How to Make a Dress for Beginners

Written by kathy arellano
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How to Make a Dress for Beginners
A row of brightly-coloured buttons accentuates the side closure on this sheath dress. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

When you purchase fabric that is pleasing to you and put in several hours of careful craftsmanship, you are sure to produce a well-made dress. A sleeveless, scoop-necked, back-zipped sheath dress skims the contours of the body thanks to long, shaped darts. It's an excellent project to choose if you want to become familiar with basic dressmaking techniques.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Dress pattern: McCall 9172, Simplicity 2404, Butterick 5277, Vogue 8278, Burda 7972 or New Look 6021
  • Fabric
  • Fusible interfacing
  • Zipper
  • Tailor's chalk
  • Sewing machine
  • Zipper foot
  • Sewing kit
  • Steam iron and board

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Read the instruction sheet and the yardage information before purchasing fabric and notions. For a beginning project, use a medium-weight cotton or linen blend in a solid colour or all-over pattern. Purchase colour-coordinated thread and a zipper, and buy a small amount of fusible interfacing.

    How to Make a Dress for Beginners
    Appropriate fabrics come in every imaginable colour and print. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)
  2. 2

    Remove the pattern from its envelope and unfold the sheets of tissue that contain multiple pattern parts. Cut the pieces apart. Select only the pieces that are needed for your dress. For a simple sheath dress, look for the dress front, dress back and the armhole- and neck-facing pieces.

    How to Make a Dress for Beginners
    Take colour cards with you when you shop. (George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)
  3. 3

    Spread the fabric out on a large work surface. Follow the pattern placement directions provided in the instructions. The dress front is cut on the fold, so fold the fabric lengthwise with the printed (right) sides and selvedges together. Pin the remaining pieces on the true grain by lining up the straight grain arrow points printed on the pattern with the selvedge edges of the fabric.

    How to Make a Dress for Beginners
    Cut your fabric with pinking shears and your seam allowances will not ravel. (Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)
  4. 4

    Cut out each pattern piece as directed. With tailor's chalk, mark the dart stitching lines on the wrong, or non-printed, side of the fabric, following the diagram on the pattern. Use the facing pattern pieces to cut out the interfacing pieces. Following product instructions, apply the interfacing to the wrong side of the facings with a hot iron.

    How to Make a Dress for Beginners
    Tailor's chalk is a generic term for waxy or chalky material used to mark fabric. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)
  5. 5

    Pin and sew all the darts. Long front darts form an ellipse and the deepest point is at the waist. Each leg curves and tapers to nothing under the bustline and above the fullest part of the hip. Side front darts start out wide at the seam allowance and taper to nothing just before the bustline. Back shoulder darts accommodate the shoulder blade mound and allow for freedom of movement. Press the dart allowances away from the centre of the garment or, in the case of the side bust dart, toward the floor.

    How to Make a Dress for Beginners
    Each dress has well-placed darts that cause the garment to hug the body. (Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)
  6. 6

    Set your machine's stitch length to extra long. Pin the right sides together and then stitch the center back seam from the top neck edge to the bottom of the zipper opening. Change the stitch length to medium and then stitch from the zipper bottom to the hem. Press the entire center back seam open. Affix the zipper foot to your sewing machine. Apply a centred zipper according to package directions and then remove the basting stitches. The zipper should glide smoothly and the zipper teeth should be unobstructed by dress fabric.

    How to Make a Dress for Beginners
    A centred zipper has equal-depth flaps of fabric on each side that meet in the middle. (Jeffrey Hamilton/Photodisc/Getty Images)
  7. 7

    Pin right sides together and then sew the dress shoulder seams and the neck facing pieces, starting at the neckline and stitching out to the shoulder tip on each side. Press the seams open. Apply the facing piece to the neckline and stitch along the seam line. Clip into the seam allowance at the curved areas, but do not cut the stitching. Fold the facing to the inside of the dress and press the finished neckline flat. Anchor the facing at the shoulder seams with hand stitching. Apply the armhole facings in the same way, leaving the side seams open.

    How to Make a Dress for Beginners
    Neckline and armhole facings stabilise and strengthen the much-used openings. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)
  8. 8

    Pin right sides together and then sew the side seams, matching facing edges, armhole seams, notches and hem edges. Clip carefully at the waist curve and then press the side seams toward the back of the garment. Turn the armhole facings back and anchor to the shoulder and side seams. Try the dress on and have someone help you mark the hem. Fold, stitch and press the hem. Give the dress a final press.

    How to Make a Dress for Beginners
    Let a friend help you mark the hem. (Maria Teijeiro/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Tips and warnings

  • Keep your sewing machine clean, well-oiled and ready for each project with a new needle.
  • Purchase a comprehensive sewing reference book and refer to it often.
  • Keep your work area organised and your scissors sharpened.
  • Do not plan on wearing the dress the day after you purchase the fabric.
  • Preshrink cotton-blend fabrics to avoid a poor fit after the dress has been made.
  • The seam allowances are not finished cleanly on this project.
  • Keep all sewing tools and supplies away from small children and pets.

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