Drab to Fab: Crop Top Dress

What do you do with an ugly top and extra fabric? Make a crop top dress!

sarah in crop dress with pups

I made a dress and sat in the middle of a puppy pen. It was perfection!

P.S. Sorry… puppies aren’t included… (don’t you wish?) My sister shows Golden Retrievers, and we have 2 litters of puppies all under 4 weeks living in our basement. It’s wonderful and smelly. But mostly wonderful. Want to know something else wonderful? A dress that takes under an hour to make!

I’ve also written posts for two other dress styles you can make using this method (Knit and Maxi), but I recommend reading through this tutorial first, since the basic “how to” is right here!

 Drab to Fab: Turn a Top into a Dress

Skill Level: Must know how to sew using a sewing machine at a beginner/intermediate level.


A top or crop top that is not knit. Prewashed 

2 yards of summery dressmaking fabric (I used rayon challis but you could use cotton, linen or another light weight fabric already in your stash.) (prewashed to eliminate any finished garment shrinkage)
Sewing machine (threaded and ready to roll)


Basic sewing gear

Serger (optional)


Prepare the Top:

1. Put on your top. Measure from your armpit to where you would like your top to stop and your skirt to start. Add one inch to that measurement. The sweet spot for my body was 8 inches from the arm hole. I added 1 inch to that total to allow for seam allowance. So those of us who can do math (aka anyone except me): the total for me was 9 inches.

2. The trick to make this dress look professional (and not haply homemade!) is to make sure that where you cut your top, it’s as accurately straight as possible. I used my rotary mat, ruler and blade. This tool makes cutting so accurate. It’s a quilter’s dream, but I use it for everything. The link will show you basically the different types of blades/mats you can find, but there isn’t a great “how to use this tool” in my opinion. (Will be in a future post! Stay tuned.)

3. Take in the sides. To do this, you need to measure your total waist at the point where the top will stop, and skirt will start. Then add 5″ to this total. For example, my waist measurement was 31″, I added 5″ to that number, bringing my total to 36″. My actual shirt top’s bottom edge was 46″ all around.

4.  Next, measure in both sides of the top’s so that the total measurement of it will equal your waist + 5 inches. I marked in each side 2.5″. Technically, that was taking off 5″ from each side because this measured in the front and the back. So 5″ from each side = 10″ off the entire top. The top was 46″ total, minus 10″ brings us finally to 36″ total.

5. Make a smooth diagonal line from the measured inches off the bottom side edge, and into the upper side seam. Make sure this is a GRADUAL line. A sudden jerk from around 2.5″ at the bottom to the upper side seam will make your top lay realllly weird.

6. Sew directly on the drawn line, making sure to backstitch at the beginning and ending. Try on the top and make sure everything lays nicely. If it does, cut off the excess seam and finish the edge using a serger, zig zag stitch, or pinking shears. Press the seams well. Set aside your top.


Your top is now ready! It’s time to make your skirt. For this dress (Which I entitled “Basic Style”), I made a 4 panel skirt. Since I didn’t have a pattern, I made up a pattern which I will show you how to here. Get ready for some math! (Consider yourself warned… this feels like one of those chain emails):

Panel Skirt for the Basic Style:

Measure a Panel Pattern:

  • Measure your waist from where you want your top to stop and your skirt to start. (Mine was 31″)
  • Add 5 inches to this waist measurement. (Mine is now 36″)
  • Divide this measurement by 4. (Mine is now 9″)
  • Write down this number. This will be the waist measurement of one panel.
  • Take this number and double it. This will be the total of the bottom of your panel. (mine is 18″)
  • Measure where the crop top will end to how long you want your skirt to be. (I want mine to be 25″ long)
  • Add 2 inches to this length measurement. (Mine is now 27″long)
  • Write down this number. This will be how long your panel is. (Below I sketched a “panel” and put my measurement numbers on it. I am a visual learner so this helped me envision it.)

  • Add 1″ to the waist measurement of the panel (10″ for me now). Double the waist measurement + 1 = bottom panel. (so now it’s 10″ for my waist; 20″ for the bottom panel.)
  • Ok I promise this is the final math problem: Divide the waist and bottom panel in half. (My waist is now 5″; my bottom panel is now 10″). Keep those 3 precious numbers, and lets make a pattern! (So my numbers are: 5″ waist, 10″ bottom panel, 27″ length)

Draw up a Pattern for your Panel:make panel with numbers

  1. Parchment or wax paper is perfect for sketching patterns. Lay it out on a clean surface.
  2. Place a mark (a sharpie pen is best) from the top of the paper to where the length will be. (27″ for me).
  3. Next, make a horizontal line across the very top, and stop at the waist number. (Mine was 5″)
  4. Make another horizontal line across the bottom, where you marked for the length, and stop at the bottom panel number. (Mine was 10″)
  5. Your parchment paper should look something like this. Two lines, with the distance between them equaling the length of your skirt.
  6. Using your artistic eye, make a diagonal line from the waist line to the bottom panel line.

Mark on your panel’s edge, (where you haven’t marked) “Place on Fold”. This will be placed on the fold of your fabric. Make an arrow or line pointing up and down from waist to length vertically; this shows where the grain line should be. Cut the panel out right on top of the marker. Annnnnd you made a pattern! (It feels good, doesn’t it?)

Cut out 4 panels from your dress fabric:

Make sure the line you have drawn on your pattern runs with the grain line, and the fold line is on the actual fold of the fabric. 


Make the ties:

(This step is completely optional, but in my mind, makes the dress! It gives it a retro feel and flatters the waist.)

  1. Cut two strips 3″ wide x 25″ long. This is simpler when you use a rotary mat and blade.
  2. Fold both strips width-wise; right sides together. Stitch raw edge using 1/4″ seam allowance.
  3. Using a pencil or safety pin (hook one end of the pin through one edge of the strip—close pin— shove the head thorough the hole and pull, scrunching fabric as you go, until the safety pin comes out the other side.), flip the strips right side out. 
  4. On one panel, position a strip so that it is 1″ from the top of the panel, and right on the side edge. Pin in place. Repeat with the other strip, on the opposite side. 
  5. The strips should be pinned on, and positioned like this. 
  6. Sew in place.

Sew the panels together:

panel steps

1. You should have 4 panels total; and one with ties already sewn on if desired.

2. Pin two panel’s raw edges together; sew using a 1/2″ seam. Repeat with remaining two panels.

3. Finish the edges of the two panels using a serger, pinking shears, or zig zag stitch on your sewing machine.

4. Now sew the two sewn panels together on the two raw edges, forming a circle type skirt. Finish the edges.

Sew the top to the skirt:

sew on skirt to top


1. If you did your math right, the top and the skirt should fit perfectly!

2. The right sides of the top and the skirt should be together. This is done by putting the top inside the skirt, lining up the edges, and pinning in place. It looks a little funny, but basically like your top is upside down inside your skirt.

3. Make sure the center of your top is on the center of the panel with the ties (if you added them).

4. Sew around the skirt and the top with a 1/2″ seam allowance.


Hem your crop top dress:

Try on your crop top dress,  stand in front of a mirror and decide where you want the length of the dress to be.

Use a dressmaking form, (or grab a friend if you don’t have a form) and measure with a measuring tape from your waist to desired length, marking with pins as you go. The marks should go all around the skirt. With this type of skirt, you want to be careful that the hem is very even with the waist. It will make the difference between haply homemade dresses, and professionally put together ones! Everyone always looks at hems first. 

Mark with a fabric pen 1″ longer than your marked pins. Cut along this line.

Finish the raw edge of the skirt (Serging, pinking shears or zig zag stitch); press under the right side to the wrong side 1/2″. Baste.

Finally, fold and press up another 1/2″ inch. Stitch right along the edge. Give it one final press. You did it!

gingham basic crop before and after



I want to see your finished crop top dress! Follow me on instagram and post a pic of yourself with your dress. Use the hashtag: #croptopdress. You might win a free month of sewing lessons. 

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