Beach Towel Dress

by Dana on June 3, 2010

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.
I’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!

Still on the fence about sewing with Elastic Thread? It truly is easy. You can find it at normal sewing shops and you wind it in your bobbin by hand (more detailed info about it and a Preview in our SHOP pattern):
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!

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ms K January 26, 2012 at 4:21 pm

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


2 Sereina February 8, 2012 at 10:57 pm

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


3 Carmen Russell February 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm

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 Jane February 25, 2012 at 8:39 pm

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


5 Britney March 26, 2012 at 11:03 pm

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 March 26, 2012 at 11:13 pm

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 April 17, 2014 at 2:35 am

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?


8 bb920 April 6, 2012 at 9:28 am

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.


9 Tracy April 15, 2012 at 10:46 pm

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


10 Sara June 2, 2012 at 5:51 pm

You sew in a side seam.


11 josie April 18, 2012 at 11:38 am

@ 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


12 Audra April 18, 2012 at 12:22 pm

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


13 Jennifer Higginbotham April 24, 2012 at 11:30 am

Hi! Found this link via pinterest, can’t wait to try this!!!! :) Thanks for posting.


14 Deborah Shultz May 30, 2012 at 10:02 pm

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!


15 MAGGUIE June 2, 2012 at 1:13 pm

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 :}


16 Anshu June 2, 2012 at 7:22 pm
17 Jessica Strickland June 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm

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


18 Traci July 23, 2012 at 10:07 pm

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 ^^


19 Amanda July 24, 2012 at 10:39 am

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!!


20 june August 28, 2012 at 10:12 am

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!


21 Karen September 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm

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


22 Dawn October 20, 2012 at 4:11 pm

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!


23 Patti November 24, 2012 at 7:18 pm

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.


24 Haleary April 13, 2013 at 3:30 am

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!


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26 Angeles Sanchez May 21, 2013 at 5:58 pm

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?


27 Valerie Brown May 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm

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.


28 deb July 25, 2013 at 1:39 pm

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


29 Carolyn April 14, 2014 at 8:48 am

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


30 Sarah Helene May 6, 2014 at 1:48 pm

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


31 Nancy May 23, 2014 at 6:33 pm

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


32 Dana May 24, 2014 at 12:21 am

just cotton fabric


33 Margaret June 3, 2014 at 11:25 am

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 June 3, 2014 at 12:46 pm

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


35 Elaine June 7, 2014 at 8:43 am

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!!!!!!!!!


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This thing is so easy even I received it working.


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40 Emily March 28, 2015 at 3:14 pm

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)…


41 Emily March 29, 2015 at 2:01 pm

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 :)


42 Kathy H. July 1, 2015 at 3:01 pm

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


43 DaVerne August 15, 2015 at 9:58 pm

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!


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