Fitted A-line dress design and pattern

by Stephanie on 26 January 2011

in Design & ideas,Making clothes,Sewing

Pattern pieces for toile of bodice to make dress


I want to make a fitted winter dress to wear to work – a sort of grown-up pinafore dress really. The style I’ve got in mind is sleeveless and made in a medium-weight fabric, worn with a long-sleeve top underneath it and combined with tights and long boots.

There’s a dress (pattern 17) in my Japanese pattern book Everyday Tops that’s quite close to what I’m after so I’ve decided to use it as a starting point my pattern.

Page from Japanese pattern book Everyday Tops
I’m planning to leave off the sleeves, cut the skirt pieces along the grain rather than on the bias, and shorten the dress a little so it’s above the knee.


  • Straight darts
  • Dress unlined – bind seam edges with bias binding if can be bothered
  • Neckline finished with facing and armholes finished with bias strips of fabric (on inside) – decided not to go for a combined facing as thought it would show through
  • Concealed zip at centre back
  • Gently curved hem – probably top-stitched though maybe could hand finish

Drawing of A-line sleeveless fitted dress showing darts and seams

Order of work

The main steps are:

  1. Decide what size of pattern to trace
  2. Check the fit of the bodice by making a toile, alter pattern and check fit with another toile if needed
  3. Make pattern pieces and work out cutting layout
  4. Buy fabric and notions, prepare fabric
  5. Cut out pieces and sew together: sew darts, sew bodice to skirt and finish seam, put in zip and sew back seam, sew shoulders and finish, make neck facing and sew in place, sew side seams and finish, bind armholes using bias strips, and hem dress.


The pattern comes in Japanese sizes 7, 9, 11 and 13. My measurements are between sizes 9 and 11, so I decided to trace the pattern half-way between the lines.

To check, I calculated the circumference of the bottom of the bodice from the pattern pieces for both sizes (remembering to ignore the darts).

Size 9: circumference of bodice = 40cm (front) + 39cm (back) = 79cm
Size 11: circumference of bodice = 42cm (front) + 32cm (back) = 84cm

My measurement at this point (34cm down from top shoulder) is 74cm. Size 10 should be about 82cm round which gives 8cm of ease – hopefully this will be enough!


I made a toile of the bodice from some leftover curtain lining fabric. I sewed the darts and the side and shoulder seams with 5mm-wide stitches. As I discovered, it’s a good idea to back-stitch the start and end of the seams otherwise the toile starts to come apart when you try it on. To make it easy, I cut the back piece on the fold, the same as the front – on the dress itself it will be made from two pieces joined by a zip.

Me wearing toile of dress bodice

Toile 1

I tried the bodice toile on three times and made some notes:

  • The bust fits – a surprise! The darts look to be in the right place when I draw the bust point on the toile in pencil.
  • The armholes look fine with my grey top underneath it, so don’t need any alterations there.
  • There’s too much fabric across the top of the bodice – both at the front and back – and it gapes outwards. However, the bottom of the bodice fits fine and it shouldn’t be made any narrower. By pinching out the fabric at the top and marking the lines in pencil, I worked out that the bodice should be about 2-2.5cm narrower across the front neckline. About the same could be removed from the back piece.
  • The shoulders slope at a steeper angle than my shoulders so there’s a little too much fabric there.
  • The neckline’s OK but could raise it slightly.

Toile for dress bodice showing alterations to make

Pattern alterations 1

I made the following changes:

  • Re-shaped the shoulders by taking 0.5cm from the top of the neckline. (Looked it up afterwards and discovered that this is not how you’re supposed to alter shoulders – oh well.)
  • Cut a narrow wedge from the centre front and centre back of the bodice pattern pieces. The wedge was 1cm at the top and tapered to 0cm at the bottom.
  • Re-shaped the bottom edge so that it’s perpendicular to new centre back and front.
  • Widened the neckline slightly.

Drawing of alterations to make to bodice toile after fitting

Toile 2

As I had made quite a few alterations and I’m pretty new to all this, I made a second toile to check the fit. It looks pretty good – I could maybe have taken out another 0.5cm of fabric from the top but it will do as it is.

Pattern alterations 2

My shoulder alteration has made the angles a bit strange at the neckline so that needs fixing.

Pattern pieces

There are 6 pattern pieces: bodice front, bodice back, skirt front, skirt back, front neck facing and back neck facing. Also need to cut two 2.5cm wide bias strips that are each about 45cm long. Seam allowances are 1.5cm everywhere and the bottom hem allowance is about 4cm.

To make the pieces:

  1. Trace round the bodice pattern made for the second toile
  2. Fix shoulders (make corners of pattern pieces into right angles)
  3. Check the corners are all right angles
  4. Label bodice pieces and add seam allowances
  5. Trace skirt pieces, label and add seam allowances
  6. Check length of dress and shorten skirt piece if necessary – looks about right if you don’t add any more for the hem allowance
  7. Check length of seams match on different pieces: skirt and bodice front, side seams, shoulder seams, and dart positions matching at back
  8. Make pattern pieces for front and back neck facings, label and add seam allowances


To make the dress I need: 2m of 60” wide medium-weight cotton fabric, navy-coloured thread, bias binding for seams and neck facing edge, 26” concealed zip in dark navy, and iron-on woven interfacing in black for neck facing. The fabric is from Croft Mill and the notions are from Kleins.

Cutting layout

This layout seems to work OK for 60” wide fabric. I probably only need 1.5m of fabric but bought 2m to be on the safe side as I’m not totally sure whether I can fit the bias strips in easily or not.

Sketch of layout and fabric sample

A small update

March 2011: I bought a metre of black cotton lawn and cut my own bias strips in the end rather than using ready-made binding. I also finished the armholes using a bias facing made of the cotton lawn rather than the dress fabric.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Georgina Westley February 6, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Hi Stephanie
My New Years resolution is to teach myself dressmaking. I’m a stay at home mum and a craftaholic. I’ve bought books and patterns and all I’m waiting for now is the time to get started. I’ve made a few things before, but nothing turned out to be a success – so this time I’m serious. I’ve just stumbled across your site and I’m so chuffed. I too live in England (East Anglia) and I will be checking in on your site regularly to see what you are up to and learn from you. Thanks so much for this site.
Georgina x


Stephanie February 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Hi Georgina

Thanks very much for your comments – glad that you like the website and hope you find the information useful. It took me absolutely ages to get started with dressmaking but I’ve got quite into it over the last year. I find that just doing half an hour here and there works best for me. If I try to set aside a whole day for sewing, somehow I never get round to it.

Good luck with your dressmaking,



Kate August 7, 2011 at 9:33 am

Hi, wondering if you can help me, I have a pattern for a dress that looks a bit like this, but it is quite different because It is one piece, rather than a bodice and skirt.. it has the bust darts at the side, and the back darts, but there’s a loose bit of fabric under the bust which could be pulled in by some vertical darts like the ones at the bottom of the bodice in this picture.. Can I do that on this kind of dress though…. Any ideas would help… thanks


Stephanie August 7, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Hi Kate, Yes you could put some vertical darts under the bust on a one-piece dress – there’s no reason why not and I’ve seen quite a few dress patterns with this. For it to work, you’d need to make contour darts with the top points about 2-3 cm down from the bust point. Contour darts are diamond shapes that taper to a point at each end, like the back darts. They would narrow the front of the dress below the bust so you might need to widen the pattern piece slightly at the sides to compensate. There’s a good tutorial on darts at ‘pattern scissors cloth’. Another option would be to make the front of the dress into two parts by cutting the pattern in two and adding a seam allowance. You could then add vertical darts to the bodice section though you’d need to make the top of the skirt section narrower to match. I guess the best thing to do it to trace the top part of the front dress pattern onto a new piece of paper and experiment. Hope that helps, Steph


Paula Fitzpatrick October 10, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Hi. I have been making loads of dresses for my daughter over the summer for her to wear for her job as a newly qualified teacher. The pattern I have used mostly is from McCalls – M2401. It is so adaptable and has those various darts you were talking about. At the moment I am using the top part of this pattern down to the hips and cutting a curved piece out of the front so it is like a tunic then attaching a pleated skirt under it. A la Alexander McQueen as seen worn by Tulisa on X factoer recently. So easy to do. Another I have used is Butterick Pattern B5638 – this has so many possibilities such as the latest colour blocking and 60s style adaptations. Also Butterick Pattern B5520. I have made several from this. On one I made the top and peplum in white (with the top from the McCalls but cut off at the waist and elbow length sleeves) and the skirt in black. It looks like a two piece but is all in one. Very Alexander McQueen! I also sewed the peplum in 4 pieces for one dress and it looks lovely.


Stephanie October 11, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Hi, Sounds great – I think you must sew a lot quicker than I do! Steph


Emma Cunliffe December 20, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Hi Stephanie,

I love your website and have found it really helpful to look at your pictures of making a toile….I am trying my best to teach myself how to create my own dress patterns with a view to eventually selling them maybe on Folksy. I understand that a toile is used to adapt a basic pattern block which has very little shape to 0ne which is more tailored to your body shape- but if I am aiming to make clothes in standard sizes (8, 10, 12 etc) how would I go about shaping it?

I think I may need to find lessons in pattern making as it seems to be a complicated affair! Thanks very much,



Stephanie December 20, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Hi Emma,

Thanks for your comment. As far as I know, the basic pattern blocks are usually a standard size 12 (the ones in Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich are anyway). If you use a standard pattern block as the starting point for your design then that will give you a size 12 to start with. To get the rest of the sizes, you need to grade the pattern – basically make it proportionally smaller (for 8, 10) or larger (for 14, 16 etc). I’ve never done this myself but there’s a good introduction at

If you can’t find a class, there are some books coming out now which are pretty helpful. I wouldn’t recommend starting with the Winifred Aldrich book as the explanations are pretty brief. You could try Lee Hollahan’s book called ‘How to Use, Adapt and Design Sewing Patterns: From Shop-bought Patterns to Drafting Your Own: A Complete Guide to Fashion Sewing with Confidence’. I’ve not got it myself but it’s got good reviews on Amazon and looks pretty clear.

Good luck!



vicki February 10, 2013 at 11:58 am

Hello – wondering if this pattern is available to download or purchase – I am looking for an A-line dress where the lower half is cut on the bias, as I have found some spectacular fabric which is in panels with a curved pattern, and will only work that way.


Stephanie February 10, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Hi Vicki,

The pattern is from a Japanese book called ‘everyday tops’ – it’s available on Amazon Japan. I bought my copy from Simply Pretty Japanese Beads Books eBay shop – you could contact them and ask if they have it. The ISBN number is 978-4-579-11043-8.

Hope that helps!



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