Solo Dress Layers Visual

One of the most confusing parts of starting your first solo dress can be understanding the layers of fabric, stiffener, and interfacing. Here’s a visual breakdown of the materials of each piece of the dress!

Top: Fashion fabric(s) of choice
Bottom: Base material (cotton twill or similar)

The base layer gives a light structure to the fashion fabric, many of which can be very thin and flimsy. The two layers are basted together and treated as one through the entire embroidery and construction process. This means the dress is essentially “un-lined” since the back of embroidery and all the seams will be visible from the inside. I always recommend cotton for the base layer as it is more breathable and won’t hold body odor as much as polyester.

Sometimes I’ll add a third layer on the back/inside after I do the embroidery, so the inside looks cleaner and feels less scratchy. This will be something very thin such as cotton broadcloth. I will still baste it to each piece before construction, so that the seams are easily accessible for future alterations. While it creates a nicer experience for the wearer, more layers also mean the dress is hotter. My own personal preference as a dancer is to skip this, and just wear a thin tank or t-shirt under the dress. That way my belly isn’t touching the embroidery, and the barrier layer between (the t-shirt) is easily washable.

Adding the base layer on the sleeve is optional. For solid fabrics with embroidery, I would definitely include it. For sheer stretchy fabrics, obviously you would need to omit it.

Top: Fashion fabric(s) of choice
Middle: Base material (medium- or heavy-weight sew-in interfacing)
Bottom: Lining fabric (satin or similar thin fashion fabric)

The function of the “base layer” is similar to in the bodice, but the skirt panel requires slightly more structure. We recommend a heavy-weight sew-in interfacing for the skirt, which is stiffer than the bodice’s twill base. This helps the skirt lay flat and keep it’s shape at the angled side-pleat. Older style dresses used heavy dress stiffener in the whole skirt, but in modern dresses you don’t need to add the dress stiffener to the whole skirt panel – save it for the frame. I usually use a base of Pellon 50, but when I want something a little stiffer, I just opt for a heavier sew-in such as Pellon 926, or fuse two layers of Pellon 50 with a fabric adhesive.

The base layer and top fashion fabric are basted together prior to embroidery. Then the skirt lining is seamed at the hem, so that the back of the embroidery is not visible on the inside of the skirt. The lining is seamed at the hem, as shown above, meaning that the dress cannot be let-out from the hem – only from the seam between bodice and skirt.

Front (bottom piece)
Inside: Two layers of dress stiffener (S80 Vilene or Pellon 70/72)
Inside: One piece of sewable boning (such as Flexicurve)
Outside: Skirt lining fabric (satin or similar)

Back (top pieces)
Inside: One layer of Skirt Base interfacing
Inside: Dress stiffener (only at the side pleat)
Outside: Skirt lining fabric (satin or similar)

Ahh the mystical skirt frame! This is what’s doing the heavy-lifting to give our dress its distinctive shape. Dress stiffener isn’t needed all the way around, and putting it in the back can make it harder for the dress to curve around the bum. It’s mainly needed for the front and for the side pleat. 1 row of boning should be sufficient for most folks, but I have used 2 for larger figures and omitted it for the tiniest dancers.

The frame is constructed separately from the skirt panels, then basted together before creating the side pleat.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my series on Skirt Construction:
#1: Constructing Skirt Pieces
#2: Skirt Frame & Side Pleat

Wondering what fabrics, interfacings, and stiffeners are best to use? Check out these posts:
Choosing the Right Fabric
A Review of Dress Stiffeners

And the full experience for visual learners is my Solo Dress Video Masterclass featuring over 6 hours of content! You can sew along with me from measurements and cutting, to the final stitches.

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