Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tutorial: Simple Maxi Dress

I enjoyed wearing my blue maxi dress so much that I just had to make another, and this time in a light weight knit. And I thought you might like to make one too, so here’s a tutorial for you!

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My inspiration came from these:

old navypiperlime
Old Navy Maxi for $34.95 and Piperlime Maxi for $83.95

After coupons at Joann’s…

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…mine cost $14.

Materials needed:
-2 yards (or more, depending on your size) of a light weight knit
-coordinating thread (preferably a polyester or nylon thread)
-7 inch zipper

***Please note: the straps on this dress are different than the five part braid on the blue one I made. If you want the braided detail along the top trim of the dress and as the straps, I have additional instructions at the end.***

1. Measure
Start by measuring across your chest from side seam to side seam of a shirt you like the fit of.

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Measure from the point where you want the top of the bodice to lay to where you want the waist band to be.
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Measure from where you want your waist band to where you want the hem to fall.

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Add 1 inch to each of those measurements for a 1/2 inch seam allowance.

Also measure how long your straps need to be—from where you want the top of the front to sit to where you want the top of the back to sit. My straps are 8 inches wide.

2. Cut
Cut out 4 rectangles based on your measurements (as wide as the first measurement across your chest plus 1 inch and as tall as the measure from the top seam to the waist band plus 1 inch).

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For your skirt, double the width of the front of your bodice for the width, and the length is the measurement from the waist band to the hem line. If you don’t plan on hemming your skirt (I didn’t since the knit will just curl and not fray), just add 1/2 inch on for seam allowances on the length). For example: the width of my bodice (after adding in seam allowances) was 18 inches, so I needed my skirt to be 36 inches. So my skirt pieces were 36” x 42”. Cut two of this size—one for the front and one for the back.

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Cut your two strap pieces (mine were about 18” x 8” and they turned out to be way too long so I had to shorten them. Guess I didn’t measure too well!)

3. Sew
If this is your first time sewing with knits, or you aren’t super comfortable with them yet, check out this tutorial.

Your going to end up sewing all four of your bodice pieces right sides together so you end up with one long strip of fabric with three seams in it.

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Then sew the two ends together, right sides together, so you have a big tube/loop. Confused about what you’re doing? Lay the tube flat, right sides together (so your wrong sides/raw edges on the seams are facing up). The center two seams that line up with each other will be the seam under one of your arms, the two finished ends will be where your zipper goes—you’re making a nicely lined bodice!

Keep your bodice laid out like that and now it’s time to pin the top raw edges and put the straps in.

Take one strap and gather/fold/pleat it so it is only about 2 inches where it will attach to the bodice.

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Run it between the two layers (the outer and lining layers of one side of the bodice) of either the front or the back of the bodice. I pinned mine 3 inches in from where the side seam would be. You’ll just want to measure about how far in you want yours, depending on how wide your shoulders are. Do the same with the other strap in from the


Note how in the picture above, the length of the straps is hanging down from the seam. You only want the very end of your strap to peek through your pinning. Pin the rest of the two pieces (lining and outer) together and sew from one side seam to the next. Don’t go the full length of the bodice because you need to pin the straps into the back piece. This is where it gets a little awkward and you need to pay attention and be careful.

Take the hanging ends of your straps, make sure they’re falling straight, and loop them back up and pin them inside the other side of the bodice. Here’s a very rough computer drawing I made to show what it should look like.


The dashed lines are the seams you’ve already sewn. Once your straps are pinned in place, go ahead and finish sewing the rest of the length that you started.

At this point I put in the zipper. But last night, when I took off the dress, I forgot it had a zipper and just took it off. So the zipper may not be necessary, but I like knowing I don’t have to stretch the dress. I used a 7” zipper, and my bodice was 8” long, so I had an inch that I needed to sew together first at the bottom of the two ends.

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I then pinned my zipper under one finished seam (right sides out at this point). If I had been more technical and done a more professional job, I would have sewn the zipper in before sewing that seam and it would have been hidden. But I was going for simple with this dress.

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Using my zipper foot I sewed down what I just pinned, leaving about 1/8” between my new seam and the edge of the material. I then pinned the other side to the zipper and did the same thing.

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If you’re really good, at this point you’ll stay stitch the raw edges at the bottom of your bodice (not sure what a stay stitch is? It’s when you do a longer length stitch just to hold the fabric in place. You’ll also use a smaller seam allowance, like 1/4”). I didn’t do this, though, and just had to be more careful when pinning later.

Now you’re going to sew the side seams of your skirt. Because my skirt width was the same as the fabric width, I just had to do one side seam so I had a tube. If you’ve walked away from your machine at any point, or turned it off, always make sure you have it set to the right stitch before you start sewing again. You’d hate to be doing a straight stitch and then have to pick it out, or risk the stitching break when you’re wearing your dress.

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Now it’s time to gather the material for your skirt. At this point I switched back to a straight stitch, set my tension to the highest setting and my stitch length to the longest.

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I then ran the top edge of my skirt through the machine and it gathered as it went. What I ended up with was just barely wider than the bodice, so I didn’t even bother pulling the thread to tighten the gathers at all—just pinned some extra gathers in as I did the next step.

Keeping your skirt wrong sides out, put your bodice, neck down and right sides out inside the skirt. You’ll want the bottom edge of the bodice to line up with the top edge of your skirt, so the right sides are together. So now they make a nice tube. Make sure your side seams are lined up, and then pin them together. I made sure the skirt had extra sticking up at the top, so that way I wouldn’t have to worry about my gathering stitch showing.

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Don’t forget to switch back to your knit or zig zag stitch! Now sew the two together. And watch out for where the zipper is and make sure you don’t try to sew on the metal end piece. What’s that? How do I know to caution you? Oh, maybe because I totally broke my needle on it and had to finish it with my serger because I didn’t have another ball point needle. We don’t need to get into that though.

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And now, your dress is finished!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hope you’ve been trying it on along the way to make sure it actually is fitting you, and making some adjustments here and there as needed. I know that I had to take in my side seams a bit on the bodice, as well as shorten my straps quite a bit.

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Then, enjoy wearing it!

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(My dog was so excited that I was taking pictures and had to be a part of the photo shoot as well.)

***Five Part Braid Modification***

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If you are wanting to add the braided trim and straps to your dress, like on my blue one, it’s very simple! Follow THIS tutorial and make enough braid for the width of the front of your bodice and the two straps. Then, follow the instructions for sewing in the straps, only use your braid instead of the ones I used. Once your bodice is all finished, top stitch the braid onto the front of the bodice. You’ll want to finish off the ends of the braid and tuck them under before sewing them on. Nice and simple!

Thanks so much for stopping by. If you end up making a dress, please let me know! I’d love to see it! You can either send me a link to your blog post about it, or email me pictures at nolanandjill {at} gmail {dot} com. I really do want to see what you make!!! I’ll probably even feature it!

If you have some time, take a look at these great parties I may be linking up with…


  1. HURRAY! I'm excited to give this one a try. Thanks, now my refreshing is over. :-)

  2. Love it! I was so excited for this and you definitely didn't disappoint! I'm not sure when I'll get a chance to hit the fabric store so this may have to wait a while, but it's definitely me in my to-do pile!!!


  3. The dress turned out so well. My favorite feature are the pockets. And I agree with you that knits are not nearly so hard to work with as everyone says. You just have to jump in! Thanks for providing a tutorial to help us do just that!

    Stephanie from Make Home Make Sense

  4. Thank you so much for a tutorial. I think I might have to give this a try.

  5. Great tutorial! It looks stylish and comfy. My kind of dress :)

  6. I think you need to go on vacation somewhere tropical with your cute new dresses! :)

  7. Love this tutorial, my daughter bookmarked it to make for herself too!

  8. I see a whole new wardrobe in my future!

  9. Very cute dress, I'm loving the blue one also! The color on you looks amazing! Have a great weekend!
    Modern Wivelyhood

  10. Very cute! Great job! Stopping by from the Sunday Showcase Party.
    Would you please link this up to My Favorite Things Friday Party! I would love it if you did =D

  11. I want to make one of these so badly.. I can't wait to get another story machine.

  12. That is awesome! I can't believe you made that! We would LOVE to have you link this up to our giveaway and party!

    The Sisters @

  13. I can't believe I just found your blog. What a wealth of information! This tutorial for a maxi dress is wonderful. I think I may just have to whip one up for my granddaughter this week!

  14. I made it! I made it! I'm pretty proud of myself. It's my first dress. Thanks, for the tutorial, Jill!

  15. Love it! I'll feature you this week on Make It Wear It!

  16. Looks easy enough for me to give a try at it! thanks for the lovely tut!

    come and link it up at woot woot wednesdays!

  17. Cute dress! Thanks for sharing @'Sew Cute Tuesday'!

  18. Thanks for sharing...gorgeous dress...
    love it..

  19. Your maxi dresses look so cute and comfortable! I am featuring this at

  20. So very comfy and cute! Great tutorial!

  21. If this was made in taffeta and in the braided version I think it would make a really nice bridesmaid dress!

  22. This is a very nice dress. Thank you for the tutorial. I'll try to sew one as soon as possible (before the summer ends!). Sure my female friends will want one.
    Cheers from Italy.

  23. Do u think adjustments to the measurements have to be made if u used cotton instead?


  24. THANKS FOR SHARING! I am stopping by Joann's after work today to get material. Then making it tonight for a pool party tomorrow! Again, Many thanks!
    Jen Cleary

  25. This is so amazing....Thank you for sharing and I NEED to do this !!!!

  26. Like all others, love the dress and a great tut! If you have time, could you tell me if I could easily make a cap or 3/4 sleeve? I haven't sewn actual clothes in awhile :-[ but am hoping to make some of these for fall/winter (I'm disabled so this kind of dress is sooooo comfy around the house instead of jeans). Perhaps a blog/site where they have a tut on making loose sleeves?

    Found you via AllFreeSewing, so thanks for sharing this pattern there! :-)

  27. Pkae--I think this would make the perfect comfortable dress for you to wear around the house. I just saw this post about adding sleeves to dresses. I would say just follow the tutorial for making the dress and then take her advice on adding sleeves. That's the most simple way I can explain it since adding sleeves can sometimes be a trial and error process for me :)

  28. Hi,my name is jackie,ilove that dress.i sew but i cannot make the sleeves right or the collars.Do you have any ideas for that?

  29. I adore this dress! My youngest daughter (14 years old) is a little fashion queen. And this dress, I can make in many different variations! Thank you for sharing!

  30. Thanks for the tutorial! I made this dress at no cost using some green knit, thread, and a wide flower trim all inherited and stored in my fabric boxes. The bodice ended up being too long, so I made a one inch horizontal pleat above the gathers so it looks like the gathers are falling out from under the pleat. Then I used the flower trim for the straps and on the top edge of the bodice. It is very comfortable and pretty!

  31. Very cute! Thank you for this tutorial - I am so exciting to make this dress, and to wear it!

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