A cheat's guide to making your own maxi dress

Welcome to my beginner friendly tutorial on how to make your own maxi dress, the cheat's way! Have you dabbled in a bit of sewing but are too scared to make any of your own clothes? Do you love maxi dresses and would love to make a totally unique one? Well keep reading because I'm going to show you how to make one that no-one will know was home sewn!

You will need:
A one metre piece of fabric - mine was 60" wide and 1m long but I've got very big hips, so 45" might do if you're skinnier than me! If you're super tall then you might need more than 1m or you can use the fabric the other way round so it's 60" long and 1m wide. I highly recommend jersey as it's so easy to sew with! I buy mine on eBay!
An old top (or a new one if you don't have anything suitable) that will go with your fabric. Mine was a plain black bandeau top from H&M for £3.99. Again, I recommend t-shirt material!
Marker pen or tailors chalk
Matching thread
Elastic thread - if you have large boobs or hips, otherwise you might not be able to get the dress on!

Let's get started!!

The first thing you need to do is workout where the top and your fabric need to meet in order for the dress to be the right length. Put your top on and hold your fabric up against it until you find the point where the fabric meets the floor. Using your marker pen or tailors chalk, make a mark where this point is, make it pretty big so you can't miss it!

Then you need to take your top off (making sure you don't rub your mark off if you use chalk!) and using your measuring tape, measure how many inches/cms the mark is from the bottom of your top. Subtract half an inch (for a seam allowance) and make a mark there.

My original mark was 11.5 inches from the bottom of my top, so I made my new mark at 11 inches. Then measure 11 inches from the bottom at 4/5 other points around the top so you have a series of marks in a line around your top.

You then need to join up the marks you've made using a ruler and cut round the top following this line! Don't chuck away the leftover bit as you can use it for something else!**

Put your top to one side and take your fabric. Fold it in half width ways so that the right sides (the outer side of the fabric that you'll see when you're wearing it) are together. The right side of my fabric is patterned and the wrong side is plain blue. Your fabric might not have a right or wrong side in which case you can fold it as you like! You then need to pin down the side of the fabric about a half inch from the edge.

You're then going to take to your sewing machine and sew a straight line following the line you've just made with your pins! I don't advise sewing over the pins, so just take them out as you get to them. If you're new to sewing take it slowly! If you're worried about the fabric moving then before you sew you can do some basting stitches along the pins, which is where you hand sew some long running stitches to keep the fabric in place. It doesn't matter if your sewing isn't perfect!

Now I'm going to be lazy here, because we're using jersey fabric I'm not going to finish the seams as they won't fray! But if you want to be particular you can finish your seams by zig zag stitching over the rough edge.

You may notice at this point that the top of your skirt is MUCH wider then the bottom of your top you cut out. We're about to rectify this!! We're going to gather the skirt so that it matches the size of your top. To do this I want you to adjust the running stitch on your sewing machine to it's longest stitch setting (mine is 5) and you're going to sew a line along the top of the big tube of skirt you have. It doesn't matter which end, just pick one! It doesn't matter where you sew your stitches, just get them quite close to the rough edge. It also doesn't matter if it's not straight as we're going to remove them later! I highly recommend using a brightly coloured thread that's a different colour to the one you'll be sewing your dress with!Make sure you leave long ends on your thread and don't do a reverse stitch at each end as we need the thread to be able to be pulled through.

Once you've got your long line of stitching, take hold of one of the threads on one end. Pull it and you'll notice that your fabric starts to gather in the same way as it would if you were pulling a draw string back shut! As you pull, use your hands to move the gathered fabric away from the thread, then pull some more thread through and keep easing your fabric towards the centre. Once one half is done, go to the other end of the fabric and pick up a thread there and do the same thing on the other side. Once you're done, it should look like this:

This is where it gets a little bit more complicated! I want you to take your top and I want you to match the right side of your top to the right side of your skirt. The best way to do this is to flip your top inside out and upside down and leave your skirt the same way as it is in the picture above. Put your top over the top of your skirt (with the top still upside down) so that the bottom edge of your top is lined up with the top edge of the skirt. You should have the wrong side of the top facing outwards towards you. See the 2nd picture down to help you see what I mean! Match the seam of your skirt to one of the seams on your top and pin it, as shown:
Then pin half an inch from the rough edge all the way round:
See how the wrong side of my top is outwards, and the right side is facing the right side of my skirt?
If you now flip your top upwards so the right side is facing you, it should look something like this:

Flip your top back down again so you can see your pins again and smooth everything out. Make sure that you've not got any of your skirt or top caught under where you're about to sew or you'll regret it! (Believe me, it's the sort of stupid mistake I make all the time). We're now going to sew around where we've pinned. Remember to take your time and don't accidentally sew anything you're not meant to be sewing!

If you're quite small busted (like me) then you may be ok with normal thread but if you're larger in the chest then you might find it difficult to stretch the dress enough to get it over your bust, so I'd recommend using elastic sewing thread, like this to give yourself some stretch. If you're using elastic thread, it needs to be wound around the bobbin and you use a normal thread on the top of the machine. You use the elastic thread just like normal bobbin thread but it helps to create some stretch!! It won't look any different once it's on, but it'll save the potential embarrassment of getting stuck halfway into your dress!

Once you've sewn your top and skirt together, it'll be looking much more like it's supposed to! The seam holding your dress together might be a bit bulky, so get your fabric scissors and cut some of the excess off so that the seam is smaller. (This is an optional step, you don't have to do it).

If you try it on now you're going to panic that it doesn't fit, that's because we've still got the gathering threads in it! Now's the time to remove your gathering stitches, so get hold of the thread ends that you used the get the skirt to gather and start pulling them out. This is why I wanted you to use a brightly coloured thread, because you don't want to pull out the wrong ones. If you're stupid like me and always manage to sew over your gathering threads then this could take a while! Once you've taken all your gathering stitches out, you should have your full maxi dress! Try it on and hopefully it'll fit!

Now, because we've used jersey you don't have to do a hem, especially if like me, you think it's just going to get ruined by you being clumsy and treading on it and dragging it through the rain that's inevitable as part of our English 'summer'. If you want to do a hem then just turn up half an inch, pin it down and sew around your pins. You may want to iron over the hem to flatten it out a bit.

And there you have it, your cheat's maxi dress!

** Hang on, you said you were going to tell me what to do with the rest of the top you made me butcher! 
Yes I did! Fancy making another dress? Take the left over part of your top and turn it upside down so that the bottom hem is now at the top. Take some elastic thread and wind it round your bobbin and put a thread that matches your top on the top thread spool. I want you to sew a line just underneath the seam/stitching at the top. Then I want you to sew more lines at half inch intervals down the remainder of the top so that you have lots of of parallel lines. This is called shirring! Now you have a shirred bodice which you can now attached to a skirt made out of a piece of fabric in the same way as you did in the tutorial above. Now you have two dresses!

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