Make a Linen Shift Dress.

Make a Linen Shift Dress.

Shift Dress

My shift dress is the most reliable article of clothing in my closet.  I actually own quite a few, so I am always ready to put together a quick and stylish outfit.  Let me explain why they are basically my fashion lifesavers!

A shift dress is essentially a short, sleeveless dress.  It hangs straight with a simple line and hangs loose on the body from the shoulders.  They typically have high, boat-neck collars and sometimes an empire waist.

What I love about this dress is its simplicity.  There is almost no detailing and the waist is de-emphasized.  That means I can roam and move about freely even though I am wearing a dress.  Trust me, they will rival even your most comfortable pair of jeans.

It’s the basis of a perfect day-to-night outfit.  To dress it up, all you need to do is accessorize and slip into a pair of heels!  Another great thing about them?  They are not form-fitting, so they flatter just about every body type.

The easy to “shift” or move around in dress rose in popularity during a significant cultural shift during the 1960s.  Beginning even in the late 1950s, the female youth culture embraced this new fashion style. In a sense, the dress embodied the youthful, free attitude of this revolutionary generation.  Twiggy knew what the shift dress was all about- and she wasn’t the only one!

The dress’ mobility and shorter hemline reflected the overall feel of independence taking over the youth.  The feminine, yet androgynous, shape signified a new trend in women’s clothing and redefined the feminine shape.  It allowed the modern woman to go to work and then hit the dance floor if they so desired.

It still remains a dress that can be worn by practically all woman, regardless of her age.  It is versatile enough to be worn for any occasion and season.  In the winter, all you need is a proper pair of tights and perhaps a coat.

One last thing (before it sounds like I’m ready to marry one of my shift dresses)… the reason I have more than one in my closet is because I always find one in another color that I have to have.  You might already know what I mean by this.  Or maybe I am just a complusive shopper, because that is the same excuse I use when I buy yet another woven sweater (“but I don’t have one in this color!”).

Today, I am going to make my own shift dress.  I don’t have one that is made of linen and should probably resist the urge to go shopping for one.  It is such a simple style that making your own is a cinch.  My wallet will thank me too.

Shift Dress

Materials:

  • 2 yards of medium weight, 100% linen IL019 (your measurements will determine how much fabric you’ll need)
  • Sewing machine
  • Scissors
  • Tape measure

IL019Button

Measure the widest portion of the body with the tape measure and add 4 inches. Measure the distance from the collarbone to the desired length and add 5 inches. Measure from the top of the collarbone to the bottom of the underarm.

Shift Dress Pattern

With these measurements, make your pattern.  The image above shows the cut I chose for mine. You only need one pattern because the front is exactly the same as the back.  Pretty simple, right?

Shift Dress

Trace your pattern onto you preshrunk fabric.  Your fabric should be folded so when you trace and cut it, a full front/back is formed.  I used IL019 linen in Hunter Green for my shift dress.

Shift Dress

Cut your linen according to the markings you made. Do this twice to get an identical front and back piece.

Shift Dress

Sew the tops of the shoulders with a ½ inch seam.

Shift Dress

You can finish the collar and sleeve edges using bias tape or by creating a basic ½ seam.  I used a handmade “bias tape” to finish my collar.  If you are unfamiliar with sewing with bias tape, I’d recommend simply seaming these edges.  The dress will look great regardless of the method you decide to use.

Shift Dress

The picture above shows me sewing on my handmade bias tape.  I just folded the fold (biased cut) fabric and seam its to the edge.

Shift Dress

Then I folded the bias tape over the edge and seamed it again.  This creates a finished edge for the collar and sleeve edges.  Basically, the “tape” overlaps the raw edge to create a clean border.

Shift Dress

You can buy bias tape at any craft or sewing store also.

Shift Dress

Another option for the sleeve edges is to fold the sleeve edges under ½ inch and ½ inch again and sew the sleeve edge hems.  I’d recommend this method if you have never used bias tape.  It is simple and looks beautiful!

Shift Dress

Sew up the sides of the shift dress to the underarm point with a ½ inch seam.

I finished the bottom with a 1-inch hem.  First, fold the fabric in a ½ inch and then 1-inch again.  Seam the edge and you are all done!

Now that you’ve seen how easy it is to make a shift dress, you’ll find out that making excuses to sew more is even easier!

Would you like to make this dress? You can browse our selection of colors and purchase your 2 yards of medium-weight 100% linen IL019 here:

IL019Button

*Let us know how you like shift dresses! What linen color will you be using? How will you style your outfit?

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31 comments

  1. Julia

    Okay, this has been sitting on my pinboard for a couple of weeks. I immediately ordered 4 different colors of the linen and last Saturday I made up my shift. I’m a bit bigger (and older) than the designer, so I had to fiddle with a muslin to resolve the bodice section and get the armseye and neckline to work, but still managed to lay out the fabric (which is 57 inches wide) so that the fold and the selvedges met in the middle providing me with 2 fold lines to cut from one length of the dress. I am an experienced sewist, so I did a couple of things differently. First, I seamed the sides before applying the bias to the armhole and neckline because it allowed me to make French seams. I don’t have a serger any more and I didn’t want to fiddle with finishing those seams any other way and linen tends to ravel if left unfinished and I wanted this dress to hold up. French seams are not hard. I did make my own bias strips because I only used about 42 inches for both front and back of the dress, which allowed plenty of fabric to cut the bias. Self bias is the best unless you want to do a contrast. I even had enough fabric left to add pockets, if I had thought about it. The next one will have pockets! I’m including a link to a photo of me in the shift after I’ve worn it at work all day. I love the color even if it doesn’t flatter me all that much. The dress was comfy all day and I got complements on it. The next dress should go together even faster since I created the muslin that I can used for a pattern )note to self: remember to cut side pockets). Thanks so much for the inspiration to make this garment. http://www.flickr.com/photos/yarnmaven/9511792105/

    1. Kathy

      Julia, I just love the linen shirt dress you made and it is very flattering. I can’t wait to make a few in different colors for the summer. Does the massive wrinkling bother you?

  2. Samantha

    For years I have been looking for a pretty shift dress on sewing web sites and you have the prettiest one I have seen. Many women do not know what a shift dress was during the 1960’s and you know exactly what they looked like back then. I went to High School in the 60’s and wore these shift dresses. Thank you so very much for bringing them back and doing them justice . There was also the “Tent Shift” dress during this time, ( era) and these shifts were very flared and full. I do like the kind without the sleeves even though I am older. HUG!

  3. Linda Bryan

    Looks so much like the first dress I ever made as a young teenager! My grandparents had fabric stores that I worked in. I was a fabricaholic even then! Your solid linen is classic. I love linen for the summer. Great style.

  4. Taryn

    What a lovely dress! My first thought was “Wow, that dress – in that gorgeous saturated hue – really is the perfect piece to show off her lovely skin, elegant bone structure and equally elegant inkwork!” Thank you so much for your tutorial – this one, and the many other beautiful, clean-lined, classic creations you have been so kind to share. Making a tutorial – even for a pincushion! – is a time-consuming labor of love; although it may not seem that way to people who are not familiar with the process. Perhaps it is their ignorance that would make someone think it’s okay to insult the author personally, in a public forum, on a completely off-topic subject, rather than keeping their unsolicited, unwanted, unhelpful and unimpressive opinions to themselves. I’d hate to believe someone would be that because they are a thoroughly ugly, ungrateful person… I noticed the author did not publish a personal insult to you, Ms. Prangle, but perhaps she should have done so – I see too much of that c%#= and maybe you would think twice before doing it again.

  5. D Baker

    Thank you very much for sharing this dress. I have come to love dressing in dresses because it is so easy. My thoughts run rampant on all the things I can do with this one, simple dress pattern that you have taken the time to share with us. Thank You!
    P.S. I love your tattoos….reminds me of a time when I was young and beautiful,just like you.

  6. Carol

    Don’t you need to line this dress? I also would like to see a visual of you taking these measurements!

  7. Shola O

    Thank you for this. Please can you also share how to make a Linen Capri pants too. I love this but I don’t know how to cut this without using a commercial pattern. Thanks again for the shift dress.

  8. Lillie

    Love the idea, but I don’t get how to find those measurements. I am not a Project Runway woman, so could you explain this collarbone as the base measurement?

  9. Barbara

    I have been looking and looking for a pattern like this. I also would like sleeves, but will figure that out. One thing you did not mention is PRESS, PRESS, PRESS as you go! Makes a garment look 100% finished! Thank you!!

  10. JillHolden

    How do I get the pattern for the linen shift dress – I need it ASAP for a wedding, and I just keep getting the box with the red X. Thank you!

  11. JillHolden

    I am just getting the box with a red x in it – and have tried the facebook page, but not really sure where to find it!

  12. Kelli

    Thanks for the pattern! I will be using it as part of a hebrew costume in lighter plain colors for demonstrating the story of Ruth. I will be actually using it twice once for the dress and once for a robe like cover with an opening in the front. Thanks!

  13. dollybits

    I heartily suggest that you wash the linen piece 2 or 3 times and dry it in the dryer or use a hot iron to shrink the piece of fabric. Otherwise the first time you wash it, it will shring a full size and not fit. Been there, done that! This way, you can just pop it in the washer/dryer or line dry and it will fit you beautifully, each and every time and get softer with each wearing.


  14. Author
    nicole novembrino

    I think the pattern doesn’t show up on certain browsers. I will find a solution to this asap! Thanks for being so patient and understanding. I’m glad everyone liked the tutorial :)

  15. Lynlee

    Yes I am getting the red x as well. I believe it is probably a virus checker/ filter type issue. Is it in the same file format as your other photos which work?? If not, that is likely to be our problem.
    This is just the dress I was wanting to make this weekend as our Summer is just starting, though I too use sleeves where possible cause I burn in 5 minutes – literally. Scotts heretage can be a drawback.

  16. Jessie

    Nicole, I can see the pattern just fine. It’s a lovely pattern, though you may find that newer sewers have a hard time figuring out how to make the pattern, some of the descriptions are a bit vague. It makes since to me, and I may have to make one or two up before the summer comes back around.


  17. Author
    nicole novembrino

    @Linda- The pattern seems to be showing up on my computer. Is anyone else experiencing this problem too? I will look into it immediately! Thanks for letting me know!

  18. Janie Michel

    Love the dress, reminds me of my choice in younger years.
    Shopping in a store is a problem for senior citizens with
    today’s style. I can always make the dress longer when I
    sew; however, I need a sleeve (average or 3/4) now and
    most patterns do not have a sleeve.

  19. nicki

    its so simple but so elegant !!!!! I am Not a mistress
    but I am going to try I will try to see more colors
    and make also one for my daughter .

    Thanks ,Nicki.

  20. Jane

    No facings! This is a lovely simple dress – love it! If I make one for next summer, I’ll put short sleeves in. You sure do sew a great straight line ;)

  21. Linda P.

    Could you give what pattern you used? It didn’t come out in the blog post (just the red x). I love the simplicity of the dress, but have gotten away from wearing them – I need to get back to it, and just love the feel of linen!
    Thank you!!

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