Shirtdress Sew-Along: Getting the Fit Right

In this week’s segment of our #shirtdresssewalong, we’re discussing fit—the key to getting your shirtdress to look good on you. You can stitch the most technically proficient dress, but that’s all for nothing if your dress ends up being too baggy or too tight in places.

The shirtdresses we’re making fall into two camps: loose-fitting to semi-fitted bodice, and fitted bodice.

1) Loose-fitting to semi-fitted shirtdresses. Below are examples of our shirtdress patterns that fit this category.

McCall Pattern Company Shirtdress Sew-Along

Getting the fit right on this type of shirtdress is easier. Step #1, go to your closet and find a loosely fitting or semi-fitted shirt you bought or made that fits this category. Choose a shirt that you think fits well—not too big or too small. Lay it flat on a table and measure it from side seam to side seam across the widest part of the bust.

McCall Pattern Company blog: using your own clothes to determine pattern size.

Double that number to get your shirt’s circumference, front and back. Now compare this number with the finished garment measurements found on your pattern tissue near the bust point. Choose the size that’s closest to your number. Note: Err on the side of adding more ease, not less. It’s way easier to subtract ease than it is to add it after you’ve cut your fabric out.


If you find the shirtdress you’re sewing is too loose-fitting on you, then just take in the side seams. You’ll also need to reduce the sleeve seam by the same amount so it fits properly when you insert it into the bodice. Increase at the side seams and sleeve seam (where the sleeve is inserted into the bodice) if you need to add width.

For wide or narrow shoulders, also measure your favorite shirt: Button it up all the way, lay flat, and then measure from top of the left armscye seam to the right armscye seam. Compare your flat pattern pieces and adjust as necessary by adding or subtracting here.

2) Fitted shirtdresses. Below are examples of our shirtdress patterns that are considered fitted.

fitted shirtdress bodices

Here achieving fit get a little more complex, but you can do it! Our best advice is to first make a muslin (or toile) of the bodice. You don’t need to make the skirt at this stage. This is to get a general idea of what the fit is like and where you might need to make changes.

I made a muslin of Butterick B6333 to fit on my niece. Based on her bust size and the finished garment measurements, I cut out a size 8. (Tip—Mark each muslin pattern piece with this info: pattern number, piece number, name of piece [e.g., side bodice front], pattern size, and grainline.)

McCall Pattern Company Shirtdress Sew-Along

McCall Pattern Company Shirtdress Sew-Along

So glad I made a muslin first! You can see from the above photos that the bodice is pulling and bunching in places. And my niece said the overall fit was too snug. Feeling fairly confident a size 10 would fit fine, I cut into the fashion fabric.  Again I stitched only the bodice, and had another try-on session with my niece. This time she said it felt perfect.

McCall Pattern Company Shirtdress Sew-AlongMcCall Pattern Company Shirtdress Sew-AlongMcCall Pattern Company Shirtdress Sew-Along

If you need to adjust the waist, you can add or subtract to side seams and/or waist darts and princess seams. For full skirts, you can then eliminate some of the fullness at the waist gathers or pleats if you need to add width. To decrease skirt waist width, do the exact opposite and increase the amount of gathers or pleat depth. For slim skirts, add or decrease to the side seams and/or waist darts.

To recap so far, for fitted shirtdresses, first make a muslin. This will help you isolate where you need to make adjustments. In my case going up one size solved all problems. Plan on having another fit session with the bodice in your fashion fabric—you may want to hand-baste your seams if seam-ripping and plucking threads might mar your fabric.

Sometimes we do run into specific trouble areas. Several of you have asked for bust adjustment help. FBA article on the McCall Pattern Company blogWe’ve got a great article from Vogue Patterns Magazine that addresses making bust adjustments to patterns with darts or princess seams. Download it here:

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Click on the link that says Bust Adjustment Article and it will begin downloading. (In exchange for providing us your email we may add you to our newsletter mailing list, which you are free to opt out of at any time.)

Here are some additional helpful resources:

For patterns with multiple cup sizes, choose the pattern size based on your high bust measurement, then choose the cup size based on the difference between your bust measurement and your high bust measurement.

Let us know if there are other specific problem fit areas you think we should address and we will update this blog post if necessary.

Next week on the Shirtdress Sew-Along: pressing and edgestitching or topstitching. Both are key to your finished shirtdress looking sharp and professional.

Our Shirtdress Sew-Along Facebook Group has over 300 members! It’s not too late to join us. Don’t worry if you aren’t on Facebook or would prefer not to join—all the pertinent information will always be posted here on this blog first. And remember to share your makes and work-in-progress using the hashtag #shirtdresssewalong.

How to make a full bust adjustment (FBA) to sewing patterns. From McCall Pattern Company


We’ve been sewing since 1863.

  1. thanks. Great information.

  2. Very nice information, your nieces dress looks like it will turn out very nicely :-). Thanks for the link

  3. Oh Meg, so timely. I’ve just finished McCalls 6696 and have a few fit suggestions which I will post on my blog today. Most importantly I would suggest anyone making the dress with waistband DO NOT cut the waistband in one piece. It should be cut to fit the back (add seam allowances) and then cut to fit the fronts (add seam allowances). That way any last minute tweaking can be done without having to unpick the entire waistband and readjust. This way its possible to just run down the side seams tweaking fit as necessary. My toile didn’t really demonstrate my issues, but the dress did!

  4. Meg, I wonder if you could clarify where the dart point should fall compared to the apex. I have the feeling you’re going to tell me it’s personal preference. I’m 34G and, at 50+, thick in the waist. I am large busted for my frame and it always feels as though bust points hit me high. But when I do a FBA and drop the dart points, I’m wondering if I’m pulling them too low.

    I see a lot on FBA’s and moving the dart, but I’ve notice I’m not finding where the point should fall. A lot of dress/shirts on others seem to have that dart sitting higher than the bust apex and I’m wondering if that’s deliberate.

    Sorry for rambling. Just confused.

    1. FYI: I’m working on the McCalls 6696 shirtdress.

    2. Hi Ramona! I just spoke with our head dressmaker about this. First of all, yes, this is a matter of personal preference. (I like a higher apex, but that’s just me and Tatyana says I’m doing it wrong, but I’m going to ignore her.) Aim for a point that’s .5″ to 1″ to the outer side of your apex (high bust point or nipple), and about .5″ lower than your apex.

      Hope this helps!

      1. :-)) Keep doing what you like.
        Thanks so much. That does help!

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