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