Little Dress on the Prairie...




..or how to turn a childrens tipi into an awesome dress!

it all started with a friend coming to me and asking me to make some kind of dress for her for her sisters wedding out of an old childrens play tipi that she found lying around in some basement. an idea was born. after some thinking i came up with this method and have made a total of 4 tipi dresses so far.
since the fabric is limited by the dimensions of the the tipi the resulting dress will only fit sizes s or m.
on the pictures you can also see 2 of the other tipi dresses i made.
this dress is perfect for those who like to dress differently on a daily basis or for a special dress-up party!

if you don't have a lot of sewing experience, maybe this project seam a bit complicated, but you everyone should be able to make at least a tipi skirt. (in that case, you can stop at step six)

Step 1: What You Need

- an old childrens play tipi, the best place to get one is ebay - even better is ebay kleinanzeigen, i don't know if this exists in other countrys as germany, though. the tent should be made from cotton and should have five sides. i got all of mine for 10-25 euros. i do not have a picture from the tent i made this dress from, though.

- a black zipper, ca. 40 cm long (could be that it needs to be a little longer or shorter, best wait until you finished step 9 before you buy it)

- black double fold bias tape, 6 mm wide when folded, lots of it - i did not measure how much i used, but i think you will need around 12 m

- sewing machine and overlock machine (if you don't have an overlock machine, use the zig-zag stitch of the regular sewing machine)

- black thread

- pins, ruler, measuring tape, scissors

- a dress form - unfortunately quite essential for this dress. if you don't have one, make one or you have to find a potential pain-resistant real life model the size of the person the dress will be for.

Step 2: Take the Tent Apart

carefully rip or cut the seams of the tent open, discard the plastic tubing for the poles. (if your tent came with poles, dicscard them, too or use them for another project).
you should now have one triangular fabric shape with a slit (the entrance) and four triangular fabric shapes that used to be the walls. the tent i used had only 2 different motives that both appeared two times. some of the other tents i used had 4 different motivs.

all the tipis i used so far had more or less the same design: in the lower part of each panel was some kind of pattern, in the upper part a picture depicting romaticized tableaus of native american life, framed by to stripes of another pattern

since this was an old kids play-thing, it is probably not super clean so throw the tipi-parts in the washing machine at this point.

Step 3: Making a Pattern for the Skirt & Cutting the Parts of the Skirt

so now it's patternmaking time, but don't worry, it's not that difficult. the skirt will be circular, so you basically just need to make a circle apattern.

i used a waist circumference of 82 cm and a skirt lenght of 47 cm.
the inner radius is then calculated like this: u= 2πr therefore r=u/(2π) in our case r=82/(2π)=13
so that makes the outer radius: R=r+47=13+47= 60.

so on a big enough piece of paper draw the quarter of a circle with a radius of 60 cm and a concentric quarter circle with a radius of 13 cm. (see picture).

i wanted to have as much of the picture part of the fabric on the skirt parts as possible. this meant that the whole quarter circle would not fit onto the panel, so you have to trim it so that it fits. the part the does not fit will be cut out separately and then sewed on later. (see the last picture of step 4 to see how it will look like when the skirt is finished).
to trim the pattern take the paper quarter circle and lay it on top of one of the panels. the lower rim should line up with the lower edge of the picture on the fabric (see second photo). see to it that the pattern lies symmetrical on/ in the middle of the fabric.

Step 4: Sew the Skirt

first sew the small circle parts to the bigger ones, make sure that the pairs that are the mirror image of each other go on adjacent parts. to make sure that the parts are sewed together correctly, lay them out next to each other before you start sewing. edge each seam with the overlock or the zig-zag stitch.
after you sewed the smaller parts to the big parts, sew the 4 big parts together, make sure (again) to sew them together in the right order. on the last two parts that you are sewing together, leave the last 10 cm towards the inner circular opening --open (the zipper will be there later).

Step 5: Add the Bias Tape

when the skirt is finished, add bias tape to the lower egde. as mentioned, no seam allowance was needed on the lower egde for that reason. starting anywhere (a circle has no beginning...) pin the bias-tape to the fabric, so that the raw egde of the fabric is enveloped by the tape. pin almost all the way around, but leave the last 10 cm unpinned and cut the tape so that is is about 5 cm longer than the full circle (sorry, no picture of this). sew the tape to the skirt until you come to the last 10 cm. now fold the last cm of the bias tape inwards towards itself (towards the left side of the tape), the pin the rest of the tape to the skirt, the last cm of the tape will lie on top of the beginning of the tape already sewed to the skirt. sew the rest of the tape to the skirt.

Step 6: The Waistband

for the waistband, cut two stripes of fabric from the lower part of the remaining two side panels.
the size of the stripes is 8 cm x 41 cm (half the amount of the waist measurement (in my case 82cm)). no seam allowance is needed on the 41 cm long sides (they will be wrapped in bias tape later), but on all 8 cm long sides add 1,5 cm of seam allowance.
try to find a nice part of the pattern, i chose the red and white triangle part. be sure that one side of each of the stripes lines up with the middle of a part of the pattern. sew the two stripes together so that you have one 82 cm long strip, 8 cm high.
sew bias tape to both the upper and lower edge.

now, from the right side, pin the strip to the waist opening of the skirt. the end and the beginning of the strip go where you left the opening in one of the seams of the skirt in step 4.
sew it on, try to sew through the seam already made when sewing on the bias tape. (see pictures)

the skirt part is finished. if you only want to have a tipi skirt (or you think that the bust part is to complicated), you could simply add a zipper and you would be done.

Step 7: Starting With Top Part, the Bust Darts

so now comes the free-style part of the tipi dress. all the explanations from this point on can only be pretts non-specific, but you will manage, hopefully....
off to the dress form we go!

take the fifth trangular part that you did not use yet, the former entrance of the tent. put it on the dress form so that the slit will form some kind of v-neck neckline, hang the two fabric-panels left and right from the slit loosely over the back.
the long, pointy end of the triangle will hang down the front. see pictures for help.
placement should be so that the triangle is about 25 cm wide where it lies over the front waistline.

try to give the front bust part a nice shape by pinning bust darts in place, make sure they are symmetrical!
mark the darts with pins, take the fabic of the dress form and sew the darts, best way is to sew one and then exactly measure how long the dart is and where it is sitting, then transfer these measurements to the other side so that the darts will be as symmetrical as possible later.

Step 8: The Sidepanels & the Armhole

after sewing the bust darts, put the fabric back on the dress form in the same position as before. pin it to the form from waist to under the bust, so that it lies flat.
it's time for the armholes. take on of the sides of the entrance that is lying across the back and pin it to the back side of the dress form close to the armhole, so that the outer edge of the fabric forms a nice little sleeve shape (see last picture for an idea on how it's done). in this step, it is only important that the fabric lies nice around the armhole, if there is some chaos in the back going on, never mind, we will take care of that in a later step....

now measure the distance between the to sides of the fabric under the arm (for comfort, start maybe 5 cm under the arm) and at the waist, then measure the height difference between the two measures. mark the waistline and the underarmline with pins on the fabric in front and in the back (so that you later know where the side panels have to be put in.
you have to do this only on one side, take the measurements from that side to make it symmetrical on the other side later.

cut to trapzoid shaped side panels that have the measurements you took of the gap, add seam allowance at the waist and on the side, the upper side needs no seam allowance.

pin and sew the side panels into place.

enclose the armholes in bias tape, to do this, i cut away the white boarders of the fabric whithout print on them and then put the bias tape on.

repeat on the other side.

put the bust piece back on the dress form, it will already start to look like a piece of clothing and not just a triangular mess of fabric.

Step 9: The Neckline and the Back

now the neckline and the back have to be taken care of.

In all the dresses i made so far, i had put a fold/ dart on top of the shoulder to give the dress a better form. this will make the back neckline curve more towards the center back (so the dress will not be half-backless later) and looks better in the sleeve part. If and how much you would have to fold can best be found out if the dress is on the dress form. my dart was about 1 cm wide when folded double, so it is 2 cm when not folded. i folded the excess fabric towards the back. secure the folds with pins. as mentiones before, work symmetric.

once the darts are in place, turn the dress form around to take care of the back.
take one of the two fabric panels in the back and try to lay it flat across the back, mark the center back line and the waist line with pins (see picture). trace those lines on the left side of the fabric, measure them and trace them also on the other part (be symmetric, as always).

now measure once around the waistline from one side of the center back to the other and see if this measurement matches the length of the waist band, if it doesn't completely match you have to adjust:
for example, my waist band ist 82 cm long, if the waistline on the bust part would be 84 cm long you would have to take away a total of 2 cm on the bust part, that means you have to move the center back 1 cm towards the side.

with my dress, it pretty much worked out, because my the dress form has the same waist circumference as the waistband.

cut the excess fabric around the waist so that only one cm of seam allowance is left and serge the edge with the overlock machine.

Step 10: Assemble the Dress!

pin the bust part to the waist band and sew both parts together, try to sew trough the preexisting seam wher you wrapped the upper edge of the waist band in bias tape.

now cut away all the seam allowance along the center back, on the bust part, on the waist band and on the slit in the skirt part and wrap the whole (neckline, center back, slit) in one go in bias tape.

almost done now!

Step 11: The Zipper

now all that's left to do is sew on the zipper.
measure the slit in in back where the zipper will go (from top center back to the end of the slit in the top of the skirt part) to see how long a zipper you will need, in my case 40 cm. buy one in a color matching the bias tape or one that fits the tent colors. pin the zipper to the slit and sew it on, trying to sew through the already existing seam in the bias tape (see pictures).

and your dress is finally ready!

Step 12: The End.

all the hard work paid of and you can proudly take your new dress to town!

i hope you were able to follow my instructions!



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    2 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    before my friend brought me the first tent i haven't seen one either, but when i started looking i found quite a lot of them online for sale (on ebay or so), at least in germany. i think most of them are some years old, from the seventies or eighties even when tents like these seemed to have been popular...

    Wow, this is so pretty! I've never seen one of these children's tipis before, but if I do, now I know I'll snag it and make it into a dress!