Saturday, January 21, 2012

How to Make the "Best Dress Ever" - A Tutorial

Welcome back!  

When I think about Dress A Girl Around the World I think about pillowcase dresses.   It is a great little dress  pattern…the length can be adjusted with the ties, and the width has plenty of ease.   This tutorial includes step by step instructions for making the standard pillowcase dress with ties on the shoulders.

This is a chart of the finished dress lengths.  Sometimes it is difficult to make a dress the correct number of inches so here is a range.  Do you know what size dress you would like to make? Take a look at the chart below.

Size/years old                    Finished Dress Length
Infant                                     14-16 inches
1-2 years                               17-19 inches
3-4 years                               20-22 inches
5-6 years                               23-25 inches
7-8 years                               26-28 inches
9-10                                         29-30 inches
11                                              31-33 inches
12-14                                       34-35 inches

There is one quick thing you need to do before we get started.  You need to draw a template for the arm opening.  Here is a photo of my templates in S, M, and L.  Get out a piece of paper or cardboard to draw your template on. I am going to give you the measurements for the width and length.  The curved line should go straight down for about 3 inches and then curve in a J shape.  No matter how your curve looks it will work out as long as you have the length width measured correctly.  

Template measurements: (width then length)
Small     1 1/2" x 4 1/2"   to fit infant to size 4   
Medium      2" x 5"           to fit child size 5 to 9
Large    2 1/4"  x 6"           to fit child 9 to 14

Let's get started!
For those of you that bought a pillowcase, choose the length of the dress that you wish to make and add one inch.  Take into consideration the width of your pillowcase particularly if it is large or king size.  Some king size pillowcase are pretty narrow and you don’t want to make a dress too narrow to run or play  in. 

If you are more of a visual person (like me) take a tape measure and measure the width of the pillowcase x 2 and put the tape around your own legs just below the knee.  What do you think? Is it too narrow?  If so make a smaller size and you can use the leftover fabric to make pockets.

Lay your pillowcase flat on a flat surface.  With a yard stick measure from the hem to the desired length + 1 inch.  Cut across the closed end.  Pillowcase people skip the following paragraph and pick up at the pink sentence below.  (scroll down)

For those of you that bought fabric, choose the length of dress that you wish to make and add two inches to the length the width will be whatever the width of the fabric is… we’re going to take advantage of those selvages. Go ahead and cut your dress the length you’ve chosen.  Put the selvages together and seam the length of the dress.  If you do not have selvages zig zag from top to bottom to make sure that this seam does not come apart.  Now let’s put in a hem.  On one end of the fabric tube turn up ½” all the way around the dress, pressing as you fold.  After you’ve completed this go around again folding up another ½”.  Stitch close to the edge of your hem with your machine.

We should ALL have a tube of fabric with a hem on one end.

Lay your tube out flat with the seam on the side rather than down the back.  It will be much less noticeable and both the front and back will appear seamless.  

Trace and cut your arm openings.  Your fabric should look like this.

It’s starting to look a little like a dress isn’t it? 

On the top front fold over ¼” and press.  Now fold over ¾” and press firmly.  Flip the dress over and do the same thing on the top of the back of the dress.  

Stitch close to the edge along the fold on the front and the back.  After you finish, press the casing one more time. 

Dress Size                 Elastic Length
6 mo to 5                           6”
6 to 9                                    7”
10 to 12                               8’

Select the size dress you are making.  You will need to cut two pieces of 3/8 or ½ inch elastic. (If you prefer you can leave the elastic in once piece for example if you are making a size 6 dress you will cut the elastic 14 inches and mark the center with a pin or marker. (I like to do this because it is easy for short pieces of elastic to get away).

Put a safety pin on the end of the elastic and push it through the casing.  When the center of your elastic reaches one end, pin or secure with a few stitches, clip the end of the elastic and continue across.  

While the safety pin is still attached fasten the end securely with a stitch or pin.  Do not stretch out to distribute the gathers…we’ll do that later.  Turn the dress over and repeat on the other side.

If you used pins to hold the elastic tack all four of the elastic ends using a zig zag stitch.  Make sure that you can see the ends of elastic so they will be well secured.

This is what your dress should look like…if it does give yourself a pat on the back.

Now  for the ties.  Find the length of ties that correspond to the size dress that you are making and cut two.  It will take one package to make one dress unless you are making an infant size dress.  If you buy 2 packages you will have enough tape to make 3 dresses.

Size                       Tie Length
Infant                    24
Small                     30
Medium                 36
Large                     38

If you look very closely at most bias tape while it is folded, one edge will appear to be a little wider.  You can see it pretty well on the tape edge on the left.  The wider side will go to the inside of the dress that way when you sew the tape about the arm opening you won’t have to worry about catching the edge of the tape that is out of sight.

Fold in and press the ends of the ties.

Fold you ties in half and mark with a pin.

With the right side of the fabric facing out pin the center of the bias tape to the center of the underarm.  Remember the widest edge of the bias tape needs to go on the inside of arm opening.  Make sure the dress fabric is all the way in to the fold.  Pin every inch or so to make sure that the fabric doesn’t slip out.

Lay your dress out with ties laid up like this.  You start sewing on the top of the left tie.  Sew the edges together with a straight stitch.  When you get to the dress fabric keep sewing removing the pins one at a time and then continue sewing up to the end of the tie.  You will be sewing a giant U.  Repeat on the other side.

*If it is easier you can sew around the U with a zig zag stitch.

Look on the inside of the arm opening and make sure that you caught all of the edges.

Turn your dress inside out and clip all the threads, check your seams and the hem. 

You are finished!  Flip your dress right side out, tie you ties and hang your dress up and admire your work.


Now it is time to embellish your dress and make it your own!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How to Make the "Best Dress Ever"

This little girl lives in Zimbabwe. She is one of thousands of little girls dreaming of a dress of her own.
Photos are a good way to put a face to the work that we have chosen to do. They help us focus, and remind us of the importance of our work.
I like to put a photo of a little girl on the wall behind my sewing machine to be a constant reminder of who I am sewing for. It is a good exercise and one that I would encourage everyone to try.
When choosing fabric for the “best dress ever’ it is imperative to take into consideration the hostile environment that so many of these girls live in. Their young and developing bodies need to be covered and protected from those that would choose to exploit or abuse them.
In Haiti, the incidence of rape has increased since the earthquake. One in four children living in Zimbabwe is orphaned as result of parents dying of AIDS. Many children must fend for themselves and their siblings. Some of these children are preyed upon by traffickers and sold. It makes me feel sick just to write the words but this is why it is so important to offer our “best dress ever.”
The ‘best dress ever’ will make a little girl feel special and loved while serving as a message to outsiders that this is a child that is being watched over by a group who cares enough to sew their name on the hem of each dress.
One of the difficulties with pillowcases is that they tend to be white or pastel and sometimes sheer or see through. If you use a pillowcase, find one that is a print or a solid color and one that you can’t see through. A good test is to put your hand between the layers to see if you can see your hand OR hold it up to the light. If there is any question in your mind then you should pick something else.
Your other option of course is to choose fabric. Cotton or cotton blend fabrics are the best. Steer away from sheer and clingy fabric. Pick out a print that you think a little girl would love as well as a fabric that will wear well. Fabric choice is half of what makes a dress ‘the best.’
Wide double fold bias tape makes the sturdiest ties. Ribbons are pretty but in some cases the satiny bows untie as a girl wiggles around in her dress. Please do not use wired, paper, organza, silky ribbon or thin lace. Lace and ribbon can be used on other parts of the dress but first let’s make a sturdy dress, embellishment fun will come later.
A dress made properly can be worn for several years and even possibly passed on to another child. Your dress may be the only garment that a little girl will own and will be worn day after day.
So let’s shop for the materials we need and meet back here on my blog later this week and I will help you make ‘the best dress ever.’
Pillowcase or fabric $5
Bias tape $3
Photo of little girl wearing a dress we recognize priceless.
Seeing a little girl wearing a dress we made a year after she received it…totally AWESOME.