Orla Shift Dress Drafting Tutorial - An Orla Affair

I love shift dresses! They are so easy to wear yet look so cute. Making Orla into a shift is not difficult, although does require quite a bit pattern hacking and some patience. Before I start with the tutorial, I wanted to quickly talk about the difference between sheath and shift dresses. I find that both are quite often confused, when they are different style of the dress. Generally speaking, shift dress is slightly looser and has more ease through the waist. Whereas sheath dress is fitted through the waist and hips. If you would like to find out more, I found this little write up helpful. So now that we are clear on the differences, lets start!

Tools needed

  • Paper – you can use freezer paper, medical paper or any other paper you use for tracing patterns
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Ruler
  • French Curve (not necessary, but will certainly makes things easier)

Seam Allowances

Make sure to mark your seam allowances on both front and back bodice pieces. We will be making all modifications from the actual seam lines. Seam allowances on Orla Dress are 3/8" or 1 cm. We will add those back in once the hack is all done.


You will also need some measurements to make this hack:
  • hip
  • distance from the waist seam to hip. I found it very helpful to put on my regular Orla dress on to measure this correctly from the actual waist seam. For reference, I am 5'10" and my distance was 8 1/2"
  • Length of your Orla dress skirt pattern piece. Mine is 19 3/4" without hem allowance.

Front Bodice Modifications

In order to hack your Orla into shift dress, you will first need to rotate your bust darts into the side seam. Trace your front bodice piece onto a new piece of paper that is long enough to fit an entire dress length. Lengthen the center front line. When you rotate the dart, the waist seam becomes slightly curved. Straighten it, so it is perpendicular to the center front line. Measure your distance from the waist seam to the hip down the center front line from the waist line. Draw a line perpendicular to the center front line. This will be line 1. Take your hip measurement and divide it by 4. Add 7/8" to that measurement, this is the amount of ease at the hip.

(Hip / 4) + 7/8"

My resulting number was 11 1/5" . Measure that distance from center front line on line 1. This is point 2. Note that my dress has 3 1/2" of TOTAL ease at the hips. This was a personal decision and you can add more or a little less ease if you like. Using French Curve, true the side seam from the dart down and draw a new side seam from the waist down. I kept the same amount of ease at the waist as the original pattern, but this is where you could add more if you would like. On the center front line measure the skirt length distance from the waist seam (not line 1) and draw a line perpendicular to the center front. This is line 3 below. I wanted my shift dress not to be too flared, but also not too straight. So I added 1/2" to my final hip measurement (point 2) and marked that distance as point 4 on line 3. Mine was 12". Connect points 2 and 4 with a straight line. Now let's even out the skirt hem. Measure the distance between line 1 and 3. Mark the same distance on the side seam from point 2. This is point 5. Using French curve draw a new hem line connecting roughly the middle of the old hem with point 5.

Back Bodice Modifications

Trace your back bodice pattern piece onto a separate piece of paper that is long enough to fit an entire dress pattern on it. Extend the center back seam line down. Square off the waist line so it is perpendicular to the center back line. Just like with the front bodice, measure your distance from the waist seam to the hip from the waist seam on the center back line. Draw a line perpendicular to center back line. This is your line 1. We are going to mark point 2, just like we did with the front bodice. Point 2 on the back bodice is the same distance away from the center back, as point 2 on the front bodice is away from center front. To remind you, this is your hip divided it by 4, and 7/8" added to it.

(Hip / 4) + 7/8"

Measure that distance from center back line on line 1, mark point 2. Using French curve draw a side seam line. On center back line, measure skirt length from the waist seam, not line 1. Draw a line through it, perpendicular to the center back line. On line 3, mark point 4, the same distance away as point 4 is on the the front of the dress. To remind you, I added 1/2" to my final hip measurement, so

(Hip / 4) + 7/8" +1/2"

Connect point 2 and 4 with a straight line. Now, measure the distance from line 1 to line 3 on center back line, and mark point 5 the same distance away from point 2 on the side seam. Using French curve, draw a new hem line by connecting point 5 with the old hem line.

Back Darts

You have an option of completely ignoring back darts and sewing the dress without them. This will result in a looser fitting dress. But if you want the darts, I am going to show you how to draw them in. Draw a straight line through the middle of the back dart down to line 1. On this line, measure 5 1/4" down from line 1. Mark this as point 6. Connect both bases of the old dart legs to point 6. You are done with the hardest part! Now, trace your pattern pieces if you would like. Add seam allowances and hem allowance. Mark grain lines, cutting lines, notches and labels. I highly recommend that you put together a muslin using this new shift dress pattern. It will help you figure out if the pattern needs further changes and adjustments. I did muslin my first shift dress and I ended up taking it a little more at the back darts. I think I added ~1/2" more to depth of each one. Other than that, I didn't make any other adjustments. I will not be doing a sewing tutorial for this dress, since it is easier that original Orla. You essentially are sewing a big bodice! Just like with other Orla's you can add facing and lining to this dress. You can also make it sleeveless if you would like. Let me know if you have any questions! Until then, Anya
Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.