As soon as I saw this tutorial for a maxi dress, I knew I had to make one. I always swoon over them at the store, but those suckers are EXPENSIVE!! Instead, I bought 2 yards of fabric (I think it was $8 a yard, so I spent all of $16 on this dress) and got to work in my sewing room. It took me only a few hours, and if I hadn’t had 2 starving, pooping, crying, crazy kids wandering around the house I probably could have put it together in an hour and a half. The tutorial I’m going to post will also include a couple optional additions, so you can really make it your own!
- 2 yards of cotton knit
- Coordinating thread
- T-shirt whose fit you like
- Pattern paper (or taped-together printer paper)
The first thing you’re going to do is draft a pattern for your t-shirt, which will act as the base for the dress. I really need to invest in some pattern paper! I flattened my shirt out really well, and folded it perfectly in half. Then I lined the fold (middle) up with the straight side of the paper and traced. You can see below, I also made a note of where the front collar lies, as tracing it gives the back collar only.
Once your pattern is ready, it’s time to get your fabric ready. Having a large table available makes this process much easier! Lay the fabric out flat, and fold the selvage from both sides to the center (where the fabric was folded when you bought it). Try not to let it wrinkle at all, but also try not to stretch it. Lay your pattern with the center at the fold at the top of one of the sides, like below.
My t-shirt pattern didn’t include the seam allowance, so I used a pen to mark my fabric 1/2″ beyond the pattern piece all around (except the bottom). You won’t see the marks, so it doesn’t really matter what you use. Then, you want to extend your shirt down to make a dress, so start widening from about the middle of the shirt. I used my tape measure and plexiglass ruler together – the tape measure guided me, and the ruler provided a hard surface to draw my lines (see picture below). As far as length, you’ll want to make it a little longer than you think you’ll need it – you can hem a dress, but making it longer is a lot harder! I measured myself to be about 52″ from shoulder down to my ankle, so I aimed for about 55″. It’s not exact, and you’ll fix it later. Your pieces may also be a little different (mine were about 3/4″ different length) – again, you will make it uniform when you hem it. Try to get as close to the selvage as you can at the bottom to maximize space for moving your legs! Do the same thing on the other side, flipping your pattern over, but make sure you cut one front and one back!
Finally we have 2 pieces – one for the front, and one for the back.
It’s time to start assembling! Place the front and back of the dress right sides together, and sew TWICE along the shoulders (along the same line). Why twice? It helps to stabilize the shoulders. Knit is very stretchy, and you don’t want it to lose its shape. Then sew up the sides from the armpit to the bottom.
To complete the simplest version of the dress, all you have left is finishing edges. At the neckline, turn the raw edges inward and use a straight stitch to sew them down. Pay attention to the distance between the fold and the stitch, not the raw edge and the stitch – you want it to look uniform when you look at the right side! Same goes for the sleeves, although you’ll want to use a zigzag stitch to allow for stretch. I recommend starting and stopping in the armpit because nobody should be looking that closely there. And finally, figure out where you want to hem your dress (this is easier with help, but possible alone), and turn up the hem. Be sure to cut off the excess fabric!
You can stop there and have an adorable, fully functional maxi dress. But I wanted to have a belt to give it a little dimension. So I cut a piece of fabric 40″x2.5″ (from the strip left over in the middle of the fabric) to make a tube, and another piece 60″x1.25″ to make a cord. Your lengths may be a little longer or shorter, but as always, if you make them too long, you can always shorten easily! Stitch the 40″ piece with a zigzag stitch (right sides together) to make a tube, and turn right side out. Stitch the 60″ piece right sides together (a straight stitch will do) and turn right side out. Put on your dress, and figure out where you want your belt to lie. You can mark it with pen, as your lines will be covered by the tube you just made. Then pin and stitch the tube onto the dress by zigzag stitching on the upper and lower parts of the tube (you need the cord to slide through it). At the ends (the front middle), turn the raw edges inside the tube before sewing. To complete the cord, turn the raw ends over themselves twice and hand stitch. Then use a safety pin to thread the cord through the tube.
The last finishing touch that’s optional is to add a 2nd row of stitching to the hem on the bottom of the dress. This just makes it look store-bought – most manufacturers use a serger to complete a hem, so it leaves 2 lines of stitching. It also helps keep the fabric from flopping around after you’ve trimmed it.
And that’s it! You have a beautiful maxi dress that didn’t cost you an arm and a leg, and took less than an afternoon to put together! Now go show that baby off 🙂