How to Design Clothes With an Empire Line

Written by river lin
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How to Design Clothes With an Empire Line
Different styles of dresses with empire waist lines. (Mannequins wearing beautiful evening dresses. image by Gina Smith from

Empire clothing is any garment with a high waist, usually a dress or a blouse. It is a universally flattering design because it creates a waist for the wearer. Empire clothing consists of two main parts: the top, or bodice, and the bottom or skirt portion. These two pieces are connected at the waistline that hits just below the bust. The design elements include pleats, gathered skirt, neckline and bodice shape. You will need to make decisions about sleeves, closures and length as well.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Plain paper or sketch pad
  • Sharp pencil
  • Ruler
  • Tape measure
  • Old newspaper
  • 2 Pens or markers (light colour and dark)
  • Scissors
  • Sellotape
  • Large envelope

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  1. 1

    Draw the image you have in mind on a piece of paper. You do not need to be a skilled artist to do this. Simply draw the basic elements. Make the drawing fill an 8 1/2 X 11-inch sheet of paper so you can clearly make the details.

  2. 2

    Use the ruler to make straight lines once you have the general image drawn.

  3. 3

    Write notes at the side of your drawing to describe the details such as “gathered skirt” or “neckline should be 5 inches from the collar bone.”

  4. 4

    Include in your notes information about the design that may not be clearly visible in your drawing, such as length and position of zippered closure.

  5. 5

    List all the parts to your design. For example: bodice front (1 piece); bodice back (2 pieces); skirt front (1 piece); skirt back (2 pieces); sleeves; and waistband. List decorative items and notions such as buttons, ribbons and zipper.

  1. 1

    Measure your body according to the design with the tape measure. You will need to measure from the top of your shoulder to just under the bustline, around the bustline, and from under the bustline to the desired length of the garment. You should also measure from the top of your shoulders to the lowest point on the neckline. Depending on your design, you may also need to measure the waistline, hips, and length of your arms for the sleeves. Write these measurements down on a piece of paper.

  2. 2

    Draw the individual pieces of your design on the newspaper according to your measurements. Use the lighter colour marker and the ruler to make straight lines. Freehand the curves for the armholes.

  3. 3

    Label the pattern pieces before you cut them out.

  4. 4

    Cut the newspaper 1 to 2 inches outside your lines.

  5. 5

    Hold the pattern pieces up to your body one by one to check for accuracy. Fold the newspaper pattern pieces where you want to place darts, pleats or gathering. Hold in place with scotch tape.

  6. 6

    Lay each pattern piece out on a flat surface and mark any changes you noted when you held them up to your body. Use the darker marker for your revision lines. Also mark along the folds for darts and pleats.

  7. 7

    Cut the pattern pieces along the darker lines. To ensure accuracy of symmetry, fold each piece in half along the centre and cut.

  8. 8

    Write fabric cutting instructions on each pattern piece. For example, the front skirt and bodice pieces may need to be cut on the fold. If so, you will only need to cut one piece of the fabric. For other pieces such as bodice back and sleeves, you will need to cut two pieces from the fabric.

  9. 9

    Measure your pattern pieces to determine how much fabric you will need to make the garment. Write this amount on the design you drew.

  10. 10

    Fold the pattern pieces and place in a large envelope along with your drawing. This will keep your pattern safe and organised.

Tips and warnings

  • When designing your own clothing, make a mock garment from muslin or an old sheet to test your design before cutting into expensive fabric.

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