Edit 16 July 2013: I’ve just discovered Kids Clothes Week so I’m adding this project to the mix. Hopefully it’ll nudge me to post a bit more and to get some projects done this week. I’m currently working on a very special one – a dress for Ellery to wear to a family wedding in a few weeks, and my first project in Liberty London fabric (yum!). Stay tuned for more…
I’m not sure if Kin by John Lewis is new, or just new to me, but I like it! John Lewis is a department store here in the UK, I guess the closest thing I can compare it to back home would be Bloomingdales. It’s one of those huge places that has absolutely everything and they happen to have a haberdashery department so I find myself popping into the one at Sloane Square (actually that one is called Peter Jones but it’s the same store so I don’t really know why) when I need a bit more elastic or some velcro or needles or such. Haberdashery is conveniently located on the children’s clothing floor so I took a spin around recently and discovered one of their clothing lines called Kin.
The pieces are comfy and laid-back looking, and they look like adult clothing shrunk down to kids’s sizes. And let’s be honest, I wish that half of Ellery’s clothes came in my size, too, so it was right up my alley. I love this t-shirt I’d bought her from the line. It has a dolman sleeve (aka easy to reproduce because you don’t have to set in a sleeve) so I figured it was a great template for a t-shirt dress. I’ll definitely be making this one again – either from the same pattern or perhaps with some different design details.
Here’s what you’ll need in order to make a Rolled Dolman Sleeve T-Shirt Dress:
- a t-shirt in whatever size you want to make (easiest if it already has a dolman sleeve, but if not, you should it should still work)
- lightweight jersey fabric*
- sewing machine and matching thread
- French curve or other curved edge
- tracing paper or freezer paper or any other translucent paper
- double needle (not necessary, but nice for a professional finish)
*Make sure to always wash and dry your fabric before starting any project.
I did use an overlocker / serger to finish off my seams inside this dress, but you absolutely do not need one! The great thing about knits is that they don’t fray so you can leave your seams raw, trim them, pink them or pretty much do whatever you want to them.
Let’s get started!
1. Fold your t-shirt in half along the center front. If it’s wrinkly or won’t lay flat, press. If your paper came folded, switch off the steam on your iron and press out the creases. Lay your folded t-shirt on the paper.
Dot around the edges of your t-shirt – dot the center front neckline and around the neckline to the shoulder seam, dot your shoulder seam and the corners of your sleeve opening, around the bottom of the sleeve and down as far as you’d like the bodice to go. I went down about 2 inches initially but then added a bit more as I tried to curve the empire waist. Unfortunately I didn’t curve it enough because if you look at my photos of the final project, you can’t really see the curve at all. Next time I’ll re-trace my bodice with a more dramatic curve.
Now remove the t-shirt and start connecting your lines. Use your ruler for straight lines at the center front, shoulder, sleeve opening and bottom of bodice (disregard my curve there), and then switch to your French curve for the sleeve seam/side seam line and the neckline. If the t-shirt you’re using doesn’t have a dolman sleeve, try to use your French curve to get a nice, smooth curve under the armpit, rather than the usual hard angle in a regular sleeve. Add 3/8″ seam allowance to all sides except center front.
Very important – make notes on your pattern! Otherwise you’ll find it in a few months and have no idea what it was for. Make sure to note: what it is (t-shirt dress), size (2), what the pattern piece is (front bodice), how many to cut (1, on the fold), mark where to place the fold (center front), mark the grain line and note the seam allowance.
2. Now for the back bodice. This is why we’re using translucent paper, although if you only have opaque pattern paper, you could use a tracing wheel to copy the front bodice to the back.
Place a new piece of paper on top of the front bodice page and tape it down so they don’t shift around. Trace all of the lines except the neckline. On most t-shirts, the back neckline is higher than the front (a boatneck is the only exception that comes to mind). Once you have all the lines except the neckline traced, place your t-shirt back into position and dot in the back neckline. Remove the shirt and connect the dots using your French curve.
3. For the skirt piece, you really just need a square. I wanted my skirt to be 44″ around (I just measured around the hem of another similar dress and added a couple of inches for more fullness), including the seam allowance. That’s 22″ for the front and 22″ for the back. But it can be cut on the fold, so halve it again and the width of the skirt piece should be cut at 11″. The height of the skirt piece is up to you, depending on how long you’d like the dress to be. I cut mine 15″ long, which I knew was longer than I’d needed, but gave me extra room to play around with the length.
4. Lay out your pattern pieces and cut.
I also always like to test my stitches if it’s a fabric I haven’t used before. Or sometimes even if I have. This is a test piece from my serger, but especially with knits, which are difficult to take apart, I like to test out my stretch stitch on my sewing machine as well.
4. Let’s tackle the construction, beginning with shoulders and neckline Place front and back bodice pieces together, right sides facing. Sew one shoulder seam closed and press seam.
Take a tape measure and measure around the neckline (or walk a ruler around if you don’t have a tape measure). Cut a piece for the neckline trim that’s 3/4 of that neckline measurement by 1.5″. Fold the neckline trim in half along the long side and press. Measure the center of the neckline trim and mark it at the edge with a washable marker or chalk. Take the bodice piece and find the center of the neckline length (it’s not the shoulder seam because the front neckline should be longer than the back). Mark that near the edge as well.
To attach the neckline trim, place it on top of the right side of the neckline, with the cut edge of the trim aligning with the neckline. Stitch them together, while gently pulling on the trim as you sew – it’s only 3/4 of the length of the neckline so you need to stretch it to fit. Use those markings you just made as a guideline and stretch it so that they line up when you sew.
Then press the seam allowance down towards the bodice.
Pin other shoulder, right sides facing, and stitch. Press the seam.
Just a quick note on pressing: I always press my seams to the back of the garment. That’s what I was taught in school so that’s how I do it. I don’t think it makes a huge difference, but I do think it’s important to pick a direction and stick with it. Otherwise you can wind up with twisted seams inside your garment.
5. We now need to cut some trim for the sleeves. Unlike the neckline trim, which needed to be cut shorter than the neckline and stretched when sewn on, this trim should be cut to the same length as the sleeve opening. I made this mistake and cut it 3/4 of the length and had to take it out on both sides once I realized it made the sleeve openings teeny tiny.
But other than that, it’s the same basic idea. So cut two rectangles, 3.25″ x the length of the sleeve opening. Press in half along the long side. Pin the trim to the right side of the sleeve opening, aligning the cut edge of the trim with the edge of the sleeve. Stitch and press.
Now that all the trim is attached, pin the side seams together, right sides facing and sew down the side seams.
Fold the sleeve trim up and bartack it down. I don’t have a bartack setting on my machine, so instead I used my zigzag stitch and shortened the length of the stitch to 1 so they were very close together.
Now the bodice is done!
6. Skirt time. Sorry, I think I got to this part late at night and I forgot to keep taking pictures. But the skirt part is easy so I’ll do my best to explain.
First, place your skirt pieces together, right sides facing, and sew down both side seams. Press seams.
To gather the waist in so it matches the same circumference as the bodice bottom of the bodice, I recently learned a great trick from this hey june Edelweiss Dress pattern (which I’ll post about soon!). Sew two rows of gathering stitches at 1/4″ and 1/2″ from the front waist edge, stopping just before the seam and then starting again on the back waist. Use your longest straight stitch setting and make sure to leave long tails of thread on both ends.
Take your bodice, right side out and upside down and insert it into the skirt so right sides are facing. Match the center front of the skirt to the center front of the bodice and pin. Also put a pin in where the center backs meet up and where the side seams meet up. Now begin to gather the skirt by taking those two long tails from one end and gently push the fabric away (towards the center of the garment), creating gathers. You’re basically divided into quarters, so gather each quarter until it’s the same length as that quarter of bodice. Once they match up, wrap those long thread tails around the side seam pin to lock them in place. And now you can distribute your gathers evenly across the entire top of the skirt without them slipping out.
Once the gathers are nicely distributed, add additional pins to hold the skirt to the bodice, and sew them together. I like to use a seam allowance slightly larger than 1/2″ here so I can avoid having to take out gathering stitches later. Another way to do this would be to use a contrasting thread color for the gathers so that it’s easy to spot them and remove them.
7. Almost done – just need a hem. Actually, if you didn’t want to bother, you could totally just cut the hem to desired length and leave it because knits don’t fray. But, I have a snazzy new double needle because my old one snapped so I figured it would be a good time to use it. I did curve the hem slightly to make it lower in the back than the front, but I eyeballed it. Next time I’d like to do that, I’ll probably work it into the pattern instead.
I know it’s a pain to switch needles, but I really do love the look of a double needle hem. Plus it creates a zigzag on the inside, so it has nice stretch, too.
And that’s it – the dress is done!
And of course, a few action shots: