Drafting and sewing a Lined Bodice

When I first started sewing I always bought a pattern. Always. But after about the  fifth pattern I realized that all patterns were made up of the same basic components and that by simply manipulating a few things the possibilities were endless.

The bodice is the foundation of any dress. Skirts, ruffles, and sleeves all depend on the bodice and the shape and fit of the dress are determined by how well the bodice fits.

If you are going to draft your own pattern I recommend starting with a pattern you already have that you know fits well. I used a pattern piece from a dress pattern I liked, although at this point I don’t remember which one. I keep the armholes the same and alter the neckline, the width of the shoulder, and the length of the body based on the style I’m sewing.

You can trace a piece of clothing you already own and go from there but my finished product never looks or fits quite as well.

This is a picture of my original bodice that I recently used to start drafting a pattern.


It had a fairly scooped front neckline and a standard back. This was a pattern I used to make a dress with a zipper. How you intend your dress to fasten will make a difference in the pattern you draft.

One of the most important things when drafting a bodice pattern is to make sure the waist measurement is correct. Maggie’s waist is 19″ so the finished bodice needs to be 20″ to allow for ease. For a bodice that will fasten with a zipper the waist measurement of the bodice is 21″ which is the waist plus seam allowance. If your bodice will close with buttons add about an inch to the BACK of the bodice pattern to allow for overlap, unless you want to add a placket. For knits you do not need as much ease or seam allowance so keep that in mind when drafting the pattern.

When drafting the pattern decide on the neckline and how long you want the bodice to be. Maggie is small and short waisted so we usually use a shorter bodice. For drop waists or longer torsos add length to the bottom of the bodice.


This is the front of the bodice pattern I was drafting. The blue line is my original pattern and the pink line is the alteration. I was shortening the armhole slightly and rounding out the neckline.


This is the back of the same pattern. I brought up the neckline a bit but didn’t alter anything else. Because this was a pattern for a knit top there was no added width for buttons.

It is important that the measurement of the shoulder and the underarm are the same for both the front and back.

Also keep in mind that your armholes and necklines will be bigger when sewn because of seam allowances. If I’m having trouble visualizing I’ll draw the pattern the way I want it to look finished and then add the seam allowances.

Once your pattern is drafted cut out 2 of the front on the fold and 4 of the back not on the fold. You can use the same fabric for the main bodice and the lining or you can use a complimentary fabric for the lining.


Back and Front

Match up the shoulder seams of the main fabric and sew both shoulders. Then repeat for the lining. Iron the seams open and pin your lining to the bodice right sides together.


Sew around the green lines.


Sew around the armholes and then up the back seam and around the neck. Clip the seam allowances (I prefer to use my pinking shears around the whole thing) and iron to set your seams.

Turn right side out by pulling the front and one side of the back through the shoulder seam and then pulling the second side of the back right side out. Give it a good iron.


Nice and Flat


The sides seams can be a bit tricky. Match up the right sides of the fabric at the side seam and pin at the seam.


Lining to lining and main fabric to main fabric

Sew all the way across, trim, and press flat. Repeat this on the other side.



Your bodice is done and ready for sleeves, ruffles and a skirt!

We’d love to see pictures of your bodices! Comment and let us know how you are making the basic bodice your own.




6 things I love right now!

There are lots of things that make my sewing easier or more enjoyable. Here’s 6 things I am loving right now!

1. Frixion Erasable Pens and Markers


I love these markers so much! They show up just like a regular marker and erase with just a little bit of friction. Because they are erased using heat the lines disappear with just a wave of the iron. I use them to mark up pattern pieces, draw grids for pleating, mark a hem, and so much more. I’m more likely to mark a garment now than I was before because I know the mark will come totally off. I loved them so much I ordered a set of the pens for my gradebook!

Amazon, $15

2. A rolled hem

Rolled hems are like magic. They easily finish off ruffles without the weight of a regular hem and I sew a lot of ruffles. The first time I used a rolled hem I was in awe of how pretty it looked.


Tips on making a rolled hem can be found in the Simply Tickled Tutorial

3. Sainte Claire


I love love love this clothing line. It’s Spanish and if I could afford it I would buy every single piece. I love that all of the clothes on this website highlight the beauty of the child wearing it.

Sainte Claire, make sure you look at the baby line and the girls’ line.

4. Vintage Patterns

I just finished a dress for Maggie using the Simplicity pattern 6422 from 1966 and am working on the accompanying pinafore. I love the clean lines and the pattern assumes that anyone reading it would be well versed in sewing. As soon as I get it finished I’ll put it up on the site.



Find tons of vintage patterns on Etsy

5. Wawak Sewing Supplies


This is THE best website for thread, rulers, zippers, and notions. The prices are much lower than places like Joann’s, the shipping is fast, and the quality is amazing. We’ve already made two orders and will probably make another soon. If you use a serger this is definitely the place to buy serger thread.

Wawak Sewing Supplies

6.  The SMART Scrap Made Art Store


This store is amazing. 20140819_182946They take donations of any kind of craft supply, organize, and sell them. The prices are amazing. Last time I was there I got a ton of trim, 17 yards of fabric, and a bucket of buttons all for less than $40. A lot of the stuff they have is vintage and you never know what you’re going to find. As an added bonus they work with a local non-profit  and provide employment opportunities for adults with intellectual disabilities.

Smart Scrap Made Art Supplies


We love to hear from you. Tell us what you love right now.

– Carrie





No Pleater? No Problem!


Hand pleating for smocking without iron on dots or a pleater.

If you live in the south like we do you know how important smocked garments are to a little girls’ wardrobe. For those of you not blessed to live in Dixie smocked dresses and John-Johns are a church staple. Bishop dresses with smocked lobsters, watermelon, and bunnies are practically a uniform. I love bishop dresses. I love the feminine drape, the versatility, and the sheer girlishness of them. Unfortunately these lovely dresses come with not so lovely prices.

When I first got it in my head to make a bishop dress my research stopped me short. Apparently I was going to need a $300 pleater and a paper pattern, neither of which were in my budget. Eventually I found a tutorial for pleating by hand without a pleater but when I went back to actually try it the blog it was on had vanished from the internet. I remembered the basic idea and set out to do it on my own.

Pleating and smocking can be used as part or a bodice or part of a bishop. I’ll be posting a full tutorial to make a bishop dress in the future but for now I wanted the hand pleating tutorial to be out there for the world.


1 yd of fabric (for a 12-18 month dress) you may need more based on your measurements. More on this in a minute.

Clear quilting ruler and cutting mat. The mat isn’t 100% necessary but does make it much easier.

Frixion Eraseable Markers or Tailors Marker

Embroidery or Quilting Needle

Thread in a contrasting color to your fabric

Step 1: Pleat a Swatch

The next step is to pleat a swatch. This is VERY important. Do not skip this step!

Start with a 7″ x 3-4″ square. Tearing the fabric is preferable but if you must cut be my guest.

A pleat is simply a small fold in the fabric. Your goal is to create lots and lots of very small, very even pleats. You do this by sewing an even basting stitch all the way across the fabric. When working with gingham I go over the white square and under the colored square. I don’t know what made me do this originally but it worked so I went with it.


Taping the swatch down ensures it won’t shift


You can draw dots or a grid, both work.

If you are working with a different fabric you’ll need to draw a grid on the wrong side of the fabric before you can pleat. This is where the clear quilting ruler and mat come in handy. The easiest way I’ve found to draw the grid is to take your fabric and tape it to the mat so that it is lined up with the ruler. You want to line your ruler up with the lines on the mat, NOT the lines you’ve drawn. This will ensure your lines stay straight. Draw the grid approximately 1/2″ from away from each side. You’ll need 4-5 horizontal lines and as many vertical lines as it takes to go across. When you are finished it should look like this.


Line the ruler up with the mat not with previous lines.


Finished Lines (with bonus armholes drawn on)

Once the grid is drawn you are going to go up through the first corner and across the fabric horizontally picking up every half square. You can pick up every other square but it will result in a fatter pleat. You can also draw a grid made up of 1/8″ squares but it will take forever and honestly I don’t have it in me. Make sure you leave a long tail on both ends of the fabric. I made the video below showing exactly how to do the stitching. If you’ve ever hand quilted it’s very similar to that.

IMG_7057      IMG_7064

When you’ve finished sewing across all the horizontal lines the real fun begins. On one end you’ll need to tie your gathering threads together. I always do this on the end I started at but I don’t know that it actually matters for the swatch. Grasp the threads from the other end and gently pull all of them evenly. The fabric should gather like magic! I will admit that generally while pleating I pull the gathering threads in just so I can see it.

Once your fabric is gathered to an even tight pleat you’ll need to measure it. Remember that it started out at 6 inches. My pleating generally ends up right around 1 inch. This makes my pleating ratio 6:1 (Isn’t math fun?). Make sure you find your own ratio but don’t worry about it being exact. Round it to the nearest 1/4 inch.

Repeat this process on the fabric being used for your dress and then smock.

If you’ve never smocked before I suggest checking out some books from your local library or watching the Martha Pullen videos on Youtube. You can follow a smocking plate but I find it much more fun to design my own patterns.


Finished Product!

Simply Tickled Tunic Tutorial

Tickled Tutorial Cover

Maggie usually looks cute in any outfit, but sometimes everything comes together and I make something that just highlights how beautiful she is. This tunic was one of those things. It was also super simple, taking me only about 4 hours total and less than $10 in supplies.

For this project you’ll need two different fabrics. It works best to use a small all over print on the top and a larger, bolder print on the bottom. You’ll also need elastic thread and a coordinating trim. For this one I used large rick rack but in the past I’ve used ribbon and you could also use lace or piping. You can forego the trim but I highly recommend using it because it just gives it such a finished look.


One thing I’ve discovered sewing for Maggie is that it is VERY easy to overwhelm her in a large print. So as much as I may love a fabric with three inch foxes all over it it just won’t work for her right now. Also keep in mind if you want this to look like an expensive boutique outfit and not something you made in an afternoon keep your colors at least slightly muted and your prints clean. No sparkles, no Disney prints, no super saturated colors. All of those are fine and will make a cute tunic but it won’t look as chic.

To figure out how much fabric you’ll need measure the chest and the length from armpit to knee. The total length of your fabric should be the length plus 1-1/4″. I used a 7/3 ratio for Maggie’s but this isn’t set in stone. Just don’t make the border less than 2 inches or more than half of the total length. The width should be about twice the chest measurement. The shirring is forgiving here but that allows for several rows of shirring.



Prepare your fabric as you prefer. I don’t prewash but I give it a good iron. I then serge all the fabric edges EXCEPT the top edge.

IMG_7167      IMG_7156

If you have a serger the top edge of this tunic is the perfect place for a rolled hem. I’ve shown the settings we use on our Brother serger below but check your manual and test a swatch to ensure tension. If you don’t have a serger fold the top edge over 1/4″ and then again and hem.

IMG_7161     IMG_7159


Next lay your two pieces right sides together width wise and sew. If you are using piping or only want one edge of the rick rack to show pin it between the two pieces. I pin in a few places and to be honest I should have pinned more because I ended up ripping out a good three inches where somehow the fabric wasn’t lined up and it was all caddywhompus. Once the pieces are sewn together press your seam open.

If you are sewing the rick rack on top match the edge of the rick rack up with the edge of the fabric and sew down using a coordinating thread. Make sure it is covering up the seam.


Next pin the rick rack to the bottom edge of the fabric so the bottom peaks are just even with the edge of the fabric and sew down in the middle. This seems strange and weird but trust me it works out.

The next step is to fold the fabric in half so that is makes a large tube. make sure the trim is meeting. Pin and sew using a 3/8 inch seam (My seams are never super precise measurements, use a seam allowance that is comfortable for you.)

Now you are going to do the bottom hem. The reason I don’t sew the hem before I sew the back seam is that too many times the length of my fabric isn’t exactly even from end to end. This is usually because of serging which I tend to do too quickly. Doing the hem after allows me to adjust it and even out the length.

With the tube of fabric wrong side out fold up the bottom hem so that what was the top of the rick rack is now sticking out below the hem. Iron the hem and then turn right side out and top stitch down. When you are finished it should look like this.


Now the real fun starts. If you have never shirred a garment before let me tell you right now that it is addicting. I spent one morning driving to two different Walmarts just looking for elastic thread so I could make something.

Take your elastic thread and manually wind it around an empty bobbin. You want to put a little bit of tension on the elastic but not too much. Wind it until the bobbin is completely full. Thread your sewing machine as normal with the elastic thread in the bobbin and a coordinating thread in the needle. The more closely your thread matches your fabric the better your shirring will look. Set your machine to the longest stitch length.

Here is where I differ from other sewers. Most tutorials I’ve read for this have you draw lines across the fabric and sew along those lines. And you can do that. But I don’t really think it’s necessary. Make sure you have at least a 2 inch tail of elastic thread and starting at the back seam place your presser foot so that the outside of the presser foot is sitting just up again the rolled hem.

Sew a few stitches and then backstitch. Then sew all the way around the tunic until you reach the back seam again. Gently pull the elastic thread until there is enough that it won’t bounce back into your machine. Cut the thread and then tie both ends of the elastic thread together. If you don’t do this the elastic will pull out in the wash.

After one row you will look at your tunic and think “no way is this ever going to fit, it’s gigantic!” Trust me.

Starting at the back seam again place the outside of your presser foot so that it’s lined up with your first row of shirring.


Just like this!

In order to ensure even gathering you are going to have to hold the bottom of the tunic straight out from your machine with your left hand. With your right hand pull away from your machine just a little so that the feed dogs pull the previous row of stitching straight. It’s hard to explain exactly how this works but your machine will do all the work. You aren’t sewing gathers down like you would if it was a ruffle. You want the fabric to go through the machine as straight and flat as possible. Make sure as you sew that you continue to hold the bottom hem straight out from the machine so that your pleats don’t end up leaning to one side. Do this for several rows. It will get hard for the fabric to completely straighten out but that is okay. Make sure you tie the ends of the elastic.

Evolution of Shirring

For Maggie’s tops I’ve found 8 rows of shirring to be ideal but how many rows you do will depend on the size you are making. Check the width of the bodice frequently and when it becomes slightly smaller than your original measurement you should be done. If you are sewing more than 10 rows of shirring make sure you check your bobbin so you don’t run out of thread in the middle of a row. It’s not the end of the world if you do but it’s best not to.

When you finished sewing all of the rows press your bodice with a steamy iron. This brings all those gathers in and makes it look very neat. Now take at least five minutes and admire your handiwork before starting on the straps.

There are many many ways to do straps for a tunic like this. You can make halter straps, you can sew regular straps, you can sew two straps to the front and tie them through a loop of ribbon sewn to the back. For this version I made four straps, each about 20 inches long. The length and width are up to you.

Cut a strip of fabric twice as wide as you want the strap plus the seam allowance. Fold the fabric in half right sides together and stitch. About an inch and a half before you reach the end angle your seam towards the opposite edge.. Trim the seam allowance as close to the stitching line as you feel comfortable. This does make it easier to turn right side out, believe me!


 Sew all four straps the same way, then turn right side out and iron. Next find the front middle of the tunic and pin the straps evenly spaced on either side. Sew the strap to the tunic using a zigzag stitch between the top edge and the first row of shirring. (I have no pictures of this in process because at this point Maggie was DONE being in the sewing room and was laying in the middle of a huge pile of crayons crying for no reason, but believe me it’s hard to mess up.)


 Sew the back straps on by matching them up with the front straps. Once they are done so are you!

The straps can be tied at the shoulders or at the back. Maggie doesn’t like them at the shoulders and will pull on them. If you really want them tied at the shoulder you can sew the ties together. By not sewing them I’m hoping this tunic can transition to fall and I can put a t-shirt under it.

I hope your Simply Tickled Tunic leaves you as happy as I was!

As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment or email.