Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Toddler T-shirt Dress: Tutorial

I recently made a couple of super cute dresses for Amy using this tutorial from Pinterest. While it was a pretty good tutorial, it was broken up into a couple of parts, and there weren't a ton of pictures. Since I'm an "okay" seamstress, it was all right, but I always think more pictures are better. This post? Obnoxiously full of pictures. You've been warned.

This is a gathered t-shirt dress. So, start with a t-shirt that fits your child. (Note that since I made 3 dresses in as many days, there are a few steps that show different shirts/material. It's okay. Don't panic.)

Try your shirt on your model and determine where you want the skirt to start. I love little empire waist dresses on girls (and me), so I knew I wanted a fairly short top. Once you've measured and marked with pencil, cut it. Go ahead. Cut straight across.

I left about an extra inch, although I used a smaller seam allowance than that. You know, just to be safe, in case I failed to cut it straight or something. Once that's done, it's time for your skirt fabric. I used just a cotton print that Amy picked out. (She wanted dots. "No, SMALL dots, Mama!" Yes, ma'am. Small dots it is.)

The fabric is either 44" or 48" wide, I honestly don't remember. I bought a yard of it. Here, you're going to sew your seam (which will be your back seam) at the selvages. Make sure the fabric is folded with right sides together. (Note: If you want a super full skirt, or you're making this for an older girl, you can always cut two pieces and just have 2 side seams rather than 1 back seam.)

Then finish your seam. I don't have a serger, so I just do a zigzag stitch close to the edge. This step isn't vital, but it does make the finished product look nicer.

 Once you have a tube of fabric, you've got a couple of choices. You can hem it now, or you can wait and hem it at the end. I prefer to hem it at the very end, mainly because my tiny model had gone to bed by this point, plus it's hard to get a feel for how long Amy's dresses should be if it's not an actual "dress" yet. So I opted to put the dress together before hemming. To do so, you're going to baste about 1/4-1/2" from the top of the skirt. (NOTE: If your fabric has a directional print, make sure you do this to the TOP of the skirt!) DO NOT BACKSTITCH, and try to leave some nice long threads to pull on.

Once you've got that done, find your gathering thread and start pulling gently. I should say here that gathering is the bane of my sewing existence. Well, one of them. You'll see what I mean shortly.

Keep pulling gently, and start distributing the gathers equally around the top of the skirt. I always start by gathering more than I need to, because for some reason I find it less agitating to loosen the gathers than I do to try to gather MORE fabric to fit the top of the dress. So eventually you'll get something like this:

Now it's time to pin the skirt and the top together. Attaching a skirt to a bodice is actually the REAL bane of my existence. I wish I were joking. It seems simple, and yet...

The first dress I did, this is what happened. I got all gung-ho because it seemed so easy, so I pinned it together AND SEWED IT without double checking that my pieces were actually attached properly. Yes, that would be the top, inside-out. *sigh* My eagerness meant that I got to seam-rip it, which made the gathering come out, which meant I had to gather the stupid skirt all over again.

So. Don't be hasty. And if you're like me, RESIST THE URGE to (for some reason) flip the shirt inside out to pin it. You want the right sides to be together. It may feel strange (which is why I screw it up so often) but it'll be okay.

The shirt top (bodice) needs to go inside the skirt with right sides together. Loosen your gathers to make the skirt fit the bodice and try to distribute the gathering evenly. It doesn't have to be perfect.

Once I've pinned it, I always tie off the gathering threads so I don't lose more of the gathering, but I'm just paranoid like that. (Probably because of how much I despise gathering.) Once you're pinned and tied off, sew the skirt to the bodice. I always do all my backstitching on that center seam, but that's just force of habit. I used about 1/2-5/8" seam allowance here.

Pretty simple. Now turn your dress right side out and hopefully you don't burst into tears because you sewed the bodice inside out.

Hooray! Everything's facing the right way!

With this dress, I really probably could've stopped here and hemmed it. It doesn't look bad this way. But this was my last dress, and I was kind of on a roll, so onward I went and added a tie to the waist. (Important for Amy, because she's a tiny thing, and it's really necessary so she's not swimming in her dress.)

For the waist tie, I used just plain black cotton.

You'll need to decide how wide you want your tie to be. 2" seemed pretty good to me. Double that measurement and add an inch for your seam allowances, so, 5". You need to cut 2 strips 5" wide by 44-48" long (whatever the width of your fabric).

Those two pieces are still folded in half. Next, unfold them and sew them together along one of the SHORT edges to make one really super long piece of fabric. If for some reason your tie has a pattern, make sure the right sides are together.

I think that's 1/2" seam allowance. This is part of what marks me as an "okay" seamstress in my opinion. I generally don't pay attention to the seam allowance and just go with it, and I'm completely fine with that. It just is not important to me.

Once you've got one super long piece of fabric, pin the long edges together. (Again, if for some reason you're using a patterned fabric here, make sure the right sides are together.)

Of course, then you're going to sew it.

This was the next day, and I had a naked little girl who demanded she get to "help". So, there we are.

Beautiful. I can sew a (mostly) straight line. Now comes the really obnoxious part that is another bane of my sewing existence. (This sounds like I hate sewing. I really don't, there are just those few things that seem like they take an eternity.) You get to take that approx. 90" tube of fabric and turn it right side out. *sigh* I use the safety pin method, and hate every second of it.

Goody. Now that THAT'S over, you get to iron it. (I'm actually one of those sick people who enjoy ironing. Don't tell my husband.)

Once you've got your beautifully pressed tie, it's time to pin it on. Take your dress, and line the tie up on the waist. That center seam on the tie? Line it up with one of the seams at the side of the dress. You'll be sewing across it anyway, and no one will be able to tell.

Hopefully even with the glare you can see what I'm talking about. Make sure when you're pinning that you're pinning on the round, like you're going to sew it. Otherwise it won't lie flat and you'll be pulling your hair out. (Fortunately a mistake from a while ago and not any of these projects.) Once it's pinned, sew as close to the edge of the tie as you feel comfortable. You're going to sew from underarm seam to underarm seam.

This doesn't look like it's lying flat, but it actually does once it's on and tied. Pinky promise.

Now you're going to really quickly finish the ends of your waist tie. It's uneven right now since your center seam attached at one of the underarms. I like long ties to make nice, pretty bows, so I just cut the longer side to match the shorter side. Turn the ends in.

Then go ahead and edgesew. Again, I sewed pretty close to the edge, because that's just how I roll.

Easy peasy. If you're feeling ambitious, you could cut them on an angle to make the ends prettier, but I just didn't care that much. It's not a fancy dress, therefore, a straight edge is plenty fine.

Now it's time to hem it! I tried the dress on my feisty little model, and marked the length I wanted. (This picture actually shows the first dress I did.)

Once I had a measurement, I took the dress back off the little ham (with much protestation from her tiny self), cut the extra length off, and started hemming. I left 1" for the hem. So, turn the hem up 1/2" and press it. (I use to skip the ironing and just go for it. Big mistake. The hem turns out so much nicer if you take the time to iron it. Don't fuss. Just do it.) Once you've turned it up and pressed it, turn it up again and press it again so you have a nice, clean edge.

Then you can pin and sew it. Just a note here, which I'm a little embarrassed to say I JUST realized with this last dress: when sewing your hem, sew it with the right side up. It ends up looking nicer. I was so used to sewing on the wrong side of the fabric I didn't notice the stitching looked a little strange on the first dress. It was a like a lightbulb came on.

So, from now on, I'll be flipping my material over. At any rate, I sewed as close to the edge of the hem as I felt comfortable to give it a nice-looking hem. Trust me, it's beautiful.

Again, you could easily be done here:

Just savor that cuteness for a minute. Really.

That first dress, the shirt I used for the top has a bow on it, so I didn't feel the need to add any further embellishment. This would be the point at which you can, so feel free to dress it up as much or as little as you want. With the second dress, I felt like it needed something extra. So I decided to do a rolled fabric flower and add it to the waist tie. There are about a billion tutorials out there for rolled flowers, so I'm honestly not going to go into a bunch of detail here. I used fabric from the bottom of the shirt I'd cut off and sewed a couple pieces into a nice, long, 2" wide(ish) strip. Start rolling it tightly for the center.

I initially wanted to sew the flower, as I was concerned about hot glue lasting through washing/drying, but I couldn't find a tutorial that told me where to stitch, so I shrugged and used hot glue anyway. Glue it every inch or so to make sure it's secure. You only need a little glue, you don't want strings of glue hanging off your flower. After the first several rolls, I started flipping the material occasionally to give it more of a rosette look. Just keep going til you get the size flower you want.

See? Not the prettiest or the neatest flower ever, but it works. Then I hand-sewed the flower onto the tie. It's a little tough, but it works out okay.

Yes, it's meant to be off-center. :)

Once you're finished, give your cute, feisty model a chance to show off!

Minus the addition of the flower, I actually whipped this dress out in a total of about 1 1/2 hours. (Stupid gathering/turning tubes of material right side out.) It's really pretty simple and easy as long as you remember to keep your right sides together!


  1. As always you blow me away. The dresses turned out so cute! (And the model is adorable)

  2. The moment my little one saw the yellow dress with the bow she demanded I sew her one. Right now. I will try but it will take a little bit longer than "right Now" Thank you for sharing!