How to Sew a Dress: The Basic “Recipe”

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Hey, you!

Up until this point, I’ve done a lot of gabbing and sharing. And it’s has been fun and instructive.

BUT I am done with gabbing, because it’s time to get busy making something insanely fabulous to wear!

So let’s begin with the recipe I use to sew insanely pretty dresses…

NOTE: If you’re ready to begin this journey and would like to buy my recommended tools and supplies, please click HERE

Have Patience, Grasshopper

But first…

Sewing is a creative art form like painting, pottery making, writing, or making music. And no true artist EVER wants to rush through their creative process!

So slow. down. Enjoy each step of the creative process and stop obsessing about the finish line!

If you’re sewing for the love of the craft, then the sheer act of completing any step along the way is its own reward!

How to Sew a Dress [Step-by-Step]

Frankly, the following may seem like a lot of steps!  But once you’ve unleashed your dressmaking superpowers, one step will flow easily into the next so that much of it will seem seamless!

Disclaimer: The instructions below are a general guideline. The steps and/or order of steps can vary depending on the garment’s design.

So without any further ado, let’s sew a dress…

11 Steps Before You Get to Sew

  1. Pre-wash and iron your luscious length of fabric.
  2. Make sure your fabric is square.
  3. Roughly cut out your pattern pieces and press with a dry, warm iron. NO steam, please. Duplicate your pattern pieces if you would like to keep the original pattern intact.
  4. Alter the pattern to fit your body.
  5. Study the pattern envelope, the guide sheet, AND the instruction written on the actual pattern pieces.
  6. Fold your fabric and layout your pattern pieces.
  7. Pin your pattern pieces to your fabric. I like to add an additional 3/8 inches to the 5/8 inch seam allowances (SAs) at the side seams and shoulder seams as fit insurance.
  8. Take the time at this point to double check your placement and layout.
  9. With a pair of sharp shears, cut out your pattern pieces slowly and carefully to ensure you end up with smooth, even cut edges!
  10. Transfer all important registration markings from the pattern pieces to your fabric. Leave the pattern pieces pinned to the fabric until you’re ready to sew.
  11. If any patterns pieces need to be interfaced, go ahead and block fuse them now and allow them to cool completely before moving them.

Remember: If you don’t have time to mark, you have no business cutting!

Okay, it’s time to skip over to your sewing machine and get ready to sew…

How to Construct a Garment in 10 Steps

However, before you begin your project, I think it is a good idea to be clear on how you will deal with the details of the garment. And you can get this clarity by asking the following questions:

  • How many wound bobbins will you need? I hate having to stop mid project to wind a bobbin and you will too.
  • What is the best thread to use? And do you have enough in the appropriate colour? I loathe running out of thread when I’m in the groove.
  • What needle type and size is best for this project? New project, new needle is not a bad idea.
  • Do you have all the required notions?
  • Which stitch type is the best for your project?
  • What seam finish is the best for your project?
  • How will you finish the neckline and armhole edges?

It’s also wise to take the time to test the stitch type, needle, seaming, etc. with two layers of 6×6-inch squares of fabric scrap from your project.



Now that you’re clear on the above, you can finally get to the fun part: garment construction…

  1. Stay stitch the neckline and the armholes.
  2. Sew all darts and press.
  3. Sew the center back (CB) seam or insert the zipper (Coming So Soon!), whichever is applicable.
  4. Sew the center front (CF) seam if applicable.
  5. Stabilize and sew the shoulder seams; press the seams towards the back. The garment’s closure will determine if you sew one or both shoulder seams at this point.
  6. Finish the neckline.
  7. Finish the armholes or insert the sleeves (Coming So Soon!), whichever is applicable.
  8. Try on the garment with the right sides facing out so that the wrong sides (WS) are together. Now, pin fit the side seams (SS) to the contours of your body from the armholes to the hem, placing the straight pins pointing downward. This step allows you to account for fabric ease. Once you like the fit, mark the line of pins. This will be your final stitching line.  Take off your garment and turn it so that the right sides (RS) are together.

Do NOT disrespect fabric ease! And do NOT remove wearing ease if you like moving, reaching, sitting, eating, or breathing!

  1. Now, trim the seam allowances (SAs) if necessary. And pin first at the underarms, then at the hem, and finally at the notches. If you need more pins to sew confidently, place then above every four inches apart. Sew the SS from the hem up to the underarm. Then, press the seam allowances (SA) towards the back.
  2. Finish the hem. Ideally, you want a garment to hang at least 24 hours before you hem.

And one more thing…

I suggest you make at least three copies of any project. This will ensure that you have really mastered each skill before moving on.

RELATED: Click HERE to learn how to chunk up the sewing process so that you are kind to your body and mind!


Let’s talk about the other “F” word…

Do You Think You’ve Failed?!

If you made it all the way to the finish line, great!

If you ditched it somewhere along the way because it made you want to pull your hair out, great!

Listen, here’s a truth that no one really tells you:

In the beginning, you’ll probably ditch three out of five of your sewing projects for various reasons. So don’t beat yourself up when it seems like you’ve “failed” again!

But whatever the outcome, I recommend you assess. It will either make you feel fantastic because it was a success and/or it teaches you a lesson or two that you can take into your next project. Either way, it is a win-win. Why you ask?!


Because you showed up!

Okay. Here are some assessment questions you should ask yourself:

  • What was a success and why?
  • What was a failure and why?
  • What parts of the process did you love?
  • What parts of the process was the devil himself on steroids?
  • What would you do differently next time?

It’s not a bad idea to keep a notebook with a swatch of your projects with notes for future reference.

But if you ended up with a dress you are happy to flaunt, step into your handmade dress, and walk the red carpet of your life!

Sew easy tip: I DO hope that this list creates within you a strong appreciation for what goes into the construction of a garment!  This is proof that when someone crafts a garment for someone: It is a HUMONGOUS deal!

RELATED: Click HERE to learn the least stressful way to learn new sewing skills!

The End

Please. For. The. Love. Of. Everything. Potentially. Wonderful…

Make. It. Already.

Grab hold of your fears, wrap them tightly up in a piece of heavy-duty foil paper, place them in a Ziploc bag and squeeze out all of the air so they can’t breathe. And then, throw them in the trash bin!

Because here’s the thing…

If you take this challenge, at some point, you will “fail.” Failure is a natural part of the process of growing new skills. Picture this: the “cutest baby ever” learning to take her very first steps — up and down, up and down, up and down, up…

So have your really “failed?!”

Or, are you a success because you tried and because you plan to learn from your “failures?!”

Do you see what I mean?! I hope so!

So I encourage you to…

Make. It. Already! Starting. Today!

Oh, once you’ve hemmed your dress, don’t forget to do the happy seamstress dance from one side of the room to the other TWICE! Because you’ve done something super amazing: You’ve sewn a dress!

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!

RELATED: Poor fabric choice will frack your project up! Click HERE to learn what you need to know about drape and body to avoid all that nonsense!

RELATED: Click HERE to learn about dress silhouettes and explore all the projects to date!

RELATED: Click HERE if you’re ready to unleash your dressmaking super powers and learn how to sew a simple dress! Warning: This is a MEGA 5-part series!

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4 thoughts on “How to Sew a Dress: The Basic “Recipe””

  1. Comprehensive is your middle name Janine. Everything looks great and reads well with your certain house style. So proud of you.

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