This is a tutorial with very detailed step-to-step instructions, and I will base other tutorials on this one and simply state “do as in the simple dress tutorial but…” so this is a go-to for many different garments. I call it the simple dress since it is so versatile, the base for so many other garments!
It is also suitable to make men’s kirtle, tunics and coats, just adjust measures and fitting to a male body. Most garments are more difficult to make for women’s bodies since the measures differ more, and therefore you will find more tutorials on my page for women’s clothing.
This is the dress we are going to make. Note that a regular S-sleeve does not have two seams, only one at the back. The reason my dress have two seams in the sleeves are 1. you will learn how to make that for doublets, jackets and 2. I saved fabric that I was short on.
- If sewing on a sewing machine, pin from right to left, across the seam, to make it easy to remove the pins while sewing. If sewing by hand, pin along the seamline so as not to get the pins in your hand, or baste the seams before sewing.
- When pinning; always lay your pieces on a flat surface (a table or the floor) and work on that while pinning. This will make the work easier, and the seams better.
- Basting seams are an easy way to try the fit, size, movement and drape of skirts while sewing. Basting the armhole before sewing makes that seam easier to finish nicely. When you pin/baste together long seams, such as a diagonal cut gore with a straight panel, put the gore (the diagonally cut stretchy part) under the other one, when sewing on a machine the gore will not stretch.
- Don’t be afraid to cut out your armhole according to your body. The sleeve should cover your arm, the arm joint, but fit snugly under your arm (in the armpit). A too shallow armhole will make your sleeve hang, but too wide will make movement hard. Experiment on scrap fabric first.
- How many gores? Two are enough for undergarments and knee-long kirtles, four or more will give you more width, a smoother and more even fall of fabric and more movement when walking. Regular seam allowance is 1,5 cm. For hems 2 cm. You can pick whatever measure you want between 1 cm-3 cm, just remember what you chose. Seam allowance is mentioned as SA in this post.
- Wash and iron your fabric before sewing. The fabric is prepped with chemicals to avoid mould or bugs during the shipping and selling process and could be stretched uneven after the weaving. It will also most likely shrink a little, so this makes you able to wash your clothes after using them.
Start with your measures:
- Around your widest part on your upper body(often over the bust).
- Length of the garment; from shoulder to hem.
- Length of arm; from shoulder-elbow, while bent 90 degrees, to the wrist.
- Around your wrist (for tight buttoned sleeves) or around your hand to be able to take on and off the garment.
- Create your armhole (if you find this hard; try to measure around a loose shirt or blouse. The armhole should be a bit loose without hanging).
- Length from shoulder to natural waist (for women) to hip (for men). This is where I attach the gores.
Draft the pieces you need on a bit of paper. Calculate the measures you need:
Around your widest part of torso: Divide in 2. Add seam allowance: 3 cm/piece. Add some extra for movement: around 6%. Example: around bust: 100 cm. Divide in 2= 50 cm. Add s.a = 53 cm/piece. Add movement = 53 + 6% = around 56 cm. Each piece is now 56 cm wide.
Length of garment; from shoulder to hem. Add seam allowance: 2 cm = hem + 1,5 cm for shoulders. Example: dress should be 140 cm when finished. Length of piece: 143,5 cm.
Length of arm; from shoulder (around elbow while bent 90 degrees) to wrist: Example: 64 cm. Add SA., so sleeve pieces should be 64 +1,5 +2 cm= 67,5 cm. Try on before hemming to adjust the length to your taste.
Around your wrist (for tight buttoned sleeves) or around your hand to be able to take on and off the garment): The narrow part of the sleeve. Check so you can put it on/off. Shape the sleeve to your taste so it fits comfortable around your arm while sewing the sleeve. This is just the starting measure.
Around your armhole (if you find this hard; try to measure around a loose shirt or blouse. The armhole should be a bit loose without hanging). The measure you got is divided into 2, for a measure of the sleeve hole on the front and back piece. Example: around my armhole, I have 56 cm. 56/2=28 cm. Each armhole on the pieces should be no more than 28 cm (measure the curve).
The sleeve base should be 2 cm wider than the complete armhole. 56 cm + 2 cm= 58 cm (measure around the S curve of the arm) add SA: 58 + 3 cm= 61cm is the sleeve base measure.
Length from shoulder to natural waist (for women) to hip (for men). This is where I attach the gores. For example: my measure is 38 cm. From the shoulder, I measure 38 cm and make a line, here is where the gores should be attached on front and back pieces. For gores in the middle back and front, cut a straight line to 1 cm below this measure (39 cm from shoulder) to insert them. Check out my tutorial on how to make these
Length of gores: length of the dress – length from shoulder to waist/hip + 3,5 cm SA. Example: 143,5 cm -38 cm = 105,5 cm + 3,5 cm = 109 cm.
The width of gores depends on what kind of dress you would like to do, your overall size and how much fabric you have. I recommend a measure between 50-80 cm for each gore. A lower-class garment might have narrower gores, a fancy dress wider. If you calculate on a larger size than this example, let the width of the gores follow the other measures. For example: if your circumference around your torso is 20% more, also add 20% width to the gores. This will make sure the dress keep good proportions and all the drape.
When calculating all these measures, draft them out on your pattern pieces to remember them.
Then, draft all the pieces on your fabric with a fabric marker and ruler. Check that you have made all the pieces with the right measurements and that all are drawn onto your fabric before cutting. Mark them with front/back/sleeve/gore.
Cut them out. If I work with linen, silk or brocade that will fray, I sometimes zigzag around all pieces on my sewing machine.
Sew the pieces together in this order:
- Shoulder seams
- Make the sleeves
- Attach the gores to dress front, back, sides
- Side seams; front to back and gores so the sides will be completely closed
- Sew the sleeves into the armholes
- Hemming and adjusting length
Note: This work order goes for both the sewing machine and hand-sewing. When I make a seam I finish it off before starting the next one. That means;
- sewing the pieces together front to front
- pressing down the seam allowance on the wrong side (the inside)
- cut down the seam allowance on one side
- press again, the wider over the cut one
- whip stitch the seam allowance down (can also be done when the dress is ready if you want to try the fit during sewing)
The reason to press the seams before sewing another one is that you will have flat and nice looking seams, and it will be easier to make the next one crossing the first. I really recommend you to at least press the seam allowance once, it makes such a difference!
Step-to-step for sewing the dress.
Pin the seam on the S-sleeve (the back seams if you have a sleeve in two pieces.
Sew the seam with running stitches or a sewing machine. Remember to fasten/lock all seams at the start and finish. Here 1 cm SA is shown. I prefer 1,5 cm to easy fell the seam and whip stitch it down.
Press the seams with an iron. If you use fine wool or silk, a damp pressing cloth (cotton cloth) can be used between iron and garment pieces to avoid pressing marks. In the photos below you can see the difference between a pressed and a new seam. Totally worth the effort!
When pressing: press the SA to both sides. Let it cool. Cut down one of the sides to half the width. Press the other SA over the cut one, pin down if necessary. This will create a sturdy seam when sewn down, saves you time and looks neat on the right side.
Pin and sew the other sleeve seam (if any). Press it the same way as the first seam. This is easiest with a sleeve ironing board, but if you don’t have any; press the seam with the sleeve laying flat on the board. Try to avoid creating folds in the sleeve with the iron.
These photos show the technique with and without a sleeve ironing board
This dress use 4 gores, one at the middle front, one back, and one in each side seam. The gores give you movement and a good drape to the skirt. On female garments I want the gores to start by the natural waist (where you are slimmest) to accentuate the curve of the hip and belly. On men’s garments, I start at the hip bone to give movement but no feminine curves.
Tip: When drafting your gores, do not make them into straight triangles, but make them slightly curved at the base. Like in this example: the gore should be 100 cm long, and as you can see the rectangle is just that, so the gore will be exactly 100 cm at the middle, but at the sides, you need to measure from the top and down, 100 cm, and that will be a bit shorter than to the line.
The gores are cut at a diagonal/bias on the fabric. This means they tend to stretch more than the front and back pieces when pinning and sewing. To avoid this, work on a smooth surface and pin + sew the seams with the gore under the front/back piece. This is mainly a problem on a sewing machine with too much pressure on the presser, but also a good tip for hand sewing.
One gore has a seam in the middle to save fabric. Pin, sew and press this seam first. I like to place this gore in the back so it wont show, and to create symmetry in the dress. Then, cut the front and back center to be able to attach gores there. Make the cut line about two cm shorter than the gores; like this:
Start with the side gores, pinning them to the front. Sew them in place, and press both seams the same way you did with the sleeves.
Pin the front and back gores to the front/back pieces, right side to right side, one seam at a time. Sew it but leave the last 6-8 cm at the top. Repeat with the other seam, so you will have two gores with the tip lose. I prefer to make the tip by hand, from the right side of the garment
3 different ways to insert gores:
Press the seams you made, and press the SA on the front and back to either side of the slit, as if it was already done, from the wrong side. When reaching the end of the slit, the s.a will become narrower, and then disappear. Turn the piece and work from the right side. Pin the gore in the slit, so it lays flatly under the already pressed s.a of the front/back. Then sew it in place with a small whip stitch. With this method, you can check the gore to be sure it fits nicely, and it does not matter if it turns out a little bit too big; it will look perfect!
Another method is to sew the whole gore with this technic, if you sew your garment by hand. This is also historically accurate. Start with pressing down the s.a on the front and back slits, and then pin the gore along each side, and sew it from the right side using whip stitches. Press the s.a on the wrong side, and sew this down with whip stitches on the wrong side to, like when felling the seams in the sleeves.
If you only want to use the sewing machine, work on the inside of the garment, and continue with your sewing machine seam to the top of the gore, making the SA narrower as you go along the last 4-6 cm. If it is hard to see, fasten the seam, turn the gore up and sew it from the other side (still on the inside, just flip the garment from front/back to gore side). This might take a few tries before you get it right, just go slow and be prepared to rip the seam and try again if not satisfied.
When the gores in front and back are finished, sew the side seams; the side gores to the back piece and then the side seams (leave a hole for your arms for now. When all the gores are finished, remember to press all the seams!
I like to draft the neckline by hand for each garment, to be able to adjust it to each look I want. The secret is to try it on often, and just cut away a little at a time. You can choose between pinning, basting or sewing the shoulder seams before this. Make them the same way you did the other seams, but don’t press them yet.
Start with drafting a neckline, and armholes. Put the front and back on top of each other, mark the middle and draft a small neck-hole. Mine is 18 cm across, 9 on each side of the middle. Make it shallow, about 4 cm, just in order to try it on. You can then draft the shape and size of your neckline directly on your body in the shape you want (just put the dress on, inside out and draft in front of a mirror. Copy the side you liked best to the other side, left or right. The neck will probably just be cut down with some cm, depending on your size, while the front will be deeper. Remember to leave 1-1,5 cm SA; when you hem the neckline it will be a bit bigger than before.
Making armholes is much easier if you already got a toile/mock-up to copy, but you can try this too: Put the dress on, inside out, and draft the armholes where your shoulder joint start, follow the curve at the front. Mark where the holes should meet at the side, as tight under the arm as possible. Do this at the back (ask a friend) or take the dress off and draft on a flat surface.
Now you should have a drafted line at front and back. Measure these ones, and compare them with the measure you took for your armhole in the beginning. Redo if necessary, the armhole should be a bit narrower than the sleeves (about 2-4 cm) in order to make a well-fitted sleeve. The front curve is deeper, and the back more shallow, but they should start and finish at roughly the same place on the shoulder seam and side seam. It does not matter if one line is a bit longer (front/back) than the other, as long as the circumference is correct.
This is the difference between the front and back of my dress. Note that I also cut down the shoulder seams to become a bit sloping. This is optional for you, if you have very sloping shoulders it will help you with the fit. If needed, do this before the shoulder seams are finished. Then sew the shoulder seams and press them.
Attaching the sleeves
The next step is to attach the sleeves, and I will be honest with you; it can be a bit tricky at first, so don’t give up if you have to rip the seam a couple of times before you get satisfied. The most important thing is to take the time to pin/baste the sleeve to the body and check it out. Don’t hurry!
You will have two sleeves, sewn together to tubes. Baste the sleeve cap (top curve of the sleeve) with loose running stitches.
If you want to check out how the fit is; baste the sleeves around the armholes, and try the dress on. Move around, stretch. Bulkiness at the front might be trimmed down a little. If the sleeve seems tight on top of the shoulder a bit more sleeve fabric might be moved upwards. Do not bother if the sleeve gets a little creased or has small folds, that will be possible to fit inside the armhole, that is what the basting is mainly for. When you think you have something:
Mark out the top of the sleeve (towards the shoulder seam) and the bottom (armpit on sleeve towards the side seam) with a marker or pin. Maybe there will be more sleeve on the back of your body, but that is just fine, you use it when reaching in front of you. Now you are ready to sew the sleeve into the dress!
This is a step-to-step on how to insert a sleeve in the armhole and make it fit. Use it as a guide if you felt unsure about the above: Turn the sleeves to the right side. Put the sleeves inside the inside out dress, and fit them into the armhole. They should lay right side to right side now.
Pin the sleeve marked shoulder – shoulder seam and marked armpit – side seam. Continue to pin the armpit, the part under the arm. Lay the fabrics smooth against each other, no folds.
The sleeve is a bit wider than the armhole, so it should make small waves, like in these pictures. This will be solved with the basting thread you sew on the sleeve. Gently pull them to gather the fabric of the sleeve a bit, in order to fit it inside the armhole. As the sleeve follow the arm hole curve better, pin it in place. The fabric should not make folds, but only gentle crinkles or waves. Adjust if you need. The basted and pulled together fabric should only be pinned to the upper half of the sleeve, never in the armpit.
When you have worked your way around the hole with pins and like the result, baste it in place with big running stitches. Make the other sleeve up in the same way, or try to make it the same… When satisfied; flip the dress to the right side, and try it on. Check the fit of the sleeves and your movement. A bit bulkiness around the armhole is ok, but there should not be folds or stretched fabric sections.
If it looks good, turn the dress back inside out, and sew the sleeves following the basting (with machine or backstitches). Then remove all the basting stitches.
To finish the seams, press them on a sleeve ironing board, or roll a bath towel firmly and put it inside the sleeve if you don’t have one. Press the SA down in each direction, then finish the seams like the ones before. I press them towards the body and whip stitch them down.
Wow, good job! Almost finished. Try the dress on again to adjust the length, hemline, sleeve hems and neckline if needed.
The sleeves should be a little too long when the arm is hanging, to fit nicely when you use your arms and bend the elbow. Check, mark any change you want to make, and do the same to the neckline.
Ask a friend to check the hemline of the dress so it looks even, mark a new hemline if needed. Remember to check the length with the correct shoes/belt since these can make a difference to how long the dress look. When satisfied, cut away any excess fabric and hem the dress. I prefer to fold the edge twice and whipstitch it down by hand. Remember that our SA for hemming was 2 cm. Thick wools only need a single fold before sewing.