Tartan Shift Dress (Great British Sewing Bee: Sew Your Own Wardrobe Shift Dress Pattern)

Great British Sewing Bee tartan shift dress
Great British Sewing Bee tartan shift dress
Great British Sewing Bee tartan shift dress
Tartan Shift Dress: Handmade (Shift Dress Pattern via Sew Your Own Wardrobe: Great British Sewing Bee Book; Tartan fabric: Boyes)
Green Cardigan: George at ASDA

Recently I started sewing! I mean, I sort knew a bit before, and by that I mean I had sewing lessons at school swapped in for netball every couple of weeks for maybe 2 years, where we learned how to follow a cross stitch pattern and once we even made a tiny patchwork cushion – I believe I was actually allowed to use a sewing machine for this bit, under strict supervision and for maybe about a minute before the teacher took over. To be honest, most of our sewing lessons were taken up with singing songs from adverts – no idea why we thought this was so much fun, but I do vaguely remember computer adverts were our favourite: “Talk about your PC…at Tinyyy!”, “Where in the world? PC World!” – anyone else remember those?!

Anyway, I’ve gone off topic already! I’ve read Dolly Clackett’s blog for quite a while and marvelled over her ability to sew gorgeous well fitting dresses in pretty fabrics, then I spotted Sarah at A Million Dresses and Char at T*Rexes and Tiaras starting to sew their own dresses too, and thought it couldn’t hurt to try and looked like a really fun hobby. It wasn’t long before I’d picked up my own sewing machine (the Brother LS14 from Argos for about £60) and was getting tips from Twitter about where to start. I had absolutely no clue as to what I needed to do, so I looked up the most local shop to me I could find, Fletchers Fabrics on the Clifton Moor Industrial Estate at York, and headed there.

I wandered into the shop and probably looked completely lost, poking at the bolts of fabric with no idea what to do. Then I spotted the patterns; I’d looked at patterns online to get an idea of what I’d like, so picked up one that looked pretty, Butterick 5748, and headed to the front of the shop. I handed it to the lady at the counter and announced that I had no idea what I was doing and that I wanted to sew a dress. I guess she took pity on me, because she explained the whole thing to me, going through the back of the envelope, telling me how the sizing worked, what all the numbers and words meant, how much fabric I would need, all the other little bits and pieces I hadn’t thought about such as zips and matching thread. I left the shop with a bundle of cheap floral material (I’d asked for the cheapest they could find me, after all, it was my first dress and really just a practice one!), some lining fabric (the pattern needed it), a zip and some thread. It actually took me a few months to complete that dress (thanks kitty who decided to eat my lining fabric resulting in an emergency trip to the vets!), and in the meantime I discovered the super easy method of making a circle skirt, so got waylaid by several of those (tutorial to come soon). Here are some of my “hangable” sewing projects including that first dress (on the left), two circle skirts, and another dress, a blue one with visible bias binding on the hem:
I’ve also since then created another dress (which turned out to look awful on me, so needs some more work!), two tops, a bag and a pair of leggings.
So, after all that, you might be wondering where on earth I’m going with all this?! Well, the dress I’m wearing in these photos is another handmade dress, made by me! And I’m super proud of it! It’s the first dress I’m actually featuring in outfit photos on my blog, even though I have worn the first dress a few times, I haven’t photographed it on me, and it doesn’t fit quite as well.
Great British Sewing Bee tartan shift dress
Great British Sewing Bee tartan shift dress
Great British Sewing Bee tartan shift dress
For my birthday (which I haven’t even posted about, oops!), Ben got me the Great British Sewing Bee: Sew Your Own Wardrobe book which has basic beginners’ sewing instructions for clothing along with 25 free patterns and pictures. It does have a few minor proofing mistakes such as missing notches in patterns, and pieces that are mislabelled in the shift and full skirted dress. Nevertheless, it is amazing to have all those patterns plus lots of tips on how to sew them – I’ve so far learnt from various tutorials on the internet, but now I have lots on hand!

This was the first pattern I decided to attempt from the book. The patterns come on big sheets and are all overlapping, so you need to trace them out first (which I don’t normally do with patterns because I’m lazy!). I bought a huge roll of tracing paper off Amazon for about £16 (this one I think), sharpened my pencil and got tracing – something I haven’t done since school! I decided to use this tartan fabric I bought during a trip Ben and I took to Whitby from a shop called Boyes – there are a few of them around Yorkshire and more further afield (more than I thought apparently!), and it’s a really old fashioned “anything and everything” style shop, but had a fantastic selection of fabric. Nothing particularly on trend or fashionable, but all the good basics and for amazing prices. This tartan is a proper woven kind (very prone to fraying!!) and was only £6.99 per metre, and I also got gingham for £4.99/m and a navy polka dot for £2.65/m!

I ended up sewing this dress over a couple of days, much more quickly than all my others, and was really pleased with how it came out! It has a princess seamed bodice, which I’d already learned how to do on my blue dress and I think looks so much prettier than darts in the bodice, as well as darts in the skirt and facing around the arms and neck (which was my first time doing that). And I’m surprised at how well it fits! Strangely it’s tighter on my hips than the bust, even though that’s my largest point and I didn’t make a full bust adjustment (haven’t learned that yet, but will be doing soon!). I decided to make the size 12, as according reviews, the patterns in the book run small, and patterns generally don’t give you your “high street size”. My measurements at the moment are around 37.5-27-36 and I usually wear a high street 8, occasionally a 10, so you can see the difference between modern high street size and sewing patterns. When you’re sewing a pattern, whether it’s a modern or vintage one, always check your measurements against the envelope or book, especially if it has finished garment measurements, as they can vary across pattern makers. I’ve sewn a 10 and a 12 that fit just right, a 14 that’s not far off, and a 16 that’s too big, as well as a vintage one (a proper vintage original pattern from the early 50s!) that labelled by bust measurement as a 36, but turned out to be too big.

Anyway, I’ve worn this dress several times now, and this is how I wore it to work one day. I’m really excited to sew another in a different fabric. Can I just point out how I managed to very very nearly line up the bodice and skirt prints on this tartan at the front, completely by accident!! I was intending really to test out the pattern on this so wasn’t too concerned about matching prints, but I somehow magically managed to almost do it! The waistline ended up being a lot higher than the picture in the book shows, almost empire line, although it’s not obvious in this print, but I might lengthen the bodice in future attempts. Right, enough about this one single dress now – can you tell I’m proud of it?! I’m now on a new sewing machine and this was my first project on it; it’s the Singer Brilliance 6180 which was £300 everywhere else at the time (now £240 on Amazon), but I got it on special offer at Lidl for £99 – amazing! More on that another day though.
Great British Sewing Bee tartan shift dress
Great British Sewing Bee tartan shift dress



  1. November 5, 2014 / 7:20 pm

    Your dress looks so cute, well done!! Accidental pattern matching is the best. By the way we’re more or less body measurement twins! (my bust is 36.5 though) Haha, I’ve always thought we were much the same shape/size but that definitely confirms it. I agree about princess seams being more flattering than darts for bodices. They feel so streamlined. Have you checked out By Hand London’s blog? They have great tutorials for full bust adjustments which I’ve found very handy. They’re not scary at all 🙂

  2. November 6, 2014 / 9:42 am

    I bought the Singer machine as well, after 10 years of making my own clothes my cheapo Janome machine gave up the ghost (and I tried to force a coat through it, which was the final straw!) I love sewing my own wardrobe; there’s just something so good about being able to take any fabric and make just about anything you want from it. So glad you’ve got into sewing too 🙂 X

  3. November 6, 2014 / 2:09 pm

    I have a lot of designs that I just haven’t had the courage to make, and this post just gave me a bit more of that well needed courage! Your dress looks absolutely lovely, and even though it all seems so confusing in terms of patterns, sizing, and what not, for a result like that it looks totally worth it! x

  4. November 6, 2014 / 2:30 pm

    I really log this tartan shift dress and it’s perfect for Autumn and winter nights out at a traditional pub by the fire drinking mulled wine and eating mince pies – sorry very much in the Christmas mindset at the moment. Very stylish 🙂

    Laura x

  5. Kelsey D
    December 3, 2015 / 6:28 am

    I want this dress in every tartan ever! Great job, I love it!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.