How to add a panel to a dress or top pattern.

This is a tutorial to show how to add a panel to a simple top or dress. Its a fun way to colour block a simple style or add an additional fabric. In this tutorial I have used the little girls Rosie dressmaking pattern. I used Kona quilters weight cotton fabric in these pretty sugar almond colours.

I choose to divide the front and back into three equal blocks. You can choose any size panel, it could be a simple narrow stripe across the chest or hem, it could be a curved or asymmetric line. If you are planning something a bit more complex it may be worth drawing it out on a separate piece of paper to check the proportions before making your pattern. It is also worth remembering the panels have to be sewn back together so soft curves are going to work better than severe angles with this method.

  1. Trace around the pattern piece that you want to add the panels to. If you are unsure about the design it may be best to draw the whole piece of pattern, mirroring if necessary, so that you can map out your panels and check your design. For this dress I wanted to divide the centre front measurement equally. I marked the seam allowance at the neck edge and marked in the hem depth. I then divided the remaining measurement into three at the centre front and made a small mark at each of these points.

2. This pattern piece is slightly curved at the hem, if you want the panels to echo the hem shape and give the effect of straight stripes wrapping around the dress you will need to measure up from the hem. Mark a dotted line from the hem upwards at the same height every few centimetres.

3. Using a curved edge ruler join the dotted line as smoothly as you can. To create a second panel measure up from this new line to you next panel position and repeat the process.

4. These are the positions of each panels. Cut the pattern along these new lines.

5. Now to add the seam allowance to these pieces so that they can be joined again without reducing the length of the dress. Lay a piece of paper behind the pattern piece, tape the paper to the pattern piece. From your cut line measure and mark the seam allowance (I used 1.5cm). Its best to add the same seam allowance that is used in the pattern so that you don’t need to remember to change it while making the garment. If you have a pattern master you can use the handy seam allowance 0.5cm increment markings along the straight edge of the ruler, match the 1.5cm mark on the ruler to the panel line and move it round carefully marking as you go. If you don’t have a pattern ruler you can simply measure up 1.5cm in the same way you drew the original panel line and mark dotted lines before joining them up.

6. Repeat the process with each of your panels. You need a seam allowance at both sides of the join. To keep the pattern properly balanced and as you intended it is important to apply the seam allowance at each side. Don’t be tempted to add both seam allowances to one edge.

7. For this style I wanted the panels back and front, therefore I repeated the process for the back. As the back panel is longer the upper panel is much bigger. I measured the first lower panel so that the depth matched back and front. This way I could ensure the the panels matched at the side seams when sewn together. Once you have completed your pattern it is best to lay the pieces together and check that the panel depths are correct and match, and that the seam lines when sewn together will match.

8. Cut the panels out in your fabric, pin and stitch the panels together, neaten the raw edges.

9. If you have designed panels that need to meet at the side seam, pin the side seams together and place a pin horizontally at the point the seams need to match. You can turn to the right side and check the seam is in line before stitching. Leave the pin in while you sew the seam only removing it when you are a stitch away from sewing the seam.

Carry on making the dress following the instructions that come with the pattern.

I can’t believe that I found candy floss in exactly the same colours as I made the dress in!!


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Julia Claridge

I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had my first go on a sewing machine, it was an old hand crank machine that my mum used with her patients, she was an occupational therapist. I still vividly remember watching with amazement as the tiny perfectly formed stitches were created as I turned the handle. I Grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when buying clothes was less affordable and dressmaking was an answer to updating your wardrobe more regularly. My own mother was a talented dressmaker who made most of my clothes and my sisters clothes as well as a many for herself. I soon got involved with making my clothes, I loved the whole experience of picking out fabrics, trims and a pattern to create a new outfit, then going home to make a new garment or outfit. When it came to leaving school I visited a careers advisor who asked what I wanted to do next. My answer was ..Sew! Read more...

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