customizing with oliver + s: topstitched denim sailboat dress

Liesl and I both saw this dress pop up (Liesl in the flickr group, me in my blog feed) and were instantly smitten with it!  Its maker, Brittany, really nailed her inspiration and did such an adorable take on the Sailboat Top, we simply had to ask her to be here today to share her process.  Thanks for joining us, Brittany!

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Hello everyone! I’m Brittany and I blog (sometimes) over at A Stitch a Day. I’m married, have two little girls and live in Utah. I studied industrial design in college and worked for a few years designing laptops before I had my babies.

I absolutely love to sew! I’ve been sewing for as long as I can remember, and I’ve learned mainly from trial and lots of error. I adore Oliver + S patterns, because they can be counted on to deliver a totally professional looking final product!

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

I’m excited to be here today! Liesl pinned this dress from Toast UK awhile back, and suggested it would be a great mod for the Sailboat Top Pattern. I thought so too, and finally got around to making it.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

It’s a pretty easy modification. In this tutorial, I’ll walk you through the steps.

First, trace your Sailboat Top pattern, including front, back, sleeves, and front and back facings.

We’ll begin by extending the top down to dress length and creating a slight a-line shape. Measure out ½” to ¾” at the side seam (depending on the amount of flare you want), then draw a line connecting to the underarm and extending down.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

For my pattern (18-24 month size), I measured 20” from back of neck to bottom of skirt (including seam allowance). You’ll want to measure your child or a dress you like the length of to determine this length. Draw a horizontal line from center front out to the angled side seam. Measure up ½” at the side seam and draw a slight curve for the hem. Be sure the hem remains perpendicular at the center front line.

I’ve drafted the pocket on the dress front pattern piece, because it relates closely to the shape of the hem and the shape of the side seam.  To draft the pocket, start by measuring up 2” from the bottom of the pattern piece and drawing a line to identify where your hem topstitching will be. Then draw a line 1/8” below the topstitching line. This is the bottom of the pocket.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

Measure horizontally about 4 ¾” from the intersection of the side seam and pocket bottom and draw a vertical line. Then measure up 4 ½” from the bottom inside corner of the pocket and draw a horizontal line. This creates the pocket placement. We’ll create a pocket piece with added seam allowances later.  Also shown on the front pattern piece are the topstitching lines for the neck facing and the hem facing. These are just shown for your reference; we’ll create these pattern pieces separately.

To adjust the back piece, you can either follow the instructions above for modifying the front side seam and bottom, or you can just trace the new side and bottom cutting lines from the modified front piece, aligning underarm/side seam corner intersection and center line.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

The sleeve is next. This is a fairly easy modification; it just needs to be shortened by 2” to create a ¾ length sleeve. You can also leave it full length if you prefer.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

The front and back neck facings are modified by measuring down 2 ½” from the neck and shoulder edges of the existing facing. This creates the alternate shape and topstitching guides for the new neckline.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

The new hem facing is created by tracing the bottom shape from the front or back pattern piece, then measuring up 2 ¼”. The shape is the same for the front and the back facing pieces.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

The pocket piece is created by tracing the pocket placement from the front pattern piece, and adding seam allowances of 1” on top and ½” on the inside edge and bottom. The outside edge already has seam allowance added from the front pattern piece.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

The instructions for sewing the modified dress version are the same as for sewing the Sailboat Top with the exception of adding the pocket, topstitching the hem facing and hemming the sleeves.

To make the pocket, first fold the top hem allowance down ½”, then ½” again. Edgestitch the top edge of the pocket with topstitching thread, then stitch ¼” below that with a thread that matches the fabric. Then sew a basting stitch at ½” along the bottom and inside edge of the pocket. Press these edges under. Place the pocket in the proper orientation on the front of the dress and edgestitch the inside and bottom edges, backstitching at the top corner.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

When you are instructed to topstitch the front and back neck facings, topstitch from the right side of the fabric, rather than the wrong side. I’ve left about ¼” allowance on the facing, so you don’t have to worry about stitching off the edge, since you can’t see it. Just mark with chalk on the right side of the fabric the stitching line 1 ¾” from the finished neck and shoulder edges and topstitch.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

The sleeves are turned under and pressed ½”, then turned 1 ¼” and pressed. Next, topstitch at 1 3/8” from the edge, then again ¼” away from that.

When it is time to hem the dress, sew the hem facings together as directed in the instructions. Sew them to the bottom edge of the dress, then understitch as per the instructions. Topstitch the hem facings from the front, rather than the back side of the dress.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

There are a couple reasons I suggest topstitching from the top side of the garment. First, I don’t use topstitching thread in my bobbin, because I find my machine doesn’t like it. Second, I need to align the topstitching on the hem between the pockets with the edgestitching on the pockets. Pin the hem facing all around, then topstitch between the pockets. Begin stitching again at the side seam and stitch the back hem facing around to the other side seam. Finally, stitch the second row of topstitching ¼” below the first.

I used a lightweight denim for this dress, with Coats & Clark heavyweight thread for topstitching. I think it would also be super cute in linen, or even corduroy.

topstitched denim sailboat dress tutorial

I hope this makes sense. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and let me know.

Thanks for having me!




  1. What a great tutorial! Thanks Brittany.

  2. Seriously, Brittany, you’re a champ! I’m so impressed with how well you did this! Thank you so, so much.

  3. Sharon K

    awesome tutorial! I have the fabric already for this for a while but now I so glad I waited to make it. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for sharing, Brittany! I love the dress.:)

  5. Brittany, this is seriously cute! I love your version even more than the pinned one! I was just going through all of my Oliver & S patterns yesterday, trying to decide what to make next. There’s an anchor-printed chambray from Robert Kaufman that would look adorable as this dress!

  6. Loved this version when I first saw it in the Flickr group 🙂
    Thank you Brittany for sharing the tutorial with us (on to my to-sew list …)

  7. You have such lovely taste, everything you sew is just so right!
    Fab tute, thank you so much!

  8. Tamara

    Brilliant and very inspirational! Well done Brittany.

  9. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to copy everything you make! Love this dress and thanks for a great tutorial post.

  10. phyllis

    Your tutorial is wonderful…easy to follow and inspirational. Have fabric, will sew!

  11. Fiona

    thank you very much, Brittany. I stumbled on this by accident, and it just happens to solve some sewing issues I was having with just this pattern. What a clever, and generous lady you are.

  12. Super cute! Might try next but using the book report dress hemline.

  13. Brenda

    I would love to make this-for me! I wonder how the sizing could be modified so significantly?

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