Monday, March 25, 2013

Good Foundations: The Sheath Dress

While thumbing through the Sunday paper, there was a store advertising supplement that caught my eye. The simplicity of the sheath dress in bright Easter egg colors is a timeless silhouette that is eternally simple and modern! And that's the key to great contemporary fashion.

Many beginning students in Fashion Design want to create things that have everything and the kitchen sink in one dress. But think about it. No one dresses in a complicated manner today and even when they's usually an ensemble of simple items.

The basic sheath is figure-flattering and can be worn everywhere from day to night. This versatile garment looks great when cut from the simplest of fabrics to the busiest of prints and textures. And, it may be paired with almost any other outerwear....from sweaters to coats to dramatic shawls.
However, successfully creating a garment so simple can be most challenging. Admittedly I don't care very much for the dress I posted in my 2-piece dress demonstration. The waistline seam adds bulk and the overall look is a tad matronly. On the other hand, the sheath dress is a timeless garment. The easiest way to create a pattern for it is by draping it directly on the doll or form. (I have updated the post "Block Club: Upper East Side." I have designated a doll as my permanent "fit model" and created a marked bodysuit for her.) 
The drape begins in exactly the same manner as the basic sloper. I mark a piece of cotton fabric (a old bed sheet cut into rags will do) with a vertical line placed at the doll's center front (CF) line, and a horizontal line placed at her bust line.
Keep these two lines straight and pin down the fabric at the CF. While maintaining the horizontal line perpendicular, smooth the cloth over her body and pin the cloth down the side.
The fabric will have a gap under the bust. You should pinch that into a dart along the side front line from under the bust to the hips as shown until the pattern lies snug against the doll's body. With a soft pencil, mark the neckline, armhole and side. Then mark both sides of the dart you have just created.

Turn the doll over and repeat the same procedure on the back. Note: you are creating half a pattern, for reasons of symmetry.  Again, pin the fabric down the center back line (CB). Then join the back to the front pattern at the sides and pin. seams out. Create a dart that falls on the side back line from the bust line to the hip line.
Where you have marked the seam lines, fold the front pattern over the back at the shoulders and the side and mark. Make any adjustments necessary to ensure your darts are balanced. It is worth taking your time because this is a pattern you will use often!
Cloth pattern after the drape (l) and the transfer to graph paper with seam allowance (r).
Transfer your cloth pattern to paper. Add 1/4-inch seam allowance and cut from fabric. For those of you doing this for the first time, I encourage you to make the first dress out of a cheap fabric to make sure the fit is perfect. If there are problems, you will correct the paper pattern. Here is my doll wearing a copy of the sheath dress inspired by the ad!

Divine in an abstract print.

Here's our dress worn under the Patrick Kelly cocoon coat

You can also begin by first draping the basic foundation, then lengthening it into the sheath dress. Here is a video tutorial:

All Photos & Text property of  © Fashion Doll Stylist 2013. Please do not reproduce without prior permission.


  1. You are amazing and a true artist in your draping and teaching! I'm so inspired to keep up with my own dolly couture. I use flat patternmaking and it's a trial and error process but I'm happy with it. I am looking forward to following your blog.

    I'm at

  2. Emilyanne, thank you for the kind words. I took a peak at your blog and like the care you spend laying out the fabric as well as the advice you provide. Your dolls are adorable. I'll be following you as well.

  3. April! Long time no dolly talk. Work is so busy. Last night I uploaded a sheath dress pattern at my blog. I surfed over to check out your sheath dress. I was struck by how we'd created similar patterns down to the vertical darts. Even though our methods are different we achieved good fit and stylish outfits. Thank you for sharing the process and results. I feel validated! I think 1:6 scale is difficult because the proportions can be so different from full scale. I always get very deep vertical darts on fitted dolly outfits.

    1. Sorry for the delay in responding. Emily Ann, what an enormous surprise. Your dolly blog is really beautiful and well done. About the sheath dress--pattern drafting 101 has no surprises. No matter who does it, the results will always look the same unless the doll's body is weird. The vertical darts will be as deep or shallow depending on the ratio between the bust to waist to hips. Anyway, as soon as I get to a computer, I'll follow your blog!! Good seeing you here.


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