The colour blocked, dropped shoulder dress

posted in: Finished projects | 34

Ta da! I have made it up.

That was an exciting project. You may remember my sketch, toile and fabric.


I was required to create this dress as part of my college course. I really liked the opportunity to create all the shaping in the horizontal seams. I had tried to do this with my Mondrian dress. This time I had books and diagrams to help me. Nevertheless it required a bit of brain power as the book gave instructions for creating diagonal stripes rather than symmetrical ones, and failed to explain how the seams work from the front to the back of the garment. I created one seam line across the bust and one at the waist to get the more flattering shape, but I wasn’t sure how these seams would look on a finished garment – maybe none too subtle. My hoops were gentle, just curving by 4cms up or down on the back or front of the dress.

I had created the off the shoulder look as part of the brief and wanted to try it. I actually like this neckline on me, mainly because it creates width at the shoulder which minimises the hips. Having created the toile I took the shoulders in by about .5 – 1 cm to avoid gape. Also although I have a strapless bra it is not really ideal in terms of support and I felt that maybe these shoulder straps would slip off.

In terms of length I thought just on or below the knee would work well.


I didn’t want to buy expensive fabric for this dress so used cloth I already had at home. In my last post I asked for feedback and most suggested I stick with the navy and maroon. I decided to use all four fabrics in five blocks, for more drama. I used a plain white cotton sateen with a little stretch for the shoulder straps as I figured if I made it fairly tight it might stay up. I introduced the cute pattern (little hens) for the upper bust area. I have a few of these sweet patchwork type prints but would not want a whole garment covered in hens, so wondered if they could be used in subtle way. For the rest of the dress I used a navy linen, and a slightly lighter weight maroon linen, I thought would make up a nice skirt. By using the deeper colours for the skirt and the lighter ones at the top I planned to create the illusion of a balanced hourglass figure, rather than a slightly bottom heavy one.

Hooped color block dress with dropped shoulder
Hooped color block dress with dropped shoulder


One of the great advantages of making a toile is that you can practice making the garment. My toile taught me that the key with this dress is getting all the seams to line up beautifully. When I made the toile I started at the top and stitched each section to the one below it, then stitched the shoulders, and then the side seams.

For the fashion fabric version I followed this process.

  1. Make up shoulder and upper bust sections of dress and facings
  2. Stitch facings and bodice together at neck and armhole edges and turn through
  3. Finish by sewing the side seams of the upper bodice and facings
  4. Stitch the three lower sections together and attach at the side seams carefully matching the joins
  5. With the side seams as there is a curve on the seam use a pin to match exactly at the seam line
  6. Then join the upper bodice to lower bodice and skirt, carefully matching the side seams
  7. Baste back seam ensuring all five points are lined up, press
  8. Insert an invisible zip, finish the back seam and hem

I like this dress and think it is very flattering. I had considered making the skirt a bit flared, but because the waist is very fitted the skirt appears flared (whereas it is completely straight), so i am happy with that.

I will show you the back view. Since the photo revealed I had lined up the back neck incorrectly I have fixed it. And you will see I choose a white zip which shows a little bit in the maroon section. With colour blocking I never know what to do about zip colour – I thought it was better if it didn’t show in the white area. I guess both of these errors are construction points. In terms of the fit, the fact that the shoulder is slipping down a bit implies I need to reduce the width on the neckline. I will alter the pattern before I make a final version. Overall I really like the curved seams across the waist and hips, and I am keen to try this dress again for real when I find the right fabrics.

off the shoulder dress
Colour blocked dress back view

34 Responses

  1. Sue

    I was curious how this would turn out – it is quite lovely and I much prefer the gentle curves to the square, angular color blocking we normally see. Very well done!

  2. thedementedfairy

    ‘for real’? It’s great on you. The red band round the hips makes you look like a nice parcel…as though you need a bow on one side lol
    The curve detail is subtle, elegant, and works beautifully. The cheeky chicks are a great touch on an otherwise classic look, I really like them!

  3. Catherine Daze

    I think it’s worked out very well! I know what you mean about the zip, people always say go for the darkest colour but it would definitely look odd in the white section.

  4. Su

    What a brilliant result. The curves really work – not only flattering – you look so tall and slender in it – but they look rather couture.

    Would a cotton zip work (if there still are such things) then you could colour sections of it to match when it is in situ?

  5. eimear

    its absolutely gorgeous, Its really lovely on you, I love the shoulder detail….. well done on the fabric choices and the drafting (if you were to do the zip again, would you consider a side zip)

    • fabrickated

      I rarely consider a side zip because they are a bit ackward to fit and use, but I agree that would have been a better solution in this case. Many thanks for suggesting it, and your kind feedback.

  6. Barbara Christensen

    This is lovely and so flattering to you. Love the shoulders especially. Could you stop the zipper before the white section and put a hook and eye at the top of the white? (Creating a keyhole.). Also, completely off topic, but what are those black doors (?) at sidewalk level? Coal chutes?

    • fabrickated

      That is a great idea Barbara! I should have done that. The little “black doors” are actually boot scrapers. There are three coal holes in the pavement which would have filled our vaults with coal when the house was originally built in 1840. We also found an ice house and a meat safe when we renovated the basement. We live in basement but originally this was storage, scullery, cooking and cellar area.

  7. Mary Funt

    This looks wonderful. I love your style lines and color blocking. There is no perfect solution to the zip. When using high contrast fabrics the zip is bound to show somewhere but I don’t find that it detracts from the design. I would be cautious about taking much more from the neckline and shoulder area. You might have difficulty raising your arms. It looks like this design is supported from the waist, not the shoulders.
    I loved the archetictural history tidbits. I was also wondering about those black insets along the walk.

  8. Joyce Latham

    This one ticks all the boxes! You look stunning and I think a few chicks are fun too. Ditto comments above about the shaping, gentle curves and neck line. If you wanted a shoulder straped bra, wouldn’t a small sleeve cap with fuller yoke be a very similar look, especially in a contrasting colour?
    It’s a winner! You will have tons of fun playing with this one, and you can get lots of different look with the one pattern that is so flattering. I can feel your satisfaction in your writting. Love it!
    Congratulations ! It’s fabulous.

  9. Stephanie

    Lovely job. Really love the off the shoulder look on you, Kate. I’ve always loved a bit of collar bone baring – very feminine but still classic. I also like the low-contrast colour-blocking in bottom. I like the suggestions for the zip and am wondering if a deep or mid-grey might do the trick (the way that grey blends in with so many colours is interesting, though I find more when the fabric has a bit of colour variation in it in the blue tones. On the side it would likely disappear in any case.

  10. pia

    What a fun, flattering, and unique dress! Looks like you’re having a ball designing with your own blocks 😀

    The shoulder / neckline – is it stablised? You said the white fabric has a little stretch, could it have stretched out during sewing? If you need to maintain stretchiness here you can try clear elastic sewn to the sandwiched seam allowance for stablisation.

    I thought invisible zipper tape wouldn’t show. I do find that when my stitching isn’t close enough to the teeth then tape does show. Nowadays I press the tape open at the teeth with a cool iron to make it easier to stitch closer to the teeth. Definitely one skill worth practicing as it’ll free up design choices!

    • fabrickated

      Yes I agree I should have stitched even closer – maybe I should redo it. I used to press open zips but got lazy recently. Thank you for the reminder. Also the stabiliser suggestion. Your advice is always spot on.

  11. Joanne

    I think it looks great – I’d really like to do that neckline on a plain black bodice with my Henry Alexander Adamms Style family print. Is the pattern available or find you draft it on your course. I have seen clear zips – they are made of a netting which might help next time you have contrasting colours.

    • fabrickated

      I drafted it Joanne. I would be more than happy to lend it to you if you wish although it is made to my measurements so you might have to toile and alter it. Clear zips – brilliant idea. Thanks!

  12. Sew2pro

    I’ve seen clear concealed zips in Oxford St John Lewis. They’re quite lightweight with a silver pull which you can prime and paint with nail varnish if necessary.

    The hooped dress is fantastic Kate. Well done! You can have so much fun with different colour combinations. The dropped shoulder look is so flattering too. Reminds me of the fifties (and Italy!?) I meant to copy this dress that was in the shops a summer or two ago but I’m just worried about bra support.

    • fabrickated

      I really like the off the shoulder look and I have another idea up my sleeve (not a lovely sleeve like yours). I think the invisible invisible zip is the answer. I guess I had seen them but never bought one. Should have this time and will in future. And thanks for the link – it’s a very pretty dress.

  13. Sheryll

    Well done Kate, it is really flattering! I look forward to seeing what you make it up in next.

    Sometimes I insert a short piece of elastic inside the shoulder facing – just enough to give it tension to prevent it falling down, but still remain invisible on the outside. It could be an idea if you think taking in the shoulder further might make it too restrictive, for important things like brushing your hair!

  14. Kim Hood

    Another lovely garment Kate – and one that can be made as subtle or wild as you like. It will be interesting to see what you do with it next time.

  15. Anita Steiner

    I love your dress. In 2011, I think, Burda had a somewhat similar dress but with a boatneckline. Fehrtrade has it on her blog, I made two for myself, but do not blog. Also love your blog as a whole. Regards Anita from Basel

    • fabrickated

      Thank you Anita for your kind comments on the blog. It would be lovely to see your dress. If you send me a photograph I will share it. Also I will look up Fehrtrade.

  16. Alli

    I love this dress! The curves are really flattering and the neckline (shoulderline?) is super elegant. And I love that it’s got a little humor with the chickens! 😀

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