sunshine dress tutorial

sunshine dress tutorial

it took me a while to decide on the design for Em’s easter dress this year. i knew i wanted to do some sort of color blocking, but i wasn’t sure how. i kept thinking horizontal, kind of a 60s mod, but i wasn’t super inspired – i wanted it more feminine and different. i tried my usual tricks to get inspired – i put it in my head before bed, hoped it came to me in the shower, etc., but it wasn’t happening. and then for some reason i put some mozart on as i was driving one morning (amadeus soundtrack), and this design hit me like a flash! crazy! i sketched it as soon as i was off the road.
between the two tones of kaffe fassett shot cotton i had recently bought (butter and sunshine), the easy shoulder ties (no zippers!), and easter symbolism, this was it.
the piecing technique is very similar to how i made my flapper tapper dress for project run & play, so i thought i’d do a little tutorial for it. the dress itself is Rae’s itty bitty baby dress in the 3T version, but you could use this technique on any simple bodice/skirt combo. i raised the neckline, narrowed and shortened the shoulder ties, and lengthened the bodice of the 3T IBBD slightly, then added a circle skirt from dana’s tutorial (use the bodice measurement as the waist measurement for the skirt). if it’s not pink, it must twirl for Em to wear it, and twirl it does!


i made the dress with 1 yard of each fabric, though I’d recommend buying a little more for a 3T – it took some creativity as i cut. shot cotton was perfect – lightweight for the piecing, but not see-through.
take the bodice pattern and trace it onto freezer paper. as i’d done some alterations to the pattern and made a muslin first, i used my altered piece and reflected it for a full bodice so it was symmetrical.
use the pattern to cut out a back bodice and two lining pieces out of the darker fabric.
now for the front piecing. from one corner, draw radiating lines up through the bodice using a straight edge. i drew one stopping in the middle of the neckline, and one that hit right under the arm, then one below. as you create your design, try to be conscious of the shape of your resulting pattern pieces and how you’ll put them back together. i started them each a small distance from each other, not a sharp point.
label and cut out your pieces. i found that once you just have triangles in front of you, it’s really hard to remember what is the top and bottom and where things go, so i labeled mine “light” and “dark” and wrote “top” on each so i didn’t piece them upside down.
fuse the freezer paper to your fabric, and use a ruler to add a 1/4″ seam allowance at the parts where the bodice will be pieced (no need on the shoulder ties – just where there will be seams between the two colors). cut out each section of the bodice.
arrange them back together before you start sewing, just so you know you’ve got it right.
Untitled 2
sew each ray with a 1/4″ seam, right sides together. press seams toward the darker side as you go. when the top is done, use the back bodice piece as a pattern to trim away any wonky bits, then match them right sides together and sew the side seams with a 1/2″ seam.
pin and sew bodice front to bodice back around the shoulder ties, neckline, and armholes. clip into the curves and turn right side out. press.
for the skirt piecing, fold your circle skirt in half. draw radiating lines using a straight edge from one corner to the edge. label the sections that you’ll be replacing. cut out one section of the skirt labeled “dark” (top layer only!) and use it as a pattern to cut out the same shape from your contrasting (darker) fabric.
piece in the wedge, right sides together. cut out the next section from the circle skirt and repeat. if necessary, trim around the bottom of the circle skirt for uniformity, using your original circle skirt template. finish each seam as you go, and press toward the darker fabric.
Untitled 2-1
gather the top of the skirt to match the bodice if necessary. match the side seam with the rightmost skirt ray, and pin the skirt to both bodice layers, right side together. sew with a 1/2″ seam and finish. press seam toward bodice.
sunshine dress tutorial // skirt as top
hem the skirt by pressing 1/4″ toward the wrong side, again 1/4″, and stitching. you’re done!
it looks nice belted with a pettiskirt (tutu) underneath…
or without, for a more casual look.
either way, if you make it in yellows your little gal is sure to say the same thing mine did: “I’M A SUNSHINE!!”

if you make a pieced dress from this tutorial, i’d love it if you added it to my flickr group! and as always, please let me know if you have any questions. happy sewing!

33 thoughts on “sunshine dress tutorial

  1. gail says:

    such beautiful photos!! and great tutorial, thanks for doing this! it’s a gorgeous dress and the piecing is so unique. i hope lots of these pop up in your flickr pool!

  2. you and mie says:

    Seriously, this is genius. GORGEOUS genius. I love everything from cute little sketch to the finished dress (and your dancing girl). I can’t wait to try this technique out on something! Thanks for sharing your tutorial!!

  3. Lucinda says:

    Thanks for sharing this! What a beautiful Easter dress – I love the symbolism you incorporated. And what a great story of how the inspiration came to you:) I think I must get my hands on some shot cotton – I’ve been seeing such beautiful dresses made from it! Do you buy it locally? I asked at my local fabric store and they had never heard of it:(

    • kristin says:

      Thank you! Yes, I bought it locally – in Portland, I’ve seen it at Bolt and Cool Cottons regularly, and Fabric Depot has it sometimes in more limited colors. I happened to get these at Fabric Depot. I know shops carry it online, though! It is wonderful to sew with.

  4. Jane says:

    another little girl dress to LOVE!!! so cute, i especially like the picture where the sunshine is coming through her dress as she is holding it up…very fun!

    • kristin says:

      Please pin away! There’s something wrong with pinterest/wordpress/flickr right now and I’m not sure what, but I at least got one photo to be “pinnable.” Thanks. :)

  5. girllikethesea says:

    Seriously. You are amazing. This is such a precious and unique dress. And happy! I love how you managed to satisfy your girly girl without using pink.

  6. kat says:

    So when I was making my circle skirt outfit, I wondered (too late) if it it needed a sun. Luckily I couldn’t find the “perfect” fabric so I decided it was fine on it’s own… But then, as I was going through the PR&P Flickr pool, I saw this dress and I thought: THAT is the perfect compliment/sun dress!! The colors are just right, and I love what you did with the pattern!! I wish they could have done a photo shoot together, lol. I’m glad you did a post on it not only to Pin it but so that I could tell you all this! Yeay!!

  7. Billi says:

    Love, Love, Love this Dress! I’ve been looking for a pattern that is a bit girly but that my tomboy will wear without a fight! Thanks to you I’ve found it! She was looking over my shoulder as I perused the internet. When she saw your Sunshine Dress she started begging me to make one for her, only she wants her to be orange! I’m headed to the fabric store now. Thank you so much for this wonderful dress and tutorial. I’ll definitely let you know how everything turns out.

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