Novice Sewing Project 2: Skirt, Top or Dress

Last week we had fun making two really cute toiletries cases. Now that Summer is just around the corner, let’s create a super-easy garment that is light and oh-so-comfortable to wear! The cool thing about this project is that it can be varied to either a top, skirt or even wear it as a short dress! The instructions for the skirt and dress variations are at the end of the tutorial. In addition to this written tutorial, there will a  YouTube video to help you along! Please read through the tutorial completely and download the file before attempting the project. If you enjoy the lessons, please Like, Subscribe and Share! Thanks!

To make this project you will need:

  • 1-2 yards of 60 inch wide woven fabric such as chambray, embroidered cotton, light to medium polyester, avoid knit fabrics, stretchy, sheer, shiny or slippery fabrics
  • a shank of 1 inch no roll elastic
  • a quarter yard of fusible, lightweight, woven, 20 inch wide interfacing
  • thread to match you fabric
  • your sewing kit
  • notepad and pencil
  • spray starch
  • OPTIONAL: a printout of the cap sleeve pattern. Novice Class Project 2 Summer Top
  • OPTIONAL a purchased belt

Taking Measurements: Top

  1. Before you buy your fabric, use your measuring tape to measure the largest part of your upper body. Round up to the next whole number. Write that measurement down. This is needed for the math below.
  2. Measure your upper bust area. This is the basis for cutting the elastic. Round up to the next whole number. Write that number down.
  3. Measure from your underarm down to either your waist (for a top) or the bottom of your hip (for a tunic). Make it longer if you want a short dress. Write that measurement down.

So, using my own body as the example, my bust point measurement (the fullest part of the bust) is 39.5 inches. I rounded up to 40 inches to make it even. Now add 8 inches for seam allowance, slit facings and ease. In this case, the total measurement is 48 inches. Divide this number by 2 equals 24 inches.

Here is the math:

  • Your largest upper body measurement, rounded up
  • Add 8 inches
  • Divide by 2
  • This is the width of your two rectangles.

For the second measurement, I placed my tape under my arm and measured to the bottom of my hip. This is 24 inches. I added 4 inches for hem allowance and the elastic casing. That works out to 28 inches. So I will need two rectangles 24 inches by 28 inches

Here is the math:

  • The distance from your underarm to the bottom of your hip (tunic) or waist (top)
  • Add 4 inches
  • This is the length of your two rectangles.

So, for my body type, I will need two rectangles 24 inches by 28 inches.

Note: As long as this length is less than 30″ (half of the 60″ width of fabric) I can use just 1 yard to make a top. If this number is more than 30″ then you need 2 yards. 

Buying the Fabric

When selecting the fabric for your project it is important to choose a sturdy woven fabric. To add style and flair to my project, I choose 2 cotton fabrics that both featured embroidery work. The first fabric is an embroidered chambray and the second is a lightweight cotton, the kind that can be made into a sari (saree). For the top I bought 1 yard and for the dress, I bought 2 yards. At the cutting counter be sure they cut accurately! I was disappointed when I came home to discover I had less than 1 yard of the chambray 🙁 Also, take note of the care instructions found on the end of the bolt, such as “machine wash on cold, dry on low.”

Remember to purchase 1/4 yard of interfacing. Do not wash this.

Preparing and Cutting

Prepare your fabrics for sewing by washing them according to the care instructions. I actually prefer to wash anything that will be worn often, such as a top, twice but this just my preference to ensure that I have eliminated all chance of shrinkage before cutting. This stage reminds me of an artist preparing the canvas. The fabric is our canvas, the thread is our paint and our machine is the brush. By the way, now that I live in the South, I don’t use a dryer anymore so I wash with the hottest water I can and line dry. When the fabric is dry, use spray starch and press the fabric carefully. Patiently get rid of any wrinkles that may by present. Trim any ragged threads. Now, with a clean, fresh piece of fabric we are ready to cut! Place the crisp fabric on the table. To protect your table, you can use a purchased cutting mat made of corrugated board, a rotary mat or just some old cardboard. Cut out the following shapes:

  1. 2 rectangles according to your measurements above,
  2. 2 long strips of fabric, cut on the grain, 20 inches by 3 inches (these are the straps),
  3. 2 long strips of fusible interfacing, 20 inches by 1 inch,
  4. 1 strip of 1 inch wide, no-roll elastic, cut to the length you measured in Step 2 of Measuring less about 2 inches,
  5. Optional: two cap sleeves from the pattern above carefully cutting the notches, and
  6. 2 short strips of fabric 6 inches by 2 inches (these are the belt loops) and 2 long strips of fusible interfacing, 20 inches by 1.25 inch (optional, if your fabric is very light).

Fuse the interfacing to the 3 inch strap strips if needed. Mark a center line down the middle of each of the straps. Press one raw edge of the straps towards the center. Press the second long edge about halfway to the center. Fold the second long edge over the center. Press. Set these aside. Repeat for the belt loops.


Using a straight stitch, sew through all layers.

For the belt loops, use the edge of the foot as your guide to keep the stitches even, for the straps use the seam guides on your machine to help you.

Place the two bodice pieces (large rectangles) right sides together. Sew the first seam with the edge of the fabric to the edge of the foot. This is the Sutura Style Method. Using this method even little children can achieve great results with perfectly even seams!

Open the seam and use a zigzag stitch to finish the raw edges. The foot should be just over the center of the seam.  I use a 2.4 millimeter by 3 millimeter stitch. The pressure from the foot will allow you to press open your seam while finishing it.

  • Open the bodice. You now have one very large piece of fabric.
  • Fold your elastic in half.
  • Pin it to the top edge of the bodice at the seam on the wrong side.
  • Start stitching here. With the edge of the fabric to the edge of the foot, using a long straight stitch take 2-3 stitches, backstitch and stop with the needle down.
  • Gently pull the elastic so that the end reaches to about half an inch before the raw edge of the fabric.
  • Grasp the middle section with your finger and thumb and hold it there. Now stitch through all layers.
  • Backstitch at the end.
  • Repeat on the other side. The elastic is now perfectly even on both sides.
  • Fold the elastic down and stitch again.

Sew the seam on the other side as above. Take the garment and try it on with just your bra underneath. Being very careful not to prick yourself use safety pins (I used pins and a mannequin so I could take pictures) to attach the straps at the front using your bra straps as placement guide.

Cut the straps one inch longer than edge of the elastic casing as shown. Tuck the edge of the strap under the fold of the casing.

Stitch the straps down twice.

  • If you are using scalloped fabric, trim away the unfinished area and leave the scallop edge as your hem.
  • Otherwise, sew a long row of stitches along the bottom edge of the bodice with the edge of the fabric to edge of the foot. This will automatically yield a nice, neat 3/8 inch hem.
  • Press  the raw edge up and fold again. Press
  • Stitch through all layers. Press your garment.
  • DONE!

Skirt and Dress Variation

Instead of measuring the largest part of your upper body, measure the largest part of your torso. This could be your hips, thighs, or bust area. Follow the same instructions for cutting using this as your base measurement. For the skirt, the elastic goes around your waist instead so use your waist measurement to determine how long the elastic should be. For the dress, follow the instructions above but cut the length to your knees (or higher if you like!). Measure the distance from your underarm to your waist and mark the rectangles here for the belt loops. As you are sewing the side seams, insert the belt loops. This will give the dress a more elegant shape. Or leave it flowing – it is all up to you!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!

Happy Sewing!