26 February 2012

How to make an [easy] sweetheart dress pattern (Part 1)

So this comes slightly later than anticipated, but I doubt anyone was waiting desperately for it. Making the pattern the first time around was a bit haphazard, but I'll share my mistakes (from what I remember) with you so you can make your own sweetheart dress pattern too. 

Make your own sweetheart dress! (I really wish there wasn't a drainpipe in the background!!

You have two options when making this bodice: lining everything by cutting double the number of pattern pieces, or serging all the seams and using a lining strip along the top. I'll show you both. I'll also show you how you can change the pattern to suit just a shirred back, or a partially shirred back with a zipper. And before you turn away thinking that shirring is hard, think again! There is an easy way to shirr which involves ignoring formal measuring and eyeballing everything. How punk! (It works for me.)

First up, wear a good bra. It helps if it happens to be the kind with boning under the armpits. Take your measurements wearing only a bra, or a tight shirt, and don't lie to yourself. Okay, it doesn't matter too much if you lie to yourself since the back is nice and stretchy, but it's nice to have something fit you well.
Here goes:

1) Measure your waist. It's pretty simple, so I won't insult you showing you a picture. It's handy if you have two tape measures, or a piece of ribbon/etc to leave around your waist after you have taken this measurement, for reasons that will become clear in the next step!

2) Now measure how wide you want the front panel of the dress. For instance, I think it looks best if the panel is the centre of one boob to the centre of the other. For me, that's about 19cm. If your bra is the kind that has vertical stitching over the cup, it might be easy to use those lines as a guide. Wow, well, a Google search of "bra with cup lines" was seriously unhelpful, but I hope you know what I mean. This is how I did it on me:
Check out the spider bite on my left shoulder! (It's that tiny red dot)

3) Measure how long you need the front of the dress to be, from the top of the bra cup to your waist line. This is where it comes in useful to have a tape measure or ribbon still around your waist. Use the 'middle of your boob' mark that you used in the above step, like this:

4) So that is your front panel. Easy! To make the sweetheart dip at the front, find the vertical middle of the panel, make a dot 5-7cm down and connect this dot to both corners, making a triangle. Cut. Obviously you can make it dip more, but I find that 5cm is perfect without showing too much cleavage. Add your seam allowance (I just use about 1cm, UNLESS SERGING in which case add 2cm or whatever works for you).
So, if you're going to make this dress with lining instead of serging all the seams, you will need to cut two of these pieces. 

5) The side panel. This is the trickiest bit. I came up with my side panel through trial and error. Decide at this step whether you want a wiggle dress (no zip, very stretchy) or a zip at the side which will mean that the panel is slightly narrower.
5a) Firstly, hold your piece of paper against your chest, at the seam where the front panel will be (TIP: unless you are tiny, A4 will probably not be big enough. Use newspaper/etc). Gently fold the paper so it sits flat against your side and mark the over and underside of this dart:
Wellll it's flat-ish. You know what I mean.
5b) You will need to straighten the line at the front. To do so, I needed to round off the top corner, and take a large scalene triangle out from the bottom. Like this:
5c) To form the top of the side panel, you want a nice slope coming down from the front panel to the armpit, so make the panel high enough to cover your bra all the way along the top. I find that's it's a nicer curve if you don't exactly follow your bra, like this:

5d) If you want to put a zip in your dress, the line will need to be right under your armpit. If you happen to be wearing an underwire bra that has those extra boning pieces on the side, just extend that line all the way down to your waist. If you want a wiggle dress with no zip, I suggest widening your side panel by a few inches. I use my bra straps at the back as a guide. This will make attaching straps later much easier (if you want straps on your sweetheart dress).

5e) So far this is just a rough guide. Flatten out the pattern piece on a table and draw in the dart lines using a ruler. Oh, and just connect the bottoms of the two vertical lines at the waist mark for the bottom of the panel. Neaten up your lines and ADD SEAM ALLOWANCE. I find it helpful to remove the wedge created by the dart. Then press it against your body, holding the dart together, and make sure that nothing's gone wildly wrong in the drawing process. You'll probably want to make at least one test run of this pattern before hacking into your good material, so at least you'll get a chance to change it if you need to.
This is my final side panel:
I later straightened out the bottom right corner.

6) Finally, the back panel(s). Easy as pie. Measure, or get someone else to measure the length you need the panel to be. Using your bra as a guide, you want the panel to be high enough to cover the bra closure at least. This should be the same height as the underarm seam of the side panel.

6a) Now, if you want a zip in the side seam you won't need the back panel to be too stretchy so it's helpful to break the back panel down into three. When I insert zippers into this dress I make two smaller panels to attach to the larger middle back panel. I make my side back panels 5cm wide. If you are smaller than me, you might want to adjust this. What you are doing is taking some of the length out of the back so there isn't as much room for the shirring to stretch, and also giving yourself something stable to attach your zip to. This will mean your back middle panel will be your back measurement (from centre underarm to centre underarm) MINUS side back panels (5cm) PLUS ease for stretch. In this case the ease for stretch doesn't have to big big enough for you to pull over your head, so add only about 5cm, keeping seam allowance in mind. 

6b) For a sweetheart bodice with no zip you'll want your side panels wider to reach further around your back. I added just a couple of centimetres to the back seam of the side panel. Essentially, the side panels will just wrap around you a little more and look a bit like the above picture. Next, you'll need to figure out how much the shirred back panel will need to stretch for you to be able to wiggle into it by pulling the dress over your head. Measure around the widest part of your bust, then add a few centimetres until you can pull the tape measure over your head relatively easily. For instance, my bust is 108cm, and I am able to pull the tape measure over my head when the circumference is 115cm. Keep in mind that shirring tends to need a lot of seam allowance (well I need it, anyway), so I would add the 7cm difference to the width of the back panel plus 2-3cm more just to be on the safe side. 

7) If you have chosen to serge your seams, that's awesome, but just creating a rolled hem along the top of the bodice will be pretty awkward. I've found that it's better to create a lining strip 5-7cm wide to just hide the top seam and hold everything in place. To do this, assemble the bodice, then trace around the parts that need lining. The shirred middle back panel will not need lining. I haven't got a picture of this, so I made this hasty paint drawing. Poor effort, I know, but hopefully this shitty picture makes this step a little clearer. 

8) So, the pattern pieces. You should have the following:
For a side zip sweetheart dress:
1 x front panel
2 x side panel (obviously just flip the pattern over to get the opposite side)
2 x side back panel
1 x lining strips 
1 x middle back panel (to be shirred)

For a wiggle dress (lined):
2 x front panel
4 x side panel
1 x back panel (to be shirred)

And that's it! You've got a sweetheart bodice pattern! It's not too hard though it might take a little bit of reassessing to get there but hopefully these instructions are clear enough. Leave a comment for me if you have questions!
I will get around to showing how to put the pieces together in the not too distant future, and I'll remember to replace my incredibly artistic paint drawing with a real photo!


Max of Max California ★ said...

So awesome!

Anonymous said...

this is great thank you so much!

Ema Cristea said...

Thank you, you do a great job!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the easy to understand, Human instructions!!!