Tuesday 19 January 2021

How To: Tiered Dress with Exposed Ruffles and Keyhole Back


I've done many a tiered ruffle dress in my time. Many of them with exposed ruffles. But never a tutorial. So here it is. Enjoy.

Tutorials take a lot of time & effort to create, and I choose to make mine available for free. If you enjoy this guide, you can support me with a donation that feels right for you, here.


Fabric, 2 m full-width (I used linen) + 0.5 m of lining fabric (or same main fabric)  |  Scissors  |  A button or two  |  Small piece of thin round elastic  |  Thread & Sewing machine  |  Pins

I. First I cut my top pieces + identical pieces for the top lining. These measurements get you a loose style dress that fits EU36/US4-EU40-US8. I don't know what my new FTP uploader did to this image, but it messed up the text somehow.. Anyway the numbers are cm.

II. Started by sewing and pressing the shoulder seams of both the main top and the lining.
III. Then I hand-sewed the little piece of elastic onto the right side of the top back piece, to secure it in the right place.
IV. Next I pinned the top pieces and the lining together at neckline, right sides facing..
.. And then sewed all around, at the back creating the keyhole by sewing down in a narrow V at the middle, over the elastic sandwiched in between. If you look closely you see how the elastic hoops end up being just next to the stitch..
.. So when you turn the project right side out & press, the hoops are nicely at the top of the keyhole.
To finish the neckline, I sewed on my buttons & topstitched all around right next to the edge. There was no functional reason to have 2 buttons instead of 1, I just thought it would look nice.
The next thing I did was to finish the arm holes using the burrito method. I explain that in more detail here, or if you prefer a video, this is a good one.

So I had the top done. To start constructing the tiered hem, I first measured the width of my finished top, which was 55 cm (so a total hem circumference of 110 cm).
V. I was going for 2X ruffles, so the first piece I cut was a total of 220 cm long, and 26 cm wide. I cut it in two pieces, sewed the short edges to create a circle, finished the long raw edges with my serger (or you can use zig-zag), and pressed a 2 cm fold on one edge:
VI. Then I sewed my basting stitch about 1 cm from the folded edge (basting stitch is the longest stitch on your machine, don't backstitch at the start and end of the stitch). A few notes on this part:
  • I normally get lazy and use a matching thread with my fabric, and don't remove the basting stitch later.. But this time I figured I'd do it right for once, and used a contrasting thread. 
  • For when I need to gather a really long distance of fabric, I like to do the stitch in parts - in this case, I sewed 2 stitches, from side seam to side seam.
  • To get a nice headstart on the gathering, when sewing your basting stitch put your machine tension as high as it will go. This way the fabric will already gather a good amount as you sew, and you just need to gather further by pulling the bobbin thread, to get the ruffle to match the width of the top as you see in the image below.
  • Since in this technique the basting stitch goes through two layers of fabric, you'll feel more friction when pulling on the bobbin thread when gathering the fabric. To make this significantly easier, make sure you press the gathered area with a lot of steam after sewing, before starting to pull on the bobbin thread. This step makes the fabric slide on the thread way better.
VII. After gathering was done, I pinned the ruffle onto the top, making sure as I went that I was pinning it consistently about 1.5 cm from the hem of the top. If you want to be super thorough, you can mark your top piece first with fabric marker.
.. Then I sewed all around, below the basting stitch.
So on the reverse you'll have this:
VIII. After that it was just a matter of repeating the same steps to add another tier. In my case this one needed to be pretty damn long - 2 x 220 cm = 440 cm (I sewed it from 3 parts), and I cut it 32 cm wide. Once both tiers were on, I removed the contrasting basting stitch. The little holes go away with a good press or in the first wash.
Last step was to hem the dress with a double fold.


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