Friday, May 27, 2011

A Sundress for Little C

My youngest great-niece turns 2 today.  I thought it would be fun to make her a little sundress, with a crocheted bodice or yoke and a thrifted men's shirt for the body.

There are a lot of cute patterns out there for re-purposing men's shirts into girls' dresses, and also many cute ideas for crochet-top dresses.  I decided to come up with my own design, which was dictated by the amount of yarn I had available (1 skein), and my almost pathological dislike of weaving in yarn ends (hence the 1-piece yoke).

Here's how it turned out:

If you're interested in making something similar, here are some photos and a description of the process.  (I can't really call it a pattern - it was all very improvised.)

For the yoke, I knew I wanted to use this gorgeous soft yarn, so I shopped for a shirt to match:

Deborah Norville Serenity Garden Yarn
bought at JoAnn Fabrics

After a lot of messing around and frogging, I came up with a simple round yoke (using a child's dress pattern to help with the sizing).  I started with a strip of foundation single crochet (bless you, Doris Chan - you may not have invented this but I learned it from your fantastic books) because it's stretchy and flexible, and has a nice neat edge.

I joined the foundation single crochet strip into a circle (big enough to go over Little C's head), then added two rounds of a kind of tipped-sideways double crochet block stitch (chain 3, *skip 2 spaces and attach to foundation chain with dc, chain 3 and dc 3 in dc that is attached to foundation.  Repeat from * around.)  I got the idea for this stitch from an old Magic Crochet magazine.

This stitch pattern was pretty flexible, and the circle was small, so the yoke came out nice and flat without any increases.  I finished up with a round of chain 4 and sc in each block, then a half-double crochet in each chain, all the way around, to mimic the look of the starting round.  Boy, I hate crocheting into chain stitches;  don't you?  It's so much easier to crochet into a space, but that didn't look right for this piece.  And Little C is worth the trouble.

So now I had a nice round piece which I could fold in half and use for a yoke.  I also made a granny square for a pocket.  All I needed was the dress.

A brown paper grocery bag (with the bottom cut off) made great pattern paper.  After checking some online children's size measurement charts, I knew the average chest size for a 2-year old was 21".  So I added an inch for ease, and cut a piece of paper 11" wide (half of 22") to make a pattern block for the dress.  (I didn't need to add side seam allowances because I would be using the shirt, and those side seams were already sewn.)  The length of the grocery bag was about right for the length of the dress.

I laid the folded yoke on the pattern block, and traced out the neck and armhole shapes on one side, adding seam allowances:

Then folded the paper in half and cut out the neck and armholes:

Time to lay it on the shirt and see how much room I had. (The pattern piece looks so skinny because it represents the basic shape of the dress without any gathers. Imagine it split in two and spread out as wide as the shirt.  That's how I would cut the shirt.)

Plenty of room, but the shirt pocket was in the way.

Adios, pocket!

With the pocket out of the way, I could push the pattern piece a little higher up the shirt, and get maximum length out of my fabric while still using the ready-made side seams.

Now to cut up the shirt from armhole to armhole.  I used the woven lines of the plaid as a cutting guide and cut one layer at a time; first the front, then the back:

Right across to the sleeves and carefully around the bit of armhole

Then I smoothed it out all nice and flat, and LOOK HOW UNEVEN THE HEM WAS:

Mass-produced clothing.  Sheesh.

That wouldn't do at all for Little C's dress.  I'd have to cut it off and make my own hem.  No big deal.  Time enough to work on that when the top part was done.

Next I traced and cut the armholes at each extreme side of the top (by sliding the pattern piece all the way to one side of the shirt, marking it, then all the way to the other side and marking again):

Then went to the center and marked the depth of the yoke curve.

Then sketched in a long curve, connecting it to the armholes at the sides:

Folded the shirt in half, and cut it.

Now it was time to bind the armholes, and gather and bind the yoke curves.  I didn't want any raw edges inside the dress.

After a refreshing sniff of my lilac bouquet which was sitting on the table and scenting the entire room...

I cut some 3/4" bias strips for the armholes, and some 1" bias strips for the yoke curves:

And pressed under one long edge on each (a little less than 1/4"):

Note to self:  ironing board cover needs washing

I sewed a 3/4" strip to each armhole, right sides together, and trimmed the seams a tiny bit:

Then folded them over to the wrong side and topstitched them down:

Now it was time to gather the yoke curves.  I realized I had no idea how much to gather them, nor where exactly to attach them to the yoke, so back to the brown paper pattern piece:

I marked the center points front and back,
and the side edges of where the bodice would attach.

I measured the distance between the attachment points (just under 6"), then marked my binding strips with lines that far apart.

I gathered the yoke curves using the good old zig-zag over dental floss trick, and pinned them to the binding strips between the marked lines:

Whoops!  Forgot to press these edges under. Will have to roll by hand.

Attached the strips, trimmed the excess, folded them over to the inside, and pinned in place.  I decided to hand-stitch them down instead of topstitching, to keep the curve soft and flexible (machine-stitching through all those gathers would make it pretty stiff).

All pinned and ready for hand-sewing

Top edges nice and finished

And the little dress was almost done!

The rest went pretty quickly.  I agonized over decided which side of the yoke should go in front, pinned it to the bodice:

And machine-stitched it in place.  Repeat with back yoke.  Trimmed the bottom of the dress and added a quick machine hem:

At the last minute, I modified the granny square pocket to give it a stronger top edge.  I frogged the last side of the square and did a row of single crochet instead:

And pinned it to the dress and topstitched it in place.  Hooray!  I was done!  Or was I?

Front yoke

Back yoke

Every girl needs coordinating accessories.  I had time, yarn and fabric enough left to whip up a little bag:

Cut off a chunk of sleeve and cut into a neat rectangle.
Sew side with french seam.

Gather the bottom inside...

And ziz-zag to prevent fraying.
Turn right side out and lay aside.

I crocheted a simple shell-stitch top for the bag (3 rows of shell stitches, a row of double crochets with chain spaces for drawstrings, then a frilly shell top with a round of picots to finish). Then I trimmed the bag a bit shorter (I had made it too tall), folded and hemmed the raw top edge of the bag, pinned the crochet to it, and top-stitched it on. (Sorry, forgot to take pictures of this part. You can use your imagination.)

Crocheted a couple of chain stitch handles, wove them through, and NOW I was done. about an amigurumi to go inside the bag?  Just kidding. I did look at some patterns online but decided I'd better quit. I bought a stuffed ladybug toy and put it in there instead.


Happy birthday, Little C, with love from Aunt Sue and Uncle M.  If you pull on the ladybug's tail it will scurry around.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


  1. What a pitty that I don't have a little girl (or grandchild). The dress is soooooooo lovely. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I never would of thought of using a mens shirt to make a dress, I love it! I have been wanting to get out the machine and blow the cobwebs off of it and this would be fun to try, thanks for the tutorial as well. Oh, almost forgot to mention the little bag...lovely:)

  3. Thanks Regula and Gail! Gail - there are several tutorials out there on the Internet for turning a man's shirt into a little girl's dress (all very cute and using more of the shirt than mine did). If you do a Google search for "girl's dress from man's shirt" you can probably find some good ideas.

  4. Amazing! How do you come up with these ideas? You are amazing! Also, that bag is adorable.


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