Thursday, August 18, 2011

Racerback Summer Dress

Finally some productivity around here!

This is one of my favorite summer dresses because it's easy, fast, doesn't involve shirring and the straps stay up. What's that bit about shirring again, you ask? Considering that I've actually posted tutorials on shirred sundresses, mass-produced doll clothes with it and prettied it up to impersonate smocking, I'm really not one of its stronger proponents. I think it's magical in action, but it's very inexact, with no consistent relation between pre-shirred and post-shirred fabric width, making it very difficult to estimate yardage. Also, with a non-chain-stitch home sewing machine, the stitches come apart over time, especially with repeated, high-abuse wearing by small children. Which makes it actually not the best method of sundress-making for beginner sewists, if you think about it. I mean, sure, it's easy, but it isn't great. And it's certainly not robust. So while I still love it, I now reserve it for cuffs of sleeves and openings of pockets. In main bodices or midsections of garments, however, if I can possibly use elastic (or a totally different style altogether), I'll pick those over shirring any day and twice on Sunday.

Back to the racerback sundress now. 

Growing up in South East Asia meant regular trips to beach resorts on tropical islands. And every decent beach resort will have sundresses like these for sale in their gift shops. Usually made of batik or supersoft tie-dye rayon, they appear in various manifestations of the racerback style. I've always had a soft spot for cross-back-type styling (you should have seen my swimsuits in the days when I actually swam) but the traditional cross-back dresses can turn out hideous if the chest girth is inaccurate. You've seen the consequences of such unfortunate drafts - big gaping sags in the middle back, or pulling at the shoulders, or cross-straps that are wider at the top and convergent at the yoke. So people put elastic and shirring between the straps and work it somehow into the design to keep it all snug or just recut the pattern altogether.

Again, inexact, especially for beginner sewists. So I thought I'd show you this style of Y-back sundress instead. The front looks like a classic tank

but the back is oh-what-fun!

Lots of room around the armscye for comfort,

with a simple gathered skirt attached below the yoke.

Good for twirling,

great for lounging

and you can customize it for snugness, ease, room-for-growth, room-for-shrinkage -  whatever you need.

We'll be deconstructing it in the following posts!

Check back for a pattern in three sizes, the full tutorial and a bonus lesson on seam allowances!


  1. Oh, fabulous! I love your dresses! I can't wait to see more!

  2. They look adorable and oh-so-comfy!

  3. Wow, am waiting breathlessly! :)

  4. O cannot wait to see the tutorial! My daughter would love this.

  5. I don't sew and even I want to make these. Your girls are as sweet, no, sweeter than their candy!

  6. I can't wait to make one. I just got some pretty new knits.

  7. this dress is so cute! I love the simplicity of it!

  8. Oh my So cute! Gonna try to sew one :)

  9. LiEr, you shouldn't let your children smoke. Nice dress, though.

  10. @Jessica JonesHee! Yes, because everyone knows that nicotine makes them bounce off the walls.

  11. Oh great ! Thanks in advance. Those dresses are gorgeous. I love the knits, too.

  12. oh yay! this is ideal for my knits collection....

  13. The dresses look so pretty and manage to be functional and comfortable too, so important when sewing for children

  14. I'm making this adorable little dress, it's at I've linked to your site, let me know if I did it according to your wishes.

  15. Did you ever post the pattern for this dress? I could not locate it in your free or patterns for sale pages. Thanks,

    1. Yes, the instructions and patterns are in the posts immediately following this. Here's the first link to start.

      You'll be able to find that and Part 2 in the archives (or just scroll to the end of this post and click "Newer Post"). Happy sewing!


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