Thursday, April 29, 2010

MBR Spring Top Week - Mexican Tent Dress inspired top

If you don't know what a Mexican Tent Dress is, prepare to fall in love (as I did) after seeing them worn as bridesmaid dresses in this wedding blog post.

The colors, the detail, the loose fit that flatters so many body types... what's not to love?

So I took inspiration from these dresses to create my entry for Made By Rae's Spring Top Week.

PATTERN: I looked through my stash of thrifted patterns and actually found a couple that would work. The winner was Butterick Sew & Go 4823, which doesn't have a publication date but I'm guessing late 70s. The concept of this top (or dress) could be done with any pattern with a sizeable yoke or bib on which to do embellishments. You could also create your own pattern, as the shapes are basic and the fit does not need to be overly tailored.

FABRIC: A green/blue doubleknit (thrifted) for the main garment and leftover white polo shirt scraps leftover from my popped-collar-trifecta refashion.


Using freezer paper (much like wax paper but only one side is waxy), trace out the shape of the pattern piece you will be embellishing. Fold the paper in half and sketch the design on the paper one half of the freezer paper (non-waxy side). I used pencil which allowed me to change the design until I found something I really liked. If in doubt draw more items than you think you will eventually use.

Next you will transfer the drawn designs as a mirror image. Using a few pieces of scotch tape, attach the folded paper to a window and trace the design onto the remainder of the non-waxy side.

Iron your design paper with the waxy side touching the right/front side of the fabric (already cut to pattern). The wonderful thing about freezer paper is that it irons easily to fabric but also peels off easily without leaving residue.

Using small scissors, cut out the elements you will be doing as reverse applique, as shown in the image below (there's fabric under there, I promise!). I did the center medallion on my top as an normal (on top) appliqué to give the shirt some additional texture. Feel free to mix methods or do all reverse appliqué.

For the under fabric, cut slightly larger than the yoke (to allow for stretching adjustments as you pin and stitch). Pin the paper/fabric to the under fabric using a generous number of straight pins. I started in the center of my design and worked toward the sides of the yoke to ensure that the under fabric did not wrinkle or bulge. I did all hand stitching, gently tearing away the paper as I went. The purpose for leaving the paper attached is to prevent stretching the fabric or distorting the appliqué shapes. I did a simple stitch using thread matching the main garment fabric. (This is not the same technique as The Alabama Stitch Book, but you could use that method by using your freezer paper as a stencil. If you don't own the book you really should... it's just gorgeous.)

Move from each element to the next, continuing to tear away paper in small sections just before you stitch. (These stitching pictures are from my camera phone, so sorry about the image quality!)

Once finished embellishing, cut away any excess under fabric to match the yoke, and sew the garment as instructed by your pattern.

Another element I borrowed from the Mexican Tent dress is decorative stitching. I used a blanket stitch all around the yoke, arm holes, and as the bottom hem. I'm cheap so I just used 4 strands of thread in place of embroidery floss (cut one very long piece of thread, pull both ends through the eye of a needle and tie off with both the raw ends and middle).

End Result:


Since the inspiration dresses were so colorful I also considered doing a more traditional appliqué method using many colors of fabric from the t-shirt scrap bin.

For this method use the freezer paper to sketch designs, iron to scraps, and then cut out. (I traced circles, divided into segments to help me draw "petals" for the flowers)

This look was just more than I could commit to, so I used a single color and opted for the reverse appliqué technique, but you get the idea of where you could go if you don't fear color as much as I do!


  1. this is gorgeous - thank you for a fantastic tutorial

  2. Cute!! I Love Mexican tent dresses.

  3. I've always loved the look of the Mexican tent dress, but have never wanted to wear that much dress. Your top is perfect!!

    I linked to your tutorial on Craft Gossip Sewing:


  4. Your top is mega cute, I can't believe that it didn't make it into the Top 60! Way better than some of the tops that did--in my opinion. Thanks for the tutorial, I am bookmarking and adding it to my to-do list!

  5. amazing, especially what a simple blanket stitch can do to the "look" of a dress. thank you for the tute!

  6. Jer bear,
    Yea!!! Holly just told me about your blog. I'm adding you to my blog lists! So fun to see your stuff. I'm trying to do a project/mainly house projects blog. It's at and our family one is Cute stuff you make!!! Wish you lived closer now, as I'm recovering a chair today. I'm not the seemstress that you and Holly are!!!

  7. Love this! Thanks for sharing!