Developing the off the shoulder dress

Thank you for all your kind remarks about my first off the shoulder summer dress. I was going to make it up in colour block silk and then I had another thought. I remembered I had an off the shoulder dress I had always meant to replicate.  I bought this dress in Brighton, I think, in about 1996, for a posh evening do, and then wore it quite often as my LBD. It is a simple princess line with a halter neck strap combined with a dropped shoulder. I don’t wear black anymore as I find it too harsh. But also the truth is the dress no longer fits me.

Here modelled, somewhat reluctantly, by my daughter who dislikes the dress. Black doesn’t suit her either. If you look carefully you can see a pair of small PJ’ed boys busy on their morning tasks – this was taken at 7am.  I wanted to copy this dress so I could consign the black dress to the charity shop. But hopefully you can appreciate that (if pressed and dry cleaned) this might be a very elegant evening column dress with just enough interest in the shoulder/neckline area to relieve the austere look of the dress.

Let’s take a look at the back view.

Here is what I did:

  1. Drew around my dropped shoulder block which has waist darts
  2. Created a princess line from the base of the shoulder “strap” to the top of the waist dart
  3. Used my Contour Guide Pattern to ensure that the pattern would have a close fit through the bust
  4. Shaped the front and side panels to create a nice curve along the dart line
  5. Used my skirt block to create a knee length dress pattern, running the princess line into a new waist dart (back and front) of the same dimension as before but now at the princess line.
  6. This creates  a pattern with a long, irregularly shaped dart from armhole to hip.
  7. I cut pattern out in calico and thread traced the dart
Princess darts
Front of dress with princess darts

Putting it together was challenging.

I tried two different approaches to these unusual darts (well unusual for me. I had never created princess darts before so I was making it up as I went along.) Firstly I tried to sew the shape together, easing the bust fullness in a little. And for the second dart I tried an alternative approach which was to cut the dart through so there was a teeny tiny seam allowance at one point. This was a slightly better approach. I followed the same approach for the back which had sufficient seam allowances and obviously less in the way of curves to cope with.

The halter straps are cut on the bias and are sewn into the princess line seam too.

I made up the toile.

Pattern cutting drop shoulder dress
Self drafted halter neck/drop shoulder dress

Although the fit is not perfect it is not far off. I really like the way the halter strap is working to take some of the pressure from the off-the-shoulder straps. I can immediately see what needs to be changed on the pattern, can you?  This dress is too tight over the bust point and lacks shaping in the hollows above and below the bust (this is what the Contour Guide Pattern is designed to do).  I may also need to slightly change the angle of the off the shoulder straps which are creating extra fabric in the upper chest area. On the other hand this may be resolved by them being worn slightly further down the shoulder. You can see my Sharpie lines on the pattern where I will need to make a few changes.

But the princess darts are the main problem, in my view. By changing to princess seams instead of darts I should be able to get a much neater appearance and avoid the tiny seam allowance problem which may have caused the over the bust tightness and also pose a risk of splitting when worn.

Making alterations
Marking up the toile

I will now

  1. Create a princess seam pattern
  2. Take out a little width above and below the bust
  3. Let out a little at BP
  4. The back is more or less OK but I will make princess seams (as opposed to darts) in the back, to be consistent

I have some nice fabric in mind for this dress. More later.


15 Responses

  1. jay

    Its a lovely idea for a dress. The gaping in the front neckline could be down to the position and/or length of the halter, which might pull the dress up towards the centre instead of allowing it to fall exactly where you placed the shoulders.On your daughter the halter appears to be a bit looser per photos.
    I’ve done a few dresses with the princess style darting you describe, using a basic dress block with 10cms ease at the bust, and don’t remember any tightness arising from the seam allowance. I think I would relax the halter a bit and see if it fixes the gaping and how it affects the bustline fit.

  2. Joyce Latham

    Wow! I’m so impressed! I love that design on you. That neck line really helps to widen your shoulders, and give you plenty of support at the same time. Your a tease to keep the material from us! Good luck with this project, I’m on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next up date.
    Till the next time

  3. Mary Funt

    Very flattering design. As you have discovered, the princess dart needs to be split in order to be sewn. Doing the princess line as darts only works if your front hip measurement is equal to or larger than the front bust plus two seam allowances. Otherwise you are left with no seam allowances, or even negative, seams over the bust. Either allow the neck/shoulder to sit lower on your shoulders or increase the curve to eliminate the wrinkling and gaping at the neckline. This should look fabulous done in your color block fabrics.

  4. mrsmole

    The shoulder straps do look like they are begging to be dropped lower on your arm. Love this muslin/toile, it is such a clever design and so flattering and feminine. Looking forward to the real deal in real fabric!!!

  5. Annnieloveslinen

    It looks very promising, there aren’t many adjustments needed. I like the way you nonchalantly drafted a pattern, it looks very like the original. I’d probably try pinching out a vertical dart at cf to see whether that affects the strap. It’s a great toile though, you must be pleased.

  6. talliswoman

    Ahh – I was just contemplating ‘princess darts’ today and the issue of the tiny seam allowance. Princess seams are the obvious solution, but I think that sometimes if you’ve got an obvious large print, it would be nice to avoid the extra seam (and opportunity for mucking up the pattern matching/wasting a lot of fabric. I haven’t worked out the answer yet, but it’s an interesting question.

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