Girls' Romantic Dress Pattern Instructions


This is a companion for my adult Romantic Era Gown Pattern. This isn't just a miniature of the adult pattern pieces, however. I created it from fashion plates and paintings of the early 1830s, bumping up the years a bit, because the early Romantic girls' dresses are practically identical to the Regency girls' dresses. So you'll notice some different design details on this pattern that make this pattern different and fun. In essence, dresses made from this pattern are intended for play! The skirt is meant to hit an inch or two below the knee, and all dresses are to be worn over long pantaloons, as you see in the cute drawing at right (my pinafore/pantaloon pattern works perfectly for these). The shorter skirt length makes it very easy to run and play, but the pantaloons keep everything modest—even for tree climbers!


When you are ready to start, trace all of your pattern pieces onto interfacing or pattern paper. It is absolutely essential that you measure the child for whom you will be making the dress. Pattern measurements are often very different from retail clothing measurements. Go by the measurements, not by the "size." Skirt hem length is also going to vary quite a bit, depending upon the child. The hem lengths shown on the skirt piece are suggestions. I recommend measuring the child from natural waistline to desired hem length prior to cutting out the skirt, remembering to add enough for hem and seam allowance. The same is true for the long sleeves. No "standard" pattern size is going to be perfect for a variety of girls. Even if a girl is a perfect "6" in the chest, she might need a size 10 sleeve. Just measure from shoulder to wrist to determine the proper length, then add enough for a hem (at least ½") and for the armhole seam allowance (5/8"). You may also use the tracing lines  within the long sleeve pattern to create short, puffed sleeves for either a day dress or a ballgown. Finally, there are pieces for short, fitted cap sleeves or flared sleeves as shown at right. Long and short sleeves are both appropriate for day wear for little girls. Just make your choice based upon the season in which the dress will be worn.

Pattern layout:

At left is the suggested layout for all pattern pieces on 45" wide material up to size 2. Layout for sizes 3-10 is shown in illustration B. You may, of course, replace the long sleeve pattern piece with any of the short sleeve pieces if you wish.  If you use 54" wide material, you can also fit the skirt pieces side by side on fabric folded like that shown in B.

Assembly Instructions:

1.     Bodice

A.    Pin the bodice back and side back pieces together, easing curve as necessary and matching at the lower back edge.  Stitch.
B.    Clip curves and press seam toward the side.
C.    Pin bodice front and back pieces together at shoulder and side seams.  Stitch.  Press seams open. [Important Note! The "shoulder" seams on this gown are that in name only. They do not hit the top of the shoulder at all, rather, they drop behind the shoulder of the wearer. This is period correct for the Regency and Romantic eras and later. ]
D.    Repeat all of these instructions for the bodice lining.

E.    Pin bodice to lining, right sides together. 

Lining pinned.

F.    Stitch from back opening all the way around the neckline to back opening, leaving 5/8" free at the bottom of each back opening.

Bodice stitched to lining, leaving 5/8" free at bottom of back closure.

G. Clip curves, but do not grade seam allowances. You've got another step coming!

H.    Because this dress has a very wide neckline, it is a good idea to have a drawstring to keep it from slipping off the shoulders. When you understitch the neckline edge, you will be creating a casing for a drawstring, not just securing the bodice lining to the neckline seam. So, turn the bodice right side out and press the neckline well. Make a mental note of the width of the neckline seam beneath and understitch the lining to the seam with the needle just above the edge of the seam (this makes a wider seam than regular understitching, as you can see below). Go all the way around the neckline as far as possible into the corner at the back edge. Double-check the inside to make sure you caught the neckline seam beneath, creating your casing. Now understitch both edges of the bodice back in the regular way (no need to create a casing there).
Understitching to create the drawstring casing.

I.    Cut a drawstring of ribbon or 1/8" string that is as long as the neckline is around plus six inches. To run the drawstring through the casing, use the largest, bluntest needle possible (one that has an eye big enough for 1/8" ribbon or drawstring). Put the needle through the lining 1 ½" over from the center back opening on one side:

Taking care not to push the needle through the front of the bodice, run it all the way through the casing, drawing the ribbon or drawstring after it. Emerge on the opposite side, 1 ½" inch from the back opening:

There's your drawstring! Once the child is buttoned into the dress, you can pull the drawstring snug and tie it off, leaving the ends hanging down inside the dress. This way it remains hidden from view. You will not need to pull the string tight enough to "gather" the neckline—only snug enough to keep it from slipping off (this is especially necessary if the child is narrow in the shoulders.) Now you are ready to add the sleeves!

2.     Sleeves 
(Note: Short, puffed sleeves are shown.  Instructions for long sleeves, cap sleeves, and flared sleeves are given below.)

A.    Run gathering stitches on tops and bottoms of sleeves, following lines indicated on the pattern.  Pin sleeve band to sleeve, pulling gathering stitches to fit.  Stitch.
B.    Sew sleeve seams together and press open.  Press under ¼" of the sleeve band.

C. Pin sleeves to armholes, right sides together, matching underarm seams to side seams.

D. Pull gathers to fit.  Stitch.  Clip curves, turn sleeve inside out and press.  Set aside.

Long Sleeves: Assembly is almost the same, but you will press under the cuff only when you have determined the hem width after trying the dress on the child. Run gathering stitches before you stitch the long sleeve seams:

Cap Sleeves: Sew sleeve seams together, then pin each sleeve into armhole as shown above, using basting stitches to ease curve of sleeve into the armhole and leave no puckers. Stitch. Turn raw edge of sleeve under twice and hem by hand.

Flared Sleeves: Sew sleeve seams together as shown below, pivoting  at the angle. Pin sleeves into armholes as shown above, using basting stitches to ease curve of sleeve and leave no puckers. Stitch. Turn up a very narrow hem along the raw edge of the flare and hem by hand (you can also use a rolled hem foot if you're not aiming for authenticity).

3.     Skirt

A.    Sew four skirt pieces together, leaving the last seam open three inches from the top to allow for the placket. Run gathering stitches along the top edge of the skirt, breaking at seams.

B.    To make a placket for the center back skirt opening, cut a piece of fabric on the bias twice as long as the back opening and two inches wide.
Placket piece cut on the bias.

C.    Pin placket to right side of skirt back opening. (The center of the placket will hit the center of the skirt seam.)

Placket pinned.

D.    Stitch placket to skirt and lining, using a 5/8" seam. When you near the center, slow down and watch to make sure you don't catch the skirt fabric. When you hit the exact center of the skirt seam, leave the needle in the seam, lift the presser foot and pivot the fabric to head back up the other side of the placket. You'll want to make sure once again that you don't catch the skirt material in your stitches. Press under ¼" of the free edge of the placket or finish with a zig zag stitch. Press the placket as illustrated so the left side overlaps the right and makes an even closure.
The left side of placket is pressed completely under so nothing shows outside.
The right side of the placket is turned under just enough to whipstitch over seam on the inside.

4.     Attaching the Bodice

A. Pin bodice to skirt, matching center fronts, side seams, and back closures and leaving bodice lining free.  Pull gathering stitches in skirt to fit.  [Note: You can also pleat instead of gathering if you prefer.]

Skirt pinned to bodice (inside view).  Bodice lining is kept free.

B. Stitch bodice to skirt. Press seam allowance up toward bodice.

5.     Finishing the Dress

A.    Turn under the bottom of the bodice lining fabric and pin in place over the waist seamline.  Whipstitch the lining in place. 

Whipstitching the bodice lining in place.

B.    Turn under the pressed edge of the sleeveband and whipstitch in place.

Whipstitching sleeveband in place over sleeveband seam.

C.    Mark buttonholes horizontally on the overlapping back flap of the bodice.  You can space them an inch to an inch and a half apart. Four or five 3/8" buttons will usually fill the space.  Clip buttonholes open, then pin the bodice closed and mark where the buttons should be sewn.  Sew buttons in place.  If desired, also sew a snap or hook and eye closure in the placket.

D.    To hem the dress, try it on the child and trim the raw edge if necessary to make it even all the way around. You can just turn the raw edge up twice and hem it by hand, but there is a period authentic method that works very nicely (because you don't have to struggle with the curve of the hemline). Use your skirt pattern piece to cut four facing pieces that are two to four inches wide (two for smaller sizes; three for the middle; four for 8-10). Sew them together just like you're making a miniature skirt:

Serge or zig zag the upper (narrower) edge of the facing:

Pin facing to skirt, right sides together and stitch, taking up a 5/8" seam, then clip curves:

Turn facing to inside and press. Sew free edge to skirt, using tiny hem stitching. There's a nice, deep hem—and no puckers to deal with from the curved edge of the skirt!

You can get creative with facings and use a contrasting or complementary fabric instead of your fashion fabric, too. This became common in the 1840s and ‘50s (and this pattern will easily stretch into the mid-Victorian era if you make the skirt fuller by adding more sections). If you want a skirt that stands out a little bit, you can add interfacing or "horsehair" stiffening to each facing section before sewing the sections together. This is especially nice on ballgown skirts.

Enjoy your new creation!