While I love the ease of a sleeveless bodice, it's nice to have the coverage of sleeves without having to sew them in, or layer with a T-shirt. I tried to add a faux cap sleeve to a sleeveless bodice in this dress, but it didn't translate well. So, when I found this pattern book at the library I was excited to find steps that I could follow to switch a basic bodice to a "dropped shoulder" bodice. This is such a great technique because it can be applied to virtually any bodice, and creates a cap sleeve without having to set in a sleeve. I started with the Flashback Skinny Tee from Made By Rae...and went a little crazy!
I started by making a reversible option, then a regular basic dress, then a color-blocked version, then a drawstring waist/cinched shoulder version and the list goes on (see above collage). I think I have made at least 8 different variations of this dress--using both woven and knit materials. Obviously I won't show you how I made all of them, but I will show you how to do the basic pattern alteration, and let YOU run with it. It is kind of addictive...PLUS, and this is a huge plus, the dresses are comfortable, perfect for summer, and best of all practical. My girls have worn all the variations several times already..my youngest wore her pink/black striped version two days in a row, and then climbed up on a chair to retrieve it from the dirty clothes! I also utilized many thrift store T-shirts, and at 25 cents a piece, made for lots of dirt cheap dresses. I only used yardage on a few dresses, and all of that was thrifted except for one piece. So...are you ready to learn how to make your own dropped-shoulder dress?
First, choose your favorite bodice pattern (or make your own). I used the Flashback skinny Tee (I went up a size to a 7/8, which fits both my 5 year old and my newly 7 year old) for this example. I also ended up using a scaled down free T-shirt pattern from Made (4-5 T) to make a dress for my three year old (Melly Sews also has a free 2-4T pattern here), and used the bodice from the Spring Fever Dress (omitting the cut out in back) to create a dropped shoulder dress from woven material.
Trace around the original pattern onto freezer paper, or your choice of paper. ( I use old design draft sheets from my husbands engineering firm)
Step 1: Draw a line from the point of the shoulder at the armhole, across the bodice and intersecting with the center front at a 90 degree angle (from small yellow pin to large yellow pin). You will probably have to extend the center front line up a little.
Step 2: Extend the shoulder 3 1/4" from this line (small yellow pin to the large red pin). This is the same number stated in the pattern book for an adult pattern, but I found it worked well for the size 5/6 dresses I made. If you want a more subtle sleeve, decrease the amount you extend the line, and for a more exaggerated sleeve, extend the line more. (I decreased the length of the line to 2 3/4" for the 3T that I made, but that number (3 1/4") should work for most dress sizes 5/6 and up--you could even make one for you!!...just drop to armhole to 1 1/4")
Step 3: Draw a line from the extended point (large red pin) to the top of the neckline (small red pin).
Step 4: Drop the armhole slightly (from large green pin to small green pin). The pattern book suggests 1 1/4" for an adult pattern; I scaled it back to 3/4" for my 5/6 dresses, and 1/2" for my 3T.
Step 5: Join the new armhole mark (small green pin) to the extended line (large red pin) from step #3.
Step 6: Repeat for the back bodice. (see below for finished bodice without lines)
Step 7: To check the fit of the armhole, place the front and back shoulders together (butting the shoulders up against each other and matching the neckline) and trim if necessary to fit.
Step 8: Extend bodice as desired. I chose a simple A-line for most of the knit dresses, but also used the bodice as is, attached to a circle skirt (in both knit and woven material) and a gathered skirt (from woven material).
That's it. Simple alteration, but so many possibilities!
A few notes:
1. For my knit versions, I finished all the necks by binding them with ribbing/knit loosely based on the lengths given from the bodice pattern I used.
here. She gives you a formula to use to determine how much binding you will need if you are making your own pattern. BUT, you also need to take into account how much stretch your ribbing/knit material has. I have found that the more stretch a knit (i.e. spandex/lycra content) has, the longer I need my piece to be...and conversely, the less stretch or rebound a knit has, the shorter you want your piece to be.
2. To finish the sleeves, I tried several options: binding with knit (similar to the neck), creating a small, narrow hem, or leaving the edges raw. In the end, I preferred to finish the sleeves with a narrow hem BEFORE I sewed the sides of the dress together. Simply mark the bottom of your armhole, and hem from the front of the dress to the mark on the back, then stitch the front and back together, stopping at the bottom of your armhole. I also liked to reinforce the armhole with a zigzag stitch horizontally across the bottom of the armhole just through the seam allowance.
3. To hem the bottom, I either used the existing hem (if possible!!), bound the edge using knit bias tape, or hemmed it using stitch 22 on my Bernina.
Melly Sews--a post on sewing T-shirts 101 with pitfalls to avoid
Made-by-Rae-- Knits series.
Sewaholic--A list of sewing with knits tips/links
Now that we've covered all the boring stuff, on to the pretty pictures!! Here are some of the options that I came up with using the basic dropped shoulder alteration.
First up: Reversible Dress
Option 2: Color-blocked A-line dress (with awesome gold trim and pocket!) my girls LOVED the gold. I used reclaimed spandex from a costume found at the thrift store and all thrifted T-shirts for these. Total cost: 25 cents! I used the basic dropped shoulder pattern, but cut the pattern into separate pieces, adding in seam allowances as needed as I cut out the separate pieces. Then I added the pocket, and sewed together the pieces to make a front and a back, sewed the shoulders, sewed up side seams and bound the neck. I left the armholes raw on this one, and it turned out great.
I also made another color-blocked one that I ended up binding the hem (because I forgot to take off the seam allowance on the pattern to allow for an existing hem on a T-shirt). Kicking myself for that one!!
This one is as simple as it gets: two pattern pieces sewn together, bound at the neck with a narrow hem on the arm holes. Super quick to put together, also made from a thrifted T-shirt. This was a size three--the extension from the shoulder was smaller (2 3/4"), and the armhole drop was 1/2" as stated above.
Options 4, 5, 6,7 are more complicated, so I'll just show pictures and hopefully get some more in depth tutorials done for them on my blog. I have taken tutorial pictures...it would just be way too long to show them all here.
Option 4: Exaggerated dropped shoulder bodice (5 1/4" extension from shoulder) with ruched shoulders w/drawstring waist
Option 5: Exaggerated dropped shoulder dress with tab shoulders
Option 6/7: Basic dropped shoulder bodice and circle skirt (knit material) or Basic dropped shoulder bodice and circle skirt (woven material) with drawstring tie
Option 8: Basic dropped shoulder bodice (using the spring fever dress) from woven material ...this one may be my favorite! I used a thrifted, hand embroidered women's skirt, gathered it and attached it to the basic bodice. The bodice was cut from the top of the skirt material, but because I didn't have quite enough fabric, I used some vintage red/white flower material to create a band at the bottom of the bodice, trimmed in white grosgrain ribbon. My favorite part is the contrasting button placket. Silly, I know because you can't even see it!!