Shirt shifts

When I was finishing my sister’s and my dresses, my sewing brain was scheming on summer projects. As I’ve gotten a bit obsessed with altering patterns over the past couple of years, the possibilities felt even more numerous/tantalizing. So a few weeks after the wedding wrapped up, when it was as hot as blazes, I made good on one of those ideas and sewed a couple of shift dresses based on McCall’s 6436 shirt pattern. | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

The pattern seemed like a good shift candidate because of the bust/back darts and the body-skimming fit. The shirt hit the widest point of my hips, so I was able to extend the side seams and square off the hem. I added extra ease through the hips just in case, but found I’d removed it all by the end of fitting. I was working with a light-weight stretch denim, previously sewn up as pants.

This dress has a split hem that’s 1″ longer in the back, a bound neckline, and an exposed zip back closure that would be too short for a non-stretch fabric. | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

Even though I’m in love with this dress and wear it multiple times a week, I can acknowledge its faults; the fabric doesn’t press particularly well – I can’t seem to steam out those dart bubbles – and my zipper insertion caused waves. And fit-wise, there are some lines in the front, I’m getting some pooling in the low back, and I think the back darts could use some work towards the top.

Getting close but not quite achieving a good fit triples the likelihood I’ll make another version immediately. I dove directly into my second version. To contrast the first, I chose the loudest fabric in my stash, a quilting cotton (!) bought as a souvenir from my trip to Kauai.

This was the best picture of the front of the dress… | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I think everything lays much more nicely in this version, even though I wear the denim version 10x more. I raised the neckline a bit and cut the armholes in further. I’m still seeing some mild lines from bust to hip – is this just shift dress territory, or is there alteration I can make? Maybe one of those crazy darts I see on 60s shift patterns?

Not sure what I’m doing here… | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I think I could stand to make a bit more of a swayback adjustment, but the back is much improved. I added a center back seam on this version, which helped me squeeze this dress out of 2 yards of 44″ fabric. | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I underlined with a cotton lawn and used a neckline facing instead of binding. | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

I also used another one of my grandma’s spectacular buttons and made a thread loop from embroidery floss. | McCall's 6436 altered into a shift dress

Here’s a gratuitous shot – I just like how nonplussed I look while wearing this festive print.

Overall, I would call this pattern mutation very wearable. I am realizing just how much I neglect fitting my back, though, especially below the arm holes. Do you have any techniques for fitting your own back?


55 thoughts on “Shirt shifts

  1. That is so adorable! I keep saying that I need to get back into making time for sewing and then I buy lots of fabric {because clearly I don’t have enough} and then I don’t… Maybe this is the time I do! 🙂

  2. Love the loud cotton print! And those wedge heels are pretty amazing too! I’ve been struggling with the fit of a few 60’s shifts lately, but I’m not sure the crazy French darts are helping me at all. I though fitting a shift dress was supposed to be easy!

    1. Ah, glad to hear it’s not just me. I thought fitting shifts would be easy, too, but when I stop and think about it, I guess it is asking a lot of a pretty minimal pattern!

  3. Hmmmm. I’ve just had a look at some of my shifts – some pics have those diagonal lines, some don’t. I’ve often wondered about the purpose of those French darts…… Your frocklets look lovely!

    1. Thanks for taking a look into your archives! I think I now know why the denim version has them – the hips have much less ease than the waist. I think the fabric gets a little stuck on my wide parts and bunches freely over the narrow parts. Now I’m curious to try some of those French darts!

  4. I love them both! I have no fitting advice… it may be why I always choose a sack dress! Hope you get it figured out, but then I really think any changes would be minimal, they just look so great

    1. Thank you, Jillian! Now that you mention sack dresses, I think I just realized that I thought shift and sack dresses were the same thing! But I guess there is more shaping in these shifts.

  5. Your denim version is so chic on you! I can see why you And I love your Grandma’s button.

    I get so frustrated at not being able to fit my back properly. I made up Burda 7232 earlier this year, which has a fancy diamond cut out in the back, and I had to wait until an interstate visit to my sister to get it fitting properly. I have been wondering if I need to make an updated version of my tape body double so that I can fit my back more easily.

    1. Man, that’s a cool pattern! I can see why you needed your sis to help, though. I’ve admired your body double model – every time I see it I think I should make one, too!

  6. I love both of these!! I am a huge fan of the shift dress, and I would definitely wear both of these to death! I’m not sure about those wrinkles in the front, I get them too, so if you find a fix – please share!

    1. Thank you, Heather! After writing this post, I was realizing that the denim version has way less ease through the hips than the waist – I think the fabric gets stuck over the hips while there’s all this movement in the waist! I left more ease in the floral version. Since the wrinkles are shaped like French darts, I’m wondering if adding them to the pattern would help. I’ll report back if I try again!

  7. I like the contrast between your sober and super bright shifts. I would wear the plain one more too 😉 I feel that your fitting on the second one is pretty much spot-on. And also, why don’t I own a shift?! I would like one now!

    1. I like the style because I feel so comfortable and mobile in them – nothing is constricted, but I’m not encumbered by lots of extra fabric. I highly recommend trying one out!

  8. Both dresses look great! I love the versatility of a denim dress, and the floral? Swoon! Also, I wonder if french darts would help eliminate some of the front wrinkles you mention; that style of dart seems fairly common for shift dresses.

  9. I think both of those dresses are amazing!. And the fit looks pretty good overall – and way better than any RTW I’ve ever worn! I really like French darts in a shift-y dress like this. I feel they add that smidgen more bust space to lose those drag lines, but impart a nice shape.

    1. French darts are definitely the consensus in the other comments! I actually really like how they look. Now, to figure out if I can add them to this hacked-up pattern or if I have to start afresh…

  10. I am totally intimidated by fitting a shift dress. I have enough trouble fitting either my top or my bottom, and combining the fitting of shoulders, bust and hip all in one piece is daunting. But I do really love a good shift dress. I think you’ve done an exceptional job! I love that wild fabric.

    1. That is an excellent point – a shift dress requires a lot of fitting with (what seem to me like) minimal fitting tools! I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of my shoulders, but fitting the rest of my back and rear seems mysterious.

  11. What a great pattern hack! Both versions are just lovely. Even with the fitting issues (which are probably far more obvious to you than anyone else), the denim one is fantastic – I can see why you’d wear it all the time 🙂

  12. LOL, I love those “I’m not sure what’s going on in this photo” shots. I get those all of the time!! Anyhow, these both looks like great wardrobe additions. I made a spate of similarly shaped shifts (perhaps with the amount of ease as your second, or a little more) and really love them. Every time I slip on my Liberty summertime one, I wonder why I bother trying out other patterns – it’s still my favorite!

    Wish I could help with the fitting issues, but that’s one reason I folded up the pattern. I think I need to make broad back adjustments to avoid wrinkling at the front of my armscye, but heck if I actually know or have the patience/brainpower to muslin it out. Will be curious how those french darts work out. My solution has always been to find a print I absolutely love, and then overlook the fitting imperfections :-P.

  13. I honestly think that the fit of the back is fine for a shift dress. If you made it much more fitted, you’d have a sheath (which is also awesome, just different).

    And thank goodness for long hair that covers wonky back zippers. 😉 And for sewing mojo that comes back after a monster wedding dress project.

    1. Excellent point! It’s all too easy to just keep cinching a shift – that definitely happened with the denim version! That said, I don’t think the floral version should be tighter – maybe just adjusted darts or even more room through the rear.

      Long hair does cover a multitude of sewing sins!

  14. How fun are these dresses?! Especially the floral one. You look so pretty (well, you always do).

    I wish I had advice on fitting your back yourself. The only I can think of is to use a bodice block to compare to the pattern.

    1. Thank you! The floral one reminds me a bit of the pretty dress you were wearing when we first met up. It’s fun to showcase a bold print!

      I guess fitting our backs is another good reason to get together with other sewing folks 🙂

  15. My boss at the studio I worked at had a rule of thumb: when you have drag lines, you solve it in one of two ways–you either remove excess fabric that’s running perpendicular to the drag line, or you add ease running parallel to the drag line. Sometimes, it’s a little bit of both. In your case, the french darts you mentioned might solve by removing the excess fabric, or you could possibly try adding a bit more ease over the bust by slashing and spreading a bit from the neckline down to the waist. I hope that’s helpful to you. But having said that, both versions of your dress turned out great, and really puts me in the mood for making a shift dress as well! I think the denim was an especially great fabric choice for versatility.

  16. This look works so well for you! Both dresses are great, and I’m guessing you will wear that denim one until it falls apart, despite its little issues.

  17. I think I’ve got a great fit in the 2nd one. Sure you could tweak it more, but I don’t think it’s necessary. If you really want to get rid of those drag lines you could do a FBA, but I wouldn’t bother. I love the fabric and the construction details.. very Lily Pulitzer.

  18. I have been seeing quite a few shift dresses lately and am getting the bug to make one. I really like both of yours! The floral one is gorgeous!!

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