Beach Towel Dress

School’s out and summer vacation is here!
Have you taken a dip in the pool? Or hit the beach running?
As a mom, water activities with kids is a juggling act. And if you’re like me, your post-swimming towel is always falling off as you try to manage 10 other things.

There’s a better way!
and it’s SO easy.

beach-towel-dress-tutorial-on-made-everyday-with-dana-willardI’ve seen beach cover-ups in stores for years. I’ve always thought to buy one but never have because I figured I could make one (of course it took me two years to get around to it)
But with a simple beach towel, elastic thread, and your summer vacation dress pattern, you can easily make your own!

Time to sew something for YOU. Okay, here’s what I did….

  • I bought a beach towel at Target ($5.99, appx 56 x 29 inches). The gathering ratio was smaller here than the pattern info, but it works fine because a towel will gather up slightly less for you, due to it’s bulk.
  • Thinner towels are best because they are less bulky.
  • Just use the edge of the towel as your top and bottom (no hemming needed)
  • Wind Elastic Thread in your bobbin, shir as many rows as you like (I did about 32), sew down the side seam, add shoulder straps, and you’re done! I used less than one spool of Elastic Thread for the entire dress. Of course I had to wind it onto my bobbin about 5 times.
  • (NOTE: if you have a Brother sewing machine and have had problems sewing with Elastic Thread, THIS info will help you.)
  • DON’T forget to spray and iron over the top of your shirring when finished. This will cause your elastic thread to really gather up.

Then, you’re ready for the water!

Wear your beach towel dress over your swimsuit,
go for a dip,
then throw it back on after you’ve been wet.
It stays on well, keeps you dry, and allows you the freedom to accomplish 9 other things while your towel stays put.
….like squishing your toes in all that sand.
Three cheers for Summer!

  1. Wow, this looks awesome! Love it. I can’t wait to give it a go! Now, to find a nice thin beachtowel….

  2. What a great idea! One question though, what did you use for the straps?

  3. 3) Carmen Russell

    This is a great dress,love it i made two for myself and one for my daughter,they are lovely dresses.Thank you,all the best.

  4. 4) Jane

    Thank you for this great idea. I bought a towel today an I am making it tonight.

  5. 5) Britney

    I just love love love it! Now for a serious question what would you charge to make me one? I would want the exact same look and target towel but the warm color one if possible… Would you be interested in selling one?

    • 6) Dana

      sorry! I don’t sell products, I just share ideas.
      It’s really easy to make though if you’re looking for a good beginner project.

      • 7) Carol

        What did you use for the straps? I don’t see an answer sorry if I missed the answer This is such a cool idea. What about smaller stuff for pre teens?

  6. 8) bb920

    Using rubber gloves (yes, those beautiful yellow ones we use for housework :)) are great when sewing with elastic thread. Once you sew the first row of elastic, the fabric can start to get you a little frustrated. The gloves make it easy to help hold the fabric flat.

  7. 9) Tracy

    Maybe I am missing it, but does it just wrap around? Or is it sewn together somewhere??

    • 10) Sara

      You sew in a side seam.

  8. 11) josie

    @ Tracy: Wind Elastic Thread in your bobbin, shir as many rows as you like (I did about 32), SEW DOWN THE SIDE SEAM, add shoulder straps, and you’re done.

    Love this idea

  9. 12) Audra

    This is SO STINKIN’ CUTE!! Now I’m going to have to be brave enough to try using that elastic thread!!

  10. 14) Deborah Shultz

    Thanks to a pinning of this I found last year, I have made 1/2 doz. already and more to come! Have had requests from friends as well. I made these for my sisters and I to wear on a cruise at the end of April, and they were perfect. No carrying heavy towels to the beach! We even wore these over our swimwear to go shopping/lunch before hitting the waves. Thank you to the designer for this fabulous creation!

  11. 15) MAGGUIE

    Just absolutely luv this topper dress. I have elastic thread for years – guess I can go and find it now, lol. I just have to try this- it’s for me. Thanks for the instructions as I have been looking for this a long, long time.
    Have fun all :}

  12. 17) Jessica Strickland

    “DON’T forget to spray and iron over the top of your shirring”
    What do you spray it with?

    • 18) Traci

      water. Just a dollar store spray bottle, set it to the mist setting and lightly spray the fabric with it, then iron over. nothing fancy ^^

  13. 19) Amanda

    I’m thinking of making this for our upcoming beach trip 🙂 do you think it would fit properly without the straps added? Is it snug enough? Thanks in advance!!

  14. 20) june

    I love this dress!! its so very pretty! I have never used elastic in my bobbin before, that makes me a little nervous!! also, no info about the straps!!
    thank you!

  15. 21) Karen

    This is a really wonderful idea, i can’t wait to try it!

  16. 22) Dawn

    Love this idea! I’m going to have a go at this for next years holiday. And maybe one for my 10 year old daughter too!

  17. 23) Patti

    Hi. This is terrific & so cute. Can you tell me what size towel you would start with for a 2-year old? Her chest is 20 inches.

  18. 24) Haleary

    I just hot some thin towel, and 3 spool of elastic threads.. Lol. I am gonna try it this evening… Wish me luck with my brother sewing machine!

  19. What i don’t understood is if truth be told how you are now not actually much more well-favored than you might be right now. You are very intelligent. You realize therefore significantly with regards to this subject, produced me individually imagine it from a lot of varied angles. Its like men and women are not involved unless it is something to accomplish with Woman gaga! Your own stuffs outstanding. All the time maintain it up!

  20. 26) Angeles Sanchez

    I bought 2 spools at the fabric store, They only had the small spools. Do you think that would be enough for 32 lines of stitching. Do I stitch it horizontally? What can I use for straps?

  21. 27) Valerie Brown

    Just some ideas based on the questions posed here…
    For straps, why not use some of the wide colored elastic that sells at JoAnn’s?

    On sewing the elastic, those rows are horizontal. I’d be sure to tie off those elastic ends so that it doesn’t come loose from the side seam. With sewing 32 rows (adult sizes), making sure those elastic pieces don’t come loose is important. You can always watch a demo of this on youtube for the Sunny Days tank (I have made this tank top.)
    This video doesn’t stop at the end of each row and uses an angled technique, which I would not advise for this adult piece because of the number of rows.

  22. This is such a fun idea, i have never stitched anything in this way but am so looking forward to trying. What a hoot. Thank you

  23. 29) Carolyn

    Ok, new to sewing, so shiring is just sewing straight line after straight line horizontally across top of towel around 32 or so times? Then after you sew side seam? What did u use for shoulder straps and add those after finished? Adorable dress, want to do for daughter and grandaughters

  24. 30) Sarah Helene

    WHAT A FAB PHOTO SHOOT– with many views of the FANTASTIC Beach Towel Dress you sewed! Bright polka dots are large enough to “be noticed” on the sandy beach! Looks perfect on you. . . practical for certain, right? Hope you have enjoyed wearing it often . . . soft terry & a bargain at Target as you mentioned. BRAVO! Sarah in Minneapolis

  25. 31) Nancy

    What did you use for the straps on the sun dress?

    • 32) Dana

      just cotton fabric

  26. 33) Margaret

    I’m a large, fat women, but I loved this so much I decided I could find a way to adapt it to my size. I bought 2 large towels and just took in more on the side so it fit me ( I didn’t have that much extra). It’s warm and cool all at the same time. My next problem was it was a little short. so I added to large piece of cotton lace to the bottom.That’s what makes sewing so great. You can adapt a pattern idea to match your style. Thanks for the great photos.

    • 34) Dana

      awesome! Thanks for sharing! I love make-it-work moments and it sounds like you did just that! 🙂

  27. 35) Elaine

    I thought this would be to difficult until you mentioned the elastic thread. It’s true I really could get this done in a day. I love it. Bring some more. THANK – YOU!!!!!!!!!

  28. 36) Emily

    The shirring is just sewing a bunch of parallel (horizontal, it looks like? as in, parallel to the top seam, and, I would assume, starting from the top, and continuing as far down as you want), evenly spaced rows of straight stitches, with elastic thread on the bottom and regular thread on top, right? I’ve never tried it before, or been told how to do it or anything, so I’m basically just guessing from your brief description and pictures…

    Also, winding the bobbin by hand sounds like extra work, and therefore, I will almost certainly try to avoid it. In the very likely event that I try to wind elastic thread onto the bobbin on my machine, even though I’m well aware that it will almost certainly not work, before I’m willing to accept that I have to take the extra few minutes do it by hand, is there much risk that I’ll actually damage my machine, or will it just not work, and I’ll have to take it off the machine (probably losing a bit of frayed or otherwise damaged elastic in the process) and do it by hand?

    And, you said you sprayed then ironed the shirred part of the dress… what did you spray it with? Just water?

    Finally, do you sew the side seam before or after the shirring?

    I understand if you prefer not to answer some or all of these questions, cause they’re probably answered in the pattern, which you’re selling, but any tips you have would be much appreciated! I may have to buy the pattern at some point (especially since it looks like one of the easier dresses I’ve found, and once I’m a little better the simple kind of skirt I know how to make, I want to try a dress — I can make pretty much anything I have the patience for by hand, but I’ve only started using a sewing machine, and so far I only know how to make a tote bag and one kind of skirt… and a zippered pouch, except I did the zipper by hand), but right now, I don’t have money for patterns (or fabric, but I can probably find an extra beach towel in my closet)…

    • 37) Emily

      I answered my own question about the elastic thread: it turns out that not only did it not damage my machine, but my Singer had no problem at all winding it onto a bobbin!!! So I now have two bobbins of elastic thread ready and waiting for when I figure out the rest of it 🙂

  29. 38) Kathy H.

    The dress/towel is totally adorable! My “beachbaby gal” pals are going to love it!

  30. 39) DaVerne

    This looks like an awesome idea! Time to buy a pretty towel!

    I’ve read through many of the comments and I understand the apprehension regarding sewing with the elastic thread because I’ve never done it either! Here is a link to sew a little girl’s sun top using elastic thread that I found during a search to discover how to sew stretch fabric. This video shows how elastic thread sews so easily and then the magic of steaming it and voila – it is stretchy! Hope this helps. I’m excited to try this project! Thanks for all the great things you share with us!

  31. 40) Rachael @fitfabforty

    I have had the same idea for years and finally did it and finished it tonight. Then google showed me yours. It’s awesome. I will blog mine soon at or it will be up on instagram tomorrow fit_fab_forty

  32. 41) Olivia

    I am turning 12 in about a week and I was just wondering if this would be to big for me or what I could do to make it smaller. P.s. I am so tall I get mistaken for a 14 year old a lot, so would It fit me better since I’m taller than the average height for my age?

  33. 42) CE3LTIC MIST

    I noticed that the link to your beach towel dress PDF doesnot work
    is it possible for you to fix it ??
    i like this and was hoping to download the pattern to make it

  34. 44) Céline.D.m

    Hi Dana,
    Is there a video for this dress?

    • 45) Dana

      No, not for this one.

  35. 46) DiyThought

    I love this beach cover-up! There really couldn’t be a more ideal dress to wear to the beach!

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