Thursday, March 3, 2011

Toddler Maxi Dress and Shrug - Part 1 of 4 - Drafting the Dress Pattern


Finally,  I'm starting to post about the pattern and construction of the toddler dress and shrug (I'm going to call it the toddler maxi dress).  I've decided to split it into 4 parts - pattern for the dress, sewing the dress, pattern for the shrug, and sewing the shrug.  Here is part one -- Drafting the dress pattern.  (You can do this!)

I apologize in advance for the photos -- taking pictures of tracing paper in a poorly lit room is not easy!

First, start out by measuring your child.  This pattern works well for girls old enough that they won't be crawling, and young enough that they haven't started developing into a more adult figure (probably up to about age 10-12).  If you want to make it for an infant who is crawling, just shorten it to knee length or a little above.  I'm going to make this pattern in approximately size 3T.


Measure the chest at the level that will be the bottom of the bodice (it's an empire style dress which means the bodice [top of the dress] ends just below the "bust line", so just estimate the right level for your child).  My measurement at that point was 20".

From that point measure down to ankle length.  My number was 21".  Divide that number by 3.  Two thirds will be the top tier of the skirt (14" for me), one third will be the bottom tier of the skirt (7" for me).

For the shoulder strap you can ignore what I drew on the figure and just measure from the chest level in the front to the same level in the back, going over the shoulder.

Write down these measurements and keep them handy. 

Next we need to turn that chest measurement into something we can use to draft the pattern pieces.  We need to add "ease" (for comfort and movement) and convert it into quarters of the whole bodice.
IMG_5008 copy

The photo on the right shows my numbers.  You will have unique numbers depending on the size of your child.  Take the chest measurement and add ease.  You'll need to add more ease if your child will be wearing a shirt underneath.  An easy way to figure out how much you need is to take a flexible measuring tape, hold it around where you took the chest measurement (with the undershirt on, if applicable), increase the circle until it looks like it would allow enough space for comfort and movement and make note of the measurement.  [I really hope that makes sense... it sounds complicated when I try to write it all down!]  Take that new measurement with ease and divide by 2, then divide by 2 again to get quarters.  Then the back needs extra length to overlap for the closure so add 1/2".  You can add more for an older child, but you may not need to.  These are the measurements without seam allowance. 

For drawing the actual pattern pieces you can use regular computer paper for the smaller pattern pieces and tape pieces of paper together for the larger pattern pieces.  I use a large roll of tracing paper (36" wide) which I picked up from an art supply store.

We'll start with the back bodice.  Draw a straight line equal to the back width we just figured.  One of the tools I use most often when making patterns is an 18" long, 2" wide clear ruler. [Pardon the well worn ruler in the photos.]


I made the height of the back of the dress 1.5", so I measured up 1.5" using the ruler the long direction and traced it.


Complete the rectangle, making sure the corners are squared (90 degrees) and label the pattern piece. You'll need to cut 4 pieces for the outside back and the lining. You can either cut 4 of the main fabric ("self" in my photo) or 2 of the main fabric and 2 lining fabric.

self = main fabric

Then we need to add seam allowance. The commercial patterns you can buy in fabric stores usually add 5/8" seam allowance, but I like to add 1/2" because it's a lot faster when using the ruler to add it. You can add how much you prefer. This piece will be sewn on all sides, so we just extend the lines of the pattern piece and add seam allowance to every side.


The first pattern piece is complete!

For the front bodice start by drawing a straight line equal to the front bodice measurement we figured. (Mine was 5.5") Then on one side it will be sewn to the back bodice, so square up a line equal to the height of the back bodice (which for me was 1.5"). Then on the other side it's the center of the front. I chose to have the middle rise to 2.5". You can measure on your child and estimate where would be a good height for the top edge of the bodice. Square and draw a line equal to that height.


For the top edge you can freehand a curve or use a french curve. I just freehanded the curve below. Just make sure it levels out near the edges to make smooth transitions when sewing.


The taller side of the piece will be placed on a fold, so mark it on the pattern piece as shown below. Then add seam allowance on all sides except the side that is on a fold. An easy way to add seam allowance to a curve is move the ruler along the edge lining up with the 1/2" mark on the ruler, make a little dash, then turn the ruler and continue making dashed lines. When done play connect the dots to complete the line. [Hopefully the photo can explain it better than I can!]


Since this piece is on a fold it will be the whole front of the bodice. So we need to cut two pieces, one for the outside and one for the lining.


Now, to start on the front skirt we'll take the measurement for the front bodice pattern piece from above (5.5" for me) and multiply that by 2, 11" for me (doubling the width results in a good amount for gathering). Draw a straight line equal to that width. Then square a line up equal to the 2/3 of the skirt length (mine was 14").


Another of my favorite tools when drawing larger pattern pieces (and cutting fabric in straight lines) is a large quilting ruler.

Complete the rectangle and add seam allowance on 3 sides. Mark one (taller) side as the fold line. For this piece we'll only need to cut one and it will be the front top tier.


For the back top tier we double the width of the back bodice (which was 6" for me). Draw a straight line equal to that length, then square up a line equal to the 2/3 skirt length.


Complete the rectangle and add seam allowance to all edges. Because we have a seam down the middle of the back we'll need to cut two of these pieces.


For the bottom tier we start by doubling the width of the top tier. You can pick either the front or back measurement to double. Then we'll use the same piece for the front and for the back. I chose the front (11" for me) and doubled that for a total of 22". Draw a straight line equal to that length. Then square a line up equal to the 1/3 skirt length (mine is 7").


Then add seam allowance. One of the short edges is on a fold (and it's the same for the front and back since we don't need to have a seam in the middle of the back on the bottom). Add 1/2" to the top and the other short edge. Then on the bottom add 1" to allow for a finished hemline. We'll cut two of this piece (one for the front, one for the back). 


For the straps I didn't make a pattern. I actually just cut a 2" wide strip of fabric, no extra seam allowance. Then while sewing the dress I did a test fit to determine the finished length of the straps. You can make a pattern piece for it if you like.

And we're done. Look at that, you're a pattern maker!

[I really hope everything made sense! Feel free to contact me if something needs more clarification.]

I'll be linking up to the parties listed on my "Blog Link Parties" page.


  1. I love the pattern and colors in this precious dress!

  2. Wow, what a beautiful dress... I can tell you are a very talented at sewing!


  3. Please, please, please tell me you will have the rest of this up soon! I want to make this for my daughter. I am in love with this dress!

    Your directions for making a pattern are so incredibly useful. Thanks for going through it step by step.

  4. This dress is so beautiful!!! Thanks for stopping by my blog and for the lovely comment :) I am now your newest follower, I hope you will follow me too! I look forward to your future blog posts

  5. This dress is beautiful, i'm going to have to follow for the rest of it!

  6. Hi, Catherine! your step by step tutorial is so easy to follow and so well and clearly explained. How I wish I could do the same as when I make my tutorial I sometimes confuse even my own self, lol ^^)

    thanks for linking up and I hope to see you again this week! have a nice weekend! ^^)

  7. Oh. My. I've been wanting to make a shrug like this for my 4 YO. You did a great job! So cute!

  8. Just want to say you're awesome for this. Such clear wonderful instructions! Now if only I could make a pattern for a fleece infant beanie ;P

  9. I am in love with this pattern/dress!! I made one in less than 2 days (could have been done in a day but y'know, 3 kids makes that hard) for my almost 3y/o. She absolutely loves it and is quite angry that its snowing and she can't wear it today! Thank you thank you THANK you for sharing this!!!

  10. I realize it is a longshot, but I must ask if you know who the designer is for the sweet beige calico fabric used for this precious dress. Thank you.


I love to read your comments, thank you for taking the time to visit my little corner of the world!

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