Making Summer Dresses for my Fashion-Aware Toddler

Summer Dress | Octaves of Color

Summer Dresses | Octaves of Color

My daughter is my favorite person to sew for. But as she gets older (she’ll be three this summer), it gets harder to predict what she will want to wear. She has serious opinions about her clothing.

The one thing I can count on is that she won’t want to wear what I pick out for her. She throws my suggestions aside (literally) and says to me, “I’ll do it myself.” Then she sifts through her drawers until she finds a combination she likes. In my attempt to raise a confident and independent girl, I let her make as many choices as possible. As a result, sometimes I have to put a smile on and take her out in public in some crazy outfits:

Right now, my daughter’s favorite things to wear are her “summer dresses.” I don’t know exactly why she loves them, but I knew she needed some more comfy dresses for those days when her other summer dresses are in the wash. The Racerback Dress (link here) from Hey June fit the bill. It’s a perfect summer dress: it’s adorable, simple to sew and the pattern is…wait for it…free! 

The Perfect Summer Dresses

Summer dresses | Octaves of Color

The Racerback Dress is my first Hey June pattern, and I have to say that I am a fan. Many indie pattern designers will offer a free pattern or two so you can sample their work before you spend money on their other products. My experience with the Racerback Dress was so positive that I bought a few more Hey June patterns during their Memorial Day Sale a few days ago!

Hey June patterns have layers, so you can print only the sizes that you want. Consequently, assembling the pattern and cutting out the pieces is really easy because there aren’t a million size lines cluttering each page. The instructions and tutorials are concise and helpful. Line drawings help illustrate each step and require very little printer ink. In addition, the styles offered at Hey June are classic and fit well.


Summer dresses | Octaves of Color

I made two summer dresses for my daughter, a navy and coral dress (modeled by my daughter) and a green & blue dress (modeled by her friend).  The materials are all second-hand, so I don’t know the exact fiber content or weave. But by look and feel I can tell you that the green and white stripes are a lightweight cotton interlock and the blue binding is a ponte knit with spandex.

The navy and coral striped fabric is from an adult dress that I decided to upcycle. It’s a lightweight cotton/poly jersey knit. I cut the binding from the main fabric, but on the bias. Because it’s a knit fabric, the binding didn’t need to be cut on the bias to have enough stretch. Rather, I chose to cut the bands on the bias simply because I liked the visual effect of the diagonal stripes.

A note about sizing: measure carefully

Summer Dresses | Octaves of Color

As the pattern notes clearly indicate, you should select the size to cut based on your child’s chest measurement—not the size your child wears in ready-to-wear clothing. I assumed that since my daughter will be three this summer, therefore I should cut and sew her a size three dress. Oops. It was huge on her. She’ll be able to wear that dress next summer. Or maybe the next.

My petite almost-three-year-old actually needed a lengthened size one! I did not expect that, but the proof is in the finished garment and I will remember to trust my measuring tape next time.

A note about instructions: a mistake

Summer Dresses | Octaves of Color

Be careful with the seam allowances on this pattern. The side seams and shoulder seams all require a ⅜” seam allowance. But—and this is super important—the binding around the neck and arms is attached with a ¼” seam allowance. The pattern instructions state this clearly (in bold, red lettering, no less), but I still messed it up the first time. Don’t be like me. Use the proper seam allowance.

A knit sewing tip: How to manage seam allowances at the hem

Sometimes the hem can get bulky at the seam line of knit garments. If you serge the side seams, when you fold up your hem, you end up with a big bump on the side seam that no amount of ironing can fix. Instead, I’d like to share with you a technique I learned from the Idyllwild T-Shirt Pattern from Itch to Stitch and applied to the hems of these summer dresses.

Click the gallery above to see the steps with pictures

  1. After serging your side seams, mark where you will fold up the hem.
  2. Grab some very sharp scissors and carefully snip into the serged seam allowance right where you marked. Do not snip past the edge of the stitching or you will create a hole in your garment. Only cut through the excess seam allowance.
  3. Press the seam allowance so the portion below your cut lays in the opposite direction.
  4. Fold up the hem and notice how the layers are better dispersed and now lay flat. Genius!
  5. Finally, stitch a beautiful hem

The reaction

Summer dresses | Octaves of Color
Striking a pose!

As luck would have it, my daughter loves her new summer dresses and loves showing them off. Yesterday, when she was wearing one of her new dresses for the first time, she turned around and said, “Mom, look at the back,” and struck a pose. I think I might have a future fashion blogger on my hands.

Summer Dresses | Octaves of Color

What crazy outfits do your children like to wear?
When did they stop letting you pick out their clothes?

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

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