How to Sew a Ruffled Maxi Dress for an 18” Doll

I have always enjoyed designing and sewing doll clothes.  As a teen, I began selling my creations, first to our neighbors and my mother’s co-workers, eventually moving on to the local arts and crafts fair.

Over the years I learned that it was the handmade doll clothes that the children loved best. So why not sew this 18″ doll ruffled maxi dress as a gift for someone you know?

Sew a Ruffle Maxi Dress for an 18" Doll

This easy-to-sew ruffled maxi dress doesn’t require a pattern. All of the pieces are rectangles that you cut to size. It is designed for quilting cottons which come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. It is a great way to use up your scraps or some of those fat quarters you’ve collected!

Let’s get started.

Materials to Sew the 18″ Doll Ruffled Maxi Dress

  • Front panel fabric (1) piece 4” (w) x 10” (l) quilting cotton
  • Dress fabric (2) pieces 13” (w) x 10” (l) quilting cotton
  • Ruffle (3) pieces 20” (w) x 4-1/2” (l) quilting cotton
  • Shoulder Strap (1) piece 1-3/4” (w) x 4-1/2” (l) quilting cotton
  • 1/4” Elastic –12” piece
  • Hook-and-Loop Tape – 12” piece
  • All-purpose thread to match
  • Rotary Cutter or Fabric Shears
  • Ruler
  • Self-Healing Mat (if using Rotary Cutter)
  • Marking Tool
  • Straight Pins
  • Safety Pin
  • Iron and Ironing Board
  • Sewing Machine (I used my BERNINA 770 QE)

Gather all supplies needed to sew a ruffled maxi dress for an 18" doll

Steps to Sew the 18″ Doll Ruffled Maxi Dress

Select and Cut Fabrics for the Ruffled Maxi Doll Dress

Choose three coordinating pieces of fabric for the doll dress.  If needed, iron the fabric to remove any wrinkles before cutting.

Place the fabric wrong side up on a self-healing mat (if using a rotary cutter).

  • Using a ruler, mark a 4” (w) x 10” (l) piece for the front panel; cut it out.
  • Mark two pieces 13” (w) x 10” (l) for the main portion of the dress; cut out.
  • Mark three pieces 20” (w) x 4-1/2” (l) for the ruffle; cut out.
  • Mark a 1-3/4” (w) x 4-1/2” (l) for the shoulder straps; cut out (this will be cut in half forming two straps later).

Stitch the Front Panel to the Doll Dress

With right sides together, match the 10” edge of the front panel to one 10” edge of each dress piece; pin. Stitch using a 3/8” seam allowance. The front panel will be in between the two main dress pieces.

Stitch Front Panel to Dress Using a 3/8" seam allowance

Optional: Finish the seam with an overlock stitch using the BERNINA Overlock Foot #2A and stitch number 3 (on the BERNINA 770 QE). Press the seam toward the main dress.

Finish Seam with Overlock Stitch and Overlock Foot 2A

Create the Upper Casing for the Doll Dress

Designate one edge of the dress as the upper edge.  Along the upper edge of the dress, measure and turn 1/4″ to the wrong side; press.

Turn and Press 1/4" to wrong side on top edge of dress

Now measure another 1/2” and turn to the wrong side; press.

Turn and Press another 1/2" to the wrong side of top edge of dress

Stitch close to the pressed edge creating a casing. Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of the casing.

Stitch to Create Casing at Top Edge of DressCreate the Straps and Add to the Doll Dress

Fold the strap in half lengthwise with wrong sides facing; press lightly and unfold. Fold in each long edge so the raw edges meet at the center (where you just lightly pressed); press.

Fold long edges of strap to meet in middle and press

Fold in half again so raw edges are inside; press.

Fold Strap in half lengthwise again and press

Stitch close to the long edge on each side and cut in half creating two straps.

Cut in half creating two straps

Place the dress on a flat surface wrong side up.  Place each strap on the wrong side of the dress near the front panel seam, extending about 1/4” below the casing stitch line; pin.

Place straps on inside of dress along center front panel seams and pin

Stitch strap in place going back and forth a few times to secure the strap.

Stitch Strap in Place to Secure to Dress

On the wrong side, measure 4-1/4” from the center back edge; mark. Take the other end of each strap and place at that mark being careful not to twist the strap. Extend the raw edge about 1/4” below the casing stitch line; pin; stitch in place going back and forth a few times to secure the strap.Place other end of strap 4-1/4" from center back, pin

Edgestitch along the top edge of the casing catching in each strap.

Edge stitch along upper edge of casing catching in all four straps

Prepare the Ruffle for the Doll Dress

With right sides together, place one short end of two ruffle pieces together; pin; stitch using a 3/8” seam allowance.  Place the remaining ruffle piece along one short end; pin; stitch using a 3/8” seam allowance. You will now have one long rectangle. Press the seams open.

Create the hem by measuring and turning under 1/4” to the wrong side along the bottom edge of the ruffle; press.

Press 1/4" to wrong side on ruffle hem

Turn under another 1/4” to the wrong side, press and stitch in place.

Turn another 1/4" to wrong side on ruffle and press

Increase the stitch length on your machine. On my BERNINA 770 QE, I set the straight stitch at 6.00.

Stitch one row of gathering stitches 3/8” from the upper edge. Do not backstitch and be sure to leave long thread tails at the beginning and the end.

Use a long stitch length and leave a thread tail

Stitch another row of gathering stitches about 1/4” from the upper edge.

Add the Ruffle to the Doll Dress

Mark the center front of the dress and the ruffle. Fold each in half matching the back edges and place a pin at the center.

Mark the center fronts of the dress and ruffle

With right sides together, place the ruffle along the bottom edge of the dress matching the center front and raw edges; pin.  Now match the back edge of half of the ruffle to the back edge of the dress and pin.

Gently pull up the gathering threads to fit the ruffle evenly along the bottom edge of the dress. Pin as you go.  Repeat for the other half of the ruffle.

Pin Ruffle to Dress Pulling Gathers to Fit

Stitch the ruffle to the dress using a 3/8” seam allowance. Before stitching, change the stitch length of your machine back to your normal stitch length. Don’t forget to remove pins as you sew.

Stitch Ruffle to Dress

Press the seam toward the dress.

Press Seam Up Towards the Dress

On the right side, topstitch 1/4” from the ruffle and dress seam. This will help hold the ruffle seam in place.

Topstitch on the right side of the dressAdd Elastic to the Casing of the Doll Dress

Cut a piece of 1/4” elastic 12” long.  Pin a safety pin to one end of the elastic and place the safety pin in the casing. Attach safety pin to elastic and insert into casing

Slide the safety pin forward inside the casing, which will gather up the fabric. As you move the safety pin forward, you’ll need to continue to pull the excess fabric back. Be sure to pin the end of the elastic to the opening so it does not go into the casing.

Pin elastic at casing opening

Once the elastic appears on the other side of the casing, pin in place and remove the safety pin. Stitch back and forth a few times to secure the elastic.

Stitch to secure elastic at casing ends

Fold the doll dress in half and adjust the elastic in the casing so it is equal on both sides of the dress.

Adjust elastic equally in casing

Add the Hook-and-Loop Closure to the Doll Dress

On the back edge of the dress, fold 1/2” to the wrong side; press. Fold another 1/2” to the wrong side; press.

With the hook-and-loop tape stuck together, cut a piece 12″ long.  Cut in half lengthwise. Set aside one set to use in another project.

Pull the pieces apart. Place the soft side of the hook-and-loop tape to the wrong side of the left-back opening. If you have clips use them as inserting pins in the tape can be difficult. Place the other side, the scratchy side, on the right side of the right-back opening. Secure with clips (or pins).

Pin or Clip hook and loop tape to back of dress

Stitch in place close to all four edges.

Stitch hook and loop tape in place

Tip: Use the height compensation tool when you stitch at the edge with the elastic casing if you have difficulty due to the bulk of the casing and elastic.

Use a height compensating tool at top of the dressAdmire your work as you’re done!

Additional Embellishment Ideas for the Doll Dress

This dress is sure to bring a smile to any little one.  Because of the basic shape, you can get as creative as you like. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

Instead of three fabrics, use one fabric and add an applique to the center panel, and trim on the bottom edge of the dress right above the ruffle.  My applique was purchased, but if you have an embroidery machine you can make your own.

Animal Print Maxi Doll Dress with Applique

Add multiple pieces of trim horizontally on the center front panel before stitching the panel to the dress.  Add lace trim to the bottom of the dress ruffle.

White eyelet maxi dress with multiple trims

Stitch a decorative zipper on the center front panel.

Decorative zipper to front panel of doll maxi dress

Add a piece of vintage trim lengthwise on the center front panel.

Vintage Trim added to panel on doll maxi dress

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