I am all about soft, practical, easy- on and off clothes for my Toddler. Sometimes it is quite a struggle to get her dressed, so easy-on sundresses in the summer make life much easier.
I get tons of knit material from my mother in-law. She does the alterations for a plus-size clothing store in Tel Aviv and gets all their leftover fabric for free. When I started sewing she was very happy to clean out her closets and give me yards and yards of mostly solid color, soft knit fabric - perfect for kiddie clothes.
This dress actually started out as a swimsuit cover for me. I wanted to practice shirring, since it seems like a great technique, but I haven't had much experience with it. I figured I would take one of the free fabrics and try it out, and if it doesn't work out, I have nothing to lose. Unfortunately, I didn't realize just how much the fabric shrinks when you are shirring. So after shirring the front of the dress, I realized this would turn into another sundress for Littleheart.
You will need:
- 1 yard lightweight knit fabric (not too stretchy)
- Scrap of contrasting color knit fabric (you need this for both the flower and the bottom band, make sure it is as wide as your main fabric).
- Sewing Machine
- Elastic Thread
- Needle and Thread
- Cute button
Before we start sewing we want to prepare the fabric for the flower. Cut a strip of your knit fabric along the thread line, about one inch wide and as long as you can (the whole width of the fabric). It does not need to be exact, since the fabric will roll at the edges. Place the strip in warm water until it rolls along the edge (if it does not roll you cut it in the wrong direction). When it is all rolled take it out and let it dry.
Now let's start sewing!
Cut your main knit fabric into two rectangles, measuring 36 inches by 18 inches (these sizes are meant for size 2T-3T, but you can easily adjust to any size you need. Just keep in mind that shirring shrinks the fabric, so cut the rectangles wide enough). Cut another two pieces 6 inches wide and 10 inches long (for the straps). Cut 2 strips of your contrasting knit fabric, as long as your big rectangle (in my case 36 inches) and about 3 inches wide (this will be your bottom strip).
There are many great shirring tutorials out there, you can just type "shirring" in Google and get to great tutorials. But here is a brief review for you:
You need some elastic thread for your bobbin and normal thread for your top spool. Wind the bobbin by hand with your elastic thread, don't wind too loose, but don't pull too hard. Thread your machine as usual. Set your stich length to the largest length your machine has (mine is 4).
You will be sewing on the right side of your fabric, so that the elastic thread is in the back. Start sewing about 1/4 an inch from the top of your fabric (do a few back stiches in the beginning) .Sew across the entire width. When you get to the end, raise your needle and presser foot and then place your foot about 1/4 of an inch away from the line you already sewed, this time facing the other direction. Continue sewing back to the other end of the fabric. As you are sewing, pull your fabric flat, so that you do not sew over the ruffles, you want to pull the fabric and then let it shrink behind you. Continue going back and forth until you have the amount of shirred fabric you are looking for. Backstitch at the end to secure.
You will most likely need to refill your bobbin during the shirring. I usually cut the top string, restring the bobbin, and then place my presserfoot where I left off and continue sewing. After a few stiches I stop and thread my top threads that are hanging around through a needle, bring them to the back and tie all of the threads together, and all of the elastic threads together. You can pull the elastic thread out with a tweezers to get it long enough to tie.
So, once you have mastered shirring, shirr the top of both rectangles, about 4.5 inches down (on my dress that is 19 rows of shirring). Because you are using a knit fabric, you can leave the top of the rectangle with raw edges, since knit fabric does not fray. You could also serge the top of the rectangles, or fold it over twice 1/4 of an inch, press and baste across, so you have a clean edge.
You should now have two pieces that look like this:
See how the top is all ruffled?
Now take your rolled strip of knit fabric. We are going to make the loopy flower out of this. Starting about 5 inches down from one end of the strip, make your first loop. Take your needle and thread and secure your loop in place. Then continue making more loops, securing them with one or two stiches in the middle, as you go around.
Your finished flower should look like this: (mine has five loops, but you could do more or less).
Take your flower and pin it onto the shirred part of one of the pieces, leaving the two strings hanging. Now sew around the outside of your petals, pivoting each time you get to the middle. Don't worry about the fabric folding over, the flower has a bit of a rustic look to it, so it does not have to be smooth. When you finish your last petal backstitch to secure the string.
You now have a front piece with your flower and a back piece which is just shirred.
Place both pieces right sides together and sew the side seams.
Now let's make the straps.
I made the straps like you make purse straps. Take your two small rectangles, fold them in half and press. Then open them up and fold each side to the middle fold and press. Then fold the whole thing in half and press.
Baste along the open side of each strap, about 1/8 of an inch from the edge. Make sure the strap doesn't twist. Then baste along the other side.
Take your dress piece and pin the straps on, about 2.5 inches from the side seam, both in the front and in the back. Perhaps you want to try the dress on your little girl to see how long the straps need to be (I know trying on clothes is probably not your 2 year old's favorite thing to do – my straps are about 8 1/4 inches long, if that helps). Sew the straps on in a square, sewing along the lines from the shirring, so you can't see the stiches.
You are almost done!
Make sure that the dress is the length you want it, you might want to cut off the bottom a bit if it is too long. Take your two strips of contrasting fabric and sew them together on the short sides, making a loop. Fold the strip in the middle on the long side and press. Now pin the loop to the bottom of your dress, aligning the raw edges. Sew the strip to the dress, with a half inch seam allowance. I used my serger, but you could just as well use a regular sewing machine.
Press the strip away from your dress, sew a cute button to the center of your flower and you're done! A great easy-on sundress for your little girl!
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