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Molly's Sketchbook: Embroidered Denim Jumper

When I visited Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula two years ago I was blown away by the beautiful beaches and the ancient ruins, but what made a truly lasting impression were the incredible dresses worn by so many of the local women. These simple white cotton garments, adorned with bright floral embroidery on the bodice and hem, are called huipils. I bought two, but it took all of my self control not to buy twenty of them!

“Huipil” is a catchall term for a loose-fitting rectangular shaped dress or tunic traditionally worn by the indigenous women of Mexico and Central America. They can be long or short, simple or ornate, wide or slim. Whatever their shape and style, huipils are stunningly well-crafted and effortlessly chic! The dead-simple silhouette flatters everyone and drapes perfectly without any finicky shaping.

Ever since my trip I have wanted to try my hand at my own version of this classic dress. Robert Kaufman’s Cotton Linen Chambray in a beautiful deep indigo seemed like a perfectly unique jumping off point. It has the sturdiness of denim, but the grace of a genuine huipil. Combining traditions, I stitched the embroidery in a simple sampler style, choosing a spectrum of DMC Pearl Cotton in blues highlighted by a shock of bright yellow.

In a nod to the versatility of the traditional huipil, this little jumper can be worn by a younger child as a dress and then transition into a tunic for an older child, like Coco, who is 7. And put it on all year round, in the summer on its own and in the cooler months over a long sleeved tee shirt. It’s really no wonder these dresses have been around for so long!



To make one jumper to fit a 4-year old as a dress and a 7-year old as a tunic:


From the fabric cut:

  • One rectangle 16-inches wide by 17-inches tall. This is the bodice.
  • Two rectangles 18-inches wide by 16-inches tall. These are the skirt pieces. 

The Neck 

Press the bodice in half lengthwise so that the 16-inch sides meet one another. This pressed piece will be 16-inches wide by 8 1/2-inches tall.

Mark the middle of the folded side, 8-inches from the left and right sides.

Place the straight side of the neck template along the top fold of the fabric matching the middle marks of the fabric and template.

Cut out the neck shape along the template.

Unfold the fabric. You will have an oval shaped neck as shown in the picture above.

With the wrong side facing roll the neck edge about 1/4-inch towards the wrong side of the fabric thus encasing the raw edge. It's easier to do this if your fingers are slightly wet.

Rolling the edge as you go and using the embroidery thread of your choice, sew a blanket stitch (also called buttonhole stitch) over this rolled edge. Stick the needle into the fabric just below the rolled hem and pull it out and upwards in front of the working thread, as shown above. 

Pull the stitch taut. This will catch the working thread and lay it along the rolled edge as shown above. Take the next stich 1/4-inch to the right of the first. Stitch around the entire neck opening in this manner. If you're new to blanket stitch you might want to read this previous project journal which goes into more detail.

Using all the colors of embroidery thread sew successive rows of different embroidery stitches around the neck opening. You should feel license to play around in this step- it's fun! I used the following stitches, listed from the top (just under the the row of blanket stitch) to the bottom: zig zagged backstitch, chain stitch,  cross stitch on its side, running stitch, and a row of french knots. But you can use any stitches you like!

Once you're done with the embroidery refold the bodice in half across the long side so the 16-inch raw edge is at the bottom. Put the bodice aside for now.

The Skirt

Orient a skirt piece so it is 16-inches vertically and 18-inches horizontally . Fold  it in half along the top 18-inch side to mark the center, 9-inches from the left and right sides. Then make a mark 2-inches to the right and 2-inches to the left of this center mark. You will now have a centered 4-inch length marked at the top edge of the skirt as shown above.

Using a wide basting stitch on your machine and the contrasting thread sew across this 4-inch length with a 1/8-inch seam allowance. Back stitch at the beginning of the row but not at the end. Instead of backstitching, leave a long tail of thread. This is your first row of gathering stitches.

Sew the next row of gathering stitches with a 5/8-inch seam allowance, under the first row. Start at the opposite end of the 4-inch marked length. Again, backstitch at the beginning but not at the end of this row of stitches. 

The two rows of gathering stitches should look like the picture above. The long tails should be at opposite ends.

Pull on the tails of the rows of gathering stitches so that the skirt piece gathers in the middle. Gather it until the skirt becomes the same width as the bodice (16-inches.)

Pin the bottom edge of the bodice to the top edges of the skirt piece, right sides together.

Using the matching thread sew the skirt to the bodice with a 1/2-inch seam allowance. Rip out the gathering stitches. Zig zag stitch across the raw edges of the seam to finish the edges. Press the seam allowance flat towards the bodice and then sew the allowances to the bodice by topstitching across the bottom edge of the bodice just above the seam.

Repeat for the second skirt piece.

The Sides

Pin sides of the jumper right sides together matching the bodice/skirt seams, represented by the dashed red line in the picture above. Make a mark 4-inches above the bottom edge of the skirt (this is the bottom mark) and 1-inch above the bodice/skirt seam (this is the top mark). 

Using the matching thread and a 1-inch seam allowance sew the sides together just from the bottom mark to the top mark. You will be leaving the bottom 4-inches and the top portion of the bodice unsewn.

Separate the two sides of the seam allowance and press them down 1-inch towards the wrong side of the fabric (esseintially you're pressing them open.) When you get the the unsewn portions keep pressing the fabric 1-inch towards the wrong side thus leaving those sections open and giving them a folded edge.

Fold the seam allowance 1/2-inch back into itself to hide the raw ends all along the entire length of the sides. Press and pin the folds in place as shown above.

You will be sewing this fold down by hand using a slip stitch, just as you would for a quilt binding. Use a contrasting embroidery thread if you want these stitches to show like I did or a more matching one if you want them to blend in.

Working on the wrong side take a tiny stitch from the fabric just below the fold. (Make sure you're only sewing through one layer of fabric!) Then slip the needle through the bottom of the fold and push it out 1/2-inch to the left. Take another tiny stitch just below this exit point and then go forward through the fold again. 

Sew down the entire fold in this manner.

Repeat for the other side of the jumper. 

Once the sides are sewn press the jumper flat, still with the wrong sides facing out.

The Bottom Hem

Press the bottom edges 1/2-inch towards the wrong sides twice and pin the folds in place.

Using a slip stitch sew the bottom hems down, and then turn the jumper right sides out and press it flat.

You're all done!

Reader Comments (18)

this is beautiful! and thank you for the explanation of Hipil!
i just wish i had or knew a little girl to make one for.
October 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermaggie
Love it ! Love it ! I am going to make this it is so cute , and so simple !
I have some off white silk and some cream embroidery floss to Finnish it can't wait : )
Thank you <3
October 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDoreen
Even though this project would take me forever (with two preschoolers, everything takes me forever!), it seems simple enough for a novice like me. I think I'm going to give it a shot!
October 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNancy
This is adorable - the embroidery is the star of the show! And love how it works as a dress and a tunic. Will have to make a few for my girls for the summer.
October 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjacinta
This is so beautiful, and it looks relatively easy for a novice seamstress! Being a novice, though, I have no idea how to upsize this - I'd love to be able to make this for my 8-year-old daughter!
October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda
What a great post. I want one for me (I'm a 40+, round woman) . It looks easy enough to up-grade - looks like I just have to figure out how big to make the rectangles.
October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDoreen
Hi Doreen-

You're right- it's very easy to grade up! Also, just as a word of encouragement, many of the women I saw wearing huipils in the Yucatan were 40+ and round and it looked beautiful on them!

Best- Molly
October 8, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Hi Amanda (and anyone else looking to make this in a different size)-

It's possible this version might fit your 8 year old. It has a 28-inch chest circumference and is 22-inches long (from shoulder to bottom hem).

If you would like to size it up it shouldn't be too hard. Here's how to do it.

For the bodice piece:

1. Measure how long you'd like the dress to be when it's finished (for this example I'll say 25-inches) Divide this number by 3 and round up to the nearest whole number:
25/ 3= 8.333= 9

2. Multiply that number by 2 and add 1-inch for seam allowances: 9 X 2= 18 + 1= 19 THIS IS THE LENGTH OF YOUR BODICE PIECE

3. Measure your child's chest circumference (for this example I'll say it's 27-inches). Add 3-inches: 27 + 3= 30

4. Divide this number in half: 30 / 2= 15

5. Add 2-inches for seam allowances to this number: 15 + 2= 17 THIS IS THE WIDTH OF YOUR BODICE PIECE.

6. Cut your bodice piece using the length and width measurements: In this example it would be 19-inches tall X 17-inches wide.


For the skirt pieces:

7. Take your finished length (25-inches in this example) and subtract the number you got in step 1 (9-inches in this example): 25-9= 14

8. Add 1 1/2-inches for the seam allowances. 14 + 1 1/2= 15 1/2 THIS IS YOUR SKIRT PIECE LENGTH.

9. Take the bodice piece width from step 5 (17-inches in this example) and add 2-inches for gathering. 17 +2= 19 THIS IS YOUR SKIRT PIECE WIDTH.

10. Cut the skirt pieces using the length and width measurements. In this example they would be 15 1/2-inches tall by 19-inches wide.


You can follow the pattern as written from here, just using your custom cut pieces. If you're making this for a child the neck template should still work fine, or you can cut it a bit larger or smaller depending on the size you're making.

I know this seems like a lot of math but hopefully you can just plug your own numbers in.

Thanks for writing in and good luck with it!

October 8, 2012 | Registered Commenterpurl bee
Like the others, I'd like to upsize it for a size 12 woman!
October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDiane
Such an easy pattern.. but such darling results! I can't wait to attempt this for my girls..
October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke Reynolds
Hi Molly. This is the most beautiful dress tutorial I've seen! Thank you so much! And thank you for the info how to upsize! I am really eager to try start sewing this! I'm in New Zealand, so there's going to be one of your dresses on show down this side of the world!
October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJo
Hello there,
it is a beautifl work what you did, I am mexican and I am proud that you got inspired in mexican crafts, I will try to do one of that for my 6-year-old girl I hope she like it !!!!! Good job!
October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKari_Bobins
This is totally gorgeous - now I just need to get my hands on some solid colored fabric. My entire stash seems to be prints. And thank you for the directions in the comments on modifying the measurements - my 6-year-old is very tall but only as big around as the average 3-year-old. It's very difficult to find clothing that fits her proportions (which is one of the reasons I started sewing in the first place) but this looks like it should be easy to tweak for her.
October 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTrina Caudle
The first thing I thought when I saw this (freakin adorable!) dress was, "How do I make it in my size?!?" So glad others asked and thank you for instructions on making it for grown ups. I wear leggings a lot and have been searching for cute, longer tops - this is it!
October 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAshley in Nashville
This is so exciting. I do wear the huipil in the house sometimes, since I am of Mexican heritage. It is comfortable and makes me feel happy since it has bright embroidery. Now, I will make some for me and I am making one for my granddaughter. Thank you so much. Your creativity is inspiring!!!
October 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElvia
Thank you for this tutorial! I love everything about it, including the hand-stitching and the embroidery, and I will probably upscale it both for me and my 12 yrs old daughter.
Sadly I will have to wait a few days, but I am looking forward to making those a lot and already know the fabric I'll use.
Again, thank you VERY much.
November 27, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilambulle

I love the look of this tunic, so pretty! The only thing is that y little girl is only 1. Could you tell me how to downsize it? Is it a similar method to the up scaling?

Thanks so much
February 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHarry
Hi Harry-

You can make this in any size (bigger or smaller) by following the instructions in my response to Amanda. Thanks for writing in and good luck with the project!

February 9, 2013 | Registered Commenterpurl bee

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