And when I had what I deemed to be “lots” I boiled them for a while, and used the strained liquid to dye a big piece of thrifted cotton sheet. And it worked! Look at this color! It’s gorgeous!

avocado dye results

SECOND STEP: Painting on Fabric!

I stewed and stewed about what to do with this precious fabric. I picked it up, put it down. Looked at patterns, imagined outcomes…. Then one fine day I came across a fantastic Atelier Brunette fabric (called “terrazzo”) that I adored but could not afford, and it all came together in my brain, inspiring this fun fabric-splattering experiment!

splattering paint onto fabric

I’ve done a lot of acrylic-on-fabric projects over the past years, several of which flopped, but several of which were resounding successes. Using paint on fabric is fun and messy and can be really transformative, taking a plain piece of fabric – maybe even something someone once considered trash – and making it interesting and unique. So many of the items we dismiss as boring or garbage still have tons of life left in them. We just need to have our creative eyes open and be able to imagine what something could become with a little joyful effort!

Here are a few textile printing projects I’ve done using acrylic paint over the years:

1. Baby / Toddler duvet cover made out of a sheet:

2. Triangle-stamped baby leggings

3. DIY pillows, using the tutorial by A Beautiful Mess, found here.  (I used acrylic paint mixed with fabric medium for my fabric paint).

     HOW TO SPLATTER-PAINT ON FABRIC

DIY splatter paint fabricFor this project, I experimented with paint splatter methods. The acrylic I used was cheap, thin stuff – the kind you can find in any craft/hobby store, in the dollar store, etc. I own some Fabric Medium (Martha Stewart brand, from Michaels) which I mixed into the paint, but never at the ratio the bottle indicates. Truth be told, I’m not sure that the medium is even necessary — I have a hunch the acrylic will stay in even without, so long as the finished project is ironed before being washed. But I didn’t want to experiment with that hunch on this particular fabric lest it fail. So… in went the fabric medium, but probably at a ratio of approx 1 part medium to 3 or 4 parts paint.

     – Spray Nozzle Method

I put this mixture into a cup and used a spray nozzle (with hose attached) to suck up and spray the liquid everywhere. The consistency is important, so sometimes I had to add some water to the mix to get it “just so.” Doing test sprays on paper or cardboard is a good idea. This method worked well for the colors I wanted to be kinda everywhere and fairly evenly dispersed.

     – Paint Brush Drip Method

For colors I wanted to have more control over (like the yellow and light blue that I just wanted showing up sparsely) I used a paint brush with a slender tip, and let it drip off, or flung it off onto the fabric. Again, testing on paper or cardboard first is a goooood plan.

     – Air Dry, Iron, Wash

When I was satisfied with the final result, I let the fabric air dry, and then ironed the crap out of it. As in, I ironed and ironed it, and then ironed it some MORE. Then I threw it in the wash on cold and dried it on medium-hot. Boom. The paint faded a bit, but in a good way. After the wash/dry it looked more like it was dyed into the fabric instead of paint on top of it, if that makes any sense. The fabric got less stiff after the wash/dry, too.

THIRD STEP: Sewing the Dress!

geranium dress from thrifted upcycled fabric

I have long admired Made By Rae’s Geranium Dress sewing pattern. If you follow the instagram hashtag you’ll see why I’m a bit obsessed about it. It’s a gorgeous, versatile pattern!! I found the instructions super clear and easy to follow and was thrilled with the outcome.

The finishing details made me really excited — really clear directions for how to add the buttons to how to create a properly lined bodice with no jagged raw edges to be seen. (I went further and added french seams to the inside to make it extra pro looking. 👌)

I was SO PUMPED when I finished the final stitch and tried it on my daughter and it fit, and she loved it, and it all turned out so much better than it might have. I mean, this was a plain white sheet to start with and all these crazy experiments could have gone sideways. And I would have said it was worth it anyway. “Process over product” and all that! There seriously were moments, as I stood over my splattered fabric / counter / floor / stool / feet when I wondered if this would end up a bust (yes, folks, I started the splatter experiment inside before I wisened up and took it out of doors!!). But it turned out!!

Phew!

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