Tuesday, March 17, 2015

7 Best Sheath Dress Patterns with Vintage Style: Easy to Sew

Butterick 4386
Ever wanted to make your own Little Black Dress? This article will review fitted sheath dress patterns that are easy to sew.  This is a second post on easy to sew dress patterns with vintage style, following "9 Best Dress Patterns for Beginners: Easy to Sew". After mastering the super easy shift style dress, it's time to sew a classic sheath dress. This article is edited from a very popular article from three years ago, so the patterns shown are current and available

What makes the sheath dresses shown here easy to sew?

1) no waistline seam, and they look great if belted

2) dress skims the body, but isn't super tight or super loose (like a shift dress)

3) no set in sleeve (but this pattern does have sleeves if you want them)

4) most are still 2 main pattern pieces: front and back

This is Butterick 4386, a dress with a classic darted torso. It can be sewn into so many great styles, from a "little black dress" to a tropical summer dress, the fit will be slender. There is a back zip and hem vent.




Now that you know what pattern style to look for when you want a smooth fit, here are more sheath style patterns that will create that silhouette. The patterns include New Look: 6261, Butterick, See and Sew: 5235, and two from McCalls: 2401, 7085. All of these patterns have vertical darts to shape the waistline and back views, and most have sleeves as well.

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Curvey fit? A princess seam line pattern is the best for creating a good fit. Those long seam lines provide an opportunity to fit the bust line, torso and hips more carefully. There are six seam lines to work with, and each one can be let in or out only a little bit to affect the fit. Butterick "Fast and Easy" 5554 and Simplicity "Amazing Fit" 1586 both have armhole princess seams, so a good fit can be achieved with fuller bustlines.  Both include sleeves, if that is something you want to include in your dress.


This style of shaping is a vintage feature, having both the angular French dart and the side bust dart. This will create a smooth 'fit and flare' silhouette.  A French dart is sewn at an angle, and trims away the waistline without having the usual vertical dart showing in front.  This is a good choice for bold patterns that shouldn't be cut up with vertical arts.

Once a good sheath pattern is selected, there will be a few things to consider.

Question: What fabrics are best for sheath dresses?

Answer: In addition to the simple cottons mentioned in the previous dress article for shift dresses (quilting cottons, cotton gingham, woven cotton plaids and stripes), we can add stretch wovens to our list. Keep your stretch manageable, don't select anything too 'wiggley' and out of control. When using a stretch, lay out the fabric so the stretch goes around the body (not 'up and down' or it will bag at the rear!).

If the fabric is soft or thin (like a brocade, lace or satin) I would suggest using a cotton or taffeta to 'back' that fashion fabric using a 'flat lining' or 'interlining' method shown in an earlier blog post HERE.

Obviously, the classic sheath dress is a vintage look that an experienced sewist can whip up in almost any fabric, from wool flannel to brocade.

Question: How can I make the sheath pattern fit me?

Answer: Make a fitting sample before cutting out the fashion fabric. This process is more essential with the semi-fitted sheath style. Plan to do a trial fit sample dress in a 'muslin' or similar cotton test fabric before cutting out your dress pattern.

If you feel you are an easy fit and don't need a fitting muslin, then when you cut your fashion fabric, I suggest using 1" wide seam allowances down the side and back seams lines. This will give room to alter for fit in case you need 'more room'. Math: get a 1" wide seam allowance by adding 3/8" to your cutting line if you are using standard US pattern's 5/8" wide seam allowances. Yes, you will have to draft that line onto your pattern tissue first, before you cut.

Slender fit: For a figure with small curves, look for slender darts. Don't take up extra width in the darts. Do your fitting from the side seams.

Curvey fit: For a figure with larger curves, the darts will be wider and may be shaped towards the dart point. This fit may also need side and back seam line adjustments. Traditionally, the back seam was cut 'on grain' or very straight, but now it is common to use that seam line to fit the back view more closely.

Princess seam lines make curvey fittings easier. Just distribute any alterations through the several seams, and you will notice that the fitting process is actually easy to achieve.

Question: How can I make the zipper easier to sew?

Answer: Add 1" wide seam allowances down the seamline where your zipper will be sewn. You will be soooo happy you have the extra fabric when you put in the zipper. It helps to have the extra width when trying to fold the fabric under. Before your start, be sure to clean finish the fabric edges. Doing that will make sure that the edge won't unravel and snag into the zipper. I use an overlock seam or I zig-zag over the fabric edge to bind that over and prevent it from unraveling.

Once you perfect sewing a sheath to fit, it could become your favorite: fast, great fit, and easy to sew.

Thank you for dropping by.  If you liked this post, don't miss my articles on sewing and vintage fashion by subscribing to Pintuck Style blog on "Bloglovin", HERE .   I'd love to hear from you too if you have any questions or want to see a blog post on a specific topic.

(This article was first published Feb. 21, 2012)

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