Rainbow Dress Tutorial


Well it’s here: The Rainbow Dress Tutorial! I realize my timing is (as usual) a little odd, as it’s now the very end of summer proper and the temperatures here in Michigan are downright cool. But my sister Elli just moved to Texas and assures me that it’s still 100 degrees there, so I’m guessing some of you will still be able to use and enjoy it. Anyway, it’s never too early to start sewing for next summer, right?

Finished Size

This tutorial is for a size 2T dress

If you skip the straps, a size 3-5T skirt that is 18″ long and has a 26″ waist (fully stretched). The finished dress is 18″ tall without straps and 21″ tall with straps.

What about other sizes?

If you’d like to make the dress in a larger size, add 1/4″ to the width and length of each rectangular piece for every size you want to go up (for example, you would add 3/4″ to each piece for a size 5). Note that the bottom piece is already 44″ wide, so my suggestion would be to leave that one the same width. If you want to make this in smaller sizes, subtract 1/4″ from both the width and the length of each piece for each size you want to go down.

Materials List

1/2 yard of four coordinating fabrics (it doesn’t have to be a rainbow; think solids! stripes! colorblock!)
elastic thread for shirring (see Step 6 for more information on elastic thread)
1/2″ wide elastic for straps

Do you need a serger?

Nope. The instructions here presume that you have a serger to finish the edges as shown in the pictures, but if you don’t have a serger, you can easily zigzag stitch the raw edges for a similar effect. I’ve also included suggestions throughout this tutorial for sewing this dress without serging OR zig-zagging (is that even a word?)

Read this first please:

The pictures and instructions are offered here for free. Please don’t repost any of my content without permission. Thanks!

You can download the 2-page printable PDF of this tutorial here:


Step 1


Step 2


Use a 1/4″ seam to sew the ends together on one side. Then serge the top and bottom edges of each tier. A zig-zag stitch works just fine if you don’t have a serger. If you prefer a more “finished” look, add 1″ to the width of each of the panels when cutting in Step 1, then fold/press under 1/4″ twice along the long edges and sew down instead.

Step 3


I find it easiest to gather by setting my machine tension to the highest setting and using the longest stitch length possible. Then I just sew one row of stitches 1/2″ from the edge on the right side of the fabric to gather it up. Leave plenty of thread at each end. When you pull on either of the top threads you can adjust the gathers easily.

Line up the tiers with their ends and seams together. The top edge of the second tier should overlap the top tier by 5/8″ (an easy way to do this: flip it over to the back side and move the second tier so that the gathering stitches are JUST hidden by the bottom edge of the top tier). Adjust the gathers evenly by pulling on the ends of the gathering threads, then pin them together.

Step 4


Sew directly over the gathering stitches, 1/2″ from the top of the second tier.

Step 5



Now it should look like this:


Step 6


Handwind a bobbin loosely with elastic thread* and put it in your machine. This goes faster than you might think because elastic thread is really thick.

*You want my advice? Don’t use Dritz or JoAnn storebrand, the quality seem to be really unpredictable and has resulted in nothing but in poor shirring and tears for me. Try Guterman (available at JoAnn) or order yourself a huge cone of this stuff instead.

OK, so begin shirring across the top tier, beginning 1″ below the top edge. Leave a little bit of extra elastic thread at the end of each row before turning the fabric around and sewing back across the tier. The rows should be 1/4″ – 1/2″ apart. Keep in mind that you should ALWAYS test this on a scrap of fabric before attempting on your dress, and that the closer together your rows, the more tightly your fabric will gather. I have mentioned before that I have a love/hate relationship with shirring; in my experience it definitely takes some trial and error to get the tightness you want, so take the time to experiment with this a little bit so you don’t get frustrated!

Steam the rows of shirring with your iron after you are finished; the elastic should shrink up even more:


Step 7:


Pin the remaining side edges together, matching up each tier carefully. Then sew together with a 1/4″ seam.


I also serged this seam to prevent fraying, but you could also zigzag stitch or do a french seam here if you don’t have a serger.

Step 8:


Now it should look something like this:


If you are making a skirt, congratulations, you’re finished!  Or continue on to add straps…

Step 9:


Step 10:


You’ll need about 8″ of 1/2″ wide elastic to thread through the casing here.

Note: If you don’t like the serged/zigzagged look, cut your strap rectangles 1″ wider, then fold the raw edges opposite the fold under (together) 1/4″ twice and sew down for a more finished look. You could also fold the raw edges under towards each other and sew down. Either way works.

Step 11:


You’ll want to pin the straps in place with safety pins and try it on a child before sewing these down; I found that 8″ was a little too long so I pulled a little more elastic through and then sewed the straps down. Fold under the raw edges on the ends before sewing them to the dress.


Voila! Finished dress!!! Add your photos to the Rae Made Me Do It! Photo pool so we can all enjoy them.

42 thoughts on “Rainbow Dress Tutorial

  1. Really cute… great job! Thanks so much for writing this up!

    Like I need one more distraction… now I’m going to be thinking about how to mess with this so it will fit my 7 year old:)

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I probably won’t get to this until next summer, but I will go get the PDF soon!

  3. Oh my heavens, I am so excited! I don’t have any daughters (3 boys!)but I just have to make this little dress. My cousin has a precious little girl getting ready to turn 1, I may just make one for her 🙂 Thank you! Smiles~Beth

  4. This is adorable! I can’t wait to try it for my daughter. I am thinking of trying this with knits (since I don’t have a serger and would therefore not need to finish the edges). Does anyone know if the shirring would be similar with knits (I’ve never shirred before)?

  5. Very cute! Remember, y’all, that the difference between, say, 2T and 3T in pattern world is only an inch. So add an inch to the length of everything and you’re good to go for a size bigger!

  6. rae, this is totally fabulous! and I don’t care that summer’s almost over, I’m making some darn it! you = amazing.

  7. Very cute! And totally jealous of your cool temps there!!
    Also, best thing about dresses is that even when it gets chilly, they are still cute with a little cardigan and tights… 🙂

  8. Thanks so much for sharing, it’s such a cute dress! Since we live in the tropics, it’ll be perfect, even if i don’t get to sit down and sew it till December!

  9. I am such a fan!.. Where I am summer is officially over.. BUT! my lil lady will be 2 just in time for next summer!… I will certianly be making this over the winter! thanks, Rae.. you’re the BEST!

  10. Rae – regarding the HUGE cone of elastic thread – have you tried it? They have a thicker one and a thinner one – I’m wondering which would be better. I’ve had so much trouble with the thinner ones and picked up a thicker one on clearance at Hancocks and it was GREAT! Thanks!

    • Hi Kendra:
      SO, I did order the “thinner” cone, and that’s what I used for the actual Rainbow dress in this very tutorial…I found it worked great; it’s a little tighter than i need but I think if I loosen my bobbin screw a little bit it will be perfect. Certainly better than the spool I got at Joann this spring that completely pooped out on me. 🙂

  11. Yay! This is totally cute and looks like a GREAT way to use up scraps and thrifted fabrics. I can also definitely see a knit version.

    Thanks for all your hard work 🙂

  12. Love it! I am going to have to adapt this for my 4 year old (who’s wearing size 6 clothes!)… I just need to troubleshoot shirring in my machine, it’s not cooperating 🙁

  13. So cute, I am totally sewing a bunch of summer clothes during the winter this year….last year I waited until spring and never really got much accomplished. This year I am going to take advantage of our looooonnng, snowy winter!

  14. So sweet, Iove it! This year I am totally sewing a bunch of summer clothes during the winter, last year I waited until spring and never really got much accomplished. I am going to take advantage of our looooong snowy winters and get some cute stuff made for next spring and summer 🙂

  15. Thank you for this tutorial!! I can’t wait to make it for my daughter.

    I am going to buy the PDF version, but a quick question before I head out to the store.

    When you say 1/2 yard, do you mean 1/2 yard of each color/block? or 1/2 yard total?

    Can you tell I’m a beginner?

  16. Just found this tute thanks for pinterest! Must have missed it in my feed! It’s right up towards the top of my to-do list now! Thanks! You’re a legend!

  17. Rae, I absolutely love all of your Tutorials, and realise you do put a lot of work into making them. Without them I couldn’t make anything as patterns are so dear to buy. I also appreciate the offer of a PDF for $2.00. Am looking forward to seeing many more of your lovely tutes.

  18. I made a purple version of your rainbow dress for my daughter’s first birthday. She looked so cute!! I made only 3 layers on the dress so that she was still able to crawl. I cut out and sewed the edges on the fourth layer and I figure I can add it on next year and she can continue to wear it! Great directions! Check out her picture on my blog. http://istadesigns.blogspot.ca/ Thanks

  19. Does the pattern you can purchase come with instructions for different sizes. I would like to make one for my 1 year old (preferably in size 18M) and for my 4 year old.

    • Hi Vicky!
      The PDF to purchase is not a pattern, it’s just a printable version of the tutorial. It does not come with other sizes, sorry!

  20. I love this dress and can not wait to make one for my daughter! She is definitely a girly girl and loves all things dress!!! Could you give me an idea as to how much fabric I would need to make a size 6? Thank you so much!

    • I would like to know yardage/measurments for sz 6/7 as well. I love this dress, it’s so cute!

  21. I love this dress and I am actually trying to make it now. I’m having a small issue though. I have my top two pieces together however my top piece looks ridiculously small conpared to your pictures. I measured it 4×13 (I’m making it slightly smaller for my almost one year old). I can’t figure out what is going on or if I am just a loony toon lol.

  22. Rae – love the “Rainbow Dress”. I want to make it for my 6 year old granddaughter. She has a waist of 25″ and a length from under armpit to bottom of dress of 21″.

    What advice can you give me to modify your 2T pattern to suit? I figure just add a couple of inches to all four gingham strips, do you agree.

    Can you also advise what 2T means. Is the “T” for Toddler?

    I’ll buy your pattern as a small mark of my appreciation.

    Cheers, Mal AU

  23. Hi, I made two of your rainbow dresses. One for my 3 year old and one for my 5 year old. They are so adorable. I love them and my daughters do as well. They were easy to make. Love your directions. Thanks so much.

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