Many little girls dream of princesses dressed in gowns. Politically correct or not, it doesn't change the fact little girls tend to love textiles, enjoy the feel of satin and appreciate the whirling that only yards of fabric, lace and ruffles can provide. However, the princess dresses available in the store for $20 offer little. Most have nasty tulle, scratchy seaming and the thinnest polyester available on the planet. Sure, she'll play princess for a day or two, but soon, the poor craftsmanship will show and the dress will disintegrate. Try making your own. Don't buy yards of fabric for this project. In fact, don't buy any fabric at all.
Visit your local second-hand or thrift store. Find an old prom dress or bridesmaid dress. Something with a fitted bodice with an under lining (two layers) will work best. This type of dress offers more options and extra fabric. Strapless dresses or spaghetti-strap dresses will be easiest to adjust for a girl's shorter torso.
Examine the seaming. A dress with a princess seam will have three long seams with no break in the waist. This will work well, as it has three seams for adjustment.
If the dress has a waist, pick one with gathering in the skirt. On this type of dress, there is dart on each side of the zipper. These dresses are usually lined, and if you were a seamstress, you would separate the layers to adjust the sizing. For this play dress, simply gather both layers to adjust the seams.
Try the dress on your model inside out. Where the bodice is already seamed, pinch the fabric and pin it in several places to get the dress to fit. To shrink the waist, find the two darts in the front and two darts in the back. Gather and pin the fabric along each dart.
Measure the length for the skirt of the dress. This doesn't need to be perfect, but make the mark near each seam. If you've chosen a dress with more than one layer, only adjust the length of the lining. Take the dress off your model before beginning your marking. Look to see where you've pinned the dress along the seams. Use a marker to draw a line that extends from one end to the other. Finish the seam at the edge of the fabric on both sides. If bringing in the waist, follow the dart line of the bodice.
For the length, cut 1 or 2 inches below your mark. Lay the dress flat on a table. Notice how the hem has a bit of a curve. Cut parallel to this original curve. With the dress still inside out, squirt a line of fabric glue along the edge of the cut fabric. Start at the seam and press flat, making sure the fabric hem remains smooth. If you're worried, pin it first. Sew the seams of the bodice and skirt along the marked lines. If you have large seams, simply cut off the extra fabric, or glue it flat. Turn the dress right-side out. You should have a fitted garment with long outer layers.
Find your model and ask her to try on the dress again. Make adjustments for size as needed. Bunch up the outer layers of skirt about 6 inches above each knee to take up the length. Pin in place. Some of the skirt may drag in the back. If this is a problem, adjust the length with fabric glue, as needed. Hand-sew the gathering. This doesn't need to be neat.
Sew pretty ribbon to hold up the dress, if it is strapless. Princesses still like to play on swing sets and go down the slide. Tie bows and attach with thread or glue to the gathered sites in front. Sew or glue ribbon anywhere else you think will be pretty.