Bubble Dress

Would you like to make girls’ clothes that are both “Wow” and understated?  If so, I recommend this book of Japanese sewing patterns by Akiko Mano.  The book hasn’t yet been published in English so I’ve had to resort to Googling to get an approximation of its title.  The French translation – Jolies Tenues pour Fillettes Coquettes – rings nicely but perhaps isn’t true to the original.  My favourite English title is provided by the blogger Japanese Sewing Books who in her review calls it: Fashionable Clothes Girls Like.    

A friend bought the book in Japanese and using the most skeletal translation made a beautiful Bubble Dress such as featured on the cover.  If you’re not familiar with the Bubble (or Balloon) dress – and I wasn’t – it’s made up of two layers.  The inner layer is, in this case, a simple A-line dress; the outer layer is longer and wider, like a mini tent.  Its hem is gathered and tucked under to be stitched to the inner layer.  This is the final step of making the dress, which in the instructions looks like this:

Using my friend’s notes and a tip on sewing the straps which I’ll pass on below, I managed to finish Bubble in about 4 hours, a chunk of which was spent on tracing the pattern (the patterns come in several sheets as with the Burda magazine though with seam allowances! and long after making this dress, I realised I was supposed to add seam allowances).  If it wasn’t for the instructions being so minimal, I’d recommend this pattern to an absolute beginner, as the structure is simple and with a little modification the results can be look very professional: all but one seam allowance are hidden!

Here are my notes if you wish to supplement the sparse Japanese (or French) instructions; also my modifications.

Sizing: I traced out the largest size (height: 130cm) and extended the length by the width of a ruler so that my 8-year-old wouldn’t grow out of the dress overnight.  There’s plenty of room for her to grow width-wise too: this pattern is cut more generously than I’d expected. 

Cutting: The dress pieces are cut on the crosswise grain.  I don’t know why: could it be so that the weight of the layers doesn’t pull down so much, i.e. to counteract the draping effect?

Here’s the cutting layout:

The side of the outer layer (the one that flares out dramatically) is on the bias.  This means that the outer side seams will stretch and stretch.  It’s therefore a good idea to leave the dress to hang for a day before hemming.  After I did this, I decided the sides were too droopy and the dress would look less like a bubble and more like a bubble letter  .  So, I trimmed 3cm off the sides but kept the length in the centre and this helped lift the sides a little.

Fabric: 2m of full-width linen at £6 a metre from Fabric World, 49c Goldhawk Road.  The linen creases terribly but as Straightgrain points out: the Bubble looks just as good wrinkled! 

For a pro touch, I recommend that you also get 130cm of 2cm bias binding tape with which to enclose the hem seam allowance (see Step 7). Or read Anne’s tip below (5th comment) about how to make with all-hidden seam allowances.

Seam allowances: 1cm.


Step 1 Button loop.  I made the loop slightly thicker so I’d have room to turn it with a safety pin.  In the finished article, the closure looks like this:

Step 2: The side seams.  Pretty straight-forward. As the dress is fully lined, the seam allowances won’t show on the inside of the garment though it’s still a good idea to finish them!

Step 3: Pockets. I didn’t follow the instructions here.  Being new to patch pockets, I turned to the ever-informative RDCGTS.  My pocket looks like this:

If you haven’t Reader’s Digest, here’s a good tutorial on “patch with flap pockets”.  Unlike with mine, the top of the flap is topstitched down which is probably an easier way of doing it.

Steps 4: .Shoulder and neck seams. Easy.

Step 5: The straps.  The quick way is to sew the lining and outer straps together with the seams finished together on the inside.  I recommend the more professional way, with which the seam allowances are tucked out of sight, like I did in Step 5 of Julie’s Dress.

Step 6: Topstitching the neckhole and armholes.

Step 7: Joining the outer and inner layers.  Once the two layers are joined together (as in the diagram I showed you earlier), you can encase the seam allowance with bias binding. Totally optional, of course, and probably no one would notice the extra effort, except you when the dress is kicked up during some fast running!

Here are some more pics. 

And how did Moonchild contribute to the sewing process?

11 thoughts on “Bubble Dress

  1. Thank you for entering in my give-away. You have a lovely blog. Very detailed and I’m going to make my own ham with your instructions! Thanks!

  2. This dress will make wonders for adults of all shapes and sizes, as well; perhaps not as a balloon dress.
    Regards to the cat.

  3. The dress looks lovely. I wish I could get linen at that price! What size did you make? Did you find it too short? I have some sunny yellow double gauze. Wonder if it will work just as well. 🙂

    • I think the length is fine (extended 3cm from height 130cm) and will last at least one more summer (then, as it’s so roomy, perhaps another year a tunic!).
      I’ve not sewn gauze but it sounds like it will be very light and puffy – perfect for a bubble dress.

  4. A pretty little frock indeed. To eliminate the need for an exposed hem, or even a bias covered one, sew the skirt hems together, right sides together, and leave a gap in the side seam to pull everything through. This gap can be sewn shut afterwards, and then you have absolutely nothing on show.

  5. The dress is lovely! And the first picture is so beautiful. I’ve made it a few times alreasy, and also considered finishing it with bias, but was afraid that all those extra layers of fabric would result in quite a stiff ring which could pull the dress down. Finishing it inside out with a turning gap, as anne suggests, indeed would be a nice solution!

  6. I love these Japanese pattern books. I’ve made a couple of littles dresses for my friends little girls and they have turned out great. Love your work.

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