How to make a dress

Our dressmaking expert Thelma Judge teaches you how to make a dress with her step-by-step guide

With sewing solutions and expert tips from our dressmaking expert, learning how to make a dress is so simple.

How to make a dress with pattern B5719 by Butterick

Follow our video guides every step of the way as you sew your dress alongside our dressmaking expert Thelma Judge.

Start with how to read a dress pattern to work out what size pattern you’ll need and how much fabric for the dress you want to make. Dress sizes on patterns are different to those you find in the shops, so it’s important to get this stage right, otherwise you’ll end up with a garment that doesn’t fit. We’ll explain the basic pattern markings and their meanings too, so you’ll feel confident when sitting down to sew.

Once you’ve unpacked your sewing envelope, you’ll need to prepare the paper pattern to cut out your fabric. Thelma shows you her best tips for perfect pinning and cutting out so you end up with neat dress sections and faric cut on the grain.

With the dress sections cut out, we teach you how to stay stitch and then sew the dress together in the simplest way possible.

Learn how to sew a zip with our easy-to-follow tutorial on invisible zips. Thelma’s got a fail-proof method too, so it’s worth taking a look if you want to refresh your technique.

And not forgetting how to sew a dress lining, it’s an important step to giving your garment a professional finish and will make it lovely to wear too.

Now all that’s left is to learn how to hem the dress and the finishing touches will be complete. So why not start sewing your own dress, it’s simple when you know how!

Step 2 – Sew the Princess Poppy Costume DIY Dress Together

After all that cutting the dress comes together really fast.  lay right sides together of the front and back pieces, making sure that the shoulder pieces lines up.

Using a .25 inch seam allowance, sew the sides ( bottom to bottom of armcye)  and at the strap on the shoulder.  Then Sew on the Front crossover piece, using a .25 inch seam allowance.

Once you have sewn all of that, turn it right side out.

Lay the cross over piece on the front of the dress and place where you would like it to attach.  Take your velcro and using a making pen mark where the Velcro will be on the dress front and the cross over piece. Sew on the Velcro.

Step 4 (optional) – make the ombre at the bottom of the dress

You might have notices that Poppy’s dress has a subtle green ombre at the bottom ( this is a subtle clue that she and branch belong together…sorry film student moment).  To achieve this look just get some cheap spray paint and tape the bottom of the dress.  Go across the dress a couple times, then lift up the next layer of paint spray a couple of times, lift up the next layer.  I strongly recommend that if you are going to do it, do it now. Before you add other detail.

Download the free pattern, tutorial below!

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Be sure to check out the Branch costume DIY and how to make troll hair tutorials!

I love this Princess Poppy Costume DIY . Perfect for Halloween and an easy beginner friendly sewing project. I love how it comes in so many sizes!

Reason #1 – Your Dress is Too Short

The most obvious reason to add a panel is because your dress or skirt is too short.

Race day dresses should be knee length or longer. A lot of dresses purchased online can be above the knee or knee length, for racing fashion the midi length works best.

Adding the interest of a new fabric can make the dress look even better, and sheers and laces work beautifully, or even a subtle print clash.

Adding a panel to make dress longer

sew a panel to short dress to make midi length

Image credit: Anna Dutton Couture

Anna always does a fabulous job altering her dresses to make them longer. She has a selection of fabrics at home, collected over the years.

She uses them to make her race wear designs unique by co-ordinating colours, fabrics and textures that people would not normally match.

Click here to learn how to add length to your dress.

Reason #2 – Your Dress is Too Small

If your dress or skirt is too small, you can add a panel to make it fit better.

You’ve eaten too many Christmas puddings, your dress is a little snug, forget the diet and just add in a panel at the sides to allow for extra room!

Some ladies find dresses they love on sale or second hand, but, unfortunately, they are a size or two too small- but adding in panels means you can still nab the bargain and alter it to fit.

Add a side panel to make race dress bigger

Image credit: Kat Clarke

Kat used a panel at the waist and at the sides to make her dress a bigger size- they also broke up the pattern of the dress, which (I think) looks better. She used the same blue from the dress print and also tied it in with her millinery.

And a random personal anecdote regarding panels…

I was in year 8 at school and not very trendy back then. I had nothing to wear to the school disco, so I decided to revamp and old pair of jeans I had outgrown.

I cut off the legs, turning them into denim shorts and then hand sewed an old red belt down each of the side seams, just like a racing stripe (lol!).

adding side panels to denim shorts

They turned out surprisingly well and I even scored a few compliments by some of the cool girls at the disco. I think I wore that pair of shorts non stop for the next year!

Click here to learn how to make your dress bigger.

Reason #3 – To Spice up your Dress

Add a panel to create more interest in your outfit. You can include a new fabric, print or pattern, or even make the added panel pleated or ruffled.

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Say you have a plain white dress and you think it’s a little boring; you can add in a new colour by sewing in a panel. You can even add multiple panels.

If you have a pencil dress, adding in a ruffled panel at the bottom creates a unique look.

If you have a store bought dress and are worried someone else might be wearing the same- add in a panel to make it your own.

add dress panels to add interest

Image credit: Jen Marsh

In the photo above on the left, Jen had panels in a contrasting purple print fabric added to this racing fashion ensemble. On the right, Jen added a heavy white lace fabric to the bottom of this dress.

The three examples below are also a fun way to change up your dress- a gathered, flared or pleated panel.

gathered flared pleated panel on dress

Alternative #1 – Add a Slip Instead

You can also add a slip under a dress to make it longer, without having to sew a panel.

Say you have a full skirt dress- you can add in another longer full skirt underneath to add a contrasting colour and increase the length. You can do this with pencil skirts too.

To stop it from moving about, you sew the slip and skirt together.

slip under short race dress

Image credit: Myer Pinterest

Even if you aren’t an avid sewer or don’t own a sewing machine this is a great option for you! Wearing a slip underneath also means you can still wear the original version of the dress for another occasion.

Alternative #2 – Wear a Skirt over a Dress

If your dress is a little short but you love the style of it- you can always wear a longer skirt over the dress.

Make sure you test it out first though- if you are wearing a dress under a pencil skirt and it’s quite tight- you want to still be able to walk and get upstairs on stage!!

I once had a dress that had a little extra fabric and when I wore a pencil skirt over it, it looked bunchy underneath. I ended up wearing a tight stretch pencil skirt over the dress to make it sit smooth, then wore my skirt over.

I loved the top of this teal silk dress I purchased. It was, however, much too short for FOTF.

teal silk race dress too short

One year I arrived at Flemington race course wearing the dress, but I hadn’t yet put my longer skirt over it because it was too snug for the long taxi ride.

I decided I would just carry my longer skirt and change in the bathrooms.

As I was walking through the precinct, I heard a group of ladies commenting amongst themselves, ‘such a beautiful outfit- such a shame it’s much too short for fashions on the field.’

I was pleased to be able to wave the longer pencil skirt at them as I walked by.

Flemington spring racing carnival fashions on the field

Image credit: Richard Shaw Photography

Here’s that same dress revamped with a longer black lace skirt over it.

black skirt over short dress ekka races

So next time you find that almost perfect race dress, consider adding a panel to make it race appropriate or a little more interesting.

Share a photo of a dress that you’ve modified in the comments below so everyone can see your handy work.

Leave a Comment…

1. Velvet

marbled velvet fabric for making a dressMarbled Velvet

Velvet is a gorgeous choice for a red carpet worthy gown. The shine, the depth, the richness, the drama, all make this fabric perfect for a sexy, vampy, feminine dress. Some qualities we love about velvet include:

  • A strong and beautiful sheen
  • A soft and elegant drape
  • A shimmering surface
  • Very soft and textured to the touch
  • Strong and durable
  • Smooth and touchable

Velvet can be woven from silk or synthetic fibres. It has a short, dense pile and is most traditionally used for formal or evening wear, but the fashion industry has fallen in love with this rich fabric, and velvet fabric and clothing is becoming more and more popular.

Our choice – Marbled Velvet

Marbled Velvet is a contemporary take on a classic. This stylish and opulent fabric is soft and luxurious and has a unique pile, which goes in all directions. This creates a “marbled” effect, and allows the fabric to shift and change colours, depending on the light. If you are looking for a velvet with a difference, then try using Marbled Velvet to make your evening dress.

2. Chiffon

paris chiffon fabric for dressmaking Paris Chiffon

Chiffon is a beauty of a fabric, which is available in several different versions. It can be constructed from silk, cotton, rayon or synthetic fibres. It is a very fine and lightweight fabric, which gives a beautiful drape, making it an ideal choice for red carpet gowns. Some other unique chiffon characteristics include:

  • A plain weave
  • Made from loose and tightly twisted yarns
  • Soft and supple
  • Drapes and gathers well
  • Fine and transparent
  • Generally taut

Silk chiffon fabric is a popular choice for elegant and formal evening wear. Chiffon gets its unique handle from the twisted yarns in its construction. It is a mostly sheer fabric, which needs some practice to work with, thanks to its fine and thin nature. Nevertheless, it is worth it! Dresses made from chiffon look and feel so special and feminine; perfect for standing out at your next do!

Our choice – Paris Chiffon

Paris Chiffon is a soft and silky fabric, which is fine and light. Air passes through easily, making it ideal for formal summer dresses. This chiffon flows beautifully over the body and is slightly less see through than other traditionally transparent fabrics. Create a dress with a flowing skirt, to show off the pure beauty of this fabric.

3. Georgette

silk georgette fabricSilk Georgette

This lovely fabric is traditionally made with silk, but, it can also be made from synthetic yarns, such as polyester. It is a distinctive fabric, which has characteristics unique to itself, some of these include:

  • A crinkly, crepe like texture
  • Feels slightly rough and dry
  • A bouncy, flowing drape
  • Constructed from highly twisted yarns
  • Has a tight weave
  • Strong and holds up well to wear

Georgette is always a popular choice when it comes to making gowns and evening dresses. It holds up well to embroidery and applications, such as beads and sequins, although these should be kept light and to a minimum, so they don’t pull the fabric out of shape. Thanks to its springy nature, you can have a lot of fun creating flowing, feminine dresses.

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Our choice – Poly or Silk Georgette

You can opt for a stunning Poly Georgette or a 100% Real Silk Georgette at Contrado. The poly combines the sheer beauty of a silk Georgette, with the durability and strong colour reproduction of polyester. It is soft, dry and strong, with the lightweight and sheer qualities of the real silk version. The silk Georgette is airy and delicate, and has a wonderful gossamer appearance, thanks to the very thin threads used in its construction.

4. Crepe

french crepe fabricFrench Crepe Light

This woven, flowing fabric is always a popular choice, when it comes to elegant formal wear. With a tightly-woven construction, made from twisted fibres, crepe has a lot of wonderful properties, which makes it a favourite choice for dressmakers:

  • A slightly creased/wrinkled appearance
  • A grainy, textured surface
  • Lightweight
  • Matte face
  • Flexible with a 2-way stretch
  • A graceful drape

Crepe is known for its crinkled, or pebbled texture. This effect gives the fabric a lot of character, and, combined with its soft handle and stunning drape, crepe is a much loved fabric in the fashion world. Crepe is also easy to shape and work with, so when it comes to making your own dress, crepe is a great fabric to get started with.

Our choice – French Crepe Light

A double knit, custom crepe, which is constructed from highly spun yarns, French Crepe Light will give your dress a breathtaking drape and finish. It has a soft and silky handle, and, despite being quite lightweight, it holds shape well and has body. We love French Crepe for dressmaking, because it has a good 2-way stretch, so it is flattering and forgiving.

5. Satin

satin fabric best fabric for red carpet gownsDuchess Satin

Satin is one of the most popular choices when it comes to formal evening wear. And it isn’t difficult to see why! This chic and opulent fabric has a wonderfully shiny face, which adds depth, movement and drama. Some other notable characteristics of satin include:

  • A sleek and glossy face
  • Woven fabric with a very specific weave
  • Can be made from silk, cotton, wool, and synthetics
  • Typically has a dull back
  • Highly lustrous
  • Used for fashion, furnishings, bedding and upholstery

Characterised by the specific satin weave – 4 or more fill or weft yearns, floating over a warp yarn or vice versa, 4 warp yarns floating over a single weft yarn – satin is instantly recognisable thanks to its glossy face and matt back. The light reflects, due to the floating yarns, and this lustrous appearance makes it ideal for red carpet worthy gowns. The light will bounce off of the fabric, creating an eye-catching look.

Our choice – Duchess Satin

With the classic shiny face, our beautiful Duchess Satin is our favourite satin for making a red carpet dress. The face is smooth and lustrous, composed of a tightly woven weave, which is attributed to satin. Duchess is soft and smooth, and will slip over your body in subtle, undulating waves.

6. Organza

what is silk organza fabric100% Silk Organza

This fine fabric is crisp and lightweight, and ideal for adding that ethereal quality to evening gowns. Made from highly twisted yarns in a loose, plain weave, organza can be made from silk or synthetic fabrics. We love its delicate and dreamy appearance, as well as these other notable organza characteristics:

  • Crisp and dry handle
  • A wiry feel
  • Stiff and transparent
  • Thin and lightweight
  • A fine texture
  • A slight sheen

This distinct fabric can give your dress a real princess quality. It can be layered to create a waterfall of cascading organza, which subtly catches the light and holds its shape well. Organza can be used in all types of dresses, for most silhouettes. It is versatile and mixes well with other fabrics, to create a unique final piece. This romantic fabric can be made to look traditional or contemporary and it remains one of the best fabrics for evening gowns.

Our choice –  100% Silk Organza

This 100% natural silk organza is a dream of a fabric. It is ultra light, weighing just 24gsm, so it floats delicately like a feather. The construction of this organza is almost mesh-like and it is so sheer, that prints will show through on both sides. With its traditional crisp handle, you will hardly feel like you are wearing anything with this stunning natural organza fabric.

7. For something a little different – Neoprene

neoprene fabric for dressmakingNeoprene

You might be a little thrown here. Neoprene? As an evening gown fabric? It is completely against tradition of the usual suspects, when it comes to formal evening wear, but that is why we love it so much! Neoprene has been becoming increasingly popular in the fashion world, breaking conventions and creating new and exciting apparel. Some of our favourite neoprene properties include:

  • Soft and flexible
  • Durable, and wrinkle resistant
  • UV resistant
  • Insulating
  • Smooth and sculptural
  • Adds shape and moves with the body

Fashion designers are always on the look out for innovative fabrics to work with, and neoprene, also known as scuba fabric, has been growing ever more popular over the last 2 decades. The challenge is to make it look as elegant as traditional fabrics, while championing its contemporary characteristics. From Marc Jacobs to Louis Vuitton, Yamamoto to Miu Miu, and Alexander McQueen to Fendi, designers are accepting this challenge and walking away with stunning results.

Our choice – Neoprene or Scuba

Our Neoprene is solid, flexible and easy to work with. It is relatively thick; 2mm after printing, and is completely black out. The highly spongy nature is easy to manipulate into bold, structural shapes. For something a little thinner, Scuba is a great choice. This is a heavy weight, weft knitted fabric, made with spun yarns. It has a built in 4-way stretch and is thick and spongy, with a soft and flowing feel. The drape hangs well and it retains its original shape, even after being manipulated. Both of these fabrics would make a powerful statement when it comes to making an evening dress, but one, which will definitely turn heads.

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For more options for evening gown fabrics, check out our collection of over 100 customised fabrics. 

Victorian Costume Dress

Easy Victorian Dress Costume

Easy Victorian Dress Costume DIY with a skirt, wide belt and lace inset blouse. Add a hat, jewelry and shoes for a complete look. Learn more at

The simplest dress for Victorian women was a skirt and blouse. Women wore this combination for the entire duration of the Victorian years. The change in silhouette over the years was with the type of skirt. Very large round skirts of the 1860s (Civil War) embraced the early years while the narrower A-line skirts of the late 1890s to 1910s were in full fashion during the Edwardian era.

Tan skirt, belt, Blouse and flower hat.

DIY Tan skirt, belt, blouse and large flower picture hat for a late Victorian and Edwardian era costume.

The easier skirts to find are the A-line skirts associated with the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. The picture on the left is of a black polyester, 6 panel A-line skirt I found at a thrift store. The skirt on the right is a 4 panel A-line with a brocade texture. You want as much volume at the bottom as you can find so that it sways as you walk.

You can find fuller early Victorian era skirt attached to prom and wedding dresses simply cut off the top. I also find full skirts online usually targeting boho or hippie fashion markets. There are also Steampunk or gothic skirts with bustles and patterns that work well for a saloon girl costume.

Next you need a petticoat. Wearing another skirt with volume underneath will give you enough poof. Add two or three skirts for more volume. I like Bohemian style skirts made of very light cotton. They add volume but not weight. To get a bit more puff at the bottom you can sew on a wide ruffle all around the skirt about 8-10 inches above the hem. Add more ruffles for more volume. Tulle netting ruffles adds volume without weight. This will give the outer skirt a flared effect. An A-line or trumpet shaped petticoat made for wedding dresses also works very well just be sure you can move comfortably in it.

romantic Lace blouse

Victorian Style Blouses

Victorian Blouse- I take every opportunity I have to pick up a white or ivory lace blouse. Traditional Victorian blouses buttoned up the back with a high round collar or classic pointed collar in the later years. The back button blouse seems to be back in fashion this year. I found two at Forever 21 last week (photos above). If you can’t find a back button blouse you can use a classic front button blouse. Look for blouses with inset lace, lace trim, pintuck pleats, or gathers at the sleeve and bust. Also, long sleeves are preferred over short. Never sleeveless.

More Victorian Style Blouses

Skirt Belt- You don’t have to wear a belt but I think it looks better with one. A  black leather or fabric belt is all you need. Two inch belts gradually grew to six inch belts by the end of the era. If the buckle looks to modern I sometimes will buckle it at the back and add a Victorian brooch pin to the front (like I did above.)  For a softer Edwardian style use a folded or gathered scarf and tie it around your waist. The skirt and belt should sit on the waist, above the belly button.

Shop Victorian style belts. 

That is all you need for an easy Victorian costume. Read on for more skirt variations and tips to accessorize.

Civil War Skirts

Victorian Costume red 1

My Civil War skirt with two light skirts underneath

To make a large Civil War skirt using your sewing skills you can follow these simple directions here. If you have no sewing skills you can use a large ballgown skirt from your local thrift store. These are usually made of taffeta or shiny satin which is not period accurate but it really doesn’t matter for most occasions.  Colors were muted lighter colors or dark saturated colors and even patterns like big plaid and stripes. Don’t get tulle ballgowns. Formal ballgowns made of satin are great but net or tulle will not work as an outer skirt (although it works well as an underskirt to get the full volume.) Ball skirts / ballgown skirts are another option that is usually full and made of taffeta or similar shine material. For day wear a very full boho 70s skirt can also work nicely when layered over petticoats.

Sometimes you can’t find a separate skirt in which case you can cut off the bodice from a ballgown dress and add a simple waistband. Replacing zippers with hook and eyes will make it look even more period accurate.

Civil War costume skirt with hoop skirt underneath

My Civil War skirt with Hoop skirt underneath

The fullness of your ballgown skirt will depend on the petticoat underneath. A hoop shirt is your best choice if you have the budget to buy one. The ones designed for wedding ballgowns or quinceanera dresses are good but can be made better if you reduce the lowest hoop circumference a few inches so that the overall effect is round on top and straight to the floor instead of flared out in A shape.

Without a hoop skirt you can use a full tulle skirt, layers of lighter skirts, wedding petticoats, or sew one. You can also buy cheap hoopskirts and petticoats that are ok for light skirts and dresses but not for heavy gowns.

More Victorian skirts

More Costumes ideas:

Read the 1840s-1950s “Dickens Era” clothing and costumes guide for more Victorian costume tips. Also the Bustle Era costume guide for 1860s-1880s costumes. 

This article on DIY Victorian dress making will give you ideas on how to make a ballgown dress, without sewing, from clothes you may already have.

Make a Victorian ballgown- Easy DIY tips

Long ribbon with flowers drape from the waist. See how to make this ballgown dress and others 

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