Sewing a Simple Shift Dress

Sewing a Simple Shift Dress

After sewing my first ever pair of jeans I thought it was time to treat myself to a nice easy sew. Thanks to my carefully considered #makenine list it was easy to choose something that fitted the bill and I knew I would wear. Hello floral shift dress AKA dinner parties and restaurant visits sorted for Spring/Summer this year.

Choosing a Pattern

As mentioned in my #makenine list I need a few more smart casual dresses in my wardrobe. You know, for those occasions when you need to look like you've made an effort without being all out night on the tiles.

I took my inspiration from a much loved simple shift dress from Zara. I chuck it on with a pair of heels and it feels comfortable and familiar like an old friend. Five years on and it is still one of my faves.

I was originally planning to use New Look 6095 a tried and trusted pattern. However, when I compared my New Look chambray dress against the Zara one I realised it wasn't really what I had in mind. The neckline was a lot wider and the sleeves were too capped. Clearly I could have altered these things, but I do so like to try new patterns and share my findings.

After a quick search I discovered Burda 6721 and view C looked ideal. A higher, narrower neckline and more length in the sleeves. I didn't let the fact it is one of their 'young' range put me off either!

Burda 6721

The Fabric

I knew this pattern would work beautifully with our stunning John Kaldor Ursula fabric, which I fell in love with from the moment I laid eyes on it! Sadly we have sold out of this particular colourway now, however, we do have this alternative colourway, which is equally as dramatic and beautiful.

Sewing a Simple Shift Dress

The fabric was lovely to work with and is a matt stretch medium weight satin. The stretch is only very slight and the matt satin combined with the weight of the fabric gives it a positively luxurious, special treat feel. It pressed, washed and sewed beautifully.

Fitting Alterations

Back and Shoulders

I did a quick tissue fit and made my usual high round back adjustment to the pattern before cutting out. Although I was cutting a 12 at the top I cut a 14 at the shoulder seams to allow adjustments for my forward thrust shoulders. Sadly good posture is no friend of mine! I moved the left shoulder seam forward 3/4" and the right forward 5/8" to get them in the correct position. I also altered the facing joins to match the new position of the shoulder seams.

In hindsight I'm a bit disappointed with the pattern repeat on the back. In future I would make sure it was more random, but it hasn't spoiled my love of this dress.

Sewing a Simple Shift Dress Back and Shoulder Alterations


I cut a size 12 at the bust and graded to a size 14 from the waist down. In hindsight this was totally unnecessary and a straight size 12 would still have been a little roomy. My measurements are a 35" bust 29" waist and 38" hip.

The dress also looked a little short on the pattern packet so I decided to add 2" at the hem when cutting my fabric.

Sewing a Simple Shift Dress view 2

Bust Darts

The first thing I noticed once I sewed the front and back bodice pieces together was that the bust darts were way too low. I had already pressed them and panicked that the fabric might be damaged if I unpicked them.  Then I had a brain wave! I would extend the darts. I carefully pinned the fabric in place extending each one by an inch and it worked. Phew!

I don't know why I missed this on the tissue fit. Perhaps it is because the fabric behaves so differently to the tissue. It is the second time this has happened to me recently so I do need to pay more attention to bust dart positioning. In future I will pin the darts and try on before sewing and pressing.

For reference bust darts should usually finish 1" to 2 and 1/2" away from the bust point depending on the size of the bust. Closer for a smaller bust (that's me then!) and further away for a larger bust.

Sewing a Simple Shift Dress Bust Darts

Side Seams

After correcting the bust darts I ended up taking in the side seams. I took them in 1 and 1/2" to the point 9" below the armhole then 1 and 3/4" from there to the hem.

Furthermore the A line silhouette looked great on the shorter length on the pattern packet, but when lengthened felt a little dowdy. I pinned out the excess fabric from the hem and tapered back to the original seamline.

Sewing a Simple Shift Dress view 3


Before I inserted the sleeves I tried the dress on again. I noticed the armhole seam would extend too far beyond my body. I trimmed 1/2" off each armhole to rectify this, however, in hindsight 1/4" would have been enough.

Sewing Techniques

I added a couple of sewing techniques, which weren't suggested in the instructions. Firstly I stay stitched the neckline to prevent stretching. Secondly I understitched the neckline facing to prevent it rolling out.

I did learn a new technique, which I thought worked well. When inserting the invisible zip the instructions suggested basting the centre back seam from the neckline to the point where the zip would end. Below the zip to the hem the centre back seam was stitched in the normal way. They also suggested basting, but I thought that was unnecessary so skipped that step.

Sewing a Simple Shift Dress view 4

Then they suggested neatening the seams and pressing. Next remove the basting stitches before inserting the zip. It gave a really clean finish and nice even seam allowances. Normally I too sew the seam below the zip and to the hem, but try to press the seam allowances above that point without basting them together. Basting, finishing then pressing them gave a nice clean finish.

Unfortunately I did position the zip a little too close to the neckline. It was a struggle to get the zip tapes tucked in. An inch down would have been ample, which I knew making it more annoying!

I hand sewed the sleeve hems and skirt hem with a slip stitch. I had to be extra careful to only catch a single thread of the main garment fabric to prevent any visible marks on the satin fabric.

Sewing a Simple Shift Dress


All in all this was a fun project and I'm really pleased with the end result. I thought it would be a straight out the packet job because it was such a simple design. Hahaha silly me, when does that ever happen?! Despite the fitting alterations it was still a super quick and easy sew because the construction techniques were all very simple and straightforward. In my world fitting alterations are necessary whatever the pattern.

Shopping List

Have fun sewing!


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