One of the best things about being able to sew is making things for yourself. And if you can make clothes without using a commercial pattern, the possibilities are endless! You can make whatever you like, in whatever style and fabric you choose. I’ve written about this before on my blog!

It’s been ages since I’ve made clothes for myself, so for this project I decided that I would make a dress.

The Dressmaking Fabric I chose is a chambray denim. It’s beautiful and perfect for spring. I didn’t realise at the time that it had a bit of a stretch to it, but that actually makes even nicer and it’s not at all difficult to sew.

It’s simple to make but there is measuring involved. Just remember to measure twice and cut once!

Taking Measurements

You will find it easier if you can get somebody to help you and it’s probably a good idea to jot your measurements down somewhere.

When you’re measuring, don’t pull the tape measure too tight! You will want the finished dress to fit and still be able to breathe!

These are the measurements you will need:

- Across your collarbone

- The distance between your shoulders

- Bust

- Just above your waist

- From your shoulder down to just past your armpit

- From your shoulder to just above your waist

- Just above your waist to the top of your knee

- Around the top of your arm

- Around your arm above your elbow

- From your shoulder to above your elbow

Drafting Pattern Pieces

To make the dress, you will need to draft pieces for the bodice front, bodice back and sleeves. The other pieces will be cut straight from the fabric.

Bodice Front

This is the trickiest bit. The rest is much easier!

You could use Sewing Pattern Paper or an old sheet. I prefer to use a sheet as it makes things easier when I try the pattern pieces out on my dress form.

If you are more of a visual learner, there’s a diagram below.

On a piece of pattern paper (or an old sheet), draw a vertical line. This will be the centre of the bodice. When you’re cutting your fabric, the bodice will be cut with this line on the fold.

Near the top of the line, draw another line across it the same length as the distance across your collarbone. Make sure that this line is centred.

A couple of cm below and using your shoulder measurement, draw another line across the centre of the first, vertical line.

Measure down from this (from shoulder past the armpit measurement here!). Find your bust measurement and divide it in half. Draw a line with this new measurement across in the same way.

Join the lines up! For the armhole, you could use a French curve.

To draw the neckline, measure down from the collarbone line about 5 cm.

Next, pin your pattern piece to your dress form (or to yourself if you prefer).

Check that the neckline is where you want it and redraw it if necessary.

Work out where the darts need to go by pinning them.

Bodice Back

This is not the proper way to make a bodice back, but it’s the quickest and easiest way!

Take your bodice front and draw round it, making the neckline shallower. Try it out on your dress form or yourself, with the bodice front to check that it fits.

Sleeves

Draw a vertical line the same  length of your armhole. At the bottom of the line, draw another line at right angles to the 1st line so that it looks like an upside down T.

Use a French curve to join to the top of the first line to the arms of the T.

For the rest of the sleeve, extend the first line so that it is as long as you want the sleeve to be. At the bottom, draw another line at right angles. It will need to be the length of the distance around your arm.

Cutting Out

When using your pattern pieces, remember to add a 2 cm seam allowance.

Sleeves Cut 2

Bodice Front You will need to cut 2 halves. You’ll need to add an extra couple of cm at the centre for the buttons.

Bodice Back Cut 1

Button Bands Cut 2 rectangles 10 cm wide and as high as the centre of the bodice front.

Waistband Cut 2 rectangles. The length will be your above your waist measurement halved, and 8 cm wide.

Skirt Front On folded fabric use pins to mark a rectangle. The top and the bottom edges will be your above the waist measurement divided by 4, plus 25 cm. Use a pin to mark your waist measurement before adding the extra 25 cm.

The sides will be the distance from just above your waist to your knee.

On the folded side, mark 10 cm up from the bottom edge of the rectangle. Using pins, mark a new bottom line 10 cm up from the bottom of the rectangle and the same length as your waist measurement, divided by 4.

Then join the line to the bottom corner.

Mark another line from the end of your waist measurement to the bottom corner of the skirt.

Cut it out.

Skirt Back For this you can use your skirt front as a guide. Lay the skirt front on top folded fabric so that the folded edges are together.

Cut around the top and the side. When you get to the bottom, instead of going upwards towards the centre, keep the line straight. This will mean that the hem of the skirt will move upwards a little bit at the back but not as much as at the front.

Frill Measure the bottom of the skirt front and cut a rectangle of fabric 12 cm high and double the length of the bottom edge of the skirt.

Cut another piece for the back in the same way.

Sewing Up

The dress is made up by sewing the front section, then the back, then putting the sleeves in, then sewing up the side seams.

It’s important to keep trying it on to check that it fits! Don’t trim any seams until you’ve tried it on!

Dress Front

1. Take one of the button bands and fold it in half lengthways. Open it out, then fold the edges into the centre. Fold it in half again. You might find it helpful to run the iron over it to crease where you have folded.

Starting on the wrong side of the bodice front, pin the button band so that the raw edges are together. The button band will also need to be right side down.

Sew the button band to the wrong side, then fold it over the raw edges. The creases will help you here! 

Pin it to the right side of the bodice front and sew it in place, keeping close to the open edge.

Repeat with the other button band and bodice front.

2. On the button band of the right hand bodice front, mark 4 button holes. The top button hole will need to be 2 cm down from the top edge, and the other 3 equally spaced. My button holes were 7.5 cm apart. Sew the button holes.

3. Pin the darts in the bodice front, then sew them.

4. Pin the bodice front sections together so that the button bands are overlapping. Pin the waistband to the bodice pieces, then sew it in place.

5. Take the strip for the frill for the front part of the skirt. Sew 2 rows of long stitches along the top edge. Take care not to cross the lines of stitching!

Gather the frill by pulling on the top 2 threads. As it is quite long, you might want to do half from one end and the other half from the other end. Keep gathering until it is the same length as the bottom for the skirt front.

Pin the frill to the bottom of the skirt, then sew it, ensuring that the gathers are evenly spaced.

6. Sew the top of the skirt to the waistband.

That’s the front of the dress completed!

Dress Back

The dress back is assembled in a similar way to the front.

1. Sew the bodice back to the waistband.

2. Make the frill as described for the skirt front. Pin, then sew the frill to the skirt.

3. Sew the top of the skirt to the waistband.

Joining the Dress Front and Back

Pin the shoulder seams. Try it on to check that everything is in the right place and adjust if necessary. Sew the shoulder seams.

Sewing the Sleeves

Pin the sleeves to the armhole. You’ll need lots of pins for this! Sew the sleeve in place.

Joining the Side Seams

1. Starting at the armpit seam, pin the side of the dress. Sew.

2. Go back to the armpit and pin the sleeve seam. Sew the sleeve seam.

Repeat for the other side.

Finishing the Neckline

1. Make the bias binding strips for the neckline (if you don’t want to do this, you just buy some. You’ll need about a metre).

Take a square of fabric and fold it in half diagonally. The diagonal line will need to be the same as the distance around the neckline of your dress, plus an extra 5 cm.

Measure 2.5 cm away from the folded edge. Either draw a line or mark it with pins. Cut along the line.

You can either using a bias binding tool, or you can fold the strip in half again, press it, then fold the edges into the middle, fold it in half again and press once more.

2. With the wrong sides facing downwards, pin the bias binding to the wrong side of the neckline so that the raw edges are aligned. Fold the ends inwards about 1 cm.

3. Fold the bias binding over the raw edges, taking care to keep the ends neat and the raw edge tucked under. Pin, then sew.

Finishing the Dress

1. Hem the sleeves. I used a folded hem as the fabric does fray a little bit.

2. Hem the frill. You might need to unpick a few stitches at the sides to get a neat finish and to ensure that the hems match.

3. Using the button holes as a guide, sew the buttons to the other button band.

4. Trim away any stray threads and run the iron over your dress.

Tips

Keep trying the dress on and don’t trim any seams until you’re sure!

Include a generous seam allowance just in case it’s a bit snug.

When pinning the side seams, try to match the waistband seams.

Adjust the bottom edge of the skirt if necessary so that the frill/ skirt seams are lined up at the sides.