What's the most useful dress you could have? A shift dress, fitted through the bust so it doesn't look too boxy. A stylish V-neck...or maybe a nice pleated crew neck. No zippers or weird belts! A dress with big pockets, that can be dressy or informal. And one you can sew in a couple of hours, to make it fit you perfectly. If you make it in black denim, you can wear it multiple days in a row.
This is my secret dress. I've made two or three of these now and I will make more. If you make it mid-thigh length, you can wear it with or without leggings or tights. Make it shorter or longer! Leave out the pockets and you can even make it inside-out reversible! But jk, the best thing about this dress is that the pockets are big enough to fit an iPad mini. The other best thing is you can take it on a trip. Make it out of denim so you can air it out overnight, turn it around, and wear the other neckline tomorrow. It's your basic black dress. No one will know!
2-3 yards of fabric. I suggest a thicker, woven fabric like denim, though cotton-poly blends will work great too. Avoid quilter's cotton.
Bias tape to match your fabric
thread to match
sewing machine, scissors, pins, etc.....
Step 1: Make Your Pattern
Find your favorite shift dress. It should be a zipperless dress you pull over your head comfortably. You're going to trace it twice, and cut out two pieces--one with a V-neck, and one with a crew neck.
To make the V-neck pattern piece: Fold the dress in half lengthwise and lay it out on some paper, as in the pictures above. Trace the sides, the armholes, the shoulder seam, but DON'T trace the neckline. Pick up your dress and make a mark on your pattern directly opposite where your armhole ends--this will be the center of your V-neck. Draw a straight line from the end of your shoulder seam to the point you just drew. Look at the picture for details!
Add a pocket: If your original dress didn't have pockets (mine didn't), draw a big tear-drop shape as far down the dress as you want the pockets to come out--see the picture for details! Make sure the opening is 5" or greater (you can make the pockets as small as you want, but I believe when it comes to pockets that size DOES matter).
For the crew neck: Fold the dress in half lengthwise and lay it out on some paper, as in the pictures above. Trace the sides, the armholes, the shoulder seam. If the dress you're imitating has a crew neck, feel free to trace that! If not, just make a mark about half-way up your armhole, because the crewneck is more modest. If you get confused, look at the pictures above.
Trace a pocket on the crew-neck side just like you did for the V-neck side.
Cut out both pieces you just drew. Hold them up to each other (to make sure the pockets are the same size).
Step 2: Cut Out Your Pattern Pieces in Real Fabric
Wash and dry your fabric first! Seriously, you know how jeans shrink when you wash and dry them. There's nothing worse than making a dress that fits perfectly until you take it out of the dryer for the first time. It helps to iron it afterwards too.
Make sure your fabric is folded in half lengthwise. Lay out your pattern pieces on the fold, as in the picture above. Cut out the neck, shoulder seams, armholes, sides, pockets, and bottom, but DO NOT CUT the fold.
Step 3: Pin and Try On
Pin your dress at the shoulder seams and on the sides (just at the armpits, across the bust, is fine. This is where your dress is most fitted, so if it fits here, that's what you're most concerned about). If it fits here, you're good to go ahead and sew!
Personally, I sewed the shoulder seams, then pulled it on over my head with the neck opening, then pinned the sides down, for extra security.
Sew your dress together first at the shoulder seams, then both side seams, starting at the armpits. Look at picture for instructions on how to sew the pockets. Don't sew over the pocket opening!
Step 4: Make the Pleats in the Crew-neck Side
The crew-neck, at this point, will be too big. More boat neck than crew neck. When you try it on, note how much fabric around the crew-neck needs to be folded over to make it fit better. Take it off and pin that much fabric into pleats. I chose to do two pleats around the neck, but there's no reason you couldn't do one bigger center pleat, or a fancy box pleat.
Sew about an inch of basting stitches once you have your pleats where you want them, so they'll stay in place while you do the rest of the sewing. These are big running stitches without knots or backstitching--you'll pull them out later, once the dress is finished.
Step 5: Finish Your Neckline and Armholes With Bias Tape
This is the most complicated step! Take your matching bias tape and unfold it. Start pinning it around your neckline, RIGHT SIDE OF DRESS (seams inside) to RIGHT SIDE OF NECKLINE (you'll sew the bias tape so it faces you, then flip it under so it becomes the inside). Bis tape has three folds inside (center fold and two folds on either side). You're going to align the first fold with the edge of your dress, and sew on the fold of the tape. It's hard to explain, so I included a lot of pictures!
Cut one end of the tape at the V-neck with a quarter-inch at the end, and go all the way around the dress, up the V-neck and around the crew-neck, pinning carefully. You'll end on the other side of your V-neck. Once it's all pinned in place, cut so there's an inch or two extra overlapping the V-neck.
Sew over the first fold, right side of dress to right side of bias tape. Go slowly and make sure you include both tape and fabric.
Once you've sewn that seam, fold your bias tape over so the bias tape is on the INSIDE of the dress. The outside of the neckline will just be your main fabric, and on the inside, you'll see the strip of bias tape. Pin your bias tape to the inside folded under. Again, if you get confused, look at the pictures. On the V-neck, take the short end and fold it so it's folded inside the longer end of the bias tape.
Sew the inside of the bias tape slowly again, making sure you catch the other fold in your sewing machine (you don't want the tape to come unfolded on the inside of your dress).
Once you've done the very complicated neckline, you'll do the same to the armholes. Start the bias tape at the bottom of the armpit. Pin right side to right side, sew on the fold. Flip it over, pin together, and sew the bias tape down to finish the armhole.
Step 6: Hem and Wear!!
Fold up the edge twice (so there's no exposed edge) and hem that beast. Congratulations! You have just made your new most versatile "putting on clothes is hard but I made this in black denim so I look super chic anyway" dress!!! Throw your wallet in the pocket. Throw in your cell phone too. And your keys. And an apple. They fit. (At least if you made your pockets as big as I did.)
take it on a long weekend. Air it out overnight and wear the other neckline tomorrow with a different necklace. No one will know. And if they notice, they'll be amazed.
Other ideas: cut pocketless versions of each pattern out of two different fabrics. Sew two dresses without bias tape finishing, then sew them together using bias tape at the neckline and armholes and hemline. Now you have a dress which is reversible not only back to front, but also inside-out. is this the only dress you bring on a weekend trip? It could be. But maybe wash it.
More other ideas: long sleeved version. T-shirt sleeve version. Make a sweetheart neck and a scoop neck instead of a v-neck and crew neck. Add a lace panel on one neckline. Go crazy!
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