Paper Bag Dress Tutorial

Every night as I’m tucking Abby into bed, she asks the same question. “Mommy, sing my special song.” It’s kinda funny, actually, how her special song came along. 
We sing a lot in this house. If we’re making sandwiches, I sing a song about making sandwiches. If we’re going on a walk, we sing about the walk. I’m really fond of one song in particular, “We’re going crazy, we’re going crazy…” to the tune of “He had it coming” from the musical, Chicago. I seem to sing that song a lot.
One night Abby asked me to make up a special song about her as a ballerina, so I did. It’s really simple, and silly, and uses some made-up words:

There was a ballerina, her name was Abby-roo. She loved to sing and dance, and spin around the room. With hair as blond as sunshine and a pretty little dress, she was the sweetest dancer that ever you could guess.

So when Ann Kelle asked if I would like to play around with some of her fabrics I said YES, and chose this sweet ballerina print called Girl Friends: Slipper, for Abby. Could it be any more perfect, I ask you? (You can see what else I did with some of her fabric in Abby’s donut skirt, aka, the Summer Whimsy Skirt). 

I made a simple Paper Bag Dress for Abby because I wanted a quick, simple project that showcased the fabric and made Abby feel like the FUN little girl she is. This dress was just the ticket. Below you will find a simple sewing tutorial for making your own paper bag dress.*

*As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this isn’t the first paper bag dress tutorial to ever hit the internet. This is my  own version. I hope it’s a simple and easy one for those of you who are new to sewing! 


  • Main fabric: For a 3T size you will need 3/4 yard of cotton fabric, or whatever length you want the dress. The instructions below will yield a dress that is approximately 18″ long. If you want a longer dress, just add more length to the bottom. In fact, these cutting instructions can be used for many sizes (probably 18 months up through something like size 5), as long as you add or subtract length according to the height of your child. 
  • Contrasting fabric for elastic casing: A strip of fabric 1.75 inches by 36 inches, OR two strips of fabric 1.75 inches by 18 inches each. 
  • 3/4″ elastic: Take your child’s chest measurement and add 1″ to determine how much elastic you need. I used 20″ for Abby’s dress. 
Prepare the fabric using the cutting instructions above. Take your 3/4 yard of fabric and lay it down on your cutting table with the selvage edges on the right side and the folded edge on the left. Remove the selvage and straighten the top and bottom edges. 
Now measure in 1.5″ from the right edge and draw a line straight down 2″ long. From the end of that line, angle your ruler to the bottom right corner and draw a line. Now repeat these steps for the left side of the fabric. Your drawn lines should match the dotted lines in the diagram above. Cut along these lines and remove the extra. You now have the front and back pieces of your dress.
Sew the side seams together by placing your front and back pieces right sides together and sewing along the sides with a 3/8″ seam allowance. Finish the seams by serging the raw edges, or by using a zigzag or overcast stitch with your sewing machine. 
Hem the top edge with as narrow a hem as you can muster. I like to use a rolled hem (Girl. Inspired. has a great tutorial for that), or press the edge under 1/8″ and then another 1/8″, and stitch it down using a straight stitch. You can also serge, zigzag, or overcast stitch this edge, but I notice that the hemmed edges hold up better to multiple washings. 
Hem the bottom edge by folding it under 1/4″ and pressing, then folding it under 1/2″ and pressing again. Stitch it down with a straight stitch just under 1/2″ from the edge. 
Prepare the elastic casing. If you are using two strips of fabric 1.75″ by 18″, place them together right sides facing and stitch the short edges using a 3/8″ seam allowance. Press the seam allowances open.
If you are using one strip of fabric 1.75″ by 36″ you can jump in here. Sew the one short edge together with a 3/8″ seam allowance. 
Press both long edges under 1/4″. 
Align the side seams of your elastic casing to the side seams of your dress. Pin these 1″ down from the top edge. 
Using your clear ruler, pin the elastic casing straight along the dress 1″ down from the top edge. Pin all the way around the dress.

Now take the dress to your machine and stitch along the top edge of the elastic casing as close to the edge as you can get, about 1/8″ or 1/16″. Backstitch at the beginning and end to secure your stitches.
Stitch the bottom edge in the same way, but leave a 1.5″ gap for feeding the elastic through. 
Secure one end of your elastic with a safety pin and slip it through the opening. Push and pull it through until you bring it back out the opening. Align the raw edges and stitch the together with a 1/2″ seam allowance. Then stitch the ends down. 
Slip the elastic back into the casing and stitch the opening closed. 
Press the top of the dress to set the ruffle.

Add straps. For this dress, I created one inch wide straps by doing the following:

  • Cut one long strip 2.5″ by 20″
  • Fold the fabric along the long edge so the wrong side is facing out. 
  • Stitch along the long edge with a 1/4″ seam allowance. Backstitch at the beginning and end. 
  • Using a long tool (like a pencil) push one end into the tube until you can pull it out the other side. Pull the long straps so it’s right side out and press well. 
  • Topstitch both sides of the strap for a polished look. Cut the strip in half to make two straps, each measuring 10″ in length.
  • Attach to the dress.
  • TIP: Attach the straps closer together on the back for a sweeter look. This also keeps the straps from falling off the shoulders. Win win!
You can also use spaghetti straps like I did in the Summer Whimsy Dress Tutorial, eyelet lace like I did in the Ombre Triangles Dress, or ruffled lace like I did in my original Summer Whimsy Dress
And there you have it: a super fun Paper Bag Dress for your little girlie!

If you’re interested in simple dress tutorials, you might also like:
Summer Whimsy Dress (with side panel pockets)
Also for girls:
Summer Shorts (free pattern!)
Vintage-Inspired Baby Dress (free pattern for newborns)

Lastly, how about a little sneak peak of my post for Friday? Another Paper Bag Dress on the way:

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    • says

      Sundresses aren’t just for summer! This would be super cute over a tee (long or short sleeved) and leggings or jeans. 🙂 Thanks for the tute! I was needing a new pattern for my girls. I can’t wait to try this one out!

  1. says

    I love this. I am glad that it is always summer in California so you keep the rest of us in a summer mindset all year long.
    The first thing I ever remember sewing was a paper bag shorts when I was six or seven. This would be a fun flash back project for me (20 years later) to make for my daughter.
    With Love,

  2. says

    I love all your projects:) and am excited you are part of project run and play!!!! Thanks for this tutorial- on my to do list:)

  3. says

    what a very very pretty dress, and a simple easy to follow tutorial. thank you for sharing I think I might give this a try for my 2 little princess!

  4. says

    Great dress. Maybe if I make a 3T for my 2T girl I can justify just ONE more summer dress. Also I love how you secured the elastic- going to start doing that!

    • says

      Yes, it’s such a great way to secure the elastic! I sometimes like to leave extra elastic and secure it like that so there’s no bulkiness. That way, when Abby is too big for the dress, I can let it out a little bit. (In theory. I actually never go back and alter anything.) 🙂

  5. says

    I have a dress very similar to this one that I bought for my daughter at the beginning of the summer. I was just looking at it the other day and thinking it couldn’t be too hard to recreate. Thank you for making it even easier!!

  6. says

    Thank you so very much again…I think I now have every single one of your tuts printed and ready to sew as soon as my leg heals up after surgery, you are so kind hearted ..thanks again Linda Lee

  7. Anonymous says

    I love this dress. I have one almost completed except for the straps. Where do you attach them to the dress? Below the casting? On the casting? Help so I can finish this for my granddaughter, she is so excited about her dress. She has been sitting in my lap at the sewing machine while I was sewing. She wants to help! Can’s wait to see the dress on her.

    • says

      Hi there! I attached them to the inside of the dress, at the top of the casing. Make sure you tuck the raw edge under a couple of times so it doesn’t show if the ruffle folds down. Happy Sewing! I’m so glad you like the tutorial. 🙂

  8. says

    Just made one of these. First ever dress made from scratch. It’s so cute. Really want to wake my little girl up so I can see if it fits! Thanks for the tutorial! xx

  9. says

    Caila!Thanks for your nice reply.
    What a really nice dress! thank you so much for the tutorial. I invite you to visit my blof, where you can find some kids clothes! It’s in catalan but you have a translatr ; – ) A lot of kisses. Montse of

  10. says

    love the tutorial… the only question I have is about the straps… you said you used one strip 2.5 x 20… so when you attach it are you doing it as one strip or cutting it in half? sorry if this is a dumb question, I am still teaching myself to sew….so I get

    • says

      Hi Neicy! Thank you so much for asking that question! I just fixed that part in the instructions above. After top stitching the long strip you should cut it in half to make two straps, each 10″ long. Sorry about the confusion! I hope this helps. 🙂

  11. says

    Oh my goodness, this is just gorgeous! Please stop making such fantastically easy and wonderfully beautiful tutorials…Im going to spend all day every day making dresses!! 🙂 I have the fabric cut and ready to go only half an hour after reading this tutorial. Thank you so much for such a stunning tutorial, I know my 3 year old is going to flip! 🙂

  12. says

    Great tutorial well done. I am a grandma who lives away from her grands. How much elastic did you use (forgive me if you mentioned it I looked could not find it) for the casing? How far in from side seams did you stitch the straps? You see with my grands being away and I have a non sewing daughter in law so I have to rely on others. Thanks!!

  13. says

    I would love to make a few of these for my daughter but she wears a 14-16. What would you do to make her size? She’s real hard to find sun dresses for and living in south Florida she wears shorts and Sun dresses when I can find them!

  14. Colleen says

    Ther isn’t any instruction showing how to attach the straps. I am new to sewing and really need that step explained! Otherwise, great tutorial. I’ll be trying this.

    • Colleen says

      I found the written instructions! Looking more for how to measure where they should go, or do you just wing it. Can’t you see the extra stitching whenever you top stitch it? I can never get it to look right, stitching looks bulky. :/

  15. salimah says

    I love your easy tutorial. Have all my fabric n so excited to sew n get this project going. It will be my first dress sewing project !

  16. Rebecca Bailey says

    I found you by accident & love looking at your adorable dresses. I’m trying to make the pink printed one called Paper Bag dress because it looks simple for this newcomer to sewing. But I have a concern about the 2 curves at the top of the dress (or bottom, I’m not sure). How to hem those two curves. I’m not sure either why they are there or how to handle them. I have started sewing baby dresses for a family shelter near me & have made 7 already but they are for very small babies (3 to 9 month size). I have been looking for simple dresses for older babies ( 1 year to maybe 2-3 years. They have to be simple since I am a beginner. I hope you can help me. Thanks a lot.

  17. Debbie says

    hints for attaching the straps: do them before the casing. On the front, space them equally apart by thirds. Putting them on before the casing means the raw ends will be inside the casing. It will be easier to sew on than trying to stretch the dress with the elastic already in it.

  18. Anne Burden says

    Just finished the dress for my granddaughter and I am very happy with the result. Thanks for a well written tutorial. It was fun to make.

  19. Sara says

    I’m using this pattern to make my daughter a dress for the 4th of July. Love how simple and cute it is. Thanks for a great tut and pics!