Easy Shift Dress Pattern and Tutorial

I'm convinced shift dresses should be the new jeans.  A solid shift dress pattern can be used to fit any occasion by just altering the details (the material, the sleeves, the size, etc., etc., etc.) of the dress.

The original shift dress that this tutorial was based on was for a dinner my husband and I hosted the Friday before our wedding.  Since then, I've posted many tutorials with variations of this pattern.  Here is a swing dress my sister made, here is a maxi dress I made, and here is a little black dress I made.

The pattern I created is a very versatile, easy to sew, and easy to customize.  I've had this pattern available to download to my subscribers since I started this site and it has been used many times and modified to make tops, sleeveless dresses, and a variety of other items.

Thanks to my awesome readers, I've gotten a lot of feedback on the pattern and I realized adding video tutorials might be helpful.  Especially if you're new to sewing! 

I segmented the tutorial into a seven part video series to make it easier to actually follow along while you sew your shift dress.  I hope this expanded tutorial is helpful for you!

It's important to note, I'm great at sewing but slightly awkward on camera. I also have braces (Invisalign) right now so that's even more awkward.

How to Sew a Simple Shift Dress

1.  Download and Print the Shift Dress Pattern

Download the free shift dress pattern by clicking the link below.

2. Assemble the Pattern

There are 24 pages to this pattern (4 across and 6 down) and it is easiest to assemble in sections.  Especially if you don't have a large table!

  • The size test square is on page 20 (make sure to check this before you print the remaining pages!)
  • The front pattern is on pages: 1-2, 5-6, 9-10, 13-14
  • The back pattern is on pages: 3-4, 7-8, 11-12, 15-16
  • Sleeve and collar patterns are on pages: 17-19, 21-24

3. Choose the Correct Size

Measure your chest, waist, and hips with a flexible plastic measuring tape.  Determine how much ease (ease is the extra room that makes the dress comfortable and easy to move in) you want and compare that to the sizing chart.  This pattern fits true to size (the measurements you see are the true size) so I generally recommend sizing up.  In store bought clothes I'm typically a size US 2-4, however, with this pattern I use a size US 6.

4. Cutting the Fabric

This pattern will take 1.5-2.5 yards of fabric depending on the size and the fabric you select.  This pattern was created specifically for knit fabric, however with a few minor modification you can use denim or chambray, linen, or cotton (medium to heavy weight). 

Remember to prewash and dry the fabric you choose. 

5. Sewing the Shoulders and Collar

Pin the shoulders together before you sew them together (especially if you're using knit).  Make sure to press the seams when you're done with the straight stitch and the finishing stitch (zigzag or serger). 

Pin the front and back collar facing together and sew it (before you sew it on the dress collar!).  To sew the facing on the collar, first align the facing seam and the shoulder seam and pin that together as noted in the tutorial.  

Collars can be tricky so taking the time to pin everything together makes it much easier to sew it.

6. Sewing the Sleeves

This pattern was developed for knit fabric since that's what I use the most.  You will notice that the sleeve is slightly smaller than the armhole so you will need to slightly stretch the sleeve fabric as you're sewing it in.  This will give your dress a more fitted look (which I love on shift dresses). If you're using woven fabric make sure you modify the sleeve pattern slightly to fit the armhole perfectly.

7. Sewing the Sides and Hem

This is the easiest part of the dress!  Side the sides together (it's a little more difficult if you're using stripes like I am) and hem the dress the appropriate length.  For the hem I did a double fold (just like the sleeves) and used a double needle for the cover stitch.  

I do still recommend pinning before you sew anything though!

Mindy MeyerDress