Fashion Processes: How to sew a shift dress

A sewing machine at The Make Lounge

When asked what I’d like for Christmas last year, I couldn’t really think of much I wanted, but managed to put together a very simple list of small things that would make me smile. One of the items on it was gift vouchers that I could spend at The Make Lounge which, as you may already know from previous blog posts, is one of my favourite places in London.

A sewing machine at The Make LoungeMuch to my delight, two lovely people ended up buying me vouchers for Christmas/birthday, so the next step was to choose which Make Lounge offering I most wanted to spend the money on. They have so much to choose from that I didn’t really know where to begin! Should I learn a new craft, spend the cash in their shop, or build on my existing sewing skills?

The latter was the most tempting and so, when I saw the shift dress workshop, I knew that was the workshop for me. The last time I made something from a shop pattern was during GCSE textiles and it all went rather well, so I know I can do it with a bit of help and support, but this class promised to assist with darts, attaching a lining and also inserting a concealed zip, none of which I’d tackled before.

The workshop itself was split over two evenings (one week apart) and, when we arrived, our lovely tutor Kat pointed out to us that it was a lot to cover in the time we had. However, she reassured us that everyone would leave with the skills required to finish their dress, even if they didn’t finish within the class time. She outlined the plan for our short course as follows:

  • Finding the correct size (first session)
  • Cutting out our pattern pieces (first session)
  • Sewing the darts (first session)
  • Initial fitting (first session)
  • Cut and sew the lining pieces (at home)
  • Insert the zip (second session)
  • Attach the lining (second session)

After that, a little bit of finishing off would be needed at home but we’d be pretty much done.

My dress, made by me at The Make LoungeKat was a friendly and helpful instructor who worked at a speedy pace, but never left any of us behind. Thankfully all who were attending were fully aware that this was an intermediate class and therefore had all the basics, but it’s amazing just how much you can puck up just by learning from someone new. I spent some time on my lining during the weekend between sessions, swiftly realising the benefit of not rushing things when I discovered I’d stitched my side seams inside out so had to unpick and start again. That seam ripper is the most useful thing in my sewing kit sometimes!

At the second class I discovered that inserting a concealed zip is nowhere near as tricky as it seems, and Kat showed extreme dedication to the cause by helping me further adjust my dress at the end of the night. To all you petite-framed ladies out there – make sure you work out how much of a seam allowance to do on shoulder straps yourself, as the pattern is most certainly designed for someone longer in the body. Once you’ve already attached the shoulders, it’s a right pain to sort out! With Kat’s help, I managed to rescue my little denim dress from the jaws of disaster and have since finished it off at home with some hand-stitching and hemming.

You can see the results in the photo above (styled with a sheer blouse as bare arms is not a flattering look on me). Not bad for a few hours of work, eh? I think I might now be ready to tackle the blouse pattern that I have had tucked away somewhere since last year!