1970s | Children

Toddler Tennis Dress and Sewing “in the Flat”

May 14, 2012

Yesterday for Mother’s Day, my sweetie pie husband gave me the day off. He cooked all of our meals and cleaned up too, and I was free to get some good sewing time in. I made a dress for the baby in a cute little retro print synthetic knit I found thrifting for a quarter.

For the second time now, I sewed an entire garment “in the flat.” Does anyone else do this? What the heck do I mean? Well, the instructions for the pattern I used, Butterick 5976, would have you sew the side, back and shoulder seams, then attach the collar and facing, insert the zipper next, and then ease in the sleeves and hem them (those tiny little sleeves!) before hemming the dress bottom.

Here is what I did:

  1. Serged the shoulder seams together and pressed them backward
  2. Eased in the sleeve cap and serged into place
  3. Serged sleeve hem and hemmed/stitched the opening of the sleeve while flat
  4. Sewed the collar as usual. Serged bottom of facing and attached facing and collar to dress
  5. Understitched facing and instead of tacking stitched facing to shoulder it in the ditch through the top of the shoulder seam
  6. Serged both sides of back seam separately then sewed to zipper bottom position. Inserted zipper, and hand slip-stitched facing edge at top of zipper
  7. Serged side seams and sleeve seams all at once. Pressed seams toward back. Alternately (to allow for small adjustments later) you could serge front and back individually and sew
  8. Serged hem and hemmed it

I don’t know if there is any reason not to sew this way, but I have been finding many aspects of construction easier when garments are sewn in the flat- especially kids stuff. Um, and zippers! If you are machine sewing a zipper, it is way, way easier to sew it flat without all of that extra fabric in the way. And why fuss to fold and hem a tiny sleeve when you can just sew it flat? Yes, this does make a seam that ends at the armscye, but isn’t that seam hidden by the child’s arm anyway?

 I’d really be interested to know if anyone else sews this way or has tried it, or if anyone knows of reasons why it might be a bad idea.

Another neat part about this project, for me, was that it was constructed mostly on my serger, which I have used a lot for finishing, but not construction. I imagine this method of sewing flat made the serger construction easier, as there were curves to sew but not circles.

 Now that I’ve rambled on, here are some pics of my little munchkin in her new dress.


Courtesy of the Vintage Pattern Wiki


She is wearing my shoes 🙂


It is great how she is so excited to wear a dress I have made her. Sometimes she comes to me with a shirt or scarf and says, “Mommy, I made this for you!” It won’t be long before we’ll have a little sweatshop going!

Also posted at my blog, Farmhouse Garden.

  1. Cute dress! I always sew kids stuff this way too- it’s far easier than trying to set and hem sleeves once the sides are sewn up on such a small garment. I tend to use it for blouses for myself too depending on the style.

  2. My mom sometimes sews this way. She told me that she learned it from her mom who learned it from sewing in a factory. It does make sewing some things a lot easier, especially sleeves.

    Also, your little one looks adorable! I love that print.

  3. That dress and your daughter are cute for words! I can’t wait until I have little ones to sew for. I sew garments that way sometimes too, depending on how I want the sleeves to lay. When I attempt to reverse engineer RTW items, I occasionally find garments made that way (which makes sense given Sabrina’s mom’s experience in the factory). It’s completely understandable that you would want to sew such a little garment that way. Love it!

  4. I usually try so hard to follow the directions because I’m so sure they know better than me but then when I have to rip out a seam, I just go with my gut and sew flat. It’s so much faster and cleaner. Oh and my goodness, those pigtails are killing me. Just adorable.

  5. I should preface this by saying that my mother and grandmother taught me to sew on doll’s clothes. But–I do this with just about everything. I detest sewing in sleeves in the round, for example. It just seems so much easier this way!

  6. I sew this way when doing doll clothes for 18″ dolls (my current project). I also use this method when sewing for small children. Kids grow so fast that I don’t want to spend too much time on construction unless it’s an heirloom outfit.

  7. That is adorable! If it was in stores it would sell like hotcakes – all those toddlers who tag along to their mother’s tennis! So right about sewing on the flat especially for children’s clothes. So fiddly to set in a tiny sleeve. Factories that make doll’s clothes must have special machines.

  8. What a gorgeous dress and great that you could serge so much of it – I love making children’s clothes on the serger, almost like instant gratification (except for the time I accidentally sliced through the leg of a dungaree and had to remove the whole one side). I think flat sewing is a great idea for fiddly children’s items (especially those sleeves that don’t fit round the free-arm!), my Reader’s Digest bible also uses it as the way for sewing men’s shirts (to enable the flat-fell seams I guess). I recently used it to make a zip-front jumpsuit. There are some items it wouldn’t be compatible with (e.g. under-arm gussets, two-part sleeves, tailored items) but for the most part, its always easier to sew with a method you like and enjoy so why not?!

    A lot of ’50s pattern envelopes promoted a new and quick method of construction, which was basically the flat method, Butterick seemed particularly fond of it. it seemed to have been phased out somewhere in the ’60s.

  9. I sew a ton of doll clothes and little people’s clothes, so I make everything ‘in the flat’ – I didn’t even realize this was its own sewing technique! Honestly, even on my own clothes, it’s generally not worth the extra effort to set sleeves in the round. On my own clothes I set the sleeves in flat and then hem or cuff the sleeve after the underarm seam is sewn.

    1. That is simple genius! Sew it in unhemmed and then hem it (forehead smack)! I’m going to try it on my next blouse. This is all very helpful, as what is missing from my wardrobe is nice tops. I have a few patterns set aside to get started on. Also, I’d really like to improve my speed on some simpler garments without sacrificing quality, and sewing flat seems like the way to go about it.

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