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How to sew a summer dress

It’s a little hard to see the end of lockdown from where we are at the moment. Rather than focusing on the cold weather and short days, why not give yourself something to look forward to?

Olivia Barnes-Brett
· 6 min read

It’s a little hard to see the end of lockdown from where we are at the moment. Rather than focusing on the cold weather and short days, why not give yourself something to look forward to? Sewing a summer dress is the perfect lockdown project that will have you thinking about golden summer afternoons.

How to use this guide

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to sew even a simple summer dress. Each pattern has its own quirks, with little techniques to master and skills to build up. Rather than listing all the detailed steps for one specific design, we’ve collated useful information and rounded up excellent resources to get you started.

Please note that we are not affiliated with any of the websites listed in this article.

Step one – Are your skills up to the task?

Any sewing project is the sum of its parts. Before embarking on your summer dress sewing mission, it’s a good idea to assess your skills. Are you a beginner? Do you need to brush up on your technique? If so, it might be better to start with a simple project before learning how to sew a summer dress. This shouldn’t put you off, though!

For example, these quick sewing projects from Rosery Apparel use little scraps of fabric, meaning you won’t waste much if you need several attempts. Or, if you have your heart set on a new summer wardrobe, why not first try this circle skirt from Gretchen Hirsch. It might help you to master some of the basics without compromising on your ideal project!

For more advice on sewing for beginners, look at our recent article about how to get started.

Step two – Choosing your instructions

To follow a pattern or not to follow a pattern? That is the question. Patterns are useful but can seem rather complicated. Let’s consider both sides of the issue.

How to sew a summer dress without a pattern

There are very tempting pattern-free sewing tutorials available on YouTube. If you’re not sure how to read a pattern, you could look for one of these. Before choosing, make sure the video is highly rated with clear instructions. If anyone in the comments says they’ve successfully made the dress, that’s an excellent sign.

One of the main issues with this method is that the dressmaker might not be a professional. So, you don’t know if they’ve left anything out or if their instructions on how to sew a summer dress are clear enough to follow. You don’t want to realise things have gone awry too late when you’re surrounded by torn fabric and endless unspooled thread.

Using a pattern

Following a pattern will give you tried and tested options for sewing your summer dress. You can adapt patterns to your size and visually see how the different parts fit together. For your first dress, you might consider using a beginner’s pattern with a follow-along video tutorial, like this pop-over dress from Gertie. Or, you could try a free sewing pattern with photo instructions like this one from Mood Fabrics.

Reading patterns can be complicated for the less experienced dressmaker. But, there is a wealth of resources across the internet to help. For example, Tilly and the Button’s blog gives tips on how to read patterns.

Step three – Choosing the fabric and tools

Usually, dress patterns or instructions will suggest a type of fabric that works well with the dress style. It's essential to follow this advice because the fabric needs to fall correctly and have the right amount of give. This limits the type of material you can use, but it’s up to you to choose the colour and pattern.

Intricately patterned fabric can look stunning, but it can be challenging to line up repeat patterns correctly. Instead, you might prefer to select a plain fabric with a clear right and wrong side to avoid confusion.

You’ll also need to make sure you have the right equipment for your project. For example, you could need interfacing, a zip, a loop turner, or a specific sewing machine foot, in addition to your usual kit. Having the right tools handy will make sewing your summer dress much easy!

Step four – Measuring yourself

Taking your measurements seems simple enough. But, you need to make sure you measure the correct places. Aneka from the YouTube channel Made to Sew has published a handy video to guide you through the process.

Next, you’ll need to work out how your measurements relate to the pattern in your hand (if you’re using one). Pattern sizes are different to high street sizes, which can confuse. If you’re unsure which proportions to choose, you can follow another one of Aneka's videos to help you make your decision.

Step five – Cutting your fabric

Do you know your weft from your warp? Can you locate the selvedge? Are you adept at cutting on grain? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you might want to brush up your skills with expert Mimzy’s tutorial on cutting fabric straight.

Cutting your fabric correctly will help it to hang well. As Mimzy explains, if you’ve ever had a shirt with seams that want to curve around the front or a cushion cover that eventually lost its shape, the maker probably didn’t cut the fabric correctly.

Cutting mats are an excellent tool to help you cut well. They have helpful rulers in metric units, imperial units, or a combination of the two. Many projects use imperial measurements, but it can be useful to have a way to measure in both! 

Also, some dressmakers prefer scissors while others use a rotary cutter on their mat. Seamstress Debbie Shore recommends the latter but advises choosing one with a safety lock.

Start sewing your summer dress

Once you’ve worked out how to sew a summer dress and prepared your materials, you can get started! We’d love to hear from you if you’re taking on a sewing project during lockdown. Get in touch with us on social media and let us know how it’s going!

Olivia Barnes-Brett

Olivia Barnes-Brett

Olivia is an experienced writer and has written and edited content for a variety of online platforms and publications. A languages enthusiast, Olivia speaks three languages and is also involved in teaching and creative fiction writing.