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Shift Dress Project

Sew a shift dress

This shift dress project has been designed by Julia Claridge of Bobbins and Buttons. She offers dressmaking and sewing classes in Leicester and designs children’s clothing and accessories which are handmade to order. The fabric for this project was kindly supplied by Fabric Godmother.

You will need…

Medium weight woven fabric – see section below for working out quantities. We used a craft weight cotton kindly supplied by Fabric Godmother

Lining fabric – see section below for working out quantities

Pattern drafting paper or large sheet of paper

Set square or ruler with a right angle

Before you start

This shift dress is designed to be made to fit you.

To work out the amount of fabric you first need to measure yourself. When measuring, hold the tape measure flat to your body but don’t pull it tight. It’s good to measure in front of a mirror to check the tape measure is parallel with the front and not sagging at the back.

Measure the fullest part of your bust and the widest point of your hips. Measure from the side of your neck to where you would like the dress to finish.

To calculate the amount of fabric you need, add 12cm to whichever is your widest measurement. For example if your bust measures 100cm and your hips the same your measurement will be 112cm. Then add 8cm to the required length of your dress so if you would like your dress to measure 92cm your measurement will be 100cm.

In this case if the fabric is 114cm or wider you will need 1 metre of fabric. If your body width with the additional 12cm is wider than the fabric you will need twice the measurement you have for the length.

If you are smaller than a size 10 you may want to reduce the ease and if you are bigger than a size 16 you may want to increase it. It is always a good idea to do a basic test run on a cheap piece of fabric of similar weight before cutting into the real thing!

The measurements given in these instructions include a 15mm seam allowance.

RST – Right Sides Together

Shift Dress Instructions

Draft your own dress pattern

It’s best to draw the dimensions on a large piece of paper to create a simple pattern.

Working with your widest measurement, quarter it. For example if your bust is the widest point and measures 112cm with the added 12cm, your quarter measurement will be 28cm.

Draw a rectangle on a folded sheet of paper, measuring 28cm x length in this example we are using 100cm for the length. Check all angles are right angles.

If your hips are wider than your bust, you will need to mark a horizontal line at your bust point. Measure from the side of your neck to your bust line and mark this on your paper. Do the same for your hips and mark this line. You will need to taper the side angle to ensure you have the right amount of ease at both bust and hips. Please note this dress may not hang well if the measurement difference between bust and hip is too large.

Measure a point 13cm in from the folded long edge, mark this point. This will become your neck line.


Pattern drafting skills

Along the right side long edge mark a point 24.5cm down from the top corner, this will become your armhole. At the bottom edge of this side mark a point 12cm up, this marks the side vent.

Draw a dress pattern from measurements

Create a back neck shape. Mark a point 1.5cm down from upper line at the folded edge. From the neckline point, using a plate or curved ruler draw a shallow curve.

Sewing your own garments

Draw a point 7cm below the curved line you have just drawn and using the same curved ruler or plate draw a front neckline. Cut the pattern out (remember the paper is double) cut around the back neck pattern shape. Cut the pattern down the front fold line (make sure you transfer the vent and armhole points before you cut) then cut the front neck from one of the pattern pieces. You now have a back and front pattern that you can cut out placing on the fold of the fabric. Cut one back and one front in fabric and one each in lining.


Lined shift dress tutorial

With RST join front to back at side seams. Stitch from armhole point to upper vent point on both outer fabric and lining fabric. Finish the raw edges individually with overlocking or zig zag stitch.

Sew a boxy shaped top

With RST pin the lining to the armhole edge. Pin from the top of the seam upwards. Fold the lining inwards 1.5cm at shoulder edge.

Add a lining to a dress

Pin the neck edges both front and back, folding in the seam allowance on the lining at shoulder near neck edge. Stitch.

Sewing a neckline

Clip neck edges and turn to front.


Before closing the shoulder seams, understitch the front and back neck edges. Stitch the lining close to the seam, catching the neck seam.

Slip stitch a dress lining

With RST join shoulder seams; be careful to keep the lining free as you stitch. Slip stitch the lining together.

Hemming a dress

To finish the hem, turn and press a double hem, finishing at 2.5cm. Turn the hem up at the vents and pin along side seam line. Stitch and turn to front.


Free dressmaking tutorials

Stitch the hem, sewing around vents and along hem edge.

Finishing techniques for dressmaking

Cut 2cm off the length of the lining and turn a double hem finishing 1.5cm. Slip stitch the lining to the dress around the vent.

Sew a shift dress

Follow Julia on social media at:


Why not try her pencil skirt project next?