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Saturday, 16 July 2016

One metre party dresses

During our summer holiday, we'll be going to a wedding. Thinking back to my mum making me dresses to wear as a child, I offered to make each of my girls a dress to wear on the day. I had in mind to make classic party dresses, with full circle skirts and a bit of netting underneath for some fun twirling action.

Ever get that `why on earth did I offer to do this?' feeling? After the initial excitement of them choosing the fabrics, taking their measurements, and making a start on drafting simple bodice patterns, procrastination took hold. The first dress hung on the back of a door, half finished, for what seemed like months on end.

Eldest girl's choice
And then, just like being back at school or university, with an essay deadline looming, a couple of weeks ago, I pulled my finger out and finished all the dresses in under a week. Like so many things, once you get started, and you have a process to repeat, you speed up. I made them in age order, starting with the biggest girl, and ended up being really motivated by each of their reactions as I finished a dress. My middle girl had a friend over for tea the day after her dress had been made, and I overheard a very gratifying conversation as she proudly showed off her new frock that `Mummy made just for me' (obviously being her, this had to involve multiple knicker revealing spins, twirls and cartwheels around the house - god hope she doesn't do that at the wedding).

Who would guess a 2 year old would want bunnies on her dress?

Once I got going, I loved making these dresses. One of the most fun things about doing it was seeing each daughter expressing her own style in choices over fabrics and trims and so on. I kind of felt a bit mean for not making them party dresses before now, but, well, time and inclination and all that. 

Exposed chunky zip and neon pink ribbon to be worn in her hair for the middle girl

Here is how I made a party dress out of a metre of fabric:
  1. Take as many measurements as you think will be useful in drafting bodice and circle skirt - chest, waist, height from neck to waist and waist to knee. 
  2. I allowed about 3 cm for ease, and 1cm seam allowance when sketching my first bodice.
  3. As I was lining the bodices, I made the lining first and slipped it on the child to check fit and adjust neck line and so on, before continuing with rest of bodice. 
  4. As for how to sew a simple lined bodice, I'm sure Google can help you if you aren't sure - although I used the same method as Tilly talks about in Love at First Stitch.
  5. I did a simple zip at the back - I took a decision to keep the dresses as simple as possible, and not extend the zip into the skirt. This means the dress need to be put on over the head, and involves a little wriggling, but is fine (the youngest can do it).
  6. The circle skirt was easy maths to calculate, based on the C = 2 pi R formula. I started with the inner circumference (waist plus ease), and used that to work out the inner radius, so I could add that number to the outer radius (the length I wanted the skirt to be). On the littlest girl's skirt, I also needed to work out the outer circumference, as I needed to buy enough pom pom trim (isn't it flipping cute?!).
  7. Knowing time was not on my side, what with 4 dresses to make and all that, I didn't bother making a pattern for the skirts, and opted to fold the fabric I had into quarters. I took my measuring tape and scissors and just went for it.
  8. I used the outer circle fabric as a template for cutting two layers of netting. I then cut a circle out of the centre of all three layers (fabric and netting x2) and basted the three layers together.
  9. I pinned the skirt layers to the bodice, adding in the odd little pleat if necessary, and sewed everything together. 
  10. For the hemming, I made each girl stand on the dining room table, whilst I measured and pinned until I was happy with how it looked.
  11. The only troublesome hem was the first dress, which is made out of a kind of satin fabric that slipped all over the place. I sewed a 1 cm line all round the bottom, to make pressing it up easier. Once pressed, I sewed through two layers, with a 5 mm hem, before pressing up again, making sure the stitching was rolled up out of sight, and stitching final line of hem. It took ages to sew all those massive circles!
  12. I got the girls to tell me how much of the netting they wanted to poke out at the bottom, and carefully trimmed as advised (the customer is always right, no?). 
Voila! Now we just need to make sure we get to the wedding on time, and they behave themselves...


  1. What a wonderful thing to do for your daughters. I am sure they absolutely love twirling around in their dresses.
    You will be a very fashionable and stylish family at the wedding. I bet you have a fabulous time!

  2. How lovely - and what gorgeous dresses. Your turn now, Janet!

  3. These are adorable!!! I love the pom pom trim!