How to make a night dress

Updated July 20, 2017

Nightdress is another term for nightgown, which can be anything from a simple, plain cloth chemise or shift to an elaborately decorated nightgown with lace, ribbons, embroidery and flowers. Depending on whether or not you are making a nightdress as a period costume or for your own personal use, options for embellishment are up to you.

Measure from ankle to shoulder and double the length to determine how much fabric you will need for the nightdress.

Lay out the fabric on a flat surface and cut a piece the same length as the measurement from Step 1. Set this material aside for the body of the nightdress.

Measure from shoulder to the middle finger to determine the measurement for the sleeves.

Fold the remaining fabric in half lengthwise so you have a long, narrow piece of material. Cut two pieces the same length as the measurement from Step 3. These will be the sleeves.

Take the piece of fabric set aside for the body and lay it open on a flat surface. Fold in half crosswise. Next, fold in half lengthwise. Lay flat and smooth.

To create the neck hole, first find the closed corner. Measure down an inch from the corner along the long fold and mark. Measure and mark 8 inches from the corner along the doubled-over short side of the fabric. Cut a straight line from mark to mark. Unfold the piece once, leaving the fabric folded over crosswise, with the opening along the fold.

On the upper right, measure and mark a point 6 inches from the fold down the open, long edge of the material. Measure and mark another 6 inches from the outside corner towards the neck hole. Repeat on the left.

Lay one of the sleeves, keeping it folded lengthwise, alongside the body with both folded edges together. Slide the sleeve piece up until the bottom, open edge of the sleeve lines up to the 6 inches mark along the open edge of the body. Slide the sleeve 6 inches towards the opening on the body until the edge matches the other 6-inch mark. At this point, the sleeve should overlap the shoulder of the body, with a doubled up, 6-inch square. Repeat on the other side with the other sleeve.

Cut a diagonal line from point to point and remove the excess triangles of fabric. Unfold the sleeves and the body, keeping the angled cuts along the shoulder together. Pin the shoulder seams together.

Pin all open edges together, except for the bottom hem, the bottoms of the sleeves and the opening for the head.

Sew the shoulder of the sleeve to the shoulder on the body along the angles.

Fold the ends of the sleeves over 1 inch. Sew the hem along the cuffs, leaving at least a 1/2-inch opening for a ribbon or cord to be strung through the hem. Fold over the open ends of each hem and sew the edge of the slits in the cuff.

Sew each side of the nightdress from bottom hem straight up the side of the body, turning at the armpit, and straight to the hem sewn on the cuff.

Fold over the neck hole over a 1/2 inch. Cut slits in the rough edge if you need to create a curved hem. Cut a small slit in the front centre of the neck hole. Fold over the edge of the slit to allow for a hole to string a ribbon or cord through. Sew the neck hole.

Press interior seams with the iron. Turn the nightdress right-side out and press seams again.

String a length of ribbon or cord through the hems of the neck hole and cuffs, leaving a length of 3 inches or more hanging out each side. When wearing the nightdress, pulling the ribbons or cords and tying them in bows will provide adjustable cuffs and neck hole.

Embellish the nightdress as you see fit.

Make a sleeveless nightdress by eliminating steps 4, 8, 11 and 12. Finish the armholes by hemming the openings.


If you aren't making a traditional or period nightdress, play with fabric colour. Tailor the nightdress to be more form fitting by taking in the sides along the waist. If you have larger upper arms and shoulders, in steps 6 and 7, make the marks 7 to 8 inches instead of 6 inches. Give your nightdress a more seductive look by cutting the neck hole in the front towards the cleavage, hemming the edges, adding eyelets and lacing a ribbon through the holes.


If you decide to tailor the dress to be more formfitting, do not make it so snug that it cannot still be pulled over the head and shoulders.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • 3-5 yards cotton or linen fabric
  • 1-2 spools of thread
  • Elastic or ribbon
  • Scissors
  • Chalk pencil or tailor's marking pencil
  • Sewing machine or hand sewing needles
  • Iron
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About the Author

Rica Mendes has been writing since 1989, when she became regional editor of Young Judaea's newsletter. Her work can also be found on Trek Bicycle Store of Fairfield's blog and her personal blog tracking her experience as a cyclist and LIVESTRONG leader. Mendes has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Oberlin College.