Friday, June 23, 2017

New Look 6500 shift dress: a simple pattern that I couldn't leave unmodified

How much adjustment do you do on a very simple pattern? Do you feel it's worthwhile to make very small changes to get it just right or perhaps you sew up simple things as is and save your efforts for a special dress or coat.
This simple dress pattern is something that I choose as one of the suggestions for my Sew a Dress class at Hello Stitch in Berkeley. (scheduled again for Sun. July 30 - the first one was great fun. More details at the bottom of this post on all the upcoming classes). As it happens Craftsy asked me to write a longer post outlining all the steps to sew a simple dress, consequently I decided to sew up this pattern and get a lot of things done with one project. Plus I've been on a shift dress kick lately. They are such simple and pleasant things to wear. Since it was 107˚F in the SHADE here yesterday I would rather have worn a dress made of ice cubes but since that is not going to happen a shift dress it is.

batik shift dress

I have had this fabric in my stash for a good 5 or 6 years. It's a cotton batik that I bought in Hawaii, quite a large amount (5 yards) and just never found a use for it. Slightly heavy as a lot of batiks are, so not really good for most dresses plus the vertical stripe had me stumped. I think I found the perfect style for it that uses the stripe best. Plus I can wear my striped navy blue espadrille sandals - double win.
Here's the pattern envelope, with a sneak peek of a subsequent version of this dress. Which everyone has gone wild for on my Instagram teases, embroidered denim must be the thing this summer. The envelope says D0569 but all the pattern pieces say New Look 6500 so I'm calling it that. I really like New Look patterns, they come up with some super cute dresses and tops, plus they include all sizes in one envelope and cost $ 3.99 all the time.

New Look Shift dress pattern

batik dr front view

Onward to my adjustments: I sewed this dress for the Craftsy post, not as a wearable but as a "photograph-able" item, i.e. something that would really show in the step-by-step tutorial but I had no intention of wearing it. It was actually quite a pleasure to just sew up a dress with no changes, I sewed the size 12 and went from there.
Here is the version I sewed for Craftsy, in a quilting cotton that I had in my stash, I think a remainder from a project I did for someone on Etsy ages ago. And I really loathe this color of green so don't even tell me that you like this dress on me :) Plus for the most part sewing/wearing garments with quilting cotton is a big NO for me. With some exceptions they always look a bit off: too wrinkly, too juvenile, too unsophisticated to claim my interest.

green shift dress

green shift dress3

But I include the photo of me wearing this one to show the neckline fit. That neckline was choking me - I don't like that high round neckline and when you move your head forward it's so uncomfortable. Good shoe match thought, right?

Back to the blue and white batik version. Can you see the difference in the neckline? It is so much more comfortable for me in the second version. I wanted to figure out exactly how much to open the neck so I made a version of just the top half of the dress in swedish tracing paper - and every time I use that I remember that is has absolutely no give. While it seems like a good idea because you can sew it - putting it on is not so easy. I did put a zipper so I could actually try it on - which worked in the end but it was kind of shredded. However it was good enough to slice and dice a bit, figuring out how I wanted the final neckline to be shaped.

neckline comparison

I cut out the batik version based on my new neckline, and basted it together at the shoulder seams to see if I liked the neckline. It still seemed a bit too high for my preference and also I like the armholes to be more cut in at the shoulder in a sleeveless dress. So instead of cutting more off the edges of the dress I made a one piece facing for front and back, and then used tracing paper to mark a seam line. At the neck I took away a further 5/8" (total seam allowance now 1.25") and then on the armholes I think I sewed it at around 7/8" which makes the armhole a bit bigger all around. You have to be careful that it doesn't make the armhole too low but this dress had a very tight armhole so there was plenty of room.

batik dress facing new seam

On my next version of this dress (the embroidered chambray fabric)  I'll show how I make the one piece facing plus this upcoming version is lined so it incorporates facing and lining together.

The original New Look pattern had separate neck and armhole facings which works ok, not my preference but not as horrible as some make it out to be. But there's a better way. Another option for these simple summer dresses is bias binding but I wanted to show the traditional or basic type of dress sewing.

But we are not done yet! In fact this adjustment should have come up first in my writing but I only remembered to take this picture a few minutes ago and include it. The bust dart on this dress is both large and high. I measured it on the pattern piece and could see that it needed to be lower so I did that before I did anything else, just a straightforward shift downward about 3/4". The bust dart is kind of larger than it would be had there been other darts (vertical waist darts)  or other shaping. Trying it on it made the dart a bit too pointy - not my favorite look. So I reduced the width of the dart.

dart adjustment on shift dress

On the tracing paper on the left you can see the faint outline of the original dart, too high. The second placement, lower but too big, and then the final version in the purple dotted line, just right. I sound like Goldilocks don't I but if you're going to do adjustments you might as well go all the way until you like the fit.

Batik dr side and back view

Back and side view, you can barely see the dart but that is the ideal, at least for me. Since the side seams were not even in length I split the difference at the top of the seam at the armhole and sliced off about 3/8" off the side back at that point. Worked out fine.

batik dress front 2

So that's chapter one on my summer shift dress extravaganza. I have some more complex things in line for my sewing table but not sure what order I will sew them.

Here's the link to that Craftsy post: The Complete Beginners Guide to Sewing a Dress.

Update on classes at Hello Stitch Studio on Berkeley. The Fit Lab was great - we are going to schedule this class again soon. In July we are repeating Saturday classes for sewing Skirts, Tunic Tops, and a new one starting on Wed 7/26 in the evening is a Button-front shirt class. All these classes are two sessions scheduled a week apart so not a long term time commitment and you will get a project done (or nearly) and learn some new and useful techniques. The Dress class is an all-day one on Sun. 7/30. FYI: I've found parking to be surprisingly easy around the studio and it is no more than a 10 minute walk from the Berkeley Bart station so really convenient to get to.

This was yesterday afternoon. Survival mode with an iced coffee. thankfully lots cooler today (ha ha only mid 90's˚F).


Happy weekend sewing,

today's garden photo, this white daisy just looks so calm and cool, even in this heat!



  1. I have lots of quilting cottons but never use them for sewing garments. Like you said - they just don't work! I also rarely sew up a pattern straight out of the envelope. My required alterations are so necessary for a good fit on my mature body. I do like your shift dress and so enjoy your blog. Karen

  2. I think the adjustments you made were great to making it a good fit. I can rarely sew something without something done. I so wish I had a great local place to shop for fabric other than quilting cottons. You are right, they are not made for garments.
    Love the pattern on your shift.

  3. Sure you said not to, but I am defiant. THAT DRESS LOOKS AWESOME ON YOU! It's striking! But I can get that wearing a dress from quilting cotton is pretty 'meh'.

    I've got knowing when to FBA and when to lower / shorten a dart. How do you know when it's too large??

  4. Really pretty dresses on you Beth! I love them both! However, that temperature! WOW! I thought Florida was hot! Nothing compared to that!

  5. I think I have that same NL pattern; I need to find it!

  6. I know you don't want to hear it but boy that dress is fantastic on you, those colours suit you and dare I say more than the blues IMHO! I love your craftsy courses so thanks!

  7. I hope that you fixed the red flowered dress. So fabulous on you. Except for that really bad neckline. I hate those high round necks. Aside from not being super flattering on me, they are so uncomfortable. I see them on models and even they aren't flattered by them. The second dress is very flattering and pretty. Great fit, as always.

  8. And I thought it's been hot in the UK this week! Couldn't cope with your climate at all. I love those simple dress styles; perfect for showing off a pretty fabric.

  9. Thank you for sharing your expertise. I love reading your blog, everything you make is so professional and I learn so much.

  10. Gosh I always have to make adjustments - usually a forward shoulder, gaping back neckline, often a dart shift, and usually lower the neckline too. I love my paper tape dressform to tissue fit and work out the basics. You've got a great fit on this one, lovely.

  11. That heatwave was rough--it was shorts weather even in Daly City! I'm happily surprised your garden looks so perky :) This dress is fantastic! Perfect use of fabric, and the fit is great. I can't wait to visit Hello Stitch and take one of your classes!

  12. I've been such a fan of your blog for so long and drooled over the idea of taking a class with you in person but I'm here in Victoria BC and you're in CA so that wasn't really an option for me. I had NO IDEA you taught a class on Craftsy! I'm in it now so thank you for that link to your blog on Craftsy :) Love your shift dress in blue. I'm a huge fan of shift dresses. My mother used to buy us shift dresses every summer when I was a teen (1969 - '73) Nothing is cooler to wear in the summer than a nice light cotton shift and if the fit is just right it looks great too. I also love the opportunity it offers for embellishments :)

    1. Hi Kathleen, thanks for the kind words. Just FYI, I don't teach a class on the Craftsy site, but I do write articles for their sewing blog. I teach in-person classes at Hello Stitch Studio in Berkeley CA.

  13. Nice dress, and the information you pass on to us is invaluable. Thanks.

  14. I'm making a shift dress right now, and with fabric almost identical in design to your batik- but mine has bright colors ( I'm here in Hawaii) I was going to cut crossgrain to make the stripes go horizontal, but now I see that vertical look good, so I'll switch it around before I cut.

  15. Very pretty! Shift dresses really are perfect for hot weather. Too bad that they only work in a shorter length.

  16. I love BOTH dresses on you :p I am working on a shift dress as well. I will be using bias tape to finish the neckline and armholes. I look forward to your future post about the one piece facing.

  17. Really lovely makes! The method you used makes lots of sense, thanks for sharing. I absolutely love the blue and white batik fabric!

  18. What is the actual difference between quilting cotton and cotton fabric appropriate for dressmaking? I really don't know and would love to know. I can see and tell the difference but I don't know what the underlying difference is. Help! What do you call cotton fabric suitable for clothing? Is it only poplin or is there more?
    Just have to say that you look fabulous in the print that you don't like!

  19. Great photos and explanation on the adjustments you made and why. Like the others, I do like the green dress fabric as well, albeit the high neck. We had 106 here up North as well, so looking forward to a week of 90's just to feel cooler.

  20. I like all three dress, perfect for summer. But my favorite is the blue and white one. ;-)