The annoying empire line dress (Pattern cutting 0.6)

I explained how the Contour Guide pattern works. I have a few requests for a better explanation – I will put that right soon. But for now I am going to try it out.

We were given the opportunity to create patterns for a “classic empire line” dress.  I am a sucker for the word “classic”. The original Empire line (named after the first French Empire) is so pretty – an elegant look with a softly gathered skirt falling from just beneath the bust, forming a high waist, and an elegant, elongated silhouette, especially when combined with short, puffed sleeves that create width at the shoulder. The 1960s versions are also very beautiful. I love this beaded version by Valentino. The Fabiani fascinates me too as a marvellous wedding dress. Although there is a lot of fullness over the midriff it is so sophisticated with its high neck, subtle trimming and flared back with a slight train.

So although the pattern making was (according to Vanda our teacher) “easier” than the surplice design that  was our alternative project,  I decided to give it a go. Actually, dear reader, I found it quite challenging.

Design and pattern cutting

Here is the description from Joseph-Armstrong:

The midriff styleline of the Classic Empire cross and contours under the bust. The styline slopes gently downward to the CB. The garment fits closer to the figure than does the basic garment. Darts (or gathers) are controlled by the midriff under the bust.

Taking my new Contour Guide pattern I included the guidelines for the underbust (guideline 4) and one on the back (guideline 7). I then drew in the style line that defines the empire line – one that sits below the bust. As Vanda explained to me later, when I was not entirely happy with my design, this line slightly cuts across the lower part of the bust, a fact that helps with minimising a larger bust. The instructions require all the bust darting to be placed under the bust with additional fullness removed to create the close fit in the midriff area.

The key factors in creating this pattern was that some additional length was allowed in the bodice section for fitting under the bust.

The darts are closed in the midriff section the create a shaped piece. I used my standard tailored skirt block for the skirt.


I tried to create that dart – as shown on the picture and in the description. It was such a short dart with such a large take up that it just looked like a little pyramid! It had a very definite point. I tried to sew it with a curved seam. I tried a range of bust points – higher and lower. I placed it against my nice, round bust and felt I was wearing a horrendous 1950s bra. I didn’t take pictures. I should have but they were embarrassing. I unpicked my ridiculous darts and decided to try the gathers.

Ah. That’s better.

Pattern cutting Empire line
Empire line gathers

I explained on MMM16 that I don’t like the navy version as much as the white version – possibly because white looks better with my lighter colouring. I quite like navy for work and I wore this dress with navy tights and trainers and a striped T-shirt. But I am not very happy with this dress. The largish floral pattern is chopped up by too many seams and I didn’t have anything like enough fabric for pattern matching. The style has a very simple silhouette (I am still relying on my straight skirt block), has the right neckline and a good armhole shape. I think the length is appropriate. But I still don’t love this dress. I wonder what it is?

17 Responses

  1. thedementedfairy

    The shape is great, but it does lack a certain something, it’s hard to say what. Maybe that particular navy is dragging the colours down too much?
    A wearable toile, maybe try it in a plain fabric?

  2. Jenny

    I really enjoy seeing all your creations. And actually I love the fabric on this one and the fit is great. Just wonder whether a lower neckline might make it more your style. I find a higher neckline is less flattering on me, it looks more matronly and seems to drag the bust down even though I’m an average size 12. Not that I’m saying you look matronly in that dress one bit!!! But rather like the Karen Millen dress you linked to and your more recent dress in that style, a lower neckline really suits you.

  3. jay

    It’s a pretty fabric and I don’t think the dress is in the abandon category at all. I’d suspect that the empire line style in a short version isn’t your best look. As well as the fabric being cut up with horizontal lines, so are you. It often turns out that the empire style flatters those with small cup sizes better.

  4. Su

    It is a nice dress with a lovely flattering midriff, but perhaps not one you’d reach for.

    It would certainly look sparkier on you with the white background.

    Not sure from the photograph, but does the gathered construction under the bust combined with the high neckline make your bust look lower?

  5. Joyce Latham

    It looks great on you in my opinion. I agree that the large flowers are not the best choice, and I don’t think I have ever seen an empire waisted dress with a belt at the waist before, but that looks fine in my opinion too. I think the neckline could be a little lower, and I believe all points above are really worth considering. In theory you should love it…I hope you can figure this mystery out, but in the meantime, it’s a keeper. I’m smiling at your creative posing, well done! Oh, and I really like the shorter length.
    Till the next time

    • fabrickated

      I will wear it for sure and normally a neckline about 1cm down from the actual neckline is a nice look on me. I think it is the wrong fabric as you say. Thank you Joyce.

  6. Stephanie

    I think you look very pretty but I think of the empire waist as something to be worn beltless and you obviously prefer a belt given your waist-hip difference. I have one empire waist dress that is very pretty because it is made with a very lightweight, crinkle navy silk with a textured/frayed edge at the neckline (and sleeves I think – would have to check). Because of the fabric and knee length it doesn’t give off a baby doll vibe. I am always a bit unsure about it though in that with my fuller bust I feel the the volume (as if it makes me look as though I am bigger on bottom than I am, or at least through the belly). It’s lovely and cool in summer though!

    • fabrickated

      Very wise feedback S, and I think the empire line can suit the larger busted if it finishes slightly higher on the bust, creating a minimising effect. The actual classic empire has an elongating skirt and this is what I think I should have done. Your navy dress sounds very nice.

      • Stephanie

        Thanks, Kate. I noted that comment about raising the empire line a bit to minimize the bust – good tip.

  7. Patricia

    I agree with Stephanie, and Joyce, no belt as it takes away from the beauty of the empire style. I wore empire style in the late 60’s and 70’s, and they never had belts. Never a fan of a high neckline (my short neck?) I would also agree with Joyce on the neckline depth. That said, I do like the dress and if you could lower the neckline at this point may I suggest you do it. That will make a big difference.

  8. Annieloveslinen

    It could simply be that the colour or style isn’t doing it for you and combined they just feel off. I would also venture that the large fabric design doesn’t lend itself to an empire style.You have a beautifully defined waist and your most successful looks are ones that emphasise that.

    I’m unsure what your course learning aim is, it seems like you’re studying design concepts by making up styles your tutor has chosen and I’m a bit confused as to the objectives. Apologies if I should know this, you’ve probably explained it before.

    • fabrickated

      About the course Annie – we are set a project each week to learn how to pattern cut. We started with a couple of dress blocks and a sleeve block, then we moved on to the one piece dress, the princess line, the tent dress, a button front, and now the closer fitting two piece dresses. All of which is about learning techniques. There is no requirement to make clothes. Most of the students make half scale patterns, and sometimes make half scale toiles. They generally use a standard size. My own objectives were to create personal blocks and perfect the fit. I have made up all the patterns in full scale, using my own blocks. Personal design features are encouraged, although I tend to stick with the basics as I want to understand the basic techniques more than experiment with design. I have made up the dresses each week just as an experiment really and to reinforce my learning. I have a cupboard full of fabric so why not make up the garments and see what works and what doesn’t?

      • Annieloveslinen

        Thanks for clarifying, now I understand, because you’re choosing what you want to do it’s obviously right for you and it’s good that there is that choice within the class. I hope that if Vanda reads this she isn’t offended!

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