Sunday, June 5, 2011

Birthday dress & bunting

When I told Jon that I was planning to make a flag bunting banner AND a matching birthday dress for Alice, I think he braced for the worst. I haven't attempted to sew anything for at least 4 years, and that involved a lot of tears. I haven't even touched my sewing machine since we moved into our house. I assured him it would be fine, I had a plan.

Days, weeks, maybe even a month or two went by and he started to gently suggest that I might be running out time, perhaps I should get started on my projects? I knew he was right. Even though there was still plenty of time for meltdowns, I didn't want my sewing to interfere with the cooking that needed to happen closer to the party date.

I don't remember what my initial idea was, but it was probably more complicated than necessary, and harder than I was capable of. Just as I was gearing up to get started, I came across this great tutorial for the adorable "Ice Cream Social Dress" from Craftiness Is Not Optional and immediately changed my plan.
Ready to stitch.
I was a little bit nervous, since I'd never actually completed a sewing project without the help and supervision of my mother. The dress is super simple and the tutorial is so easy to follow, I was able to sew the entire dress and a diaper cover in a weekend's worth of naps. I couldn't believe that I was able to complete my first solo sewing project so easily and successfully, without any tears or even any mistakes! 
I guess technically, the project wasn't entirely unsupervised. 
Sewing the sleeve casing.

One flutter sleeve!
I also found an awesome free diaper cover pattern and tutorial from Prudent Baby. It was also super easy to stitch up, but I was halfway through sewing when I saw the note to make sure your computer didn't automatically resize the pattern when you print it out. I'm pretty sure that didn't happen, but the finished pants were a little snug for the Thirsty diaper covers we use with our cloth diapers. I think next time I'll enlarge the pattern just a bit. As long as the elastic fits, it never hurts to have a little extra room in the pants!

I was able to finish the dress and the diaper pants over a weekend, sewing while Alice was napping and just a little bit while she was awake on Sunday evening just so I didn't have to stop in an annoying place. This is how everything looked by the end of the weekend, I still needed to make the flag banner so I could use the leftovers to embellish the dress:
After the first weekend, before flowers/ruffles/pockets!
I made my dress using the same measurements as the tutorial but I think her model is a little older and a little bigger than my birthday girl. If I make another of these dresses again right away, I think I'll use a little less fabric in the dress body and make the sleeves a little narrower and possibly shorter. As is, though, I think Alice will be able to get a lot of mileage out of it and if it gets too snug around the chest, I can always put in a longer piece of elastic. I wouldn't be surprised if she can wear this as a shirt long after this birthday! This dress pattern is great that way, in that it is easy to get the exact size/fit you need, which I understand better now that I am such an accomplished seamstress!

With the dress mostly done, I turned my attention to the banners. I'm sure there are plenty of good ways to make bunting banners. I had devised my plan of attack and when I saw Amy from Diary Of A Quilter blog about that method, I was sure it was the way to go. I tried to make it even easier though!

I did some quick math (not my best subject) and figured out how many triangles I could get out of a fat quarter of fabric, leaving a bit of room all around each flag. I cut a template out of regular printer paper, a triangle 5 inches wide and 5 inches tall. Then I did a bit more quick math to figure that I could fit about 13 flags in 3 yards of banner, leaving 20 inches or so at the ends for tying. I forget how many flags I made, but I only ended up with one or two extra!

I think I had about eight different fabrics to play with, so I decided which would look good together as the front and back of the flags and matched up the fat quarters wrong sides together. I pinned my triangle template in one corner, with the long edge along the outer edge of the fabric and stitched around the sides making sure to backstitch a few times at each top corner. When I finished stitching one flag, I just repinned the template next to it, leaving a bit of room between the seams. After I finished a whole row, I started a new row with the template filling the negative space left between the first row of flags. Then I cut between the seams with pinking shears to separate the individual flags. Super easy!

stripes & cherries, one finished flag
I trimmed the top edges once all the flags were sewn and cut out so they were all roughly the same size and weren't all straggly. Then, it was time to assemble the banners! I used double fold bias tape and just sandwiched the flags into the fold and stitched the tape closed just like the tutorial. I started sewing at one end of the bias tape and inserted my first flag about 20 inches in. I left a few fingers' widths in between each flag; just insert flag, stitch, space, repeat! Continue and repeat, continue and repeat! I made four banners total; two regular, 3-yard lengths of bias tape, and two long banners using two 3-yard lengths of bias tape.

This method was super easy, I forgot to keep track of how long it took from start to finish but it was really only a few hours. Since I don't have any permanent space to sew or craft, I set up a little temporary spot in the living room so I could sew and watch TV. A few late (for me = past 8:30pm) nights, and I was all done - and I only stayed up late because I was having so much fun!

finished (un-ironed) banner!
When the banners were done, turned my attention to embellishing the outfit. The plain diaper pants were very cute on their own, but I knew this birthday outfit had to have RUFFLES! Against my better judgment, I had finished the pants before putting on the ruffles. I think I just didn't want to get too invested. I wanted to make sure I actually had pants to put ruffles on, just in case I ruined something along the way. Next time I make a pair (and there WILL be a next time), I'll definitely sew the ruffles onto the seat before stitching up the side seams and doing the elastic. I think I may even sew the elastic directly to the leg openings (instead of making casings), the way most big kid/grown up underpants tutorials recommend (including this one from Crafty Stylish). Anyway, I basically used this method for the ruffles, cutting strips from the fabric leftover from the flag banners. The only tricky part was making sure I didn't sew the diaper cover to itself, that happened a few times but was easy enough to remedy.

I folded some of the strips lengthwise to make flowers (sort of like this method but a little bit different). I basted and gathered opposite the folded edge, and then sewed the ruffly tube onto a circle of felt starting from the outer edge and spiraling inward. I stitched one to the dress and saved two for the headband. I measured a length of elastic around Alice's head and stitched the ends together. Then I stitched that into a felt/elastic/felt sandwich and glued the flowers on top. Then I whipped up some pockets, basically following Made By Rae's pleated patch pocket tutorial, and the dress was finished! Here's my "all done!" shot!
all done!

And here it is on the birthday girl's big day!

A big thanks to Jess from Craftiness Is Not Optional, Prudent Baby, and Diary Of A Quilter for the great tutorials and inspiration. It was so fun, and so satisfying to be able to make a dress and decorations for Alice's party. I'll definitely be making more of everything and want to make it a birthday tradition for Alice to have a new, handmade dress for the occasion! 


  1. This is so impressive and beyond adorable! Read about your blog on ohdeedoh, so glad I did because I'm looking for all the first-time parent inspiration I can get. Awesome nursery, too!

  2. I love the idea of making this a birthday tradition! This really is an impressive project. Gorgeous photos too (what's better than a pile of colorful fabric), and Alice looks perfect in it! How did she do with the headband?

  3. i can't believe you made that dress! you've inspired me to start busting out the sewing machine again...maybe i'll actually make all the baby clothes for my new little one.

  4. Wow, I adore these pics and lovely dress! (the cute face does not hurt one bit!) You did such a lovely job with your first dress, and the embellishments were spot on. Too cute! :D So honored you chose my tutorial to use!

  5. Thanks for all the kind words, ladies!

    Jess, thank you SO much for such a great project - perfect for a first-timer!

    Krista, I can't believe I inspired someone else to sew something. Crazy talk!

    Shan, she kept the headband on for a while during the party, but keeps ripping it off her head when I try to put it on her now. She loves to play with the elastic, though. She stretches it and weaves it in between her fingers and toes and puts the whole thing on like a bracelet. She had a full-on melt-down when I tried to make her wear her sun hat inside but did OK once we were out walking in the stroller. I think the only way she's OK with head accessories is if she's distracted by her surroundings...

  6. Adorable! What a darling dress for such a darling little girl. Here is a link I've saved for Lucy's first bday party...

    I wasn't sure I could make a dress for her, but I think you've just inspired me to! Happy (belated) Birthday, Alice!

  7. Thanks, Leah! Those party hats are adorable, and look totally easy! I wish I'd seen that tutorial a few months ago, I'll put that on the list for next year.

    You can definitely make a birthday dress, there are so many great blogs with tutorials and inspiration and tips and tricks. I just want to keep up my momentum and keep making cute stuff!

  8. Thanks so much for sharing your information on the dress and bottoms. Now to set aside a little bit of time to give it a whirl! Thanks for the inspiration!


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