I’ve had this set of fabrics in my stash for a while, bought last year from Bolt because I loved the colors and designs, but had no idea what to sew with them . . . in my ongoing attempts to use up the projects and supplies I have before buying more, I decided to sew a simple summer sundress.
I decided to try the tutorial here, because I was intrigued with the idea of sewing a dress without a pattern. This tutorial just uses rectangles, cut based on your child’s individual measurements. I was sewing for my ten-year-old daughter, and these are the measurements I used:
Front bodice (orange dots) – two pieces, each 6.5″ x 17.5″
Back bodice (birdies) – 6.75″ x 25.25″ (the back piece is longer to accommodate the shirring)
Skirt (pieced together birdies print and birdies in trees print) – 26.5″ x width of fabric (WOF) – approx 44″
Skirt band (grey dots) – 6.5″ x WOF
Shoulder straps/ties (orange dots) – two pieces, each 2.5″ x WOF (this made them extra long – they could be shorter, but this way, there was no question that they’d be able to tie in a bow)
I would have made both the front and back bodice pieces from the same fabric, but I ran out and I’m working on using what I have, instead of buying to supplement – I find that this helps to develop my creativity! I think that the two different fabrics looks fine on the front and back. I also would have used the same fabric for the entire skirt piece, but again, I was limited by what I had, so I pieced together two different prints. The tutorial uses two pieces for the skirt, each WOF, which results in a very full skirt. This looked nice on a younger girl, but I thought that for my pre-teen daughter, a straighter skirt – more in the style of a maxi-dress – would look better.
This tutorial uses several unique sewing techniques – for instance, you fold the skirt band in half, then sew the long raw edge to the raw edge of the skirt, which gives you a finished bottom edge to the skirt without hemming (of course, it also means you can’t adjust the length of the dress once you’re done). And, the front bodice is in one piece (you use the second piece as a lining) and you join the back to the front by inserting the short raw edges of the back piece sandwiched in between the front piece and the lining piece, and then topstitching.
The sewing order was as follows:
* Sew long edges of skirt together to form a tube
* Fold skirt band lengthwise and sew long raw edge to raw bottom edge of skirt, then topstitch
* Sew one short edge and long edge of straps together, right sides to right sides, then turn, press, and topstitch
* Sew front bodice pieces together along one raw edge with the raw edges of the straps tucked in between (each 2″ off from center), then press
* Sew rolled hem along one long edge of back bodice piece
* Insert short raw edges of back bodice in between short edges of front bodice and lining, then topstitch together
* Sew a gathering stitch along the top edge of the skirt, then sew skirt onto bodice, right sides together, and then topstitch
* Shirr the back bodice piece
That’s it! The tutorial has more exact directions and photos, but that’s the gist of it. I sewed the entire project, then had my daughter try it on. Disaster! The bodice was huge and hung off her, even with the shirring. I had to rip the bodice off the skirt, then rip the back bodice off of the front pieces (I HATE seam ripping!) I cut a full 2″ off each side of the front bodice – not sure how my measurements were so far off – then sewed the bodice together again. One side benefit of doing this was that I tucked all of the exposed strings on the back bodice from the shirring inside the front bodice pieces, so they were all secured and hidden.
When I originally stitched the skirt onto the bodice, I did no gathering at all because the two pieces were the same size. The result was a dress that hung too straight; once I made the bodice smaller, I had to do a little bit of gathering on the skirt before sewing it to the bodice, which was a good thing. I learned that you need some gathering to make this look good, even if you don’t want a full skirt. This means that a skirt piece at least a little bigger than WOF would be the way to go.
Another thing I would change would be to space the straps out more – at least 3″ each side from center. They work okay, but for my ten-year-old, they’re pretty close in to her neck.
This was the first time I tried shirring, and it was nice to learn a new technique. My first try was very successful – it’s a little time-consuming because you have to hand-wrap the bobbin with the elastic thread, and then it was hard on my machine to get the bobbin thread up through the footplate, but once I got going, it was no problem. I learned that it was better to hand-cut the threads at the end of each row, instead of using the sewing machine scissors, because otherwise the bobbin thread would pull back down inside the machine. I stitched the shirring rows approx 1/4″ apart, stopping after two rows to stitch a buttonhole in the center of the back bodice (to pull the tie straps through). After shirring, I steamed the back with an iron, which made the shirring pull tighter. I think I’d like to try shirring a nightgown, next – very cool technique to create fit on a garment!
I’m not sure I would sew this pattern again – it’s a great quick and easy approach, but because the bodice is just a rectangle, and not shaped at all, the fit isn’t very good – at least on a ten-year-old. Still, she was willing to wear the finished product, which makes it a success in my book!