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Monday, March 21, 2011

Summer dress

I wanted to make a few sun dresses for Lily but couldn't find a pattern I loved.  I decided to make my own.  I made mine a little big since Lily is almost in 12 month clothes and I wanted it to last all summer.

I realize this may not be the best way to make a pattern, but it works for me.

1.  I found a top that had a neckline and shape I liked in the right size.

2.  I took pattern paper (I use sheets of tracing paper taped together) and put the edge down the center of the shirt I was going to duplicate.  I traced along what I wanted to be the front piece - along the neck, shoulder, arm hole, and then a little bit on the side.  If you were using a dress you wanted to duplicate you could keep tracing, but I only wanted to duplicate the top part so I stopped.
I suggest tracing along this part very lightly.  I did it dark so you could see it in the picture.

 3.  I measured how long the sleeve was that I liked from the arm hole to the edge of the sleeve.  This sleeve was about 2 1/4 inches long.

4.  I also measured one side of the arm hole.  One side of this arm hole was about 5 inches.  I multiplied that number by 2 to get the measurement of the whole arm hole - about 10 inches for this sleeve.

 5.  I took the pattern paper I planned on using for the back and drew a line 1/2 inch away from the edge.

 6.  I lined the line I just drew down the center of the back of the top I was duplicating.  In the picture below, the 1/2 inch along the side is whiter so you can see where I lined it up.  I then traced along the neck line, shoulder, arm hole, and a little bit down the side.

 7.  I drew a straight line perpendicular to the pattern edge from the place the neckline met the 1/2 inch line.  This 1/2 inch is your seam allowance along the back center seam.

8.  I got out the dress I wanted to duplicate on the bottom.  I lined the pattern piece up so the bottom of the arm hole matched up with the arm hole I drew on my pattern.  I also lined up the center of the dress with the edge of my pattern piece.  This dress had elastic along the waist so I stretched it out while I drew...which is why it doesn't look lined up with the center but it was when it was stretched.

 9.  I traced along the side and bottom of the dress I wanted to duplicate.  Trace lightly.  I did this for the front and back pieces.

 10.  Trace 1 inch away from the bottom line you just drew.  This will create 1/4 inch to fold under or surge and 3/4 inch for a hem allowance.  This line can be darker as you will actually be using it to cut your pattern.  Do this for the front and back pattern pieces.

11.  Trace 1/2 inch along the side of the dress and shoulder.  This will create a 1/2 inch seam allowance.  Do this for the front and back pattern pieces.

12.  Trace 3/8 inch along the arm hole and neck line.  This will create a 3/8 inch seam allowance for those parts.  Do this for the front and back pattern pieces.

 13.  We need to make the sleeve pattern piece.  Draw a line on a blank piece of pattern paper one and a half times the length you measured of the arm hole (step 4).  Since I had measured 10 inches, I made this line 15 inches long.

14.  Draw a parallel line the same length a half inch above the first line.

15. Take the measurement of the sleeve length you took in step 3 and add 3/4 inch.  I measured my sleeve at 2 1/4 inches so I would add 3/4 inch and get 3 inches.  I wanted my sleeve to be a bit longer than the one I measured so I decided to do 3 and 3/4 inches for my sleeve.  Measure in the center of your parallel lines to get your desired length.  I measured 3 and 3/4 inches above the top line and made a mark.

16.  Once that mark is made, make an arch from the edge of your top line to the mark you just made, and back down again.  (shown below half way done)  It should look similar to a half circle or oval when you are done.

 17.  Fold the pattern paper along your top line.  Trace the arch until you reach the bottom line.  (just half an inch...pictured above)

18.  Unfold and retrace this line on the front side.  When you are finished your pattern should look similar to mine pictured below.

 19.  Label the pieces of your pattern.  I wrote "1 of 3, dress front, cut 1 on fold.  Lily's summer dress - 12 months" for the first piece, "2 of 3, dress back, cut 2. Lily's summer dress - 12 months" for the second piece, and "3 of 3, sleeve, cut 2.  Lily's summer dress - 12 months" for the sleeve.

20.  Cut out the fabric.  3/4 of a yard would have been plenty for my pattern, but I bought 1 yard so I had scraps to make matching doll clothes or headbands.  The dress front needs to have the edge of the pattern (that goes down the center of the dress) along the fold.  The dress back doesn't need to be along the fold - you just cut 2.  The sleeve also doesn't need to be along the fold, you just cut 2 of those as well.

If your material has a definite "top" or "bottom" or if it has stripes, make sure the edge of the pattern (the center of the dress) is parallel to the selvage for both the front and the back pieces.  Make sure the long end of the sleeve pattern is perpendicular to the selvage. 

 21.  Arrange both back dress pieces so right sides are together and the edges meet up with one another.  Sew down the middle back seam starting 4 inches from the top all the way to the bottom of the dress using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.

22.  With right sides together, match the shoulders up of the dress front and dress back.  Pin into place.  Sew using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.

After you've sewn the shoulders together, either press the seam open or surge to finish the edge. (pictured below)

23.  With right sides together, and the sides of the dress front and dress back matching up, sew from the bottom of the armhole to the bottom of the dress on both sides using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.

At this point I would do a fitting to make sure things are going right.  It's easy to unpick and adjust at this point, but once you go much farther it will be a lot more difficult.  If you are worried about sizing you can use a baste stitch for steps 21-23 until you've ensured it fits correctly.

24.  Pin the neck line inside 1/4 inch.  I surged my neckline first to prevent fraying, taking off about 1/8 inch.   Sew into place.

 25.  Sew along the curved arch of each sleeve using a basting stitch.  Use a 1/4 inch seam allowance.  (The outside of the presser foot)  Sew along the same curve again using a basting stitch, this time using a 1/8 inch seam allowance.  (The inside of the presser foot)
26.  Fold the straight edge of each sleeve along the fold line (that top parallel line you drew) making sure right sides are out (not together) and pin into place.  Sew to secure using a 3/8 inch seam allowance (from the 1/8 inch from the raw edge.)

27.  Measure the circumference of the arm where you expect your sleeve to lay.  Cut 1/4 inch elastic a quarter inch longer than you measured.  Safety pin one end of the elastic and feed through.  Secure with pins on both ends.

 28.  Turn your dress right side facing out.  With right sides together, pin the center of the arch of the sleeve to match the shoulder seam at the arm hole.

29.  This is where it gets confusing.  I didn't get a good picture, so I hope this makes sense.  Pin each edge of the arch of the sleeve (where the elastic is) to the bottom of the arm hole where the side dress seam is.  There will be a bunch of slack in the arch and it won't match up to the edge of the arm hole exactly.  It's supposed to be like this.

30.  With the edges and center securely fastened, pull on the basting strings until the arch of the sleeve matches up with the arm hole.  Make sure the gathers are evenly distributed.  Pin into place.

31.  Sew into place using a 3/8 inch seam allowance.  Sew again using the same seam allowance to strengthen the seam.  Trim the unfinished edges or surge to finish the edge.

I don't know why I didn't get better pictures of the finished sleeve but you can what it should look like when you are done on the finished product below.

32.  Turn the bottom hem under to the length you want.  It should be around 1 inch as you added 1 inch to the bottom of your pattern.  I surged the edge before I did this to finish the raw edge.  If you don't have a surger you can just turn the raw edge in before you do the hem.  Pin into place and sew.

33.  At the top of the center back, use ribbon or thread to do a "button hole."  I used ribbon, and made the shape below, pinned into place, then sewed to secure.

34.  Add a button to the other side of the top center back.

35.  Twist 2 or 3 strands of thread together and sew loops on each side under the arm hole for ribbon or fabric to go through if you want a tie on the dress.  I used ribbon.

36.  Cut ribbon to length and use a lighter to singe the edges to prevent fraying.
The finished product!!!


  1. Very cute, I love the colors on it! YOu have a very nice blog, I am your newest follower! :)

  2. Makes me want to sew for my little girl! Thanks for sharing :)