Sunday 23 March 2014

Tutorial: Summer Frills Dress

Since my interest in sewing has increased over the past few years, I find that I'm always noticing people's (especially kid's) outfits, and often my inspiration for a design comes from something I saw a kid wearing somewhere and thought looked cute.  Does anyone else do that??  Well, this little frilly number is the perfect example.  I was sitting behind some friends at church one week, and noticed their little girl wearing a beautiful floral dress with frilly cap sleeves and a couple of buttons at the back.  It's such a feminine little dress, and is super-cute!  In fact, I remember that little girl's big sister also wearing the dress before her!  Love a good hand-me-down!

Anyway, so when my Mum and Dad came back from a trip to Hawaii with some 1-yard pieces of beautiful Hawaiian fabrics, I thought I'd give this design a go.  I'm so happy with the outcome too in this gorgeous pink hibiscus print.... and this is another of Hannah's favourite dresses … she's been absolutely into dresses this summer!

 I thought I'd make another for Bethany and take some snaps for a tutorial.  Here's Bethany's version (a top!) ... and yep, she's stoked with hers too. Oh, and you might notice from my tutorial pics that I originally made Bethany's as a dress ... yep, it was just one of those things really ... I didn't like this fabric as a dress, it was just a bit too much if you know what I mean.  So I turned it into a top instead.  But, I wrote the instructions for a dress so you can simply take your pick!!

Wanna make one?  Here's what you need:

- 1 yard/metre woven cotton fabric (1 yard was plenty for Hannah's size 2 dress, and just enough for Bethany's size 6 dress)
- Coordinating cotton
- Measuring Tape
- Sewing machine
- Scissors  or a Rotary cutter and cutting mat
- Overlocker (serger) if you have one, or you can just use the zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine.

Here's the 'how to':

1.  Firstly we've got to take some measurements.  If you can't measure your munchkin, you could always measure a t-shirt or something in the correct size.

So, measure around your munchkin's chest ... just under both armpits and right around their chest.  Then add 2 inches to this measurement.  So, Hannah measured 19" around her chest ... add 2 = 21".

2.  Cut the following pieces:
-  The front band - 1 rectangle measuring chest measurement above (21" in Hannah's case) x 3".  Then cut this rectangle in half, so you have two rectangles ... that's 2 rectangles of 10.5"x 3" for Hannah's dress.
- The back bands - 4  rectangles measuring (1/4 chest measurement + 1") x 3" (for Hannah this was 4 rectangles measuring 5.25" x 3".
- Straps - 2 rectangles measuring 10" x 3" (if you're making this dress in a much bigger size, you could lengthen these straps a little.
- Frilly cap-sleeves - 4 rectangles 6" x 3".

Here's what you'll have ... matching pieces are laid on top of each other in this pic!

2. Grab your front band pieces and lay them on top of each other.  Then measure 1 inch down the short side, and 3 inches along the long side at each end, place a pencil mark, then use scissors to cut the corners off at the marks you made... like so ... 

Then do the same for you back bands like so ....

3.  Now, lets make the straps and frilly cap-sleeves.  Grab your frilly cap-sleeve rectangles, and place all four rectangles on top of each other. Then, starting in one bottom corner cut up to the top, and down to the other bottom corner, creating an arc like so ....
You could always make a pencil line to follow as you cut, or if you want to be clever lazy like me, just free-cut it!

4.  Take two of your cap pieces and with right sides together, sew them 1/4" from the edge, around the arc, keeping the straight edge open ... like so ...
... repeat with the other cap, them turn them right side out and iron them flat.

5.  Set your machine stitch to the longest length, and stitch across the straight edge of each cap (1/8" from the edge), remembering not to backstitch at the beginning or end of your row.  Then you can pull EITHER the top or bottom thread to gather the little frilly sleeve up a bit.  You can then knot the ends of the threads to hold the gathers in place.  This is what you should have at this point ... 

6.  Take one of your strap pieces and lay it right side up on the table.  Place a frilly cap on top, half way along, and with raw edges meeting on one side of the rectangle like so...

Then fold the strap in half long ways, right sides together, so you are encasing the frilly cap.  You will need to pin it to keep it all together ...

7. Sew along the long edge of the strap using a 1/4" seam, leaving the two ends of the tube open for turning, and repeat for the other strap.  You will have two tubes like this ....
Attach a safety pin to one end of the tube (just through one layer of fabric), and thread it back through the tube, pulling the tube through itself to turn it right-side out.  Repeat with the other tube, and you will have two straps with frilly cap-sleeves like so!  Give them a good press with the iron.

8.  Now, take your completed straps, and your 2 front band pieces.  Lay down one band piece (right side up), and place the two straps on top, then sandwich with the other band piece.  Make make sure your frilly cap sleeves are pointing outwards, and place the edge of the strap about 1/2" in from the corner you snipped ... like so ...
Sew along the top angled and straight edges, using 1/4" seam allowance, and making sure you catch the straps in your row of stitching.  I actually backstitched over each strap for extra strength as well.  Then flip your band right sides out and iron flat.

9.  Now take your back band pieces and as with the front, sandwich the straps between the band pieces like so ...
...then sew along the angles and top sides, then down the straight centre line as well.  Flip the band right-side out and iron flat, and now hopefully you've got something that looks like this ...

10. Fold your straps in half, so your front a back bands lay on top of each other like so ... 
... then separate the two layers of one side seam of the front band and open it flat, and do the same with the back band pieces at the same side.  Place the flattened out front right sides together with the flattened back and pin together like so ...

... Sew down the side seam with a 1/4" seam.  Repeat for the other side-seam.

Now your bodicey-type section is completed, and you can iron your side-seams to make everything look all professional.   I love doing bodice side-seams this way, 'cause there are no raw edges or even overlocked edges showing, and it's just such a neat and tidy method.  I've made a few outfits from other tutorials and some online patterns that use this method, and I think it's genius!

11. Now, moving on to the skirt section.  Take your munchkins chest measurement.  This will be the width of your front and back skirt pieces ... so when it' all sewn together it will measure twice as wide as the chest section.  This is to give some fullness to the skirt piece.  You also need to decide how long you want the little dress/top to be.  As a dress, I think it looks cute when it's a little below the knee.  So cute!!

So, cut two skirt pieces measuring chest measurement x length.  Don't worry about adding any extra to the length for seam allowance as the frilly row at the bottom of the dress will add an extra inch or so to the length.

Also cut a small rectangle of fabric that is 3" x 4" and overlock (serge) around all 4 sides of this rectangle.  Mark the centre line of this small piece on the wrong side by drawing a pencil line down the middle like so....

12. Take one of your skirt pieces.  Measure along the top edge, and mark the midpoint.  Match up this mark with your pencil line on your small rectangle, and lining up the top edges, pin the small rectangle to the midpoint of your skirt piece and place a pin 1" from the bottom of the small rectangle like so.

13.  Starting at the top of the pencil line, sew down the small rectangle (joining it to the skirt piece) 1/8" to the left of the line.  When you reach the pin marking, drop your needle, lifting the foot of your machine and pivot the corner turning towards the line, and sew along until you reach 1/8" from the line on the other side (it will only be 3-4 stitches).  Then lower the needle and pivot again to travel up the other side of the line, 1/8" from it.  Then very carefully and maybe even while holding your breath (if you get nervous with this kind of thing as I do) grab your fabric scissors and cut down the line from the top to just above your horizontal line of stitches.  It's also helpful to VERY carefully cut a diagonal line from the bottom of your cut to as close as possible to the pivot corner on each size of the line.  Be really carful not to cut your stitching.  It should look something like this....

... then when you flip the rectangle to the other side, and press each seam well, it will look like this ...
This is now the back of the skirt, and the slit serves to give a little extra room for getting the dress/top over your munchkin's head.  Again, a design I've used a few times in other people's patterns / tutorials and one that I think is genius.  

14.  Take your front and back skirt pieces, place them right-sides-together and sew down both side seams using a 1/4" seam.  Overlock (serge) the seams.

15.  Adjust your stitch length to the longest setting and sew a row of stitching 1/4" from the top edge of your skirt.  Remember not to backstitch, so you can pull either the top or bottom thread to gather the skirt to the same size as the bodice.  Shift the gathers around until they're nice and even all the way around.
16. Tip the bodice upside-down and insert it into the skirt, so that the raw edges of skirt and bodice are matched up, with right sides together.  Be sure to have the back of the bodice at the back of the skirt.  Pin them together thoroughouly.  I found it helpful to pin the centre back of the bodie to the centre back of the skirt firstly on both sides, then pin both side seams, matching them up, then pinning in regular intervals all the way around in between.  Take your time with this part, and shift the gathers as required to make it a good fit.  It will look much nicer in the long-run if you take it slowly.  Believe me....I love to rush these parts, but I've learned the hard way that there are just some parts where time (and pins) cannot be skimped on.  So, go ahead and sew all the way around, starting at the mid-back point.  Use a 1/2" seam allowance this time, then overlock (serge) this seam.

17. Turn the dress through and give the waist a good press with iron.  When ironing, press the seam towards the bodice.  Then, from the right-side, sew a top stitch row along the edge of the bodice (about 1/8" from the seam), catching the seam inside so that it's attached to the bodice.  This just makes it look a little more finished, and stops the seam from tickling your munchkin's chest while she wears it.

18.  OK, at this point, if you've decided on a top, just turn the hemline up 1/4", then another 1/2" and stitch it around the hem and you're done... well apart from adding your back buttons and button-holes.

If you're  making a dress, it's time to do your bottom frill.  Cut a length of fabric 3 x chest measurement by 2 1/2".  So Hannah's was 19x3 = 57" long.  If your fabric is not wide enough for this, just cut 2 or even 3 strips and join them together to get the correct length.

19.  Turn the bottom long edge of your strip up 1/4", then another 1/4".  Pin and sew to sew to hem the frill ... it's definitely much easier to do this before attaching it to the dress.
20.  Then, in exactly the same way as you did to attach the bodice to the skirt, sew a gathering stitch along the raw edge (1/8" from the edge), and pull either the bottom or top thread to gather the frill to the same width as the skirt, then pin it in place around the skirt.  Sew around using a 1/4" seam allowance and overlock (serge) the seam.

21.  Flip the dress right-side out and iron the seam well.  As before, topstitch around the skirt, 1/8" from the seam, but catching the seam allowance to attach it to the skirt.
22.  Last step ... decide on button/s and attach to one of the back bodice pieces.  Use your sewing machine to add buttonhole/s accordingly, or if you're a little afraid of buttonholes, you could simply use a small piece of ribbon and make a button loop.

And you're done!!  Pretty cute, huh! But, I have to admit ... my favourite is Hannah's little pink number.  It's just so summery and fun!

Oh, and do you like the little flower embellishment on Bethany's ... I just added that as an afterthought as I felt this just broke up that fabric a little and was a cute little feature.  I'm planning on making a mini-tutorial for that flower, so stay tuned!

Anyway, as always I'd love to know if you have a go at this or any of my tutorials, and even more I'd love some pics so I can have a sticky-beak.  I might even include your beautiful creations in a post some time about my lovely creative readers!!  Feel free to email me ... any time!

Make It and Love It


  1. Too cute! Love the tutorial too! Thanks so much! Hugs and blessings, Cindy

  2. great tutorial really clear I've added this and your elephant skirt to my to do list thanks Fionax

    1. Thanks Fiona ... I'd love to see them when you're done! I'm planning a post soon of some of the lovely creations made by my readers. If you like, you can email me some pics so I can include them in my post!

  3. really cute. i do the same when making outfits for my little grands = get the vision, measure the munchkin and voila! it comes to life.

    1. Thanks Gin ... the creative process really is fun, isn't it!!

  4. Just made this in blue for my easy only took couple hrs! love the pattern! :)

  5. This looks so beautiful and looks really easy to make.

    1. It really is a simple and quick one Preethi. Thanks for reading!

  6. The hibiscus dress is adorable, Wen, both the fabric and the design. The top looks great, too.

  7. I think I am missing something here. Why are the back pieces so long? I think I followed the directions, and each of the back pieces was as long as the front piece...I'm new to sewing, so I'm sure I just misread the instructions, but I keep re-reading and can't figure this out.

    1. Beth, you are absolutely correct ... I made an error in my instructions!! Thanks so much for finding it and letting me know. I have corrected my instructions. The back pieces should be 1/4 of the chest measurement + 1 inch, not 1/2. Hopefully that helps! Oh, and I'd love to see a pic of your completed dress once you're done!!

  8. Oh yay! Thank you :-) I was driving myself crazy trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. I needed to remake the bodice anyhow because I made the straps too long, then I'll gladly send you a picture. Thanks so much for a great tutorial!

  9. Wow, they are so fashion and cute. Your kids must love them, I hope I can make one like this for my child.
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  10. Made it :). And LOVE it!

  11. Just found your site very clear tutorial love it. Thank you for sharing your talents