Self drafted sleeveless Summer Dress

A simple Summer Dress based on the one in the previous post: a shift dress with some shaping in both the side seams and the back. Pockets. And I did a new thing to add some shaping in the front: I gathered under the breasts with some elastic and two buttons to keep it in place.

two long darts in the back, they’re more like princess lines. (one still wonky on this picture, I unpicked it and redid it)

To add some shaping to the front, to prevent “tent like appearance” I gathered some of the fabric right under each breast.
There’s a horizontal dart running across the front panel, it angles upwards near the sides (but not on the first picture, this sat awful on my body, I remedied it after the picture).
I threaded a double thread of thin elastic through the outer most 20 centimeters of this dart.
I gathered the elastic and secured it with a button on each side. So 4 buttons for the whole dress.
Zomerjurk met zakken en soort van empire waist line

Zomerjurk met zakken en soort van empire waist line

The buttons where first put in to anchor the elastic while I could still adjust it. Then I thought: why not keep the buttons?

It follows my own body shape: fairly straight outlines but quite curvy when seen from the sides.

(the folds in the lower part of the side seam are caused by the pocket)

Edges are bound of with a biais band that I found that matches the fabric very nicely:

Here’s the solution I tried for biais band and getting it to sit right and being able to give it nice top stitching while securing the back at the same time.
Start from the wrong side. DON’T SEW ON THE FOLDED LINE.
Instead sew somewhere in the middle of the piece between the fold and the edge of the binding band:
Zomerjurk met zakken en soort van empire waist line
This step is meant to secure the band to the fabric.
Next you fold the biais band like it’s supposed to and you stitch very close to the edge, from the right side. If the band is folded properly it will catch the back side close at the edge too. The back side will not slip because it’s already secured in place.

For the hem I used my antique tool to keep the same distance all around. Fold under and fold under again. The second time I used matching coloured thread. I’ve folded the fabric so you can see the end result.

I like neat topstitching so much, I tried it on the bust dart. I put on the dress and determined where and how it should be. Then I just pinned it down and stitched very careful.
Zomerjurk met zakken en soort van empire waist line
A top stitched bust dart.
It was prompted because I tried on the dress, determined where the dart ought to be and then had difficulty transferring that information to the inside of the dress and stitch it there.

An alternative is probably to put on the dress inside out and determine where the dart should be.

French seams. Including the pockets.
Zomerjurk met zakken en soort van empire waist line

And to end with the beginning: this is how I cut the fabric. I used the green dress as a template. Added a generous seam allowance along the sides for French seams. Added no seam allowance along the arm holes because I knew I was going to bind them in biais band.
Again with a brushy reminder to cut pockets.
Zomerjurk met zakken en soort van empire waist line
When I sewed the side seams and tried it on for fit I had to take out nearly all the curvyness: at the bust and at the hem. I had weird “bingo wings” flapping at the side seams there.


Bantam dress in linen.

Started as Bantam shift dress.
Started as Bantam shift dress.

Two days ago I managed to prepare for yesterday’s sewing:

  • measurements of dress: bust 106; waist 98; hip 106 cm. Backpanel perhaps a bit less wide. Use green cotton shift dress as a template.
  • cut pockets right onto the panels
  • in the evening I made 8 m of biais band, following this tutorial that merely visualises The Dread Pirate Rodgers’ genius.

Making biaisband by hand

Yesterday morning I started with inspecting the biais band and fixing the last details.
Then I read through the pattern for Bantam Dress carefully, it’s in Merchant & Mills Workbook.
1. staystitching
2. hem
3. French seams
4. bind the edges
Oh how I love that measurements are in centimetres! Instructions are very clear, both in text and image. I especially appreciate that reasons are given for directions.
I live so much better when I understand the why.

Planned modifications: altered outline of the pattern pieces (add some shaping, a different neckline because I like my bra bands covered and add pockets); sew some back darts after stay stitching and before hem.

Then I read this page about sewing with linen written by Carolyn from Sewing Fanatic
– remember to press linen with a cloth, otherwise it will shine.

I folded the fabric twice so the sideseams would be mirrors. I took the bust measurements (106 cm) as a guide. The fabric is four layers and 51,5 cm wide + a little extra for seam allowance.
Started as Bantam shift dress.

I put an odd item at the point where I have to stop following the template and have to cut a pocket.
Started as Bantam shift dress.
Started as Bantam shift dress.

Two panels cut. Only room for pocket on one side.
Started as Bantam shift dress.

Started as Bantam shift dress.

PUT IN DARTS in the back. Freehand (after measuring and marking important points with red pins)
Started as Bantam shift dress.

CHECKING MEASUREMENTS before putting in FRENCH SEAMS. I have 1 cm seam allowance. That’s not much.
I pin precisely. Because I have cut precisely I can probably sew the two 0,5 cm seams.
Started as Bantam shift dress.

FIRST PART FRENCH SEAM. Following the last steps of Deborag Moebes’ tutorial about the pocket.
Started as Bantam shift dress.
trim where necessary and clip corners
Started as Bantam shift dress.

At the bottom of the side seams I leave a vent. I fold the edge under and again.
Started as Bantam shift dress.

FOLD HEM UNDER. First part. The fabric is already starting to fray, even though I do not handle it much.

PRESS ALL THE SEAMS. Trim and grade where neccessary.
Started as Bantam shift dress.

This happens so often with my French seams: bristles escaping from the finished seams. I ought to take my final seam allowance a little better. Or trim better before hand.
It’s because I work on an antique foot treadle machine: I can work slow and precise. That lures me towards too small a seam.
Started as Bantam shift dress.

SHOULDER SEAM and try it on for FIT
Ugh. Way too tent like. I’ll shorten the shoulder straps. Add more dart in the back. And a small dart at the bust because the armhole is flaring unflattering. The pocket is too deep, I’ll stitch it smaller (but won’t cut away the excess fabric because it lays nice and flat now).

I do get that free flowing feeling that shift dresses provide. I feel elegant and fluid.

Now I’ve amended the darts in the back, see how much extra I needed to take them in, I pointed both stitch lines out with my tools:
Started as Bantam shift dress.
These are not darts anymore, they are princess lines. They could even go deeper but I’m worried it will make the waist too small and I won’t be able to slip the dress over my bust.

BINDING neck- and armholes.
2 helpful tutorials on sewing bias binding by The Haby Goddess.
Make sure you catch the back.
Follow the curve. shows how important pressing is.

pinning the biais band around the neck hole. It’s very tempting to just stitch it on in one go. But this step is meant to determine the length and to close the loop.
For sewing on I want to press it properly, so it will lay flat.
Started as Bantam shift dress.

This is how far I got yesterday. All done except for the second arm hole. I just finished binding that.
How fast a finishing with biais band is! I really like that I made my own.

I still don’t understand biais band though. You cannot stitch in the fold of the back and then turn it over and expect the front to catch the back, if you like neat stitch lines close to the edge. Quilters promote to “stitch in the ditch” but how that catches both sides of the band is still a mystery to me.

I tried to solve it in the neckline with two lines but it makes the finishing look T-shirt like. Oh well.
Started as Bantam shift dress.

The split at the sides. Maximum usability.
Started as Bantam shift dress.

I still need to finish it properly: tuck away loose threads and give it one more press. But pretty soon the heat will be here so I’m slipping it on instead and enjoy my new Summer dress!

Shift dress based on Bantam dress
Shift dress based on Bantam dress

The measurements work really well, I only have to raise my arms and the dress glides right over my body. It wears very comfortable too, no need to tuck in my stomach (or keep a good posture… shift dresses might not be good for humanity after all)
I still look fatter than I am in it but who cares, you’re meant to move in a dress like this and the movement will flatter your body shape.

I’m really glad with the pocket (keeping earplugs and cortisone pills handy) and my alterations. It wears so pleasant!
The fabric is very cool too. I wonder if this is actually linen… it doesn’t wrinkle much. Was I a gullible costumer?

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.