Introduction: How to Make a Notch-above Dress

This dress is flattering and stylish and would work in a wide variety of fabric choices. I loved the bold, large-scale floral I chose, but I can also imagine it looking great in two solids or in a smaller-scale print. Try it out for yourself and sew what works for you! It'll be a perfect dress for summer in whatever fabric combination you choose. 

Step 1: Supplies

To make the notch-above dress you will need:
2-3 yards of main fabric (2 yards if you make a short dress from 60" wide fabric, more if you are using 45" wide fabric or want a longer dress)
1/2 yard of contrast fabric for front contrast & waistband
16" zipper
1" wide elastic (length determined by your waist measurement)
1 package pre-made single fold bias tape (or make your own)
Fusible interfacing (a few small scraps are enough, you just need a couple of strips to reinforce the notch detail)
(Note: There are buttons in the picture because in the original stage of this dress design, there was a button detail, but at the end of the project I decided to omit the button.) 

Step 2: Prepare Dress Pattern

You will need to use the front and back pieces of a shift dress pattern to begin the process. I used the shift dress pattern from the Built By Wendy Dresses book. There is also a pattern available on Burdastyle that would make a great starting point: One more option is to draft your own pieces using these free instructions from Burdastyle:

Step 3: Prepare the Pattern Pieces

On the front & back dress pattern pieces you will need to mark your waistline by drawing a horizontal line across each piece. You can find your waistline by measuring from your shoulder to your waist (where you want the elastic belt to cinch the dress in) and then measuring the same distance from the shoulder seam line on your pattern piece. This line will allow you to place the waistband belt on the dress so that it is level and at the right spot on your body. Be sure that the horizontal line on the front dress piece will connect to the line on the back dress piece at the side seams.  

Step 4: Create the Front Contrast Pattern

The front contrast yoke piece will look like the piece shown. To make this piece, start by laying the front dress pattern over a large sheet of paper (I use the unprinted side of gift wrapping paper). Trace along the center front line from the center of the neckline to 1/2 inch below the horizontal line you drew at the waist. Continue tracing along the neckline and across the shoulder. Remove the pattern piece from the paper. Measure and mark 1 1/2 inches from center front line at the bottom (1/2" below waist). Draw a horizontal line connect the center front line to the mark. Measure and mark 2 1/2 inches along the shoulder. Connect this mark with the horizontal line you created at the waist. Cut out your pattern piece. (Note: these measurements include a 1/4" seam allowance for finishing the vertical edges.)

Step 5: Create the Waistband Belt Pattern

To make the waistband belt pattern piece, begin by measuring the horizontal line you drew on the front & back dress pattern pieces. To create the front belt piece, draw a rectangle 1 3/4 inches by two times the length of the front waist line. To create the back belt pattern, draw a rectangle 1 3/4 inches by the length of the back waist line. Cut out the pattern pieces. (Note: Alternately, if you have enough contrast fabric, you could make one belt piece that is 1 3/4 inches by the entire (front + back) waist measurement.) 

Step 6: Cut Out Dress Pieces

Lay out your main dress fabric with the selvages aligned. Pin the front dress pattern piece along the fold. Pin the dress pattern piece to the fabric. Measure from the selvage to the center back to make sure it is aligned on the grain of the fabric. Cut out both pieces so that you have one front dress piece and two back dress pieces. If applicable to your pattern, mark notches on side seams and trace darts.   

Step 7: Cut Out Contrast Pieces

Lay out your front contrast yoke piece along the fold and pin in place. Lay the belt pieces out so they are perpendicular to the fold. Pin in place. Cut out the pieces so that you have one front contrast yoke piece, one front belt piece and two back belt pieces. (Note: I originally thought I would need facing pieces to finish the neck edges of the dress. Those are the curved pieces shown in the picture. Later, I decided to use bias tape to do this job.)

Step 8: Sew Darts

Line up the legs of the darts and sew from the wide edge to the point of the dart (right sides of the fabric together). Do not backstitch at the point of the dart. Leave thread tails and knot the thread to secure the stitching. This will prevent the little bubble that tends to form at the point of a dart. Press the darts down. In the photo, you can see the stitching from the wrong side of one dart (on the left) and the pressed dart from the right side of the fabric (on the right). 

Step 9: Create the Front Contrast Yoke

To begin, press the vertical edges of the contrast piece under (toward wrong side of fabric) 1/4 inch. Cut 2 inch wide strips (wider if you want a wider notch detail) of fusible interfacing and apply them centered on the center front of the contrast yoke piece and the center front of the front dress piece. This will reinforce the notch you will create in the neckline. Pin the RIGHT side of the contrast piece to the WRONG side of the dress front piece along the neckline and shoulders. Sew along the neckline. When you reach 1/4 inch from the center front, with the needle down, pivot, sew down 2 1/2 inches in a narrow "V". At the bottom of the "V", reverse course and sew up towards the neckline. Pivot again at the neckline to finish the seam. In the photo, you can see the shape of the seam you will be creating (white line). (Note1: The fusible interfacing is not visible in the photo.) (Note 2: You can create any size and shape of notch that suits you.) 

Step 10: Finish Contrast Yoke

First, trip the seam allowance along the neckline. Clip the curves. Clip between the legs of the "V" so that it can be opened. Be very careful not to clip through the stitching. I would also recommend reinforcing the "V" by stitching along it a second time using a short stitch length. Turn the contrast piece out to the right side and press it well. Edgestitch very close to the folded under vertical edges of the contrast piece. Also edgestitch along the neckline and notch. (Note: The edgestitching is not visible in the photo.)

Step 11: Sew Center Back Seam

You will need to leave the top 16 inches of the center back seam unsewn so that you can insert the zipper later. Measure 16 inches down from the back neck edge of the center back. Pin the back dress pieces right sides together from that point down to the hem edge. Sew from the mark down. Backstitch at each end. In the photo, you can see how the seam is left open at the top. 

Step 12: Sew Front to Back

Pin the front dress piece to the back dress piece along side seams and shoulder seams. Stitch. (Note: The back shoulder seam will be longer than the front shoulder because you sewed the contrast piece at the inner edge. Line up the outer shoulder edges and leave the extra width on the back pieces. You will need that seam allowance for finishing the back neck edges later. If you look closely, you can see what I mean in the photo.)

Step 13: Create the Waistband Belt

Pin the front waistband to the back waistband pieces at the short side seams. Press the seams open. Press the long edges under 1/4 inch. Pin the belt to the right side of the dress. Align the top edge of the belt with the horizontal waistline that you drew and marked. Align the side seams of the belt with the side seams of the dress. Edgestitch the belt to the dress along the top and bottom edges of the belt. 

Step 14: Insert Elastic in the Belt

Cut a length of elastic to fit around your waist. Insert the elastic into the casing formed by the belt. To make it easier, put a safety pin on the end of the elastic and use the pin to guide the elastic through the casing. Secure the elastic in place by sewing it into the seam allowance. 

Step 15: Insert the Zipper

Insert your zipper into the opening left in the center back seam. Use your favorite method. Mine is to insert a lapped zipper, which I will describe briefly. Press the left edge of the center back seam allowance under 1/2 inch. Press the right back edge under 5/8 inch. Pin zipper tape to the left edge, close to the zipper teeth. Stitch. Overlap the right edge over the zipper and pin in place along the zipper tape. Stitch, pivoting at the bottom edge to meet up with the center back seam. Be careful not to stitch through the metal stopper. You will catch the belt and the elastic into the zipper seams. 

Step 16: Finish Neck and Sleeve Edges

Use the single fold bias tape to finish the back neck edges and sleeves. To do so, first trip seam allowances on sleeves and neck to 1/4 inch. Next, open out one of the folded edges of the bias tape and pin it to the right side of the edges (shown in the first photo). Stitch along the fold. Turn bias tape to the inside of the garment and pin in place. Stitch in place close to the other folded edge of the bias tape (shown in second photo). (Note: If you do not want visible stitching on the outside of the dress along the sleeves and back neck, you can slipstitch the bias tape to the inside.)   

Step 17: Hem the Dress

You're almost done! Try on your dress and mark your hem. Measure 1 1/2 inches down from your desired hem line. Trim any excess length away. (Note: If you don't have 1 1/2 inches of length available, you can create a narrower hem than I did.) Press bottom edge up 1/2 inch. Press up again 1 inch. Stitch hem in place, about 7/8 inch from bottom fold. The photo shows the finished hem of my dress. 

Step 18: Wear It!

You're ready to put on your dress and go! 

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