Monday, August 22, 2011

Racerback Summer Dress Part 3 - Sewing It Up

We're finishing up the racerback sundress today!

Go here for pictures of the finished dress.
Go here for Part 1 - the pattern and seam allowances.
Go here for Part 2 - binding the armscyes and neckline with knit.

Now let's put it all together, shall we?

Step 1
Make the back casing. From the top edge of the back bodice, measure 1/4" down

and fold it once.

Then measure another 1" below the fold and fold that down, to make a casing 1" wide.

Sew down the bottom fold of the casing to secure it in place.

Step 2
Make the shoulder strap, using a 1/4"-3/8" or 1 cm seam allowance.

Step 3
Attach shoulder strap to one front shoulder. 

The shoulder strap can be of any width you like, incidentally. If you wish, you can make the strap exactly the same width as the shoulder. If you like gathers (as I have included in these dimensions), you can make a wider strap and gather each end to match the width of the front shoulder:

Place the end of the shoulder strap under the front shoulder, as shown, so that
(i) their right sides/outsides are together
(ii) the top edge of the shoulder strap protrudes above the shoulder edge by 1/2". 

Sew along the stitching line of the shoulder to attach the strap.

Then flip the strap up,

fold down the extra protruding bit on the strap once

and again, like a flat fell seam. Sew a rectangle around that thick folded region to secure, gathers and all.

This is the right side of the shoulder seam.

This is the zoom-out photo of the bodice with the strap attached to one shoulder.

Step 4
Test the bodice for fit.
Using a safety pin, slide the shoulder strap through back casing.
Have your child try the bodice on to determine the final length of the shoulder strap.

Step 5
Repeat step 3 to attach the shoulder strap to other front shoulder.

The bodice is finished!

Step 6
Sew side seam of skirt to make tube. Serge (or zig-zag stitch) to finish the seam.

Step 7
Sew a row (I usually use two parallel rows) of gathering stitches at the top of the skirt where it will join the bodice. By pulling the threads, manually gather this top edge so that it is the same circumference as the bottom edge of the bodice. With right sides together, pin the top edge of the skirt to the bottom edge of the bodice, using the method of quarter marks, or any other technique you like to ensure the gathers are evenly distributed.

Step 8
Sew along the stitching line to attach the skirt to the bodice. Stretch both layers very gently as you sew, just so that the stitches aren't tight. If your stitches are tight (the way they would be if you were sewing this with a woven fabric), they will snap when the child pulls the dress over her head to get dressed.
Remove the gathering stitches. This seam will suddenly loosen slightly. That's OK - we're going to introduce elastic in the next step.

Step 9
Serge (or zig-zag stitch) to finish the seam allowances of this seam. It is helpful to NOT cut the elastic to length before sewing it- it's easier to handle with the extra length on the ends. Instead, just mark the length you need and cut off the excess later. Enclose the elastic within the stitches themselves, sewing it down as a third layer on top of the fabric. Important: the final length of the elastic will be shorter than the circumference of the seam you are sewing (you stretched it in Step 8), so remember to stretch the elastic as you serge, to match this bigger circumference.
The final result of this procedure is that the dress now retains the original chest circumference but with a stretchy seam. In the process of dressing and undressing, the stitches will not break- the seam itself will simply stretch when needed.

Step 10 
The last step is to finish the hem of the dress. I picked a rolled hem, but you can do a traditional folded hem or coverstitch.


Are you tempted to make this for yourself, in an adult size? I was, until I realized that winter is just around the corner for us. And after I'd just bought a LOT of new knits. This is what happens when I sit on projects instead of actually working on them. Maybe I'll make one or two for myself in February when we head down to the equator to escape the winter. We'll be in Singapore, but we also have a weekend trip to Koh Samui (that's in Thailand) on our radar. Or Phuket. Possibly Club Med, Phuket, where they will babysit the kids so D and I can go diving. Diving! Can I still even swim, for heaven's sake? It's been so long. Or maybe I'll just buy myself a dress from the gift shop, for old times' sake! 

Enough daydreaming. The snow will be here before you know it, so go make a dress!


  1. hehe, although for us (in Australia) the timing is perfect to make this adorable dress.
    Great instructions by the way :)

  2. Wanted to make this as soon as it came up on my dash. Then realized that my girl needs fall/winter clothes first... so filing this away in favor of the overalls pattern for now. We're not going away this winter, but maybe sewing summer dresses will make it feel warmer in January! :D

  3. Thanks Leah for the very clear tutorial on how to make this gorgeous dress.. I have made one for my daughter (see the link).

    Thanks once again.. :)))

  4. Is a great work, Beutiful Dress!!!

  5. Thank you for posting this and answering my questions! I got it finished today and it's super cute. I used a jersey (Tommy Hilfiger!) bedsheet from Value Village, and made the size 7 for my 5 year old, and it fits perfectly. I think this would also make a great nightgown for my girls or for me! Thanks again!

  6. Are you using a standard sewing maching to do the casings on the bodice?? How does your material not stretch like crazy??


  7. @3ce71ea8-e156-11e0-bc5b-000bcdcb471e
    Yes, I am using a regular sewing machine, and a very basic one at that - only has a few stitches on it. Not sure what casings you mean - do you mean the edging/binding? Or the little tunnel in the back for the strap to slide through? If you start out with a higher-cotton content knit that is NOT interlock (flimsier and harder to sew), you might find it easier, especially if you haven't worked with knits before. Also use a ball-point needle - it helps.

  8. Expressing yourself is the most uplifting feeling a person could feel. Once you learn how to sew a dress, you’ll be able to express yourself more. And you’ll be more proud with the way you look. Nice one mate.

  9. nice blog! i have joined here.. great tutorial.. thanks for sharing :) pls visit my blog

  10. luv the pattern idea, n the way u detailed the instructions.. will try this.. thanks for sharing..

  11. Thanks for your post. I've been looking for good summer dresses to make my daughter and this one is perfect.

    I do have a question, though. In step 9 I don't quite understand what you mean by: "Enclose the elastic within the stitches themselves, sewing it down as a third layer on top of the fabric." The picture doesn't show any elastic, so I'm having a hard time figuring out where it is.

    Is the elastic sewn down with that zig zag stitch? I'm guessing the elastic is on the under side of the fabric shown? Does the elastic end up being on the inside of the dress against the skin? I'm wondering if there's some way to encase it in fabric so it doesn't scratch or irritate?


    1. Tami: the elastic is clear (transparent) so it's hard to see it in the photo. I used a serger to overlock the seam allowance at the same time that I introduced the elastic. So the stitches secured the elastic onto the edge of those 2 layers of fabric while also surrounding that elastic, because the spacing of those overlocking stitches was just wide enough to span the width of the elastic.

      If you are using a regular sewing machine's zigzag stitch in place of the serger's overlocking stitch, you'll be sewing on the elastic but not enclosing it.

      Here is a post with a photo of that clear elastic stitched down and enclosed by the serger's stitches.
      Scroll down to the section where the clear elastic is introduced, and look at the two photos of the brown garment turned WS out - you should be able to see the elastic installed within the SA of the shoulder seam.

    2. Great, thank you so much for the info! I really appreciate your help :)

      I'll have to try and find some of that clear elastic stuff. I've always seen it in the clothes I buy but I didn't really know what it was.

    3. I actually have another question. I just tried making the bodice of this dress and when I attached the "bias tape" the shape got stretched out/distorted. How do you get the bias tape to bend around the curves of the bodice without stretching the thing out of shape?


    4. Tami: It depends on a few factors. One, the kind of knit fabric you are using. Some hold their shape better than others and are easier to sew. Some stretch more and have to be handled very, very carefully, even eased under the presser foot to avoid being stretched. Second, and this again depends on the kind of knit fabric, you might be stretching either the binding or the bodice edges (neckline, armscye) or both, while you were sewing. Using a walking foot helps, if you are not accustomed to "easing fabric" under the presser foot as you sew, as a habit.


Thank you for talking to me! If you have a question, I might reply to it here in the comments or in an email.