Hi canine lovers!
What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than by sharing it with your best friend? A gift from the heart and made by your own hands is the way to go.
This Instructable will actually be my first! Not only is it my first instructable but this dog dress will also be a first for me. First dog dress? Well... First article of "clothing" I've ever sewn together! I am actually new to sewing so this was quite a learning experience. But if I can do it on the first try, I'm sure you can too!
About this project....
Believe it or not it was very difficult to find a pattern for a dress online without having to pay for it. Even basic patterns were hard to find. So I found a basic pattern that was free online as a foundation for this dress. If you stick with the basic pattern you can just stop once you finish the shirt. If you want to take it a step further, you can use your imagination to take the basic shirt and create a dress, hoodie, pullover, button down shirt, etc.
In general, this project is near mistake proof.... Or in better words, very forgiving. If you happen to make it too small, you could add material. Too big? Cut it away. Decorate to your heart's content to hide flaws or dress it up. So don't worry too much about perfection.
A word about sewing machines for the noob:
I actually gave up sewing and put my machine away for several years thinking that I just sucked at it. It was jamming constantly and never did what I wanted it to do. Well I ended up lending it to someone who used to be a professional seamstress and she told me that my fairly new machine was absolute crap. She told me that it was an extremely light duty machine (I wouldn't know the difference) and the gears were not strong enough to pull the fabric through. I promptly bought a new machine and here is my first creation :)
Let's get started!
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
You will need:
Sewing Machine or Needle and Thread
Copy machine/any method of enlarging or reducing a printout
Straight Edge (Ruler)
Printed Basic Dog Shirt Patterns
Velcro (or other method of closure like snap buttons, elastic, etc.)
Sequins, ribbon, iron ons, puffy paint
Fray Check (Available at places that sell fabric)
Step 2: Measure Your Dog
With measuring tape, measure around the neck where the collar would sit, the widest part of chest, the waist/lower back depending on how long you want your garment, and length of body from base of neck to almost the tail.
Also (not pictured), I would measure the distance between two front legs over the chest area not the back. Like humans dogs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some have wider bodies and some are significantly much more compact. This info helps to customize the fit a little better should you need to.
Step 3: Make the Patterns
This by far is the hardest part. It sort of is the deciding factor on whether you will have a great fitting, quick, easy to sew project...or a project full of time consuming modifications.
Good news is once you perfect your basic pattern you can use it over and over for your dog. Your next project will be much quicker and fit like a glove.
To begin, I downloaded (copied rather) two patterns online for the back piece and chest piece. It didn't matter what size they came out printed as long as their proportions and sizing scales matched.
You can find those here:
When I first started this project, I actually tried to draw the patterns freehand unsuccessfully. While I had no problem with drawing the shapes of the patterns, having to make the shapes conform to my size requirements while keeping proper proportions AND making them work with the second piece was daunting. As I quickly found out, dog shirts do NOT match on the chest and back. The back piece is often larger than the chest piece. The chest piece is also shorter and narrower. Therefore It was much, much easier just using a printed pattern.
Once you have your freshly printed pattern, you will cut out both pieces and enlarge them to the right size for your dog. Right out of the printer, the patterns were the equivalent to a size XS or even XXS dog. If you're luck enough to not need a larger pattern, awesome! I have a near 6lb chunky Yorkie. For the rest of us, this part takes some trial and error. If you're pretty good with calculations, you could figure out the exact enlargement percentage by adding the widths of both pattern pieces together and determining how much more you would need to get to the width of your dog's chest measurements. If I remember my algebra, if my printed patterns' widths combine to equal 12" and my dog's chest measurement needed is 15", then the formula is 15 = 12X or 15 divided by 12 if you want to make it more simple..... X = 1.25 or 125% percent. So I would set the enlarger to 125% and reprint. *remember to go maybe even an inch larger for each measurement to allow room for stitching. It's always easier to trim excess later than add.
You could either use a copy machine, a printer with scanning function, or basic scanner to enlarge the pieces. Those who aren't tech savvy may need to find a copy machine. You may have to use imaging software such as Adobe Photoshop to digitally enlarge and reprint if you can't scan. You would not need a scanner this way as all the work can be done with the original digital pattern you copied/downloaded.
I just used my printer's copy machine function and reprinted each piece at 150% enlargement. (Make sure you stick to the same percentage for both pieces so they are always proportionate).This resulted in a back piece and chest piece with -combined-measurements close to my dog's measurements. For the neckline, you would measure the back piece neckline and add this to the chest piece neckline. Then compare to your dog's actual neck measurements. You would also check the length of your pattern, as well as the waist. You can even use tape to assemble the patterns together and try it on your dog to get a feel for it.
The great thing about this method is that you can make virtually any size pattern that you are capable of printing...this means you can custom fit virtually any dog. The goal is to print a pattern that slightly exceeds your dog's measurements. Don't stress if it isn't perfect. This step was harder than it looked for me.
Step 4: Cutting Your Fabric
(Sorry I forgot to take a picture of the actual fabric cutting)
If you have your awesome paper patterns all cut, sized, and ready to go, congratulations! This is where the fun begins...
Fold both back and chest patterns in half lengthwise.
Then take your main fabric, fold a section in half making sure it's large enough to cut your stencil out of. If your fabric doesn't stay flat you could lightly iron it first so it stays still while cutting.
Now place your folded back pattern on top of the folded fabric, lining up the folded edge of pattern to folded edge of fabric. This is just like cutting symmetrical hearts out of paper in grade school. You could either cut the fabric using the pattern as a guide or use pencil like I did to trace around it. I then removed pattern and cut around my pencil lines.. Whatever works for you to make a cut as symmetrical as possible.
When you finish cutting the back piece, go ahead and repeat with chest piece.
*If you forgot to add that stitching buffer zone (0.5" on each edge) when printing your pattern, now is a good time to do that by cutting about 0.5" further out from each of the edges when cutting your fabric. This will add 1" to your measurements when your back piece is unfolded.
Step 5: What Style Would You Like?
Now that your basic fabric pieces are ready to go, you will have to decide what is it that you would like to make. If you have used a stretchy fabric and want a pullover shirt then you simply sew up the edges (inside-out, then flip it back for finished product). Decide if you want to add a hood, a pocket, a zipper or Velcro closure, buttons, sleeves, etc. these type of things determine any additional modifying before you go to decorating. If you've used a fabric that doesn't stretch, then you will definitely need some type of closure. For this project we are going to turn this into a dress with Velcro closure on the underside. I went ahead and cut the chest piece in half lengthwise for the opening.
Step 6: Check Fit Again
Now that your fabric pieces are cut, it will be easier to see if the pieces will fit your dog. Using tailor's straight pins or safety pins if you have a hyper dog, assemble the fabric pieces together and try it on your dog. Make sure pins are set in positions that account for how much fabric will be lost after stitching. If the fit is too loose, you could decide whether you'd like to do some trimming (keeping symmetry in mind between chest and back pieces), or stitch a lot closer, or modify some other way (lots of creative ways!) If the fit is too tight, we can add fabric to it to make it looser. You can get creative with it as long as you make sure the edges of both pieces still match up.
Step 7: Sew Up the Edges
This part is mostly for the neckline, arm holes, and bottom hems. If you aren't going to go around them with an accenting fabric or some type of piping (I'm sure there's a more proper word for it), then you will have to fold the edge over slightly and sew. It gives it a nice finished edge.
If there is more of a tendency to fray at edges then I like to fold edges twice and sew so that the frayed edge is tucked in and not exposed. It is worth noting that if you did not create a large enough buffer zone for stitching your edges, then you should not fold twice as this will make your finished product even smaller. I attached pictures of all the edges I sewed.
As you can see, I went ahead and cut the chest piece in half lengthwise so that I can add a Velcro closure straight down the middle later. I went ahead and left the raw edges down the cut unfinished as I was not sure how I wanted to attach the closure yet. You do however want to make sure the edges that won't be so accessible later when pieces are assembled are tucked and sewn now such as neck and arms.
*A tip for folding and cutting around curves... It's pretty difficult to fold and sew around curves, therefore you should take your scissors and make small cuts, a couple will usually do, to assist in folding around curves so the fabric stays flat. A little cut usually goes a long way.
* if for some reason you want the raw edges unfinished, then use the "Fray Check" to keep fabric edges from fraying. Fray Check comes in a small bottle and it's a liquid glue-like substance. You simply run it over the fabric edges.
Step 8: Decorate!
While the pieces are still separate and flat, it's a great time to decorate. You could add ribbons, sequins, rhinestones, patches, iron ons, ruffles, etc. if you don't plan on decorating or want a plain shirt, move on to the Velcro closure part. Or if this is a pullover made with stretchy material, then you can go ahead and sew both pieces together and you're done.
I decided to use some pink tulle that I found on clearance. I cut a really long 2" wide strip of tulle making sure it's long enough to be able to do a ruffle on the bottom portion of my dress. Tulle tends to fray a lot on the edges so I ran some Fray Check on every edge. Fray check comes in a little bottle and the stuff is clear. It seals up edges and ever so lightly glued them together quickly. This would eliminate the need for me to tuck and sew the edges of the tulle to keep from fraying. Initially I wanted to make a fluffy dress with lots of ruffles but it was getting late and I just wanted to hurry things along. To make the ruffle, I just simply folded and bunched up a bunch of tulle as I sewed it onto the bottom hem.
Next I cut a long 1" wide strip of tulle and sewed it straight across the width of the dress. It gives it that waistband look and helps to break up the solid block of color in the body. I'm not doing any type of measuring at this point really, just cutting off excess tulle when I'm done stitching to the dress. I'm also not using fray check for this, I thought it would look cute if it started to fray and look fringy.
With the leftover 1" wide strip of tulle I decided to decorate the neckline and armholes. I folded the leftover tulle in half over the neckline and proceeded to carefully stitch the tulle along the curve of neckline. I did the same with the armholes. It will be a little tricky to keep tulle from moving around while you try to hold it against neckline but go slow. Since the neckline is curvy the tulle will want to straighten out on you. You could make small cuts in the tulle to help it maneuver (bend) around curves better or use a different fabric like jersey material that stretches and is more maneuverable to accent any curvy edges.
*The right way and the wrong way to cut tulle:
Yes there is a right and wrong way. Taking a closer look at the tulle, you'll see that there is a "grain" to it. You want to cut and utilize strips perpendicular to the grain, not alongside it. That way if or when the tulle frays, it looks like fringe that you purposely planned out rather than looking like it's falling apart. When the tulle starts to wear on this dress it will start to look like fringe...check out the pics closer.
Step 9: Repeat on the Chest
Again I'm not doing much measuring at this point. I am going to skip decorating the chest for the most part but I will wrap some tulle around the arm holes to match the back piece. That gives the arm holes some continuity with the design. I am just wrapping the folded lengthwise 1" wide tulle and sewing. Cutting small incisions in the tulle to help it wrap along edge of arm hole. Then cutting off excess tulle when I've gone all around the edge.
Step 10: Assemble the Chest and Back Pieces
When you are satisfied with the decorating, you can now attach the back and chest pieces together.
Remember to stitch on the back side of fabric (inside out), starting with the shoulder straps. Line them up and sew, so when you are done you can flip your dress design side out and the edges will all be clean and tucked in.
After you sew the shoulders, sew the sides together. If you made your dress too big, you can shrink it a bit by sewing a little further in from the edge. Same with the shoulders you can shorten the straps by sewing further in from edges. A little goes a long way!
Step 11: Troubleshooting
I knew that my dress was a little on the small side for my dog to begin with but after assembly I decided it just wasn't going to do since my dog won't be comfortable. Here are some suggestions:
The earlier you make modifications in the process, the less likely you'll have to re-hem, rip out stitches, ruin your decorations, etc.
If the fit is too large, you can trim fabric. Just try to make sure you keep things even on opposite sides. For example if you need to shrink a piece an inch, rather than cutting one inch off one side, do 0.5" from the left and 0.5" on the right. You can also "take in" the fabric more when stitching the back to the chest piece. Simply sew further in from the edges than usual. This is the easiest.
If your armholes are too small or not quite in the right position, chances are your neckline is too small too. This is what happened to me. I decided to take the shoulder stitches apart (just pulled back and chest pieces apart lightly and slowly cut stitches out between both fabrics. You can use a seam ripper tool if you have one too. I ended up adding a piece of 1" wide scrap tulle to lengthen the straps. Then reattached the chest and back piece shoulder straps together. This instantly made a too small dress fit my dog perfectly. I could have used leftover polka dot print for the shoulder strap extension but I wanted to try something different while I was going through the trouble anyway. FYI...I did cut the tulle the wrong way on this one (along the grains not perpendicular) so you see what a huge difference this looks when applied on the dress. It is not pretty.
If your dog is chunky and the chest pieces won't close up, don't worry. Adding an extra panel to attach the Velcro closure will solve that problem. See below.
Step 12: Everyone Needs Closure
Almost done! If your dress or shirt is fitting pretty nicely on your dog, you can sew the Velcro right onto the two chest pieces. If you need an extension because the dress/shirt is a little tight around the chest, then do this.
Cut two pieces of your main fabric as wide as you need for the extension. Make sure it is at least wide enough to stitch your Velcro onto later. Take care to add a bit of extra fabric for an area to stitch in. I just eyeballed mine and didn't bother measuring really. Length doesn't really matter as you can trim it later or tuck in and sew.
Attach the extension to one side of your chest piece, making sure to tuck edges in on both the chest piece (if you haven't already done so earlier) as well as the extension for a more finished look. You can do this in one pass by folding the edge of the chest piece and folding the edge of the extension and placing one on top of the other to sew. If this is too much fabric for you to hold together and sew without falling apart, then do them separately, then attach the pieces together. I finished the edges of the chest pieces first before attaching extensions as I couldn't hold them together well in the sewing machine and the thickness was making the pieces slip.
Whether you want your chest piece edge over the extension or under is up to you. I did mine over on the left and under on the ride chest. It gives it a double breasted closure look with one side overlapping the other.
When you have attached your extensions and made them look pretty, you can now sew in your Velcro. It's up to you whether you want to cut your Velcro into squares or a long strip. A long strip was just easier and faster to sew for me.
I don't have pictures of what to do if you don't need an extension. However it's very straightforward. If you haven't already don't so, clean up the raw edge of your chest pieces by tucking them and sewing them. Then just attach your Velcro pieces by sewing them on. You're finished!
Step 13: Finished!
And there you have it! A fit worthy of your best friend at less than 1/4 of the cost. This is my first but with practice and imagination sky's the limit. You probably already know how expensive these outfits can cost. I purchased a half yard of fabric on clearance for $1.50 and only used half of that. The total cost was less than $3.00!
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