Create a dress pattern from a fitted top pattern
It’s always a good idea to have several patters around for your dresses, as they give you the option to try different styles. But personally, I think it’s nice to have a basic “go to” pattern, almost like a block, that you have re-shaped to your exact measurements, to make sure everything works straight away and you don’t need to waste time making adjustments every time. I’ve made mine from an old Vogue bustier which was already pretty accurate for my size, although I’ve changed it beyond recognition as it wasn’t really working that well on me.
I will outline the procedure I used, as this will change depending a lot on what pattern you’re using as a starting point, and how far from your actual measurements it is. You will need pen, lots of paper, calculator, measuring tape, quite possibly an eraser, and loads (and I mean LOADS) of patience, but once you’re done, you will be happy you did. The process, roughly, takes the pieces from the fitted top, adds and substracts where needed to create the exact shape, then extends each piece to the required length.
THIS IS NOT FOR CHANGING PATTERN SIZES; it’s just a roundabout way of getting a pattern for a full length dress if you can’t find anything else you like in your size, but happen to have an existing bodice pattern in your size. This will also help if all you need to do is adjust said pattern. However, if done correctly, this method DOES WORK. As I’ve explained in the last Fustan Raqs in Red post, I’ve used it several times already with extremely good results.
First, I recommend putting on a very tight top, with side seams. This helps split measurements between front and back a lot more easily, which results in far better fitting for the top part of the dress. Then take measurements around bust, underbust, waist, upper hip, lower hip, basically, each point where there are curves on your body that might required adjustments. Then take them again, this time taking them for the front and the back of the body, using the seams of the top you are wearing as guides to know where to split them. When doing my own, I made sure these were correct by adding front and back and comparing the result with the original full measurements.
Also take vertical measurements to know how far away these original measuring planes are from each other, i.e. the waist is 3″ above the upper hip, the upper hip 5 inches above the hip, the waist 4 inches below the underbust, etc. Now trace all these horizontal lines on your paper, making sure they are separated as the vertical measurements you’ve taken. You are trying to make the most accurate representation of your body proportions that you can on paper, so be 100% honest and don’t suck in air, or tighten up the tape, because this will result in a less than accurate pattern!
Now proceed to overlap your pattern over these lines; most good patterns will have lines marking bust, waist, etc. It is very likely that when doing this, you will need to chop and adjust these pieces, so it is a good idea to work with copies. Now the fun starts and you need to start adjusting everything, the procedure is pretty similar for each, so I’ll describe it for the bust, and show it for the front 2 pieces of the bodice.Most patterns you buy come set up for a C cup by default; if you have bigger cups you will need to adjust it. Where and how will depend on your bust shape, like everything, this isn’t the same on everybody. For me, I had to add the extra material at the seam between the side and the front panel. How did I know how much to add? Simple. Measured the pattern pieces at the bust line, multiplied by 2 (as one is cut on the fold and the other is mirrored), and compared with the desired measurements of the front section + total seam allowance (SA stated on the pattern, times 6, one for each side of a seam). If there was a difference, I split in 4, to go one at each side of the seam, and added a dot at the bust line on my paper at that distance. Did similar calculations for Underbust, Waist, and Upper and Lower Hip. Then connected the dots, then finally extended it all down to my desired length. Although to be perfectly honest, you can keep it as a shorter pattern and add a “add X cm below this line” to make the pieces easier to handle. Check out the image to view this in a bit more detail… “x” marks the spots where I had to add, the dotted lines are the new pattern that emerged.
You can easily turn this basic pattern to have several different shapes. Extend each piece with a straight flare for a nice A-line, overlap pieces until they meet for a 3-piece dress -you might have to set the cups separately, check out the post on how to cover a bra for details on how to add this piece, then just join pieces together- or flare the bottom and add a quarter circle at the back for a tulip or siren skirt. Cut off the top to make just a skirt, shorten the skirt for an everyday or work-wear dress, slant and add big ruffles for a Melaya Leff dress… the possibilities are endless! Right now, I’ve got plans for combining this with a Ghawazee coat pattern I’ve used before, to create a Beledi dress. Just check some of the possibilities below, showing the original pattern and how you can create different styles from it.
Disclaimer: the images above were drawn free-hand in Illustrator, they are NOT patterns, nor are intended to replace them, but are there as examples of how to work things out