Pattern cutting 0.1 The princess line

I am signed up to learn Intermediate Pattern Cutting.

The first project of term (after making a shift dress pattern) was to draft a pattern for a princess line dress. This is a style where there is no waist join, but the full length seams over the bust and hips allow close shaping. Named after Princess Alexandra, the wife of King Edward VII, it was a relatively revealing and willowy look, in contrast to the crinoline. Look at this amazing photograph of Princess Alexandra (is it a montage?) from Life magazine; and a more typical dress and photograph, both featuring the princess line.  And while the corset has created the waistline, the princess line has emphasised it.

I love princess line dresses!

Mainly because if you have a shaped figure (ie larger bust and hips, smaller waist) or are larger than average, or even if you have an unusual shape, the princess line allows a much better, and closer fit, than the one piece, sheath dress (which is a great look for the straight figure). What I was even more excited about was seeing one of the original (1870) “princess line” dresses in Brussels, made by Charles Frederick Worth. This dress, from 1876, is made from grey silk and described in the catalogue as “this one piece dress is made up of different lengths of fabric arranged in a single strip from the shoulder to the bottom of the skirt, without horizontal seams at the waist” ie a princess line dress. I was very thrilled to find this early Worth example.

Charles Frederick Worth dress with Princess seams
Charles Frederick Worth 1876 Princess seam dress

At Morley we were asked to draft a pattern for  this dress. Hmm.

Aldrich Princess line dress
Winifred Aldrich (1976)

I did it (without the sleeves) but I wouldn’t want to make it up. Instead I have chosen a Karen Millen dress to copy. Although the back detail is nice, and I would enjoy the challenge, I want the dress to have a more classic look. It has a side zip but with a plain back it could have a CB zip. The princess bodice is combined with a pencil skirt that starts at the empire line.  It doesn’t appear to be darted in the skirt front (and I will replicate this to preserve the fabric pattern across the front), but probably is in the back. What I really like (of course), is the floral fabric with a white back ground – so I will have to look for some suitable fabric.

Here is how I did it, in case you want to have a go.

  • Trace around your one piece dress block, back and front. Cut out.
  • As this is a sleeveless dress drop the armhole 1.5cm at underarm, tapering to nothing at the shoulder, front and back
  • Draw in the empire waist line at the appropriate level (I put it 27cms down from the front neck); match to back, cut along line, separating the bodice from the skirt pattern

The bodice

  • On the front, draw a nice curved princess line from the arm hole to the new waistline, and close the bust dart.
    Moving a bust dart to create
    Moving the dart to create the princess line
  • Cut open the waist dart in the bodice piece and remove the dart take up, and add notches so that the side front will be sewn accurately to the front
    Drafting a princess line bodice
    Removing the waist dart
  • Now draw in a new neckline to create squared shape and “straps”. At the front I took the neckline up 8cms from the bust point for good coverage and drew in a strap measuring 5cms across. At the back continue the “strap” and mirror the front (or whatever design you want – the KM dress has a deep V at the back).
  • On the back bodice draw in the princess line and cut out the back dart, creating a back side bodice piece and a back bodice. The second back dart is measured across the waist line, and this amount is divided in two and eliminated at the CB and side seam at the waist line, tapering to where the dart ends at the shoulder blade, thus eliminating the second dart. I decided to join this small back side bodice piece to the front side bodice to eliminate the side seam.

The skirt

  • Take the front skirt portion which has the remains of the waist dart and the hip dart. Eliminate at the waist, and smooth down to the point of the dart. This will still leave about half the take up of the dart. In order to create a close fit I took the excess out at the side seam, and then curved out at the waist to create a smoother curve.
  • I used a curved hip rule to create a nice skirt shape, very slightly (1.5cm) tapered at the hem to create a slight pencil skirt shape. (It looks like the dart is not flat – there is a pinch in it, but it will be flattened when I cut out the toile).
    Copy Karen Millen dress patterncutting
    Reducing and redrawing the side seam
  • One the back skirt ignore the second dart. With the main dart drop the waistline on it by 1.5cms. Shape the back waist to match the front, and use the curved ruler to  ensure the back skirt side seam shape replicates the front.
    self drafted princess line dress
    Altering the darts on the back skirt

I will sew up a toile to see if this works! In the meantime I will look for some suitable fabric (suggestions welcome).


6 Responses

  1. jay

    The examples in Aldrich are now very dated, so not inspiring ( but still sound for the method of the main adaptations. ) I particularly like the back detail in the KM dress, though it’s not something I could wear. It doesn’t have princess lines taken through the skirt, so this may have been a factor in the tutor deciding to rake up the WA example for practice.

  2. Jane

    The course sounds very interesting. I must see if it is still available next year.

    Do you have to draft a full size pattern or do you use scaled down models? Can you use your own block so you get a set of a patterns that fit you?

    • fabrickated

      The course is very good. I did one of the beginner courses at Morley when I was very rusty and now feel capable of tackling the intermediate projects. Fitting to your own measurements comes with the advanced course but this is in the day time which rules it out for me. Most of the drafting is done with half scale blocks. I have tended to use the full scale ones as I am keen to make clothes with them, if only for the learning that comes with actually making them up. Also I am more interested in fit than most of the students who are more focused on how to make patterns specifically.

  3. Anne

    I do like a princess seam dress – being taller, larger and pear shaped, I think it suits me well.
    The KM dress is nice, but I agree about the waist seam. I like the back.

  4. Pips

    Fascinating! I didn’t know the history of the princess line. I love that they give a much smoother and fitted feel to a dress that is so different from straight darts. Thank you so much for sharing!

  5. Kim Hood

    Jay is absolutely right. Whilst Winnie is reliable instructions (mainly, there are one or two exceptions) the pictures show their age.
    You might want to close the neckline to make it sit closer to the body by folding away a tiny dart. I find even clients with modest busts seem to need this.
    I love the KM dress, and the fabric really is lovely. Good luck finding similar.

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