Home » How to sew a gathered dress for girls in 10 simple steps

How to sew a gathered dress for girls in 10 simple steps

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I made my own sewing pattern and sewed a girls’ dress, and I’m sure you can too. Here’s how my experiment went, with step-by-step instructions and lots of photos. Learn how to make a basic gathered dress for girls in 10 simple steps.

Can you simply copy a t-shirt pattern to make it out of woven fabric? At first, I was not so sure.

How could that possibly work? The knit pattern uses the stretch of the fabric to fit on the body, while the woven fabric has basically no stretch.

I imagined seeing the popping stitches while trying to get my daughter into the dress.

DIY gathered dress for girls tutorial

However, I recently had a major revelation. I went straight to my closet and compared my knit t-shirts to my woven shirts. Strange enough, it’s something that has never occurred to me before.

That was a major breakthrough for me. The patterns were almost identical!

I learned right away that as long as you include some sort of closure for your woven garment – buttons or zipper – you’re good to go.

Be sure to check out my other tutorials on how to make a flutter sleeve peasant top and an easy tulle dress for little girls! Both come with free PDF sewing patterns.

So the next day I rushed to my sewing room and started drafting, cutting, sewing, and marveling. I documented the whole process with plenty of pictures.

DIY gathered dress for girls sewing tutorial

DIY gathered dress for girls sewing tutorial

I made a zipper and buttonholes-free gathered dress for my youngest daughter. Instead, I chose a back slit and a button loop closure. Also, I made sure to add seam allowance and ease to my t-shirt pattern.

This is a simple gathered short-sleeve dress. To make it any size you want you only need a t-shirt that fits your daughter (or niece) to trace the pattern.

Here’s how I did it.

Sewing supplies – gathered dress for girls

How to sew a cute gathered dress for girls in 10 simple steps:

Step 1 – trace the front piece pattern

For this step, you need a t-shirt to trace the pattern. Fold the tee in half and lay it on your folded fabric piece, then start making the contour.

trace the front piece pattern

Draw the front neckline as-is, but extend the shoulder seam to account for the seam allowance.

Lengthen a bit the armhole in the lower part and as you get to draw the side, make an inclined line to add ease (so the sides of the front piece have an A-line shape). Cut the front piece pattern.

Step 2 – trace the back piece pattern

Take the front piece pattern and place it on your fabric piece, 1/2” away from the folded edge.

trace the back piece pattern

This is necessary because the back piece will consist of two fabric pieces. That extra 1/2” accounts for the serged edges at the center back and the seam allowance. Copy the t-shirt to draw the back neckline, then outline the rest of the pattern as-is.

This is what you should have right now – one front piece and two back pieces.

DIY gathered dress pattern pieces

Step 3 – trace the sleeve pattern

Now take the front piece pattern (again) and place it over a folded fabric piece, as shown in the photo below. Tilt the folded edge of your fabric piece to match the t-shirt sleeve’s folded edge.

trace the sleeve pattern

Place the front pattern piece approx. 1 ½” – 2″ away from the folded edge so you can lengthen the sleeve’s armhole. Draw the curved line to match the front piece’s armhole.

Then, redo the drawing and take my pink curved line as a model. No need to be super precise.

The whole idea is to make the sleeve’s armhole larger than the bodice’s armhole, I’ll explain why immediately.

That “X” in the photo collage above is placed in the armpit. Please notice how the sleeve’s side seam is slightly slanted towards the hem of the sleeve.

For now, let’s take a peek at the pattern pieces.

bodice pattern pieces

Step 4 – sew the center back seam

But before you sew it, make sure to serge the raw edges of the center-back bodice pieces. Then, start sewing 4″ away from the top edge (this will become the back slit), and press the seam with an iron.

sew the center back seam

Step 4 – construct the bodice

Place the front and back bodice pieces with the right sides together, and sew the shoulder seams. Then, finish the seams with a serger or zigzag stitch and press well.

construct the bodice

The next step is to sew the side seams – again, you have to finish the seams and press.

Step 5 – prepare the sleeves

First, you have to hem the sleeves, then stitch the sleeve seams.

prepare the sleeves - gathered girls dress tutorial

Step 6 – insert the sleeves

Place the sleeves into the armscye right sides together, and make sure to match up the seams. Then you’ll have to use your fingers to ease in the sleeves in the round and make them fit the armhole.

insert the sleeves

The sleeve cap is usually a bit larger than the bodice armhole and the reason is very simple – you can have small pleats or gathers around the sleeve, but never around the bodice armhole.

You’ll need a little bit of patience for this step, so do it slowly.

insert the sleeves - sewing tutorial

Sew both sleeves to the armhole, then finish the seams. Lightly press the seam allowances towards the sleeve.

Step 7 – stay stitch the neckline

Staystitching is an amazing trick that prevents unnecessary stretching of the fabric on the bias cut of the fabric and is used for curved necklines or armholes.

More specifically, you just have to run a straight stitch around the neckline.

I would also recommend you stay stitch the armholes before inserting the sleeves – I skipped it this time, but it’s something really helpful, especially if you’re a beginner.

stay stitch the neckline - DIY gathered girls dress

After that, prepare a bias binding tape that you’ll soon use to enclose the raw edge of the neckline.

Step 8 – sew a bias tape neckline

I made my own bias tape, 1″ wide. I just folded it in half, then placed it on the right side of the bodice aligning its raw edges to the neckline edge.

sew a bias tape neckline

Fold back both short edges by 3/8” and press. Finally, sew the bias tape to the neckline, then trim the seam allowance to approx. 1/8 inch.

Step 9 – finish the neckline and add a button loop

You can make your own button loops (they’re much prettier!), however this time I chose a small 1 ½” strip of narrow elastic.

 Turn the bias tape to the back of the neckline, then sew it in place – make sure to catch the folded bias tape in the back.

finish the neckline and add a button loop - gathered girls dress

At this point, you can add the button loop – just sandwich it between the bodice and the bias tape. Backstitch over it for extra strength.

Now all you have to do is to attach a button.

Everything’s coming together nicely and we’re very close to having a finished girls’ dress!

Did you notice?

Drafting the pattern and sewing a gathered dress for girls is so simple, really. Anyone with basic sewing skills, a little spare time and some patience can do it.

The only tricky part of making this dress come true is sewing curves – but if you practice on scraps before starting the real project, it will be fine.

Also, remember to cut yourself some slack if this is your first dress. Maybe it won’t turn out perfect in every detail, but you’ll certainly have learned a lot in the process.

Step 10 – attach the skirt to the bodice

For my dress, I chose a gathered skirt.

I made my gathered skirt with a center back seam, so I cut one big rectangle of fabric, that should be 1.5 or 2 times the measurement of the bodice waist.

Of course, you can make the skirt with side seams and then you’ll need two smaller fabric rectangles.

gathered girls dress sewing tutorial

I measured my bodice waist and I got 26 inches. So, the width of my fabric rectangle can be anywhere from 39 to 52 inches.

The length of the skirt it’s entirely up to you. For example, I’ve made a 14” long skirt for this green floral dress, with a generous 1 ½” hem (this was my choice, your hem can be as narrow as you want).

The first step – sew the center back seam of the skirt. Then, sew two basting rows along the top raw edge of the skirt. Grab the two bottom threads with one hand and push the fabric over with the other hand to create gathers until the gathered skirt matches the bodice waist. Aim for evenly spaced gathers.

attach the skirt to the bodice

Then place the bodice inside the skirt, right sides together, and stitch all the way around the waist seam. Finish the raw edge with a serger or zigzag stitch.

Now you have to hem the skirt. I serged the bottom edge, turned 1 1/2” to the wrong side, then stitched the hem.

gathered short sleeve dress tutorial

And that’s all! This DIY gathered dress for girls is now finished.

You can embelish yours by adding fabric flowers, bows, or even cute little pockets if you want.

My daughter loves her pretty green floral dress and I’m so happy that it fits her well and is super comfortable. I’m already planning for the next dress sewing project.

short sleeve gathered dress tutorial

How to make a gathered dress for girls – button loop closure

button loop closure for girls dress

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial for how to make a basic gathered dress for girls. If you make a dress using these instructions, I’d love to hear from you!

Share your finished version on my Facebook page or tag me on Instagram @icansewthis.

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4 thoughts on “How to sew a gathered dress for girls in 10 simple steps”

    • Thank you, and good luck! I plan to make another self-drafted dress for my little one soon – hopefully, just in time for Christmas.


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