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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Little Stitches: Tops and Dresses

Hello Everyone. The last few weeks proved rather useful as I had an opportunity to finish up some new clothing and accessories for the little ones and test out some patterns and sizes before the Halloween season. While working on such small stitches I thought it might also be helpful to some of you if I were to show off just how easy it is to cloth those children. In the end you will all be saying “If only raising them were this simple” and I certainly won’t argue with you as I don’t have children, only the loveliest of shih tzu. I have done a rather good job of raising them however (scrambles eggs for happy dogs).

I have to admit I was pretty surprised by the price of kids clothing these days, especially since I know how easy it is to make clothing for them. For those of you out there that have kids and don’t sew I cannot encourage you enough to pick up a sewing machine and get started because seriously, you must be tempted to say to those kids “ok, you get 2 outfits, try not to get them dirty and try not to grow too much ok?” An impossible feat, I know. The up side to making clothes for kids is they require less materials than those for adult clothing, obviously, but a lot of the sewing patterns for children come with a variety of styles and different patterns as well so once you have a pattern or a few at your disposal, making a decent summer wardrobe for them isn’t as difficult or time consuming as you would think. 

The down side, at least I found this to be true while experimenting with the smaller clothes for kids, is that you are making small items and that takes a tiny bit more precision, especially in areas like the neckline on tops and minor alterations in areas like the shoulders and closure areas. For the kids clothes I always go up a size when cutting the fabric mainly because I sew and trim quite a bit as I work on the item and my tests have led me to believe this is the best option for when I make clothing. I suppose this depends on the pattern but in general I have found this to be true. There is also the old rule that you can more easily size down than you can size up when sewing to take into consideration. So once you have a pattern and the materials and have cut the pattern and the fabric to (my recommended) size +1, then you are ready to go.

I think the main things to consider when making clothing, and this is true of any clothing regardless of age, is that we have rather high expectations when it comes to clothing. We really do. We have been spoiled by the precision and standardization of the garment industry. And this is ok. It is not a bad thing to have high expectations. So when we set about sewing clothing we want to hold those high expectations in mind so that the finished piece is nice enough to be worn when out. It’s really that simple. The other aspect of that is we want our finished items to hold up in the wash. It’s easier and for adult clothing in many cases I recommend hand washing an item such as a delicate dress but when it comes to kids clothing this is simply not realistic and we need these items to hold up a long time and that also includes washing machines and dryers. 

Making the Little Leona Dress
Taking a close look at the construction and cut of clothing helps us determine the best ways in which to make clothing for ourselves and our families. So when it comes to making little clothing I picked two patterns in particular to discuss, the first being bottoms which is discussed above, because those work for babies and toddlers and cover diaper covers, bloomers, shorts and pants, a staple for every child. So when I thought about tops the one thing I wanted to do was specifically select a project we can make together but also demonstrate a few ways to in which we can get necklines perfect for these smaller items. So for those of you who are saying to yourselves “I need clothes for boys, not dresses for girls!” bear with me just a tiny bit here because the construction for necklines for boys tops is similar if not identical in construction so despite how it might seem as though this section may not apply to you, you may be rather surprised. 

The neckline on both tops for girls and boys and dresses for girls is really one of the areas we can easily mess up on and then it becomes one of those imperfect items. Sure, the little munchkins won’t be able to tell and they can still get dirty and live their lives happily but isn’t it nice to not only be able to make clothes but where they look really good too? So when I was testing out this little dress pattern I discovered areas like necklines for kids clothing is even tougher than adults in that the area you are stitching is smaller and the rounder and smaller the pieces become the tougher it is to get a perfectly flat, symmetrically sewn neckline. This first test was a dress and even though I went slowly and went along as carefully as I could I still felt getting a perfectly even rounded stitch along the neckline was tough to do. 

I also found, despite how I do like this pattern, that the shoulder areas did not line up perfectly when matched up so I made the decision to add a small gather at the upper front and back shoulder blade area on each side. Needed alterations such as this are generally needed in a lot of cases so instead of scraping patterns because they aren’t perfect, making a few minor alterations fixes any issues and quite honestly you will most likely find you want changes of your own anyway so it’s really not a problem, just assume that it might not match up perfectly to start. In fact, if you think they really won’t match up and it’s for a boy’s top or one you definitely do not want to add a gather or other detail at the shoulder blades area to then your best bet is to assume the pieces will be slightly off and compensate for the difference when originally cutting the fabric. The way in which to do this is when cutting the fabric originally is to cut it big at those shoulder and underarm areas ever so slightly with the intent that they will be trimmed down to size as needed once matched up. Once you have the front and back aligned and sewn you will easily see where you need to trim the excess. You might find folding over and sewing the first seam easier before trimming the excess but do not fear, you will be able to easily determine where to trim before folding over and adding the final topstitch to that area.

I first cut the pattern and then the fabric 1 size up from the size I wanted. For this dress I cut it to a size 3. I knew I was going to be making so adjustments to the pattern but I started out by cutting a front and back top panel for the dress and then the skirt. I was using up some scrap fabric left over from an apron I made for this project so for the skirt back I actually matched up fabric and had a seam running up the back of the skirt but it was pretty unnoticeable once finished. If you are doing this then a French seam will work nicely, especially since the lower skirt of dresses can flip up every so often and a finished seam for the underside is nice for both here and the side seams.

Once the pieces were cut for the top front and back and lower front and back of the skirt I held off on cutting the rest of the pieces until I got a little further along on the project, especially since I was dealing with limited fabric. I made small incisions in the neckline, folded and pressed the seam and sewed a straight stitch in ¼”. I then trimmed the excess fabric and carefully folded and pressed that seam down once more. Yes, I want you to take the time to iron down that front and back neckline because by doing so you will have a better opportunity to determine exactly where you want your sewn stitch around the neckline to be. If it helps take a fabric marker and mark where you want your stitches to be but this is a step in the clothing making process where attention to detail will pay off, especially as this is an area in the project where crooked stitches will be rather noticeable.

If you find you have sewn the top neckline and it is slightly crooked or you are worried that it will be (and this happens in some cases no matter how carefully you work this area) then you have two choices. Well, sort of. You can either try again more carefully, add trim to the area to cover up the stitches a bit, or you can anticipate this and instead of going with an unlined front and back top panel for the front and back you might want to cut a total of four pieces and plan on lining the top. Then instead of folding down and sewing, trimming and sewing down the top neckline with visible topstitching you instead have an opportunity for a very clean look for the top neckline by way of the stitches being on the inside. For this style you can sew one straight stitch when the fabric pieces are turned in right sides facing and sewing the neckline pieces together. Then flip the piece around and sew the neckline again. You will see how your rounded stitches might be slightly off from the first ones but at least this way you get a well rounded neckline. Trim the excess, add another stitch if needed to even out the underside of the neckline-especially important for round necklines as opposed to straight ones) and then when you turn it right side out you will see a clean outer look.

Closure: Making alterations as needed
This is a tricky one and needs to be determined ahead of time if possible so as to compensate where needed, etc. For example, this dress was a test but I know who it was going to when I was working on it so I wanted an easy closure. I didn’t want to bother with a zipper or even button if I could help it because I wanted a simple, easy to wear and slightly size adjustable summer dress for a little girl. So when making this I admittedly was not too sure where to add closure to the style of this dress. Easy buttons up the back would have worked but I had a hard time finding buttons to match. So then I just decided ties for the shoulder blades would work and it would make this dress slightly adjustable as well. So I cut the top of the shoulder blades about ½” longer and then once I added the folded down neckline I folded down the top of the shoulder pieces where they meet in front and back and added a stitch across. Then I sewed four little strips, two to be sewn on each side and well, it worked out really well. I found this will probably, at least for a while, work as a pull over dress but also doesn’t fall off the shoulders because it’s too big but also can be opened up a the shoulder area if the munchkins head is too big for the neckline opening.

As mentioned before, I cut the fabric for the top front and back and skirt front and back and then held off on cutting the rest until I progressed a bit further on the project. I added a French seam to the skirt side seams and then folded over the top and bottom hem once and sewed a straight stitch. I then added a gather to the top of the skirt all the way around.  At this point you will find you have the top piece finished and then the skirt portion finished. Next we need to make the waist tie so that we can add it to the waistband when we sew the top and skirt bottom together.

For the long waistband I scrapped the pattern and simply estimated the length I would need to go all the way around the dress and have enough length on each side to put a big bow in the back. In the end this piece turned out to be a lot longer than the recommended length of the piece that came with the pattern. I went with a strip that was also about 7” in length. I folded it right side in so the fabric print was facing inside and I added a straight stitch twice to the length of the waistband. Trim the excess as needed and turn this piece right side out, leaving the ends opened. Fold this strip in half lengthwise and note where the center is. 

By folding the waist tie so that you have the seam pinched a bit, sandwich the tie so it lies in between the top and bottom pieces to be sewn, but only * the front across the waist as we want the tie to be free on each side out from the dress so it can be pulled and tied in back as needed. Pinning and taking care not to sew too much of the waist tie when sewing the top and bottom panels together can be tricky so pay attention at this point and go slow if needed. It’s better to get it right and have the tie pull away at the side seams than having to pull out stitches later on because you stitched with the waistband in too far toward the back of the dress.  Once I had the waist tie added and the entire top and bottom sewn at the waist all the way around I took a needle and thread and tacked down the waist tie at the sides about 1” in from the top and bottom to hold it up a bit. That way once tied in back the waist tie won’t slouch. Once you have sewn the top to the bottom and the waist tie is appropriately free on the sides as desired then you will want to add the vertical French seam to close up the skirt back vertically.

The final bottom hem of the skirt falls straight in the sewing pattern but I wanted a little something to finish it off but nothing too much. With limited fabric left at my disposal I found I did have enough to sew one long strip of fabric, fold the bottom hem down and under twice and then the top folded over once and then gathered and sewn to the bottom of the skirt. Once I added the frill to the bottom I finished up the back vertical seam with a French seam (don’t forget to leave about ½” allowance for this area when folded back in and the final stitches are sewn to the underside) and I was finished!

All in all the sewing for this dress was not bad and once I worked out the ties at the shoulders along with the little gathers, the best way to add the waist tie and even the bottom frill I found I really liked how it turned out. One final thing I would like to mention and this goes for the making of all clothing, don’t be afraid to pull out a needle and thread and add a little hand stitching to areas that might need it. We want near-perfection when we make clothes and the best way to bring this about is by way of a sewing machine and when needed, a needle and thread for those small areas that might need a tiny extra. You will know where they are, just go with it and you will be happy with the final product. In regards to this dress, it has since been given away but the photos that were sent my way by way of the mom were the cutest! I will hopefully share those with you, I just want to check with the mom first and make sure including her little one’s photo here is ok. It’s best to check but I have to say it ways way more cute on the little human than on the hanger for sure! Well, if you saw the little human you would know it doesn’t get cuter and that has nothing to do with the dress!

So, that’s about it for now on the construction of tops and dresses for the munchkins. Here are a few other projects for the little ones I have recently made and you will find a few of these pieces still available on my etsy shop @ www.Craftzies.etsy.com. If you have any questions or have any ideas please feel free to say hi, I love new ideas and suggestions and I am sure others will as well.

This Baby Hip Hop Dress and Bandana was made for my niece Zoe.
(She’s so cute! I can’t wait to give that baby a kiss on her rosy little cheek! Aunt Lindsay and little Zoe have so many things to chat about, yes we do…).

I have enough material for 1, maybe two more dresses and matching bandannas. I was going to put a custom listing up on etsy but I think I will just mention it her and see if anyone is interested. This way you can pick the size & I want to say up to a size 2T max is possible for this dress in this fabric print. If you were interested in one of the Little Leona dresses it is possible, though other fabric will have to be picked out. For that you might have some picked out already, or you can check out this link with some cotton prints to give you an idea of what is available -> http://www.craftzies.blogspot.com/2012/06/cotton-prints.html

Happy Sewing & stay cool out there.

Lindsay ;)

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