Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Designing a Sundress...

Designing a Sundress - from initial thoughts to the finished dress. Learn how to make your own dress ~ Threading My Way


I was recently asked if I could make a Rainbow Dress, similar to this one on Etsy. It looked easy enough - a simple shirred bodice, with several gathered layers for the skirt. As Little Miss doesn't live with me, I thought it best to make a muslin first. I NEVER make muslins, but, as I wasn't using a pattern and the fabric was not mine, I thought it best.

Working from measurements works fine up to a point, but there are times when you just need to try the garment on - quickly slip the bodice (or whatever), over their head as they run past, just to see if your Maths is correct. Tell them you've put a pin in the fabric and they'll stay still for long enough so you can see if you're on the right track. 


On the original dress, the top of the bodice sat just below the underarm. I wanted the bodice to sit higher, so that meant more than just a tube of fabric. I needed an armscye.

My first thoughts for designing the dress, took me back to the shirred pillowcase dresses I'd made for Dress A Girl, a couple of years ago. The bodice would need to be separate to the skirt and with more shirring. With binding at the top and sides, there'd be no give. This was OK for the front, but there would have to be room for movement somewhere. The shirred pillowcase dress just has elastic at the back, but I wanted shirring.

So, I thought I'd take measurements for the bodice width and height and use the Dress A Girl armhole template. Rather than bias binding for the armhole, the plan was to make a lined, shirred bodice.


And then I came across the La Jolla Bow Dress. How cute was the bow at the front. A change of plans - a fitted front bodice, incorporating a bow, with a shirred back, but still keeping to the higher bodice. By this stage I'd already decided to use the armscye from the Love Me Knot Dress, a Little Lizard King pattern I'd previously sewn, but with my own dimensions for the actual bodice.


Ha, ha... of course the bow didn't work. Not sure why I couldn't see this before I sewed it up, but I didn't. If you reduce the width of the fabric for the bow (as you need to so as to incorporate the armholes), it pulls the sides in. At least I realised before I went to the trouble of sewing the centre of the bow. I do love the bow on the La Jolla Bow Dress and plan to incorporate it into a garment in the future, but not this one.

So, at this point, with a fitted front bodice, minus the part forming the bow, and a shirred back bodice, it was time for a fitting. The front was a perfect fit!!! Yay, my measurements had worked. The back, however, was too wide.

It's difficult to get shirring exact, as there's so many variables - stitch length, distance between rows of stitching, fabric thickness, brand of elastic thread and sewing machine.


And so I totally redid the bodice. Second time it was a perfect fit!

Very roughly, this is how I made the sundress. I was rushing to meet a deadline, so no time to take photos along the way.

Straps -
  • Cut 4 rectangles the length you want x 2". 
  • Fold one short end in 1/2" and press.
  • Fold each in half lengthwise and press. (Make sure you keep your fingers away from the iron and the steam.)
  • Open out so you can see the crease.
  • Fold each half in to meet the crease and press.
  • Fold in half again and press.
  • Edgestitch along the sewn short end and the long side.


Bodice front - 
Decide where you want the bodice to sit - how high on the chest and how far below the armholes.
  • Cut two rectangles half the chest width + roughly 1½" (for room to move) x the height of bodice. For a child with a 22" chest, I cut rectangles 12½ " x 6". One is the lining, one the bodice.
  • Cut armscyes. You could use an existing bodice pattern or trace a garment that fits.
  • Sew the straps to the top of the right side of one bodice piece, about ⅜" from the corner. (See this bag tutorial for which way to face the straps.)
  • With right sides together (lining + bodice), sew across the top of the bodice and along the armholes.
  • Make about 3 cuts in the armhole seam where the curves are. Don't cut the stitching.
  • Turn right side out.
  • Topstitch across the top and armholes.


Bodice back - 
Here's where you'll have to do some guess work, or practise on some scraps, to get the shirring the width you want.. Stitch length needs to be longer than normal. The longer the stitch length, the tighter the shirring. It's usually set between 3 - 4, but I have seen people use a stitch length of 5. 

I used a stitch length of 3 for my first attempt and on two layers of poplin. The second time, I increased the stitch to 4 on two layers of quilting cotton and achieved tighter shirring, but I also cut some off the width first. My rows of shirring were ⅜" apart. If you've never done shirring, Made by Rae has an excellent tutorial - Shirring with Elastic Thread.
  • Cut two rectangles a little less than the total chest measurement x the height of the bodice. I cut mine to 19 " x 6".
  • Cut armscyes and sew the straps and bodice as per the front.
  • Sew rows of shirring.


Sew back & front bodices - 
I would normally hide the side seams of a bodice with the lining, but in this case I haven't and it's worked.
  • Sew side seams of the bodice.
  • Topstitch the side seam, folding seam towards the back.


Skirt - 
I made the width of the back skirt just slightly wider than the back bodice, so there is hardly any gathering, but the fullness is there from the shirring. The front skirt piece is the same width, so there are more gathers. For a fuller skirt, increase the width. 
  • Cut two rectangles for the skirt. Mine were 23" (width) x 15" (height), with a ¼" + ½" hem.  The dress falls to just above knee height on a child who is 110cm tall. 
  • Gather and attach to the bodice. If you are unsure how to gather, follow the How to Sew Ruffles tutorial.

As you can see, the muslin fits well. I suppose I could have made a muslin with old sheets or fabric I didn't like, but I'd rather risk it and use fabric I like, besides, this was my fabric, so I knew I wouldn't be stressed if it didn't work out. However, it did work out, so the muslin has become a dress.

If you follow these directions to make a sundress, take accurate measurements and do your Maths. Don't forget to make provision for seam allowances and ideally, try the garment on as you sew, so you can make adjustments along the way. If you find your shirring is just a little too wide, you can always add extra rows of shirring to decrease the width.

Time to make the rainbow dress. Well, I've actually already finished it. I didn't have time to stop and write a blog post in between the muslin and the actual dress. If you follow me on Facebook, you've probably already seen a sneak peak of the finished rainbow dress. I'll write another post at the end of the week and show you LOTS of photos. Little Miss has already worn both dresses. She LOVES the rainbow dress, so that makes me very happy.

Learn how to make a sundress. Shirred Dress tutorial by Threading My Way.


... Pam



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12 comments:

  1. Pam, this is amazing! Wow, I'm impressed.

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  2. Super cute Pam! I so understand your comment about just needing to try your creation onto the child.

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  3. What a great dress!! I love the pin trick to get kids to sit still for fitting, I'm soooo using that!!!

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  4. Pretty little dress and demo so well.

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  5. Very cute! One thing that I find challenging sometimes is trying to get my girls to try something on so I can check the fit! My son will always stop what he is doing, but my girls will just say, "later?" I love the fabric you used, so bold and bright. Great instructions too! These days it is wise to check the internet when you want to make something before investing in a pattern. You have showcased some wonderful tutorials here.

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  6. Your muslin turned out well! The dress is so pretty, great fabric choice! Your rainbow dress must be pretty too.

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  7. Cute! I love the shirring on the back.

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  8. Both dresses are beautiful (I have a thing for gingham :D) - Little Miss looks quite happy to pose in her sweet frock :D

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  9. Hey Pam. I found you via another site - HomeWork. Funny cos I follow you but must have missed this post. Love the dress.

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  10. Pam, your little girl dresses are adorable, as is your little girl! I love the details you added.

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  11. I've been wanting to try shirring forever!! I really need to try it. Love this dress! thanks for sharing at the Create Link Inspire party. You've been featured today and I've spread the word around ;o)Pinned!

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