staple sewing: the simple shift


I feel like I’ve said this a thousand times, but here it is again: I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before! After poring over my ideal silhouettes via Wardrobe Architect, I realized shift dresses are the perfect answer to my personal style, which can be summed up as basic, basic, and boring, with lots of dresses. I’ve always steered clear of them because I’m a pear shape. I mean, can this style really work if your hips are two sizes bigger than your waist?

Spoiler: It works. It skims everything and looks effortless. Only downside is that even my dress form Constance can upstage me in pictures if she’s wearing a flashier fabric. Thanks, Constance.


[ I got back at Constance by stealing her hat. ]

I had plans to make much more fall/winter stuff, but I was distracted by the holidays, travel, illness, and getting one of these:



So when I realized it was half-past January, I decided to get started on stuff I can wear for spring and into summer. There’s nothing worse than finishing a project just in time to pack it away for the season; I want to be prepared.


When I went hunting for a pattern, I thought long and hard about using Colette’s Laurel. I have a long and abiding love for all things Colette, but I wanted something designed for my cup size (which is definitely not a C). A shift dress really needs to be fitted through the bust and upper bust, and I don’t really trust my yet-untested SBA skills.

In the end, I went with New Look 6095. It just seemed to me to be better to go with something that was drafted for my size. Plus, I was intrigued by the angled side darts.


I was very leery of ending up with a sack dress, but this pattern has lots of shaping — the side seams are dramatically curved, there are back darts, and even the center back seam curves in at the waist.

Being a genius (/sarcasm), I decided to forgo a muslin, since I don’t usually have to move Simplicity darts and all the other fitting could come from the side seams. Unfortunately, the bust dart IS too low by a solid 3/4 inch, so my first version of this (the grey one) is going to punch me in the eye every time I look in the mirror. Sigh.


[ ironing fail. ]

That gray fabric, by the way, is a lovely, lightweight rayon blended with 11% mohair. The mohair gives it some substance, but it’s still got a bit of the liquid, ripply drape and sheen that you get from rayon.

The blue fabric is one of my favorite fabrics ever. I wish I could capture the exact color — it was marked as “deep sea,” and that’s really true. It’s rich but muted, too lively to be navy, with a bit of green in it. I came across it in September 2013, right after I had identified my ideal color palette, and looking at it just made me incredibly happy. So happy, in fact, that I splashed out at $25/yard, but couldn’t bring myself to buy more than a yard and a half. So that limits one’s options a bit.

It’s a wool-blend gabardine (92% wool), and it behaves absolutely beautifully. This was my first time working with gab, and I was amazed at how smooth and pretty the seamlines were. This is a fabric that would look GREAT in something with complicated seaming, so of course I used it in a basic shift. Of course!


Pattern notes:

    • I cut a size 12, grading to a size 14 in the hips, but I needed just a little more ease in the hips — so I took a smaller seam allowance in the side and back seams when I sewed it up. I also added a tiny bit more space in the hips when I cut the second dress.
    • The pattern has nice shaping down the center back seam, but it gave me a little too much room in the shoulderblades, so I cut straight across that curve.
    • There’s a standard 1 1/4″ hem allowance here, but I used a basic narrow hem instead (I’m 5’9″).
    • I sewed the sleeves in flat, and I was really happy with how smoothly that went.

For the pinstriped version, I seriously considered adding a band at the bottom with horizontal stripes, which I saw here at Four Square Walls and loved, but I haven’t done it yet. I like the idea of the extra weight added to the skirt, but since the darts are out of alignment, it might create obvious drag lines.


So, I’m a convert. The pear who turned up her nose at dresses without waists is now lining up shift-dress projects, because they are going to burn through my stash.

Pattern: New Look 6095, size 12 graded to 14/16 at hips
Fabric: 1.5 yards of rayon blend suiting (89% rayon, 11% mohair), $9 from Fabric Mart‘s Pennsylvania store. 1.5 yards of wool-blend gabardine (4% nylon, 4% polyester), $40 from Couture by LK Design. About 2 yards of poly lining, $2 from Fabric Mart online.



4 thoughts on “staple sewing: the simple shift

  1. Pingback: staple sewing: summery blouses | root branch bole

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