A Summer Whimsy Sundress Tutorial {30 Days of Sundresses}

My friend Melissa of Melly Sews is running a really fun series right now called 30 Days of Sundresses. As you can imagine, the series covers 30 different sundresses and lots of fun tutorials. Today I’m sharing my contribution: a little dress I call the Summer Whimsy Sundress.

jacket: nordstrom

I first sewed a version of the dress in February, posted here. The grays, whites, and pinks in that dress is still one of my favorite combinations and Abby still wears it all the time. Later, I made a few alterations to the pocket and sizing for her birthday dress, shown briefly in this post.

Since then I’ve had it on my mind to share a tutorial with you, but it took the 30 Days of Sundresses series to get me there! The Summer Whimsy Sundress is essentially a shirred dress with side panel pockets. I played around with the widths of the fabric a little bit, to get exactly the right fit.

Are you ready to make one of your own? Good, lets get going!


For this dress you need the following supplies:

  • Main fabric (1/2 yard to 1.5 yards, depending on the size)
  • Contrasting fabric (1/2 yard or so, depending on the size)
  • 1/4″ double fold bias tape (optional)
  • Top thread to match the main fabric
  • Elastic thread for the bobbin (I advice purchasing Gutermann or another nice brand, not the Dritz stuff that comes cheap. I don’t find the elastic thread by Dritz to be very reliable).
  • Straps: I like to use either 1/4″ double fold bias taping as “spaghetti straps,”or eyelet lace for the straps. You can also make your own spaghetti straps from leftover fabric scraps.


To determine how much fabric you need for the dress, measure your daughter (or whoever) around the chest. The circumference of your dress BEFORE SHIRRING should be 2x the chest measurement.

For example: 21 inches (which is Abby’s chest measurement) x 2 = 42 inches

My finished dress measurement around the chest BEFORE SHIRRING should be around 42 inches.

PLEASE NOTE: Abby is tall and narrow for a 3 year old, so her chest measurement may seem small to you. However, these dresses are very flexible and the cutting instructions I provide below should work for any child with a chest measurement of between 18″ and 23″.


One of my secrets for this dress (shhh, don’t tell!) is that I cut an angle in the center panels. You might be thinking, “whaaaa?” right about now, so take a look at the cutting instructions below to see what I mean:

First, lay your main fabric out on the table, with the selvages touching. Then fold it in half again so the center fold is in line with the selvage edges. Now do the following:

  • Measure in 2.5 inches from the selvage edge and make a cut straight down approximately 3.5 to 4 inches. This is the “bodice” or chest of the dress and you want it straight down so the skirt can have a more dramatic A-line.
  • Now angle your cutting ruler from where you finished that cut at the top, to the very corner of your fabric at the bottom, and cut. 
  • When you open your fabric up, it should look like the diagram above.
Next, for the side panels, cut the following from your contrasting fabric:
  • Two pieces, 6″ x 21″
  • Two pieces, 6″ x 15″
By now you should have all the pieces pictured above: two center panels, two long side panels, two short side panels, bias tape for the pockets, and something for the straps.

Bind the top edges of both short side panels.

Place them on top of the longer side panels, and baste stitch the two together about 1/8″ from the raw edge.

Sew pin and sew one side panel to the right side of the front center panel with a 3/8″ seam allowance. Finish the seam with a serger or zig zag stitch.

Press the seam allowance toward the side panel.


Repeat with the other side panel.

Now sew the back center panel to the raw edges of both side panels, finish the seams, and topstitch.


To hem the bottom edge, press the raw edge 1/4″ to the wrong side, then turn again 1/2″, press and sew.

To keep the top edge dainty, I like to finish it with a narrow hem. Press the raw edge 1/8″ to the wrong side, and then fold it over another 1/8″, press, and sew. You can also use a rolled hem foot, or even just serge the raw edge.

Now you’re ready to apply the shirring! First, wind the elastic thread BY HAND around the bobbin. When you’re winding it, apply some tension, but don’t pull too hard. Thread the top needle with regular cotton thread that matches your main fabric.

Set your tension as high as it will go and use a straight stitch at the longest setting. PRACTICE ON A SCRAP PIECE OF FABRIC before shirring the actual dress.

Start the shirring 1/4″ away from the top edge. 

Shirr all the way around the top edge, and then “dip” the presser foot so that the next row of stitching is 1/8″ from the first row. Next time around, dip the foot again so you stitch 1/4″ from the second row of stitching. Keep going this way, around and around, until you’ve applied 3 to 4 inches of shirring (it’s your preference how far you want to go.).

Just a note: keep an eye on the elastic thread on the bobbin. It’s easier to backstitch and secure your stitches before it runs out. Then you can add more elastic thread to the bobbin and continue. 

Your shirred stitches will be stretchy, but you need to apply heat and steam to really make them shrink up. The steam will also help the fabric yield to the stitches.

Iron on a high setting with PLENTY of steam. My dresses usually feel pretty damp by the end of this process. It’s so fun to watch the dress shrink up while you iron!


On the front: Sew the straps in place 2.5 inches in from each side.
On the back: Sew the straps in place 3 to 3.5 inches in from each side. (If you’re using lace rather than spaghetti straps, which tie, try the dress on your daughter to see how long they should be first.)

 I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! If you have any questions, please leave a comment below or email me at cailamade@gmail.com.  I’d love to see what you make!

Oh, and isn’t the dress just SO ADORABLE with these sandals I bought for Abby in LA during Fabric Weekend? I am absolutely in love with them.

 Until next time, friends! Check out the rest of the Sundress posters below!

GoTo Sew Kitschy Coo Occasionally Crafty Naptime Crafters Sew Country Chick You and Mie Flamingo Toes Googiemama Delia Creates Melly Sews The Mother Huddle sewVery Alida Makes Sugar Bee Crafts Seamingly Smitten Boy, Oh Boy, Oh Boy! Sumo's Sweet Stuff Craftiness is Not Optional Elegance & Elephants Sew A Straight Line Kojo Designs Caila Made Family Ever After Mama Says Sew Simple Simon & Co. Little Kids Grow A Couple of Craft Addicts Image Map

Follow on Bloglovin


    • says

      Definitely give it a try! I’ve never had any problems, but I like to use nice elastic thread, no cheap stuff. 🙂 Just go slow and try it on a scrap piece of fabric first. You’ll do great! 🙂

  1. says

    This is fantastic! I’ve made many shirred sundresses (and I’m not sick of em yet), but I am really digging the side pocket panels. Give the dress a little extra spunk too. BTW- I am crazy about her hair!

    • says

      Yeah, I feel like those pockets really set the dress apart. What kid doesn’t like pockets?? Thanks so much for your comment. (And yeah, I wish I had my daughter’s hair, haha!)

    • says

      My kid doesn’t like pockets!! Isn’t she a weirdo?! My middle daughter won’t wear anything with pockets without a fight. Such a twerp 😉 LOVE this Caila!!

  2. says

    Oh Miss Calla, you have out done yourself on this one for me!!! I have a dress like this I started with just a picture in my head almost 1 1/2 years ago and this is it. I even have the two front & back pieces cut out already from back then and I could not vision the sides and you have done it for me….. I thank you so very much!!!!!! Linda

  3. says

    I love this shirred dress! So cute, the pockets are just perfect! I’m ready to dig out my elastic thread and get sewing!

  4. says

    Very cute! Thank you for this superb tutorial!
    No little girls in the family, though! I will just have to wait a bit!
    esthersipatchandquilt at yahoo com
    ipatchandquilt dot wordpress dot com

    • says

      Yes, you can join my shirring cult! Haha. I force myself to make actual dresses with real pattern pieces, but all I really want to do is shirr all.the.time. It’s such an easy way to get a perfect fit. So glad you like it, friend!

  5. says

    This is just so completely adorable! I love the contrasting side panels, the pockets, the shirring… (Those sandals, geez!) Just everything! My sewing list just keeps growing. And growing. 🙂 Thanks so much for this awesome tutorial!
    Heidi @ handmadefrenzy.blogspot.com

  6. Anonymous says

    I tried a much smaller version of this for my daughter who’s only 10 months old and you’re right, the shirring is like magic! I just whipped up two last night in larger sizes using the measurements you gave and I had to shorten the pocket panel by a few inches so the opening wouldn’t be above the waist. Other than that, great “pattern”! Thanks so much for sharing the tips!

  7. says

    I. Love. This. Pattern.
    I just made one in pink polka dots with blue polka dot side panels for my 3 year old. She picked out the fabric and it’s the cutest thing ever. It’s the first time I did pockets too! And DD loves pockets. This is THE summer dress pattern. Thank you so much!

  8. Anonymous says

    Hello! Such a beautiful dress, thank you for sharing this! I haven’t tried shirring before but i have the elastic ready to go – i just wanted to ask this even though it may be a foolish question – what do you mean “dip” the presser foot? after you have sewn all the way around one time, do you actually turn the fabric and sewing downwards a 1/4″ and then turn it back to normal and continue sewing around again? sorry this may be a silly question – maybe i’ll just get it when i try it? or do you just sort of sew on an angle down a bit to the 1/4″ then keep going around? thanks for your help! i am a beginner as you can see! – Emily

  9. Sume says

    Just made my daughter one and I LOVE IT!!! Such a quick sew but such fantastic results! Thank you!! Now I can also tick ‘shirring’ off the list….

  10. says

    I’m pretty new at this sewing thing. Is shirring pretty easy for a newbie? I’ve never used elastic threading before. It is so cute though so I think I want to try.