So. Tutorials. I am not sure this is going to be helpful but I've been asked to try, so I will. If you're familiar with the basics of clothing construction, this should be super easy. But if you're not, I hope that I have enough detail in here to answer most questions. You can also check out the tutorial at MADE for a different style of dress, also using old button-down shirts. There are tons of printable patterns for toddler dresses, so find a style you like, and print out your pattern. You can also use a dress that your child already wears to create your own pattern. Just be sure that you remember to leave a seam allowance! All you really need are the pieces of the bodice, and sleeves if you want them. If you are making a dress with a gathered skirt, you just need large rectangles for that.
I used the puff-sleeved toddler dress pattern from The Stitching Scientist. I didn't follow it exactly, especially not the sleeves, but it is useful to use something like this to know how large to cut armholes and necklines and approximately how large each piece of the dress needs to be. NB: after completing this dress, it seems to me that the neckline of the pattern is pretty wide. You may want to give the shoulders an extra 1/2 inch to 1 inch, making the neckline a little more conservative (mostly so the dress won't shift and hang off your kid's shoulders, which tends to look kind of sloppy).
Well, here it goes. The first thing you need to do is mess around for a while with your pattern pieces, to see what fits where, and also to think about what parts of the original clothing article you want to preserve. Many times, if there's a straight hem, I like to cut out the pieces of the dress with that in mind. Not having to hem is awesome. In this case, the hem is curved, and the construction is a little awkward.
But I did want to preserve this cute sleeve for the dress.
So ultimately, I decided to skip the hemline, and just cut out the front and back bodice pieces from the centers of the front and back of the dress. But for this dress, I'm switching things around, and the button front of the shirt becomes the button back of the toddler dress.
Sleeves! See how cute?
Now, the way I ended up cutting the shirt, I was left with not enough material for a decent skirt. Not a problem though. I cannibalized one of Mimi's outgrown pillowcase dresses. You can do that, or just slap together two matching fat quarters. Pretty much the same thing.
This isn't exactly super-coordinated. But a two-year old can pull that off, right?
Chop off the top of that pillowcase dress, and I'm left with this:
Bonus! It's already hemmed!
Putting the pieces together, I think this will work!
Before I do anything else, I like to get all the piddly little details out of the way. Gathering the skirt, gathering the sleeve tops (to make them poofy!). A little trick I learned not too long ago, that saves a lot of time, is to gather your fabric by setting the machine to the highest tension (9, on my Singer) and longest stitch. It will do all the gathering for you. Don't backstitch, and leave a little thread at the end, so that you can adjust the gathering if necessary.
That done, I move on to basic bodice construction: Put the right sides of the two bodice pieces together. Line up the shoulders, and sew across each one. Press those seams open. Might as well finish the neckline while you're doing this part.
Since I didn't leave enough material above the button, I wasn't able to double-roll the neckline edge. I had to just fold it down once and zig-zag the edge. The straight stitch seam is there just because. For good measure. If you cut these pieces out more wisely than I did, you can just do a nice rolled edge, or use some bias tape.
Unfortunately I don't have good pictures of how to set in sleeves. I will say that I find it easier to put them on before I sew up the side seams of the bodice/dress. Again, it's right sides together. Pin the two ends, and the centers together, and then you can mess with the gathering until the sleeve top fits correctly into the armhole of the bodice.
Once done, it looks like this:
Once you've sewn both sleeves in, you flip the whole thing inside out (so that right sides are back together again) and sew the sleeve together, and then continue around the "armpit" of the thing and sew the side seams of the bodice together. Do that on both sides and turn it right side out again.
Then it looks like this:
Not too shabby so far.
I know I said turn the bodice right side out. But that was just so you can admire it. Now turn it inside out again. You need to do this so that you can have "right sides together" when you sew the bodice of the dress to the skirt. Match up side seams and centers, and pin those. Then again, you get to mess with the gathering until it all lines up, and add a few more pins to keep things steady while you sew.
When I'm sewing a dress that has a bodice+skirt construction, I like to do this one last little step to help it drape better. Sewing this seam down (making sure the edge is directed downward towards the skirt) helps the top and bottom pieces of this skirt remember which way they're supposed to be hanging.
Bad lighting, but you get the idea. All done!
After trying this on Mimi, it became clear that both the neckline and the waist were a little too roomy. So I zig-zagged some soft 1/4 inch elastic onto both, on the inside of the dress. The easy way to figure out how much elastic you need for the waist is to lay an appropriately sized dress flat, and lay the elastic across the front. You take that amount of elastic, and double it, and it will give you the amount for the full waistline.
You can see how the elastic dramatically changes the shape of the dress, but I think the change is for the better. Now I know for future dresses with this pattern to make a casing for elastic, and perhaps to cut the neckline a little less wide