Empire-Waisted Baby Top and Bloomers

UPDATED: This dress did actually end up fitting!  Hooray!

I’ve been dreading this post because I’m afraid I’m going to have to roast this pattern. This is the (so-called) “Easy Empire-Waist Top” from Little Stitches for Little Ones by the amazing Amy Butler. The top is in my opinion, absolutely adorable on paper, which is why I chose to make it in the first place, but it was an absolute nightmare to construct. I’m not sure if I just can’t read pattern instructions without pictures or what, but I kept reading and re-reading the instructions and scratching my head, trying something, tearing it out, trying it again…

Furthermore, I’m afraid it’s sizing is questionable at best, as my rather large newborn doesn’t look like she’ll fit into the 0-3 month size anytime in the next year (hence no baby-in-the-outfit pic, sorry folks). And if/when it does ever fit her, I’m a little concerned about that V-neck. Currently it goes nearly down to her bellybutton, so the Child Decency Police may cite me for a violation unless I can find a baby tank top to go under it.

The bloomers, on the other hand, are too small. They never really fit over my cloth-diaper-butt-baby, although they were also sized 0-3 months. Sad. I think this might be my fault…I may have done the waistband incorrectly, having reached a point where I was no longer actually reading the instructions. I got frustrated when they called for folding under the bottom hem 1.5″ when there wasn’t even that much fabric on the inner leg seam, begging the question: did anyone test this pattern before publication? Or am I just remedial? Because that’s how I felt after spending more time on this outfit than I have on any top I’ve made for myself in the last year. The long and the short of it is that currently this outfit is slated for nursery wall-decor at best. It’s got a high “awwww” factor, low practicality factor.

Fabric: Mendocino by Heather Ross
Modifications: Added elastic casing all the way around the top, shortened arms by 2 inches (didn’t have enough fabric), and shortened skirt by a few (can’t remember exact anymore) inches.

Let me try and redeem myself a little here. I would like to go on the record as saying that Amy Butler is truly worthy of admiration. She not only “single-handedly changed the quilting fabric industry”, but is truly responsible for inspiring my current obsession with fabrics and sewing. If it hadn’t been for her first line (Gypsy Caravan, of which I am still hoarding select pieces), I might never have started sewing all this stuff in the first place. Since then I have obviously become an avid fan of many other wonderful fabric designers (Anna Maria Horner and Heather Ross currently tied for first place as faves), but AB still holds a special place in my heart. I just can’t get behind her patterns as much as her fabrics.

That said, I would love to see/hear about examples of success with this pattern. It’s a shame it doesn’t seem to work for me. It MUST have worked for someone else out there. Besides, I really do think it’s lovely. And since an infant never wears anything for more than a week, maybe that’s all that matters?

66 thoughts on “Empire-Waisted Baby Top and Bloomers

  1. I've had quite a bit of problems with patterns from books lately and sizing being really off and having really wonky construction. You would think they would check and double check those things as they are slightly important.

    That being said, that outfit is absolutely precious! Great fabric choices.

  2. Your little outfit is precious. Perhaps you could pair the top with some little knit pants later on when it fits. Ironically, I am in the middle of cutting out an Amy Butler pattern (for myself) Barcelona skirts the layer skirt.
    I am using Alexander Henry secret garden fabric. I hope it isn't wonky, but I am doing lots of measuring to make it fit.
    As an aside, my name is also Rae and I live in Michigan.

  3. Well, at least it looks cute in the pic:) I have made many AB patterns and often thought her directions were confusing. I just thought I was pattern challenged! I made the mod diaper bag from that Little Stitches book……looks great now but, man, I had to tear out and start over several times! Arrrrrgh!

  4. I'm with you in that sometimes instructions in pattern books are really not written well. I've made a couple of items from Heather Ross's book Weekend Sewing and I personally find that a lot of the time I just don't understand what's been written as it's really not clear to the reader so I end up winging it with the sewing knowledge and experience I already have. Don't get me wrong its a lovely book with some nice items to sew in there but honestly, instructions at times are truly lacking – either that or I'm just totally stoopid!!

  5. I've only seen her Little Stitches book and I have the other one, the first (famous) one who's name has escaped me…anyway, I am astounded by the lack of diagrams and pictures in the Little Stitches book. For that reason alone, I will never make anything from it. I need pictures to sew from a pattern. Written directions mean nothing to me and only confuse me. I can't explain it.

    I'm also not pleased with the sizing of her patterns. For that reason, I love AM Horner's better. I still love AB's fabrics and her home projects, but I doubt I'll make her clothing patterns.

    I'm glad you wrote what you did. If YOU have trouble with a pattern, that'd good to know because it means I certainly will! The outfit did turn out cute though!

  6. It looks so, so cute. Too bad it doesn't fit well. It's so frustrating when patterns don't work out well, I can totally imagine you are bummed out by it. I hope it will fit later, I really love the fabrics you chose!

  7. It looks wonderful. I feel the EXACT same way about AB. I feel like she really drew me into sewing. I couldn't believe there were such beautiful fabrics. But her sewing patterns, in my humble opinion, are ridiculous. I hope you and the babe are doing well!

  8. I have that book too – I made the dress (can't remember the name of it) and the construction is bizarre to say the best. It ended up coming out nice after I made some changes but the 9- month size is too small now for my (admittedly chubby) 5.5 month old.

  9. My experience with any baby patterns, count on them being a size or two large. I have a NL dress that my baby wore the NB size when she wore 6-9 mo RTW. I did not know indie patterns were the same in large-ness. Good to know. You could substitute another bloomer or make another one larger. Also, when the weather cools off a bit, put a onesie underneath to layer for the modesty factor. It's really cute in those colors.

  10. I've had trouble following AB's patterns & directions. Can't understand why. I love the the dress. cute cute cute

  11. I have made this pattern also and am soo glad that I'm not the only one out there with big probs. After a few punches to the pattern instructions and attempts to pull out my hair, I gave up and figured it out on my own. And it turned out super cute, but HUGE. I made the 0-3 months and it looks more like a toddler shirt. I LOVE Amy Butler to the max, but she leads me to wonder if she has her patterns tested. Have you attempted the Kimono pajamas? The pants are a nightmare. There is something seriously missing in the materials or instructions because the crotch/seat area is like 3 inches long. Still got love, though 😮

  12. Precisely the reason I have numerous people TEST my pattern sizes first before I release them! I really think many patterns are sewn in one size and then they guess on the other measurements. So many kids are sized differently too. The outfit looks precious…too bad it doesn't fit. Maybe it could be for a doll 😉 I love the fabric.

  13. I agree that that this pattern definitely had a bit of sizing issues. The 9-12mo size was still a bit big on my quite chunky 9 month old (who at the time was wearing 12-18 mo sizes and weighed over 20 lbs). I didn't really have a whole lot of trouble with the instructions, but I did notice some areas where she just kind of "assumed" that you would know what to do. I did like the look of the little dress afterwards though!

  14. I'm glad i'm not alone. The other day my husband said, "It sounds like you hate sewing! Why do you do it so much?", as I was trying to figure out the rootin' tootin' flippin' pattern while cursing under my breathe (I never thought he could hear me).

    Maybe we should all start a Reading Pattern's 101 class or something?!?!?!

    So, do you know of a cute (super sewingly challenged) bloomers pattern? I was going to make this for a friend, but it sounds like more work than anything? 🙂


  15. You make me laugh!! I agree that patterns have to have pictures. But this top looks so cute, maybe when baby is 2 she'll wear it with wee leggings underneath!!

  16. Too bad to hear your story. It is very frustrating when you put all that time and effort into making something and it isn't right! It will make a beautiful doll's outfit(if you have a large doll?!), then you can appreciate it for many years to come! Beautiful fabric choices and very well made!

  17. That top is just adorable…too bad it doesn't fit!! That's why I hardly ever make clothes…if it's not a dress for my two year old, it probably isn't going to make it to the cutting mat.

  18. Super cute! Too bad about the sizing:( I had something similar happen, I made a newborn size dress for Scarlette and it took me longer to make than two quilts! It was and Oliver+S pattern and I put it on her yesterday and the sleeves were super tight and I hated the whole thing on her it just wasnt that cute!

  19. I've heard the same complaint from my sewing students about AB's patterns, and share your observation: I'm extraordinarily grateful for all she does (and love her even more since she told me I'm pretty when I met her!), but have come to assume that she's been sewing so long she's forgotten what it's like to NOT know how to do it! Since she's drawn so many folks to sewing over the years, I'd love it if she'd focus more on what they need to STAY with it.

    Actually, I'm in the middle of writing a book right now, slated for release Oct 2010 that's designed with exactly that in mind: it's written for beginning and "returning" sewers and gives step-by-step guidelines with a gazillion photos as you go. I'm really excited, and hope it helps all the people who've struggled with these patterns!

  20. I also find Amy Butler's patterns either lacking proper diagrams, or requiring tricky (and, IMO, innecessary) steps that would better explained and better conctructed a different way.

    I also agree with the commenter above who stated that most of the pattern books of late have numerous sizing or construction errors. Perhaps it's because of publishers that know books better than they know sewing, but it is very frustrating to follow something to a T and still have a high wonk factor.

  21. I actually learned sewing by making bags from AB's patterns but since have branched out to other things. I made the Everything Tote from that book too and was a little confused reading her directions. I plan to make the Kimono PJ set but now I'm not so sure anymore after reading your post. But your fabric choice for that outfit is surely the cutest!

  22. I was given that same book as a gift and was just about to try and tackle it. It looks adorable! But thanks for saving me the time and frustration. I think I'm gonna yell and scream at the AB Weekender bag instead. 🙂

  23. I am very glad you did post your experience with this project. I had marked this project in the book, but at least now I have some good advise before diving in. I love the fabrics you chose even if it is destined for the wall.

  24. First off, congratulations on Clementine's healthy arrival! I troll daily without posting but felt compelled to post to this.
    I just have to tell you that the other day I was trying to figure out how to construct a pattern for something I created in my mind and as I grew frustrated I though; " I should run it by Rae! She makes such easy to read and follow patterns… I bet she could figure it out!". Your sewing sense is great, so don't doubt that… Though I too have a great deal of admiration for Amy Butler's work, I found her patterns laborsome and confusing. In some cases (birdie sling) even the recommended fabrics don't work out well.
    I have found the easiest patterns are those accompanied by a visual description as well. Your drawings on the Lickety Split bag rock! Anyway, sorry you put so much time into the lovely little outfit when time is not what you have a lot of right now… best wishes.

  25. Oh, I had trouble with that book too, on the kimono PJs. I don't know about fit because dh has yet to send it to the little baby recipient. It's definitely the book, Rae! Your final product is soooo gorgeous, too bad it won't fit.

  26. I'm so glad you wrote this post. I see so many raves over her patterns and books, but they aren't very well written and not worth it. I've sewn quite a bit for my kids and really like Burda patterns the best. They have the best fit for size. I would like to try Ottobre patterns as well, as I have read good reviews on that.

  27. I feel your pain. I have had problems with AB patterns in the past, and Heather Ross' beautiful book is so full of errors it is almost irresponsible from a publishing standpoint. It's a shame because they are such wonderful designers and it doesn't seem like it should be too difficult to have pattern testers go through the patterns before they are published. It is not a matter of not understanding directions. I sew from Japanese pattern books without understanding a word of what is written. There are just major, glaring errors that are not even properly or correctly addressed should you check their websites for errata before beginning.

  28. Awwww . . . it's too bad that the fit is so terrible. It's such a cute outfit. I honestly can't even imagine printing a pattern without plenty of testers in every size.

  29. oh…that is frustrating. beautiful fabric choices though. I hope she gets to wear it…at some point!

  30. oh shoot! i hate it when that happens! i myself wonder w/ most sewing books if people who know how to sew actually tested/edited any of the patterns in the books. sad but true. there are obviously always typos, but come on – some things would be obviously wrong.

    the outfit is darling and will definitely look cute hanging on a hook on the wall in her bedroom…

  31. I am in love with the fabric its self. The outfit is adorable and such a pitty you had such a hard time with it. But really back to that fabric? lol!

  32. The outfit is gorgeous. I felt compelled to write because I also made this outfit. I've been sewing my whole life and consider myself on the advanced side, skillwise. I had trouble with this pattern! I own almost all of Amy Butler's patterns and I've had trouble with a couple of the bag patterns. I'm reluctant to try another from this book. Anyway, I LOVE your choice of fabric and it came out great! Here's the one I made.

  33. Regarding the V-neck.
    Couldn't you make a small insert for behind in the contrast (or just white) fabric that looks like a tank is underneath, but is actually sewn-in.

  34. Whew! I know your pain! Thought that I was the only one so daft that I could not fully comprehend our beloved AB!! I have the feeling that her next book shall have more illustrations, right?

  35. I made that dress too. I definitely had to read and reread the instructions and try to show myself what they were saying with the fabric as I read. I have to have pictures! Not just lame drawings, I need good, clear, easy to understand drawings/pictures. I remember having trouble with the sleeves the most on this dress. I even emailed amy butler's company and the lady called me that same day to try to walk me through it. She even promised to send me an example of the dumb sleeve that I couldn't figure out. But I figured it out before she needed to send it – it was simple, but the instructions weren't clear to me. good luck. I've made a few other things from that book and they all turned out rather nicely.

  36. Looks beautiful. I love Amy Butler as well and she also inspired me to want to start sewing when I discovered her beautiful fabric lines. Her sewing books are also beautiful to look at, but even the simple projects are not simple. I find the construction complicated, expensive, and the directions hard to follow. I have had to read and re-read the instructions to everything I've made of hers. I have her Simple Sewing book, which I've mad a few things from and the baby book. I attempted the booties. Got one completed and didnt' even want to attempt finishing the pair. Glad I didn't they didn't fit anyway. Love her stuff but there isn't anything simple about her patterns. Have you tried out any of Lotta Jansdotter's pattern books. Her stuff is truly simple and down to earth. I'm a big fan. (sorry for the super long comment)

  37. i just got this book and was looking through it for things to make for my newborn daughter. i was just thinking the same thing that katie (above) had said about her patterns being a little complicated and materials required seeming expensive. (btw, i'm in canada and the only fabric store carrying her lines here has the prices at about 14 to 25 dollars per yard/meter. i spent a fortune last time i bought her stuff for a simple quilt.) love her fabrics, but now am thinking twice about making some of the things in this book. also have the In Stitches book and looking through it now. did anyone have trouble with patterns in that one?

  38. Thanks for this post Rae!

    I, too, struggled with this "easy" top and thought I must be pattern-challenged 🙂 I made one, and proceeded to throw it away, and I have half of a second Empire waist top somewhere, that's been sitting for almost a year, I think. And it's too bad, I loved the look of this pattern! But I found the directions so confusing I just sort of gave up, and this whole time I thought maybe I was just dense. I have seen a few of these blouses (which seem more like dresses in a lot of cases) on flickr, and they have turned out really cute, even if they run a little large.

  39. Yes, Amy Butler fabric is wonderful. But her patterns are difficult to follow! I tried making the kimono-style dress in that book. It took a lot of pulled stitches and consulting with my mom, an expert seamstress, to figure it out! I was quite frustrated in the end. The instructions and the diagrams were not very helpful.

  40. I also had a head-scratching time making the kimono pj's. It seems that some of the steps are made more difficult than necessary (and use entirely too much fabric – who needs a 1.5" hem on baby clothes?), and the pics are of the easy steps and not the confusing ones ususally.
    Your outfit is completely adorable though!

  41. It is awful cute — sorry it was a nightmare to put together and may not ever fit your baby correctly.

  42. The outfit is darling! I am so sorry it doesn't fit–that is really disappointing! I have the same book, so thanks for the heads up. I might have to do a trial run before I make the real thing. I have found some of her patterns to be not as straight forward as I would have liked. She is quite awesome though!

  43. Thank you for posting this, I am very new to sewing and I saw the Little stitches book, I've wanted to buy it since I saw it. Maybe I ought to wait until I'm more experienced. The outfit is beautiful though.

  44. It is super cute, but very frustrating about the sizing and complicated instructions. :0( I love AB fabrics but like another commenter I'm Cdn and her fabrics are around 16-18/m here.

  45. Thank you all for commiserating with me…I didn't mean to turn out such a rant for a post. Now I'm living in mortal terror that AB herself will read this and have her feelings hurt. However, it is truly reassuring that I'm not the only one who has encountered this problem!

  46. Well, it does look wonderful in those colors. Maybe you should put it in a nice shadowbox until it fits her. A nice onesie under would look adorable.
    Setting a feed to your blog so I don't have to keep hunting my bookmarks. =)
    You look great btw, baby is sooo tiny. I miss those days and my baby is going to be 3 next month.

  47. Glad its not just me! I have the same book and have not yet attempted the top although it was on my to do list becuase the pattern seemed so overly complicated!

  48. Hello,
    I have done ok with Amy's single patterns, but I too have had problems with books lately. I was so excited to get "Weekend Sewing" as a gift and it seemed like half the patterns were missing, and it just didn't make sense. I absolutely adore these wonderful women paving the way for young women sewing stylishly, I guess more people need to go to college for editing.
    Thanks so much for all of your great posts!

  49. I have never done one of her patterns from a book but I have done two of her patterns for bags the nappy and the sling bag. The patterns were so easy to follow and use i was pleasantly surprised and I have usually have to read a pattern 20 times out loud

  50. I bought the book last year because of that outfit. I figured since I'm a novice it just didn't turn out right. I'm glad I found your posting. Mine ended up looking like a dress. I didn't even bother with the bloomers. I now use her patterns as a guide and modify as I go. Since then, I've made the bumper, bed skirt and pillow – modified with my own measurements.

  51. Ooh :O( Too bad… The fabric combo you chose is absolutely perfect, though.

    I have never had luck with v-necks for babies. They just don't look right – they were originally made for enhancing breasts, though, so I guess that makes sense that they don't work on little ones. My daughter, like her brothers before her, has chubby thighs, so she rarely fits any of the bloomers I've purchased online. They are always pinching her belly or (more often) her thighs and I feel so badly about it that I end up removing the bloomers. Gymboree and Baby Gap bloomers always work well, though!

  52. I have to agree with you on Amy Butler and her bringing me inspiration to sew from her beautiful fabrics. She is one of my inspirations. I have used a bunch of her patterns and they can be very confusing. Some are easier then others. The books I feel are more difficult because there are no images and too wordy! I recently made the Kimono PJs, size 0-3 for a newborn and they are ginormous!! …it will hopefully fit her when she is 3-6 months. I too had to read and read over and over again. Patterns shouldn't be like that, we are artists and we need visuals to help us understand!

  53. i am in the middle of making this and searching for advice about the sleeves because the way i interpret the instructions seems like it would close up the hole to the sleeve. help! 🙂 i hope i figure it out soon.

    i've done a bunch of other projects from this book – diaper bag, booties, kimono pjs, crib sheets + quilt, snuggies… almost every one had a step where i spent 30 minutes just trying to understand it! more diagrams would be great.

  54. I made the smallest size and while it is absolutely gorgeous it was in fact a complete nightmare to construct – I think this might be a garment you need fingers the size of a three year old's to not end up ripping out stitches. (This might be true for all hand sewn infant garments.)

  55. It's 11pm and I've become so desperate just to figure out the bloomer instructions that I'm searching the net. It's so frustrating!
    Your set looks gorgeous by the way. Fingers crossed I can figure it out.

  56. You had me laughing there. I’m actually “trying” to make this top right now for a girft. I was looking for more precise instructions as I have problems with the construction too !
    I can’t give up now, ’cause all my fabric is cut, but man do I want to !!
    If I did not needed a gift for sunday, I’d try something else !

  57. Saw this link at the bottom of a newer post and had to comment, because I also made those bloomers in the newborn size (three years ago) and was so sad when they came nowhere close to fitting my average-sized newborn. Way too short in the rise, if I remember correctly.

    I’ve made AB bag patterns with no issues, but I put down the Little Stitches book after a few patterns didn’t turn out the way that I’d hoped. I was a novice seamstress back then, though, so I might have more luck now that I have many more projects under my belt. 🙂

  58. I have this book too and I have tried to make the cutie booties which came out too small and incredibly frustrating due to her wonky instructions. I wanted to throw the book in the garbage! I was looking through it again today thinking that the fabric requirements are excessive, instructions are unclear, and honestly harder than they need to be. I was actually googling to see if anyone has posted a tutorial using their own improved method so I can actually make something from this book.

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