This might be one of my most requested tutorials…so I’m going to try my best to make this sound as easy as it really is, okay?
Gather your materials: You’ll need a man’s button up shirt, a sleeveless dress or top that fits your little girl (or just a t-shirt that fits if you’re good at eyeballing things), a few pins, and a sewing machine. (Plus the usual – thread for the machine, a fabric pen to trace your pattern, and scissors!)
First, make your bodice pattern. I’ve made three of these dresses so far, and each one is a little different. I think my pattern is almost there…
If you have a sleeveless dress that fits, great – trace that, and add your seam allowance (I like about 1/2”, to leave room for my rolled hems on the arms and neck). If you’re using a t-shirt, you’ll need to trace the shirt out onto a piece of paper, and then on your pattern cut off the sleeves. Take a look at the next picture of my bodice pattern, and make it look like that. Heh. This bodice only goes down a few inches past the armpits, but you can of course make yours as long as you like.
Now that you have your bodice pattern, grab your shirt and line your pattern up on the front of the shirt with the buttons in the middle of the bodice. Make sure that there’s a button about 3/4” down from the top of the bodice. This is now your Back Bodice Piece.
(See how I situated the bodice piece so that it ended up with a button near the top?)
Now, flip the shirt over, and set your bodice piece up as high as it will go, without overlapping onto the yoke of the shirt. (The yoke is that separate piece at the top. It won’t be pretty on our dress – no big ol’ seams running across the chest for us!) (You’ll want to unbutton the shirt when you trace/cut out this second piece, so you don’t have those buttons getting in your way.)
Once you’ve cut out those two pieces, cut a straight line across the remaining shirt, as high as you can, to make your skirt. (This should fall just below the armpits of the shirt.)
Your three pieces!
Keeping your back bodice piece buttoned, lay it together with your front bodice piece, right sides together, and sew the two pieces together at the sides and shoulders. Now you have a little cropped tank top looking thing!
Once you’ve done that, unbutton your back bodice piece and lay it out right side up on your work space. Unbutton your skirt piece, and lay that on top, matching the raw edges, right sides together. Next, pin it in three places – once on the button placket, once on the buttonhole placket and once matching the center of the skirt and the center of your unbuttoned bodice piece.
(It’s pictured here all opened up, so you can see where to pin it.)
Here comes the trickiest part – you need to pleat up the fabric so that the skirt will be the same width as the bodice. (Alternately, you could do a long running stitch and gather up the fabric that way.)
Here’s how I do my pleats. I think they’re called box pleats, but I just call them inside out tennis pleats…because I’m crazy like that, and I made it up one day and it looked like a tennis skirt. Anyhow…moving on.
To make a box pleat (or an inside out tennis pleat. whatever), grab a little chunk of your fabric with two hands. Pinch your fabric between both sets of thumbs/fingers, and then lay it down flat and pin it in place. (Does that make any sense?)
I can fit one pleat at the middle pin, and then three on either side of it. I like big pleats!
(In that picture, the bodice is underneath the skirt piece, raw sides matching.)
Time for the big finish! Sew along that line of pleats, removing the pins as you go. You’re done!
When you flip your dress back over, your “inside out tennis pleats” will be…inside out pleats. See?
The neck and armholes can be finished either by turning the raw edges under, and then turning again and stitching around, or you can finish them with bias tape or ribbon. I usually do the double turn and stitch method myself, because I’ve never thought far ahead enough to make up bias tape ahead of time. Heh.