making a sheath dress out of about a yard of fabric

A couple of years ago, one of the clothing lofts in the Garment District was selling what seeemed to me to be the cutest skirt on the planet. It was a stretch cotton poplin a-lined skirt with a huge graphic print of a martini. It was adorable, but didn't come in my size.

A few months later I found a similar, but smaller print also in a stretch cotton poplin. I bought two yards, and last summer, made myself an a-lined knee length skirt out of one yard of it. The other yard was just waiting for inspiration to hit. I had assumed that inspiration would come in the way of a matching top. Instead inspiration came in a new ( for me) way of thinking about cutting a sheath dress.

My normal method of cutting a sheath dress, is to cut the front and the back as seperate pieces. Sometimes only the back or the front is seamed, and sometimes, both for additional shaping possibilities. As I lay my fabric out on my kitchen floor to cut, with another dress over the fabric as my cutting guide, I decided to cut the front and the back in one piece, the way vests are sometimes cut out, so there are no side seams but only shoulder seams.

I cut the back seam with curves that match mine. I have cut out enough dresses to guesstimate the right curve. I then folded both layers of fabric in half lengthwise at the underarm and cut a fish eye dart for the sides of my waist. I unfolded the fabric, and then refolded it with the fold running about 1/4 of the way in on the front. I cut two more eye shaped vertical darts for my front waist.

I sewed up the shoulder seams, the side seams and the darts, and then tried the dress on.The darts needed refining. They all poked out a little funny. But the fit of the dress was awfully close without very much fussing. A yard or so resulted in a dress for my not skinny body.

The dress was actually a bit short for my taste. I added a circular ruffle out of a rayon cotton blend red/pink wavy strip. I guess the stripe can serve as cautionary warning on what happens when you imbibe too many of the cocktails depicted on the rest of the dress. I still need to play with the neckline a bit.

I don't usually think of myself as particularly good at engineering garments. This feels like a huge leap forward for me.


  1. Very interesting way to construct a dress. Sounds like it's going to work out well. Are you going to use facings or perhaps binding for the sleeve and neckline? I wonder if the rayon cotton as a bias binding would tie it all together?

  2. Sarah do you have pictures of the finished dress?

  3. Cindy Ann -

    I probably will do a binding using the wavy cotton rayon. It will make the ruffle look like it was planned from the beginning, rather than being the fix that it is, in fact.

    I tend not to use facings. Bindings tend to work better for me. Applying them with a serger is quick work. I get a tidy finish with out much fuss.

    Usually when I draft a sheath for myself there is usually a funky gapped bit at the upper chest. I usually fudge it by just cutting the neckline a bit lower. This time,I may try an actual fix with darts.

    Karen- I will post photos, as soon as I can get them done.

  4. Sarah,
    Have you ever seen the "blog" Weekend Designer?
    It's not really a blog as much as a sharing the love of patterning site. It has a very similar attitude towards patterning as yours... that it's not something to be scared of; just think it through and do it. In fact the tag line is "it's not rocket science..."
    They have a "pattern" for a sundress that reminds me a lot of what you did with your sheath!


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