The SoHo Maxi Dress Tutorial

If you’re stopping by from Noodlehead, welcome! Anna is one of my very favorite blogging friends, and I’m thrilled that she asked me to be a part of her Sewing With Knits Mondays series. I hope you’ve been following along each Monday on Anna’s blog and also Shannon from Luv In The Mommyhood’s blog – they have both shared some great tips and had some super guests joining in. No reason to be afraid of knits anymore, ladies!

When Anna contacted me, I knew instantly what project I’d be sharing. I’ve been wanting to make a maxi dress tutorial for months now, but I guess I just didn’t have the right motivation I needed to get it done. So thanks for the inspiration once again, Anna!
With a ruffle detail at the top…
The SoHo Maxi Dress is perfect for even a beginner sewer. No better way to build your confidence with knits than to jump right in! You can make this!

existing fitted knit tank top
2-2.5 yd knit fabric (60″ wide)
2 packages 1/2″ wide elastic
1 package double fold 1/2″ wide bias tape

A Couple of Tips Before We Begin:

  • I recommend checking in the “fashion fabrics” section of JoAnn or your local fabric store to find a great knit fabric. Stretch fabrics are usually found in the jersey knit section in most stores, but often nicer prints more suitable for fashion are found in other areas and mixed in with the polyester/rayon fabrics. You have to search a bit more, but it’ll be worth it if you find something you love. My fabric is 96% polyester and 4% spandex, and was a great quality. A touch of spandex makes any fabric a dream to work with.
  • If you have a serger, use it! Although you’ll need a regular machine for parts of this dress, sergers make life easy when sewing with knits.
  • If you don’t have a serger, no problem! Use your regular machine and a ballpoint needle (trust me, it’s important!). For seams, many newer machines have a stretch stitch option, or you can also use a long and narrow zig zag stitch to accomodate the fabric stretching. For top stitching, you can also use a long straight stitch.
  • As you sew, try not to stretch the fabric, or it could result in puckers. Allow the feed dogs to guide the fabric through, and you’ll end up with nice smooth stitch lines.
  • Because knit does not fray, finishing seams is not necessary.

1. Lay fabric out, right side up, and fold each selvage edge to the middle.

2. To cut our dress front and back, we’ll use an existing knit tank top. Fold the top in half, matching side seams, and place on fabric. To allow for gathering, we want our dress to be 1.5 times the width of the tank. My tank was 7″ from side seam to front fold, so I moved the tank out an extra 3.5 inches from the fabric fold.

3. Determine the length you want your dress, and measure from the center front of the tank to where your hem will be. I always add a few inches to account for hem and seam allowance. Since the fabric will stretch when it’s being worn, don’t worry about being too exact with length for now, just make sure you have a bit extra length rather than not enough. I wanted my dress to be approximately 47″ so I measured 50″ to be safe. Mark or make a small cut along the fold at the hemline.

4. Determine the width you’d like your dress at the bottom. For both maxi dresses and skirts, I like the bottom width to be around 50″-60″. Since we are cutting both the front and back pieces out of one length, if you want the bottom width larger than 60″, you’ll need extra fabric to accomodate that. Divide the width by 2 (since we’re working on a fold) and mark that, perpendicular from the hem.

5. Adding 1/2″ for seam allowance, cut around neck, underarm, and side seam of tank front. Continue on, joining up with bottom width mark. Before cutting, ensure that your dress will be wide enough at the hipline, plus a bit of ease. Since we added 50% to the width of the tank top, this should be enough to fit most hips, but it never hurts to double check :).

6. If your tank was pointed at the top like mine, trim the point to flat, to allow for the 3/4″ straps plus 1/2″ on each side (for seam allowance) to be inserted later.

7. Mark underbust (where bottom of your bra sits) on fabric, where elastic will sit under bust. If needed, you can try your tank top on to find the exact area to mark.

8. To cut back piece, fold tank top at center back, matching side seams. Adding 50% to tank back width, place tank fold parallel to fabric fold. Adding 1/2″ for seam allowance, cut around top back and side seam of tank back, as you did for front piece.

9. Lay dress front on top of dress back fabric, matching upper side seams. Use dress front as a guide to continue cutting lower side seam and hem of dress back. Mark underbust.
You’ll now have your front and back pieces:
10. For the shoulder straps, cut 2 2″x16″ pieces, with the least amount of stretch along the length of the straps. If you are tall or plus sized, you may need to cut your straps longer than 16″. To determine length needed for top ruffle strip, measure along top of front and back dress pieces and cut that length by 5″ wide. I cut my ruffle strip approximately 48″x5″.
11. On to some sewing… Right sides together, stitch front dress piece to back dress piece at side seams using a 1/2″ seam allowance.
12. Right sides together, stitch ruffle strip together at ends.

13. Matching ruffle strip seam with one side seam of dress, pin right side of ruffle strip to wrong side of dress top, matching raw edges.
14. Using 1/2″ seam allowance, stitch around circumference of dress and ruffle strip, leaving 3/4″ openings on dress front where straps will be inserted.

15. Flip ruffle strip over to right side of dress and gently press in place. Do not slide iron on fabric, simply steam and press using a light heat setting. Pin rufle strip to front and back of dress.
16. Stitch 3/4″ away from top edge around entire circumference, forming casing for elastic.
17. To form casing for underbust, cut enough 1/2″ wide double fold bias tape to go around marked underbust line, plus 1″. Open center fold of bias tape and press flat. Placing top of bias tape along marked line, stitch bias tape to wrong side of dress along top and bottom edges of bias tape. Allow ends to overlap 1/2″, and trim bias tape if necessary. (I used 1/2″ single wide bias tape in photo, so I had to press the entire tape open to get enough width).
18. Measure enough elastic to fit slightly snugly around your underbust, plus 1″. Thread elastic through bias tape casing and stitch ends together, overlapping end 1/2″ over beginning (don’t judge me on my elastic ends, I don’t think they’ve ever looked pretty :)).

19. Measure enough elastic to snugly fit where top of dress will sit, plus 1″. Thread elastic through one opening (where strap will be inserted later), and through entire upper casing. Overlap ends 1/2″ and stitch together.

20. Fold one strap in half lengthwise and stitch raw edges together using 1/4″ seam allowance.

21. Turn strap right side out.

22. Repeat steps 20 and 21 with remaining strap.

23. Insert one end of one strap into strap opening on top of dress front, turning raw edges at opening to inside. Pin in place. Repeat with other strap.
24. Stitch along pinned edges, attaching straps to dress front.

25. Try dress on and determine back strap placement. Pin straps in place (it helps to have someone help you!).

26. Stitch straps to inside of dress back along casing stitch line. Stitch again close to top of dress back.
27. Trip strap ends if necessary.
28. Try dress on to determine amount to hem. 1″ was perfect for me. Turn bottom of dress up desired amount to inside, and stitch close to raw edge using a long straight stitch. You can also trim the bottom edge of the top ruffle if it hits your chest at a funny point. I trimmed my ruffle 1/2″ and it was perfect.

Now grab your favorite flats…
Put on some chunky jewelry and a wide belt…

And make some plans – you’re going out tonight!
Be sure to show off your finished dresses in the Sew Much Ado Flickr group!

Thanks, Anna for letting me be a part of such a fantastic series! 

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      1. You can do this with cotton fabrics. But it won’t have the stretch that Jersey knit has. You’ll have to add more seam allowance. And if you want the same look as the pic here, I’d strongly advise for a hidden back or side zipper.

  1. Abby – This looks awesome on you. Great work. I have seem that fabric in JoAnn’s for a while and I always admire it and scheme up a project for it. Your dress is beautiful – like you.

  2. So pretty. Thanks for the tutorial. I’m your newest follower and I can’t wait to look around your blog.

  3. I absolutely adore this dress! It’s so gorgeous and looks so comfortable! This is definitely going on my to-make list!

  4. I love your version of a maxi dress. These long, flowing dresses are everywhere right now – it’s nice to see your creative take! I’ll be adding this to the site soon.

    Thanks and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.


  5. This is such a cute dress, and you make it look good too! Nice work and thank you for the inspiration!

  6. Um, really Abby, you’re amazing! We’ve missed you down here, especially lately when we’ve had everyone together! I think we all agree that you need a little family trip down south. :) Plus I meant to comment on the pictures you did of your sister’s family–you did a great job. I admit though I was hoping to see some of you and “all” your boys though when I saw the title! Take care!

  7. Great project! I just wanted to let you know that we featured this project on our Facebook page with over 19,000 fans. We’d love it if you’d use our Featured Blogger button, available at: Our audience loved the project and we look forward to sharing more from you. Please let us know if you have any questions or projects you’d love us to feature! Thanks!

  8. Really cute & such a great fabric! I’m featuring it at this week’s Craftastic Monday party. Please stop by and grab a Featured On button. Thanks for linking!

  9. Great job on the instructions and matching picture! You have picked such an exotic fabric you made it work. You are a pretty young women and the figure to go with it. You made it look so simple. Excellent, I cannot wait to make it.

  10. This is my first visit to your site, but I wanted to let you know I really like your tutorial! The belt MAKES the dress! It takes it from being shapeless to stylish!!


  11. I couldn’t stop looking at this dress, it shouted that it belonged in my wardrobe. However, Minnesota is already getting fall/winter weather to I’ll have to make it more of a cold weather jumper. I’ll choose a heavier jersey knit in autumn shades for one thing. I think I’ll use wider straps also to give it a wintery look. Lastly I will shorten it to mid-calf to make it less formal. I am wheelchair confined so not every dress or skirt will work for me. This will be the exception though. Now my problem is getting to the fabric store & finding the perfect material. Congratulations on your wonderful design! Annette

  12. I really like this dress, but I do have a question. I do not have a serger but am looking to invest in one. Do you have any recommendations on what to look for when purchasing a serger?

    [email protected]

  13. You actually make it appear so easy with your presentation but I to find this topic to be really one thing that I think I might never understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely wide for me.

  14. If you want to launch your own business with your sewing skills, it will be an advantage if you take classes. You should learn more about the terminologies used in sewing, equipment to be used, techniques, as well as how the business runs. You don’t want to go to a battlefield unprepared. Learning how to sew is a fun activity that you can do as a hobby or as a source of income.

  15. Love it! Very good constructed tutorial. I would definitely add this to my ‘must do’ list. Maybe I will do the bias tape with garter outside to add design.

  16. great tutorial – so glad someone pinned this. I’m going to try this with a very lightweight batiste – what do you think?

  17. esbro rinewThis a great idea and I never thought it could be so easy to make. I have been sewing for years and I never tried to do something so easy. You did a wonderful job.Great dress!

  18. Just found this and I AM IN LOVE! I have been following your blog for some tome but obviously haven’t looked hard enough! I hope you can see me in a version soon! ;)

  19. Hi Again! :)
    I am doing a small round up of some of my favorite dresses and would love to include yours by adding a link and picture. Please let me know! :)
    [email protected]


  20. This is such a cute dress, and you make it look good too! Nice work and thank you for the inspiration!

  21. I have 3 yards of that exact fabric sitting in a drawer in my sewing room (for over a year now!), I guess it was just waiting for the right pattern to come along and now I have it! Thanks for the great tutorial, can’t wait to see how my dress comes out!

  22. Thank you so much Abby for uploading some of your patterns & tutorials into SewSet! I have featured a couple of them on the homepage as today’s top patterns!

    You work, as always, is just lovely.

    Thanks again!
    – Jess &

  23. Thank you so much for your photo tutorial,its very inspiring! I love how you wear a white sleeveless tank underneath the dress too! Its a great touch of class! I never thought to accessorize with a chunky belt. Please continue to share with us :) Leah

  24. Great dress. For beginners (or easily frustrated like my granddaughter) if you know you are going to be wearing with a belt, it isn’t absolutely necessary to do the under bust elastic. Just try to adjust the extra fabric evenly under the belt.

  25. Just made this dress today. I ended up moving the straps a little closer to the center for a better fit, but super easy to follow, and I love the ruffle. Thanks so much for the tutorial!

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    Plz reply as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to
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