THE SEWING DIVAS sewing, design, fashion

June 27, 2009

Use Darts to Create Sheath Dress Drama

Making a sheath or shift dress like the one Georgene is doing now see the previous post can become a staple wardrobe piece. A sheath dress is a timeless design and if you have a good pattern it is a waste to not use it again and again.

But we woman want some more variations and making the same dress over and over is hardly an option we use without any design changes, except for some knit tops where we use a different fabric like prints or plain fabrics.

So if you have a good sheath dress pattern (vintage or new one) you can change the bust dart placement and have a new dress with the same good fit.

Playing with darts is a trick to use the same  pattern again. 

There are less sheath/shift dress patterns available these days but I found an example New Look 6643 which I used as an example to show you how to replace the bust dart into a new design feature.

New Look 6643 patternNew Look 6643

I do not have this pattern but I think it mimics my self drafted example with a side bust dart and waist darts.

I made a black sheath dress in a silk cotton fabric about 10 years ago but I have no picture of the finished dress to show you. See an example of the dress I made with a diagonal bust dart.

 I drafted a pattern to show you what to do if you have a sheath dress with a side bust dart and waist dart and want a new placement for the darts like this one,

new dart

My pattern draft example has no seam allowances added so if you want to change your pattern remove the seam allowances first, you can add them on later.

Step 1: Start with tracing your 1/2 front pattern on a double piece of paper since this new dress can not be cut on the fabric fold. 

Step 2 : make the pattern as a one piece and mark the center front line .

Step 3: draw a diagonal line from the shoulder towards the bust point, I measured 2 inches (5 cm) from the end of the shoulder, draw another diagonal line from the other shoulder crossing the line at center front.

Step 4 : Cut  the right side new diagonal line open towards the bust point and fold the original side bust darts closed. Voila a new bust dart placement.

 Step 1                        Step 2                         Step 3                                 Step 4 

sheath dress 1  sheath dress 2sheath dress 3 xsheath dress 4 x

 Step 5: Since the bust side darts are now closed you can true the side seams in a smooth line , the waist darts do not get used in this dress so you can remove the wide of the waist darts from the waistline of the side seams from the original bust dart towards the hip line.

You can peg the side seams for a more slimming look, but please remember that your dress needs enough wide for a sanitary stop ( use of bathroom)

To sew the new dart start with sewing the bust dart maked with 1 and then sew the diagonal shoulder seam marked as 2

The best way to mark the new bust dart in your fabric is thread tracing.

I would suggest to use a  a plain fabric for this new bust dart design.

If you want to use a print or plaid fabric just remember that the upper right bodice is not on grain.

sheath dress 5  x

If you want to make this pattern in a print or stripe fabric I would suggest cutting off the upper bodice by cutting the left shoulder line towards the bust and voila another pattern design.

Using a stripe fabric and placing the upper part at the bias or cross grain ( crosswise) will give your dress another view. The possibilities are endless, you also can cut the center front line from the upper bodice and put both sides at the bias which will result in a chevron if you use a stripe fabric.


sheath dress 6  x

Enjoy sewing a new sheath /shift dress design.

You can of course use this new bust dart placement for any blouse or top too.

June 25, 2009

Vintage Vogue: Sheath Dress Pattern

pattern face

I feel certain that I acquired this sheath pattern on EBay, probably in a lot with a few other ‘larger’ size 18 [ note that the bust is 36” with a 39” hip] no doubt thinking that it would be easier to adapt to my larger measurements than most EBay vintage patterns. I know that it came in a batch with several patterns, the same size from the same era, probably from an estate sale where well-meaning relatives have no idea what treasure lies in these old patterns. This one is from 1956.

I love the darts, not just one huge side bust dart, but also the double French darts on the front and back. This gives ample opportunity for fitting. When I traced off the pattern, I added a bit at the side seams as well as the sleeve underarm. I curved out a bit more at the bust, but with all these darts, I can surely find a way to redistribute the necessary ease in a flattering way, all without princess seams.

The long sleeve has 3 darts at the elbow, and there is ease at the back shoulder, without resorting to a dart. The finesse in this simple dress pattern is heart-warming.
pattern obverse
View A is the epitome of the simple stylish sheath with the addition of a wrap. I would kill for the accessories – long gloves, a small pocketbook, and the kitten heels, too. Note the notch slit at the center-back neck for a little intrigue at the neckline.

View B is long sleeve with a button-out contrast dickey at the neckline, for a modest daytime look. The marvelous notch-collar stole has buttons that give it the effect of a jacket.

You can see the pattern pieces clearly on the ‘Identification chart’ included with the instructions.


I have cut my muslin and put together the dress. I am looking for a fitting buddy to help me pin in the sleeves. Looking at it with both sleeves on for fitting will be important for the over all fit. One sleeve will not give the true picture.

I’ll take pictures and report back soon [hopefully]. I have the soft micro polyester crepe that wears like iron and never wrinkles already lined up for the first piece [bought a 25 yard bolt from Kashi at Metro Fabrics in NYC about 3 years ago – this stuff never goes out of style, and is the best for travel.]

SB2I also want point out the length of this dress – pegged and below the knee. It reminds me of the Sandra Bullock posters from her latest movie “The Proposal”. Love that longer length! SB1

June 19, 2009

Diva for a Day: Katharine in Hong Kong

Filed under: Designer,Inspirations,sewing,Sewing Friends — Els @ 12:00 am

We are proud to present you a very talented lady, Katharine Yeung from Hong Kong .

Katharine responded on our blogpost   visitors from all over the world  and now you can read her sewing story too.

After graduating from fashion design school 2 years ago, I worked at a bridal studio in New York. I learned a lot about pattern making and some sewing technique. Now I’ve returned to Hong Kong where I was born, it had not been easy to find a job I love (compare to the vibrant design scene in NY). So a month ago, I decided to start my own collection, work on something I truly enjoy, and see where this will take me. 

I love bridal and evening, but I need to have something more wearable and profitable 🙂 So I’m creating a small 9-looks casual-evening collection, with dresses, tops, skirt and pants.



I started this project with a little strapless A-Line dress. This dress has tons of seams; each panel will be in contrasting colour (dark area: some type of silk, think duchess, shantung or taffeta that has a bit of shine… the grey area will be matte: black/grey organza overlay on whatever I used on the dark area.) It will have a bustier inside, as I can’t stand those low-end garments without a proper structure inside. This is how I stumble across the Sewing Divas blog. Google took me to your post of December 31, 2007 (Evening wear, bustier and skirt). Gorgeous work! Even it wasn’t exactly the type of bustier construction I was searching about, your blog just took my breath away! I loved loved loved all those technique you showcased on your blog, it’s not easy to see someone who blog about their sewing secrets! Not to mention your techniques are so professional/couture (in contrast to some home sewing technique). Your blog is just too nice to be true!

So I went through tons of your old post over night, absorbed as much as I could and see if I could use some of the technique you blogged. Even if it’s not related to the collection I’m creating, I still enjoyed reading every post here 🙂



Back to what I’m sewing. Here is work in progress of the toile of that strapless dress. The original sketch has a chiffon draped panel that rest on the side, with one panel that can be flipped up and rest on shoulder (for those who want more than a strapless look). However, after stitching up the toile, I’m obsessed with all the seam detail and the dress just look so sculpted and 3-dimensional, that I felt it might be a shame to cover up all those seams (and the cute in-seam pocket!), even it’s chiffon. So I’ll make that decision later on when I sew this dress in the real fabric choice, and keep that chiffon option in case the seams are not laying as smooth as I want it to be. 

I’m sewing in my tiny bedroom in Hong Kong with an IKEA table and a Janome sewing machine. 


I don’t have a huge kitchen table, but we do have an un-occupied room in our apartment…. so yea, I’m one of those who do their pattern and cutting on the floor. Hopefully one day I can afford to have my own studio with a giant table!



Since I’m prepared to re-use those pattern, I tried not to fold them (the pattern paper quality is pretty bad… (Does anyone know where I can find a more sturdy pattern paper in Hong Kong?) I don’t have that extra money to buy a bunny hole puncher and pattern hooks yet. So I clip the pattern with binder clip and hang them behind the door. 



















And this is my cheaply made ham…. I swear to myself, I’ll buy a real tailor’s ham once I sold the first piece in my collection.


June 15, 2009

Butterick 5365 Connie Crawford Modern Fit Blouse

Filed under: Fit/Pattern Alterations,Mary Beth,Pattern Reviews,sewing — Mary Beth @ 3:34 pm

You can’t judge this book by its cover. I would not have purchased this pattern based upon the pattern envelope.


But I have taken a short workshop with Connie Crawford and have many of her text books. I know that she knows her stuff, I’ve seen her patterns made up and how they flatter larger women. And I know she is an excellent pattern maker so I took a chance that this might be the blouse I’ve been looking for and made up the large in the Miss sizing range.

I have done an in-depth review of it at because it is a sweet blouse pattern, well drafted and graded and very relaxing to sew up. There were some problems with the instructions but I hope I have provided the fixes for them in my review (link supplied above).

I made View A darts from the shoulder with the long sleeves from View B. I used a well aged silk crepe de chine from the stash.

The illustrations show a small collar, especially in the Version B drawing. Not true! It’s a nice normal collar and the one pattern piece is used for both versions of the blouse.


And those long darts over the bust? They actually release about 1.5″ above the second button. I’ve marked up the stitched lines so you can see them more clearly.

collar, darts & armscye

The collar has a very nice shape to it. It curves up over the shoulder and is nicely rounded in the back but the illustration shows it to be a straight, unshaped collar.

The seam allowances are 3/8″ used for the neckline, collar, center front and cuffs. Smart! It makes these pieces easier to join and to turn. The side seams and sleeves joining seams are the ubiquitous 5/8″ allowances.

There are no fancy methods in this pattern’s instructions. You hand stitch the inside of the collar band and the cuffs. Except for the problems above, it’s a great pattern to use for your first blouse, no fancy “burrito” methods, etc. I just relaxed and sewed, slowly. The kind of simple sewing that was so needed after struggling through a kimono made without pattern pieces.

I love the fit. Next time I make this blouse or a variation of it I will slant the shoulder seam down slightly and give the shoulder line an ever-so-slight concave curve.

The sleeves are the perfect length for me without shortening them. The shoulders sit perfectly, the length of the shoulder seam ends right at my shoulder point. I can reach forward comfortably. It’s just perfect. It put it on and I get happy.


The four darts do not release a lot of extra fabric fullness over the bust


The button placement is interesting, too. The first button down the front is 1 1/4″ from the collar band so that it can be buttoned with a nice and modest spread to the collar.


The second and third buttons are 3 1/4″ apart so that the third is exactly placed horizontally between the bust points, preventing the dreaded gaposious. The rest of the buttons down the front are 3 9/16″ apart and end 2″ above the hemline so that the blouse can be worn untucked and neat. Next time I might make it a bit longer.

Under that awful illustration is a very well graded and well drafted classic that provides a lovely alternative to side or waist darts.

June 13, 2009

Fashion Watch: Princess Sheath Dress

Filed under: Designer Inspirations,Georgene,Musings — georgene @ 1:30 pm

letizia sarkozy front view

I was interested to see the photo story on Princess Letizia, the wife of Spanish Prince Felipe, on the Huffington Post’s Style page.

back view
The photo story included one of my recent favorites: Letizia photographed this past April in Madrid with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. The 2 women revealed a trend of note, the return of the knee length sheath dress.

Though both are married to notable statesmen, they are women of power in their own right.

Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano earned a degree in information sciences and a master’s in audiovisual journalism. She worked for Bloomberg Financial TV, CNN Plus, then as newscaster and correspondent with Television Espanola (TVE) where she covered the 2000 presidential election in the U.S., 9/11, and the war in Iraq, broadcasting stories directly from Iraq. She met the prince in 2002, and they eventually married.

Carla Bruni’s story of her career in modeling, as well as her debut as a popular singer in France has been covered quite a bit since she married Nicolas Sarkozy.

Both women are noted style icons, so it was interesting to see them show up at an event looking like they had phoned each other in the morning to color coordinate their outfits.

If you are wondering how you might look in a sheath with a less than stick-thin model’s figure, have a look at Madeline Albright.
She is often seen in a sheath, with a jacket and brooch as her signature look. Her dress appears to be less fitted, but still trim looking, particularly with a matching jacket, rather than contrast fabric. I love this photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders at the New York Times:
I had to laugh when I found this photo of Albright seated, showing off her great legs. Do consider the camera angles when allowing the photographer to take that shot, ladies….

Let us know if you have a tried and true sheath dress pattern. Princess lines do help in fitting, but appropriate darts or novelty seaming work also. I have a vintage 1950’s pattern I am working on, and will post my progress on that one soon.

Next Page »

Blog at