This free strapless summer top pattern is a perfect stash-busting project. Depending on your size, you can make this top with less than 3/4 of a yard of fabric!
I’ve made this tutorial crystal-clear with step by step photos so that even a teenager can pull this together on their own.
To break her out of her “making pajama pants rut”, I taught her how to make this ultra simple tube top with a simple rectangle of fabric and elastic thread. If elastic thread intimidates you (it did me for a while!), don’t worry about it for another second. Sewing with elastic thread is just as easy as sewing with regular thread. I’d say it’s easier, because it does so much shaping of the fabric for you, so you don’t need to worry so much about cutting precisely.
Even though this project is easy enough for teens, don’t think you can’t whip up a few for yourself! You can finish them in less than 2 hours – more like an hour and a half, tops!
(ooooh… bad unintentional pun.)
Materials to Make This Strapless Summer Top Pattern
Fabric (see measuring guide below)
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Regular coordinating thread
1 spool of elastic thread
To determine how much fabric you need, print and complete this super-simple measuring guide:
*Disclaimer – If you have a rather busty figure, I’d recommend adding straps to this top!
Strapless Summer Top Sewing Instructions
Step 1 – Sew your rectangle into a tube
Step 2 – Hem the top and bottom edges
To make this super-easy, press the fabric down 1/2 inch, then again another 1/2 inch. Then turn it over and topstich the hem in place with regular thread:
Step 3 – HAND wind a bobbin with elastic thread
This may seem like a real pain in the rear, but it’s not. You can do it in less than 90 seconds. DON’T pull the elastic as you wind, simply keep it snug but unstretched. Then load the elastic thread bobbin into your sewing machine. Keep regular thread in your machine needle.
Step 4 -Start sewing rows with the elastic thread
Line up the right side of your presser foot with the hem you just sewed. Now simply start sewing rows around your tube. You will be doing the exact same thing on both the top and bottom of the shirt, so you can start on either end. Make sure that you have the right side of the fabric on top, so that the elastic thread gets sewn on the wrong side of the fabric.
Some sewing machines may have a hard time if you backstitch the elastic thread at the beginning of your row. If so, just start and be sure to backstitch at the end of your rows.
These rows are also referred to as ‘smocking’.
Depending on the weight of your fabric, the elastic thread won’t pucker much at first. Don’t worry about this – a little steam iron magic will take care of it when we’re all done.
Step 5 – Starting a new row of elastic thread
You are going to sew 5 rows of elastic thread on both the top and bottom of the shirt. Along with your hemmed row, that will be six stitched rows each.
Some people prefer to cut their thread and tie it off on each row. I prefer to keep it all one long piece of thread, to minimize any future breakage. To make sure that there is no pulling between the rows, pull the fabric away from your presser foot about 3 inches and then put it right back down under the presser foot, lined up along the previous seam. This will give it just enough slack to prevent puckering where you don’t want it to pucker.
One bobbin should be just about enough elastic thread to get through 5 rows. But if you run out, no worries. Just wind a new bobbin, start sewing where the old thread left off, and make sure you tie the ends together on the back of the fabric.
Continue sewing rows until you have 5 with the elastic thread.
Step 6 – Repeat elastic thread rows on the other end of the shirt
When you are done with one end, it will look like this:
The back of the rows will look like this:
Do the same on the other end of the tube top.
Step 7 – The fun part – steam the elastic and watch it pucker!
When you’re all done, fire up your steam iron. Do not touch the thread with the iron! You simply need to hold the iron right above your elastic thread smocking and give it a few shots of steam. Your elastic will pucker right before your eyes.
Step 8 – Look cool and sip some iced tea in your new summer top!
Summer Top Variations
You can also make this top with a completely different look by omitting the bottom smocking rows and wearing it with a belt. Adorable!
Just made another one and didn’t steam the elastic thread at all. I’m hoping it won’t shrink up at some point, because some will be gifts. I’d hate to give them to the girl(s) and they wash them, dry on cool, but still gather up too much. Hmm.
found some beautiful old fashioned fabrics to make these though. So pretty with my handmade accessories on them.
Great top. I have made two…they run small once the elastic puckers up. The first I did with your instructions, the second I used 41.5″ wide fabric, which SHOULD have fit my daughter no problem, however, it is a bit heavier fabric, but puckered right on up, but we can’t get it over her shoulders. It is gorgeous..they both are, but both small. Any hints? On one I did the waist gathering, on the other I didn’t.
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AWESOME!! This is exactly what I was looking for. Now I can make the top for my doll 🙂
Wendy, thanks for writing, but 1) it’s just a light cotton, not heavy at all. 2) it seems pretty stretchy when I pull on it. 3) I don’t see how that could have happened, but I suppose it might have. Another drycleaner said I should have sewed it stretched out, but that would mean winding the bobbin tight, and that seems strange. I have to think of a way to salvage it with some sort of elastic band, as my daughter (and I) are quite sad about the whole thing.
So I sewed this top, following the directions to a T, but I can’t get the elastic to pucker. I even took it to a drycleaner and asked them to steam it, to no avail. Anyone else have this problem?
Susanna – I can only think of two reasons why this happened:
1 – the fabric weight you used is too heavy and the elastic thread isn’t strong enough to pucker under the weight. I’ve found that even quilting weight fabric is a bit hard, and anything close to upholstery weight just won’t work.
2 – you got a bum spool of elastic thread
OK, I lied, here’s another one:
3 – you somehow heated up the elastic thread too much before you sewed with it?
Do any of those ideas help?
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I want to thank you again for this pattern. I made 2 of these this morning but left the bottom plain. I can’t decide if I should hem them and wear as a dress or cut them and hem them into a shirt. My website shows pictures.
if my bust measurement is 112cm how much material do I need to measure for a top?
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I made a variation of this today. I took a large tee shirt and cut off the top right below the neckline. Then I cut off the sides, including the sleeves on each side to make a rectangle. I put right sides together and sewed the side seems. I then sewed just the top with the elastic and thread, about 10 rows. Cut off the bottom of the tee shirt hem and my granddaughter is going to wear it as a swim coverup.
I love this! I’m trying to figure out how to put some sleaves on it. I have a very large chest that doesn’t do well with a strapless 🙂
Thank you so much for this craft! I have been sewing a lot this spring. I don’t touch my machine for years and now I can’t stop sewing. Love it!
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I’d like to make one of these but I’m 7 months pregnant. I’ll add straps. Should I measure around my belly and use that measurement instead of the bust measurement? Prego brain mush is in full effect! 🙂
Amory – yes, add 3 inches to the measurement of the widest part of your belly. In fact, I’d add 5 inches to give you a little extra room for growth! 🙂
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