Warning: maaaaaaaaaaaaany photos are in store!! If you are in a hurry, do not attempt to read this entry!! :)
If you have read my about me page, you might remember that I said something about having an open mind about what “designing” might appear on this site. :) So, today is a first for me—a baby girl’s dress tutorial! :) I have been in the mood for a *while* to sew something, and I found some gorrrrgeous cotton fabric at the store a few weeks ago, when I was running away from whiny family members and their sick germs. :) I immediately decided to make a dress for Madi, and I also decided to come up with the style on my own, rather than buying a pattern (so economical of me!) ;) I did a lot of reading/”researching” online for what style of dress I wanted to make, looked at a lot of different ideas, and in the end came up with something that I really like! I downloaded a bodice pattern for free here at Living with Punks, and I used that for the back part of the bodice, but modified it for the front, all of which you’ll see below.
I also want to make a full disclaimer: I do NOT claim to be any sort of professional seamstress! I have never taken “sewing classes” other than learning from my own wonderful mother, :) and I’m sure there might be other, better ways of doing some of the things I’ve done here! The reason I am posting this is just to show that you don’t necessarily have to buy a pattern, or even follow one entirely if you are using one, to make beautiful clothing! I don’t recommend “shortcuts” in sewing, but I do recommend creative, “outside-the-box” thinking! Especially with little kids, you can get away with some pretty forgiving shapes and everything doesn’t have to fit just like a glove. So look around, be creative, and make something! :)
Without further ado, buckle up your seatbelts for this wild ride of a tutorial! :) I told my mom earlier today, my original thought was to just post a basic, “beginner” level dress to show how simple it could be, and this did not turn out to be that dress. :) If you aren’t very comfortable sewing, or have never made clothing before, you might be a little confused reading through the steps. However, I will be as THOROUGH as HUMANLY POSSIBLE in the instructions, and if you try it, I bet you’ll be able to figure it out! And if not, you could always shoot me a message here, and I’ll help!! :)
The first rule of thumb if you are going to be coming up with your own pattern, is to PLAN, PLAN, and PLAN SOME MORE. I am a big proponent of “just winging it,” but that would NOT have worked with this dress. I spent probably a good hour sketching and thinking through exactly how I was going to put it together, after I finally decided how I wanted it to look; and I made a partial “test dress” out of scraps I had lying around to make sure I knew what I was doing. So just think it all through, write all the steps down if you need to (I did this, and it really helped keep me on track) and then go for it!
After you have your plan all laid out, you need to get all your supplies ready and actually cut out the pieces. Of course. :) For this dress (I made a size 2T), you will need the following:
1 yard main fabric
1/2 yard contrast fabric
Coordinating extra wide, double fold bias tape
Matching thread (it will need to match the main fabric and the bias tape, or coordinate, or contrast, however you want it. I matched.) :)
Then you will cut your fabric into the following:
Main fabric: cut skirt piece from the entire length of the fabric (44″ usually) and as long as you want the skirt to be for the other dimension (plus seam allowances.) So keeping in mind that this dress has a little bit of a raised waist, if you want your skirt to be 14″ long or so, leave an extra inch for the seam allowances and cut your piece 15″x44″. You will also be adding a border to the bottom of the skirt from the contrasting fabric, so you could make your skirt a couple inches shorter in the main fabric if you wanted. I planned to make mind a little big, since it is a 2T and Madi is wearing 18-24 mos. right now, so I made it a little long. I cut my skirt piece 14″x 44″ from the main fabric.
If you are using the bodice pattern from Living with Punks, make sure you position it on the fold, and then cut two of those (I lined the bodice, which is why you need two); this is for the back of the bodice, outside and lining.
I then modified the bodice pattern for the front of my dress; I decided to make mine a wrap, so I wanted it to overlap about 5″ in the front. I took the bodice pattern (which is only half of the actual shape of the bodice, since you cut it on the fold) and traced it as is, but extended the “middle” side out another three inches. Then I re-shaped the top or neckline so that it would form a V when it crossed over the other side, rather than just the regular scooped shape that it was. You can see the front bodice pieces at the top left of the photo below. Fold the fabric in half, wrong sides together, and cut out the modified bodice pattern (not on the fold) through both layers; now do that again. You should have in total, two bodice pieces for the back of your dress, and four bodice pieces for the front of your dress (two for the “outside” and two for the lining.)
For the neckline ruffle, I cut three strips, 4″ x 18″. I didn’t have enough fabric to cut it all in one long strip, which is why it is in pieces. I found that it might have been just as nice or better to have cut them 3″x 16″ or so, as I thought my ruffle turned out a little extra wide, and almost a little “too” ruffly.
Contrasting fabric: cut the border piece that will go along the edge of the skirt from the entire width of the fabric (44″) just as you did the skirt. I made mine 44″ x 8″, keeping in mind that I was going to fold the piece in half lengthwise (as it is shown at the bottom of the photo below) and then hem it. Taking into account the hem and overlapping the bottom of the main skirt, it added about 3″ to the length of my dress.
Cut two belt pieces if you are making a belt; mine were approximately 4″ x 30″.
Cut out two front “faux” belt or sash pieces. These need to be the width as your two front bodice pieces; I think mine were approximately 9″ (?? I just held them up to the bodice piece and cut them the same width) x 4″. They are shown in the photo here at left center, folded in half wrong sides together.
Finally–you have all your fabric cut and ironed and laid out where you can find it all. :) Now you are ready to start!
(All of my seams are 3/8″ unless otherwise noted.)
First make the ruffle for the neckline, so you have that out of the way. Sew your three ruffle strips together, end to end, to make one long strip. Mine was 4″ x 51″ or so when I had it all sewn together. Iron your seams *open* on the back. Always make sure to iron as you go to keep your project looking neat and laying nice and flat inside the seams. Then fold the entire strip in half the long way, ironing it to keep it nice and even. Pin it if you feel like you need to (I didn’t pin it as it was such a thin strip, it was easy to hold onto and keep in place) and then gather it by running a basting stich along the entire long edge (the unfinished edge, not the fold.) Pull the bottom (bobbin) thread from each side, gradually pulling it up into gathers or ruffles, and spreading them out as you go. With such a long strip, you will want to be careful that you don’t break your thread by pulling too hard. ***My mom always tells me that it works better if you run two basting strips about 1/8 or 1/4 inch apart, rather than just one, the length of the piece, and then pull both bottom threads at the same time to gather. I’ve done it that way before, and I think it does make a more even gather; I was in a hurry here, so I just did the one. I wish I had done two though, as I think it would have made it easier.*** You don’t need to make it any specific length right now; you’ll match it up to your neckline later. Just make a nice little gathered ruffle and set it aside for later.
The next step to get out of the way is to make the belt pieces. Individually, fold your belt strips in half lengthwise, right sides together, but do not iron; simply line up the edge and pin as you go. Then sew all the way along the unfinished edge, and sew across the little short end where you finish (leaving the other short end open). I sewed my short ends diagonally; you can do that or straight across. I like how the pointed end looks on the belt, and it’s not any harder, so that’s why I chose it. Then turn the entire strip right side out; you can do this with a safety pin or just by sticking your finger down inside it and pulling it right-side out, which is what I did. They’re not TOO skinny, so it wasn’t super difficult. Iron them nice and flat and set them aside.
The next thing I did was to attach the border to the bottom of the skirt piece. I decided to try something a little different; rather than hemming each piece separately, and then just sewing the border onto the skirt and leaving the open edge of the border inside (no, I don’t have a serger!) I decided to try it a little differently, and I think it worked out well. Here’s what I did:
Fold the border strip in half lengthwise, wrong sides together, and iron. Fold both unfinished edges down together approximately 5/8″ or 3/4″ and iron. Set aside for a moment. Fold the bottom edge of the skirt piece over the same width as you folded the edge of the border over, 5/8″ or 3/4″, and iron. Lay the skirt piece out, wrong side up, with the folded edge closest to you. Lay the border piece along the edge of the skirt, so the folded piece folds up and over, rather than underneath, but unfolded. Line up the unfinished edge of the border right in the crease of the fold you made on the skirt piece (see middle photo below.) Fold the skirt edge over the border edge (see right photo below); these two “folded” pieces should be the same width and should line up perfectly. Then fold the entire border down over the edges you have so carefully lined up, and pin through all of the layers. :)
In the photos below you can see how I have pinned it on the left; in the middle you can see how the edges are folded up inside of each other in between the border and the skirt; and then on the right you can see how I have sewn them all together, as seen from the front or right side of the skirt fabric. :) I think I sewed this pretty much right down the center of the little folded up section.
Here is how it looks on the wrong side of the fabric–no open edges whatsoever, nothing to unravel!! Victory!! :)
The next step is going to be sewing the lining of the bodice together in one long strip. It helped me not be confused about what piece went where, if I laid the entire “outside” of the bodice down, end to end, wrong side up; and then lay the lining down on top of it, matching up the pieces, right sides up. Pin the lining edges together, right sides together, sew them, and iron the seams open. I think I made these seams more like 1/2″ just because the lining needed to be a TINY bit smaller than the outside pieces, since it needed to fit inside! :) Here is how it should look all sewn and ironed (here it is wrong side up; cell phone, random papers, bib, and butter dish in background not necessary.) ;)
Next you need to pin the outside of the bodice together–but you have to include the belt pieces and sash pieces, so it’s going to take more thought than the lining did. ;) The best way to accomplish this is:
Lay the back bodice piece out in front of you, right side up. The belt is going to tie at the back of the dress, so you’ll need to do the belt pieces next. Line up the unfinished edges of the belt pieces with the sides of the bodice, one on each side, but about 5/8″ up from the very bottom of the bodice. You don’t want them even with the bottom, raw edge, because that is going to be sewn together with the skirt–and you don’t want your belt to be stuck down inside the waistband. The length of the belt pieces will be toward the center of the bodice; you can just pile them up somewhere there in the middle for this part; I actually tied mine together loosely just to keep them out of the way of my pinning and sewing at the edges.
Next line up the sash pieces right on top of the belt pieces, with the fold on top and raw edges on bottom; one unfinished side should be lined up with the unfinished sides of the bodice and belt, with the top of the sash lined up with the top of the belt. The raw bottom edge of the sash will extend further down than the belt did; this is good, because you DO want your sash to be sewn up in the waistband!
Then lay the front bodice piece that goes to whichever side you are working on right on top of everything else, wrong side up. Pin through all layers, making sure to catch everything so nothing slips when you’re sewing. In the photo below, I have all the layers pinned together, and then I opened it up so you could see how the belt and sash line up with everything else. here, the belt goes off to the left, and the sash to the right, in the contrasting green fabric. Follow the same steps for both sides; then sew (3/8″ seam here) through all the layers along the sides where you have pinned!
This is the same as above, just all put back into place how I sewed it; you can see the belt and sash sandwiched nicely between the layers. And the wrong sides are OUT on the bodice pieces! :)
And here it is all sewn together, and opened up to see how it all looks! You can see my belt is loosely tied, as I mentioned, to keep it out of trouble (don’t you HATE sewing over some “extra” layer that slipped in with what you are *supposed* to be sewing?!)
This next picture is just to show how the bodice and lining go together. I took the outer bodice, as in the above photo, and just flipped it over so the wrong side was up; then I laid the bodice lining directly over top of it, with the right side up, to make sure everything was lining up as I had planned. Wrong sides are together in this photo.
And here I took everything exactly as in the photo above, and folded it over like it would be on the dress itself! The sash is still only attached on the one side (the side seams of the bodice), and the shoulder seams are not sewn together yet (that comes next).
Next, the shoulder seams. Start with the lining. With everything laid out exactly as in the photo above, I took one shoulder strap, removed the top and bottom layers (which were actually the outer bodice pieces) and was left with the lining shoulder straps, right sides together. Pin them together just like that, for each shoulder.
Once I pinned both shoulder straps together for the lining, I just unfolded the outer bodice off of the lining, and it looked like this:
I sewed the lining together at the shoulders, as pinned; and then I repeated the process for the outer bodice; make sure to keep right sides together, line up the shoulder straps, pin, and sew. Are you still ironing your seams open?? :)
Once both outer bodice and lining shoulders were sewn together, I re-layered them to check my work again, and show how they would fit together. (The sashes are just left unfolded here.)
Now it’s time to set the bodice aside for a minute and get that skirt hemmed up. Since this is a wrap style dress, it doesn’t actually have to close, but we do have to hem the sides.
Fold the edges over approx. 1/2″, twice, so it’s a nice finished seam, no raw edges, and pin. I angled the bottom edge up so it would be all tucked away nicely when I sewed the hem.
After you’ve hemmed the sides, run a basting stitch along the top edge of the skirt, and then gather it up (same principle as the ruffle we made at the beginning.) Your guide for how wide you want the gathered edge to be is the outer bodice, end to end.
Once you’ve gathered our skirt, you’ll need to pin it to the outer bodice fabric, right sides together.
Lay the outer bodice out, right side up, but upside down (so the bottom edge is on top and the shoulder seams are on bottom). Carefully line up the sashes where they will need to go, and pin them in place (see photo below.)
Make sure your belt is out of the way, as below:
Then lay the skirt, wrong side up, on top of the bodice, lining up the top (gathered) edge of the skirt with the bottom edge of the bodice. The side (hemmed edge) of the skirt should be approximately 1/2″ from the side of the bodice and sash. Carefully pin the skirt in place, making sure to pin through the sash and also making sure the belt is still out of the way. I pinned my belt out of the way.
When you come to the seams where the bodice fronts and back are joined together, I made sure to put a pin in that exact spot, holding the bodice seams open. That way they don’t get all bunched up underneath when you sew over that spot, but instead stay nice and flat, just like you’ve ironed them. Make sure that the gathered skirt edge ends 1/2″ from the other edge of the bodice and sash ends, just like where you started. Adjust the gathers if necessary to leave that extra 1/2″ of bodice/sash extended beyond the skirt on each end.
Once you’ve pinned the skirt to the bodice, right sides together–sew it! I think for me this seam was 1/2″, since my basting stitch on the skirt was 3/8″. Then iron all the layers of the seam UP. (It was at some point like this that my husband came by and said something like “Wow, that’s a mess,” referring to all the threads and strings from the raw edges and whatnot, and I then replied with something like “You hushy uppy [as rude as it’s allowed to get in this house with lots of little ears]; I’m not done yet, and those will all DISAPPEAR.”) :)
Here you can see that it’s starting to look like an actual dress! :) The sash and outer bodice are now fully connected to the skirt; now to get the lining on there too.
Now we need to get the lining attached to the outer bodice. To do this:
First take the bodice lining, wrong side up, and iron the bottom edge of it up approximagely 3/8″. Set aside for a moment.
Next lay the dress all out flat, unfolded, right side up. Next, lay the bodice lining down on top of the bodice of the dress, right side down. (The bodice and lining are now right sides together.) Neither of them will lay totally flat because you’ve already sewn the shoulder seams together, but that’s okay. Pin the very outside edges of the bodice and lining together. (Remember that you left 1/2″ of bodice extending beyond the edges of the skirt on both sides? This is where you will need it.)
Once you have the lining pinned to the bodice on both sides, sew where you have pinned. Notice in the photo on the right below, the seam you are sewing should go riiiiiight outside the edge of the skirt.
Another photo so you can (hopefully) see it better:
Once you have sewn the side seams together, you will have your bodice and lining now sewn together, but wrong sides out. Flip the lining up and over the bodice and “inside-out” (but really it’s right-side out) so now your lining is on the inside of the dress where it belongs, but with the bottom edge of the lining folded under but still unattached. Where you have folded/ironed it, it should still be long enough that it covers up the seam where the skirt is shown to the outer bodice. If it does not cover that seam, you will need to re-iron it with a smaller fold-over so that it does cover that seam. Then, looking at the wrong side of the skirt but right side of the lining, pin the folded part to the skirt (through all those gathered layers and all, but pin up through the underside of the fabric (as seen below). This will take some “finangling” (in the words of my mother again) but you can do it. :)
Once it’s all pinned together, turn the entire thing over so you are looking at the right side of the dress, and sew directly *IN* the waistband seam to attach the boding lining. You need to be looking at the outside as you sew so that you make sure you are sewing right in the seam (don’t try to say that last sentence aloud.) :) This is also why you pinned from the underside of the fabric before; so you can now remove the pins as you sew.
Before you sew the entire thing, and as you go, check to make sure you are catching the bodice lining (on the underside) in your seam.
And here it is from the inside of the dress–the bodice lining is all nicely attached, with again not an unfinished edge in sight! :) (That makes me happy.) :)
Now it’s time to attach that ruffle from waaaaaaaaay back in the beginning, to the neckline (which is still an unfinished edge.) Line up one edge of your ruffle to the front edge of one side of the dress, adjust the gathers so it ruffles evenly the whole way, and wrap it around the entire neckline so that it ends at the edge of the other side of the front. Now that you know how long the ruffle needs to be, you’ll need to hem the ends. I just tucked the ends inside ever so slightly and sewed it down.
Then pin the ruffle to the neckline, lining up the raw edges, so the ruffle is hanging down (rather than pointing up.) :) Sew along the basting stitch to attach the ruffle to the neckline. (Don’t make too wide of a seam here, or your bias tape won’t be wide enough to cover up all the raw edges and the seam; mine was 3/8″ and the bias tape just barely covered everything.)
Next, using the folds that are already in your *extra wide double fold bias tape* :) pin the bias tape along the edge of the neckline so that it wraps around all the raw edges and covers up the seam. It’s definitely more important to cover the actual seam on the outside than on the inside of the dress, so if you’re forced to sacrifice ground somewhere, do it on the inside of the dress. Leave some extra bias tape at both ends, so you can fold it under.
I just sort of tucked and folded the bias tape around the end and under on the inside, so it would all be sewn under like that when I sewed it.
When everything is all neatly pinned, sew it all in place, looking at the outside so you are sure you’re making a neat seam out there where it will be seen.
Upon inspection, I found that I has missed the backside of the bias tape in a few places, so rather than rip the entire seam out and do it over, I just decided to do another line, further from the edge, to catch everything. :) It worked! :)
Now you need to use the same technique to pin bias tape around the armholes, only you don’t have QUITE as much “stuff” to worry about wrapping up! Start underneath the arm, pin around as you go, and when you get back to where you started, leave a little extra so you can fold it under and overlap. Then sew it in place!
Then all you have left to do is decide how you’re going to make the closure! I had bought buttons, but I just don’t like making buttonholes, I will admit; so I decided to sew the buttons on the front so they were purely decorative; then I happened to have some hook and eye closures in my stash already, so I used those on the inside to actually hold the dress together. Whichever you do, remember that you’ll need two–one at the outside edge that shows, and one inside to the hold the edge of the inside wrap in place. If you’re doing traditional buttons and button holes, sew the button on the inside of the OUTSIDE flap, facing inward, and make the hole on the INSIDE flap, so that inside button isn’t poking through the outside of your dress! Unless you want it to show–then you can do it however you want! :)
Last but not least—the finished product modeled by Madi herself. :) It is a little big, which I expected, so that V in the front sags open a little. I’ll probably put a little snap or something inside right where they cross to hold it together well–or I could just have her wear a little tank top underneath! I also want to make a matching diaper cover to tie it all in… eventually… :)
Looking back, the next time I make this pattern, I’ll use more fabric for the skirt so it can be fuller. The 44″ width is plenty for a nice full skirt on a “regular” style, but since this is a wrap and therefore overlaps several inches, it just took out most of the “poofiness” that I was originally looking for. Now I know! :)
Did I leave anything out? Was anything unclear? I’d love to hear from you, especially if you try this dress yourself! I’d love to see how it turns out! Even if this is too complicated or just doesn’t float your boat, get creative with your own ideas and make something pretty for SPRING!!! :)