I’ve complained before about how hard it is to find maxi dresses with sleeves, and I’m gonna complain again. I know it’s summer and we want to be as cool as possible, but due to religious beliefs I don’t wear clothes without at least a small sleeve. Not to mention the fact that sleeveless is just not the most flattering look on me. I love wearing casual dresses, but every summer I struggle to find maxis with sleeves in the stores. And so (once again) I’m falling back on my favorite tee pattern to make an easy to sew, easy to wear maxi dress with cap sleeves.
Side note: I wonder sometimes if repeat blog readers think I am just plain boring with what I sew. I mean, I have a couple different tee shirt patterns and nearly everything I make for myself is a variation of one of them. Why am I not a little more adventurous? Well, when I first started sewing I’d see cute things on other people and try to recreate them and end up really dissatisfied when the finished item just didn’t look good on me. You know how some people have the body type that could make a sack look good? Well I don’t, and it was frustrating to spend all that time and effort on an item of clothing I was never going to wear. I finally realized I needed to figure out what sorts of clothes I was going to be comfortable in, and focus my sewing on those. And that’s why I make lots of tees that don’t hug my middle, lots of gathered skirts, and lots of maxi dresses that hit an my high waist and skim past all the lumps and bumps.
You’ve got to make the best of what you have to work with, right?
To make this dress you will need 2 to 2.5 yards of 60 inch wide knit (stretchy) fabric. Wash and dry the fabric before beginning. You will also need my Classic Tee pattern, which is available to download here. The pattern is a size L, so if you don’t wear large you’ll need to find another tee shirt pattern to use OR trace your own from a t-shirt.
Print out the pattern at 100% or full size and tape the pages together without overlapping. If you are a beginner, I would recommend sewing up a tee shirt following the pattern and instructions before you try modifying it to make this dress.
Ok, to cut out your pieces you will place your fabric down flat on the ground. Fold in each selvedge side so the selvedge edges meet in the middle. Then place the classic tee shirt pattern on the left side fold and cut around it using the back neckline, extending the bottom as shown by the dotted lines. You want it to be about 60 inches long from top to bottom (longer if you’re tall), and as wide as your fabric allows. Flip the pattern over and repeat on the right side fold, but this time cut the front neckline.
You will also need to cut two sleeve pieces, both on the fold. I cut mine about an inch longer than the short sleeve mark so I could roll them up instead of hemming.
You will also need a neckbinding piece that is 1.75 inches tall and about 24 inches wide, with the width going along the stretch of the fabric, as shown above.
How to sew a cap sleeve maxi dress:
1 – Sew the dress up the same way you are directed to sew the shirt in the original Classic Tee tutorial. Don’t worry about finishing the neckline or hemming anything yet.
2 – Try on the dress and decide where you’d like to elastic waistline to hit. Mark that with pins. Take the dress off and cut it straight across 1 inch below your pins.
3 – This step is optional: When making elastic waist dresses like this, I sometimes don’t like how to fabric blouses out to the sides above the waistline, so I added an extra step here to make the fabric lay flatter. First, I took the side seams in on the top portion of the dress about an inch. Then, I cut the bottom of the top portion in a slight curve, curving up about an inch at the side seams as seen above.
4 – Turn the skirt portion of the dress inside out. Keep the top portion right side out, and slide it inside the skirt, matching up the raw edges and pinning. If you took the side seams in on the top, you may have to stretch it just slightly to match up with the skirt.
5 – Sew the skirt and top together using a 3/4 inch seam allowance. You want this seam to have a bit of a stretch so either use a very narrow zigzag or just stretch the fabric slightly as you sew (what I did). Optional: you may finish the edge of the seam allowance by serging the two pieces together, but don’t cut any of the seam allowance off, as we will use it to make a casing.
6 – Turn the dress inside out. Press the seam allowance up and pin. Sew the seam allowance to the top, an 1/8 of an inch from the edge of the seam allowance, to create a casing. Leave a 2-inch opening. Thread 1/2 inch elastic through the casing. Try on the dress and pull the elastic as tight as is comfortable, then sew the elastic together and sew the opening closed.
At this point, all you need to do is finish the neckline, sleeves, and hem. I finished the neckline as directed in the Classic Tee post. Instead of hemming the sleeves, I rolled them up a few times to cuff and tacked the cuffs down. As of right now I haven’t hemmed the bottom edge of the dress because knit fabric doesn’t fray, and I usually wear it knotted at them hem anyway.