When I was a kid, getting a new Easter dress was a major highlight of the year. The headquarters of Portland-based Daisy Kingdom were a short drive away from where I lived in Beaverton. As I remember it, Daisy Kingdom was the coolest thing around. At church, all of the girls in my Sunday School class wore Daisy Kingdom. I loved the adorable floral and animal prints and the puffy skirts and sleeves. My mom would take us downtown to the huge Daisy Kingdom store in northwest Portland and we would sift through countless pastel panels of bunnies and bears to find the perfect fabric for our fluffy dresses. My mom, a fantastic sewist, would spend hours working so that each of her three daughters could have a beautiful dress for Easter Sunday.
As the youngest of the three girls, I benefitted from my sisters’ dresses that were passed down to me. What I remember as a yearly tradition was probably more of a short-lived phase that produced enough dresses to outfit me for years. As the Daisy Kingdom craze died out and the 90’s turned into the new Millennium, I remember my Easter attire still being a big deal each year. Years later, my mom even sent me a new Easter outfit during my first year at college.
Easter Dress Inspiration
It was with these memories that I started making my daughter a special Easter dress each year. I use it as an opportunity to design something special, just for her. [Tragic side note: Somehow I have no pictures of her in her dress from last year!]
This year I was inspired by a large cut of lavender gingham shirting I found at the thrift store (two and a half yards for less than $4!) and this top from the J. Crew catalog (link here). I love how the elbow length bell sleeve is the focus and the rest of the garment is relatively simple. The button closure adds some interest to the back and looks really classy.
I used a base pattern from Shwin Designs to create this Easter dress (link here). The free pattern is a basic bodice front, bodice back and sleeve in sizes 12M-8Y. The skirt isn’t drafted because it’s intended to be paired with a gathered skirt for which the pattern piece is a rectangle. The pattern pieces do not come with any instructions, but you can get the basic order of assembly from reading through one of the blog posts about variations created with this dress (links here and here). It’s pretty remarkable how much variety you can create with a few basic dress building blocks.
Which brings me to my version! Just like the inspiration garment, I wanted to keep the dress simple. I created a simple bias cut waistband to offset the bodice from the gathered skirt. I shortened the sleeve and added the bell flounce. And, at my daughter’s request, I added a few bows to the sleeves and back.
The gathered skirt is a 2:1 ratio. This means that I measured the width of all of the bodice pieces (front and back) and multiplied that number by 2 to get the width of my gathered skirt piece. I like a 2:1 ratio for most little girls dresses. It make the skirt full and flowy without getting out of control.
The sleeve flounces are gathered at a 1.5:1 ratio. This means that I measured the width of the sleeve opening and multiplied that by 1.5 to get the width of my gathered sleeve piece. I experimented with a 2:1 ratio on the sleeve, but I opted for the more sophisticated look of slightly fewer gathers.
I learned most of what I know about sewing from a handful of classes I took in college. My professor was a Doctor who really knew her way around a sewing machine. She was particular about her techniques, but I have to say, they work. One of the things she taught me was to use three rows of basting when creating gathers. That’s right: three. Most pattern instructions will tell you to create two rows of basting when you make gathers. Three rows may sound like overkill, but that extra row of stitches gives you greater control when you are distributing the fabric fullness. The finished gathers end up much more even without as much fiddling.
The basting rows should be sewn in three parallel lines with two rows placed within the seam allowance, and one row placed just inside the body of the garment (this row will be removed after you sew the seam). For example, if I have a ⅝” seam allowance, I would baste at ¼”, ½” and ¾” from the raw edge so that the seam line sits right between rows 2 and 3.
Try it sometime. Occasionally I have thought that I can take a shortcut by omitting that third row of basting, but inevitably I end up spending more time distributing the gathers than it would’ve taken to baste (and later remove) the last line of thread.
My daughter is a little sensitive to seams and tags, so I chose to line the entire dress. I used a pale lavender colored cotton batiste as the lining. It is a super lightweight and soft fabric that keeps the inside comfortable without adding too much bulk or warmth.
I used a couple of quick tutorials I found online to guide me as I made the bows (best tutorial here). I hand stitched them directly to the dress when I was done.
For her Easter gift, I made my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal, Polly, a matching Easter dress. She was so excited. I will share more about that process in an upcoming post!
Do you remember the Daisy Kingdom craze?
Did you ever get a special outfit for holidays?