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Category: patternmaking

how to: line a sleeveless dress

One of my favorite classes in college was the senior capstone course called mass marketing. It was the class where all of the skills we had learned came together, and we were required to design, produce, and present a six-piece ready-to-wear collection. The focus was on knowing your target market, identifying your customer, and designing a spring or fall collection to meet her needs. Spec and cost sheets were part of the final presentation, along with full color sketches, a marketing plan, and styled photos, and we learned about industry standards in manufacturing and pattern making, sourcing, and the elements of a successful collection. It was one of the most stressful semesters of my college years, but it was definitely the most fun. I loved every second of that class.

A couple of us had lined, sleeveless dresses in our collections and questions came up about how to close the armholes. I remember very vividly one student exclaiming that she knew how to do it and all you had to do was open up the shoulder seam and . . . this was the point that I looked over at my professor (my absolute favorite teacher who knew everything) and saw her sort of roll her eyes and say, “No, no, no. That’s not the proper way to do it.” Class was over at this point and we all had to be elsewhere, so my professor told me she’d call me the following morning and explain it to me.

So there I was the next morning, which happened to be a Saturday, sitting on my living room floor finishing up some hand sewing and watching a cooking show on PBS when my phone rings. My professor, who to this day remains the best seamstress and biggest source of fashion knowledge I’ve ever known, explained to me how to line a sleeveless dress in about five minutes. I did it later that afternoon, and have done it since hundreds of times.

This tutorial shows you this method. I’ve never seen it explained this way in commercial patterns, so I hope this is helpful. Sleeveless dresses are such a big part of our wardrobes in spring and summer, so why not know how to make these garments truly shine?

(Quick note before we get started: by this step in the process of lining a dress, I have already attached the lining to the neck and understitched it, and the skirt lining has not been attached to the bodice lining. I like to do this after the armholes are closed.)

Firt step. In this photo, we’re looking at the right shoulder seam on this dress. You can see the raw edges of the armhole on the right.

Fold the armhole seam allowances under and hold in place. It’s alright if what you pinch isn’t exact, we’ll get precise once we get underneath.

Putting your hand into the dress, pinch the seam allowances that we just folded under. Your hand is sandwiched between the lining and the fashion fabric.

Here, a different angle showing me holding the seam allowances together.

Still pinching the seam allowances, carefully pull the seam allowances towards you and turn it wrong sides out. This is when we can re-match the shoulder seams if things got wonky as they got turned. So, now I’m holding the shoulder seam allowances, right sides together.

Carefully sew the armholes closed, using whatever seam allowance you have in this area. You can pin as you go, or just match your notches along the way. I usually keep an eye on my notches and pin the side seams together as I get closer. Sew all the way around the armhole. It may get tricky around the shoulders if you have a narrow shoulder seam, so be mindful that a shoulder seam 1.5″ or narrower will be a challenge. I’ve got about 4″ at the shoulders on this dress, so it was a breeze.

I like to backstitch at the shoulder and side seam for a little extra strength in those spots. The arrow in the photo points to the front armhole notch, which I’ve made sure matches the notch on the lining underneath.

Once you’ve sewn all the way around, trim the excess seam allowances down to 1/4″.

Clip the seam allowance about every 5/8″. This step is essential because it’s what allows the armhole to spread properly once it’s turned right sides out.

The armhole will look like this after it is sewn.

Then, press and understitch the armhole just like you would understitch any other area. And remember, if your shoulder seam is narrow you may not be able to understitch all the way up to the shoulder so just go as far as you can. (This step is shown on a different dress.)

As for your pattern, there are a couple of easy adjustments you can make to ensure that the lining “rolls under” correctly. Lining pieces shouldn’t be exact copies of pattern pieces, they should be trimmed in some areas so that they remain hidden from the right side. This example shows a simple sleeveless fitted bodice. Keep in mind that different designs may require additional adjustments.

Begin by tracing the bodice pieces to make a copy. This copy will become the lining.

Around the armhole, trim off 1/8″, grading down to nothing at the side seam. Repeat for the back.

You can see the difference with the lining pattern on top of the bodice pattern.

Trim off 1/8″ from the waistline. Repeat for the back.

Again, this shows you the difference in the two patterns when the lining is placed on top.

A full view:

And that’s it! Let me know if you have any questions!

This is the sleeveless dress from my senior collection. This dress is umpteen layers of various silks with an empire bodice and boning in the side seams, an inner belt, a ruffle that took forever, and a sash belt. After a few tweaks to the design, I’d make this again in a heartbeat!

progress report: the yellow stripe project

I tell you what, making your clothes is always an adventure. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’m in the midst of a project or two with some gorgeous yellow stripe rayon/silk fabric. Or I was, anyway, until a couple days ago. After getting about halfway through a dress and barely started on a skirt, I decided to scrap them both and go with one dress, the very dress that I originally wanted to make and then talked myself out of, in the name of “doing something different.”

My extra careful, overthinking it approach to this project stems from two things: this fabric was not cheap (so don’t mess it up!), and the abstract stripe absolutely requires that you give the garment a little more consideration. Back in January, I bought the fabric from Promenade Fabrics, and it’s spectacular. Also in January, I made Vogue 9197 for the umpteenth time in a navy stripe fabric, so I felt like I should do something new with this special yellow stripe. They’re two completely different fabrics though, so I shouldn’t have worried so much about making the same dress.

When it comes to stripe fabric, I like to use it in a literal, directional way. If it’s too abstract, it bugs me. An abstract interpretation can work beautifully and it’s interesting to see a jumble of stripes in all different directions, but I appreciate something a little more simple and subtle. I’m also someone who thinks about the longevity of my garments, and I don’t want to steer too far from classic lines so I can enjoy the garment for as long as possible. The yellow stripe has an abstract feel to it on its own–the stripes are painted and uneven and marvelous, so going with a simple design doesn’t mean it’s not thoughtful or interesting.

I had about 4.25 yards of this fabric, which is enough for two garments, depending on what they were. After such success with Butterick 6446 last month (that is one of my favorite dresses so far this year), I thought I would do that one again, this time in the yellow stripe. I loved it in a major, major way until I attached the skirt and tried it on. It was awful, and you’ll just have to believe me because there will never be a reason to post the photo that documents how horrible it was. The skirt fell flat, the stripes were a mess, and there’s too much body in the fabric for the pleats to lay nicely across the bodice.

You’d never guess it was so unattractive on, because it is so darling on the form.

So, I left it on the form for a few days to see if it grew on me. I even tried it on a number of times, forcing myself to say that I would wear it. I was lying to myself, because there was no way I’d ever happily pick it from my closet and feel good in it. And that should never be the case with our clothes, especially the ones we invest so much time into making. A fabric this pretty deserves to be made into something I not only love, but would feel good in and want to wear. So, it was back to the drawing board.

Fortunately, there’s no zipper in the dress yet, so removing the skirt an reusing it will be easy. As for the maxi skirt, I’m going to use that too and cut a new bodice. The maxi skirt (the second garment I was making) had been cut and I’d started to gather the skirt, but I messed up cutting it and cut it into thirds instead of in half. (We all flub sometimes, folks. I was due!) So, I was working through the challenge of fixing that too. This was a comedy of errors from the word go! Also, when and where was I going to wear this fabulous maxi skirt? The grocery store?!

Late Monday night, I quickly pinned the fabric to the dress form in the way I originally wanted: a fitted, sleeveless bodice with a bateau neckline, and a gathered skirt, both cut to show the stripe horizontally. I was in love. So, after all that fuss and work, I’m starting over. I couldn’t be happier about it.

This? This I can get behind, and this isn’t anything but a sloppy drape job. But I can see the final result, and I know I’ll love it. Doesn’t it look more like me and something I’d wear? I think it does, and I also love the stripes all in one direction. The gathers in the skirt will give it some volume and body, and the fitted, uncomplicated bodice will show off the stripe really well. The bateau neckline mimics the stripe and draws the eye up and out towards the shoulders. Then, with the nice fit around the waist and the full skirt, you have a lovely ladylike silhouette. My favorite.

So, this is my solution, and I’m really excited to whip it up. The skirt is cut in rectangular sections, so provided I don’t muck it up again, that will be easy. I will draft the bodice using my slopers, and with side seam pockets, an invisible zipper, and a lining, we’re good to go.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re stuck working on a project you don’t love, then you turn it around and start over? I’d love to commiserate!

I may not work with it much, but I do love yellow. I designed a handful of pieces when I was in business, and I have the pleated striped skirt in my closet. See, my eye for placing stripes in a deliberate direction goes way back!

how to: get a perfect fitting bust

I designed a dress a few years ago for a fall collection, and it was the most simple dress you can imagine. It wasn’t trendy or fussy, and other than two well placed pockets, there were no bells and whistles, because I’m a big believer that the bells and whistles aren’t always necessary. Sometimes, simple is enough.

The Millie dress was always popular, and it was in every collection I designed up until the very end. Like many other things I designed and sold at one point, I never managed to keep a Millie dress for myself. I wish I had, but the beauty of sewing is that nothing is ever really gone forever. And now, I finally have one of my own.

The Millie dress, over the years:

I actually made this dress last summer, but it’s only now making its debut. I was reminded of it recently when I used the remaining two yards of the fabric on a spring blouse, which you saw me wearing in Florida and in this post from last Friday. I got the fabric (cotton sateen) in early 2016 from Fashion Fabrics Club and, not surprisingly, it sold out pretty quickly. Fingers crossed they restock their sateen inventory soon!

Because the design is so simple, it’s important to get the fit just right. The bodice has front princess seams and a back dart, and there’s a very simple trick I use to get a closer, more flattering fit around the bust. (A lot of you commented on the fit of this dress, so here we go!)

You can apply this technique to self drafted patterns as well as commercial patterns, and you can also use this method to shape front bodice waist darts for a closer fit. For this tutorial, I’m using my own sloper to draft a front bodice with princess seams.

Essentially, what we’re doing here is taking out some fabric from under the bust and contouring that area to fit more closely to the body.

I’ve traced the front bodice and drafted a princess seam. Then, I mark on my dart legs 3″ up from the waistline, which is where I want the bodice to fit me better. Now, this is important: you will want to measure yourself because this particular measurement is different on everyone. For instance, if you’re short waisted, you may only need to measure about 2″ up from the waist and vice versa for you taller gals. When I first started doing this to my patterns, I tested it on a muslin to make sure I was taking in the right amount in the right place.

Next to the marks on the dart legs, I measure about 3/16″ into my bodice. Those of you with a bigger cup size may need to take more in here, and the reverse is true of smaller cups. Cup size aside, if there isn’t much difference in the bust measurement and directly below the bust, this adjustment may not be necessary at all.

Using a French curve, connect the waistline, marks under the bust we just drew, and princess seam lines. Your pattern will look something like this:

For reference, this is what a princess seam looks like just following the original dart leg, and one that has been shaped. You can see the difference that 3/16″ makes!

If you have any questions, let me know. I hope this helps you get a closer, more tailored looking fit on your spring projects. Happy Sewing!