Wednesday, 20 August 2014

How to make a Rainbow Dress...

Learn how to make a tiered rainbow maxi dress, with shirring on the bodice. Tutorial at Threading My Way.

Last week I told you about the rainbow dress I would be making and also talked about the process of making what ended up being a wearable (muslin) sundress. Here is the end result - a maxi length rainbow dress. Today I'll show you how I made the rainbow dress and how you can make one, too.

It's an understatement to say that Little Miss, her Mum and I are all thrilled with how the rainbow dress turned out. When I was asked to make a rainbow dress like this one on Etsy, I was reasonably confident I'd be able to make one. It looked easy enough to make without a pattern, but it wasn't until the dress was tried on and I knew the fit was good, that I breathed a sigh of relief.

The muslin was only a knee length sundress. I didn't see the point in making two maxi dresses, as they're not something that's worn very often. I figured that the bodice was the part that needed to be a good fit, so that's what I concentrated on with the muslin. The skirt didn't need to be as exact. The rainbow dress bodice is exactly the same as the sundress bodice, except for the colours.

We used quilting cotton in the colours that we had on hand, so, strictly speaking, they're not the correct colours for a rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). We're still calling it a rainbow dress, though.

Once the bodice was made, it was simply a matter of doing the Maths and adding slightly gathered layers. At this point I realised I had nothing to go by, to know how wide I should do the bottom of the dress.  (Little Miss, at that point, didn't own any maxi dresses or skirts). Too narrow and it would be difficult to walk. Too wide could make it too heavy and bulky, as well as the fact that the skirt would get in the way.

I had Little Miss try on a couple of her skirts, wearing them so they hit just above her ankles. She then skipped around (laughing at how funny she looked), so I could try and gauge a suitable width. 

Working from measurements is sometimes easier said than done. Nothing beats trying a garment on, just for reassurance to know that you are on the right track. No such luxury if the child doesn't live with you. Two nights before the deadline, I finished the dress and drove down to check the fit. PERFECT!!! Both the length and width were spot on. 

To make your own rainbow dress, follow the sundress instructions for the bodice. The specific measurements mentioned, both for the bodice and skirt, are for a child with a 22" (56cm) chest and a height of 3'7" (110cm). With a tape measure and a little Maths, you can fairly easily alter these measurements to fit your own child. Even if your child is the same height, I would still suggest measuring, just to make sure.

For the skirt, I made the width of the first back layer (orange), the same as the width of the back bodice (before shirring) - 19" (48cm). The front was cut to the same width. This made the total width of the first layer (orange) 38" (97cm), which is roughly = 1.75 x the chest measurement.

Each subsequent layer is increased in width by 9" (23cm) - (total for the front and back). The width of the bottom layer (purple) ended up at 74" (188cm) minus seams. You will need to check that this measurement allows your child to easily take large strides.

We decided the dress should fall just above the ankles. The longer it is, the more likely they are to trip. The length of the skirt measures 23.5" (60cm), with measurements taken from the bottom of the bodice to the hemline. Add in 2" (5cm) for the bodice and the skirt measures 25.5" (65cm) from the underarm of the bodice. This measurement is taken from the garment, not the child's underarm, as there will be variation as to how closely the dress sits to the underarm. On Little Miss, it's sits quite snugly.

Here are the measurements as I cut them. I do my measurements in inches and then convert to metric, using an online calculator. I have tried to make the height in cm reasonably precise, but the width measurements have been rounded up or down. Please let me know if you notice a mistake in any of my calculations. Also, please note that I have given the measurement 5¾", as I couldn't work out how to type six/eighths as a fraction. Three/quarters = six/eighths.

 orange  cut 2  5¾" x 19" - (14.6cm x 48cm)
 yellow  cut 2 5¾" x 23½" - (14.6cm x 60cm) 
 pink  cut 2 5¾" x 28" - (14.6cm x 71cm)
 blue  cut 2 5¾" x 32½" - (14.6cm x 83cm)
 purple  cut 2 6⅜" x 37" - (16.2cm x 94cm)

I have used a seam allowance of ⅜" (1cm).
  • Sew the shorts sides of each layer to form a tube.
  • Neaten edges.
  • Gather and attach each layer to the one above it. If you are unsure how to gather, follow the how to sew ruffles tutorial.
  • Hem to the desired length. My hem was turned ¼" then 2¼".

Our rainbow dress ticked all the boxes:
  • rainbow effect
  • shirring and sundress style bodice
  • the all important twirl factor
  • comfort
And it should last a long time as the dress will grow with Little Miss. The straps allow the bodice to be lowered as needed, the soft shirring will expand, the hem can be let down and the dress will still look good as it changes from maxi to calf or even below knee length, assuming the bodice still fits.

If you make a rainbow dress following these directions, I'd love you to share pics in the Threading My Way ~ Sewn by YOU Flickr group, leave me a link in the comments, or add it to the ongoing Dresses for Girls link party, here at Threading My Way.

Thanks must go to my daughter, Little Ladybird, for the awesome photos. She's captured the dress exactly as it looks in real life; something I find difficult to do. I had 52 wonderful photos to choose from. Sewing's my thing. Little Ladybird's is photography. We make a great team!!! And credit must go to Little Miss, who came up with some of the styling ideas for the photos.

... Pam


  1. I want to try this, how old is the young lady (hoping to avoid the math...yes I'm that lazy) love it Pam.

  2. For me, this kindergarten song is my definition of rainbows: "Red and orange, green and blue ... shining yellow, purple too ... all the colours that you know ... live up in the rainbow!" ( I would have learned that 47 years ago, LOL). So yes, that's definitely a rainbow dress, and it's a beauty ... as is Little Miss!

  3. How lovely , and i love the measurements table you gave ...

  4. Fabulous Pam! Wonderful photos too, congratulations all.round.

  5. Cute, fun dress! I love the long skirt with just the right amount of flair!

  6. The dress certainly had the wow factor!

  7. I know a couple of little girls who would love this! Very cute! Thank you. janita

  8. This is simply beautiful great job and tutorial.

  9. My girls need one of these to twirl in! Lovely job :)

  10. That dress is positively delightful!

  11. Such a pretty dress! Your family is quite talented, too!

  12. beautiful dress, beautiful model and totally fab you shared the instructions :)

  13. What a darling dress! I love how Little Miss is also holding a matching colorful paper chain. Wish I had a granddaughter to make this for.

  14. You certainly were ingenious and creative when making this dress! I can only applaud the fact that you succeeded right away and worked with what you had on hand (I love that attitude). In my opinion, making such a beautiful dress without a pattern is a true achievement! :-)

  15. G'day and thanks for sharing at the #SayGdayParty! How cute! Pinned
    Please make sure to stop by if you haven't already and visit some other people also attending the party and would be great if you could answer one of my questions or two! Thank you! Cheers! Joanne @What's On The List

  16. Really lovely! Thanks for the tutorial.

  17. Thanks for sharing the tutorial! I like to make dresses for a friend's daughter and this will be the perfect Christmas present -- we live in South America so it's summer then :)

  18. So pretty! Love those rainbow colors!

  19. The dress is so pretty, Pam! It was no surprise to me that so many people have been pinning it and talking about it online.:)

  20. Wow!!! So pretty! This makes me want to build my sewing skills pretty soon :) Pinning :)

    1. Thanks for Pinning, Roopini. It's really not that hard to sew.

  21. That dress is so pretty. Tonight I think I am going to have fun making it ;-)

  22. This is just so gorgeous! I want one like this for me, too! :)Lisa

  23. Thanks for linking up at the Sew-spiration Link party at Easy Sewing for Beginners. Your great tutorial for how to make a rainbow dress has been featured! Congratulations! Hope to see you again next week ��

  24. I had a dress very similar to this when I was expecting my youngest child and loved it. I wore it until it literally came to pieces. I can't wait to make my granddaughter and I one like it!!

  25. Would love to make this for my grandaughter who lives far away. She just did her room in rainbows. how old was the little girl you made it for. Thanks

    1. I used measurements rather than sizing by age.
      The chest measurement - 22" (56cm) - is roughly a size 4.
      The height measurement - 3'7" (110cm) - is about a size 5.

      Hope this helps. I'd love to see photos when you make the dress.


Thanks for stopping by! I love reading your comments and try to reply to all of them via email. If you don't receive an email reply from me, check back here.