Summer Sundress Tutorial (part 1)

I’ve had a few people ask me how I made the dress in my profile photo.  I blogged the finished project here, and mentioned that I drafted the pattern myself.  I have to put a caveat on this tutorial:  I have next to no proper pattern drafting experience.  I’ve never even read a book on the subject.  To draft this pattern, I just did what felt right (so, I traced a shirt that already fits me), and I ended up with a pretty decent result.  If you follow my instructions, you should end up with something very similar to what I made.

I’m doing this tutorial from a child’s top, and so I’m going to make the back identical to the front.  You, like me, may know that normal garments that normal people wear aren’t the same on the back and the front, and wonder what on earth I think I’m doing here.  In a child’s size, trust me, you won’t know the difference.  If you’re making it for yourself, though, it might be worth it to draw out a strap for the back that’s different from the one at the front.  Indeed, I did this when I made the dress for myself, and I liked it.  I’ll follow up on this idea in Part 2, next week.


To draft the straps:

Place a shirt that fits onto a piece of tracing paper that you can see through.  Draw a point at each collar, and a point at each underarm.  I realise you can’t see the points in my photo, so I drew arrows on the paper to demonstrate where to draw them.


Remove the shirt. Fold the paper in half, lining up the shoulder points and the underarm points. Open that back up and draw a line down the fold – this is both your centre line and your grain line, so it’s important.

Trace the Left Hand shoulder seam onto the paper, from the collar mark to the shoulder seam. Place a mark on this line to the desired width of the shoulder strap.

Trace the Right Hand side seam onto the paper, from the underarm mark to about three inches down. Place a mark on this line to the desired width of the strap under the arm. It should be at least 25% wider under the arm than at the shoulder (ie. if your shoulder width is 1.5 inches, then the strap under the arm should be at least 2 inches)

Sketch out the strap curve, by connecting the mark you made for the collar to the mark you made for the underarm. Be careful to start and end the curve at 90 degree angles to the shoulder and side seams. Complete the strap by connecting the other two dots with a similar curve. It should look something like this (obviously, you’ve removed the shirt to follow the tutorial, so that will be gone, and you’ll have your pattern piece sketched out on the paper):


Add a ⅝ inch seam allowance , and label this piece as STRAP (cut x8)

To draft the skirt:

Fold the strap at its centre mark, and place it in line with the Left Hand edge of a fresh sheet of paper. Place a mark at each end of the bottom seamline (ie. at the centre and under the arm of the strap, where I’ve placed the red marks below).

skirt 1

Ignore that the strap is labelled front – it is the front AND back.

Draw a straight line at 90 degrees to the Left Hand edge of the paper to the underarm mark. Double the length of this line. Draw a straight line from the end of this line to the mark for the centre of the strap (you can follow the red x’s in the photos – I’ve placed them in the same spots in each photo).

skirt 2

Decide how long you want your dress to be, and place a mark at the left hand edge of the paper. I’ve chosen a length of only 30cm from my horizontal line, as this is for a child. Draw the side seam, ensuring that it is the same length as the centre from the horizontal line. Draw the hemline.  (more detail: the proper way to do this is probably to draw a perfect rectangle, then slash and spread it.  I’m lazy, so I’ve just drawn the side seam at an angle, and estimated what I thought a hemline would look like)

skirt 3

Add a ⅝ inch seam allowance to the top and side.  Add 1.5 inches to the bottom for a hem.

Mark the pattern: SKIRT (cut x2 on fold)

My next post is going to cover making different-shaped straps for the front and back, and the construction. Watch out for the tricky part around the strap!



Handmade Buttons – Tutorial

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This is more craft than sew, but I assure you, I am not turning into a craft blogger.  I’m a sewist all the way, but because I’ve featured my handmade buttons here, and here, I thought I would share my process with you.

The first step is to acquire shrinkplastic.  You may be able to find it in craft shops, but I bought mine online.  The brand I have is called Lucky Squirrel, and I’ve been happy with it, although I assume the brand doesn’t matter much.  (Lucky Squirrel is not sponsoring me in any way, it’s just what I used.)  It comes in A4 sized sheets, and in a variety of colours.  I used clear, because I like being able to see the design on both sides, and I love being able to trace images onto the plastic.

You also need:

  • 400 grit sandpaper,
  • a wide-mouth shotglass,
  • coloured pencils,
  • scissors,
  • a single hole punch, and
  • clear nail varnish.

To prepare the surface for your design, you need to scuff it with fine sandpaper.  You do this all over the sheet of shrinkplastic, in a crosshatch pattern.  Be thorough!  You’re going to draw on the scuffy side, so keep that facing up.

Next, you create a button template.  Place the shotglass upside-down on the shrinkplastic (or cardstock – this is just a template, afterall) and trace around it in pencil.  There is no need for precision, so you can eyeball these next steps.  Draw a line straight down the middle of your circle and place a mark at the middle.  Cut out the circle, and use the hole punch to create holes on the line, just either side of the middle.


I also used my template to test out my pattern and colour combinations! Still, you can see the line I drew down the centre for the placement of the holes.

Trace your template onto the shrink plastic several times to make several buttons.  Now, use coloured pencils to draw any design you like.  Here, I traced scraps of printed fabric to create a flurry of airplanes.  I traced the airplanes first, then I coloured in the background, and finally, outlined the shapes with a sharp pencil.  Don’t worry if your drawing is imprecise, because it will look much better after shrinking.


Buttons before shrinking. I put down 5 pence, for scale. (That’s the size of a dime, if you’re North American)

Your next step is to cut out all of the rounds, and punch out all the holes.  Place them on a piece of cardboard (I use the side of an empty cereal box) on a baking tray, making sure they do not touch.  Put this under the grill and watch it closely.  Soon, you’ll see the buttons start to shrink and curl – they will normally uncurl on their own, but you might need to help them out.  When they flatten out again, they’re done, and the pigments have become permanent!  Remove the buttons from the oven and let them cool before applying clear nail varnish to protect the scuffy side, and to add some shine.


Buttons, after shrinking. They shrink quite a bit!