Thursday, 12 February 2015

Kapa Haka Dresses for Uniting Nations Week

This week our school celebrated our Uniting Nations Week.  We are fortunate that our girls attend a school where there are students from so many different countries.  In both Olivia and Samantha's classes of about 20 students, there are around 15 different nationalities in each.

Both girls decided that they wanted to celebrate their New Zealand heritage this week (their Dad is a Kiwi), and asked me if they could wear a traditional Maori dress.  I hunted around on Google for some ideas.  In the end I decided to make a dress with a simple bodice, a shirred back, and a two layer skirt (with the top white skirt cut into strips to create the traditional fringe), and a headband.  This is the look I was aiming for:

I headed to Spotlight (Plaza Singapura) and bought 1 metre of white cotton fabric, 2 meters of black cotton fabric, shirring elastic. 1" wide black elastic.  I already had a stash of red and white felt at home, as well as double sided fusible interfacing.  I also picked up a black chisel tipped marker at Daiso.  All up I spent S$32.

I started by grabbing two dresses from the girls wardrobes that 1) have the right shaped bodice to copy, and 2) currently fit them.  I traced off the front bodice piece, added seam allowance and cut two pieces of each.

I then headed to the computer to create the black, red and white graphic to go onto the front of the bodice.  This took me WAAAAY longer than it should have, because I just couldn't figure out how to get the middle pieces to fit.  Clearly my brain wasn't working that day, but I got there in the end.  I ironed the fusible interfacing onto my red and white felt and cut out the pieces using the printed graphic as a pattern.

Once I had everything cut out, I peeled the paper off the back of the felt pieces, carefully placed them on the bodice, and ironed everything in place.  It took a bit longer than usual to get the fusible interfacing to properly stick.  I guess that's because it takes longer for the heat of the iron to get through the felt and melt the adhesive.

I was worried I would have to stitch the pieces down, but the fusible interfacing seemed to work really well.  Once the graphic was in place, I sewed the two bodice front pieces together along the top edges.  I then inserted a shirred panel into one side and sewed it in place.  I'm not sure how clearly you can see it here, but I added a narrow elastic casing along the top edge, to keep it nice and snug.

I haven't really done shirring before, so it was a bit of a mystery how it was going to turn out.  I did my rows quite close together (which gave a tight springy panel), but I really needed to have cut a panel 2x my width, instead of 1.5x.  I pinned the above bodice onto Samantha, but it wasn't quite wide enough.  I ended up unpicking the side seam and inserting an extra panel on each side of the shirred section.

I have to say, I'm very proud of how well this bodice fits.  I really like the look of the shirred centre and the solid edges.  I would definitely make a bodice pattern this way next time.

I wasn't able to find a striped fabric that would give me the right look, so I bought plain white fabric and drew the stripes on.

I pinned the fabric to some scrap cardboard, and stabbed pins into the cardboard to hold the ruler in place as I drew each line.  I sewed the black and white fabric into tubes, hemmed the bottom edges, slide the black skirt inside the white skirt and sewed them together at the top.  I then gathered the skirt and attached it to the bodice.  I ran it through the overlocker to neaten the edges, and sewed some elastic onto the seam allowance where the shirred panel was joined.  This pulled the panel in a bit tighter, and prevented the seam looking stretched and wavy.

To finish the dresses I cut the white skirt panel into strips.  I didn't do this accurately - I just eyeballed the dress, and cut it as neatly as I could.

The finished dresses looked fantastic.

The headbands were very simple to sew.  I just cut an oblong of fabric (two times the width of the elastic + seam allowance), sewed it together down it's length and turned it out the right way.  I folded one end in, slid the elastic inside and sewed the join.  I then measured it on the kids heads and did the same on the other end.  The pattern was cut out of felt and ironed onto the headband, using the same method I used on the front of the bodice.

All up this took me three days to complete.  I probably could have done it quicker, but I really wanted to make them as precise and neat as possible.  After completing the outfits and having the girls wear them at school for a day, I realised that I should have made the white skirt layer out of a knit fabric.  The strips have frayed, and are looking a bit hairy and thready now.  Oh well.  Something to think about for next time!

If anyone out there is thinking of doing the same, I'm happy to share my bodice graphic to save you the time creating your own.  You might also be interested in this tutorial showing you how to cut and pull the knit fabric to create the right look for the white strip skirt (this company sells pre-made dresses).


  1. hi. iam making one maori costume for my daughter for school event. It would be great if you could email me the bodice pattern. thank you so much .

    1. Hi Rimmy. I didn't keep the bodice pattern I drafted for this dress, but I think I still have the black and white geometric design I drafted for the felt pieces. Is it the actual bodice or the decoration panel you are wanting?

  2. Hi Katie, would you be able to email me the Geo design for the bodice? Thank you so much. YOur dresses look amazing!

    1. Thanks Stacy. I just sent you an email with the PDF of the bodice decoration panel. Good luck with your sewing. Please send me a copy of the finished dress. I'd love to see how you go.

  3. Thank you for the wonderful tutorial Katie! Would you be able to email the black and white PDF of the geometric bodice decoration you used?