Have you ever needed a design for something but couldn’t find just the right one? What if you could make it yourself by using premade bits and just putting them together for the perfect fit?

I made this little girl’s dress quite a few years ago now but it always draws oohs and ahhs at shows and quite a few people have asked about the design and how to make it.

The dress is a quick project if you can sew a basic straight stitch. I used a purchased tee-shirt and 3 one-quarter yard pieces of fabric (full width, not fat quarters).

The design is composed of “Building Block” designs, which are a series of coordinating sets of elements that are designed to be combined. The designs are typically small, low stitch count, and one or only a few colors so that when combining, you aren’t going nutso with thread changes.

The designs were originally digitized and made for Generations because it has some special features conducive to using designs specially formatted as Building Blocks (MNG format) but really any customizing program will work.


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In the following video, I’m using Embrilliance Essentials to create my design. I cover how to create the design using merge, copy, paste, rotate, and mirror. Then I’ll show you how to optimize the design for efficient stitching.

Once the design is created, I’ll show you how to hoop a small, child’s tee-shirt and get it stabilized and accurately hooped. A second video follows on making the dress.


The rest of this article is additional info on creating your own designs with customizing.

Some are things I may have forgotten to say while others were left out for time considerations.


Normally, unless you are reproducing some previous design as we are here, plan to spend some time playing around with different combinations, design layouts, and coloring until you’re happy with what you want.

Along the way, you may come up with some other combinations you like but aren’t particularly suitable for your current project. Be sure to save these as you go. I found 7 other variations in the folder where I had stored these designs.


For this project, I knew wanted near the neckline. I wanted something that would coordinate with the floral prints in the skirt fabrics I was using. I also wanted something rather small and not too stitch intensive.

Why? This is a child’s garment so there’s not a lot of space and stitch intensive designs aren’t particularly suitable for tee-shirts. Plus, I just wanted some tasteful embellishment, not something that screams “I DO EMBROIDERY!”


When you’re working with pre-made designs, they are generally stitch files. Stitch files have advantages and disadvantages.

The main advantage is that most stitch files can be opened by most any embroidery software. If you only had the native or object file, you’d have to use the same software that created the design—and know how to use it!

The main disadvantage is that it’s rather “fixed” and can’t be easily manipulated at the stitch level. For example, you can’t change the entry point (where the object starts stitching) or the exit point (where it finishes).

This means that when you combine stitch designs, your final composition may not be as efficient as it could be if it were digitized from scratch. For a simple project like this one, it hardly makes a difference.

More complex compositions could result in quite a bit of extra time if you were stitching, say, 100 items.

Note: If you have Generations, use the MNG or GEN versions because you’ll all the benefits of working with a native file in in digitizing software which means you have ultimate control. You can easily optimize your sewing order as needed.


Take a look at this design. Notice that it’s composed of two “branches” with a floral motif centered in between. You really only need to build one branch because you can use the mirror/reflect tool to perfectly create the second one. Then just move the center motif into place.

I usually add a bunch of design candidates onto the page and begin playing around with placement. For the video, I skipped all that and just showed you how to recreate the design.

This particular composition uses just 3 designs from the same set but there’s no reason why you couldn’t combine other designs from other sets. Or combine them with other designs you may have in your stash.


This is all detailed in the first video so here’s just a process synopsis:

  1. Open your customizing program (don’t use a digitizer for this, some can totally corrupt a stitch file just by opening)
  2. Merge in some designs. If you already know which designs you want to use, you might copy them to a project folder. This is especially useful if those designs are stored in different folders.
  3. Move them around, mirror, rotate, resize until you’re happy. Group the selection, then copy, paste, and mirror.
  4. Place the center motif. Recolor if desired.
  5. Once you’re happy with how it looks, make sure it’s optimized for sewing as much as possible.
  6. Save.


Embroidering a tubular item like a tee-shirt on a flatbed machine requires a few tricks. Adult-sized shirts can usually be hooped between the rings but kid-sized shirts may be too small.

Why hoop between the rings? Because the hoop is designed for that./p>

The hoop is part of the whole stabilization scheme and when you choose to float a project instead of hooping it, you’re compromising stability and need to take other measures to compensate for that loss.

Here you can see how I’ve prepared my garment for stitching. I’ve hoop no-show mesh between the rings and then used double-sided embroidery tape to secure my garment.

I’ve also used a bit of TESA for additional security. I’m stitching on a knit and I want as little shifting as possible. Fortunately my design is small, low stitch count, and has no outlines that are liable to shift out of place during stitching.

Definitely do not let your machine stitch this unattended! It’s way too easy for something to fall under the needle and ruin the entire project.

Picking embroidery out of a knit without any needle damage is rarely possible.


Start with a purchased tee-shirt.

It doesn’t have to be brand new but it shouldn’t be too well loved because stabbing it with a needle a couple thousand times won’t be very beneficial.

Tee-shirts are kid-friendly because they are already soft and comfortable. And because they are knits, the child can wear it longer.

Starting with a tee-shirt makes it easy to complete the garment quickly even if you aren’t a great seamstress plus the child can try it on beforehand to see how it will fit.

There are plenty of tutorials on the ‘net for making a tee-shirt into a dress and I didn’t photograph all those steps. I don’t routinely photograph every project I make because it drastically increases the time it takes to make and I already don’t have enough time.

You can drastically reduce the time it takes to make one of these if you skip the scalloped hem. It’s not the stitching of those scallops that takes so much time—that’s done with a builtin machine stitch—it’s turning them right side out that takes forever.

If you go with a straight hem finished on the sewing machine, you can easily whip up the dress quickly!

For more fun, let the child help in “designing” her dress by selecting colors and fabrics.

Watch the video for more details on the dress. If you’re a novice seamstress, you may need more help than this video provides but if you have a few more skills, it should give you enough to make your own.


Think of Building Block designs much as you would fonts. If you could only get fonts as part of words, you would be very limited as to what new words you could create. When you get a full character set with upper and lower case letters, numbers and full punctuation, you can create any text you want.

Element type designs give you the same flexibility. Did I know I wanted to make this particular composition when I drew and digitized the original Building Block designs? Absolutely not! But now I can design one without doing any digitizing or even any stitch editing.

This floral heart wreath is another project created from the designs in this set. It definitely requires more work arranging, coloring, and resequencing than our simple project but the process is exactly the same.


Building Block sets consist of 20 – 40 designs and are only $10.

This project uses designs from (lgb006) Delicate Roses, a set of 20 designs digitized for creating delicate heirloom designs. While I would classify this tee-shirt dress as an heirloom, imagine this same design stitched in soft pastels on baby day gown.


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