This dress is very easy to wear and construct… so I put together a tutorial as I was making it.
This shirred women’s maxi dress tutorial owes a great deal to No Big Dill’s girl’s maxi dress tutorial, which I adapted previously to make a dress for my daughter and her doll, to Running with Scissors’ shirred pocket skirt tutorial, which I had used to make a skirt for myself (that I’ll blog about eventually), and to Sewaholic’s tutorial on sewing inseam pockets.
If you’ve never shirred anything before, it’s great fun and really easy! Basically, you’re just sewing lots of straight lines across the right side of your fabric, with elastic thread in the bobbin.
Update: If you use this tutorial, I’d love to see the results! Please comment with a link to your dress. Thanks!
In No Big Dill’s tutorial, she uses about a yard of fabric, and the width of the fabric is just about right for making one girl’s dress. Also, the dress is shirred all the way down the chest, which doesn’t work for adults because, well, we don’t have flat chests. The following is how I adapted the tutorial for myself, and should work for most adult women (up to about 5’8, after that you might want more fabric to make the dress longer). The top of the dress should hit at about your armpits, so use that distance for all measurements.
3 yards woven fabric (I used 45″ quilting cotton)
At least 3 spools elastic thread (more is better, running out mid-project is not fun)
Coordinating (or contrasting) thread
Pins, needles, scissors, yadda yadda
1. Wash and iron fabric.
2. Cut 3 yards fabric in half horizontally so that you have 2 pieces, each the width of the fabric by 1.5 yards.
3. Measure on yourself to where you want pockets (I put mine on my hips, about 15 inches). Note – I originally put the pockets at 18 inches – that was way too low! I had to rip out my seam and start over.* Make sure you measure to where you want the pockets to start, not to stop 🙂
4. Place fabric right sides together, and pin from the top down to your chosen pocket measurement along the selvage.
5. Sew the two pieces of material together from the top edge down to your pocket pin, and stop!
5. Hem stitch the top of the dress with a rolled 1/4 hem, using coordinating thread in both the top and bobbin. You can use a rolled hem foot, or just roll as you go, like I do… You are going to be shirring right next to this seam, so don’t worry if your hem gets a little lettuce-y.
6. Pin 2 inches down from top of dress (one pin at the beginning is fine). This will be the end of the above the breast shirring section.
7. Measure to where you want to resume shirring below your breasts (I resumed at 7 inches) and how far down you want shirring to extend beyond that (I did 4 inches, or about to my waist). Pin the top distance all the way from one selvage to the other. Pin the bottom distance at least once at the beginning.
8. Thread elastic thread into bobbin (by hand, so it doesn’t stretch) and leave coordinating thread in the top. You will probably need to adjust both your bobbin tension for the elastic, and your top tension down as well.
9. Start shirring! I used 1/4 inch rows, since those were easy for me to line up using my presser foot’s edge as the mark. For your first row, set the edge of your presser foot at the seam from your rolled hem. Sew all the way along the now double-width fabric until you reach the other edge. There’s no need to double-stitch at either the beginning or the end; just leave a few inches of thread/elastic at the end and you can always catch that in your side seam.
After your first row, you’ll find that the fabric wants to bunch up as you go. Make sure to stretch it back out as you sew so that the fabric that goes under the presser foot is flat; this will eliminate any funky ridges in your dress.
10. After you’ve shirred the top 2 inches, you can take a measurement and see where you need to make the other side seam. The reason why I check this now is that every fabric will shirr differently; if you’re making a second dress in the exact same fabric (like another 100% cotton) you can probably cut the fabric to the correct width right off the bat. But if not, it’s always best to double check.
To measure where the other side seam should go, wrap the fabric around yourself and pin it together. The shirred area should be comfortable and not stretched out. (Sorry for the blurry photo, it’s hard to take a photo and hold fabric around yourself at the same time!) Once you’re comfortable with the sizing, mark where you want the seam to be on the two pieces of fabric with safety pins, then take out the straight pin.
Make sure you wrap the fabric all the way down to your hips and mark a seam setting there with safety pins as well – you don’t want the dress to be too tight!
11. Mark your new start and stop positions on your fabric at the below-breast and final stop positions. I use crossed pins for start & stop since those make it easy to see.
Also, once you mark this sizing, your dress will now have a front and a back. If you want your dress to be shirred all the way down the back, you can use the below-the breast marks only on the “front.” Just keep shirring at 1/4 inch intervals all the way down the “back” panel, stopping and/or starting at the side seam. No need to double-stitch; once you have stitched all the rows, you can just sew down the side seam in the ditch (with regular, non-elastic thread in the bobbin).
12. Start your below-the-breast shirring at your new mark; continue across the width of the fabric until your other new side seam mark. This is the hardest row of shirring to set; plenty of pins at the correct distance will help make sure that you sew a straight seam.
13. Continue shirring until your new stop distance. Try your dress on and check the fit, checking your side seam safety pins at your hips again.
Congratulations, you are done shirring – switch back to non-elastic thread in your bobbin.
Mark your pocket location at the same height as on the other side seam and sew your side seam down to that point.
Try your dress on again for fit, then mark with pins down to the bottom of the skirt and cut off the excess material, leaving at least a 1/2 inch seam allowance along your new seam.
14. Cut out 4 in-seam pocket pieces (2 “right” and 2 “left”), using any in-seam pocket pattern you have, or draft your own pocket pattern by placing your hand with fingers splayed on a piece of paper and tracing around it, leaving a 1/2 inch seam allowance (and at least a few inches of room at the top for easy access). I like deep and narrow pockets so things don’t fall out!
15. With your dress right-side out, pin your pocket pieces to your dress, right sides together, along the side seams directly under where you stopped stitching the seams. Sew the pocket pieces to the seam with a 1/2 inch seam allowance. If this isn’t clear, go check out Sewaholic’s tutorial on sewing inseam pockets, she explains it very well!
16. Flip your dress wrong-side out (hello, silly looking pockets).
and pin the pocket edges together as in the photo above, then sew, leaving a 1/2 inch seam allowance. It couldn’t hurt to add another row of stitching along the bottom of the pocket in the seam allowance, either! I like my stuff secure!
17. Decide how high you want vents on the sides – I made mine stop at about knee-high. Mark that distance along your side seams, and sew from your pockets down to that location.
18. Iron in your seam allowance on both side seams, then serge/zigzag to prevent fraying on the non-selvage seam. Sew down your seam allowance along your vents, sewing horizontally across the top of the vent.
19. Hem your dress to your desired length.
At this point, you have a finished (strapless) dress! Or, you could add…
20. Straps! I went with a coordinating ribbon. Measure the length of the strap by trying on your dress and draping a measuring tape across your shoulder, or, if using a ribbon, the actual ribbon. Leave a couple inches at each end for adjustment, cut the ribbon to the desired length, and safety pin in place. (It’s handy to have a buddy — kid, husband, friend, neighbor — pin the straps in the back.)
21. Switch your safety pins for straight pins and sew your straps into place, double-stitching along your top seam. Finish your ribbon ends (I just cut mine on the bias).
You could also make fabric straps of any width you’d like by just making a tube of fabric and ironing it flat, then finishing the ends and stitching it into place as above.
And that’s it! Try on your finished dress and admire.
* Here’s how I fixed my pocket issue. You can use this to insert inseam pockets on any existing skirt or dress, too!
Use your seam ripper to remove your now finished pocket and open up the side seam where you want the pocket to be. (If starting with a finished, pocket-less garment, you’ll cut out the pockets and sew them together around the sides and bottom, wrong sides out and leaving a 1/2 inch seam allowance, plus leaving the opening open and a 1/2 inch space at the top/bottom of each seam so that you have a finished pocket with enough allowance to sew it to the finished garment.) Flip your pocket right-side out.
Insert your finished pocket into the side seam, right sides together, and stitch into the seams, taking care to not sew the pocket closed! Re-finished the side seam around the pocket, double-stitching above and below the pocket.
If you like this dress and tutorial, please go over to the Project Sewn site and check out the other sew-along members, and vote for your favorite (hopefully mine). Thanks!