Saturday 23 February 2013

Nap Time Knit Dress

I have to admit that I've been a little afraid of knit fabrics.  I'm always confused by which one to buy, which needle to use, to zig-zag or straight stitch etc etc.  But a few weekends ago, in a moment of insanity bravery, I decided I'd give it a go.  I had some pink knit fabric left over from another project, and thought I'd have a go at designing and making a little drop-waisted dress for Hannah.  It was one of those VERY unplanned projects, that I decided to do just after I put Hannah down for her nap, and just kind of made up as I went along.  I chanced some pics along the way just in case it worked out well enough to share, so there's a little tutorial for this dress here too.  I'll tell you how I made it, but also how I would do it differently next time, now that I've learned a little more about knit-fabric sewing.

Here's some general tips I've learned for knit-fabric sewing:
- It's best to use a ball-point needle, and good quality thread.  The ball-point needles push between the knit fibres rather than punching a hole, thereby decreasing the chance of laddering or holes in the fabric (thanks Mum!!)
- For neckline / arm-hole binding you can use the same knit fabric rather than finding a matching rib fabric, but either way cut in the direction of the maximum stretch, then cut your binding piece slightly smaller than the neckline / arm hole and stretch the binding as you sew.  It sits much nicer that way.
- You can zig-zag if you want to get the most stretch you can out of each seam, but to be honest, I don't love the way zig-zag stitch looks, and I haven't had too much trouble with broken stitches or anything just using a normal straight-stitch.
- Oh, and all horrible-ness can easily be covered up by a piece of ribbon ... yeah that cute waist-ribbon wasn't in the initial design I had in mind!!  More about that below ... 

Here's what you need:
- A bodice pattern, or you can just trace one from a T-shirt that fits.  I learned that trick here, and love that I can get a pattern piece together so quickly and easily and be sure it will fit.
- Knit fabric - about 1/2 metre would be plenty for this little dress.
- Coordinating thread
- Ribbon for the waist
- Sewing machine
- Scissors, rotary cutter, cutting mat

The Steps:
1.  Make a pattern... I had a basic bodice pattern drawn up from when I made Hannah's birthday dress, so I laid this on a piece of brown paper, then traced around it, adding a seam allowance and lengthening to make the top length that I wanted.  (As Hannah was asleep at the time, I just kinda guessed, but it would help to measure down from your munchkin's armpit to where you want the top to end).  Once you have drawn up your pattern and cut it out, cut the fabric on the fold as indicated on your pattern for the front and back pieces.

2.  Sew the shoulder seams and side seams (with fabric right-sides together), then turn right-sides out.

Note: If I did this again, I probably would not sew the side seams until I had completed the bias-tape along the arm-holes.  This little arm holes were mighty fiddly having already been joined by the side-seam.  

3.  Now to make some bias-tape for the neckline and arm holes, use some more of your knit fabric and cut long strips (as long as you can) along the direct of the stretch.  I did mine 2" wide.    

4.  Next iron the strips in half long-ways, then fold each side in to the centre and iron, so it looks like this:

5. Now, this was the trickiest part for me.  I basically sandwiched the edge of each arm hole, and the neckline in between the bias-tape so no raw edges were showing, pinned it to hold it in place, then sewed very carefully about 1/8" from the edge of the bias-tape all the way around.  When I got the to end of the arm hole or neckline, I cut the rest of the bias tape off, leaving about 1/2".  Tucked the edge under and sewed it down.

Note: If I did this again, I would make sure I stretched my bias-tape a lot more as I sewed to draw the neckline in a bit ... the neckline on Hannah's dress is a little big, and drops off her shoulders while she plays, which is annoying ... well she doesn't seem to care, but it's annoying for Mummy to watch!

6. Next I measured the width of the waist (the total circumference that is), and multiplied it by 1 1/2.  So, my dress's waist circumference was 20".  Multiply this by 1 1/2 = 30".  This figure (30") is the width of the skirt piece.  So, cut a rectangle which is skirt width (30") x 8" (which was Hannah's skirt length).  You can always make it longer or shorter depending on your munchkin.

Next I ironed one of the long sides under 1/2" and hemmed it (I find it much easier to hem skirt pieces before they're joined to bodice pieces).  Then, folded the rectangle in half (right sides together) and sewed a seam to join it into a skirt piece.

7.  Now I sewed a row of stitching on the loosest stitch setting (on my machine it's no. 6), about 1/4" from the edge, right along the raw side of the skirt piece.  Once your row of stitching is sewn, pull EITHER the top or bottom thread to gather the skirt piece up.  

Fiddle around with the gathers to make them sit evenly, and gather to fit the bodice piece like this:

8.  Pin the skirt and bodice pieces (right sides together) like this, then sew carefully around approximately 1/2" from the edge.
So, at this stage for me, my machine decided to hate me and kept missing stitches and catching gathers that I didn't mean to catch.  I found out later than I was using the wrong needle.  I had a universal needle on my machine and should have been using a ballpoint.  The knit-fabric sewing I've done since then with a ballpoint needle has worked out much better!  Anyway, after I re-did this seam about a gazillion times, and I got it to a reasonably acceptable state, I was so frustrated I decided to cover it up with a cute little ribbon waistband.  So much cuter, and I never have to look at that horrid seam again!

9.  So for the ribbon waist band, I found a coordinating piece of ribbon, pinned it over the horrid seam, and top-stitched it in place both around the top and bottom of the ribbon, as close to the edge of the ribbon as I could go.  I then took a little scrap of ribbon, folded both ends under, and secured it with another tiny piece of ribbon wrapped around the middle and sewn down.  Then simply sewed this in place off-centre on the front.  

This little waistband is now my favourite part of this dress.  Funny how the mistakes / negatives can lead to better stuff, huh ... kinda like life ...hmmmm ...deep!!  Ha ha!

And here's the finished product ... super-cute!

Love those chubby little knees!

OK, so I think I'm on my way to being a knit-fabric sewing convert.  Now to source some good knits in Australia ... my local fabric store has pretty much nothing other than plain colours, especially for fun kid clothes.  Any tips on good knit fabric suppliers ... Australia or overseas, online or shops??


  1. Necessity is the mother of invention! And isn't she adoring that cute little dress!

  2. Hello,
    I love your dress, its beautiful.

    From de Portugal
    Sara Diogo

    1. Thanks, and thanks also for reading all the was from Portugal!

  3. Adorable--love the "mistake" ribbon