Sunday, 30 September 2012

Waste Not Want Not - Little Summer Dresses

Well, apart from how cute they are, one BIG bonus of having two girls is that I get to re-use all of the super-cute little girly clothes from Bethany.  I love dressing my girls, and styling cute outfits.  So, recently I was going through some boxes of Bethany's baby clothes to see what I might re-use for Hannah.  I found a gorgeous little shirred sun-dress that my mother-in-law made.  Bethany wore it so much, and for that reason it's a little stained, so I decided Hannah probably couldn't wear that one, but would definitely need one of her own.  As I was studying it to figure out how I might be able to make a similar one, I remembered that one of the reasons I loved this dress so much was because it was made out of a cotton muslin-type fabric ... you know, the stuff they make baby wraps from.  It's so super-soft and it dries almost instantly.  Well, once I realised this, there was no turning back.  I have a stack of baby wraps that Hannah hardly used (she hated being wrapped, and preferred her sleeping bag) in all sorts of pretty colours and weights.  Well, wraps are really just a beautiful piece of fabric with a hem, right?  So once they're finished being used as wraps, it could so easily be used for something else ... like a sundress or two!

I also saw this as a great chance to try shirring for the very first time.  I was extremely nervous as I wound the shirring elastic onto my bobbin.  Lots of blogs I've been reading have been saying shirring like this is really simple and easy, but I wasn't convinced.  Well, it's true...shirring like this is E-A-S-Y, and looks really effective too.

Anyway, here's a little tutorial on how I made some pretty little summer dresses for Hannah from her no-longer-needed muslin wraps.  Oh, and as usual, I'm totally happy for you to use my design for personal use or even to sell, but please always give credit back to me for this design.  Thanks!!

Size - Hannah is 9 months old, but a pretty petite little thing, so I would guess this would make a dress for a 6-9 month old.  But remember, with the shirring elastic it's very stretchy, so would comfortably fit a bigger could just adjust the length to make it long enough.

You'll need:

- 1 cotton muslin wrap - any weight is fine - The ones I've used were about 40" x 40ish", and I reckon for this size (to fit about a 6-9 month old) you could get 2 dresses from 1 wrap ... and double the fun!
- 1 reel of Shirring elastic (this costs only about $2, and as well as in fabric / craft shops, I also found it in Big W, so it's pretty readily available).
- Lace or other embelishment (if you want)
- Scissors or craft mat and rotary cutter
- Sewing machine

How to make it:

1.  Lay your wrap out flat ... if it's been folded for a while, or freshly washed, it would help to iron it first to make sure you get it nice and flat.  Then measure down 15" from the top, and cut straight across to make a rectangle of 40" x 15".  A rotary cutter, ruler and mat makes it so much easier to measure and cut straight.

2.  Leave the hem in place on the top 40" edge, as we will re-use this hem for the top of our dress (love when I can make less work for me).  But, cut the hems off both of the 15" sides.

3.  Turn the bottom raw 40" edge over 1/2", then again another 1/2"to make a double hem, and sew it.  I found it's much easier to hem this little dress before you do the shirring.  We all know I'm a sucker for a bit of ric-rac or lace, so if you're adding an embellishment to the bottom like I did, you could also put that on at this stage too.

4.  Wind a bobbin with the shirring elastic.  For my machine, which is a Pfaff (a very basic one that's about 25 years old ... a hand me down from my Mum), it worked perfectly fine (phew!!) to wind it by hand, trying not to stretch the elastic while winding it, but making sure it's wound firmly.  If you have problems, try Googling about your machine type and "shirring", because I've seen some great tips out there on various blogs for different machine types.  Then pop the bobbin in to your machine.

5.  Sew with the right side up, because you want the elastic to be on the back so it's not seen.  Sew a straight line along the top 40" side.  I lined the edge of my machine foot up with the stitching of the hem we left in place in Step 2.  As you sew, the elastic will begin to gather up the fabric which is what we want (it is shirring after all), but can make it a bit tricky to sew straight.  I found that if I guided the fabric through at the front with one hand, then stretched it out flat at the back with the other hand, this made it much easier.  Be warned, after you have finished the first row you'll think "Ewww, that looks terrible!!", but trust me, once you've done a few rows it really comes together.  Oh, and remember not to back stitch at the beginning and end of the rows.

6.  Sew another row in the same way, about 1/4" from the first row.  I use my machine foot to measure the width between each row, and therefore the width of my foot is the space between each row.  Keep sewing straight lines, pulling the fabric flat as you sew until you've done 10 rows. (If you're making this for a bigger child, you may need more rows).  For 1 dress, I used 2.5 bobbins of shirring elastic.  I would suggest it's better to change the bobbin when you're at the end of a row, rather than running out mid-row, 'cause where I changed bobbins mid-row, a few stitches of shirring came undone and stopped it sitting evenly.  It's not the end of the world, but if you want to make it perfect, that's my tip!

7.  Don't trim off the dangly ends (that's a very technical term!!) of shirring elastic from each row just yet.  Fold the whole fabric in half, right sides together, and sew a 1/2 inch seam, which will be the back seam of the dress.  It's easier if you pin this before sewing it, as the shirring can make it difficult to see where you're sewing.  I also found it easier to start the seam at the top of the dress, and sew down to the bottom.

8.  Go along each row of the shirring and tie together the ends of the shirring elastic (the dangly bits!!) to stop them from slipping undone during wearing, then trim off any ends to neaten it up.  I don't have an overlocker (serger) but if you do, you could totally just overlock the back seam, and this would be just as good as tying the ends off.  Would probably be much neater too.  (I'm dying to get an overlocker ... just need to find a space to keep it!!)

9.  Now, for the straps, go back to your leftover piece of wrap, and cut a 2.5" strip along the raw 40" edge.  Cut the hem off each end, then fold the strip in half long ways and sew down the long edge with right sides together to make a long tube.  Use a safety pin to turn it through, then iron it flat.

10.  Measure 5 1/2" along the tube, and cut it off ... that's one strap, then measure another 5 1/2" and cut, and that's 2 straps.  You should be able to get all 4 straps from this strip in order to make 2 dresses from 1 wrap.

11.  Lay the little dress down on the table, with the back seam in the middle of the back, and measure about 1.5" from each side of the seam (without stretching the shirring out), and mark with pins.  This is where you will attach each strap.  Mark the corresponding point on the front of the dress with pins, this is where the front of the straps will attach.

12.  Fold the end of the strap over about 1/4", and sew the strap on the inside of the dress at the point marked with the pin, with the raw edge in, so that it can't be seen or fray.  Then sew the other end of the strap in the same way at the front.  Repeat with the other strap.

Ta-da ... the cutest little sun-dress ever for a bub, and some shirring practice in the process all without spending a cent on fabric, and using up some gorgeous fabric wraps that we no longer needed.  Love a satisfying project like that!!!!  The blue one was my first attempt, then when it turned out so well, I couldn't resist a pretty little pink one too.

And now that the weather is slowly warming up here in Sydney, it won't be long 'til little Hannah can try out her summer frocks!


  1. Hi Wen,

    I am trying to contact you regarding winning some fabric through the Tutorial Exchange. I couldn't find an email address for you. Please contact me via email for details. Thanks!


  2. I really like those dresses! Unfortunately here in Germany autumn just set in and it's going to be a while until I can sew one...

    Greetings from the other side of the world


    1. Hi Daniela, Thanks for reading ... hopefully you'll get a chance to try one when summer's back!!

    2. put a little shirt under it It will give the outfit a layered look

  3. I love summer dresses. I just bought some really cute dresses for my girls at Burlitgon. They had great prices, so I saved a lot of money on them and-- since I didn't make them myself-- they really look beautiful.

  4. I love this! How much should the shirring "shrink" the fabric in width? I'm guessing about 50%, because with a 1/2" side seam, that would reduce the fabric width by 1" of the 40", bringing it to 39" in actual fabric width, divided by 2 for shirring shrinkage is 18.5". That's a little smaller than the chest size of an average 6 month old. At that size, it would "hold" at the chest and still have plenty of room to grow because the shirring isn't that tight. My concern is for it to not be too big to start with, and expand at least a small amount when put onto my niece. There's probably a little more it would be smaller, because the shirring should be started before the 1/2" mark on each side (I'm thinking out loud here). So I need to make sure my "gauge" for shirring is about 50% in the tests. Does that sound about right?

  5. Qué bonitos vestidos y parecen muy simples de hacer, justo que estoy aprendiendo con la máquina de coser y GRACIAS A TU BLOG!! I love it!!! Aquí en Argentina especialmente en La Rioja estamos en verano con 40 grados Celsius de calor!!!! Ideales para hacerle a mi bella hijita!!!! Gracias!!!! Bendiciones para tí y tu familia.

  6. I ama beginner sewer and I made this dress! It was the 2nd dress i ever made and oh so easy!!!! Now my sister wants me to make one for her daughter. Absolutely love it! Wish I could post a picture of the completed dress! So easy to replicate even with other material and sizing too. My daught is a size 3 and itfit her perfectly with a bit of extra length. Thanks fot the great tuterial!

    1. Oh, that's fantastic. I'm glad it worked out for your daughter. I'd love to see a photo. Feel free to email it to me. I'm planning a post on some if the creations made by my lovely readers and if live to include your too. My email is

  7. Hi, I would love to make this for my grand daughter. she is 10 months old. Her chest measurement is 42cm. Could you please guide me as to how wide would I need my fabric to be, before shirring. Should I just add another 10cm to the chest size? thankyou for your help. The dress is very cute, thanks for posting it.

  8. Sorry, I mean her chest is 47cm. I can now see that your sizing is in inches. Should I just add about 15cm to the chest measurement to allow for the shirring, or am I best to make the 40inch (100cm) size - Thankyou
    I am looking forward to giving this a go.

    1. Hi There,

      I think that the same size I made here (maybe with a little extra length) would still fit your granddaughter. The shirring leaves lots of growing room as it's very stretchy, so you should be OK to use the same measurements for fabric width I've used here, then just add a couple of inches or so for the length. Hope that helps. I'd love to see a pick when your dress is finished! Wen x

    2. Thankyou Wen, I am attempting to sew it now. I measured my grand daughter from underarm to knee and I think the length 32cm ie just a little shorter than yours will be okay.(if it is too short, I will make some pants to go with it and she can wear it as a top LOL!!). I have an overlocker and so I am going to overlock up the back seam - I hope the shirring will hold in place :) I would love to upload a picture when I have finished but, I might need some upload instructions, as I am not sure how to do it. thankyou for your reply.- Sue (Excited Nana)

  9. Thanks for sharing this this summer dress Wen I have a 10 month old granddaughter and I am excited to make a few of these dresses for her for summer :-) :-) :-) I've never done shirring before so like you I'm really nervous.
    Thanks Leanne

    1. Hi Leanne, These will look gorgeous on a little 10-month-old. Hope you have as much fun as I did with these ones. Feel free to send me a pic when you're done. I'd love to see them!!