Everyone loves getting a good deal. It just feels good– like man-nothing-can-spoil-this-day-because-I-just-got-a-screaming-deal-Good. Of those who love to save a buck, I’m of the recreate-for-cheap variety. That’s why I love sewing, because it opens up a world of opportunity in the vast sea of fashion I can’t afford.
I shop for ideas everywhere I go, and subscribe to a couple of high-end children’s catalogs purely for inspiration; that’s where I found this dress (for $88) at Chasing Fireflies.
So cute! And it’s a t-shirt project—you probably picked up on how much I love t-shirt projects! So after making this dress several times over the last couple years, and thinking to myself every time, “dude—get your fanny in gear and make a tutorial!” I’ve done my best with bad lighting and a mediocre camera to bring you the…
Ruffle Bustle Dress Tutorial!
What you’ll need:
- 2 fitted t-shirts. *see size chart below. You need one as small as you can get (small/xsmall), and one as large as you can get (XL). I always get mine at *cough* Gen X clothing. You may want to wear a paper bag over your head when entering the store, but once you get in, take it off and enjoy really cheap t-shirts in every color of the rainbow! I got mine for $2 each!
- Round cord elastic. About 4 feet.
- A safety pin.
- Sewing machine. Unless you wanna make like the pioneers and….who am I kidding. you don’t want to make like the pioneers. You want a sewing machine.
- Matching thread. Don’t sweat it if you don’t have this. It’ll all be on the inside!
- All other sewing stuff you never sew without aka seam ripper, scissors, measuring tape.
Decide what size your ruffle-bustle dress will be and buy your t-shirts accordingly:
Standard (American) Dress Lengths for Little Girls
6 – 9 months: 14 inches – one 2T t-shirt and one as big as you can find in the same color (5T?)
12 months: 15.5 inches – one long 4T or 5T t-shirt and one as big as you can find in the same color (you could probably use a girl’s XS as well).
18 months: 17.5 inches – one junior size xsmall/small and one as big as you can find (XL?)
2T: 19.5 inches – one junior size xsmall/small and one as big as you can find (XL?)
3T: 21 inches – one junior size xsmall/small and one as big as you can find (XL?)
4T: 22 inches – one junior size xsmall/small and one as big as you can find (XL?)
5/6: 24 inches one junior size small/medium and one as big as you can find (XL?)
7/8: 26 inches one junior size medium/large and one as big as you can find (XXL?)
*I have not made this dress in all of these sizes and sizes vary between brands, so make sure to check the size yourself. You want the shirt to be the length of the dress or longer, and the neck opening should be small enough that it either accommodates the child’s head size now, or with a slight gather it will. If you are having trouble finding plain t-shirts in any of these sizes (especially the smaller ones), I think that boys t-shirts (without a pocket) would work as well.
1. Turn one of your t-shirts inside-out and lie flat on your cutting surface (we’ll call it shirt 1). Place a t-shirt or dress that is the size you want your dress to be, and mark 1) under the sleeve and 2) along the sides (make sure you end up with a nice straight a-line that transitions smoothly into the sides of your shirt) and 3) how long you want your dress to be *see chart above. YOU MAY have a t-shirt that is already the right fit and length. You must be one of those really lucky suckers. You can pass GO and skip steps 1, 2, and 3.
Now serge or overlock stitch over your underarm and side markings, trim excess, and cut your bottom line. Hah! Get it? Your bottom line??! Man, I kill myself. You now have a shirt that fits your child!
3. To gather your neck-opening and arm- holes, make a miniscule little snip under your tag. Make SURE to cut only the inside AND NOT the outside fabric. Tie about 2 feet of cord elastic to a safety pin and fish it through your hole and into the casing of the neck band. Push it through until it goes all the way around and through your hole again. Pull both ends until it equals your desired circumference (compare it to the shirt you used in step one that is the size you want your dress to be); make like a scout and tie a sturdy square knot and trim any excess. Adjust the elastic so the knot gets pulled into the casing. If needed/desired, repeat the process with each sleeve. To go over the underarm seam you’ll have to make two miniscule clips on either side of the seam that the elastic will cross over.
The neck and arm holes.
4. Now for more marking: turn your shirt inside-out again, and measure your bottom edge and divide it by 5 roughly. You want to mark the bottom about a 5th in from either side. Another trick I use is drawing a (mental) line down from the either side of the neck opening. Basically you want two marks on the bottom edge, about 2-3 inches from the sides. Mark another two marks a little less than halfway down the dress. This is where the bustle will begin, so mark a little higher or lower according to your preference.
Connect the two points on either side by drawing straight up from the bottom point, and gently curve almost 90 degrees into the side point. Make sure it looks nice and symmetrical.
On the back, mark the two side points, and connect them with a gentle curve.
5. Cut where you marked, and set aside the panel you remove!
Now go to town on shirt 2. Cut it up completely—up the side seams, chop the sleeves, etc. You’re using this shirt just for its fabric.
6. To cut the ruffles of the bustle, use the panel you removed from shirt 1, and use it as a pattern to cut two more panels. They will be the same as the first, but shorter. You want the second panel to be 2-3 inches shorter than the first, and the third panel 2 inches shorter than the second. You are creating graduated ruffles. Use each panel you cut out as a pattern or a comparison for the next.
*Note: Cut from wherever you have space. Squeak it out. I usually cut panel 2 from the front, and 3 from the back—leaving as much shirt as possible, then 4,5,6, from wherever I have space. Do avoid cutting on the bias though, as that will change the way it curls in the wash.
For the third panel, you’ll do the same as the first two (so it will be 2 inches shorter than panel #3) , and then cut a curve from either side.
The fourth and fifth panels will be smaller both width-wise and height-wise, and will also have the slight curve cut from the sides. See all five panels to note the graduated sizes.
*Don’t kill yourself here. It’s really not that important what each panel looks like, ‘cause it will curl once it’s washed. Just make sure the first two panels have the same top curve and width as the first, and then from there on get gradually smaller.
7. To assemble the entire back panel, layer all six panels (including the panel you cut from shirt number 1), with the smallest on top, and largest on bottom—evenly lining-up all the edges. Pin.
8. Zig-zag around the edges to make it easier to work with.
Now, right sides together (your bustle will be flipped up ( sandwhiched to) the back-bodice of the dress), pin the bustle to the dress. You can do it! This picture will be confusing until you finish, and then you’ll realize yours looks just like this. Make sure to match the center of the bustle to the center of the back-bodice. Pin down both sides as well. Try to pin as evenly as possible. If the bustle is shorter now with the bustles, don’t try and stretch it, but rather trim the bottom later.
9. Sew it all together. I used my overlock stitch, but it you have a serger, by all means, use it.
You’re finished!! Flip it right side out, add some fabric flowers, and go find a child to try it on!
And here’s the one I made my gal the day before (this one is for a friend).
If you like this tutorial or have questions, let me know!
PS THIS TUTORIAL IS FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY!