"Grandma, Can You Make This for Me?"




Introduction: "Grandma, Can You Make This for Me?"

About: Vietnam era veteran (USAF), former air traffic controller, former entrepreneur, former clergy, former chauffeur. Currently retired and busier than ever. Devoted husband to an extremely talented wife and fat...

It's my wife's turn to do an Instructable and she has a great story - and a beautiful dress for you - so here she is.

The Saga of a Silk and Satin Prom Dress - Life Imitates Art

"Grandma, can you make a prom dress like that?" I was working on a cross stitch portrait of a young woman in a formal dress. She had short red hair, a heart-shaped face, long neck, wide shoulders and a tiny waist. I had picked up this particular cross stitch because it reminded me so much of my granddaughter, and the "like that" she was referring to was the rather stunning strapless dress the woman in the cross stitch was wearing - bright red top which nipped in at the waist and continued on to mid-hip, and a black skirt covered with mid-sized mixed red, pink and purple roses blooming outward from the waist at nearly a ninety degree angle.

Wow! A prom dress like that? Really? Grandmas are real pushovers - especially when it's a granddaughter doing the pushing. I started by compiling a list of potential problems connected the this endeavor and my granddaughter Katelyn would contribute more as the project progressed. I'm fairly competent with a sewing machine but far, far from a pro and have seldom done any sewing that wasn't guided by a pattern. I used to have a dress form but finally got rid of it just a short while ago. How would I make this to fit her? And where in the world would I find fabric that even remotely resembled the dramatic pattern of the dress in the cross stitch?

Katelyn and I discussed the material for some time, trying to come up with ways we could mimic the pattern in the picture. The top didn't really present a problem - it was fiery red. But the bottom - with those roses...we thought maybe we could make a black dress and applique roses onto it. Or maybe paint roses on. Yuck. Nobody wants a prom dress that screams Made by Grandma - and those certainly would. To be honest, I was sort of hoping she would lose interest and I'd find a way out of this, but I wasn't going to do or say anything to dampen her enthusiasm if it persisted.

We went to the local fabric store one day to look for red fabric for the top. The store was moving into a larger location and had a huge sale going on of material by the bolt. We walked in and down the first aisle, and there it was - two bolts of black silk with red, pink and purple roses fairly glowing on the shelf - a dead ringer for the skirt in the picture - and on sale! At 90% off!! Who am I to argue with fate?

Convinced by this incredible coincidence and fueled by Katelyn's unflagging enthusiasm, I jumped in with both feet and never looked back. Of course, this was to be for a teenaged girl - for a prom - so the entire process was peppered with design modifications and challenges to my rather humble dressmaking skills. Could you make it so the top and the skirt are two separate pieces? Well, I guess I could. Could you make it so the skirt starts at the hips rather than the waist? Um, I suppose so. Could the top be a little shorter to show some midriff - say above the navel? Uh, yeah - I could do that. Could it be just a bit shorter - up to my ribcage? I don't see why not. Could you make the back open, with laces bringing it together? Laces? OK, I think I can do that. I'm self-conscious about strapless dresses - could you add straps? Yes, I could probably do that. Then - one week before the prom - It will be hard to dance in this skirt - could you make a shorter one I can change into for dancing? Now? Sure - why not? And I thought the Manhattan Project was complicated. If you have sewing experience, this dress design should actually be a piece of cake. But even if you're a novice I've tried to provide detailed instructions and lots of pictures so you, too, can make a knockout prom dress!

P.S. After the prom, I added straps to the dress in the cross stitch, so we had a sort of life imitating art imitating life thing going on when it was all said and done.


BODICE: 1 yard (42" wide) of polyester satin. If you are using the satin as both outer fabric and lining you will need two yards. If you are going to use a different fabric for the lining you will need 1 yard of the outer fabric and 1 yard of the lining fabric.

SKIRTS (both long and short skirts): 8 1/2 yards of 58" wide flowered silk fabric.

Hoop underskirt with Velcro closures. We ordered one online.

At least 6 inches of 3/4" wide sticky-backed Velcro (not sew-on). I used medium heavy-duty.

1 mid-size hook and eye.


Paper to cut the pattern for the top. I used a roll of wrapping paper.

Muslin - if you're going to make the test bodice.

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Step 1: A Dress Form for Katelyn

If you have a good dress form or patterns you can adapt to the process you can skip this step, but it was a major hurdle I had to conquer as Katelyn lives over thirty miles away and wouldn't always be there for fittings. As I said earlier, Katelyn is tiny-waisted, broad shouldered - and possessed of a surprisingly healthy bust line. If this was going to look good, it was going to have to really hug her proportions. But again, a twist of fate pointed me in the right direction. I had recently read a magazine article that promoted the idea of using duct tape ("The handyman's secret weapon" as my husband says - he was an unrepentant fan of the Red Green Show). So her mother and I corralled her one afternoon, stripped her to her undies, wrapped her in plastic wrap like a leftover sandwich and began laying on the duct tape. We kept on adding more duct tape until we figured the whole thing was firm enough, carefully cut up the side to release a grateful granddaughter, taped over the cut and stuffed the resulting mold with newspapers. Voila - a dress form! And it actually worked! Will wonders never cease?

Step 2: A Muslin Trial Bodice

Before actually cutting into your beautiful material it would be an excellent idea to stitch together a trial bodice in muslin. Since all the measurements are semi-exact, this will give you an opportunity to fit the bodice exactly. Pin pattern pieces to the muslin. Cut out and stitch together all pieces (no need for straps here). When pinning and stitching front side pieces to the center front piece, cup the material around the bust area to fit the curve of the pattern. Pin and sew together carefully to ensure the bust area retains its shape. Clip the seams whenever there is a curve in stitching. Try the top on the dress form or intended wearer. Use pins to adjust the pattern to fit exactly. Remove from the form and transfer your adjustments to the pattern pieces.

Step 3: Making the Bodice

Refer to the pattern diagrams to cut your fabric for the bodice. The pattern grid is one inch and the dress was designed for a size 2 - 3. Adjust the pattern according to the size you want to make.

Cutting the bodice: If you are using the same material for both the outer fabric and the lining cut all the pattern pieces twice. If you are using a different material for the lining, cut one set of pattern pieces in the finish material and one set in the lining material.

Cutting the straps: Cut four pieces of matching or contrasting material each 14" long by 1" wide.

Making the straps: Fold the material in half lengthwise, pin, and stitch a 1/4" seam along the entire length nd one outer side. Turn the strap right side out - I use a small safety pin secured to the stitched end as in Figure 10. I also use a chopstick to help push it through and square the ends.

Pin the stitched end of one strap on each side of the front bodice seam with the strap seams facing inward (see Figure 12). Pin the other end of each strap to the corresponding back panels on either side of the seams.

With the right sides of the fabric together, pin the front panel to the lining panel on both sides and across the top. Pin 1/2 to 3/4 of the bottom seam (you need to leave enough room in the bottom to insert your hand and turn the top right side out later). Make certain your straps are not in the way of your seaming.

Stitch a 5/8" seam up one side, across the back panel (leaving a small opening in the seam around each back strap). Stitch as close to the straps as possible without catching them in the seam. Stitch across the top of the front, securing the front straps in place (make certain they are straight before stitching). On the second back panel again leave the seam open just around the straps and then continue down the side and 3/4 of the way across the bottom.

Remove all pins except those holding the back straps in place. Turn the garment right side out. Make ertain the back seam meets precisely for either an invisible zipper or lacing and adjust if necessary. See Figure 13.

Fit the top on your model or dress form. Reach inside the rear bottom opening and unpin one strap. Adjust the strap until it fits comfortable on the shoulder and pin it in place from the outside. Repeat this process with the remaining straps.

Hand stitch so that each strap is securely enclosed in the top seam. If there is more than 1" excess material on any strap in back reach inside and trim the excess with a small pair of scissors. Carefully whip stitch the remaining opening at the bottom of the back panel.

If you will be using an invisible zipper, follow the package directions regarding construction techniques.

To determine the number and placement of button holes measure the length of the garment. My holes were 1 1/2" apart with the first placed 3/4 of an inch down. Adjust the number of holes according to the length of your garment, but don't forget to leave a bit of space between the first button hole and the top and the last button hole and the bottom.

Lacing: To determine the length of ace needed, lace the back of the garment together with string and tie the desired size bow. Remove the string, measure its length and add 1 1/4". My length was 50 inches.

Cut the fabric for your lace in a contrasting fabric - I used the fabric for the skirt and cut a piece 50 inches long by 1 1/2 inches wide. Pin the right sides together and stitch 1/4" from the edge across one end and along the entire length. Turn inside out as you did with the straps. Tuck in the open end slightly and whip stitch closed.

Lace the garment from top to bottom. Your final button holes at the bottom should have the laces coming from inside to out in order to make a nice bow. If they're going the other direction, take the lacing out and start your lacing opposite from the way you started the first time. See Figure 14.

Step 4: The Long Hoop Skirt

You will need one hoop underskirt in the appropriate size. See Figure 15.

Cut four panels of fabric, each 51 - 52 inches wide and 42 - 44 inches longer (longer for a taller size). Your material should be 1 1/2 inches longer that the hoop underskirt if you're sewing a shirt-tail hem. If you'll be doing a 1 inch hand-stitched hem the material should be 2 1/2 inches longer than the hoop underskirt.

Sew 5/8" seams to join al four pieces together along the 52 - 54 inch width. Stop stitching 4 1/2 inches down from the top side of one panel to make a back opening for the skirt. Measure this opening against the opening in the hoop underskirt so that it will conform to the size of the hoop underskirt waist opening. Adjust if necessary. See Figure 16. Double fold the seam material in this area and whip stitch to form a smooth finish for the opening.

Measure 3/8" down from the top of the skirt and run a gathering stitch around the entire waist of the skirt. Drop down 1/4" and run another gathering stitch. Drop down 1/4" again and run a third gathering stitch. DO NOT back stitch at either end of the gathering stitches.

Carefully pull stitches on one side and gently gather material together, sliding the cloth toward the middle until you've gathered about 1/4 of the material. Now pull threads from the opposite side and again gather about 1/4 of the material. Continue alternating the ends like this until you have gathered the entire top of the skirt. See Figure 17.

Carefully stretch the waistband of the hoop underskirt and measure the length of the waistband. Ad 2 1/2 inches to this measurement. Now measure the width of the hoop underskirt waistband, double the measurement and add 1 inch. Using these figures for length and width, cut a piece of material along the fabric grain to be used as the hoop skirt waistband. My figures were 33 1/2 inches by 4 1/2 inches.

Press a 1/4" fold along the entire length of the waistband on both sides (you may have to pin to hold the fold in place). See Figure 18. Turn the gathered top of the skirt wrong side up. Lay the waistband on top of the gathered skirt so that the wrong side of the waistband and the folded edges are facing up and the edge of the waistband is just below the lowest gathering stitch - see Figure 19. Find the center of the length of the waistband and pin to the center front seam of the skirt. Pin the top edges of the opening at the back of the skirt to the ends of the waistband so that 1 1/4" of the waistband extends beyond the edge of the back opening at each end. Pin and machine stitch, adjusting gathers as you go to fir the waistband. Stitch a 1/4" closing at each end of the waistband. Turn the waistband over the top of the gathered end of the skirt so that it folds down to just below the lowest gathering stitch on the right side of the skirt (Figure 20). Pin and either hand or machine stitch. NOTE: Do not use interfacing or anything to stiffen the waistband because it will be sewn onto the elastic waist of the hoop underskirt.

Place skirt over hoop underskirt with back openings matched. To pin the waistband of the fabric to the waistband of the hoop underskirt, start again from the middle and pin together. Again, pin one inch from each end. Working from the middle in alternating directions, stretch the elastic of the hoop underskirt band to fit the fabric waistband, pinning in place as you go. Machine stitch along the top and bottom of the fabric band, adjusting where necessary. See Figures 21 and 22 showing the waistband stretched and relaxed.

In the back opening, double turn the seam material to form a smooth finished opening and hand stitch. Cut a 1 1/2 inch piece of 3/4" mid-to-heavy self-sticking Velcro. Attach to each end of the waistband. See Figure 23.

With the skirt on the wearer or on the form, check the length of the skirt as it sits over the hoop underskirt. Trim the length as necessary for a 1" folded hem or a shirt-tail hem. Hem to finish.

Step 5: The Short Skirt

For the shorter skirt measure from either the waist or the top of the hips - depending on where you want the waistband to rest (Katelyn's sat on her hips) to the desired length of the skirt and add 3/4" for a shirt-tail hem. Cut four panels 51 - 52 inches wide and as long as the waist-to-hem measurement you just made.

Stitch and gather the waist as you did for the long skirt, leaving a 6 inch opening along the top seam. Double fold the seam in this opening and hand stitch.

For the short skirt waistband, measure the circumference of the waist or hips where the waistband will sit. Add 7 inches to the length of this figure. Use the same width as the previous waistband - ours was 35" by 3 1/4". Cut material to this size.

Follow the directions above for attaching the waistband to the gathered material, leaving three inches clear on each end of the waistband. Once the waistband is attached, cut two 2 inch pieces of 3/4" Velcro and place on the waistband one inch apart. Sew one mid-size hook between the sections of Velcro and finish with a shirt-tail hem. To close the back slit, cut a two inch piece of Velcro down to 1/4" in width and apply it to either side of the slit. See Figure 24.

NOTE: For Katelyn's comfort she wore double-sided sticky fabric tape to help hold the waistband on her hips.

Thanks for taking the time to look over my Instructable - it's my very first. And seriously - if I can do it, you can too!

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    9 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I have a little more sewing experience than you, and I have all the "bells and whistles" (including a serger, which would make the hemming much easier). That alone makes your accomplishment even more impressive to me. I am so impressed with your work, with how you found work-arounds to each change your granddaughter asked for. I understand how precious they are to us, I have a granddaughter named Caitlin (that particular name has more spellings than any other name). As she is only 9, the only "complicated" things we have made are Halloween costumes. I am downloading this so that I can refer to it when my angel is old enough to make this request of me.

    I think you are wonderful, and clever, and loving. I will watch for your next project, whenever it comes.

    Radical Geezer
    Radical Geezer

    Reply 3 years ago

    Thank you so much! The operating theory around our household is that if you really want to make something happen you'll find a way to do it - and on more than one occasion things we have found on the Instructables website have been crucial in that process. We sincerely hope that what we have offered will one day play a role in something you'll create for your Caitlin...and we'd love to see a picture when it does! Lately we've been crazy busy remodeling our daughter's entire house so we haven't had much time to do any Instructables but - the good Lord willing and the creeks don't rise - we'll be back at it again soon. Thanks again - you made our day!


    4 years ago

    Beautiful job! not only on the dress but the instructable itself was fun to read and overall well done!

    Radical Geezer
    Radical Geezer

    Reply 4 years ago

    Thank you! It was fun to make it and have it turn out so well. Katelyn absolutely loved it - as you can probably tell from the dancing...and she was the hit of the prom.


    4 years ago

    I have no intentions of ever making a dress like this, but I read through the whole piece because I love your writing! What a sweet grandma you are- you remind me of my own!

    I love yours and your husbands instructables- very informative, and entertaining! Looking forward to seeing more of you both!

    Radical Geezer
    Radical Geezer

    Reply 4 years ago

    Thank you! It is encountering nice people like yourself that encourages us to write more Instructables. My husband just discovered this website a few months ago and has pretty much gone off the deep end - he has at least half a dozen more in various stages of planning right now, so you can expect to see more. I don't know that I'm going to be that prolific, but will probably contribute one once in a while - it turned out to be quite an undertaking to put one of these together!


    4 years ago

    The dress is lovely and the instructions are very clear, to me at least.

    Thank you for sharing. :)


    4 years ago

    Beautiful dress, excellent commentary and instructions!!! the duct tape form is a great idea. I made both my prom and wedding dresses back in the late 60's and early 70's and duct tape was still being used for ducts. if I ever get any grandchildren, I will remember this trick.


    4 years ago

    Between the fate of finding the fabric to the duct tape dress form I am just WOW! Fantastic!