How to Sew an Empire Dress

    by Melissa J. Bell

    About the Author

    A writer with a Bachelor of Science in English and secondary education, but also an interest in all things beautiful, Melissa J. Bell has handed out beauty and fashion advice since she could talk -- and for the last six years, write for online publications like Daily Glow and SheBudgets.


    Popularized in the Regency period, empire-waisted dresses come in and out of style all the time. The empire dress differs from other dresses at the waist, which is located just under the bust instead of at the natural waist. This creates a soft, feminine effect that disguises the lower half of the body while still remaining attractive. Although today's empire-waisted dresses are often of the shorter babydoll variety, many women turn to the long empire dress for formal events and historical costume. To sew your own empire dress, complete the following instructions.

    Things You'll Need

    • Empire dress pattern
    • Measuring tape
    • Sewing equipment and supplies
    • Muslin fabric
    • Fashion fabric and notions
    • Notebook

    show more

    Choose an empire-waisted dress pattern that you like. For historical costuming, Sense and Sensibility Patterns offers a line of accurate Regency gown patterns. Butterick and Simplicity also offer Regency-era empire-waisted patterns. For regular dresses, most of the major pattern companies carry a variety of empire dresses, such as Simplicity 9125 or McCall's 3797. You can also use BurdaStyle.Com's free Danielle 9306 pattern or Weekend Designer's online pattern, linked in the Resources.

    Choose the appropriate pattern size based on your measurements. Using the measuring tape, take your measurements at the bust, underbust, waist, hip, neck girth, back waist length, shoulder-to-shoulder, and any other sleeve measurements required by the individual pattern. Also measure the distance from the underbust that you would like the skirt of the dress to fall, and add a few inches to allow for mistakes or fabric pulling. Remember, when choosing a pattern size, that you need to fit the largest part of you, and can make adjustments from there.

    Cut out the pattern in the size that you have chosen. Pin the pattern to cheap muslin fabric, as directed in the pattern instructions. Transfer all markings and cut the muslin to fit the pattern. Make sure to cut the correct amount of pattern pieces, and pay attention to requests for any lining or interfacing layers.

    Stitch together the empire dress completely in the muslin fabric, following the directions for your particular pattern. At each stage of sewing, put the empire dress on your body. For example, when you finish stitching the bodice, put the bodice on over the undergarments you will be wearing with the finished dress and see how it fits. Do this again when the sleeves are attached, and again when the skirt is attached. If, at any stage, the dress does not fit properly, assess the problem and make adjustments. You may need to go back to the original pattern and re-cut some of the pieces. Be sure to make all changes directly to the muslin version of the dress, and keep a notebook listing these changes.

    Put the muslin dress on one last time to check the fit. Make sure that the length of the sleeves and skirt allows room for hemming, and hem the sleeves and skirt.

    Take the muslin empire dress apart at the seams and use the pieces as pattern pieces. Pin the muslin pieces to your fashion fabric and cut. Transfer all markings, just as before. Sew the entire dress together again, just as you did in Steps 4 and 5. Be sure to continue double-checking the fit as you sew.

    Add embellishments to the finished dress, such as ribbons, trim, beads and embroidery.

    • Be sure to choose a fabric type supported by the pattern. On the back of your pattern, there should be a list of recommended fabrics.

    Photo Credits

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