How to draft a French Dart Shift Dress

The design is based on the extremely popular shift dress from BurdaStyle 10/12. I drafted my own a while ago because I wanted to figure it out. And I did, so here is how you can draft your own from your close-fitting dress block.

First, take your block and draw on it the French dart and the boat-neckline (also called the bateau-neckline because bateau is French for boat).

To draw the neckline, you can move the dart to the new position first, or you can fold out the original dart and draw the neckline while the pattern is in 3D (as here). It’s up to you.
If you haven’t yet, fold the original bust dart and tape it closed. Cut carefully along the French Dart and the pattern will flatten out again.

Now for the final steps to the main pattern. Trim the neckline at the shoulder by 3mm (1/8″) to prevent gaping there. You may wish to take out a little more at the original bust dart if you have a fuller figure, to account for possible gaping.
Now we will shape the French dart. This gives a much more flattering silhouette, and less of a sack-dress look (who wants to look like a sack?)
Fold the pattern along the dart, matching the waistpoint as shown (this picture really give it away that I was using a scale pattern). If you can see through your paper, trace the French dart line.
Otherwise you will have to flip the larger part of the pattern over the smaller part and draw along the French Dart curve. This gives a mirrored dart to the waist.
Now unfold your pattern and trim away the excess:
Next, you shorten the bust dart by 1-2.5cm. I find a longer dart gives a nicer dart tip. There are also sewing techniques for dart tips that you can find online, but until my darts look really nice, I won’t doing any tutorials on them. : )
In a proper French dart dress, it’s almost impossible to get full waist-shaping so we erase the front waist-dart. Even on me the dress is a nice shape without it. So your pattern should now look something like this:
The pink section is for the pocket which was not in BurdaStyle’s design, but I added because I like pockets. It’s cut on the fold and you need two as with a regular inseam pocket. With being cut in one piece (left and right) it doesn’t sag when you wear the dress. Word of advice though: when you sew the dividing lines along the centre of the pocket, do some about 5cm each side of the centre otherwise the pocket’s contents shift towards the CF and it doesn’t look very pretty when you have a tape measure there. (Guess how I know.)
This pocket sews together quite magically and I’ll let you figure it out for now. Hint: there is some turning inside out involved and it reminds me of instructions for sewing and all-in-one facing.
For my dress I have a 100cm hem circumference, but I think I would like a bit more for my next one (which will probably be yellow. You just measure out from the CF and CB 1/4 of the hem circumference you would like.
Finally draft facings for the front and back neckline 5-8cm (2-3″) is wide enough.
The Back
Trim the shoulder dart width off the armscye, and then draft the neckline so that the shoulder is the same length for the front and back. Trim 3mm off the shoulder-neck point to match the front.
If you already have CB shaping you can just add seam allowances and hem allowances and use the pattern as is. If you don’t, it’s best to shape the CB because it gives a nicer silhouette, and a smoother fit.

The Sleeve
For my dress I made cap sleeves with a seam, and a scallop edge.

Walk your sleeve pattern to find out how much ease there is, and divide it along the top notch. Draw the new seam on the sleeve pattern. Draw the hem line (the curve). The blue lines going to be slashed up to the capline and the sleeve will be spread to make it flare a bit (or a lot, as your taste dictates).

Here you can see the patterns separated and slashed and spread:

To make the sleeves look more like the original design, take them it at the seam. Make right-angles at the hem as shown so that the hemline will be smooth when sewn. You can pin the sleeve pattern together and put it on to see how you like the look of if and then edit it as you wish.

Now draft facings for the hemline unless you are going to use scallop stitching or bias to neaten the edge.

When you have added any seam and hem allowances, and a notch where the CB zip will end, you have your finished pattern and can get sewing.

Never will you know style and comfort more than in a shift dress. And the pattern is extremely versatile. It can be a top, or a dressmaker jacket. By choosing your fabrics carefully, you can make dresses for casual wear (sportswear if you’re American), evening wear, workwear. Adding a belt makes it more stylish and modern. With trimmings and decorative stitching, you can vary the look even more!

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3 thoughts on “How to draft a French Dart Shift Dress

  1. Great post! This is exactly what I was looking for- I have a dress pattern that I want to tweak a little and I think I'll try a french dart to see if the fit is a bit better. SOmetimes shift dresses can be so boxy and ill-fitting.

    Like

  2. Thanks! I'm tweaking a similar pattern and I was stuck on how to make the french dart incorporate some of the waist dart – think I understand better now!

    Like

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