Category: Pattern Modification & Fit

Drafting the “Flippy Skirt”

What is the style that you’re calling “flippy skirt”?

The “flippy skirt” style has grown in popularity over the last couple years, mainly due to its use by Eire Designs/Gavin Doherty*.  I was asked to draft one last month, so I thought I’d create a little tutorial so you can draft your own at home.

This style is similar to a circle skirt, but with the fullness concentrated into little wedges, like springy box pleats.  Extra fullness at the bottom, but not at the top of the skirt.  On some of these dresses, the wedges are done in a contrasting color, but the skirt panel is all one piece regardless of color.

So how do we draft one?  Let’s dig in!

Planning and Preparation

The first thing to do is to decide how many “wedges” you want on both the front and back.  All three of the dresses shown above have 6 across the front, but you could do however many you want.  I’ll do 6.  The back skirt panel is actually the back and side of the skirt combined, so there really isn’t a reason to place them all the way across the back panel; leave some room at the side for the dancer’s arms, as shown in the photo of the neon yellow dress.

I’m going to be doing this draft digitally, but I’ll assume most people are using a pencil and paper.  Here are the tools you’ll need:

–Your single-panel skirt front and back pattern pieces; save the originals!  (View I in our 4th Ed. patterns.  Use Skirt Blocks for older editions)
–Large paper (newsprint, craft paper, butcher paper, printer sheets taped together, etc)
–Ruler, preferably a grid ruler
–French curve (recommended)

The Draft

  1. Trace your skirt front pattern piece onto a new sheet of paper.  Add 1 inch of seam allowance along the top edge.  Don’t add seam allowance elsewhere, and don’t erase the top edge of the pattern, which is the dropped waist seam line.  See my two lines up top?  Some of the older editions of the pattern have seam allowance built in.  Ignore it by tracing the dropped waist seam line, then drawing your own inch of seam allowance above that.
  2. Now that we have our skirt ready to go, we need to determine the placement of the wedges.  We’ll start by drawing a line representing the center of each wedge.  An easy way to get them evenly spaced, is to divide the top and bottom edges of the pattern by twice the amount of wedges you want (top = dropped waist line, not added seam allowance line).  I’m doing 6, which is 3 each side of the front panel, so I divided my front into 6 pieces.  Then we’ll erase every other line, as shown.  See how I have 3 dark lines remaining (2 light ones erased)?  3 lines = 3 wedges.
  3. Next we’ll draw the outlines of the wedge.  These can be a bit tricky to visualize, because they won’t be quite as wide when they’re springy and 3D; you have to imagine them pressed flat.  A good rule of thumb is to take the distance between lines, and divide evenly in 3, so 1/3 goes to one wedge, 1/3 to the other, with 1/3 in the middle.  You can definitely make them larger, but I wouldn’t go much smaller.  The wider the blue angle, the bigger and fuller the wedges will be.
    Notice that I’m taking the angled lines all the way to the seam allowance line.  This is important.
  4. Number your wedges to help keep things straight later.  On each half, write an A or B as shown below.  Number the spaces between the wedges as well, with another system.  Perhaps 101, 102, 103, etc.
  5. Now we have all our “information” and we can make pattern pieces from the lines we just drew.  For each wedge, we will want 1 piece the full width of the wedge (blue line to blue line, in the image above).  This is the red in the illustration below, and I’m going to call it the “front”.  The “red front” of each wedge.  Trace those lines onto fresh paper to create 3 (or your amount) of red fronts, labeled 1, 2, and 3.Then we’ll also create pieces for each half of the wedge (blue to black line).  Let’s call them the “yellow sides”.  These need to be labeled with the A or B, since each piece is a little different.  When you’re finished you’ll have twice as many yellows as reds, and they’ll be labeled 1A, 1B, 2A, etc.Lastly, we’ll trace the sections in-between the wedges.  Pay attention here:  this is NOT blue line to blue line, but black center line to black center line.  Instead of tracing, you *could* just cut apart your template to create these last shapes, but I suggest leaving it intact in case you need to refer to it later.  These will be the “greens” below.  When tracing, mark the seam line near the top.  It’s not necessary to mark the seam line on the top of the others.See below, how I’ve created and labeled my three types of shapes
  6. Well now putting them together is really quite easy.  The main thing to remember is that ALL the yellow wedges need to be placed upside down (underside of the paper facing upwards).  I have notated this with a stripy coloring.  Each wedge will follow the same pattern and we’ll work from center-front outwards.
    Step 1:  Green skirt piece
    Step 2:  Yellow piece A upside down
    Step 3:  Red piece
    Step 4:  Yellow piece B upside down
    Repeat until the last green panel is attached.
  7. So we’ve created our shape, and now it’s time to simplify it a bit.  It will likely be easier to look at if you trace it onto a fresh piece of paper (or not, hey it’s up to you).  Each yellow-red-yellow section represents the complete wedge.  If you wanted to make the wedges in a contrasting color, that would be where you’d seam the two fabrics.  Go ahead and outline the wedges, as shown below.  I also like to trace the interior lines for a short bit near the top (lines between yellow and red).  That just helps remind me how this is going to get tucked into the dropped waist seam.
  8. Now let me draw your attention back to the original image.  See how the hem is higher in the middle of the wedge?  We need to do that.  Decide how much higher you want it to be, and draw a line up from the hem that distance.  Then we’ll redraw our hemline, so that it curves up at the center of each wedge.  Don’t alter the hemline outside of the wedge.

  9. And that’s our piece drafted really!  The back will work the same way.

One thing to note on the fronts, is that we’d normally cut it on the fold, but can’t because it curves so much.  That means we need to be a bit creative with our cutting.  I suggest cutting it out in 2-3 pieces and seaming together.  Do it at a different spot for each layer of material, so that  you don’t end up wit a real bulky seam anywhere.  Here are a few suggestions:

Sewing the Skirt

Like I said before, the “wedges” are indicated as a pie-shaped piece between solid lines. When completed, the solid lines should meet behind the bubble. I would start by assembling the skirt panel as usual, with the outer, base, and lining layers.

Once each panel is complete, fold with lining sides together so that the solid lines are lined up (like you’re sewing a dart). Stitch along the lines, from the top edge, just a little past the dropped waist seam (1.5 inches total?), to create the wedge.

Center the bubble on short “seam” you just sewed. The little lines on the pattern inside each wedge show where the bubble will get folded as it’s pressed down at the top of the skirt. They don’t need to be marked, I just thought they may help to visualize it.


If you have any questions, please drop them in the comments.  This is a funky skirt to draft, but so much fun!  Happy sewing!


*All dress photos in this post are copyright of Eire Designs/Gavin Doherty.

An Ode to Bust Cup Adjustments

Our new 4th Ed. Irish dance solo dress pattern is coming out soon with a Bust Cup Adjustment add-on!  Our fashion line also includes these options, but we’re thrilled to be able to offer this feature in our Irish dance patterns too!  I thought this was a great time to talk about why cup adjustments are amazing, how different cup sizes influence the fit of the pattern, and how to determine your own bust cup size.


What are Pattern Bust Cups?

While pattern cup sizes use the same A, B, C, D, DD, etc classifications as bras, they are based upon different measurements.  Bra cups are measured as the difference between the circumference of the full bust and the circumference of the ribcage right below the breasts.  This makes sense, because we want a good-fitting anchor around our ribcage, and cups that will extend the proper distance out from that to perfectly hug our boobs.  Pattern cup sizes on the other hand, are based on the difference between the full bust and the ribcage ABOVE it.  It’s common for your bra cup and pattern cup to be different.


How do they influence the fit of the garment?

Most commercial patterns are drafted with a pattern B-cup, which assumes a 2-inch difference between those measurements.  If the company doesn’t give any information on this in their sizing, you can usually assume it’s a B.  When using a pattern, we choose our size based on our full bust measurement, but flat- or full-chested folks will tell you that this doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a good fit.

Imagine you get a breast-reduction or -addition procedure.  Your full bust measurement will change, but your ribcage and skeleton will remain the same.  This is what we are changing when we adjust the bust cup size of our pattern.  In the image to the left, we see four patterns, all size 6, with A- (pink), B- (orange), C- (green), and D- (blue) cups.  As the cup increases, we see the bust widen, but the shoulders and waist remain the same width.  We also see the pattern lengthen, since it will be a slightly longer distance over a large bust than a small one.

Let’s compare that to two patterns that have the same full bust measurement.  To the right, we have a size 6 with a D cup (blue, 37 inch bust), and a size 10 with an A cup (pink, also 37 inch bust).  In the A-cup (pink), the bust width is pretty evenly split between the back and front, but in the D-cup (blue), more if it has been shifted towards the front.  The D-cup also has a smaller shoulder.  If we picture the wearers of these two patterns, the A-cup wearer will have a bigger frame (skeleton, shoulders, ribcage, etc) than the D-cup wearer.  If both were to wear regular B-cup garments based off their bust measurement, the A-cup’s dress would be tight in the shoulders and armhole.  The D-cup’s dress on the other hand would have a lot of excess in the shoulder with gaping armholes.


How to determine your own cup size

Wear thin clothing, and a normal, lightly padded bra (or the type of bra you expect to wear with the garment you’re measuring for). Stand up straight with ears, shoulders, hips, and feet in alignment. Always have a second person do the measuring, as this will yield much more accurate results than attempting to take your own measurements.

Full Bust: wrap the tape measure around the largest part of the bust, level with the floor. Don’t pull the tape measure too snugly, or you will underestimate the measurement.

High Chest: wrap the tape measure around the upper chest; under the arms but above the main part of the breast. Pull the tape measure snugly. It may not be parallel with the floor.

A 2-inch difference in the High Chest and Full Bust measurements is considered a “pattern B-cup” (a difference of 1″ = A-cup, 3″ = C-cup, 4″ = D-cup, 5”=DD-cup, etc). Round to the closest whole number, or round up if exactly half-way in-between.

Choose your bust size based on the High Chest measurement, and your cup based off your Full Bust measurement.


Adjust existing patterns using a Full Bust or Small Bust Adjustment

Using a pattern with cup adjustments is all fine and good, but what about if you need to change the cup size of an existing pattern?  The Full Bust Adjustment (to increase the cup size) is fairly well known, but as a flat-chested person I’d like to give a shout-out to the Small Bust Adjustment (to decrease cup size) too!  Both alterations change the width of the bust without changing the shoulders, armhole, or waist.  We offer guidance on these alterations and much more in our guide “Pattern Alterations for Better Fit”, which can be found here.

Modifying the Skirt Shape (changing the angle or hem)

In this post I’ll go over some pattern drafting techniques you can use to modify the shape of the skirt.  These all involve cutting, splicing, or trimming the pattern piece.  I’d recommend tracing a copy to use, so you don’t destroy the original.


1.  Changing the hemline



2.  Changing the angle of the sides.


1 – Changing the Hemline

1 – Start with the Skirt Block Front (10) and Back (11).  Draw the desired new hemline on the bottom of the skirt blocks.  If you’re going for a longer hemline, you’ll have to tape some excess paper to the bottom, so you have somewhere to draw.

2 – Fold the side pleat over to check the hem length on it.  It should be about 1/2″ or more above the skirt hemline.  You don’t want to risk it sticking out.  Redraw the hemline on the side pleat as I have done, if needed to maintain that 1/2″ difference.  Since you just drew on the back of the pattern, be sure to transfer it to the front so you don’t forget about it : )

3 – I just showed the front, but don’t forget the back too!  If you are making Skirt View VI or VII (single-panel), you’re now done.  Enjoy!

For Skirt Views I, II, III, and IV:

4 – Divide the hem edge into 4.  Ignore the side pleat, so you’re just dividing between the center-front (or -back) and the side pleat fold line.  If you want to be more precise, you can divide into 6 or 8 instead.  I’ve shown it with 4 here just to make a simpler visual.

5 – Measure the distance from the old hem to the new hem at each of the divisions.  I’ve written my distances on my pattern piece below.

6 – On your skirt front and back (16-17, or 18-19), divide the hem edge into 4 (or 6 or 8), the same way you did in step 4.  Mark your distances up or down from the hem and connect the dots with a smooth line.  The new line should make a 90º angle with the center-front and center-back.

For Skirt V or Seven Panel Skirts Add-on:

7 – Fold Pieces (20) and (22) along the fold lines and match up notches with piece (21) to simulate how the pieces will fit when assembled.  They will be the same shape as the Skirt Block Front.  Lay the Skirt Block Front overtop and trace the new hemline onto pieces 20-22.  Do the same thing with pieces 23-24 and the Skirt Block Back.

8.  Previously in step 2 we adjusted the side pleat so that it was 1/2″ above the new hemline.  We’ll need to do the same thing to the pleats in the 3-panel skirt.  To clarify, these are the pleats where the edges of 20 and 21 meet, 21 and 22 meet, and 23 and 24 meet.  Measure up that 1/2″ to see if you need to shave a little off the inside of the pleats.

2 – Changing the Angle of the Sides

1 – Draw the new desired angle on the Skirt Block Front (10) first.  Trace it onto the Skirt Block Back (11), Under-skirt Back (15), and Under-skirt Front (14) if using. On the Skirt Back (11), the angle will start from the top edge.  From all other pieces, it will start from the Dropped Waist Seam Line.

**Make sure they are all the same angle, this is very important!**


Decreasing Angle


Increasing Angle


2 – Cut the pattern piece along the side-pleat line.  Angle it in or out so that the cut edge lines up with the new drawn line.  See the graphics below.  Redraw the edge of the pieces along the joins as needed to create a smooth shape.


Decreasing Angle


Increasing Angle


3 – Depending on how much the angle was changed, it’s possible the side pleat may now poke out the bottom, which is not desirable!  Scroll up to step 2 of the 1st tutorial (way at the top) for directions on how to modify the hemline of the side pleat if necessary.

Drafting a Slimmer Sleeve

*Update!*  Try our Slim Sleeve Add-on!

Styles change quickly and many people have asked me about drafting a slimmer sleeve as sheer and even skin-tight sleeves come into greater popularity (first photo below).  The sleeve in the Gúna Rince pattern has a slight puff at the shoulder, as you can see in the second photo.

©2018 Rising Star Designs

This post will show how to cut down the sleeve pattern to get a standard dressmaking sleeve fit.

This isn’t meant to be a definitive formula, but merely a starting point.  You will want to mock up your new sleeve to make sure it fits well and make changes if necessary.  For drafting purposes, trace a copy of the sleeve so you are not cutting the original.

1. You’ll need a flexible ruler or tape measure to measure the armscye edges of the front and back bodice. (I’ll do the Ladies 10.  Back=8.8″ Front=8.5″ so 17.3″ total).

Your end goal is to make the armscye edge of the sleeve about 1.5″ bigger than the bodice (you can go as low as 1″ for small child sizes).  This 1.5″ is not extra to be gathered, it’s simply how sleeves are drafted; they need a little ease to perform properly.

2. Draw a vertical line downwards from the top notch and cut along that line so your pattern piece is now in two halves.

3. Shift the left piece to the right 1/4″ and the right piece to the left 1/4″.  They are now overlapping by 1/2″ total.
•For small sizes you can overlap less… 1/4″ or 3/8″ total.
••If the circumference of the sleeve at the bicep/armpit is already fairly tight on the dancer, you may want to skip this step.

4. From the center-top, mark 1/2″ and redraw your sleeve cap so that it hits that 1/2″ mark.
•Small sizes can start with moving only 3/8″ down.
••If you skipped step 3, move 5/8″ down instead. 

Re-mark the top notch by centering it on the overlap at the top of the sleeve.

5. Measure your armscye edge.  Mine was 18.9″
18.9 – 17.3 = 1.6 inch difference
That’s pretty close to 1.5 so I’m going to call it good.  If yours is not as close, repeat step 4, going up or down by 1/8″, rather than 1/2″, as needed until you have that 1.5″ difference.

At this point you should cut one sleeve out of a spare fabric and fit it to make adjustments if necessary.

If you are making a sleeve that is almost skin-tight, you may want to add a gusset under the arm to add to the dancer’s range of motion.  Drafting a gusset is simple.

1. Measure the armscye edge of the sleeve from bottom to notch on each side.  Mine were 3.1″ in the back and 2.9″ in the front.

2.  Draw a horizontal line (6-8″ long).  Bisect that with a line that is the width of your gusset.  Gussets can be anywhere from 1.5-3″ wide, depending on the range of motion you need to add, and the size of the dress.

I’m going to make mine 2″ wide, so that line is 1″ long on each side, making for 2″ total.

3.  With a curved ruler or tape measure, draw a curved line from the top point arcing left and down to the horizontal line.  This curve is the length of our back sleeve measurement (mine was 3.1″).  Draw a second curve to the right of the top point that is the length of your front measurement (mine was 2.9).  Remember to measure the curve, and not the horizontal line.

4.  Mirror the curves underneath the horizontal line.

5.  Mark the vertical line with two notches as shown.  These notches will line up with the underarm seam of the sleeve and the side seam of the bodice.

Add a grainline on a 45º angle.  This gusset is cut on the bias.  I also like to add a reminder of which side is the front and back…let’s be honest they look about the same!

Cut the gusset with the same amount of seam allowance as you are using in the armscye seam.  If your sleeve and bodice are of different fabric, make the gusset from the sleeve fabric.

After sewing the sleeve underarm seam, sew gusset to underarm of sleeve with right sides together.  Corners of gusset will match sleeve notches and the notch of the gusset lines up with the under-arm seam.  From here you can put the sleeve in pretty much like normal.

Drafting a Rounded Collar

**Update!**  The Rounded Collar is now available as an add-on to the solo dress pattern.  Buy it here!


Here you’ll find drafting instructions for a mandarin color that works on a round neckline, rather than a pointed one, like what is included in the pattern.  This has become a bit of a fad lately, and I’ve had a couple people ask how to do it.

©Elevation Designs

You will need:

Bodice mock-up (or real bodice pieces)
#4 Collar pattern piece
Paper (or sturdy fabric)
A pen
1.  Measure the neckline of the front bodice from center-front to the shoulder seam.  For the size I am using, it is 4 5/16″.
Measure the height of the collar pattern piece at the notch.  Mine is 1 1/8″.
[I use paper to draft this pattern piece.  I also pin it to a dress form.  If you are going to be drafting this on a live human, you may want to make this piece out of some stiff/sturdy fabric because it will be easier to pin onto the fabric bodice.  You could even baste it on.]
2.  Draw a rectangle that is twice the length of the neckline and exactly the height of the collar (mine is 8 5/8″ x 1 1/8″).  Mark the mid-point of this rectangle as center-front.  Trace the back half of the collar (from the notch to center-back) onto each side of the rectangle.  It should look something like this.
 3.  Cut the strip out and clip the front rectangle section about every 1/2″ starting at the top of the strip and going almost all the way to the bottom edge.  Make sure not to cut all the way through; the middle of your strip should look sort of like fringe.  There is no need to  clip the back half; it does not need to change.
4.  Starting at center-front, pin the collar onto the neck edge.  It will really help to have the neck edge drawn or shown with stitching.
 5.  Carefully tape the fringes into your desired shape.  You will notice that in some places (like the front) the fringe wants to overlap, but at others (like the sides) it angles away from itself.  Let the front overlap enough that the collar isn’t gaping forward, but not so much that it will choke your dancer.  Try to keep it as symmetrical as possible.
 6.  Once all the fringes have been taped together, remove the collar piece.  It should look something like this.
7.  Fold the collar draft in half and lay it on a fresh piece of paper.
8.  The two halves probably won’t be exactly the same.  We do the best we can, but we are human after all.  Trace both halves onto the fresh paper so that they overlap.   Mine were very close to being identical, but you can see a bit of variation in the middle of the bottom line.
 9.  True up your pattern, splitting the difference where the two halves disagreed.  Mark your center-back, center-front, and shoulder notch (the shoulder notch goes where the front and back sections meet).
Ready to sew it on?  Check out this post!

Single-Panel (Flat-front) Skirt Adaptation

Many people have asked recently how to modify the solo dress pattern to make a single-panel skirt.  [Edit:  The second edition pattern includes a single-panel skirt, so no adaptation is needed.  This post is for customers using the first edition.]  This style of skirt is becoming increasingly popular, perhaps because of it’s sleek silhouette or because of the opportunity to design large sections of skirt embroidery without having to break it up into different panels.

Pattern Modification:

1.  Find your Skirt Block pieces.  These pieces represent the shape of the skirt without the pleats and gathers of the Skirt Views I-VII, so they are basically a single-panel skirt already.
2.  Because there are no pleats, gathers, or extra fullness in the skirt if it just flat across, you’ll want to make the side pleat deeper so there is more room built in for high kicks.  An extra inch is a good guideline…maybe a bit more if you are making a dress on the larger end of the spectrum.  Extend the bottom of the pleat out one inch, and use your ruler to connect that point to the top seam line.
3.  Add your side notch back on.  Don’t worry about getting it exactly X inches from the top.  The only other piece that uses it is the back, and you’ll copy that over.
4.  Repeat Step 2 with the Skirt Block Back.  Copy the side notch from the front to the back so that the side-pleat seams line up.
5.  The skirt front should be quite stiff.  I’d recommend two layers of your average stiffener.  Because the skirt front is one flat piece, you could get away without it but it’s a good idea to keep it in.  However, you don’t need two layers of stiffener in the under-skirt and two layers in the main skirt; just use one in the underskirt.
For the back, you have some options.  The whole back piece does not need to be stiff.  You certainly can make it that way, and if you do, use only one layer of heavy stiffener.  If you’re looking for a softer back, you may still want a thin layer of something in the back skirt, like a medium-weight non-fusible interfacing.  This will keep the skirt smooth and not too flimsy that it can’t retain shape.  Pick your interfacing based on your fabric choice.  Something lighter with a heavy velvet; something a bit beefier for a thin satin.
[Edit:  Some people have found that they did need the under-skirt in the front and back, and some have said that they didn’t.  It really comes down to your stiffener.  If you’re unsure, try it both ways.  Remember that if the dress is too big around at the dropped waist, the stiffener has to work extra hard to keep the shape.  The dress shouldn’t measure more than 1.5-2″ larger than the dancer at the dropped waist (1.5″ for kids, 2″ for teens, adults).]
6.  Find your under-skirt pattern pieces (7-8).  Lay them over the top of the skirt block front and back so that the top edge of the block lines up with the dashed seam line on the under-skirt.  Add the excess in the side pleat so that the two line up at the bottom edge of the Under-skirt (you will be adding less than the original inch).
[I colored the block light grey, and made the under-skirt slightly transparent so you can see how they line up.  Despite the changes in color, we are still dealing with the paper pattern pieces.]

Fabric & Cutting

Cut 1 on fold of fabric
Cut 2 on fold of stiffener
Cut 1 on fold of lining
Cut 2 of fabric
Cut 2 of stiffener or non-fusible interfacing (depending on desired stiffness)
Cut 2 of lining


1.  Build the skirt front and backs following steps 26-28 of the pattern instructions.  You’ll skip step 29 because you only have one piece for each front and back.
2.  Baste the skirts onto their under-skirts (step 30).
From here, you can follow the directions as per usual, stitching the fronts to backs and creating the side pleat, and continue to finish the dress as per usual.  Cheers!

Little Things Make All The Difference

Making a solo dress is a hefty project and should not be taken on lightly.  There are many little things that will positively affect your end product and overall dressmaking experience.  Invest time in preparing your pieces and you will not only get better results, but you will find the process much more enjoyable.  These points are generally, but not necessarily, listed in the order in which you would do them.

Make a Mock-Up

Making a mock-up is always a good idea.  Everybody is shaped differently, so while you know the dress will be the right size around the chest and waist, you don’t know how it will fit in other places; the armhole, shoulders, neckline, etc.  Use a muslin or similar cotton to cut out the bodice front and backs, and at least one sleeve and sew them together with a machine baste.  Pin the Skirt Block front and back pattern pieces together at the side and fold both pieces along the side pleat fold line.  Pin the Skirt Block patterns to the waist seam on the right side of the mock-up (or trace them onto another piece of paper to have two of each, thus creating the whole skirt instead of just half).  Try the mock-up on your dancer, and adjust to fit.  Check out THIS POST for more details on adjusting your mockup.  BONUS:  You can recycle your mock-up by using it as a sewn-in lining later!

The Bodice Base

Constructing the bodice with only one layer of fabric can have a few negative effects.  There will be puckering as the weight of the dress pulls differently on the stiff embroidered areas and the softer plain fabric areas.  Also, the number of holes we put in fabrics when we embroider can cause weak points in the fabric.  Both of these are more apparent when the dress is built with thin fabrics like satins.  The bodice base is a layer of sturdy fabric that is flat-lined to the underside of each bodice piece.  Cut each pattern piece out of both fabrics, then lay the dress fabric piece over the bodice base piece.  Machine baste around the edges (in the seam allowance), then treat them as one piece, serging or zig-zagging the edges.  For thinner dress fabrics, I like using a light-weight twill for my bodice base. For small dresses, or when using thick fabrics like velvet, I’ll use a ‘quilting’ cotton for a lighter, thinner option.

Mark Important Lines

Taking time to mark seam lines is one of the best things you can do to improve the quality of your dress.  I prefer to draw all seam lines for the bodice on the bodice base fabric, and don’t mark them on the dress fabric since the two will get basted together and treated as one.  Depending on the color of the base fabric, I’ll use a fabric pencil or marker that won’t disappear in a few days.  Tailor’s chalk is a good option for temporary use, but will disappear with enough handling.
A thread baste is good for anywhere that I know I’ll want to see a certain line from the right side of the fabric too.  You can use white thread, or a similar color to the dress if you’re afraid the thread will get caught in a seam.  Places I’ll thread-baste include: Center front, dropped waist seam, sleeve hem, the fold-line of any skirt pleats, and any seam line that important for mapping embroidery.

Seam Allowance

This pattern does not have seam allowance built in.  That may be new to some people.  I did the pattern this way for a few reasons.  1) It is much easier for the dressmaker to mark seam lines (see above).  2) It is easier to change the amount of seam allowance being used.  3) It is easier to map out embroidery designs on the pattern when you can see exactly where the edge of the pieces are.  Some patterns with built in seam-allowance will have the stitching line drawn in as well, but that doesn’t work when the pattern includes more than one size.
The amounts of seam allowance suggested for each pattern piece were carefully thought out.  I like 1/2″ seam allowance for most seams.  It is narrow enough that construction is easy and seams are not bulky, but wide enough to be away from fraying fabric edges (plus wide enough that a slight alteration can be made if necessary).  I like to have 1″ of seam allowance in some seams, and these are generally the places where the dress is likely to be altered.  In the bodice it’s the side seams, center back, and the dropped-waist seam (bottom edge).  In the skirt it’s the center back and dropped waist seam (top edge).  No one will stop you from using whatever width of seam allowance you choose.  But if you do stray from the suggested widths, think about how extra bulk will look in certain seams, and whether you are giving yourself enough room to alter the dress when your dancer grows.


Solo dresses are all about the embroidery.  Whether you’re using an embroidery machine or free-hand satin stitch on your sewing machine, it’s important to test out at least part of your design before trying it on the real thing.  You don’t want to come out of 4 hours of embroidery with a front bodice that’s ripply, puckering, or lop-sided!  Get to know both the shapes you’re making, and the supplies you’re using.  Invest in quality stabilizers and always do your sample with the real fabric and stabilizers!  If you are new to satin stitching on your sewing machine, there are many great tutorials available online.  Most importantly, go slow and be patient!


A Handy Guide to Bodice Alterations

Not all bodies are the same shape, so it’s natural to need to do a small adjustment or two to get the bodice sitting nicely.  It is easy to alter a pattern if the place that is too big or small is the side-seam or center back, but here are a few ways to correct ill-fitting bodices focusing on the shoulder, armhole, and neck (with a quick mention of lengthening and shortening).  I prefer to fit the bodice front and back without a sleeve first, as some adjustments can affect the armhole (which affect the sleeve).  Once I’ve taken care of those adjustments, I’ll add the sleeve and try it on again.  Be sure to clip into neck and armhole curves, or they will seem too tight, even if they really fit fine.
**Update!** Further alterations pertaining to the Embroidery Bodice add-on can be found here.
(Most pictures expand when clicked on.)

SHOULDER HEIGHT – Sloping Shoulders

Effect: Loose rippling at top of shoulder.
-Pin the excess into a ‘dart’ at the shoulder seam.
-On the pattern: angle the shoulder down the width of the ‘dart’ on both the bodice front and back. (Ex: If the dart is 1/2″ wide, that means 1″ of fabric total is being taken out.  So take out 1/2″ each on the front and back)
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.

SHOULDER HEIGHT – Square Shoulders

Effect: Strain at the top of shoulder and puckering towards the neck.
-Release the shoulder seam starting at the armhole and continuing almost until the neck edge.  Measure the width of the gap at the armhole edge.
-On the pattern: angle the shoulder up half the width of the gap on both the bodice front and back. (Ex: If the gap is 1″ wide, add 1/2″ each to the front and back)  Smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.

SHOULDER WIDTH – Width across chest or back is too narrow(A) or too wide(B).

Effect: May create puckering.  Sleeve may be stretched tight(A) or appear loose and saggy(B).
-Re-draw the armhole so that it sits along the crease of the shoulder joint.
-If the armhole curve increases or decreases in length by more than 1/4″, alter the sleeve pattern as described below.

A – Bodice too narrow

B – Bodice too wide



Effect: Front armhole ripples at the side of the bust.
-Pin a dart from the bust to the armhole.  Measure the width of the dart.
-On the pattern: Draw the newly created side dart on the bodice front pattern piece.  Slice the pattern piece vertically up the side of the main bust dart and across the bottom of the new side dart.  Rotate the side piece on the bust point and match up the two lines of the side dart so that it disappears.  The main bust dart should have increased in width.  Smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.


Effect: Back armhole ripples to the side of the shoulder blades.
-Pin the excess fabric at the armhole into a dart.  Measure the width of the dart.
-On the pattern: Transfer the new side dart to the bodice back pattern.  Its point should extend to directly above the back waist dart.  Draw a line from the new dart’s point up to the center of the shoulder.  Cut along the shoulder line and the top of the new side dart.  Rotate the side piece on the dart’s point and match up the two lines of the dart so that it disappears.  You now have a dart in the shoulder.  Draw a dart reaching no more than 3 1/2″ for teens and adults (2 1/2″ for small girls) and smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.

NECKLINE – Neckline is too low(A) or high(B).

Effect: May create gaping or puckering.
-Redraw neckline so that it sits nicely at the base of the neck.  If using the collar, draw a new collar line parallel to the old one coming off your new neckline.
-If using the optional collar, pin the collar pattern piece to the neck edge.  If the circumference of the neck edge has changed substantially, the collar may have to be lengthened or shortened(C).


You should not have to modify the sleeve unless you have modified the armhole.  If your alterations have made the circumference of the armhole more than a 1/4″ larger or smaller, you may need to alter the sleeve to ensure that it sits as intended.
-On the pattern: Cut horizontally across the sleeve cap approximately 1″ above the darts.  Move the top piece up or down as needed and smooth the lines of the sleeve cap.  A good rule of thumb is: for every 1/2″ increase or decrease in the armhole, move the top piece of the cap up or down 1/4″.



To lengthen the bodice, cut the bodice front and back pattern pieces horizontally within the range marked.  Spread the pieces apart the desired length and smooth the side seams and darts.
To shorten the bodice, cut the bodice front and back pattern pieces horizontally along the bottom of the range marked.  Overlap the pieces the desired amount, with the bottom of the bodice laying on top, and smooth the side seams and darts.
The skirt can also be lengthened or shortened (at the hem), but it is unadvisable to do more than 1″ of lengthening or shortening in the skirt hem, as the width of the skirt will be affected as well as the length.  Too much removed in the hem will end up with a skirt that does not stick out at all, and too much length added can cause the skirt to become comically wide!

Adding Fullness in Skirt View III

I’ve had a couple questions about modifying the pattern pieces for skirt view III (soft-pleated skirt).  The two patterns (front and back) are drafted to have approximately 3x fullness at the top, and 2x fullness at the bottom.  This makes for a really nice ratio for a gathered skirt, and is also similar to the ratio used by many dressmakers for soft, pleated skirts.  What it also means is that you are not quite getting ‘full’ pleats at the hem edge, because you need 3x fullness for there to be no gaps).

 So if you are looking to modify the pattern to get that 3x fullness, here is a quick tutorial on how to do it.  It is pretty simple, all you’ll need is a ruler, tape, scissors, some large pieces of paper, and the patterns of course!  (If you don’t have large paper at hand, you can tape together some printer paper, or use an old newspaper, just draw with a thin marker or something that will be easy to see over the printing.)
This general method can also work to add fullness to Skirt View IV.
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll walk you through modifying just the skirt front, but you will do the exact same thing with the back.
1.  First let’s get our numbers and math out of the way.  Measure the hem edge of the Skirt Block Front (5) and Skirt II Front (10) from center front to side pleat (dashed line).   For the size I am using, my measurements are:
Skirt Block hem: 15.0 inches
Skirt III hem: 30.55 inches
Multiply the block hem by 3. (I got 15.0 x 3 = 45.0 inches)
Subtract the skirt III hem from this new number. (I got 45.0 – 30.55 = 14.45)
Finally, divide this by 8.  (I got 1.81 inches)
Call this number M and keep it for step 5.
2.  Start by tracing the pattern onto a different sheet of paper.  We’re going to be cutting it into pieces, so best to leave the original intact.

3.  Divide the skirt front into 8 equal sections.  When dividing, ignore the side pleat, measuring only from the center front to the dashed line.

4.  Cut up the center of each section.  Starting at the bottom and stopping 1/8″ from the top; just far enough away to keep the pieces connected.

5.  With a new sheet of paper underneath, spread the flaps apart one by one so the measurement between them at the hem is equal to the measurement M you figured out in step one.  (Mine was 1.81 inches)

6.  Smooth the lines of the pattern along the top and bottom edges.

7.  You now have a pattern with 3x fullness at top and bottom.  Repeat steps 1-6 with the backs.