Tutorial: American Girl Twirly Dress

Kit’s new dress

The last post was a tutorial on how to make this dress for a big girl.  Here are a few tips on how to make this  Twirly Dress for a doll.  The steps are the same as described here with the following changes and tips.

1.  Use an 18″ doll pattern for a top or T-shirt.

2.  Instead of cutting the top back on the fold, add 3/4″ for an overlap.

3.  Finished length for the side seams on the top – 5-1/2″

4.  Skirt tiers – cut 3 strips 1-1/2″ by the width of the fabric.

5.  When assembling the top, sew both side seams but not the back seam as the back needs to be  at least partially open in order to get the dress onto the doll.

6.  Kit’s dress is a little too twirly.  Gathering ratio should be less than for a girl’s dress.  I would recommend no more than a 1.5:1 ratio.

7.  After tiers are ruffled and sewed onto the dress, sew up the back seam, stopping at the point where the skirt meets the top.

8.  Add closures, using velcro or snaps.


Not sure why, but here is Kit in a “time-out”

Tutorial: Girl’s Twirly Velveteen Dress

Sewing For Children

For Christmas, every girl deserves a pretty new dress. This year, Catie’s dress was a Twirl Dress – a T-shirt dress with a ruffled skirt and of course a matching dress for Kit, her American Girl doll.  Made from stretch velveteen, this twirly dress is a favorite style for girls and in fact, it’s the third in this style that I’ve sewed for Cate.  Most of all, mom’s love it because it looks dressy, is washable and the color doesn’t fade.

Christmas dress for Cate and Kit

The steps to make this adorable dress are so simple that it’s hard to believe it all starts with a T-shirt pattern.  In this case, I used a boy’s T-shirt pattern (minus the neck binding) I’ve modified a number of times.


Supplies:  1-1/2  to 2 yards of knit velveteen fabric (depends on the fabric width), matching thread, embroidered design.  Wider fabric

Steps for Dress Top:

1. Select a T-shirt pattern of the desired size, or one size larger if you wish to have growing room.  For the length, use the full length of the T-shirt.  (Cate’s is a size 6x-7 with a finished shirt side seam is 12″)

2. Cut T-shirt from the fabric, taking care to have all pieces cut in the same direction.

Tip:  In order to get the richness of the velvet color, when cutting velvet the nap should go upward.  In other words, when you brush your hand upward on the fabric, it feels smooth.  

3. Calculate how many strips you will need for the twirly skirt.     

  • Tier 1 – at least twice the circumference of the top  (52″ for Cate – fabric was 60″ wide)
  • Tier 2: One-and-a-half to twice the circumference of Tier 1 (requires sewing 2 strips together)
  • Tier 3 – One-and-a-half to twice the circumference of Tier 2 (will also require sewing several strips together)

Note:  If you are using a ruffling foot, do not cut the strips to the desired length as ruffling is not an exact process.  You can cut off any extra fabric after the tier is attached to the previous layer.

4.  For the top front, I made the final cut after the embroidery.  For the skirt, cut the number of strips you will need, cutting across the grain.  For a smaller size, these strips are 3″ , 3-1/2″ or 4″ wide.  For Cate’s dress I cut 4-1/2″ strips, which allows for 4″ tiers minus 1/4″ for each seam allowance. 

Cut pieces. Top front was embroidered before the final cutting.

5.  Embroider or place your desired design on the shirt front.

Close up of embroidery and neckline finish

6.  Assemble the T-shirt but do not sew the bottom 5 or 6″ of one side seam.  Finish the sleeve and neckline but do not hem the shirt.  (For the neckline I turned over 1/2″ and sewed with a coverstitch however  using a double needle method on a standard sewing machine would work as well).

Now Assemble/add the Skirt:

There are several ways to make the ruffles.

  1. Gather the top of the cut strip and attach to the dress top (i.e. t-shirt) at a 1.5:1 or 2:1 gathering ratio.  For subsequent ruffles, add the gathered portion to the bottom of the previous ruffle.  Test to see how you want it to look.
  2. Use a ruffling foot on your sewing machine or serger, set to a 1.5:1 or 2:1 ratio.  For this method, it is important to do a test or two to get the result you want.  My preferred method is to use the serger ruffling foot.
Method 2: Sewing the first tier onto the dress top.  Clear strip is water-soluble stabilizer. Bottom layer is being gathered.

Steps if using a Ruffling Foot:

1.  Place the piece to be ruffled on the bottom, with right sides together.

Note:  Because this fabric is stretchy, holding a narrow strip of water-soluble stabilizer over the top fabric (piece that’s not being gathered) will reduce the amount of undesired stretch.

2.  When you get to the end, you will likely have some left over ruffle.  Cut off.

3.  Sew the next two tiers in the same manner.

4. Sew the open side seam.

5.  Hem by turning under 1/4″.  Sew on a standard sewing machine.

6.  Steam dress from the back side, using a generous amount of steam over the ruffled seams.  If the top layer stretched, the steaming will help the latex in the fabric to shrink back into shape.

After steaming the ruffles.
After steaming the ruffles.
From the back
From the back
Cate, Mira and dolls

Sewing the Popular Top with Draped Sides

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that draping is all the rage in ready-to-wear.  Specifically, draping at the side of a longish top or tank, or in the center front of a sweater.  If you’re interested in sewing a garment with side draping, which is sometimes called the “sharkbite” look, it is incredibly easy to modify an existing pattern.  Although I’ve sewed a few of these, this is the only modeled garment I’ve photographed, and you’ve already seen the photo several times.

On the other hand, having planned to do this post for a while, I have taken photos of how to alter an existing pattern to make it drape on the side.  It’s the extra width at the bottom of the garment that provides the draped look.  A few examples:

While this produced the desired length, there was less draping than I hoped for.

Experiment #1 (above):  

This was my first try, where using a t-shirt pattern, I added length and tapered the side starting at the armhole.  The result was a cute top that Mira could wear over leggings but it didn’t have as much draping as I wished for.

(BTW, the black weights that look like hockey pucks are just that.  They were my DS Shaun’s when he was a teen.  When he outgrew his hockey interest I snatched the pucks and have used them ever since).

Experiment #2 (above)

Having learned that the amount of drape comes from the amount of fabric added horizontally at the hemline, this one turned out better.  In this case I used a sleeveless dress pattern which already was tapered at the side.  From the photo you can see that (for a girl’s size 10) the bottom of the fabric was cut about 7 inches from the original dress side seam.  This turned out to be the perfect amount of drape, so I used the same proportions for Catie’s red tank top.  For an adult, I would taper the bottom to at least 10-12″ from the original side seam, and would error on the side of having too much drape as you can always reduce the drape by reducing the taper at the hemline.


Sewing the top is the same as any other and the bottom can be finished in with a hem or rolled hem of your choice.

If you’re interested in this modern look, give the above modification a try.  It’s quite easy.


Under-shorts: Coverage when wearing a Skirt

One of the trends in children’s clothing is and “all-in-one” skirt and shorts.  The obvious purpose is to assure that there is panty coverage during normal play.  While this no-brainer design element isn’t ubiquitous, there are some children’s clothing manufacturer’s such as Lands’ End and Carters who regularly design play clothes with built-in shorts.  Unfortunately, without the under-shorts, an adorable skirt can hang in the closet unworn.  I understand that at schools, pants are a dress code requirement in order to play on the gym equipment.

Here’s an example from my last blog post

If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a skirt with built-in shorts the alternative is to sew under-shorts only so they can be worn with existing skirts.  

Sewing All-in-one Skirt and Shorts

The method for sewing shorts into a skirt is fairly simple – when sewing the waistband onto the skirt, sew a third layer which is the shorts.  In other words, you are sewing the waistband, the skirt and the shorts together.  What’s not so simple is that the circumference of a skirt is often wider than the circumference of a pair of shorts, so you may need to stretch the under-shorts a bit while sewing.  

Here’s and inside photo of Catie’s new skirt with under-shorts.  In this case I did need to stretch the under-shorts. however the fabric has a good amount of lycra.

Inside photo of skirt with under-shorts

Tips for success when sewing skirts with attached under-shorts.

  1. Take a good look at ready-to-wear with built-in shorts – this is the best way to learn how they are constructed.
  2. Use a knit with lycra for the shorts (~30%) so they can stretch when attaching the waistband.
  3. To reduce bulk at the waist, choose a pattern with a yoke or a wide waistband and
  4. Reduce the rise on the shorts by the height of the waistband (or else the crotch will be at your young-un’s knees)
  5. For a pattern, copy an existing pair of knit shorts or use this leggings pattern.  Add width so the shorts aren’t skin-tight and shorten it to the desired length.  This is a pattern where the exact fit isn’t so important.
  6. Avoid side seams in the shorts – they add bulk (and a few minutes of your precious time to the project).


Sewing Under-shorts:

If your favorite girl loves to do cartwheels and has a closet full of unworn skirts without built-in shorts, this tutorial is the answer.  Now as standard attire, Mira and Cate have many colors to choose from.  How convenient that both Mira and Cate enjoy skirts and I often have knit scraps.  Sometimes I sew the undershorts to match a top or skirt such as in this photo.

And sometimes the under-shorts are a good way to use up left-over fabric.  A pair requires little more than a quarter yard of knit fabric or some random scraps.  Here’s an example from several years ago.  Seems to me that I’ve still seen them in action recently.

Made from the fabric scraps from on of my black summer dresses, this fabric isn’t a typical children’s wear choice however it is very stretchy and thus works for intended purpose.

Tips on sewing under-shorts.

  1. As with attached under-shorts, avoid a side seam.
  2. Shorten the front and back rise so the waist elastic falls slightly below the natural waist.  This reduces bulk and improves comfort.
  3. Hem with a zig-zag, cover stitch, decorative elastic or a rolled hem.  Some knits can be left un-hemmed as is common in ready to wear.
  4. When applying the elastic (I prefer 3/8″ lingerie or knit elastic), stretch slightly so the elastic is slightly smaller than the circumference of the under-shorts.
  5. Use a zig-zag or cover-stitch to apply elastic (click on above photo to see detail).
  6. Place a small piece of ribbon at the back seam to make it easy for the wearer to know which is the back.

Now give it a try.  You can whip up a few of these wardrobe expanders in no time at all.

Catie’s First PJ’s: No Pattern Required

Here is very proud Caitlin wearing her second sewing project, a pair of PJ’s (the first was a pillowcase – several months ago).  At age 6, she’s pretty amazing with the sewing machine – motivated and already sewing with a plan.  It was her request to “make pajamas that are shorts and with a spaghetti strap top”.  She chose the fabric from my stash.  I cut and Cate could hardly wait to start. She eagerly sewed the seams and finished them with a zig-zag stitch using my vintage Bernina 707 with the speed on “slow”. Cate did all of the sewing except for the ruffles.  Total sewing time was about 2-1/2 hours, with a few interruptions.   Last of all she found some pre-made ribbon roses to embellish her new sleeping attire.  

After wearing the pj’s for the remainder of the day and through the night, Cate reported that they were “perfect”.   

If you’d like to work with your favorite girl to make these pj’s you don’t need to run out to the store for a pattern.  

Pajama Pants (PJ’s) Tutorial:

  1. Measure the child’s hips (22″ for Cate)
  2. Find an existing pair of shorts, pants or leggings.
  3. Turn the pants inside-out and lay the pants on top of the fabric with the center front facing you.
  4. Cut along the edges of the crotch front. 
  5. Cut along the side, adding width to the side to assure that there will be at least 6″ of wearing ease plus 1/2″ seam allowances.  For Cate, 28″ was the total circumference of the pants with the finished width of the front of 13-1/2″ and the back width of 14-1/2″. There’s no need to fuss about the size as loose PJ bottoms are needed for comfort.  
  6. The length is your choice but the inseam should be at least 2″ plus the amount you need for a hem.
  7. Turn the pants so the center back is now facing you.
  8. Repeat steps 4 and 5.
  9. Sew the seams as you would any other pair of pants.  Note:  for the ruffles, I added them after the side seams but before the inseams were sewn.
  10. Add elastic for the waist.
Oh so, easy!

PJ Top or Pillowcase dress

Here is the pillowcase dress pattern I used.  If this one doesn’t work for you, there are many other free pillowcase dress patterns on the web and YouTube has lots of video tutorials as well.  Cate, Mira and I watched one of the videos.  Mira noted that the woman put her fingers “too close” to the sewing machine needle.  I learn so much when teaching Cate and Mira to sew.

As you can imagine, these pj’s have been a hit – suitable for bedtime or playtime.   Give it a try with your favorite child and let me know what you learn.

DIY Travel Shirt / Adventure Shirt / Technical Shirt

When traveling, one of my staples is a travel/adventure/technical shirt.  Typically they are made from lightweight quick-drying fabric.  In recent years, some fabrics include sun protection.  Typical features of these shirts are zippered pockets and vents.  They are especially good for layering over a t-shirt or top, and because of the long sleeves they provide sun protection.  The good and the bad is that these shirts are durable and thus they never wear out.  Because I have always owned two, my travel photos are pretty boring – either I’m wearing the red shirt or the blue shirt.  Now you know where this is going……

Travel Shirt Tutorial

Starting with Vogue 8689, I made a few modifications and now have a shirt I’m really pleased with.  In the future, I’d like to make another (or two?)

Three major changes to the pattern made this shirt very functional as a travel shirt:  a vented back yoke, front zippered pocket and zippered side vents/pockets.  Following is a tutorial for each change.

Additional Supplies:

  • 1/2 yard of mesh or other breathable fabric
  • 3 invisible zippers – I used long zippers and cut them to the desired length.

Back Vent:

RTW technical/adventure shirts often have a vented yoke like this:

To make this change in your pattern you will cut:  a) one yoke from mesh fabric and b) one yoke from the fashion fabric, extending the length by 1″.

1.  Cut one yoke front he fashion fabric, extending the length by 2″ as in the following photo (I extended it by 3″ but ended up cutting off 1″).

2. Cut a back yoke from mesh fabric.

3.  Cut a diagonal from the upper part of the yoke, like this

4. Serge or zig-zag the diagonal edges.  

5. Sew the mesh to the lower back piece with the right side of the mesh against the wrong side of the lower back piece.

6. Top stitch close to the seam-line.

You are now ready to attach the fashion fabric yoke.

1. Finish the lower part of the fashion fabric yoke by turning the hem twice (1/2 to 5/8″ rolled hem).

2. With the shirt back and the yoke wrong side down, lay the yoke on top of the mesh, matching the edges.  Pin in place.

3.  Top stitch the yoke at each end (about 1″ of stitching) and at the middle (1.5 to 2″).  The remained of the yoke will not be attached to the lower back, allowing air to flow (i.e. venting).  The arrows on the following show the top-stitched areas.

Arrows show top-stitching position for back yoke

Front Zippered Pocket

1. When sewing the front yoke to the front bottom pieces, insert an invisible zipper into the seam.  The zipper should be ~1″ from each edge.  On a size 16 shirt, this made a 5″ opening for the pocket.

Note:  If you want more pockets, you could do this on both sides of the front.

2. Working on the wrong side of the fabric (to make the underside of the pocket), sew a 5-1/2″ by 5-1/2″ piece of mesh, to the bottom of the zipper tape.

3.  To make the upper pocket piece, sew a 5-1/2″ by 6-1/2″ piece of mesh to the upper zipper tape or seam allowance.  I zig-zagged the edges together.

4.  Pin the pocket pieces together.  Sew edges as in the following photo.  You will notice that on the pocket sides you are unable to sew all the way to the top however this won’t alter the functionality of the pocket.

5. Serge or finish the edges to your liking (I didn’t but if would look better if I’d taken the time to do it.

Zippered Side Vent and Pocket

1. Before sewing the side seam, place an invisible zipper into the seam, starting at least 1″ from the arms-eye.  At the lower edge, leave at least 4″.  (My zipper was 10″ long)

2. Sew the seam above and below the zipper.

3. Using a 10″ wide by 12″ long piece of mesh, sew each side of the mesh side to each side of the zipper tape to form a single piece which will become a vent and a pocket.

4.  Fold the vent/pocket toward the shirt front.

5.  Sew the front seam and the bottom seam of the vent/pocket.  Finish edges if desired.

6.  Run one more stitch approximately 4″ from the top of the vent/pocket.  I’m not sure if this is needed but my thought was that this line of stitching would form the pocket.

7.  Hand stitch the top and bottom edge of the vent/pocket to the front princess seam to keep it in place.

One more note:  Inadvertently, I placed one zipper with the pull at the top and one with the pull at the bottom.  When wearing the shirt I realized that both directions have advantages, so I’ll leave that choice to you.

Finished – combined vent/pocket

Of course, what does it matter if the garment isn’t functional.  This shirt worked so well that I wore it all the time, as you can see in the following photos (oh yes, and we had fun too).

Now, I need your feedback.

The World’s Most Comfortable Travel Skirt

Just having returned from several weeks in Spain, I’m still in the mode of thinking about travel clothing – what worked and what didn’t.  In the coming weeks I’ll share some tips on making travel clothes but for now I need to tell you about this travel skirt which is sooo comfortable.  

Initially I made it for our 2 month trip to Central America where it got a lot of wear. I liked it so much that although faded and somewhat worn, I took it on this trip to Spain.  Honestly, it’s the most comfortable skirt I’ve ever owned.  The inspiration came from a travel skirt on an internet site I can no longer find.   Essentially it is made of 6 panels with ruching on each side of the seams, made from woven cotton/poly with lycra.  This photo is a little better at showing the detail.


  • 1-1/2 to 2 yards of 45″ fabric or 1 yard of 60″ woven mid-weight fabric with lycra
  • 1 yard of 1-1/4″ wide elastic
  • 4-6 yards of 1/4″ elastic depending on skirt length
  • Twill tie if desired


1.  Before cutting or sewing, do a test with the elastic and a fabric scrap to determine the ration of elastic to fabric needed to create the desired ruching effect.  

2.  Cut six pieces of fabric 9-10″ longer than the finished length (mine was 30″ for a 20″ skirt).  For the width, use the following formula.

  • Divide hip size by 6.
  • For each piece, add 1-1/2″ for the seams and 1″ to create the puffy effect.
  • If desired, you can flare slightly, making the lower part of the skirt wider.
  • For 40″ hips, my panels were 30″ long by 10″ wide at the top and 11″ at the bottom.
Cut panels. Middle panel has elastic applied.

3.  Cut 12 pieces of elastic based on what you learned when you ran your test.  (My elastic pieces were about 18″ long)

4.  Serge or zig-zag edges to reduce raveling.

5.  Starting 2′ from the waist edge, stretch fabric while sewing to each side of panels, one inch from each edge.

Note:  You start 2″ from the top as ruching in the waistband makes it too bulky.

6.  Sew panels together with a 5/8 to 3/4″ seam.  Press the seams open although this is somewhat useless as the seams don’t lay flat.

7.  Repeat for all panels.

8.  Turn waistband over and sew 1-1/2″ from the edge.

9.  Insert elastic to desired length.

Note:  I also put a twill tie in the waistband but it’s not necessary.

10.  Turn over 5/8″ at the bottom edge for a hem.  Machine sew with a straight stitch.

11.  Because there aren’t pockets in this skirt, to have a secure place for my passport, add a travel security pocket on the inside.

You are done!  Roll it up and put it in your suitcase.