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FARMERS' BULLETIN NO. 1954
Bureau of Human Nutrition
and Home Economics
MAKING A DRESS AT HOME
MARGARET SMITH, Clothing Specialist
A needed dress . . . pride in achievement . . . something
learned — these are the rewards of making a first dress. The job
will not be hard if you take it step by step with care and attention
to detail. Then when you have learned the principles of putting
together and finishing a simple dress, you can apply them in the
making of any garment.
To Make a Dress, Here's What You Need
If you've never made a dress before, choose a style that's easy to
make. A good choice for the first dress is one with collarless neck
or plain collar, smooth or darted sleeves, gored skirt, and few but-
tonholes. Don't try set-in pockets, fancy shirrings, or drapery
until you have more sewing experience.
To decide the size of pattern you need, compare your measure-
ments — hip, bust, and waist — with those of the pattern given on
the envelope or in the large pattern books that you find at pattern
counters. Select the size that has measurements most nearly like
yours. For example, if yours correspond with those of size 34
except for the hips, choose a 34 and alter the skirt to fit. Don't get
the same size in a pattern as you do in ready-to-wear clothes. The
measurements may not be the same.
Get a pattern with a good sewing chart — one with clear-cut illus-
trations and easy-to-follow directions. Some patterns give little
help to the beginner. Best way to find out about the chart is to ask
the clerk to let you see it before you buy the pattern.
When deciding on the kind of material, look for one that will wear
well, is easy to handle, and doesn't require much seam finishing.
A good choice is a closely woven cotton — percale, chambray, seer-
sucker. Sheer fabrics and materials that fray easily like most
rayons are harder to work with and need more careful finishing.
Washington, D. C.
Issued May 1944.
Look for a fabric that is colorfast to sun and washing and is
finished so it will not shrink more than 1 percent. Usually you can
find information of this kind on the end of the bolt of goods.
Be sure to buy the right amount of material. Look on the back
of the pattern envelope to see how much you need for the style and
size of your dress and the width of your material.
Most saving of cloth is a plain fabric — same on both sides —
because you can lay pattern pieces on either side of the goods and
use small strips which might otherwise be wasted. Next thriftiest
is the small allover print.
But if you are choosing a large print with a definite "up-and-
down" or goods with a nap or a pile, like corduroy or velveteen,
you'll need more material because all the pattern pieces have to be
laid on the cloth in the same direction. You'll find the amount of
goods you need of this kind on the pattern envelope under "fabrics
Materials with wide stripes take more goods, as do plaids that
have to be matched crosswise and lengthwise. For a small plaid,
you'll need about a fourth of a yard extra ; for a large plaid you may
need as much as a yard more.
You may need to buy more goods if you're tall. Most patterns
give the finished length of the dress, measured from the neck at
center back to the hem. The sales clerk can likely help you decide
how much more material you need after you've compared the length
of your own dress with the pattern length.
Threads and Findings
Use mercerized cotton thread on wash fabrics and on all dull-
surfaced materials. Buy thread that is a shade darker in color than
your material because colored thread usually works in lighter when
it's stitched. You'll need about two 100-yard spools for a dress.
You may need twilled tape, ribbon seam binding, or selvage cut
from firm but thin cotton cloth to reinforce curved -or bias seams
that are likely to stretch, such as those at the neck and armholes.
Be sure tape is preshrunk or it will pucker the seams when the dress
is washed. You may also use seam binding for finishing sleeve and
skirt hems on heavy cottons or nonwashable materials and for
binding seams likely to fray.
The best time to buy buttons is when you're getting pattern and
goods. Choose buttons that will stand washing or dry cleaning.
Otherwise you will have to take the buttons off and put them back
on each time the dress is cleaned. In any case, have the buttons
on hand before you make the buttonholes. And this might be a
good time to consider the kind of belt you want so you'll be sure it
suits the buttons and the fabric.
To make a simple dress you need shears with blades at leafet 4
inches long so you can cut with long sharp strokes. Old shears
of good-quality steel can be cleaned, sharpened, and tightened and
may serve very well.
Needles should suit the weight of material you are using. Size
10 is best for most dress materials and for hand sewing that calls
for small stitches. Sizes 7 and 8 are better for heavy fabrics and
Best pins to use are size 5 with sharp points. Keep them in a
clean box with a lid.
Be sure your sewing machine is clean, well oiled, and in good
running order. Test the tensions and the length of stitch on a small
piece of goods. Fifteen stitches to an inch gives a good length of
stitch for most materials. Stitches should be strong, even, and
smooth and look the same on both sides. If the cloth puckers, the
stitches loop, or the thread breaks, you may need to adjust the
tensions. Follow directions in the instruction book that came with
your machine or in some other reliable bulletin on adjusting sewing
Most sewing machines have attachments, and one of the most
useful is the seam guide which is used for stitching a straight seam.
Wear a thimble when you do hand sewing for easier, quicker
sewing and to save your fingers. Be sure the thimble has no rough
edges or holes punched in the end. Sharp places on a thimble may
snag thread or material or break needles.
In addition, you will need an accurate ruler and tape measure and
either tailor's chalk or colored pencil. Don't use wax pencils because
wax will melt into the cloth and stain it when pressed with a hot
For pressing, have a good, clean iron ; a well-padded ironing board
with a clean cover ; a sleeveboard if possible.
Good Dressmaking Calls for Fitting . . . Pressing
When You Fit Your Dress
Keep in mind these important points :
Baste seams, darts, tucks, and pleats accurately before fitting.
Wear the same kind of undergarments and the same height heels
you will wear with the dress.
1 Holbrook, Helen S., and Kre watch, Albert V. sewing machines ; cleaning and adjust-
ing. U. S. Dept. A^r. Farmers' Bull. No. 1944, 24 pp., illus. 1943.
If the pattern calls for shoulder pads, make them before you fit
the dress, and pin them in place before each fitting.
Since most figures aren't the same on both sides — one shoulder
or hip may be higher than the other — fit the dress right side out.
Rip the section that needs altering ; then pin-fit. First step is to
turn under the necessary amount of seam allowance on one dress
piece. Lap that piece over the other section enough to fit the gar-
ment correctly and keep the seam line straight. The fold of the
turned-under piece will rest on the new seam line. Pin along the
crease, and with chalk or pencil, mark the new seam line on the
under side of the dress, following the pin lines. To keep a seam
line straight when you're fitting, you may need to take in or let out
more material on one side of the seam line than you do on the other.
Fit your dress so that the crosswise yarns are parallel with the
floor at bust and hip level; all lengthwise seams and stitching
lines — unless the dress is of unusual design — hang straight down ;
side seams of skirt are in line with side seams of waist ; and sleeves
hang smoothly, without a wrinkle.
Press As You Sew
Before you begin any of the machine stitching on your dress, set
up your ironing equipment. To avoid a home-made look to your
finished dress, it's important that you press as you sew.
Press each seam or stitching line before you cross it with
another line of stitching. For example, press shoulder darts before
you baste the shoulder seams together . . . finish and press under-
arm and shoulder seams before you put in the sleeves. To save
frequent heating of the iron, plan your stitching so as to press
several parts at one time.
Keep ironing board cover clean. Goods pressed damp will often
pick up scorch stains from a scorched cover. When the iron doesn't
slide easily or has starch on it, clean by heating the iron, rubbing
it over beeswax or waxed paper, and then wiping it — sides as well
as base — on wrapping paper or a paper bag.
Different materials call for different ways of pressing. As a
rule you can brush cottons lightly with a damp sponge or cloth and
press. With other materials such as rayon, wool, or mixtures of
rr-yon and wool or rayon and cotton, you will need to experiment by
trying different pressing methods on a sample of the goods. Press
on the wrong side first. Keep in mind that you want to retain the
original appearance of the cloth.
To press rayons, you may get best results by using a piece of firm
tissue paper laid over the goods. Dampen lightly with a sponge and
press until dry. Tissue paper holds less moisture than a press cloth
and so for some materials is more satisfactory. Other rayon mate-
rials may be pressed without dampening the paper.
To press materials that get shiny or scorch easily — like white
rayon — try using a piece of firm cheesecloth — washed until all the
sizing is out of it. Dampen slightly, place it over the material,
For woolens, you may want to use either a treated press cloth or
two cloths — one of linen or heavy cotton with all sizing washed
out, and the other of wool such as flannel. Place the woolen press
cloth next to the fabric and the linen one on top. Dampen the linen
and press until dry. Using this method, you can press most woolens
flat without giving them a hard, shiny look. For crepe wools that
tend to pucker when pressed, a treated press cloth or dampened
cheesecloth is better.
Before You Cut
Know Your Pattern
Look over the pattern and construction chart carefully. You'll
find it helpful to keep the chart at hand, for on it you'll usually find
the meaning of perforations ; a diagram showing the pattern pieces ;
cutting layouts for each pattern size and material width; and a
general plan for making the dress. Draw a circle around the cutting
layout that is right for the width of your material and the size of
your pattern. Use it as a guide when you're cutting out the dress.
Now look over the pattern pieces. On some patterns, the name
of the pieces and directions such as "place on fold of goods" are
printed on each one. On others the names are perforated in the
paper pattern, as for example, blouse front . . . blouse facing . . .
sleeve. Still others have letters or numbers. If your pattern is
marked with letters or numbers — from your instruction chart find
out the name of each piece and write it on the pattern.
Since most pattern designs have more than one style, you may
not need some of the pattern pieces. Sort out those you won't use
and put them back in the envelope.
Then, unless you have a printed pattern, you'll find each pattern
piece has many perforations. Read the chart and look at the dia-
gram to see what each is for. Notice which perforations form
darts, which are for the straight of the goods, which for seam allow-
ances. Then write next to the perforations "seam allowance,"
"dart," "straight of the goods," or whatever the perforation indi-
cates. Be especially sure to mark all straight edges that are to be
placed on a fold of the material — center back is usually one — so that
you won't forget and cut along that edge. Mistakes of this kind
are hard to correct. On each pattern piece draw a line between
perforations that indicate the straight of the goods.
Notice the notches along the edges of the pattern pieces. These
are guides for putting the dress together. Single notch matches
single, double notch matches double, and so on.
Patterns differ so much in their proportions that it's safest to
compare your own measurements with those of the pattern before
cutting. Take your bust, waist, and hip measurements level with
the floor. Add about 4 inches to the bust measurement and at least
an inch to the hip measurement for ease. The waist measurement
is taken snugly. Take lengthwise measurements, both front and
back, straight down from the neck to the waist — allowing for blous-
ing in the waist if necessary — and from the waist to the bottom of
the skirt (fig. 1).
If you need to lengthen a pattern piece, draw a straight line
crosswise on the pattern, at right angles to the line marking the
straight of the goods. Cut on the crosswise
line, and on a piece of paper spread the pat-
tern apart evenly, enough to give you the
desired length. Pin the pattern pieces to
the paper to hold the pattern together.
Connect outside edges of the pattern with a
straight line and trim off the strip of paper
in line with the pattern.
To shorten a pattern piece, draw two
crosswise lines at right angles to line mark-
ing the straight of the goods. Draw the
lines as far apart as the amount you need to
shorten the pattern. Cut on one line and
bring cut edge to second line. Pin. Trim
off edges of pattern in a straight line if
Alter the waist between armhole and
waist seam. Be sure to change all waist
pattern pieces alike, including front facings.
Alter skirt 2 to 3 inches below the hip, and
change all skirt pieces the same amount.
When you have looked over your pattern
carefully and made any necessary altera-
tions, press all pattern pieces flat with a
warm but not hot iron. Be careful not to
wrinkle or tear the pattern.
And now that you know your pattern pieces, it's a good idea to
read through the sewing steps on your chart. You'll find it easier
to make a dress if, before you start, you understand how it will go
Get Material Ready
Straighten both ends of your goods by pulling a yarn all across
the material and cutting on the line left by the pulled yarn. Or if
the material will tear, straighten the ends by tearing off a small
piece straight across the width of the goods. Sometimes material is
twisted when it's finished at the mill and will look crooked even
when ends have been straightened. To straighten it, pull the goods
diagonally and then crosswise.
If the goods are washable and have not been preshrunk, shrink
in warm water and, when dry enough to iron, press straight and
If the goods are preshrunk, press out the center fold and any
Lay Out Pattern
To lay out the pattern you need a large smooth surface. A big
table is ideal, but you can use a clean floor or, if you have it, lay a
long strip of wrapping paper on the floor.
Spread the material out flat, with ends and sides straight.
Following your pattern layout, put the big pattern pieces on first,
but don't pin them until you are sure you can get all pieces on. See
that the line which shows the straight of the goods is placed exactly
on a lengthwise yarn of the cloth. Measure from the selvage to the
line, making certain that the distance is equal at all points.
Next, lay out the small pattern pieces. Your pattern chart will
show you whether they are to be laid on a lengthwise or crosswise
yarn of the goods.
Sometimes pattern edges that should be straight are crooked —
frequently on skirt pieces below the 7-inch hip line. In such a case,
draw a new straight line lightly with pencil on wash cottons, with
chalk on other goods, and cut a straight edge regardless of the
If your pattern has a V^-ineh seam allowance, you'll want to add
another eighth of an inch all around each pattern piece to allow for
a good seam finish. Remember that you must allow for that extra
eighth of an inch when you're placing the pattern. But be sure
when you mark your pattern pieces, to mark the perforations for
the stitching line ; otherwise your dress may be too large all over.
To lay a pattern piece on the fold, measure at the widest part of
the pattern and fold the material over that amount. Make sure
it is folded over the same distance for the full length of the pattern
When you have placed a pattern piece exactly right on the goods,
weight it down so it cannot shift and pin it securely without a
ripple. Put the pins in at right angles to the edge of the pattern
so the goods won't hump. Pin at corners, curves, and along seams.
If you haven't enough pins, use glass furniture coasters, paper-
weights, or other small, heavy objects to hold the pattern down.
You will find that you have one sleeve pattern from which to cut
both sleeves. Usually you can fold the goods and cut both sleeves
out at the same time. But you may have to cut the sleeves sepa-
rately in order to get them out of the goods you have. If so, cut one
sleeve and then be sure to turn the pattern over for the second so
that you won't cut both sleeves for the same arm.
To be doubly sure, lay the pattern for the first sleeve and before
you cut it out, put a pencil check mark on the surface of the paper
pattern. Then when you lay the pattern for the second sleeve,
place it with the check-marked side against the cloth. Do the same
with any other pattern piece from which you have to cut two dress
pieces, one at a time. Broken lines on the pattern layout show
which pieces you may need to cut separately.
If a pattern piece such as a skirt is wider than the goods, you may
have to do some piecing. First turn under a seam's width on the
edge to be pieced. Then lap this folded edge over the piecing — be
sure to match piecing to dress so that the lengthwise yarns of the
piecing and dress run in the same direction.
If the fabric is a print, match the design. Pin piecing in place
and finish pinning the pattern. Then when you've cut out the pat-
tern and are ready to sew, baste piecing to dress with 1/4 -inch slip
stitches on the right side to keep piecing exactly in place. Keep
stitches even and right at the folded edge. Turn dress to wrong
side and machine-stitch on the basting line.
Ready to Cut
Cut with long full strokes of the shears to give an even edge.
Cut close to the pattern edge unless you're adding more seam
allowance. In that case, be sure you cut so the extra amount is the
same on all seams.
Don't use pinking shears for cutting out your dress. Accurate
cutting is too difficult with them, and the jagged edge made by the
shears won't slide next to a seam guide.
Don't cut out the notches, especially if your goods fray. You
may spoil the seam finish if you do. Instead mark notches with
tailor's chalk or cut small humps beyond the edge of the pattern
wherever you find a notch in the paper pattern.
Mark the Dress Pieces
Before you remove the paper pattern from the dress pieces, mark
all perforations on the wrong side of the goods. On dark fabrics,
put a pin through at each perforation, then mark where the pin
shows through with tailor's chalk or colored pencil — not wax pencil.
On light material use pencil, or make tailor's tacks with a double
thread of colored darning or embroidery cotton (figs. 2 and 3).
Be sure to mark the perforations for the seam lines, particularly
if you have added extra seam allowance.
Then when you have removed the paper pattern, draw the lines
on which you are to stitch — darts, tucks, pleats, and the like — by
connecting perforations with pencil or chalk lines (fig. 4).
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To Make Tailor's Tacks
Figure 2. — At each perforation, take
a small stitch — through both thicknesses
of goods if cloth has been cut double.
Leave long loops of thread between
stitches. Clip threads at top of each
loop and remove paper pattern.
Figure 3. — If goods are double, pull two
pieces gently apart, taking care not to
pull out tacks. Clip threads between
the two pieces.
To Mark Daris
Figure 4. — To mark stitching line for
darts, draw a line through center of per-
forations from point to wide part of
When You Put Your Dress Together
Follow this order of sewing for best results :
Pin and baste all darts, tucks, seams in the waist and sleeves.
Try on the waist, fit, and mark any needed changes. You may
have to try on the waist a number of times, depending on the
changes necessary to make it fit correctly.
Stitch, finish, and press — first, the darts, tucks, shoulder, and
yoke seams ; then the waist and sleeve seams.
Finish the neck with facing or collar.
Baste skirt seams, and pin the skirt to the waist. Try on the
dress and fit the skirt. Stitch, finish, and press skirt seams.
Pin, baste, and stitch the waist to the skirt.
Pin and baste the sleeves to the armholes. Try on the dress and
fit the sleeves. Stitch the sleeves ; finish seams. Press.
Measure the hem in the skirt ; pin a hem in the sleeves. Finish
hems and press.
Pin and Baste
Pin before you baste. Lay the pieces you are working with on a
table or flat surface. Match the notches, single to single, double to
double, triple to triple. Be careful not to stretch cut edges.
Sometimes one dress piece has to be eased onto the other, for
example, the back shoulder to the front shoulder. To prevent
stretching the shorter piece, machine-stitch along the seam allow-
ance a little less than the seam's width from the cut edge. Then pin
the longer piece to the shorter one, arranging fullness so it's evenly
Baste before you stitch — take one long stitch and two or three
short stitches. These hold better than even stitches and are more
satisfactory for fitting. Baste accurately. When basting seams
together, measure the seam allowance from the outside edge to the
basting line as you sew. Take out pins as you baste.
Or you may wish to machine-baste long seams on the sewing
machine. Use long machine stitches that can be ripped out easily.
To make darts : First match the lines you have drawn from the
point of the dart to the edge, folding dart at center. Pin and then
baste dart just inside the chalk line so that when you machine-
stitch, the stitching won't get caught in the bastings. If tailor's
tacks were used, take them out. Press.
Stitch dart on the chalk line, beginning at the wide part of the
dart with the fold toward the center of the machine. The dart is
more likely to press smooth and flat without any pouching if you
start the stitching at the wide part of the dart instead of the point.
Taper stitching to nothing at dart point so that the last two or three
stitches are right on the edge of the fold.
Cut off the threads, leaving ends about 2 inches long. Tie threads
and either clip to one-half inch or thread a needle with them and sew
back into the stitching. Pull out bastings.
Press shoulder, neck, or waist darts toward the center of the
dress. Press sleeve darts toward the top of the sleeve to give body
to the sleeve cap. Press underarm darts toward the armhole.
If you have wide front darts on a heavy material, you may want
to cut or trim them off to get rid of some of the bulk. If your mate-
rial is heavy and firmly woven so it's not likely to fray, cut the dart
down the center fold to about one-eighth inch from the point.
Press seam open and overcast each edge so it can't pull out.
If your goods are heavy but fray easily, cut off the dart so there's
about %-inch seam allowance left. Stitch and overcast the cut
edges together and press the dart to one side.
But if you have ordinary-weight cotton or material that stretches
easily or frays badly, such as voile, don't cut your darts.
Before you stitch the seams, decide how you will finish them (figs.
6-10). In general, you want seams strong so they won't pull out
and seam allowances finished flat so they won't show on the outside.
When you stitch the seams you
will find the stitching is likely to
be more even if you use a seam
guide. Screw the guide in place
so that the width from inside edge
of guide to needle point is the
width of the seam allowance.
Guide the goods so that the cut
edge will slide along next to the
seam guide as you sew (fig. 5).
Finish seams according to the
seam finish you have chosen. Pull
out bastings. Press seam flat.
Best Seam Finishes Are:
Figure 6. — For firm wash cottons:
Stitch seams together a second
time about one-fourth inch from
the first seam line. Pink the edges
if you have pinking shears. Press
to one side.
Figure 7. — For firm fabrics such as
wool flannel or silks: Pink the edges
if you have pinking shears, or ma-
chine-stitch about one-eighth inch
from the outside edge of each side
of the seam. Press the seam open.
Figure 8. — For thin materials that
fray, such as voile or sheer rayons:
Use a French seam — except for
yoke and armhole seams and the
seam joining waist to skirt.
First make a small seam on the
right side of dress, machine-stitch-
ing three-eighths inch from the
regular seam line. Trim seam to
one-fourth inch. Turn to wrong
side. Press seam flat.
Then fold back goods on the line
just stitched and press. Make a
second seam with the first seam
well inside it, machine-stitching on
the regular seam line.
Figure 9. — For mediumweight ma-
terials that fray, such as some spun
rayons, silk crepes, or light wools:
Stitch seams together a second
time about one-fourth inch from
the first seam line. Overcast the
edges together first in one direc-
tion, then in the other. Press seam
to one side.
Figure 10. — Another finish for me-
diumweight goods: Press open
stitched seam. Turn under each
seam edge about one-fourth inch
and stitch aUng the turned edge.
When one edge of a seam must be gathered, the gathers will be
more even and accurate if put in by machine rather than by hand.
Use a large stitch — about seven or eight to the inch. Make two
rows of stitching.
Stitch the first row along the seam line, using a seam guide. Or
measure the width of the seam allowance from time to time as you
Stitch a second row in the seam allowance one-eighth of an inch
away from the first row.
Tie the threads at one end or wind them around, a pin to keep
them from slipping.
Pin the gathered section to the piece to which it is to be joined,
matching notches and seam edges. Pull up the two underneath
gathering threads on the wrong side of the cloth until the gathered
piece fits the other. Distribute gathers evenly so they're not
bunchy and stroke them with a blunt needle until they hang down
even and straight. Tie gathering threads.
Baste the gathered section to the joining piece with 1/4 -inch
stitches . . . small stitches keep gathers in place.
Join a shoulder yoke to the dress with a lapped seam before you
stitch the underarm seams. To make a lapped seam, first mark
the seam line at the bottom edge of the yoke with chalk or machine
stitching. Turn the seam allowance of the yoke to the wrong side
and baste (fig. 11) . Press to make the fold flat for machine stitch-
ing. Pin the yoke to the right side of the blouse, matching notches
and seam edges, then baste (fig. 12) .
When you machine-stitch the yoke, keep the needle on the folded
edge so the stitching will be straight. For a tailored finish, make a
second row of stitching on the yoke, keeping the narrow edge of the
presser foot next to the first row (fig. 13) . Do all outside stitching
slowly and carefully to keep it straight.
If your material is firm, trim the seam allowance on the wrong
side to three-eighths of an inch. Otherwise, leave the full seam
allowance and overcast the edges.
Neck and Front Finishes
If the neck of your dress is plain and finished with a shaped piece
(fig. 14) : Seam together the back and front parts of the neck facing.
Press seams. Pin facing flat to the neck of the dress with the right
side of the facing against the right side of the dress. Baste along
the seam line or you can measure a seam's width with a ruler or
pasteboard guide as you sew. Take small stitches — no more than
one-fourth inch long — to keep a good curve (fig. 15) .
Stitch facing close to the basting and follow with a second stitch-
ing right on top of the first to make a strong edge. Trim seams to
one-fourth inch. Clip into the stitching, where the seam is rounded,
so the facing will lie flat when it is turned to the inside of the dress.
When you turn the facing to the wrong side be sure the seam line
is exactly at the folded edge. Baste around the edge and press.
If your dress has a collar, follow the instructions on the pattern
chart for putting collar together and joining it to the neck.
Here are some points to remember :
Be careful to stitch the collar evenly.
Trim seams to one-fourth inch and clip off the corners to avoid
thick, ugly lumps when collar is turned (fig. 16) . Take care not to
cut the stitching. When you turn the collar right side out, push
out the corners carefully so they're smooth and even. You may
have to pick them out with a pin.
Before you press, baste around the edge of the collar with the
seam line exactly at the folded edge (fig. 17) .
After you stitch the collar to the neck, trim neck seams to one-
fourth inch and clip just to the stitching. Press the seam open
between the shoulder seam and the front edge of the collar. Across
the back of the neck, press the seam up so it will be inside the collar
(figs. 18 and 19).
Figure 18 Figure 19
Ways of finishing facings differ with the kind of material you
have. If your goods are cotton or some other lightweight fabric,
turn under the edge of the seam allowance on the facing about one-
sixteenth inch ; then stitch. If your goods are thick or nonwash-
able, finish facing by trimming off the seam allowance and stitching
ribbon seam binding flat along the edge. Or machine-stitch along
the edge and overcast.
Fasten facings to the shoulder seams with small catch or slip
stitches. Then baste facings flat to the waist. You don't need to
fasten the facing from the shoulder seams to the waist, especially if
you have buttons and buttonholes down the front. But if you want
to sew the facings down — or if you have a shaped facing on a plain
neck — use long, loose stitches, catching only a yarn of the dress in
each stitch so that facings won't be held too tightly to the dress
and stitches won't show on the right side.
Good buttonholes are important to the appearance of your dress,
so you'll want to make them with care.
Pattern markings for the buttonholes may not be right for you
so try on the waist, pin center fronts together, and mark with a pin
the place where you want the top button. Take off the dress, lay
the buttons on the right front with the top button on the pin to work
out an attractive spacing for the buttons. Make sure that they are
an equal distance apart and an equal distance from the front edge
of the dress. Mark the place for each on the center front.
Next, decide on the length of buttonholes. Measure the button
and add about one-eighth inch for thickness of button. Never make
the buttonholes before you buy your buttons. Usually it's a good
idea to make trial slashes in scraps of goods and slip the button
through to be sure the size of the buttonhole is right.
Mark your buttonholes with chalk, pencil, or bastings. Start
buttonholes one-sixteenth inch from the center front toward the
front edge of the dress and measure back the length of the button-
hole. Then when your dress is fastened, your buttons will be
exactly at center front. Be sure to mark the buttonhole line along
the yarn of the material. This is the cutting line for the buttonhole.
Worked buttonholes are the easiest and most suitable for a wash
dress. To keep the material firm and to form a guide for working
the buttonhole, machine-stitch about one-sixteenth inch from each
side of the chalk or basting line (fig. 20) . Cut along the chalk or
basting line the length of the buttonhole and overcast the cut edges
(fig. 21). Work the buttonhole, using blanket or buttonhole stitch
(fig. 22). Make stitches long enough just to cover machine stitch-
ing. Strengthen ends of buttonhole with several small stitches.
Try a few buttonholes on scraps of material first. Then make
them on your dress after you finish the front edges and facings.
For most fabrics use ordinary mercerized sewing thread. Button-
hole twist makes a heavy buttonhole and is suitable only for heavy
Figure 20 Figure 21 Figure 22
Then when you have more sewing experience you may wish to
make bound buttonholes.
Make them before you turn back the front facings. Mark the
cutting line for bound buttonholes on the wrong side of the dress,
according to directions given above. Cut out patches of material
to be used for binding, making them 11/2 inches wide and 1 inch
longer than your buttonhole. Pull a yarn on each side of the patch
to be sure it's even. Place the right side of the patch against the
right side of the dress with the center of the patch right over the
cutting line of the buttonhole. Pin the patch in place and baste it
to the dress.
Stitch the buttonhole from the wrong side, no more than one-
eighth inch from each side of the cutting line, and straight across
each end. Count the stitches so that the lines above and below the
chalk line will have the same number of stitches and the lines across
the ends will have a like number. Keep the needle in the goods
when you come to the end of the buttonhole, raise the presser foot,
and turn the goods to make a square corner.
Cut buttonhole on cutting line to within one-eighth inch of the
ends. Clip diagonally to the corners. Be careful not to cut the
stitching (fig. 23).
Take out the basting and pull the patch through the slash to the
wrong side (fig. 24). With the point of the iron, press the seams
toward the buttonhole opening. Fold back both sides of the bind-
ing, making the folds meet in the center of the buttonhole. Then
from the right side work the binding so it is even on both sides of
the slit. Baste across the ends and around the buttonhole seams.
Baste folds together in the center of the buttonhole (fig. 25).
On the wrong side, fold the dress away from the end of the but-
tonhole and stitch the pleated end of the binding right over the
first machine stitching (fig. 26) . Then on the right side, make small
stitches by hand in the seam lines to hold the buttonhole binding
in place. Trim off binding to one-fourth inch all around on the
wrong side and press.
You may finish the buttonholes on the wrong side of the dress
after everything else is done. Baste the facing smoothly around
each buttonhole, 1 inch from the buttonhole opening. With two
pins mark each end of the buttonhole through to the facing. Cut
a slit in the facing between the two pins, following a yarn under the
buttonhole opening. Turn under the cut edges as far as the stitch-
ing of the buttonhole, round at the corners; slip-stitch (fig. 27).
Or, make the buttonhole the same on both sides by slashing the
facing diagonally at the corners and by turning under the sides and
ends to the stitching. Sew by hand.
Sewing on Buttons
Sew buttons to the left front on the center front line. If the
button has no shank, make thread shanks by placing a pin across
the top of the button and bringing the thread up through the holes
and across the pin. When you have run several threads up through
the holes and across the pin, pull out the pin, draw up the button so
that the threads are taut, and wind thread around the taut threads
to make a firm shank. Fasten with a few small stitches through
If the button has a shank, sew the button on so that the eyelets
or holes are in the same direction as the buttonhole slit. This will
keep the end of the buttonhole from spreading.
Putting in Sleeves
Seam your sleeves at underarm.
If the sleeve tops have darts, baste and stitch the darts, tie the
threads, and press.
If the sleeve tops are smooth, make two rows of machine gather-
ing stitches one-eighth inch apart across the top of the sleeve
between notches to ease in the fullness, stitching the first row on
the seam line.
Turn sleeves right side out ready for pinning into the armhole.
To set the sleeve in the armhole work from the inside of the dress.
Fit the sleeve into the armhole, as shown in figure 28 with the right
side of the sleeve next to the right side of the waist. Pin from the
sleeve side, matching underarm seams, notches, and top of sleeve
to the shoulder seam. Fit sleeve smoothly to armhole around the
underpart as far as the notches. If you have machine-stitched
across the top of the sleeve, pull the underneath gathering threads
until the sleeve fits the armhole. Ease in the fullness so there are
no pleats or puckers, and pin. As the topmost part of the sleeve is
cut with the grain of the goods, keep it flat for about 1 inch on each
side of the shoulder seam and work in the fullness where the sleeve
edge is more on the bias.
Baste from the sleeve side with y%- to ^4-inch stitches to hold
fullness in place. Use a seam guide or ruler to get the seam allow-
Turn sleeve right side out and check it from the waist side to see
if the armhole seam is straight and even. If the seam looks crooked,
pin a line where the seam should be and rebaste that part of the
sleeve (fig. 29). If you're using shoulder pads, pin them in before
Figure 28. — To set sleeve
in armhole, work from in-
side of dress. Pin from
sleeve side, matching un-
derarm seams, notches, and
top of sleeve to shoulder
Figure 29. — Turn sleeve right side
out and check it from waist side to
see if the armhole seam is straight
and even. If the seam looks
crooked, pin a line where the seam
should be and rebaste that part of
Be sure to fit sleeve so it hangs
without folds or wrinkles.
After you have fitted the sleeve so it hangs without folds or
wrinkles, machine-stitch from the sleeve side so that you can watch
the fullness as you stitch, following the basting line carefully. In
wash dresses, stitch a second row around the armhole about one-
fourth inch from the first in the seam allowance.
Trim off the seam to about three-eighths inch and pink, overcast,
or bind the edges. Press the top of the armhole seam toward the
sleeve. Around the bottom of the armhole press the seam allow-
ance up into the armhole.
If your material is heavy and nonwashable and you are using
shoulder pads, finish the seam edges separately around the top of
the sleeve. Press seam open at top to the middle of the armhole to
make sleeve fit smoothly.
You'll find it easier to pin, baste, and press pleats before you
baste the side seams of the skirt. After you have fitted the skirt,
machine-stitch the pleats before you stitch the side seams.
To make an inverted pleat : Pin together the two skirt pieces that
join to make the pleat. Baste along the seam line and the chalk
line that marks the pleat fold (fig. 30). Machine-stitch the seam
from top of skirt to the perforation that marks the top of the pleat.
Cut and fasten the threads. Lengthen machine stitch and stitch
to the bottom of the skirt next to the basted line. Pull out hand
Press seam and pleat open on the wrong side of the goods. Pin
the pleat inset over the opened-out pleat, matching notches (fig. 31) .
Edges may not meet exactly, but the important thing is to have the
inset lie flat. Baste the inset to the pleat along the seam lines.
Trim off the seams so the seam allowance is even all the way around
the inset. Stitch by machine and press. Take out the large
machine stitches along the pleat folds.
One way to make pleats that will stay sharp and straight is to
leave unstitched the lower 5 inches of seam on the pleat inset (fig.
32) . Finish the last 5 inches of pleat after you have hemmed the
dress and pleat inset.
Figure 30 Figure 31 Figure 32
Join Waist and Skirt
When you are ready to j oin waist and skirt :
Stitch around the top of the skirt with large machine stitches, a
seam's width from the edge. Turn under on stitched line and
baste, using 14 -inch stitches to hold seam flat for pressing. Let it
lie in the normal curve as you press. Do not clip this seam.
Pin skirt to right side of the blouse, matching seams, notches,
center fronts, and center backs. Baste.
If the material stretches as some rayons and wool jerseys do,
baste firm, preshrunk tape or selvage over the waist seam on the
Stitch the skirt to the waist close to the fold.
Turn dress to the wrong side and stitch seam edges together
about one-fourth inch from the first stitching.
Trim seams around waist to three-eighths inch if material is firm
and finish in the same way you have finished the rest of the your
seams. If the fabric frays badly, do not trim the seam.
Make the placket long enough so the dress won't be strained
when you put it on. A good length for most dress plackets is 10
If you are making a placket that fastens with buttons or snap
fasteners, follow the directions on the pattern chart.
If you are using a slide fastener you may follow the directions
that came with the fastener or use this method :
With long machine stitches sew the placket opening together
just as you would a side seam. (These stitches will be ripped out
later.) Press this seam open. On the wrong side, pin the right
side of the slide fastener against the opened seam. Baste in place
and stitch from right side. The easiest way is to use a cording foot
instead of the regular presser foot. Or, in soft materials, sew by
hand, using small stitches about one-eighth inch apart. Now take
out the large machine stitches. Trim seam allowance on the wrong
side so it is the same width as the fastener tape. Overcast edges
together to prevent fraying and to give extra strength.
Before you hem your dress, let it hang for a day or two to stretch
the seams. Then they're not so likely to sag afterward.
Press entire dress carefully, making sure to press the seams flat.
When you are ready to put the dress on for marking the hem, be
sure you have on the same kind of shoes and underclothes you will
be wearing with the dress.
Have someone measure with a ruler, yardstick, or skirt marker
the distance from the floor you want the skirt line to be (fig. 33).
Have her mark the line with pins all around the skirt, about 3 inches
apart. Or use one of the markers that you can work yourself.
Turn up hem on this pin line. Pin. Try on dress to be sure skirt
hangs evenly and the length is right.
Baste hem at the bottom, take out the pins, and press the fold.
Even off turned up part of hem to about IV2 or 2 inches all around
(fig. 34) . Turn cut edge under one-fourth inch. Press. Machine-
stitch about one-sixteenth inch from turned-under edge.
Pin and baste the hem to the skirt, matching the seams. Baste
in fullness where necessary with small pleats. Press hem in an up
and down direction. Crosswise pressing may stretch the hem.
Use slip stitch (fig. 35) to sew hem to dress.
Other ways to finish the cut edge of the hem: For nonwashable
dresses, finish hem with a seam binding. Baste lower edge of bind-
ing to the cut edge of hem, overlapping binding and hem about one-
fourth inch. Machine-stitch. Then baste the upper edge of the
binding to the skirt, and catch-stitch (fig. 36) . Silk or rayon thread
is best for these hems because it doesn't roughen or break.
Dresses that have tailored double stitching as a part of the dress
design may also have double-stitched hems (fig. 37) . Trim hem to
one-half inch. Turn cut edge under one-fourth inch and crease with
your thumbnail if material is firm. Baste hem to dress. Make first
row of stitching around bottom of hem and second row an even dis-
tance from first row, wide enough to catch in top of hem. Stitch on
the right side of the dress and use a seam guide or the presser foot
as a guide.
Short sleeves may be hemmed the same as skirt hems. Make the
hem about 1 inch wide when finished.
Neck fits smoothly because she trim-
med off seam allowance and clipped
it to the stitching.
Seams and hems don't show on the
right side because she finished them
Gathers are even and are distributed
with no bunchiness.
Buttonholes are narrow, about one-
sixteenth inch wide on each side, and
Her First Dress
She cut it accurately with the grain
of the goods.
She pressed darts and seams as she
Collar corners are sharp and smooth
because she cut back the seam allow-
ance to the stitching.
Facings are turned back exactly on
the seam line.
Price 10 cents
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, Washington, D. C.