Introduction: How to Sew a Cute Summer Sun Dress and Make Your Own Clothes

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This gorgeous, trendy dress was featured in our "Every Style Has a Common Thread" advertisement to represent a Valley Girl look. It was inspired by characters like Elle Woods from Legally Blonde and Cher from Clueless. The dress calls for a technique known as smocking, which uses an elastic bobbin to create a ruffled, comfortable, and form-fitting bodice. The entire dress can be made with only the instructions below with no patterns, and in addition to smocking, you will learn and hone techniques such as gathering and seam finishing. Top off this dress with a floppy hat and sun glasses for summer fun. Please read ALL the directions first before beginning your sundress.

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Step 1:

To make the summer sundress you will need:
*about 1.5 yards of solid fabric
*about 1.0 yard of print fabric
*matching thread
*elastic thread
Please Note: Our estimates for needed fabric for this project are based on a size 8 dress. It's always best to buy more fabric if need be. (You can always make a matching bag from the left over fabric.)

Step 2:

You will not need a pattern to make this dress. We will be cutting the fabric into a rectangle for the dress with your measurements.
First, measure your bust and your hips. Which ever measurement is bigger that is the one you will use. Now add 1/2 of that number to your measurement and that is your width measurement for the dress.

Example: If your hip measurement was the largest that's the one to use. Let's say your hip measured 34". Add 1/2 of that measurement which is 17".

34" + 17" = 51" So 51" would be your width measurement for the dress.

Step 3:

Now let's get the length measurement.
Measure from where you want the dress to lie on your body above the chest area to where you want the dress to end at your legs. Then subtract 3" from that measurement to allow for the gathered printed ruffle at the bottom. (We did ours above the knee, but you can do any length you want.)

Example: if your measurement of where you want your dress to lie on your body from top to bottom of dress is 40" subtract 3" to allow for the ruffled bottom.

40"- 3" = 37" So 37" would be your length measurement for the dress.

Step 4:

Cut out your rectangle for your dress according to your measurements.
First, hem the top of the dress along the width. Fold under 1/2" to the ugly side of the fabric. Fold again 1/2". Pin, press, and stitch.

Step 5:

Let's begin the elastic thread gathering technique.
Hand wind the elastic thread around your bobbin. Set your machine at a baste stitch. Begin by sewing a straight seam on the pretty side of the fabric just below the hem you just stitched. DO NOT SEW ON YOUR HEM. Sew just below it. Back tack at the beginning and at the end. Do not forget to back-tack each time other-wise your elastic gathering will fall apart.

Sew the next line using your first line as a guide and sew 1/4" from the line. (So your stitching lines will be 1/4" apart from each other.)

Step 6:

Continue stitching rows. Rethread your bobbin as you run out. You may have to do so several times throughout making the elastic gathers.

Step 7:

Continue until you have reached your desired amount. (We did 28 rows.)

Step 8:

How to make the gathered ruffle bottom:
Cut a piece of the print fabric 9" X twice your hip measurement. (if your hips measured 42" cut 82")

Most fabric is not that long so you may need to cut 2 pieces and sew them together. This is what we had to do. The photo here is showing us sewing two pieces together to form one very long strip.

Step 9:

Fold the very long strip in half PRETTY SIDES OUT.
Pin the top together and press flat.

Baste the top using the pressure foot as your guide.

Step 10:

To gather the top use your favorite gathering method.
One method is to just use a basting stitch. Keep your thread long after sewing and do not back-tack. Then pull one thread to gather.

We suggest using a stronger gathering method since this is a long seam. Here's how to do our favorite gathering method.

Step 11:

Pin the raw edges of the gathered end of the ruffle to the bottom of the dress. Make sure the gathering is even across the bottom.
Stitch in place using a 5/8" seam allowance.

Step 12:

Place the dress PRETTY sides together and pin the side seam from top to bottom including the gathered ruffle at the hem.
Stitch using a 5/8" seam allowance.

Step 13:

Try the dress on. If the top area above the chest is too big, which we have found to be the case in some of our fittings, adjust accordingly by marking how far in you want to sew and make a new seam just at the top to fit. Make sure your new seam gradually gets to the original seam. (See Photo) Stitch over your marked line to form a new seam. Trim seam to 1/4" and zigzag seam finish.

Step 14:

How to sew the belt.
To make the belt cut a piece of the print fabric 7" X 60". Fold the belt PRETTY sides together and pin down the one long end and one short end. Stitch the long end and one short end using a 1/4" seam.

Step 15:

Turn belt pretty side out through opening at the other small end. Press nice and flat. Fold edges where the opening is in and stitch closed. The belt ties in the back.
Your Cute Summer Sundress is DONE!