Monday, January 16, 2012

Pattern Draft---Empire Waist Dress With Overlapping Front Bodice

Here I show you how to draft the pattern for an empire waist dress with an overlapping bodice at the front, using a shift dress pattern (which has waist darts but no side darts).

Step 1:

Front pattern draft:

I have added a little flare to the basic shift dress pattern, down from the hip.

A to B = Full length
A to C = 1/8 chest + 2.5 inches
A to D = Waist length
A to E = Hip length
A to F = Neck depth (This is as per your wish. I have kept this lesser---1/8 chest minus 0.5 inch---because the neckline will become deeper than this measurement when you draft the overlapping bodices.)

Draw horizontal lines from A, F, C, D, E, and B, respectively.

C to G = 1/4 chest + 0.75 1-inch ease (the bust ease may change according to the stretchiness of the fabric you use, fabric shrinkage after wash, and the fit you like. I wanted to make a semi-fitted dress for my 2-year-old daughter, and the fabric I used was a cotton and polyester blend. Therefore, a 0.75 1-inch ease was fine for the dress I made.)

Read this useful article, Understanding Ease in Pattern Drafting by Anna to know more about ease.

A to H = 1/2 shoulder

H to I = 0.50 inch (for girls aged 0 to 14. For women, this could be 1 inch for fitted garments and 3/4 inch for loose or semi-fitted garments). However, you can change this according to the fit. Measure the shoulder length, that is the distance between the shoulder point at neck to the shoulder point at armhole. Use this measure to mark point J from I on the line from A.

Draw a line downward from H that meets the horizontal line from C at point K.

K to L = 1 inch
T = Half of I to L

Mark M 0.5 inch from T on the line drawn from F. Now shape the front armhole G-L-M-I.

D to N = 1/4 waist + 0.5 inch ease (Again, ease is determined by several factors. Please refer to bust ease above) + 0.25 inch dart width

E to O = 1/4 hip + 1.5 inches
B to P = 1/4 hip + 3 inches

Empire line:

The empire line crosses under the bust. Therefore measure from the side/base of the neck to a point under the bust. Use this measurement to mark point Q from A. Measure the distance between Q to D and use the same measurement to mark R on the seam line. Connect Q and R.


Mark waist dart base point S which will be 1/12 chest + 0.5 inch from D. The dart length (upward and downward from D) is usually kept as 1/6 chest. Or you can measure from S up to a point 1 inch below the bust point and use the measure to mark the dart length down from S.

I have kept the dart intake (or dart width) for the basic shift dress as 0.25 inch. (I used this measure for my 2-year-old daughter. If this seems less for you, you can increase it according to your requirement. For women, dart intake may vary according to bust cup size. Also, if a side dart is marked, the waist dart intake will become less. The shift dress pattern for children up to 14 may not contain a side dart. Read this page to know more about darts. Generally, waist darts are not needed for children up to 6 years of age. But, since I wanted this dress to be a semi-fitted one for my 2-year-old, I thought using darts would be better.)

Step 2:

Now as you have made your basic front pattern, cut through the empire line to separate the bodice piece and the skirt piece.

Step 3:

Make the following changes to the bodice:

On the center front mark point T 1 inch from Q. Connect R and T using a curved line as in the figure below. This will be your new empire waistline.

Extend the dart fold line (that is the center line of the dart) such that it meets the new waistline R-T at point X. Extend the dart legs to change the dart intake to be 0.50 inch (this will be more for persons aged over 6). Discard the old waistline.

After you have made these changes, the front bodice will look like this:

Step 4:

Unfold the front bodice which will look like this:

Step 5:

Mark point A on the right side neck end of the shoulder. Mark another point B on the waist line (on the left side of the bodice) 3 inches from center front. I kept this 2 inches, which made the neck a little deeper. Connect the points using a curved line as shown in the figure below (shown by red line). This will be your new neckline.

You can also draw a straight line instead of a curvy line which will make the neck depth lesser than that shown here.

Step 6:

Cut the portion of the front bodice shown by the shaded area. This will be the right side of the front bodice.

Add 0.5 inch seam allowance for all the sides, except for the neckline for which you will need to include 0.25 seam allowance if you line it or use bias tape to cover the raw edge. Extend the dart legs as shown in the figure below.

Flip this and use when you cut out the left side of the front bodice. 

Step 6:


Now, let us concentrate on the skirt portion.

You need to make the following changes to the skirt:

Mark X 1 inch from Q on center front. Connect R and X using a curved line. This will be your new empire waist line on the skirt. Discard the old one.

Mark Y 1 inch from P on the seam. Connect B and Y using a curved line. This will be your new hemline. Discard the old one.

Extend the dart legs upward from the old waistline (N-D) to touch the new empire waistline such that the dart intake becomes 0.75 inch.

These changes are marked in red color in the figure below.

Step 7:

Add 0.5 inch seam allowance for waist and sides and 1.25 inches for hemline fold. Extend the dart legs upward.

That's it! We have drafted the front. Tomorrow I will post the steps to draft the pattern for the back of the dress.

Please feel free to post your queries and suggestions in the comment section under this post. I will be happy to read your comments.

I have posted the draft for the back of the dress here.


  1. Wonderful post! I'll be using it as a resource for modifying a shift dress! Thanks for the tutorial!

  2. hi... firstly.. thank you for the dress pattern but i didnt understand the shoulder part. The H to I part... could someone help me out plz...

  3. Hi Madhubani,

    Could you please let me know what you can't understand in the shoulder part? The H to I measure refers to the shoulder slope.

  4. Here I show you how to draft the pattern for an empire waist dress with an overlapping bodice at the front, using a shift dress pattern (which has ...