My youngest daughter has a preference for superheroes and monster trucks (Spiderman, Supergirl and Blaze and the Monster Machines specifically) but this doesn’t mean she doesn’t still like to wear dresses. Like many families we’ve been frustrated by the lack of cool superhero girls clothes available in shops, but luckily for us, this is a sewing household, so we made our own from a boys t-shirt and a ladies t-shirt. And I can show you how to make your own in this neat little tutorial.
I saw this amazing Spiderman t-shirt in Asda recently for £5 and knew it would make a thoroughly badass jersey dress for my roughty-tufty little lady. A quick scoot round the ladies Clearance section scored me a large red T-shirt (size 18) in exactly the perfect shade of red, for just £2. That’s a grand total of £7 for this one-of-a-kind, awesome dress – this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we sew!
(As these t-shirts were new and bought specifically for this purpose I don’t know whether I can claim to have upcycled or re-purposed them – I dunno, maybe I just re-vamped them. Whatever I did to them, it worked.)
Tips for sewing with Jersey fabric
I made this dress on my overlocker, using the sewing machine to topstitch. If you have an overlocker the chances are that you’ve had at least some experience of sewing with jersey – you must be a pretty keen sewer to have invested in a second machine, right? If you don’t have an overlocker, have never sewed with jersey, or have overheard whispered stories about how scary and difficult sewing with jersey is – fear not, it isn’t. It’s actually really easy, although there are a few things you do need to bear in mind:
Change your needle. If you use a standard needle it will cut through the fibres as it sews. This can cause you problems with your stitches and weaken the fabric. Get Stretch or Ballpoint needles to sew knit, stretch of jersey fabrics – you’ll find them in your sewing shop. As the name suggests, the needles have a teeny tiny little ball on their tip, this stops the needle from cutting through the fibres, and instead pushes the threads in your knit fabric out of the way without damaging them.
If you have a walking foot, use it. If not, don’t worry about it. A walking foot will keep the jersey from stretching under the presser foot during sewing. If you don’t have one, just take your time and keep an eye on your fabric to make sure it isn’t stretching out of shape.
Choose an appropriate stitch. Fabrics such as jersey stretch, and straight stitches don’t. Check your sewing machine manual to see what stitches it can offer for sewing with stretch fabrics and try them on a scrap piece of the fabric you’re going to be sewing to see which you prefer and which would be most suitable for your project. Be aware though, if your machine does a ‘Stretch Stitch’ and you need to unpick it, you’ll be there until next Tuesday. I speak from sour experience. If you have a simpler machine with just straight or zigzag stitches, a narrow zigzag will work perfectly.
Finishing your seams. On an overlocker your seams will be finished for you as you sew. With a sewing machine you need to finish them yourselves. A Zigzag stitch close to the cut edge will do, but your sewing machine might have other options to explore, including perhaps even a faux overlock stitch that you might like to experiment with.
Topstitch using a twin needle. Twin needles are basically two parallel needles attached to a single shank. They come in various widths, make sure you don’t choose one wider than the hole in your throat plate. Check your sewing machine manual for instructions of how to thread the twin needle and then use it to sew two perfectly parallel lines of straight stitching wherever you need to topstitch. Because of the way the bobbin thread links the top two threads, there is just enough stretch in a twin needle stitch to allow the topstitching to move and stretch with your jersey fabric (within reason, don’t expect lycra elasticity here).
That’s all you need to know about sewing jersey fabric – honestly, it’s not nearly as tricky as people like to make out. So if you’re ready, read on for my quick tutorial on how to cheat at making a jersey dress!
So, lets get to business – what will you need and how will you do it?
You will need:
- A Badass T-shirt. This one was in the boys bit at Asda and I bought it a size smaller than I would normally buy a t-shirt because I thought a dress doesn’t need to be as baggy, but it’s entirely your choice. And if you’re upcycling something from the hand-me-down bag you won’t have the luxury of being that fussy in any case.
- A large adult’s t-shirt. This is to use for fabric only, so get a nice big one, and if you can’t find a suitable one half a metre of bought jersey will work just as well. If you’re using especially bought fabric I would steer clear of woven fabrics such as quilting cotton as it doesn’t stretch and move in the same way as jersey, it’s easier to sew stretch to stretch.
Cut your donor garments.
You will need to decide where your skirt will join the bodice on your dress – will it be at your child’s waist, her natural waist (which is higher than her belly button) or on her hips? Because I didn’t want to cut across the large motif on this T-shirt I went for a dropped waist and put the seam around about her hips. Measure from the back of your child’s neck to where you want the seam to lie and transfer this measurement to the back of your t-shirt, adding a bit for a seam allowance – 5mm (1/4”) is plenty if you’re using an overlocker, and a more generous 1cm (3/8”) will work well if you’re on the sewing machine. Measure from this point to the hem, and use this measurement to mark a cutting line around the t-shirt.
Measure the desired length of your skirt (e.g. form your child’s waist to her knee) and transfer this to the larger t-shirt. If this t-shirt has a straight hem, measure up from here and cut across – your skirt is already hemmed and joined at the sides, happy days! The t-shirt I used had a curved hem which I didn’t want, so I cut it straight across to remove the curved hem and gave it a new hem it by finishing the raw edge with the overlocker, pressing up 1cm and topstitching with the twin needle.
Finish the raw edges
If you’re using your sewing machine, finish the raw edges as described as the beginning of this post. This will keep them from unravelling or rolling up, and will help stabilise them while you’re sewing. If you’re using an overlocker don’t worry about it just now, you’ll finish the edges when you attach the skirt.
Gather the skirt
Sew two lines of basting stitches (the longest straight stitch your sewing machine is capable of) close to the top edge of the skirt, all the way around, and then gently draw the bobbin threads out to gather the skirt. Keep gathering, checking and adjusting until it is the same width as the bodice. Divide the skirt into four equal sections and pin them to the sides, middle front and middle back of the bodice to help distribute the fabric evenly.
Attach the Skirt
Pin the skirt well to the bodice, right sides together, distributing the skirt gathers evenly all the way around, and sew or overlock the skirt and bodice together. Remove the gathering (basting) stitches.
Press the seam allowance up towards the bodice and topstitch alongside the seam line using a twin needle. This will sew the seam allowance to the bodice and keep it from irritating the wearer, will strengthen the seam, and looks neat.
There – if you like what you have, you’ve finished! Put it on your child, be astounded at how Comicon Cool she looks, take loads of photos to show off on social media, and tag #Sewabaloo so everybody knows where you got your inspiration.
Want sleeves too?
If you want to change the sleeves too, you can unpick the existing sleeves and use them as a pattern to cut new sleeves from the donor garment. I cut my new sleeves from the donor garment’s sleeves, keeping the sleeve hem to save having to hem a new hem. Sew the sleeve edges together, and set the new sleeves in to the sleeve holes, making sure to finish your seams as before.
I also finished by pressing the sleeve seam allowances in towards the bodice and topstitching with the twin needle to secure it in place. It helped make it look super professional, too.
Show me what you made!
If you make a dress from this tutorial, please let me see! You can link to your blog in the comments below, or share with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, don’t forget to #Sewabaloo!