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:
- One yard of Robert Kaufman Cotton Linen Chambray
- 100% cotton thread to match the chambray, color 6230
- 100% cotton thread to contrast the chambray, I used white but you can use any contrasting color that you happen to have on hand
- DMC Pearl Cotton in colors 307, 747, 996, 995, 826, and 318
- A fabric marker
- An Embroidered Denim Jumper Neck Template, available for free download here, printed and cut out.
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.
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.
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.
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!