DIY Tutorial: Girl’s Tunic Dress

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I have a growing problem: I like to hoard pretty fabric.  The clothes that I used to toss into the “donate” bag are being stored in every nook and cranny of our home if there’s even an inch of fabric to be salvaged; all because I will “someday” make use of the fabric to upcycle the garment and give it new life.  I think the TLC show “Buried Alive” may soon come knocking at my door if I don’t start whipping out some projects from this stash.  So I decided to use hubby’s old, nice, striped dress shirt with some floral fabric from my other stash to make a tunic dress for my little A.  My little princess loves dresses and every day is a battle to get her to wear pants with the much cooler weather that has been blowing into the bay area as of late.  I am usually successful in threatening convincing her to wear pants or leggings under her dress but my victory only lasts a couple hours when she takes them off at preschool.  I hope to whip out many more dresses and skirts for my girls so I can reduce the ever-growing pile of “fabric” in our already cramped home.

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Here’s hubby’s shirt that he doesn’t wear anymore because it wrinkles too easily? Sure~ I’ll take it!

I originally used a tunic block pattern from the book: “Pattern Making for Kids’ Clothes” but ended up using one of A’s play dresses to make adjustments after cutting the fabric because it would have been much too big for my A.  The book does a great job in explaining the purpose of a block and sloper (which I had never heard of before… linguistics major here) as well as how to use these basics to create an entirely unique design.  This book was also a loan from my library and it really makes me feel like I’ve hit the jackpot when I can gain access to these awesome pattern books without having to buy the book myself!  I love shared reading. 🙂

To make your own pattern from an existing dress, just fold the dress in half, lengthwise, trace, and add seam allowance.  I ended up doing basically that since the tunic block needed to be adjusted due to it being too big.

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Tunic dresses like these are my favorite to make and to put on my little girls. I love pockets on dresses too and my A totally agrees.

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Trace the tunic block and make adjustments to make a tunic dress.

I printed the tunic block following the link given in the book, pieced it together, traced it onto freezer paper, then made my adjustments.  This tunic block is the 5-6yrs size and it was much, much too big for my 5 yr old.  I wanted to make a tunic dress so I lengthened the skirt, slashed through the armpit of the pattern to make a separate bodice, and added 1.5″ to the skirt width to make gathers (since it’s on a fold, you would be adding 3″ of fabric for gathers).

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After all the adjustments for the front of the tunic dress.

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Trace the back tunic block and make adjustments, keeping in mind the foldovers for button plackets

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I did basically the same thing for the back of the tunic: lengthened the skirt, slashed horizontally through arm curve, added 1.5″ width to make the skirt gathers.  But this time, I adjusted the back bodice portion so I have enough fabric to fold under twice and overlap for buttons and button holes.

Add 1.5″ from the first line for one side of the back bodice, then add another 1″ from the middle line you just drew for the other side of the back bodice. Make sure you cut mirror images of the bodice pieces, one should have a longer “flap”.

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These are my pieces all ready to go.

I ended up having to adjust and cut a narrower shoulder width for the bodices later…  Also, eyeballed and cut out a pocket pattern and used the sleeve from the tunic block, just shortened it since it came as a long sleeve.

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Iron 1/2″ then 1″ for both sides of back bodice.

Add a strip of interfacing to the buttons/buttonhole plackets and then iron a 1/2″ then 1″ to the main bodice line for bodice with the shorter flap.  Do the same thing for the other bodice: you fold over 1/2″ then 1″ and iron.

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line it up to overlap an inch. Should match your front bodice piece.

You should have a 1″ overlap of the back bodice like in the picture above so you can have your buttons on the bottom placket and buttonholes on the top placket.

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pin and sew across shoulders

With right sides of fabric facing, sew the shoulder seams.  See how wide the shoulders are?  I cut it down to size using a nice fitting dress as reference after I had already sewed the shoulders together.  Zigzag stitch raw edges.

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Pin the two back bodice pieces together or you can baste it together, if you prefer.

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Gather stitch

Stitch straight across the top of the skirt piece for both the front and back skirt pieces using a long stitch length (4) and “0” tension.

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Pull threads to gather

Pull the thread on the ends to make gathers and evenly distribute them to fit the width of the bottom of bodice.

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attach skirt to bodice front and back. Skirts are still two separate pieces.

Pin the two skirt pieces separately onto the bodice front and the bodice back with rights sides facing.  Then stitch in place.  Zigzag stitch raw edges.

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topstitch skirt seam to bodice.

Iron the seam up towards the bodice then topstitch along the edge of the bodice close to the skirt.

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attach sleeves to armholes.

Pin your sleeves onto the armhole curve and stitch in place.  Zigzag stitch raw edges.

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prepare pockets

Prepare you pockets by ironing your raw edges onto the wrong side of the pocket.  You can baste the edges if you want to.  I added elastic to the top of the pocket to create gathers and also to give it stretch when the hand goes into the pocket.  Forgot to take pictures of that step.  Basically, cut a thing strip of elastic to the width you want the pocket top to be, pin the elastic to both top ends of the pocket, pin the middle of the elastic to match the middle of the pocket top, then stretch the elastic as you sew it onto the pocket top.  Here’s an example tutorial by Indiesew.  They use it on knits, but basically the same thing I’m doing here.

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prepare pockets and attach to skirt. I did it at the end, but it may be easier while two skirts are not attached.

Find where you want to place your pockets on the front of your skirt, pin it on, and stitch in place.  Think where their hands would naturally fall.

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sew on the pockets

Backstitch a small triangle into the top corners of the pocket for added durability.

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Finish neckline

Cut out a strip of 1.75″ wide fabric and make your double fold bias tape then pin and stitch in place.

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sew sides of skirt all the way to the bottom of the sleeves. I wasn’t going to do sleeves but changed my mind later so this picture doesn’t show sleeves.

Sew the skirt sides and the lower sleeves together with right sides facing.  Zigzag stitch raw edges.

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sew on the “hem” part of skirt.

I cut out about a 2″ strip of fabric to match the width of the skirt to hem the bottom for a cleaner look.

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finish the hem

Fold and iron at the seam then iron the raw edge onto the wrong side, pin, and sew.  Hem your sleeve as well by folding in and ironing about 1/4″ of the raw edge onto the wrong side then folding in and ironing again about 1/2″, pin and sew.

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find desired button placement

Now figure out how many buttons you want and place them on the back bodice.

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mark where you want your button holes

Carefully mark where the buttonholes need to go, make you button holes, and sew on your buttons.

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Finish buttonholes and add buttons!

Finished buttons and buttonholes always leaves me with such a sense of accomplishment!  Perhaps because I was afraid to buttonholes for the looooongest time.

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Voila~ Done!

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My little girl wanted to wear it to school the next day and I couldn’t say no when she was so willing to wear her denim leggings under them and put on her cardigan.  Good thing I took pictures of her in the dress before school because when I picked her up, she had pink glittery paint all over her dress.  I started to worry the paint wouldn’t wash off and couldn’t get my mind off of the paint the entire drive home.  Needless to say, I hand-washed the dress right when we got home and the paint did come off with a bit of scrubbing.  Don’t worry, I won’t freak out next time.  It’s just the day after I finished it, so I was a bit sensitive (and sleep-deprived).  🙂

Go ransack your hubby, brother, whoever’s closet and there’s bound to be shirts they don’t wear that have perfectly good fabric for making children’s clothes.

Until next time… Have a great week and thanks for reading!

-Flora

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