How to make a swing dress

Written by verity jones | 13/05/2017
How to make a swing dress
Swing dresses come in a variety of patterns. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

The 1950s was inspired by rock n' roll, and this made the swing dress particularly popular. Dance routines such as the lindy hop, swing and jitterbug made wearing a swing dress a necessity. As the dancer spins, the skirt lifts up, swirling around them. Typical images depict swing dresses with nipped waistlines and large, bouncy skirts. However, other designs include button-down tops, long or short sleeves, halter necks and ruffled trims. You can make your own swing dress by following a pattern.

Obtain a pattern for your swing dress from a craft store, sewing shop or website. There are many different styles to choose from, including a simple design worn after World War II, or a bolder, sassier style from the later 1950s. Read the pattern to find out how much fabric you need, then buy the right quantity of light fabric such as cotton or polyester.

Cut out each of the shapes from the paper pattern. Cut outside the line so you can still see the instructions written around the edge of each shape. These tell you which pieces to sew together and where to stitch the seam.

Stretch out your fabric on a flat surface. Then, fit each of the shapes of the pattern onto a section. Lay the shapes out first so that you know you have enough material for each section. Once you have done this, pin each of the shapes onto the fabric. Use lots of pins to be sure that the pattern stays attached to the fabric.

Use your scissors to cut the shapes out of the fabric. Make sure you follow the guidelines. Most patterns show a line that includes the sewing seam, so follow this one. Otherwise the dress might be too small for you, as you have accidentally sewn down the wrong edge.

Sew the darts in the bodice section first. Your pattern tells you where to sew these lines. Use a sewing machine so that the stitching is strong enough to hold the darts in place. Tie off the thread as you go, to avoid creating mess on the backside of your dress with dangling cotton.

Continue to stitch together the pieces of the pattern to form the upper portion of the swing dress. So that it fits, the pattern might require pleating; check that the fabric is folded in the right direction and overlaps in the right amount before you begin sewing. Always double-check your work to avoid mistakes.

Sew the bottom portion of the skirt together, following the pattern guidelines. Make sure you match the notches of the pattern. If you are unsure, before you sew simply pin the pieces together to check that it forms the shape of the skirt it is supposed to.

Pin both sections of the finished dress sections together at the sides, before you sew them into place. Be careful not to catch any back ties, sleeves or belt ties you might have created for around the waist.

Finish off the dress by removing all the pins and paper pattern shapes, and then try it on for size. Get a dance partner and show off your dress by performing a swing dance.


Rummage through a parent's or grandparent's wardrobe to find an original swing dress. Or take a trip to a thrift store and buy one second-hand. You can adjust it so that it fits correctly.

Tips and warnings

  • Rummage through a parent's or grandparent's wardrobe to find an original swing dress. Or take a trip to a thrift store and buy one second-hand. You can adjust it so that it fits correctly.

Things you need

  • Swing dress pattern
  • Scissors
  • Fabric
  • Pins
  • Sewing Machine

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