Linen shift dress for tomorrow/Summer

My Pleat Top Muslin is on hold because they are expecting 30 degrees heat tomorrow and the rest of the week and sewing a shift dress is fast. And I’ve got linen!
Shift dresses are easy and flattering to all, says the Merchant & Mills’ workbook:

Curlew Dress from the book. Cut on the bias. With long slender sleeves. Picture from M&M blog

But they appear to be wrong. Shift dresses do not flatter full busted women….as I learned in this post by Elizabeth from

She also explains why: a shift dress hangs from the shoulders or from the breasts. The more bust, the more they function as a canopy. Your garment becomes a tent.

This gives words and images to my intuition. I’ve veered away from non-shaped garments since the ’90’s because I have great tent-potential. In the previous century people have more then once gasped when they saw me in tight fitting garments for the first time. I remember a day of swimming with my fellow university students…. their stunned faces, the memory still makes me feel awkward.

I was called “little fatty” at high school by my male friends, in a loving tone. Little do they know that my body has not changed in proportions since then and that I was, in fact, never fat. Just big breasted and wearing clothes with lots of wearing ease, as was the fashion back then:


Tents. The lot of them.

So I’m weary of shift dresses and all the oversized garments Merchant & Mills tout. I don’t want to wear a tent. But I do want to have more wearing ease for the hot weather that’s expected. And I want to buy into the luxury and style M&M favour.

I’ll add some shaping to my linen shift dress. Waist shaping. Back shaping?
I have to keep in mind I need to keep enough wearing ease so the dress can fit over my bust without needing a zipper or something.
But I have a 20 cm difference between my hip/bust and my waist….

If I were to add 10 cm (4″) wearing ease to the bust, I’d still need 20 cm (8″) wearing ease at the waist, just to be able to pull on the dress and ease it over my breasts… I’m even contemplating lacing it up a bit at the waist, just to add some shaping after I’ve gotten into the dress.

Eureka! I just remembered I already have a shift dress I can experiment on. I bought it in the 90’s on a study trip to Portugal… and I’ve worn it once, on that trip. Never since. I think I know why, now. It’s a tent.

This is it:
Shift dress example

It consists of two lovely thin layers of cotton, sewn wrong side to wrong side. This gives a nice finish at the neck line:
Shift dress example

The pattern is a simple outline. The back is as broad as the front, apart from a higher neck line.
Measurements are:
dress bust = 106 cm…(my bust = 96 cm)
dress waist = 110 cm..(my waist = 83 cm)
dress hip = 118 cm….(my hip = 97 cm)

Yep, it wears like a tent:
Shiftdresses are not for everyone
Hey there, darling “Little Fatty”. How bulging do you think my stomach is? You’d assume it’s as wide as my breasts, wouldn’t you.
In this picture I already pinned in the side seam!
(Perhaps this is a good time to note that the person who called me “little fatty” the most is now a psychologist specializing in counseling anorexic people. I wonder if he wonders how I fared.)

To experiment with wearing ease + shaping I took in the side seam at the waist and the hip, bringing the waist down to 98 cm (no less because I must be able to put it over my bust) and the hip down to 106 cm.
I made two long back darts, taking in 5 cm (dart folds to 2,5 cm) at the deepest point which was at the waist line.

Now I still have inches of wearing ease at every spot but it looks far less like a tent now:
Shiftdresses are not for everyone
It wears comfortable. It’s cool and roomy. I like it.

Alright then. These are the measurements I’ll use for the second shift dress, the real one, in linen. I hope to start it tonight and finish tomorrow, before the big heat wave rolls in.
French seams. Pockets. (here’s a good tutorial about adding pockets to a french seamed dress: Deborah Moebes at SewMamaSew). Biais band.
Perhaps I’ll make the back panel not as wide as the front panel, I don’t need the fabric. at the back, seeing how I sew it all away again with darts that one could well call princess seams.


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