Earlier this week we gave a primer on sewing with knits in our post How to Sew Knit Fabrics: Sewing With Jersey 101. Now we are going to share a free pattern for a knit dress and do a tutorial on how to make it.
Knit clothing is so fun to sew, and I think it’s even easier than cotton, because it is very forgiving (no buttons or zippers necessary), and kids think it’s cozy…
So here we will share a basic free pattern for a jersey baby dress. You can make this dress a million different ways. Here’s a few versions…
And you can embellish to your heart’s content.
I’ll show you how to make the ruffle version (and a sleeved version) of this beginner’s jersey baby dress soon, but today let’s start with the basic dress. This will allow us to review how to create a neckline and finish arm holes with jersey fabric. Let’s get started…
The Beginner’s Jersey Baby Dress: A Free Sewing Pattern
First download and cut out our free pattern. Get it here: Prudent Baby Beginner’s Jersey Baby Dress Free Sewing Pattern. This pattern is for a size 3T. You can easily change the pattern for your child. You’ll just want to download our pattern and cut it out, then compare it to a t-shirt that fits your child and adjust accordingly. When you cut the neck and arm hole strips, you want them about 20% smaller than the distance around the arm/neck hole of your pattern. You want each panel of the skirt to be 1.5-2 times the width of one top piece (so the skirt circumference is somewhere between 150-200% the width of your bodice circumference). You’ll want to cut the skirt with the long side with the stretch of the fabric (stretch your fabric, whichever direction stretches further is the direction you want to follow with our “more stretch” instructions).
Now head over to our post How to Sew Knits: Sewing with Jersey 101 for all the basics on the equipment, stitches, and tips on sewing knits. Ok, you got that? Now get started…
For materials, use any knit jersey fabric. I adore Robert Kaufman panda knits, that’s what the gray fabric is that I used here. Patty Young has some cute ones too, which I used for the sleeved version I’ll share later this week. Pick a new fabric or an old t-shirt or pair of yoga pants, really anything as long as you have enough fabric to cut your pieces. Make the bodice and top the same color, or different. Line the arm and neck holes in contrasting fabric, or don’t. Up to you.
Also, I purposefully created this tutorial so that no serger is necessary. I’ve used mine throughout to finish inside seams, but the great thing about jersey is that it doesn’t unravel, which means you don’t have to finish your seams. It’s also nice and soft, so your unfinished seams won’t be scratchy to the wearer of your lovely dress. So serge if you can, don’t if you can’t, it’ll be lovely either way. OK, LET’S GET STARTED!
Trace the pattern on the fold and cut out 2 pieces, on for the front and one for the back of your dress bodice. Also cut out the three strips for the arm and neck holes, and 2 rectangles for the skirt.
Let’s start with assembling the bodice.
Now instead of constructing the bodice before finishing the neck and arms, we are going to do it in a different order. This will help prevent stretched out openings. So bring your bodice front and back together right sides facing and start by only sewing the right shoulder seam together. I’ve used 1/2″ seam allowances throughout, and i’ve referenced right sides and wrong sides though my fabric is the same on both sides (in case yours is different on each side).
Open up the bodice with the wrong side up so the armhole on the sewn shoulder side is on top of your work area.
Take one of your armhole strips and iron it in half, wrong sides facing, so the right side is on the outside.
You want to pin this strip to the wrong side of the armhole with the edges aligned. You’ll notice the strip is shorter then the actual distance around the armhole:
This is to allow it to stretch and fit properly/lay flat.
Start by pinning one end of the strip to the outer edge of one side of the armhole, edges aligned:
the pin the other end of the strip to the other end of the armhole
then pin the center
then stretch and pin all the way around until it looks like this:
Now back to our gray top:
Sew the strip on right at the edge. You’ll have to gently stretch the strip as it goes through your machine, since it’s shorter than the armhole. It has to be this way or the hole will gape, but it’s really not hard, especially if you read our sewing with jersey 101 post and you’re following the tips we gave you there for sewing. Here is what it looks like after sewing:
Turn the bodice over so the right side is facing you. It will look like this:
You want to fold the strip over to the front (right side) to encase the unfinished edges and pin it in place. Pin “in the ditch,” meaning right at the edge of the fold, where the rolled edge of your strip meets the shirt, not through the encased edges. Here’s a pic halfway through pinning so you see the process:
Close up of pinning in the ditch.
This is what it looks like from the wrong side:
Now sew in place right along the edge.
Fold your shirt back up to the right side and it will look like this:
Now, turn it inside out and open it up again with the wrong side up. This time put the neck hole at the top of your work area.
Using your longer neck hole strip, repeat the whole process. Iron it in half, pin with the unfinished edges aligned to the wrong side of the bodice) around the neck hole this time):
Sew in place. Turn the piece over to the right side. Pin in the ditch to encase the unfinished edges:
Sew in place.
If you turn your piece to the right side it now looks like this. One finished armhole, one finished neck, and one sewn shoulder seam.
Turn it inside out, and sew the other shoulder seam together right sides facing.
Open up the bodice again, wrong side up, with the last (unfinished) armhole at the top of your work area.
Repeat the process to finish the other armhole.
Now if you turn right side out, your bodice looks like this:
You may want to add a couple stitches to secure the seam allowance down on the second shoulder seam.
Now turn your bodice wrong-side out, align the side edges and sew in place up each side. If you have a serger, you can also serge around the bottom of the bodice:
Now let’s make our skirt. First, let’s hem each panel. So roll or fold (depending on your fabric one will be easier than the other) to the wrong side 1/4″ or so, and sew in place across the bottom of the long (25″ if you’re using our pattern) side of each panel.
Now align your two skirt panels right sides facing and sew the shorter side edges together.
So you have created a tube.
Leave your skirt inside out. Now along the top edge of your skirt sew a basting stitch (a straight stitch set to a 5 or wider), do not backstitch, and leave a long string of thread at either end.
With your skirt still inside out, pull the bobbin thread and push the fabric to gently gather. Lay your bodice out so you can see how wide it is. Gather the skirt until it is the width of the bodice (it looks shorter here, but it should be the actual width of the bodice).
Make sure your bodice is right side out. Turn it upside down so the neck is facing the top of your skirt (which is still inside out). If your bodice and/or skirt have a front, make sure the fronts of each are aligned (facing each other).
Insert the bodice into the skirt. The right sides of the bodice and skirt will be facing.
Insert it all the way inside and pin.
Start by aligning the seams on the side of the bodice and side of the skirt.
Pin at the seams first.
Then make sure your gathers are evenly distributed and pin all the way around.
Sew in place just below your basting stitches.
If you’d like, you can serge again to reduce bulk at the waist (or trim with scissors).
Turn inside out. You may see your basting thread you used to gather, just use your seam ripper to pop it out.
It’s done! Can you believe you made a jersey dress? It looks simple, but this fit is so adorable on a little girl as is. However, you can also play with the shape of the neckline, make the bodice longer for a drop waist or shorter for an empire waist, make the skirt shorter or longer, make a two-layered skirt, add ruffles, i mean ANYTHING YOU WANT.
Now to embellish! For the gray dress, I added a pink stripe french pouf, tutorial here: How to Make A French Pouf from a T Shirt.
I’ll also show you how to make the ruffle skirt, how to add a cotton or voile skirt, and lots of other fun ways to jazz up this dress.
Next up, adding sleeves! Get the puff sleeve pattern and tute here: Beginner’s Jersey Baby Dress with Puff Sleeves.