Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Abbey Nightie -- pattern drafting and sewing tutorial

I designed this nightie based off of an existing one worn by my cousin, Abbey, when she was little.  Her younger sister wore it as well, and at some point it was handed down to my daughter.  It's probably over 15 years old at this point, so I can't read on the tag what brand or size it was.  Since my daughter is an average-sized five-year-old, I'm guessing it's about a 5 or 5T size.  I have no idea how to do fancy things like grading a pattern up or down, but since this nightie doesn't have sleeves it might not be tough to do.

Normally I HATE patterns with raw edges exposed on the inside, but with knits -- especially upcycled t-shirts -- I make an exception.  You could assemble this with French seams, but I wouldn't bother.  I have also zig-zagged over the edges of the ruffles but ended up not liking it any better than the raw edges.  I can attest that my daughter and niece each have a couple of these nighties and wear them without complaints.  If I had a serger (hint, hint Corey!), then I could go to town finishing the few exposed seams at the sides and the hem.  Blah blah blah -- here is the tutorial!

The Abbey Nightie

Materials needed:
-       Old t-shirt, adult size medium or larger -- preferably an awesome one
-       Coordinating t-shirt, any size (or some knit material in a similar weight)  You can get crazy and use separate colors for the ruffles and binding strip for the neckline if you want, so in that case you will need two coordinating t-shirts.  I only used one color for the nightie in this tutorial.
-       Coordinating thread to both t-shirts
-       Freezer paper (or regular paper taped together to make one piece at least 20” tall and 8” wide) for drafting the pattern piece
-       Ball point sewing machine needle (for sewing with knits)

Various seam allowances are required for the pattern and are marked in the instructions at the appropriate times.


Until I get all smart and learn how to upload some pdf pattern pieces to be printed out for the pattern, here are some pattern drafting instructions.  Grab some freezer paper (or regular paper if you don’t have any freezer paper on hand) and draw a vertical line 20 inches long.  [Freezer paper is awesome because you can iron it to fabric and it temporarily adheres for you to cut around.  It can be ironed on over and over again, too.  It works especially well with knits, which like to walk around while you are cutting.]

Draw a dot one inch down from the top and label it point “A”.  For future reference, this is the top of the pattern piece.

Draw a dot 2 1/4" to the right of the top of the vertical line and label it point “B”.  Draw a shallow concave curve (as pictured) between points A and B.  It doesn’t need to be perfect – just a gentle curve.

Draw a dot 2 1/4" down and six" to the right from the top of the first vertical line and label it point “C”.  

Draw a shallow concave curve (as pictured) between points B and C.

Draw a dot 16" down and 8" to the right from the top of the original vertical line and label it point “D”.  Draw a straight line from point C to point D.  Make a small mark on the pattern at point D and transfer this mark to the fabric piece at the very edge once it is cut.

Draw a dot 20" down and 3" to the right from the top of the original vertical line and label it point “E”.  

Draw a gentle convex curve (as pictured) between points D and E.

Draw a dot at the bottom of the original vertical line and label it point “F”.  Draw a straight line between points E and F.

Mark the original straight line between points A and F with “place on fold” and cut out your pattern piece (disregarding the top inch of the original line).  For future reference, point A is at the top and point F is at the bottom of the pattern piece.  Your pattern piece should look like this once done:


First of all, make sure you have your husband's permission before you cut up his awesome t-shirt from 1987.  Yes, this t-shirt is 26 years old.  (Luckily, Corey was down with me turning this into a nightie, but it was a good thing I checked with him first.  Unlike the time I cut up his tape measure.  Ahem.)

Take your t-shirt (the one you want to be the main body of the nightgown) and lay it flat.  Cut each of the sleeves off in one piece and set them aside – you will need these for the underarm binding unless you prefer to use the coordinating t-shirt for that part.  I have done that before and it's cute, too.  

Next, cut the front away from the back by cutting up the side seams and along the shoulder seams.  You should now have four separate pieces – the front and the back, plus each of the sleeves (not pictured).

Fold the front of the t-shirt in half so that the design is centered and straight.  Often, silk screened designs aren’t very straight on old t-shirts, so pay special attention to this step!  Iron the freezer paper pattern piece (or place it with pattern weights, or trace around the pattern– whatever you like) onto the folded shirt, lining the “place on fold” side up with the fold in the shirt piece.  

Cut around the pattern piece and peel it off.  Repeat this with the back of the shirt.  Make sure to transfer the marks at point D on the pattern piece to each side of each pattern piece (or just note that point D is where the straight side starts to curve).

Grab your coordinating t-shirt and cut four strips that are 2" wide along the entire width of the shirt.  I folded the shirt in half first because my ruler wasn't long enough otherwise.

Cut those strips open.  Their length will vary depending on the width of the shirt used.  If you are using knit material not upcycled from a t-shirt, cut three strips that are about 48" long by 2" wide, with the direction of stretch going lengthwise.

Find the sleeves from the original t-shirt that you set aside. Cut each sleeve open along the under arm and spread each sleeve flat.  Cut a strip 2" wide right above the hem.  It probably won’t be precisely on grain, but don’t worry too much about this.  If you are cutting the strips from other knit material, just cut some strips about 11" long and 2" wide, with the direction of stretch going lengthwise.  (The sleeves are already cut open and stacked on top of one another in this photo).

Dial the tension up on your sewing machine as high as it goes, and set your straight stitch to its longest length.  (If you don’t like making ruffles this way, just use your favorite method for making ruffles and make sure the end product is the right length.  Here is a great tutorial on the more formal way to do it.)  Take one of your long strips of material cut from the coordinating t-shirt and sew with a 1/4” seam allowance along the entire length of the strip.  Don’t backstitch at the beginning or end or else you won’t be able to adjust the ruffle to the proper length.  

It should ruffle to a little less than half its length (depending on the weight of the shirt and the quirks of your machine), but leave enough of a thread tail at the beginning and end of the stitching line so that you can adjust the ruffle to be 20" long.  Tie the top and bobbin threads together at each end to secure the ruffle.

Repeat the process with one of the other strips.  Now you should have two ruffles, each 20" long.

Repeat the process with the third strip, but adjust this strip to be 23" long.  This will be used for the neckline/straps ruffle, so set it aside with the last long strip of t-shirt binding.

Take one of the ruffles and match the top (the side with the ruffling stitches) with the bottom raw edge on the right side of the front nightie piece, distributing the ruffles between the point D marks you should have made on the fabric at the end of Step One.  It probably doesn’t matter which side of the ruffle is the right or wrong side, but if it does please make sure you face the right side of the ruffle to the right side of the front of the nightie.  Pin the ruffle well to prevent shifting.

Sew the ruffle to the front piece with a 1/2” seam allowance, then iron the seam toward the nightie.

Topstitch 1/8” away from the ditch (the indentation at the seam) to secure the ruffle.  Normally, I would have used navy thread for this step, but I did all the topstitching in this project in red for better visibility.  It turned out pretty cute, actually!

Repeat this step with another ruffle and the back nightie piece (after you kick the annoying cat off the sewing table).  Note – I didn’t use a stretch stitch for this step because my daughter has worn her other Abbey Nighties 1,927 times without a problem.  If you think your recipient is especially hard on clothes, you can definitely use a stretch stitch for each step!

Now admire your ruffly body pieces!

Place the front and back nightie pieces with right sides together and pin.  At the bottom, pin the ruffles with right sides together as well.  

Sew down the sides with a 1/2" seam allowance from the underarms to the bottom of the ruffles.  When you get the point where the main body and the ruffles meet, leave your needle down and pivot to the appropriate direction to sew down the ruffle.  Again, I didn’t use a stretch stitch here as it was a vertical (rather than a horizontal) seam, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt if you wanted to do so.

Turn the nightie right-side out and get excited that it's starting to look like something cute!

Take one of the strips cut from the sleeves of the original t-shirt (or one of the 11” strips if you cut them from somewhere else) and pin it with a raw edge matched to the right side of the underarm.  Again, it probably doesn’t matter which is the right side of this strip, but if it does you need to match the right side of the strip to the right side of the nightie.  

Sew with a stretch stitch or a shallow zig zag with a 3/8” seam.

Cut off any bits of the strip that extend past the underarm on each side.  Press the binding strip up toward the seam allowance.

Fold the strip toward the wrong side of the nightie with the crease at the raw edges underneath.

Tuck the raw edge under so that the folded edge just covers the row of stitching underneath.  Press and pin to hold it in place.

From the right side of the nightie, stitch in/on the ditch with a stretch stitch or shallow zig zag to catch the backside of the binding on the other side.

Repeat with the other short strip and the opposite underarm of the nightie.

Sew the third ruffle (the one that is 23" long) together (with right sides together if there is a “right” side) with a 1/2” seam allowance to form a circle.  

Fold it in half with the seam at one end and mark the other end (opposite the seam) with a pin.  

Take the nightie and make sure it is turned right side out.  Find the middle of both the front and the back necklines by folding the nightie in half with the side seams together.  Mark those points with pins as well. 

Match the seam on the ruffle with the mid-point of the back neckline (with the ruffling stitch at the top and the wrong side of the ruffle facing the right side of the nightie back) and align the raw edge of the neckline with the edge of the ruffle.  Pin it in place.  Do the same with the other marked part of the ruffle and the mid-point of the front neckline, making sure not twist the ruffle.  Pin it all into place. 

Baste the front neckline to the ruffle with a 1/4” seam allowance (along the same line you sewed to make the ruffle).  Do the same with the back neckline.

Take your final binding strip and pin it (with the right side of the binding, if there is one, facing the right side of the ruffle) to the right side of the ruffle with the top of the ruffle aligned with the edge of the binding.  Start pinning at the back and leave a trail of a few inches at the midpoint of the back (where the ruffle seam is).  

When you get all the way around to the back where you started, figure out the point at which the two binding strip ends meet and mark it with a vertical pin.  

Unpin enough of the rest of the binding so you can pull it away from the nightie to sew the binding together where the marking pin is (making sure to keep the “right sides” of the binding tails together).  

Trim off the excess, leaving about a 1/2” seam allowance.  Lay it flat against the ruffle again and pin back into place.

Sew (with a stretch stitch or shallow zig zag) the binding to the ruffle and the nightie with a 3/8” seam allowance.  

As you did with the underarm binding, press the binding strip toward the seam allowance.  Then fold it toward the inside of the nightie with the crease at the raw edges of the seam.  Tuck the raw edge of the binding strip under, making sure it covers the stitching line.  On the right side, stitch (with a stretch stitch or shallow zig zag) all the way around in/on the ditch, making sure to catch the backside of the binding strip.

All done!


Featured at: A Jennuine Life, And Sew We Craft, Sewistry, Sugar Bee Crafts, Stacy Sews, Totally Tutorials, A Girl and a Glue Gun, Gingerly Made, Feather's Flights, Sew Woodsy, Lil Mrs. Tori, A Sweet Fragrance, Go To Sew (Sewtorial), Creating My Way to Success

Linking up to: A Jennuine Life, Life After Laundry, Craftberry Bush, Nap Time Crafters, I Heart Naptime, Tatertots and Jello, Sew Can She, Flamingo Toes, And Sew We Craft, Go to Sew, Sew Many Ways, Creating My Way to Success, Sew Can Do, Scattered Thoughts of a Crafty Mom, Skip to My Lou, Sumo's Sweet Stuff, The Princess & Her Cowboys, Get Your Crap Together, Nap-Time Creations, Mabey She Made It, Sugar Bee Crafts, Quilt Story, Ginger Snap Crafts, Sewistry, Twin Dragonfly Designs, Feather's Flights, Sugar and Dots, Sew Much Ado, Gingerly Made, While He Was Napping, Threading My Way, Phat Quarters, Go to Sew, While They Snooze, Him & Her


  1. This tutorial looks FAB Niki!! Lots of lovely clear photos and instructions - and for such a cute little Nightie too! Definitely a success!! Woo Hoo!!!

    1. Thank you, Jill! Your fabulous tutorials definitely inspired me. : )

  2. Love this tutorial! Especially the clear photos and instructions! It has been featured on And Sew We Craft today!

    Amy x

    1. Thank you, Amy! I'm so proud that I finally bit the bullet and created something of my own after sewing about a million other projects from other bloggers' awesome tutorials. Gotta give back to the online sewing community at least a tiny bit!

  3. Cute! I used to wear my dad's old t-shirts to bed but they never looked this good! :)

  4. Wow AWESOME TUTE!!!!! SO VERY easy to see and understand thanks for sharing!!!! Linda Lee

  5. This is sooo cute! I love your step by step instructions. PINNED!

  6. Thanks for linking to a Round Tuit!
    Hope you have a fabulous week!
    Jill @ Creating my way to Success

  7. How fun is this! And so great to upcycle fun shirts! Thanks for sharing! I'd love for you to link your outfit to our Fall Clothing Party!!!

    1. Oh my gosh! I would love to link up there. I totally follow your blog and had seen your linky party, but I hadn't linked mine up originally because I didn't think this qualified as "fall clothing". I guess it is still warm enough to wear for fall in many parts of the country! : ) I will get on that right now. Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement!

  8. So cool! My niece is five (she's a size 8 five-year-old though!) but I think I can adjust the measurements to work for her. She loves wearing oversized t-shirts around the house after she gets home from school, so she just might love this as well.

    1. I'm working on trying to size up the pattern for my daughter's seven-year-old buddy who wears about a size 8. I hope to be able to amend the post to include other sizes as well!

  9. I love this project for 3 reasons. 1. It is super cute. 2. It involves sewing and making some thing new out of something old. 3. I am a Duke fan. Thank you so much for sharing this with the Less Laundry, More Linking part. Pinning this to our party board now!

    1. YEA!!! Duke is my alma mater, and it always bums me out that I run into waaaaaay more Duke haters than Duke fans. Let's go Duke!

  10. Thanks for linking to Take-A-Look Tuesday over at Sugar Bee Crafts. You were featured today!

  11. I love this so much! What a great idea! I may have to make a grown up sized one for myself.

  12. Wow!! totally fab love it..such a cute nightie...

  13. I love this idea! Thanks for sharing! :-) Your daughter, kitty, and upcycled nightie are all adorable!

  14. Such a cute idea!! If you're interested, I'd love if you shared this at my Show & Tell party going on right now.

    1. Done! Thanks for the encouragement!!

    2. Thanks for linking up to Gingerly Made's Show & Tell. YOU have been featured!

  15. Ooh, what a fun pattern! I love the ruffles and that you use and old, soft t-shirt! Great job!

    1. Thank you, Heather! I can't stand all the polyester ickiness that most nighties are made out of in the stores. I have yet to figure out why they don't make everything kids sleep in out of good old t-shirt knit material!

  16. Such a comprehensive tutorial and a cute, little nightie... ruffles always get me in. Thanks for sharing how you drafted the pattern, too.

    1. Thank you Pam! Drafting the pattern was actually really fun.

  17. Love this night gown! I want to make an adult version for me! I featured this on Sew Woodsy--thanks for linking up!

    1. Thank you so much, Katie! I would like an adult sized one myself. Maybe from a really long XL t-shirt, perhaps? :)

  18. awesome, you make it seem so simple.....Thanks for the recycling idea.