Do you quilt, make your own clothing or just want to fit in with people like you? I bet you said yes to at least one of those questions. I did, too. So, when a couple of friends invited me to the Little Shop of Stitches mini retreat I went and tried to do all three and support local at the same time. Phew, gusto much?

I went to the shop a month before the event with the idea I would make a quilted style dress. I bought two jelly rolls from the Little Shop. Then I went home and watched Youtube quilting videos on charm packs, layer cakes and jelly rolls, all precut quilting fabrics. At that point I realized I had enough strips of fabric to make two dresses. Inadvertent success is success made easy.

After the videos I still needed help! I had a lot of specific questions but no answers at this point. I remembered making a skirt with already quilted fabric back in the day for my friend Libby, almost 20 years ago now, and asked her if I could see the skirt. Luckily, she still had it.

When I looked this old project over I saw that the quilted part was simply serged with white thread. Easier said than done, although, it was at least a start.

What about pre-washing the cotton fabric for shrinkage? Quilters do not prewash but garment makers have to. I could not pre-wash the strips or they would tangle and knot into a huge nest. Only later would solve this problem.

I looked for inspiration online and wound up finding it in my own photo album from a trip we took to New Orleans in 2015. Here is an Indigenous person’s hand quilted dress at the NOLA Museum of Art. Boom! I was so inspired by the colors. I took a close look at my jelly rolls and separated the strips into two color patterns. This was going to be my two separate dresses. Another big “problem” is solved.

I laid all of my fabrics exactly how I wanted them to be sewn together on the living room carpet. At this point I realized that once I serged them I could just serge around the edges and then toss them in the wash and the dryer to pre-shrink them. Problem solved and I feel good.

To keep from getting confused I gave all five little quilts a number in the top left hand corner to make sure my color way stayed how I wanted it.

Just a couple of tips for serging. The presser foot pushes and the feed dogs pull. This can distort the fabric and make the strips uneven. I fixed this issue by placing the tip of the top fabric just a little above the fabric that was to be against the feed dogs (the bottom fabric strip). Everything went great until it was time to serge around my 5 quilts.

Another problem! All the seams needed to be facing the same direction to make my dress hang correctly. The top foot pushes each seam towards me unless I lift the foot and push it the opposite direction and that technique really eats away my time. I solved it by serging the edges down one side from the top of the quilt so each seam was pushed, on its own, one way. Then I flipped the quilt over to the “wrong side” facing up so again I would be letting the machine do the work and push my seams all the right way.

After washing and drying I had a lot of pressing to do. This product really helped me keep those seams where I needed them to be.

My next challenge was how to make this dress a zero waste project?

I wanted to make the dress zero or almost zero waste because it was so much work quilting the jelly roll. Lots of zero waste garments are from a series of strips, squares and rectangles designed with thoughtfulness.

After draping the dress and cutting what I though would work I found this was my only waste. It was from the side seams.

Being a shorter person I worried that wearing all that fabric on a vertically striped plane may swallow me up. I did not want to get lost in this. I went big on the bottom, little on the top, used a drop waist and fit everything with darts. I also needed to add a zipper to nail the fit.

After pinning and draping on my body to get the silhouette and sizing I went to town on putting it together.

One little quilt was enough for the front and the back of the bodice and this meant I could also go ahead and match the different strips colors together. Two other quilts were used in the skirt of the dress while carefully keeping any yellow away from my face and hair. With one quilt left I sliced it into 5″ strips, working them in to make breaks in the dress at the hemline and at the lower hip.

After this I was left with two of the 5″ strips of matching stripes. Strips of matching stripes. I love this. I played it smart and walked away for almost 2 weeks to really think about my next move.During that time I let the dress hang on the form in my dining room. I studied it and tried to figure out how to get the last strips on it and still make it look good. I thought a belt would be a cop out. I had to trust the answer would come to me before the mini retreat.

It did! I took my pieces and made two sleeve caps by folding the fabric in half. I made the collar the exact same way as the sleeve caps. I intentionally matched the color stripes on both to give it symmetry.

Last I added a frog to the back of the dress for a second closure. I almost forgot, it also has a side hidden zipper. I love it when a zipper comes out looking marvelous, meaning you can’t see it!

The fun for this was off the charts! I have already made two more quilted dresses and a quilted skirt.

If you want to make your own dress this jelly roll was made by Moda Fabrics.

Behind the scenes~

The first quilt dress I made in 2017. I winged a snow ball pattern I saw on the PBS Fons and Porter show. I also designed the dress.

Thank you for reading,

Tracy McElfresh

Dream It! Sew It!

Tracy McElfresh

Tracy McElfresh is the owner of Tracy’s Sewing Studio LLC.
Tracy McElfresh