Tutorial Tuesday (and Pattern!)-Shift Dress & Pencil Skirt

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's finally here! my Emerson-Inspired Shift Dress!

Yes, it needs ironing, but you know how impatient I am. And how much I hate ironing.

I drafted my own pattern free-hand (and it took me a few frustrated tries, believe me) but I finally got it and I am THRILLED with it! My mom still has to add the zipper in the back and the darts at the bust- but the rest of the dress is Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.

If you want to draft your own pattern I suggest using a sharpie, freezer paper from the grocery store, and my pattern. The pattern is in pieces- just print all the pieces on your 8.5" x 11" paper, then tape together and trace with a big piece of freezer paper.

Front of Bodice

Back of Bodice

Front of Skirt

Back of Skirt

The lines of these are hard to see once i uploaded them, so just use as a guide and freehand in all the missing spaces.

Or you can grab a skirt or dress that you like the fit of and use it as a guide when free handing your pattern. Also DO NOT forget to measure your own bust and hips and thighs, or you will end up with a chest crushing red dress that you can't wear and breathe at the same time, like me. Boo.

Anywhooter, I made my shift dress in black and I love it. It really is the perfect little black dress- you can make it super casual with sandals, work appropriate with flats, and formal with heels. Add a big huge EmersonMade. inspired bloom- and you look almost as wonderful as Emerson herself.

I got the pattern for this flower on Grosgrain (have you been there? Don't even go, or your whole life will be sucked away, seriously) and whipped up this fabulous huge bloom for my new dress. Do you love it?

As an added bonus-I had some extra black cotton left over (I used 2 yards total for both the dress and the skirt!) so I just used the bottom portion of the pattern to make a pencil skirt!

Now on to the Tutorial!

For the Dress
This dress takes about 1 1/2 yards of fabric. I used a cheap black cotton ($4/yard) but it would be better with some heavier weight fabric so it's not so see through, since it is unlined. Or you could probably just line it with double layers of fabric. But that's too complicated for me, so I just stuck with the easy stuff.

1) Fold fabric in half and on the fold lay the pattern of the front bodice on the fold. Line up the front skirt pattern with the bodice pattern on the fold and trace with a washable marker or a piece of chalk. Repeat with the back bodice and back skirt patterns. Cut out pattern pieces.

2) Put your 2 cut out pieces of fabrics Right Sides together. Line up the straps, pin together and sew top of straps.

3) Pin sides of dress together (Right sides together) and sew up sides of dress. DO NOT SEW THE ARMHOLES CLOSED. I may or may not have done this. Twice.

4) Flip dress right side out and try on to make sure you like the fit. If you don't, I really don't know what to tell you. I'm not a seamstress. Probably just throw away your dress and alter the pattern and start from scratch. I'm sure there are ways to fix it, but I'm a beginnner so you're kind of on your own.

5) If you DO like your dress, fold over 1/4" of the neckline twice, press, then pin. Sew around carefully (this is the hardest part-making sure the curves of the neckline don't bunch when you sew), then repeat with the armholes. Now you have finished seams on the neck and arms.

6) Hem your dress. Fold over 1/4" of the bottom of the dress twice, press, pin, then sew.

7) If you'd like a zipper instead of a pullover dress, follow these directions for inserting a zipper. Also you can add a hook and eye closure in the back following these directions. Emerson's dress has both.

8) Now you can add heels & a belt and look fancy, or add flats and your big bloom to look casually chic. And be happy, you just made a simple, fabulous shift dress!

If you have leftover fabric, and want to make a pencil skirt, follow these directions:
1) Repeat Step 1 from the dress pattern, except only use the front and back of the skirt pattern.

2) Once you have your 2 pieces cut, pin the together (right sides toegether) and sew.

3) Flip right side out, try on, and cut length of hem if you want it shorter. I like longer pencils.

4) Follow Step 6 above to hem the bottom of the skirt

5) Fold 1/4" of the waist (top of the skirt) over and press, then fold over 1 or 1.5" and press to make waistband. Pin, then sew around. You can add in a zipper, a hook an eye, or even elastic

6) Voila! You now have a sassy pencil skirt.

NOTE: I get that this is not the best tutorial. Let me reiterate that I am not the best sewer. Only a beginner, so my tutorial is probably lacking quite a bit, but at least this gives the general idea and maybe gives you the confidence to try it out yourself! It's really an experiment trying to see what works best for you!


  1. you are all kinds of fabulous. and ridiculously skinny. you are making the bride feel like a fat piece, not to mention the 5 children you have had.

    ps. i'm totally obsessed with anything Emerson Made. can even a sew wannbe like me make this?! I need this asap!

  2. I love skirts like this! Very flattering for me.
    Great work.


  3. I'm a newbie sewer, too. I had to leave a note that there is a totally wonderful book called Built by Wendy: Dresses. It comes with tons of info on how to modify what you like, etc.. Bottomline: I was looking to create a different kind of shift dress when I found your blog-this tut is fantastic and I can't wait to give it a try, too! Thanks again for publishing this!

  4. thank you! this looks simple enough! i am a newbie to sewing. haha if this works out, i will send you a photo! =) cant wait to try! thank you so much once again!

  5. I liked your tutorial. What size this pattern would be?