Friday, June 21, 2013

Easy Peasy Summer Dress Tutorial, Part 1: Drafting the Pattern

Not to brag, you guys, but I am pretty darn proud of myself for what I have made. Not only was I able to improvise from an existing pattern, but the dress I made actually fits!

Since this took me quite some time, and I actually made the effort to take lots of pictures as I was working, I've decided to split this post up into two pieces. This piece will focus on creating my pattern and cutting my fabric. The second piece will focus on piecing it all together and sewing it.

First: How I decided to edit the pattern. (Since if you look at the pattern I link to, and then to my final product, you may be confused by how they are not the same.)
 1. I made the waistline around my hips, not an empire waistline.
 2. It is only faux-wrap in front - the back is one solid piece, with a kind-of bateau neckline.
 3. There is an additional front piece, which extends from just under my bust to my hips.
 4. The skirt is fuller (just over a half circle) rather than two straight pieces.
 5. I decided against sleeves entirely

Approximately 1 1/2 yards of knit fabric (I bought 2 but had some left over)
Coordinating thread
Pattern paper
Muslin fabric (optional but helpful)
Double needle (also optional, but helpful and awesome)

1. Creating a (kind-of) muslin.

I began assuming that I would follow this pattern, which I got from Here are the pattern pieces cut out:
Sleeve piece is far left, bodice piece is middle, skirt is right

So, to begin with and to check the fit, I created a muslin for the top of the dress.

Muslin piece
 So this is what that looks like. I only created the top part because that's the part where I was concerned it would not fit. (You can find more information about creating a muslin here, and in fact she has many excellent posts with tips and tricks - however, the basic idea is that you cut out and sew with super cheap fabric before you cut into your precious apparel fabric.)

If it doesn't fit, try to alter it so that it does, I guess... that's the least descriptive sentence ever. It all depends on your own body though. If it's too small, you will have to add extra inches on each side to your traced pattern. And opposite if it's too big.

That's the only picture I have of it because I kind of forgot. But it's basically four of the "bodice" pieces (from the pattern I linked to above) all sewn together.

2. Tracing onto paper.

To make my pattern, I used postal paper that I got in the mailing section of Target. It's used to wrap packages and stuff. But it also works great for patterns!

Hint: As I go through this, it will make it easier if you keep this in mind: I'll reference three different bodice pieces. Top-bodice is the top half of the front of the bodice of the dress, aka the part that covers your bust. Bottom-bodice is the bottom half of the front of the bodice, aka the part that covers your stomach. Back-bodice is the entire back of the dress, extending from your neck to the small of your back, where it connects to the skirt.

The V-neck in front
 I laid my muslin down on the paper. Basically, you want to trace all around it on every side. However, when you trace, draw your line 1/2" bigger than your muslin piece. That will be your seam allowance. (Fun fact: I am not very good at doing this. I'm working on it.)

The top of the front of the dress
This is traced from my muslin. It will eventually become the top half of the front of my dress.

Now we need to add the bottom half of the front of the dress. We are going to draft this whole bodice - front and back - as one pattern piece, so as not to waste paper. We'll cut it up later. Hang in there!

Determine how long it should be. This means, measure from the bottom of your bust (the place where the bottom of your top-bodice hits) to the place where you want your skirt to begin. I chose that to be at my hips, and it ended up being 9 inches.

On your pattern piece, measure from the bottom of what you just traced. Make a little line. Do this on the right side of the pattern, then on the left side. Draw a straight line from one mark to the other. You may want to measure in the middle just to make sure it's the same length all the way around. Then, trace from your marks to the bottom corners of your top-bodice. This piece is basically a square. (Hint: If you have kind of big hips, like me, you might want to make this line slightly diagonal or curvy - so the bottom is larger than the top.)

This is how your bodice piece should now look.

Next is to draw the piece which will be the top edge of the back-bodice. To do this, I simply drew a slightly curved line. I completely guessed on this part, as far as how much curve to add, but it worked pretty alright.

The curved line is the back neckline; the V is the front neckline
Now we can draw on the mock wrap part.

To do this, I placed my bodice pattern piece over my already traced piece. I traced a line from the point of the V-neck to the bottom of the bodice piece. Then, I flipped it over and traced the left V line. So, in the picture, the dotted lines will eventually be cut in the fabric but they won't be sewn (except for a hem). This creates the faux-wrap look.

Okay, check-in: we have one piece of paper with a traced shape on it. The traced shape will be our pattern for: the back-bodice, the top-bodice and the bottom-bodice.

3. Cut out your pattern piece.

Pattern piece on fabric
Cut out your traced shape. It should look something like this! (I have mine face down, so you can't see the lines we've drawn.) We will do the skirt after we're done with the bodice.

4. Cutting out the back bodice.

This is first because the whole of what we have traced is what we're using. Lay it on your fabric, as shown above.

Hint: Be conscious of your pattern. If you're using a solid, you don't have to worry about it. If you're using a big pattern like mine, you might care what parts of it show on each part of your dress. I didn't mind too much. If you're using a stripe, you will have to line up the stripes and cut so that they go the direction you want.

Pin your pattern to the fabric. This might not be as necessary if you have a rotary cutter. But if you're using scissors like I am, it really helps a lot. You can see in the picture that I have placed pins in the corners of the pattern.

Now, take a deep breath. You are going to cut into your fabric, and it is going to be okay! (That's me talking to my past-self... I had to work up a lot of nerve to make the first cut!) When you are cutting, make nice, long, smooth cuts and it will look a lot better.

Back bodice piece
VoilĂ ! Now we'll do the front.

5. Cutting out the front bodice.

Now it's time to cut up our paper pattern piece. First, cut out the part in between the V - the part where you drew your curved line to make the back neckline. Then, cut out the square part that you drew on - the bottom-bodice.

Now it should look like this:

Top bodice pattern piece
It won't be folded right when you cut it, of course. I did that afterward. You will have this, plus a little triangle looking thing that we won't use again, plus a square piece which we will use again (not pictured).

We are going to cut two roughly triangular pieces - two of the bodice pieces from the original pattern.. Remember how the muslin looked? We're gonna recreate that.

Fold over the piece of paper, along the dotted line that you drew earlier. You'll have to make a couple smaller folds so that all the paper you're folding fits neatly within the part you are going to trace.

Lay this on your fabric. Pin in place, and then cut. Un-pin the paper, re-pin it to your big piece of fabric, and cut out a second one.

Top bodice
In that picture they are layered on top of each other as they will be in the final product.

Now, take your square bottom-bodice piece. Pin it to fabric, and cut that out as well. (I don't have any pictures of that, sorry.) When you have both top and bottom bodice cut out...

They'll look like this! Two top pieces and a bottom piece. And the back piece as well.

6. Cutting the skirt.

So, instead of using the skirt pattern that I printed off originally, I decided to replicate my half circle skirt because I love it so much! If you want to do that, you can follow the tutorial I've linked to. Or, you can use the pattern piece, which is a straight skirt. Or, you can trace one of your own existing skirts. So many options!

First I placed my skirt on the pattern paper. I traced it and cut it out.

Traced skirt
Cut-out pattern piece
Now, this part got just a smidge tricky for me. I laid the pattern piece on my fabric... but the fabric was not wide enough. The corner of my pattern piece was hanging off by about two inches. And I didn't want the skirt to be any shorter. So I kind of improvised:

See how the upper left corner of the pattern is against the fold of the fabric? But the bottom left corner is not against the fold? I decided to just go with that. I ended up cutting from the fold of the fabric along the bottom of the pattern, as if the pattern piece extended all the way to the fold. That way, my skirt stay the same length and just ends up a little more full.

I started cutting here.

I measured the length from the top of the pattern piece to the bottom It was 21". So, along the fold edge of the fabric, I measured 21" down and began to cut.

I kept the measurement 21" all the way until I got to the paper pattern piece. Then I cut along the pattern piece as normal. 

This is what I ended up with. See how the fabric just extends a couple inches to the left of the pattern? That's alright! 

So now, we have: two pieces which, when overlapped, will cover the bust; one piece which will cover your stomach and be sewn to the skirt and the bust piece; one piece which will cover the your back and will attach to the bust piece and the skirt; and one skirt!

PLEASE let me know if you have any questions or need clarifications of any steps, or what I did and why... I realized while I was writing this that it's kind of hard to explain my thought process sometimes!

Linked up at:

Chic on a Shoestring Decorating


  1. Very pretty! I like the faux wrap in the bodice. I make all my dresses with 3/4 or 1/2 circle skirts, I like them to be all floaty :)

    1. Thanks! I agree, a floaty skirt is wonderful, and very summery :)