I had originally bought this fabric to make a long maxi dress, but while cleaning up a few things I laid it on my dress form to get it out of the way and realized that it drapes amazingly and decided to make a caftan-style short dress out of it instead! I’ve been scouring the internet lately looking for great summer dresses that are DIY and don’t require a pattern and I have come up with a whole lot of nothing! So this is my new goal for the spring/summer… come up with really beautiful dresses that do not require you to go out and buy a pattern, that are really simple to make and then post them here with easy to follow tutorials!
Start off by choosing your fabric. I used this amazing Missoni-esque printed polyester fabric that feels like a mix between silk and chiffon. Pick something that has a lot of movement and hangs well, because the shape of this dress comes from how the fabric drapes on your body… if you pick a stiffer fabric it won’t look right. The fabric is 57″ wide and I got 2 yards of it. Once you determine where you want the sleeves to hit on your arms, you won’t need the full 2 yards but just start with that as an initial measurement because you’ll rather start with too much fabric than not enough. Lay the fabric out, folded in half lengthwise so that you have a big rectangle and cut the selvages off the ends.
At the top of the rectangle (where the fold is) determine the midpoint. Now you have to decide what kind of a neck line you want. I wanted to stick with the zig zags of the fabric so I choose a v-neck, but you can do anything here (a scoop, boat, square neck, etc). Determine how far down you want your neckline to go and mark from your midpoint to this point. I wanted to follow the pattern of the fabric so I let that be my guide for the width of the neckline, but you can go as wide or as narrow as you like as long as it’s even from the midpoint on both sides. Cut out your neckline on the front piece of fabric only.
Now you need to scoop out a small portion of the back half of the fabric so that you can slip the dress over your head with ease. Unfold the rectangle and lay it flat. Using the two neckline width points from the front of the fabric as your guide, cut out a very slight semi circle from the back neckline. Keep the “ice cream cone shape” you just cut out… if you make any more of these dressed you can use it as a guide so you won’t have to measure.
At this point you have a couple of options. Originally I finished the neckline edges with a metallic gold bias tape, but decided it was taking away from the earthiness of the fabric. You can finish it in bias tape or do what I ended up doing, which was just finishing off the edge with a simple hem in a gold thread.
Now that your neckline is finished, you can slip the fabric over your head and start making the dress part. Hold your arms out and determine where you want the “sleeves” to fall (I decided I wanted mine to fall just below the elbow). Mark the bottom of the sleeve on one side, take the fabric off and cut the fabric to your mark. Measure the same distance on the other side and cut away that fabric as well. You should now be left with a new rectangle, that has a finished neckline and a shorter width.
Do a simple hem along both sides and the bottom of the rectangle. You can obviously hem the dress shorter if you like, I am 5’5″ and with the length left as is, the dress falls just above the knee.
Put the rectangle back on either you or a dress form and determine where you want the sides to be sewn in. You want them to be close enough to your body that it gives you some shape, but far enough out that you can comfortably slip the dress on and off. Pin up the sides, remembering to stop a few inches below your armpit so that you will have an arm hole (My side seams were 8″ in from the side and stopped about 9″ down from the top). Sew in these side seams.
Put the dress on one last time to determine where you want your belt to go. I wanted mine right at the waistline, but you could put it closer to the bustling or further down on your hips. Place a pin on each side of the front of the dress where you want the belt holes to go (mine were 4″ in from the side seam and 15″ down from the top). Use the two pins in the front as your guide and mark two pins in the same spots on the back. Using these pin marks, open your button hole guide to the largest setting and sew a button hole in each of the 4 pinned spots.
The dress is now finished! You can use a belt that you already own or you can make one like I did. I took 6 thin pieces of white rope and tied wooden beads to the ends of them. Then I braided the 6 strings together in pairs. Tie the belt off by wrapping one string around the end a few times and securing it with a simple single knot.
Thread the belt through the button holes and you’re done! This dress is really easy to make and even easier to wear, making it so perfect for spring and summer. The belt accentuates your waist and gives this dress a great shape, while the long flowing “sleeves” give the dress incredible movement. I’ll close out the post with a view of the back, a closeup of the stitching in the neckline and another view with the wind kicking up that shows the movement that this dress has!
If you want another really easy DIY dress for summer, check out my Maxi Dress Post!