the emerson tunic dress tutorial!

Main fabric: Dandi Flight from Commute by Birch Fabrics
Accent Fabric: Dottie Cream Coral from Mod Basics by Birch Fabrics
This is a special little project.  One that is very near and dear to my heart.  You see one of the first things I ever sewed was this little dress for my daughter back in 2009 (she was so tiny!).  It was so exciting to see it on other blogs and linked up and I'll never forget that feeling - it was truly when I got hooked on sewing. It literally was something I did from scratch and drew out before making it. I was inspired by dana's men's dress shirt dress but I wanted to reverse it and put the buttons on the back instead.  So when I got a chance to review some of Birch Fabrics wonderful 100% organic line I took one look at the "Dandi Flight from Commute line "  and knew I could finally do a tutorial for that little reverse men's shirt dress - The Emerson Tunic Dress.  

There's something so structural and modern about the sleeve shaping with the bodice and a-line skirt that i just adore. It's one of my favorite silhouettes and I have to admit I'm a bit crazy for it.  The faux button placket down the back and box pleat in the front make me swoon. There are no buttonholes in this tute ladies! Yeehaw!  All you have to do is sew on the button :)  Add a little applique, topstitching and an elastic gathered neckline and I'm sold. 

Emerson is perfect for showing off two co-ordinating prints and adding a fun flair to any outfit. Lengthen the skirt for a longer dress or keep it as is in the pattern and wear it as a tunic.  Easily adjusted to fit the size of your child and also a quick shape to fit a wide range of sizes.

So grab that new print you've been coveting, get the sewing machine out and whip up the Emerson Tunic Dress.....your kidlets will thank you :)  Just look at that smile...

Oh, and where did the name Emerson come from?  It was another one of my top baby name picks for Mackenzie.  There was a park near where we lived that I used to sit at when I was pregnant with her that was called Emerson Park and the name has always stuck with me.  The hubs used to push me on the swing nine months preggo there while i basked in the sun.  The Emerson Tunic Dress is the perfect dress to be feminine and whimsical but still wearable and ready to be lived in.

Ready to get sewing? Yay!!!! Let's have some fun!

 *Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved This tutorial is for personal use only unless prior permission has been given.*

- 1 yard quilting cotton. I used "Dandi Flight" - 100% organic cotton from Birch Fabrics from the Commute line.
- 1 fat quarter of quilting cotton for covered buttons, neckline trim detail and appliqued bird. I used "Dottie Cream Coral" 100% organic cotton from Birch Fabrics from the Mod Basics line.
- 5 covered buttons pieces & kit to make them (or as many as you would like ) or regular buttons
- hand sewing needle
- co-ordinating thread
- scissors or rotary cutter/mat
- fabric marker
- super small elastic (1/4" or less)

Pattern Pieces:
*click on the links below to print your pattern pieces. Be sure to select "no scaling" or "to size" in your printing options before printing.

Please note: these pieces were designed to fit my small 5 year old.  She is small for her age and sometimes closer to a 4T than a 5T so please check the pattern pieces against the size of your child before sewing.
- Emerson Bodice Front Upper 
- Emerson Front Lower Pieces
- Emerson Back Pieces
- Bird Template
(Once your pieces are printed tape them up matching them by numerical order. For example: 1 is the top left corner, 2 is the top right, 3 is the bottom left corner and 4 is the bottom right corner. Match the edges of the drawings (not the paper) up against each other to complete the shape. Please let me know if you have any issues as I made these pieces a few months ago and haven't tested them again yet. )

You will also cut out the following during your dress making:
- 2"H x (length of neckline + 1") for detail inside of dress on the neckline out of your fat quarter fabric (more instructions in Step Six).
- Same as above only out of your main dress fabric for neckline casing.
- (height of dress without neckline finished) x 3"W for the back button strip detail out of your main dress fabric (more instructions in Step Three).



*Note: If the size of your child is not a 4/5T you can still use the pattern pieces provided. They are based on a simple A-Line silhouette that has the front split up and widened to accommodate for the box pleat.  This can also be made longer for a longer dress for this age size or the sleeves/upper bodice could be made less wide for a dress for a younger child. This pattern fits my size 2T daughter but the sleeves wing out just a bit too big for her so it wouldn't take much to adjust the fit.

Print out your pattern pieces if using or draft your pattern to fit the size of your child.  Cut your pattern pieces out of your fabric.  You should have a Front Bodice Upper, Front Lower, Back, Bird (if using) and later a rectangle for your neckline casing and one for your neckline detail and a rectangle for your back button strip detail.


Grab your front lower piece and fold in half marking the center with a fabric marker. Now pin/fold your box pleat to be 2 1/4" wide (after sewing).  I folded mine in about approximately 1" on either side. Normally they would meet in the middle but mine do not...not sure what happened *See image below.  Grab your Bodice Front Upper piece and match up with the Front Lower Piece and see if they are the same size.  They should match if your box pleat is the right size.

So now that your pleat is folded and pinned baste with a 1/4" seam allowance *only along the top of your pleat and press.  Now stitch down on either side of your box pleat right along the edge about 2" down from the top of your fabric.  It will help to keep your box pleat looking nice and purdy even after your wee ones played all day in her pretty frock. Press. (See pic above to see the inside of my dress. Note I've already completed the dress in this shot so you're bodice won't be attached yet.)

Grab your Bodice Front Upper piece and Front Lower and match up the bottom edge of the Front Upper to the top edge of your Front Lower right sides facing each other.  Sew together with a 1/4" seam allowance. Press.  Finish off your seams by zig zag stitching, pinking or using a serger. Topstitch along this seam with your right side (see image below).

Now we are going to finish your armholes and sides.  Fold and press 1/4" all along the side of your Front. Fold 1/4" again and press pinning as you go.  Sew this down along your inner fold edge.  This will give you a nice finish along your sleeves.  Press.  Repeat for the other side of your dress.  Make one of your covered buttons and attach it to the center of top of your box pleat. (See button pic above noting again that my dress is finished in this shot)

Now do the same finish for your Back Piece minus the button step (folding and sewing) side edges.


Measure the length of your dress so far.  Place this measurement in your button strip calculations.  You should have your dress length measurement as your height and your strip should be 3" W. Cut this out of your main dress fabric. Take your 3" contrast strip for the button band and fold and press under 1/4" on each side.  Pin this strip down the center of the back of your dress and top stitch down along the edges of the button band.  Press.  I love this detail! So cute!   Now pick out your buttons or make your fabric covered buttons and mark where you would like them placed taking care to place buttons 1 1/2" from top neckline and 2" from bottom of dress.


If you would like to add the appliqued bird to the front of your dress now is the time. There is lots of ways to do this so you can choose which one you prefer. I simply cut the bird out pinned it to the dress and hand stitched it onto the dress with embroidery floss. 


Place your Front and Back pieces right sides facing each other. Pin down along your side.  Sew this with a 1/4" seam allowance.  Press your seam allowance open so that the seam lays flat.  Repeat for the other side of the dress.

Pin your shoulders together with your right sides facing each other.  Sew these with a 1/2" seam allowance. Finish your seams with a zig zag stitch, pinking or a serger.  Press.


There are a lot of different ways to finish this neckline that may be easier and faster but I wanted to stay true to my original design so I tried to replicate it as closely as possible.  Bear with's easier to figure out as you're making it than just reading the instructions.  It's actually quite simple.  You're basically attaching a casing to your raw neckline to feed your elastic through. Now you'll be left with a seam there that could irritate some wee ones...mine especially.  So I whipped up a pretty little detail to stitch over top that itchy seam so that it looks nice but is also not annoying to the child wearing it.

First we are going to make a casing for our elastic. Measure around the length of your neckline. Take this measurement and add 1/2" to it.  You should cut your strip 2"H x "the measurement you just calculated" long. Match both of your short ends up and sew these together right sides facing each other with a 1/2" seam allowance.  Now fold the casing in half wrong sides facing each other (right sides facing out) and press.  Pin this piece along the neckline of your dress taking care to leave an opening to feed your elastic in.  Stitch your casing to the dress with a 1/4" seam allowance.  Press.
Cut your elastic.  This is the part that I really recommend doing on your child...not the cutting that is but the measuring.  Every child is different and some like things like elastic around their neck looser or tighter than others. My girls in particular are really fussy about details like this.  I like to feed the elastic in the casing (I pin a safety pin to one end and feed it through) and then try it on pinning the elastic at a good length.  I then stitch the elastic together really well and trim my ends. 
Now we're going to make a trim of sorts with our contrasting fabric from our fat quarter.  Take the measurement of your neckline again from before and add 1" to it.  You should cut your strip 2"H x "the measurement you calculated" long.  Take your strip and fold your ends under meeting at the center of your fabric. Press. See Step 1 above.

Grab your dress and pin this strip wrong sides facing each other down along and over top just slightly the bottom edge of your elastic casing seam taking care that your elastic is not in where you just pinned. You will have to stretch out the dress to it's original measurement as you pin and as you sew.  Make sure your elastic is above where you are about to sew.  Fold your ends in and under (overlapping each other slightly) to allow them to be caught when you attach the trim detail. See Steps 2 and 3 in the image above.  Stitch the strip down right along the edge of the strip all around the neckline.  Repeat this for the other edge of the strip. See image below.  The polka dot is the trim we just stitched on.


Time to hem that dress.  Fold your bottom edge under 1/4", press, then fold under 1/2" again and press and pin as you go.  Topstitch along the hem twice. I like the detail of doing 2 lines of topstitching. You could also easily use a double needle on your machine to do this.

Attach your label and you're done!  So cute!!! Pair it with some leggings or jeans and let's go play!
A big thank you to Birch Fabrics for their wonderful line of modern/retro inspired fabrics that are a pure joy to sew and design with. Thanks Cynthia!

Would you like to make one? Which fabric would you use?  What's your favorite Birch Fabrics print? Make sure to add your finished pics to our flickr group - I love seeing your finished projects!  Happy sewing everyone!