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Swim Cover-Up: Shirred Dress with Braided Halter Ties

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Swim Cover-Up: Shirred Dress with Braided Halter Ties


My kids didn’t swim much last summer.  I know, I know — summers are for swimming.  But last summer I was either very pregnant or had a brand new baby.  So, I was kinda lame and we didn’t go out much………so they aren’t great swimmers.  Well, unless we are talking bathtub swimming — but I hear that doesn’t really count! ;)


Since moving to Oklahoma, I have realized that swimming is pretty much what kids do all summer to beat the intense heat here.  So, I decided to put all 3 older kids in swimming lessons and get a head start on summer swimming.  And they are having a BLAST!


And since lessons will continue for about 4 more weeks and then I’m pretty sure we’ll be swimming all summer, I decided to whip up the girls a little Swim Cover-Up.  You know, something to quickly throw on over your suit so you don’t feel super naked and then something that can be thrown on to come back home in.  But this will also be handy for spending time at the lake or if we find time to take a trip to the ocean this summer.  In fact, I’ll be making one for me too……so consider making one in all sizes!




If you’ve never shirred a thing in you’re life, it’s about time you started.  This is such a cool technique that can turn fabric into lovely gathers in minutes.  And because of that (and the fact that we’re using knit fabric that doesn’t fray), this whole dress comes together so QUICKLY.




And to keep the dress up and in place, I attached braided halter straps that tie behind the neck……and hang down the back.




This knit is nice and stretchy and pretty light……but gives Elli and Chloe a little coverage on our way to and from swimming lessons AND to whatever swimming holes we find this summer!


But really, you could use this idea as a nice and breezy summer dress as well.  Or even make yours into a long summer maxi dress!  Okay, that’s it….I’m making mine into a maxi. :)




I wasn’t even going to add the halter ties…..but am so glad I did.  They stretch and aren’t too snug or restrictive around the neck — but give the right amount of security to the top of the dress, to keep it from slipping down.




We are so ready for summer (especially since it was raining in the background of these pictures…and was actually kinda chilly).


***Oh, and yes, I chopped Elli’s hair off too.  She told me a few days ago, after a really warm day, that her hair is too hot on her neck.  I asked her if she wanted me to cut it like Chloe’s….and she said yes!  (I think it’s because Chloe’s turned out so cute and she has gotten so much attention. Ha!)  So, we chopped her hair right off, just like we used to do when she was Chloe’s age.




Anyway, would you like to whip up a few Cover-Ups (or summer dresses) for you or some little girls you know??


Okay, let’s go…



  • Lightweight Knit Fabric (amount varies, depending on size…and you don’t want anything too thick, or it won’t pull in correctly)
  • elastic thread (you can buy elastic thread HERE)
  • standard sewing supplies

***Check out my Sewing Terms 101 post, for additional help.

***And be sure to check out the Shirring/Smocking tutorial if you’ve never used this technique.



First of all, measure your subject (or yourself, if you’re making this for you) around the upper chest, level with the armpits.  Multiply that number by 2 and that’s the width of your piece of fabric.  Then measure from right at the armpit, down to the length you want and that’s the height of your piece of fabric.


***For example, my 4-year-old Chloe has an upper chest measures of 22 inches around and I wanted the dress to be 20 inches long.  So I cut a piece of fabric that was 44 inches wide and 20 inches tall.


Now, fold your piece of fabric in half, width-wise, and right sides together.  Sew the two ends together with a 1/2 inch seam allowance.  And then sew another seam right next to the first, just for added stability.




Now, if you have never shirred/smocked before…..check out my Shirring & Smocking tutorial and load up your bobbin with elastic thread.  Then make sure your fabric is right side facing up and slide the top edge under your sewing machine.  Starting at the side seam (that you sewed in the last step), back-stitch a few times and begin sewing 1/4 inch from the top edge of the dress.



Sew all the way around the top edge of the dress.  Overlap the beginning of your seam and back-stitch a few more times.



Then, lift up your presser foot and slide your fabric over to the right, so that the seam you just created is now 1/4 inch from the needle.  Back-stitch a few times to begin your next seam and then begin sewing your second seam.  Keep the first seam 1/4 inch from the needle, so that you create an evenly spaced and straight second line.  (I use the edge of the presser foot as my 1/4 inch guide…)



As you’re sewing, make sure and stretch the fabric flat, so that the elastic along the back side isn’t creating any gathers in the fabric.  (I usually use my right hand to pull the fabric in front of the needle toward me and then I use my left hand to pull the fabric behind the needle away from me.)  Then sew as far as the fabric isn’t gathered…..then stop, re-adjust, and then continue sewing.



Once you make a complete second circle, back-stitch again over the beginning of the second line.  Then lift the presser foot and re-align your needle to create your 3rd seam, 1/4 inch from the 2nd.



And then repeat, repeat, and repeat again.



The more lines of shirred seams you have, the more your fabric will gather.  Be sure you keep the fabric pulled and flat while you are sewing.



If you run out of elastic thread in the bobbin…..don’t worry!  Just re-load the bobbin and then start sewing again right over the end of where the seam ended, back-stitch a few times to knot the elastic thread along the back, and then continue sewing.



Continue creating lines of shirred seams, until you have the height of shirred fabric that you want.  (I created 4 inches worth of shirred seams for Chloe’s dress.  And about 4 1/2 inches for Elli.  If you’re making it for yourself or for someone with a chest, you’ll need enough rows to cover the entire chest section.)


Then, just like explained in the Shirring/Smocking tutorial, steam ironing your rows of shirring will help tighten up the elastic and will shrivel the fabric down even more.  So, don’t skip this step!



Now, you have a cute little shirred dress.



Now, just take a minute to admire the magic of that elastic thread.  So cool how that works, right?! :)



Now, you could always stop here.  But, straps are a great way to keep the dress from pulling down.  So here’s how to create some really quick and simple straps for your dress.


Cut two long strips of fabric, one for each tie.  The length depends on how long you want the ties to hang in the back and the width depends how thick you want your braids and how bulky you want the bow in the back.  For Chloe’s 4-year-old dress, I cut 2 pieces that were about 4 inches wide and 30 inches long…and it worked great!


And then at one end, I cut the ends into three equal pieces, so that I could braid the ends long enough to pull to the back of the neck….but no longer than that.



Then I braided the ends of each strip and sewed the very end of each braid shut.



Then, I crossed the two ends of each braid into a “V” shape and sewed those together.



Then, I found the very front center of the dress (directly opposite the seam down the back) and tucked the crossed ends of the braids down behind the shirred section about 1-1.5 inches.  Then I sewed the straps right to the dress, with a few horizontal seams.



And that’s all it takes to make this little Cover-Up (or summer dress)!  So, I made one for Elli too!  And now they are both ready to swim lessons and summer swimming!





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If you’re wanting a few more simple clothing tutorials, here are a few darling ideas…


Like these Color Block Dresses from Old Tshirts


Or how about this sweet little Rainbow Bias Tape Skirt


Or maybe try your hand at these simple little Stretchy Baby Hats…with a Top Knot



Swim Cover-Up: Shirred Dress with Braided Halter Ties

Ashley Johnston
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Ashley Johnston

Owner at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with my craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!
Swim cover-up: shirred dress with braided halter ties
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  1. Namita says:

    Hey Ashley,

    Just wanted to take a minute to tell you how much I love your blog! I have made quite a few dresses and skirts following your instructions and received great compliments… Which in return are totally for you because without your cool ideas and great instructions I couldn’t have made the stuff!

    Thanks so much for sharing with us!

  2. Julie says:

    Oh! I LOVE your page! I’ve had the peplum shirt/skirt open in a tab for a couple of weeks, as a to-try, since the t-shirt/skirts were successful!

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh good, glad you’re enjoying it. Thanks so much!

  3. Julie says:

    I tried using elastic thread, but it didn’t gather the fabric. I was using old t-shirts, so maybe they were too thick?

    1. Marie Asbury says:

      I tried it too, adjusted how tightly the bobbin was wound and both tries looked like a classic pinterest fail lol.

    2. Ashley says:

      Oh no, sorry it was giving you trouble. Did it pull in at all? It could be that the fabric was too thick but give it a try on some thin scrap fabric…..the thinner the better, just to see if the technique is even working at all. If it’s working on the thinner fabric, then it may be that the Tshirt fabric was too thick. (But you could still use it. Put a casing around the top and cinch it in, just like a skirt. But add the straps and it will help it look more like a dress.) If it’s not even working on the thinner fabric……give some of the techniques a try at the bottom of the shirring tutorial (the link is up in the tutorial). Hope some of these suggestions help! And good luck!

  4. Jan says:

    Ok, so I just finished my daughter’s tiered maxi skirt for tomorrow’s pioneer school day and now I want to go buy some elastic thread and try shirring! With swim team this summer, I NEED to make a bunch of these!

    1. Ashley says:

      Yes, you’ll love these then! If you’ve never tried shirring, try on some scrap fabric first…..and then give it a go!

  5. Mamid4 says:

    Thank you! I will definitely make some for my 4 y.o. & 8 month old DDs for our lake vacation! What type of knit do you use? 100% cotton or a cotton blend? Anything that I can get at Joann’s since I have a gift card? I might even make one for me :)

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh, this is perfect for them! :)

      And you could use either one…..any type would work. Jersey knits will hang a little nicer. But just grab different types and kinda gather it in your hand at the store and see how they hang. You’ll kinda get an idea by feeling and holding them.

      Best of luck! :)

  6. CreativeKhadija says:

    so pretty! love it..

  7. Sarah Burrell says:

    Such a great idea. Looks like I’ll be making a trip to the fabric store soon. :-) Love the hair cut too! My girlies just got their hair chopped off for summer time too, and I LOVE it.

    1. Ashley says:

      It’s totally summer’s fault we whacked it…..but I really love it too!

      And good luck whipping up a few of these! :)


  8. Penny says:

    I just want to take a second and tell you how awesome you are! I will never have the sewing skills that you do, but I love to try and you make the experiments very fun! Thanks very very much!

    1. Ashley says:

      Awwww, thanks so much Penny! Really, that was so appreciated!

      And if you keep at it, you’ll pass me right up! Seriously. :)

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Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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