I’ve received some requests to prepare a tutorial on how to use the basic bodice blocks to create simple garments. As it happens, I also had a few suitable fabrics in my stash, so I decided to make two dresses. The idea was to not buy any new materials; everything had to come from my stash.
This tutorial will show you how to turn the basic bodice and the dartless bodice into a simple dress pattern.
I wanted to pick two sleeve styles I hadn’t used before in my own garments and went with the trumpet and the leg o’ mutton sleeve. But you can choose any sleeve style you want (or none at all). I have quite a few sleeve tutorials here on my blog, and even more styles in my sleeve guide/book Mad about Sleeves.
Without further ado, let’s see the first dress.
Simple Dartless Dress Pattern
As a base I used the dartless bodice block of course. If you’re new to drafting patterns, this is the easier bodice block to draft. It’s not very fitted, although you can play with the amount of ease. The look will be rather boxy in any case.
Since my dress was going to have sleeves, I used a dartless bodice block with 6cm of ease along the underarm line. For sleeveless dresses you should reduce the amount.
This is how to modify the basic pattern to turn it into the dress pattern:
- First, let’s add length because the basic bodice blocks only reach hip level. You can measure from the waist down and then lengthen the pattern pieces accordingly. The dartless bodice already has a flared side seam, so you can just follow the same inclination. Do the front piece first, and then lengthen the back piece by the same amount. Add an extra 1-2cm length between the c-front and bust point (see the dashed line) as the dress hemline tends to rise due to the bust.
- You’ll want to enlarge the neckline, as that of the basic bodice is rather small. Just ensure that the front and back necklines match at the shoulder. Otherwise, you can make the neckline any shape you like.
- In my case there will be leg o’ mutton sleeves, so to reduce the wide-shouldered look I shortened the shoulder line at the tip by re-drawing the armholes. If your sleeves won’t have any extra volume at the top, skip this step.
- Add a horizontal seam below your bust. Use a measuring tape to discover how much below the bust point this seam should be. The reason for the seam is that we’ll add extra flare to the lower part of the dress. Ensure that there’s a right angle at the c-front and c-back to avoid angles, and that the front and back pieces match at the side seam. Add notches somewhere in the middle before separating the pieces.
5. The last step to complete the dress pattern is to add flare to the lower part with the slash and spread method. I added 8cm. Re-draw the lines.
Leg o’ Mutton Sleeve
The dartless bodice block comes with a basic sleeve that we’ll now turn into a leg o’ mutton sleeve like this:
- As this is a long sleeve, separate the upper section along the elbow line. This allows you to add volume only to the top of the sleeve.
- Draw 5 lines as shown between the two armhole notches. The central line should match with the central notch. Slash & spread to add volume. The numbers shown in the illustration will produce a sleeve you see in the pictures. You can also add less, if you want a smaller sleeve.
- Re-draw the sleeve cap and raise it by 5cm. Then, attach the lower section of the sleeve and re-draw the sides.
These are the final pattern pieces. The back pieces are not cut on the fold as there will be a zipper at the c-back. Mark a notch where the zipper ends. You can also add notches at the side seam somewhere in the middle. They will help you when sewing the seams.
I used the same pieces for the lining, too, but made the skirt 5cm shorter. The sleeve isn’t lined.
In this tutorial I show how to check the pattern pieces. It’s always recommended to make at least a partial toile when drafting your own patterns.
Sewing the Dartless Dress
I had a piece of gorgeous black wool bouclé with silver stripes in my stash that I was saving to make a coat. It’s from Lafab Tessuti. However, the coat somehow never got made and I decided that maybe a dress would be more useful after all. I can always get more bouclé if I want to make a coat later.
It’s not the most spring time fabric though, but maybe I’ll manage to wear the dress a few times this month before it’s too warm.
As a lining I used plain cotton, because the bouclé seemed to prefer a heavier weight lining. Plus, I couldn’t locate any other suitable lining in my stash!
Here you can see the bodice pieces cut. The bouclé was fraying like crazy so I serged the edges right away, and then closed the shoulder and side seams of both layers.
After this I sewed the lining to the main layer around the neckline, right sides together, and then edge stitched the lining to the seam allowance for a neat look.
Next, I completed the sleeves: closed the underarm seams, hemmed (by hand), and sewed two rows of gathering stitches between the armhole notches. I had to use the pattern to mark the notches with pins because of the type of fabric.
But in any case, it’s a good idea to mark the central notch with a pin if you have lots of gathers, because it tends to vanish otherwise.
Use the bodice to gather the sleeve cap to match the armhole. Then, pin it into the armhole, right sides together. You should match the central notch with the shoulder seam, and the armhole notches with those of the bodice, as well as the underarm seam with the side seam.
I attached the sleeve to the upper layer of the bodice only at this point.
Then, I pinned and stitched the lining to the armhole seam, right sides together. This is quite a tricky seam and you probably need to do it in two phases: front and back sections separately. I think you could also just attach the lining to the armholes with a few hand stitches just to hold it in place to avoid the hassle.
Here’s the result. In this case the seam allowance is really thick because of all the gathers and the type of fabric.
I prepared the skirt separately and hemmed it by hand.
And then I united the bodice and the skirt.
At this point the dress was almost done, only missing the zipper. I decided that a normal zipper was better than my favorite, the invisible zipper, this time because the wool was quite heavy weight. Luckily there was one in my stash!
Inserting the Zipper
I took a few pics of the zipper sequence.
- First, open the zipper and pin one side to the dress, right sides together. The zipper teeth point towards the dress. I find that the first side doesn’t need to be basted.
- Use a zipper foot to sew the zipper.
- Close the zipper and pin the remaining side to the dress, right sides together. Adjust until the two sides match. Ensure that the “waist” seams are at the same exact level and that the fabric remains smooth at the bottom of the zipper. Also the top of the zipper should start at the same point on both sides or otherwise the back neckline won’t line up. Once you’re happy, baste the zipper in place, open it, and then sew.
Now, we’ll attach the lining to the opposite side of the zipper.
4. Fold down the upper corner of the zipper tape and flip the lining on top.
5. The neckline seam should remain exactly in the center at the top. Match the edges if you left the same amount of seam allowance to the main layer and the lining. Pin and sew in place.
6. Here you can see the result. One side is done at this point.
7. Pin the remaining side in the same way. Only this time you also need to check that the two sides match by closing the zipper before sewing.
8. This step is optional. You can top stitch one more time near the zipper, flattening the fabric. This will help keep it from getting stuck between the zipper teeth.
If you have a hole below the zipper, just continue the c-back seam upward until you close the hole.
Dress with Leg o’ Mutton Sleeves
So, here’s what the dress looks like! I decided to try adding tulle sleeve heads. I think I’ll make them removable by adding snaps. The pictures on the left are with sleeve heads and the ones on the right are without. Which do you prefer?
If you’re curious about how to make them, check out this tutorial.
Here you can also see how I cut the bodice pieces with horizontal stripes and the skirt and sleeves with vertical stripes. The fabric combined with the leg o’ mutton sleeves makes this a rather fancy dress even though the pattern was quite simple.
You can modify the look pretty easily just by changing the type of sleeve or shape of the neckline. Or even just the type of fabric.
Turn Basic Bodice Block into a Dress
Let’s see how you can make something similar with the basic bodice block. This one will be more fitted at the top, but we’ll only use the bust dart and ignore the waist darts. I’ll use a knit fabric for the dress.
Again, there will be sleeves, so I used a basic bodice block with 4cm of ease along the underarm line.
- Similar to the previous dress, add length to the pattern measuring from the waist down. Go straight down from the hip at the side seams at first. Here, too, the front hemline is a bit longer near the center due to the bust.
- Add 4cm of flare at the hem. The new side seam is completely straight and starts at the top. If you find that this line overlaps with your original bodice side seam at the hip, add more flare.
- Remove 1cm of the back shoulder dart volume from the shoulder tip and re-draw the shoulder line and back armscye line. The remaining 0.5cm will remain as ease. This allows you to remove the shoulder dart.
- Here we have another horizontal seam. This time it’s because we want to absorb the bust dart into the seam. So, it needs to pass through the bust point. At the same time having this seam allows us to insert a zipper at the upper part of the bodice back only and cut the back skirt on the fold. However, depending on your measurements, you might need a longer zipper to put the dress on (meaning you can’t cut the skirt on the fold). In any case, ensure that there’s a right angle at the c-front and c-back, and that the front and back pieces match at the side seam.
Add notches before separating the upper section. Close the bust dart and adjust the line to remove the angle near the dart tip.
5. Draw a new neckline. I drafted a rounded V-neckline at the front and a keyhole at the back. The back neckline measurements have been designed so that the remaining c-back seam length will match the zipper length.
6. In my case, there was going to be a metal zipper, so, I removed half of the zipper width from the c-back. This is because the back bodice needs to match with the back skirt after the zipper has been inserted.
This time I didn’t add any extra flare to the skirt with the slash & spread method, but you can do so, if you prefer.
The Trumpet Sleeve
The trumpet sleeve is flared at the hemline but you only add volume from the elbow down like this:
I added 12cm. Re-draw the sides and the hemline.
If you use knit fabric like I did, you won’t need ease at the sleeve cap. Just lower the cap until you’ve removed extra ease.
These are the final pattern pieces. You’ll get the neckline facing by copying the shape directly from the bodice. There’s a button & loop closure above the keyhole.
Check the pattern pieces before using them.
Sewing the Simple Jersey Dress
For this dress I used a fabric I got a while ago from Intrend, which is an outlet that sells fabric remnants (and clothes) from the Max Mara Fashion Group here in Italy. They have some beautiful fabrics!
It’s a midweight jersey.
I used a serger for most seams. Only the neckline and the zipper were sewn with a sewing machine. And the hemline, too, because I don’t have a coverstitch machine. Therefore I went with the double needle instead.
The first step was to sew the neckline. I finished the facing’s free edges with the serger before starting.
I sewed the facing to the neckline, right sides together, keeping the front and back pieces separate. The loop gets sandwiched in between the pieces. I also staytaped the neckline so that it wouldn’t stretch.
The keyhole’s seam allowance needs to be clipped before turning the right sides out. Edge stitch the facing to the seam allowance. Press flat.
To complete the back piece, attach the zipper.
- Here I have already sewn one side of the zipper and pinned the other.
- Before sewing the second side, close the zipper to check that the two sides match at the top and the bottom. You can baste before sewing, if you prefer. This being a short zipper, I didn’t baste.
- Then, sew the zipper in place using a zipper foot.
4. Just like with the lining of the other dress, attach the facing to the opposite side of the zipper.
Staytape the back shoulders. Then, you can finally sew the shoulder seams, the main layer and the facing in one go. Leave the side seams open.
Attach the lower sections to both the front and back pieces. The reason why we keep the side seams open is that when sewing with knits, the sleeves are attached slightly differently.
Don’t close the sleeves’ underarm seams either. Pin the sleeve cap to the bodice as it is, matching the armhole notches, and the central notch with the shoulder seam. Ensure that you don’t mix up the front and back of the sleeve. Then, sew the sleeve in place.
After that, pin and sew the sleeve’s underarm seam and the dress side seam in one go.
When I hem using the double needle, I prefer to baste the hemlines first near the edge like this.
It’s because you sew with the right side on top, so you can’t really see what’s going on underneath unless you have some kind of reference. I use the basting stitches as a reference (and at the same time they keep the hem in place as I sew).
When I sew, I try to keep the line of basting stitches exactly in the center between the two needles.
As you can see, the edge of the hem ends up being covered underneath the stitches, which was my goal.
Finish the dress by hand stitching the facing in place at the shoulder seams and the c-front. Attach a button.
DIY Jersey Dress Pics
And this is how the second dress looks like. It’s very comfy and more suitable for spring temperatures!
Back view and sleeve detail. The trumpet sleeves are quite subtle.
And that is how you can use basic bodice blocks to create simple dress patterns that are easy to modify for a bunch of different looks!