Introduction: How to Make a Summer Dress

This is my first big venture into the world of sewing! I know how to use a sewing machine, and I understand the basics. Just a heads up: this is not a project for someone who has never sewed before. However, I've never made a big project like this. I decided to try to make a dress that I can wear to a wedding at the end of the summer. I wanted something that would be comfortable and not too complicated. However, this dress has a lining in the bodice which makes it a little more challenging. I started out using a pattern, but I ended up deviating from it multiple times. The end result is a dress that fits me rather than perfectly following a pattern.

Step 1: Gather All of Your Supplies

First, I picked out a pattern. I chose this dress because it looked relatively easy and versatile. However, it ended up being pretty complicated for a first project. I knew that I could wear a dress like this to a more formal event (like a wedding) or any regular day.

Then, you'll need to pick out what kind of fabric you want. I went with a floral pattern on a black background. This dress can be made with brocade, satin, cotton type fabrics, or basically any kind of fabric. You will need about 2 1/2 yards (enough for a bodice, a lining, and a skirt).

You'll need thread that matches your fabric.

You'll need some interfacing, about half a yard.

You'll also need some practice fabric. I used an old sheet. I would recommend using a practice fabric with a pattern. It will make it easier to keep track of right and wrong sides.

It's helpful to have a specific scissors for cutting fabric, and a regular scissors for cutting your pattern.

You will need a tape measure to take your own measurements and measure the fabric.

And last but not least, you will need lots and lots of PINS. You can never have too many.

Oh, and you need a sewing machine. Unless you're sewing this by hand. Which I would not recommend.

Step 2: Cut Out Pattern and Practice Pieces

First, take your own measurements (bust, waist, hips) and go with the largest measurement. It's easier to make a dress smaller than to make it bigger.

Using those measurements, cut out the corresponding pattern size. Don't worry about the numbers, pattern sizes are not the same as sizes of clothes in a store.

I decided to focus on the bodice first because it seemed like it would be more difficult than the skirt.

Lay out the pattern pieces on your practice fabric, and pin them to the fabric. It doesn't matter if you pin it to the right or wrong side as long as you are consistent. This will make sure that the pieces don't slide around when you're cutting.

Then, cut out the pieces. Make sure you have an large, open workspace with good light. I used a ping-pong table.

Pay attention to how many you need of each piece. The pieces will say on them how many of each to cut.

Step 3: Pin and Sew Practice Pieces Together

After you've cut out the practice pieces, you can start pinning them with right sides together. Remember that this is just a practice dress, it doesn't have to be perfect. The main thing you're looking for is how the size fits you. Because the bodice of the dress is fitted, some of the pieces seem like they won't fit together. Just keep pinning!

After you've gotten everything pinned together, it's time to sew them together. There's nothing fancy here- just sewing where you've pinned.

Step 4: Altering Practice Dress

After sewing the practice bodice together, try it on and see how it fits. My first practice bodice (first picture) was a size 12 and way too big. I decided to try a size 6 next, and it was way too small (second and third pictures). Finally, I made a size 8. It was a little big, but I finally enlisted the help of a family friend who is an amazing seamstress. She taught me that it's okay to pin the bodice while you're wearing it. That way, you know it fits you for sure! It seemed too easy. But the last three pictures show how I pinned the bodice, and how much better it fits me.

Also, if something is too big in front, you need to take it in in the back or sides. The front of my bodice was too big, so the lady who helped me told me to take it in in the back (fourth picture). A good tip!

Step 5: Altering the Skirt

Since the bodice was a size 8 (or at least it was before I pinned it to fit my body), I decided to make the skirt a size 8 as well. While I made three different bodices, I only made one practice skirt, and cut it down to a size 8 (first picture).

Pleats can be made by drawing a dotted line and a straight line an inch apart on the skirt. Then bring the straight line over to the dotted line and pin it. Make sure to baste stitch all the way across all of the skirt pieces to make sure that the pleats stay in place.

Since I'm only 5'0" tall, I knew that the skirt would be too big. So I impulsively decided that it made sense to just cut 3 inches off the bottom of the pattern (second picture). DON'T DO THIS. This action came back to haunt me later.

Anyway, since it was also too big in the waist, I took it in at the side seams rather than cutting material off the back seam (third and fourth pictures). I took it in a half an inch on both sides.

Step 6: Cutting the Real Fabric

Once you have a practice dress that fits you, you can then use the practices pieces as your pattern to cut out your real fabric.

First, you want to iron your fabric. It's important that it lays smooth and even, so you can cut it accurately (first picture).

Next, take apart your practice dress, and iron all of the pieces so they lay flat (second picture).

Your pattern will show you the best way to lay out your fabric, so you don't waste too much (third picture).

If you have extra fabric, it's okay, because you'll be making a lining for the bodice. Don't forget!

The next two pictures show how I laid out my pieces. If you're using the practice pieces as the pattern, you don't need to pin them down because they won't slide around like the paper pattern.

The next picture shows how I laid out my pattern pieces AGAIN for the lining for the bodice. Basically, you're making two bodices.

Step 7: Cutting the Interfacing

Next step is cutting the interfacing. Interfacing helps reinforce the neckline of the dress.

I tried using the paper pattern, but it didn't fit the neckline of the dress because I had changed it by altering the bodice to fit my body (second picture).

So, I had to make my own pattern. I did this using tissue paper (like for stuffing gift bags). I used the practice piece and traced the neckline onto the paper. I used a ruler to measure the width and make sure it was consistent (third and fourth pictures)

Then, I pinned my new interfacing pattern onto the interfacing and cut it out. The last picture shows how much better it fits the neckline.

Step 8: Sewing the Bodice, Interfacing, and Lining

First step is to stay-stitch the neckline of the bodice. A stay-stitch is a stitch that is 1/2 an inch from the edge.

Then make sure that all of your pins are facing outwards, so you can pull them out while you sew the bodice together.

It's always okay to rip stitches out and start over again.

After you have the bodice together, sew the lining which just means that you sew another bodice and attach the two at the shoulder seams.

After that, pin the interfacing onto the neckline.

Then sew the interfacing onto the bodice. The last picture shows the interfacing sewn onto the neckline of the lining which is laying on top of the bodice.

Step 9: Ironing

After you have the bodice and lining together and the interfacing sewed on, it's time to iron.

First, iron the lining and the bodice together at the neckline (where the interfacing is). This will help your neckline lay smoothly.

Then, iron all of your seams flat so they lay smoothly as well.

Step 10: Skirt

Now, it's time to focus on the skirt.

First, pin your pleats together.

Then, sew on your pockets. You will sew one side of a pocket to one side of the skirt, and the other side of the pocket to the other side of the skirt. This way, when you put the two sides of the skirt together, you can sew both sides of the pocket together.

Sew around the pocket, and continue sewing down the rest of the skirt. This is the side seam.

Step 11: Skirt Fitting

After you sew the skirt together, double check that it fits!

As you can see in the picture, mine was way too big. So, I had to improvise. I decided to add two pleats to the front of the skirt (one one-inch pleat on each side) and two to the back of the skirt (one 3/4 inch pleat on each side).

And it worked! So, don't panic if it seems like you screwed up. There's usually a way to easily fix it.

Step 12: Sewing Skirt to Bodice

After your skirt is the right size, it's time to sew the skirt to the bodice.

You won't be sewing the LINING to the skirt though, just the bodice. So pay attention to that.

Now, you should have what finally looks like a dress!

Step 13: Prepping the Zipper

But, you'll need a zipper in your dress so it stays on. Unroll your zipper and unzip it. Turn it over so the coils are face-up and use an iron on low heat to flatten it (first picture).

Then, measure how long you want the zipper to be. Mark it with a pin, and then cut the zipper with a scissors about an inch below the pin (second picture).

Then, with some strong thread, sew back and forth across the bottom of the zipper (third picture).

Step 14: Sewing the Zipper

Now, you can unzip the zipper and start sewing it onto the dress.

Make sure that you are sewing the wrong side of the zipper (the side with the coils) onto the right side of the bodice. Double check that you are pinning it to the bodice and not the lining.

Make sure to use plenty of pins to hold the zipper in place.

You will also need to use a universal zipper foot (shown in third picture), and sew normally using the zipper foot to keep the stitches next to the coil.

When you are done, zip up the zipper. The last two picture show what it should look like on the inside and the outside.

Step 15: Hemming & Finishing

After the zipper is in, pin the extra material from the inside of the bodice to the zipper. Then hand-sew it so the zipper stays in (shown in the first picture). This will just help the dress look more put-together.

Sew a line into the bottom of the dress. Then fold up the dress again so it's even on the bottom, and pin it.

Then, slip-stitch the hem so the stitches don't show on the outside of the dress.

The last thing you'll want to do is iron the whole dress again so that it lays smoothly.