Tutorial: How to Make a Handkerchief Dress

A handkerchief dress is basically made up of two pieces of square fabrics held together by two thin straps. The bigger the square, the longer the dress.  You may have to do a bit of experimenting, depending on your preferred length.  I wanted a long version of this dress and for my height (5’3”) I needed a 36-inch square. Remember, you need to cut two squares for the dress body and two 2-inch wide, 25-inch long rectangles for the straps so make sure you have enough fabric on hand. I would recommend serging (if you have a serger) or hemming all four edges of the squares before continuing on to the next step.

Step 1.

The Squares

Steps 2 and 3.

Next, put the two pieces right sides together.  I would do this on a flat surface (I always do mine on the floor) so the edges match up. Pin two perpendicular sides in place, as indicated by the arrows.

Now, from the upper left corner, measure 7 inches to the right and mark. This is where you will start sewing, all the way to the upper right corner. This side will be the front of the dress and the 7” opening represents the ‘V’ neck on the front bodice. Next, go back to the upper left corner, measure 13 inches down and mark. Start sewing at this point all the way down to the bottom left corner. This side will be the back of the dress.  Note: Adjust these measurements depending on how low you want the necklines and the back. A broader back needs a bigger opening, between 15-16 inches.

Steps 2 and 3

Step 4.

Next, make the straps. The length of the straps depends on your own measurements and preferences. I wanted mine thin (1 cm) and to criss-cross at the back so I made them longer. Fold one of the rectangle pieces along the middle, right sides together (Fig. A). Stitch along the direction of the arrows as shown in Fig B. Use a rouleau loop turner to turn your strap right side out.  Do the same to the other rectangle.

The Straps

Step 5.

Next, open up the square pieces you have sewn together in steps 2 and 3. When opened up, it should resemble the figure below. On the left is how it should look from the front, on the right is how it should look from the back.  Neatly attach the straps to the pointy ends on top, front to back. The straps can be straight or can cross at the back, up to you. That’s it! You’re done! Wear and flaunt!

Attach straps, wear, and flaunt!
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17 thoughts on “Tutorial: How to Make a Handkerchief Dress

  1. Hi your dress looks fantastic! What size would it fit up to (I’m plus size 24) and if I need to make a bigger one – how?! You said to increase the length increase the square size – what’s the trick to make it a bit wider (as I can see it’ll be fine around the waist but more ‘fitted’ at the bust/arm pits?)

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Helen,

      To adjust the size around the bust and armpit area, refer to steps 2 and 3. The longer the open (unstitched) seam at the back is, the looser the fit. In the diagram, the 13 inches unstitched seam corresponds to the back opening. Increase the length until you get the right fit. Good luck!

  2. hi in step #5 you show four points where the straps go I did a mock up and after sewing and unfolding the dress I only have two points so where do you attach the straps on the back

    1. Hi Deb, apologies for the delay! You’re right, after checking, there are only two pointy fronts. The straps connect to the V-back. I think you can see it from the back photo in the main article: Handmade and Fabulous….Handkerchief Dress. Thanks for your patience!

  3. Hi, I noticed the picture of the dress looks floor length and in reading the comments you mentioned that you shortened the dress. I am 5’3″ also and prefer the shorter length, like the one with you wearing it. My question is thus, what size squares should I cut to get the shorter version? Thank you!

  4. You make it look so easy. I can’t wait to try this. I am a new to sewing but think
    I can follow your directions.
    Thank you

  5. So do u sew from the 7 in mark or from the corner to the mark….I’m new to sewing so I’m kinda confused…lol thanks

  6. Thank you so much. I have been searching how to make this kind of dress. What I would like to try to do is take a sun dress that has a full skirt to it and change it to the handkerchief look. Is that possible? If so how do I go about doing this?

    1. Hi Linda,

      This would be so much more complicated that I will have to do another tutorial 🙂 To sum it up, you have to separate the bodice of the sun dress from the skirt portion, make a handkerchief ‘dress’ out of the skirt portion using the tutorial and re-attach it to the bodice of your old sun dress. This will require converting the handkerchief dress to a skirt, which will then require a zipper so you can get into the actual dress. I don’t even know how your old sundress looks like so this is just a very rough guide. Cheers!

  7. How long did this dress end up being on you? We’re the same height and I want to make a version of this dress that would hit my knees

    1. Hi Renee,

      The sides originally came down almost to the floor, the front and back just below the knees. I wore it like that for a while, then decided to shorten the sides without touching the front and back lengths to have a more even hemline. The final length of the dress is just below the knee.

      Thanks for visiting!

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