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Behind the Seams

Take a look behind the seams of a 1960s shift dress.

Posted in: Style & Wardrobe • April 30, 2016


Looking at home-sewn vintage garments can be incredibly helpful when learning to sew. Fifty years ago, most home sewists didn't have the luxury of sergers and machines with hundreds of stitches. Most sewists got along with a straight stitch and a pair of pinking shears. These garments, in turn, offer insights and ideas for alternate finishes that may not be as well known to modern stitchers.

In this month's edition of Behind the Seams, we will take a look inside of a home-sewn 1960s shift dress.


This one-of-a-kind dress is made from a mix of traditional and unusual materials. The striking bodice is cut from a synthetic novelty fabric with napped polka dots, giving this dress a personality that refuses to be ignored. The skirt is made from a subdued navy blue boiled wool, and the interior of the dress is finished with a rayon lining.


The empire bodice features a flattering angled seam. Bust darts radiate from this seam, providing shaping. The bust darts match impeccably with the seams of the skirt. The front skirt in composed of five panels. The center front panel offers swing and fullness, much like a godet.


Similar style lines are echoed on the back dress. The yoke is subtly shaped with shoulder darts, and the bodice is cut with a similar flattering angled waist seam. A small keyhole at the back neckline allows enough room to pull the dress on and off, while still maintaining the high neckline.


The back skirt is cut from three pieces rather than the five on the front skirt. Instead, the back skirt relies on two contour (or fisheye) darts for shaping.


The same godet-like inset offers subtle swing to the back skirt. The back waist is embellished with a flat bow that is handstitched in place.


A hand-picked lapped zipper is installed at the side seam, adding a couture touch to this home-sewn dress.


The bodice is lined, providing a clean finish to both the neckline and armholes. The skirt is underlined with the same lining fabric.


Seam allowances are left untrimmed, allowing for easy future alterations.


The hem of the shell and lining are finished together with a rayon hem tape, then handstitched to the lining, creating a clean invisible hem.

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