Tutorial: American Girl Twirly Dress

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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.

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

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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.

Tutorial:

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. 

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

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

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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.
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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
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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.

Construction:

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.

Full Bust Adjustment (FBA): Adding a Horizontal Dart

In my last post I showed you the Edwardian dress I sewed for my SIL.  Despite using reference books and websites with directions on FBA, I wasn’t able to put my finger on the  directions for adding a horizontal dart while narrowing the shoulder.  Since I’m not sure I can describe what I did for the narrow shoulder adjustment, I can show you how I made the full bust adjustment (FBA).

This Past Patterns #903 pattern was the starting point.   Given that the bodice only has vertical darts, my options were to slash the pattern, eliminate the darts and make it into a princess line dress or to add a horizontal dart.  While I chose the latter, I now wonder if it would have been easier to convert one of the vertical darts into a princess line and forget the second dart, especially because of the narrow shoulder adjustment.  Maybe the next time?

Tutorial:

1.  Copy the pattern piece onto a separate piece of pattern paper, leaving several inches around all of the edges so you have space to make adjustments.  Out of the envelope, the front pattern piece looked like this.

Original pattern piece – front bodice

2. Start by adding width to the side of the bodice front (and back if needed), making sure that the dress pattern is equal to the wearer’s full bust measurement plus wearing ease.  I did this by adding to the side of the front and back of the dress top.  On the photo below, if you look to the right side (arrow #1), you can see that my pattern is much wider than the largest size of the printed pattern.  Note: By taking this step you have accommodated for the wearer’s circumference, however in order to avoid having the dress pull up in front, you will also need to add length to the dress front.  That’s where we’re going now.

3. Slash the pattern horizontally at the wearer’s bustline.  Note:  If you slash the pattern at the full bust line, the dart should fall in the correct position.

4.  Physically separate the top and bottom pieces of the pattern and add an amount that is consistent with the wearer’s fullness.  For me is was guesswork to start and then I made further adjustments with each muslin.  There’s probably a formula to calculate this but I couldn’t find it.  In the final muslin I added nearly 4″ to the bodice front.

5. Fill the slashed area with a piece of pattern paper and tape in place (not visible on my photo).

6.  Draw a dart at the center of the area you added to the pattern. (Arrow #3).  Note the bottom of the pattern – the revised pattern is much longer than the original.  (Arrow #4)

While this will likely not be your final alteration, it’s a great place to start, and you can make changes based on how the muslin fits.  In the end you should end up with something like this:

Narrow Shoulder Adjustment:

Unfortunately I don’t feel that I mastered this technique or could even offer advice on what I did to narrow the shoulders while adding several inches to the side seam.  Essentially this was so the armhole wasn’t oversized for the sleeve.   All I can say is that I followed Nancy Ziemen’s Pivot and Slide technique .

Readers, if you have suggestions on how to make this alteration differently, please leave a comment.

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.

The 2-Minute Buttonhole

For months I have been sewing an 1890’s day dress for my SIL, Margie, who volunteers at an Edwardian Mansion.  Sewing the dress was disrupted significantly by our cross-country move and buying a new home but also because my SIL and I live miles apart.  Admittedly I probably procrastinated a little, dreading the 20+ evenly spaced buttonholes on the dress front.  When I finally tackled the buttonholes, it took less than an hour from the sample buttonhole to completing all 21 buttonholes. Best of all, the buttonholes were equal in length.  It was so easy that I need to share this technique with you. 

The 21 buttons all standing neatly in a row

Preparation:

1.  Make a sample buttonhole so you know long to make each buttonhole and of course to see if the stitch length needs to be adjusted.

2.  Take the measurement for the buttonhole.

3.  Machine-baste two vertical rows of stitching on the dress front (or the complete length of whatever garment you are working on), corresponding with the ends of the buttonhole.   Going forward I will refer to these lines as “guide lines”

4.  With a marking pen, make a horizontal line for each buttonhole, extending to each vertical line of stitching or guide line.  (For me, marking was easy as the buttonholes were one inch apart).

5.  Place a narrow strip of clear wash-a-way stabilizer over the buttonholes (this technique lifts the satin stitch out of the fabric resulting in a more finished look).

Sewing the buttonholes – the clear wash away stabilizer is difficult to see but it’s there.  Click on photo to enlarge.

Sewing the Buttonholes – Staying Inside the Lines is the Key

Note:  To give me more control, I turned off the automatic buttonhole setting. 

1. Place your needle at your starting point for a buttonhole, barely touching the vertical stitching line – unlike Kindergarden, this isn’t a time to sew outside of the lines!

2. Stitch the first side of the buttonhole until the needle is just shy of the second guide line.

3. Bar tack (or make the wide end stitch)

4. Sew the second side of the buttonhole

5. Make the final bar tack, again staying just inside of the guide lines.

6.  When you are finished with the first buttonhole, move right on to the next one without cutting the threads.

Before you know it you’ll have completed all of the buttonholes.  When completed, clip the threads, remove the guide line stitches and the excess wash-away stabilizer.  To remove the stabilizer I used an embroidery scissors.  You can always dab some water on the stabilizer remains.  Last of all, carefully cut the buttonholes and press.

Sewing completed

What I learned:

1.  By turning off the automatic buttonhole feature, I had complete control and could stop at exactly the desired point.

2.  Sewing the buttonholes in such a short timeframe actually made it easier, as if I was on an assembly line.

3. Previously I have used strips of blue masking tape as a guide however the stitching line was much easier.  Those little blue pieces of tape didn’t look good with all fabrics.

4. I liked making 21 buttonholes.

Give it a try