Making a picnic dress

Several people have asked me how to make my Picnic Dress. It’s a bit too complicated for the step by step instruction on how to draft a pattern I gave for the draped t-shirt, but I hope this will be enough detail for anyone who is familiar with how dresses are made.

You will need 4 yards of 45″ fabric and an 18″ zipper.

These are the pieces of the pattern. Mark out the measurements listed and the distances between them. For example, on the waistband measure out the distance between your underbust/ribcage and your waist, then measure half your ribcage measurement at one side and half your waist measurement at the other. Then draw out the rest of the shape so it looks more or less like the pieces in the picture. If you aren’t used to making your own patterns it might be helpful to have a pattern for another dress to refer to, particularly for the sleeves.

If you’re not used to making your own sleeves, trace both the arm hole and the top of the sleeve off a pattern you’ve used before and like. It’s tricky to get these curves right, and hard to move your arms if you get them wrong. I use gathered sleeves on this dress, which are a bit more forgiving. To change a regular set in sleeve to a gathered sleeve, simply make the top of the sleeve a bit larger without changing the arm hole. You will gather this extra, bringing the edge of the sleeve back to its original size.

To make the curve of the skirt even, use your tape measure like an enormous protractor. Pick a spot along the edge of the fabric to be the center of the skirt and draw a half circle by measuring a set distance (say 24 inches) from that point in every direction. This can go very quickly if you get someone else to hold the end of the tape measure in the middle. Make a smaller half circle around the same point for the waistline. The size of this inner circle will depend on your size, but should be something on the order of 5 inches.

To gather the top, mark out a distance ¾ of the difference between bust and underbust measurement on one side. Stitch along the edge of the fabric between these marks. Tie the threads together at one end. Pull slowly on one thread at the other end, gathering the fabric as you pull. When the gathered section is ⅓ of the length it began, tie the ends together. Repeat on the other side. Edit: if you still find this confusing, I’ve written more about it here

After gathering both the lining and the top layer of the bodice, sew them together along the neckline. Turn right side out and press. Even out the gathers and make sure none of the edge bits are folded in, then sew both pieces of the bodice to the waist band, being careful with the gathered sections.

Sew the edge of the facing to the neckline on each back piece. Turn and press. Turn in the edge of the facing and sew this edge to the back.

Sew the front and back together at the shoulders. Gather the center of each sleeve. Sew the sleeves into the armholes.

Baste the ties to the waist band, then sew the front and back together along the side. The waistband will be sewn into this seam. Sew up the underside of the sleeve. Turn under the edge of the sleeve and sew it down.

Sew in the pockets if you’re including them (for more detailed directions, see here). Sew up the sides (but not the back) of the skirt, and sew the skirt to the top. Put in the zipper, then sew up the back of the skirt.

Turn under ½ inch all along the bottom of the skirt, then another 2 ½ inches. Hem along this edge, taking the smallest stitches you can out of the skirt.

If there’s anything you’d like to know that I’ve skipped or explained badly, please ask about it!

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41 Responses to Making a picnic dress

  1. What a great design! Thanks so much!!

  2. Mindi says:

    This is such a beautiful dress! Thank you for sharing the pattern :)

  3. Annette says:

    Very pretty and feminine!

  4. Fabric Fascination says:

    You make it look easy. Beautiful feminine dress.

  5. Evan says:

    What type of fabric did you use? :)

    • naomi says:

      I used a red and with cotton gingham, but the dress works well in just about any woven fabric. I’ve used linen before and various cotton blends. I particularly like how it looks in a solid color with a patterned waist band.

  6. ELISE says:

    This is stunning,and looks amazing on you ! LOVE it!

  7. Maude says:

    so Cute :)

  8. Nathaniel says:

    I somehow ran across this page using Very impressive dress. Is the creator the same person in the photos? You are talented and beautiful!

  9. Jill says:

    I made this dress using your instructions! It was my first real dress making project, though I have sewn before and have some experience drafting patterns. It was SO FUN to make and I love how it turned out! Thanks for the tute! Here’s the link to pictures of mine if you’d like to see them:

  10. Steph says:

    I love this dress! The gingham is so summery and playful. This was one of the dresses which I wished I had a pattern for, and now I have one! If you would post a pattern of your Ice Cream Sundae Shift Dress I would be eternally grateful. I really appreciate your talent and generosity! Thank you for reading and considering my proposal :)

  11. Exquisitely light, young and pretty.
    Normally dislike this look- Bravo.


  12. Helena says:

    Wooow, looks easy, but i couldn’t make it alone. So so cute!!!!!!

  13. Christi says:

    I found your tutorial on pintrest and really want to try making it for me and my girls, but I’m a little unclear on how to measure out the pieces for the facing. I’ve never actually made my own patterns before so I’m kind of nervous and want to get it right. If you could lend me a tip I would be so greatful.


    • naomi says:

      The facing should be a small piece of fabric, maybe 4 inches wide, that matches the neckline of the back of the dress. The easiest way to draw out the facing is to cut out the back first, then trace the neckline of the back onto your fabric, making sure the grainlines match up. Trace the shoulder line and four inches down the back as well. Draw a second line about 4 inches away from the neckline, connecting the shoulder with the back. The shape of this line isn’t important – I usually follow the neckline, keeping it a consistent 4 inches away, but you can have it curve out in the middle if you prefer.

  14. Sylvie says:

    Very cute I love it! We’ll see if I am brave enough to try it! :)

  15. Himali Patil says:

    Such a pretty dress :) I’m definitely going to try this out :D

  16. naomi says:

    For larger sizes this can be a bit of a problem. Instead of cutting the bottom edge of the front in a straight line, have it angle up on the sides. This makes the length of the top shorter on the sides, which is good, that’s how people are shaped, and it means that if you orient the side seam relative to the edge of the bottom, it’s actually angled in, which stops anything from gapping. That probably doesn’t make much sense, so here’s a picture:

  17. Emily says:

    Beautiful dress!!!

  18. Malin says:

    How cute, I love it!

  19. Lily says:

    Very cute dress, brava!

  20. marilyn says:

    you can calculate the size of the waistline of the skirt using C=d(3). C is your waistline, d is the diameter of the circle that will fit this waistline. for example, if my waist were 27″, I would cut out a circle measuring 9 inches across. sewing this to a waistband, or a bodice,.using a half inch seam allowance, I’d have the wanted ease,( this assumes a zipper opening)

  21. Anonymous. says:

    I absolutely love this dress!

    I was wondering if you could go into a bit more depth about gathering the bust.

    A step by step tutorial for this dress REALLY would be a HUGE help. It’s absolutely adorable.

  22. Cindy says:

    Beautiful dress! I love the gingham. It would also be gorgeous in navy with a white waistband or in white lace!

  23. Jo says:

    This is so cute! I love the waistband with the tie! I will definitely be coming back to try this one once I’ve got a bit more experience- I think my blog’s going to need a sewing page!

  24. Oge says:

    This is lovely, n d tute is straight to the point. I will try this for me. Tnx

  25. it is very nice thank you so much for tutorial

  26. Kristin says:

    Found your tutorial while searching for an easy way to make my own dress pattern and it looks real good. I’m only wondering whether the skirt is a full circle or a half circle? Do you think either would work? Have you tried making this without the ties at the back, or do you have a picture of how it looks with the ties untied?

  27. Essiebear says:

    How big should the skirt be ? I don’t want to hog all the cloth , but I love love love big flowy skirt concepts . Thanks ! And oh , the dress pattern seems amazing . Can’t wait to try it out , so thank you so much for posting !!!!

    • Naomi says:

      This is a full circle skirt. I think it’s 21″ long, although it’s been a very long time since I made one. It does take a lot of cloth. I usually buy 4 yards to make a dress like this, and most of that goes into the skirt. Have fun!

      • Tricia says:

        When measuring the length of the skirt I use a tape measure with a metal end. It has a hole in it so that you can pin (I use a drawing pin into a small piece of foam) it to the fabric and then use it like a protractor.

  28. MichaelCeM says:

    I would love to make this dress for my little ones. Would you mind emailing it to me at alanicr99 at yahoo dot com? Thanks

  29. R. Deutsch says:

    How do I change the bodice if I want it to lay flat on my chest?

    • Naomi says:

      I’m not sure what you mean. Do you want to remove the seam between the upper bodice and the waistband? Or Keep that seam but remove the gathers? Something else?

  30. Karen Blackburn says:

    Longer sleeves for me and a longer skirt for both my daughter and myself and this dress will be fabulous. Like the waistband at the front, I’ve always liked this style and never somehow got around to making one. This pattern should spur me on, with long sleeves and a heavier fabric for winter. Many thanks for sharing, and it’s easy for anyone conversant with the basic bodice sloper made to measure.

  31. Kristy says:

    Is there anyway you could post a video on how you made this dress? I don’t really know how to get the measurements, I’m new to sewing, and I get really confused. I understand if you can’t though!

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