‘Dressmaking’ book – classic styles

I’ve had many thoughts about this book, ‘Dressmaking’ by Alison Smith. A wardrobe pattern book with a focus on clearly explained technique.

This post reviews the classic style patterns in this book, with suggested alternatives. With comments on building a classic wardrobe.

Each wardrobe pattern book has it’s own style (see my posts.) Most are on casual or pretty styles. This is the first book on classic style, so it won’t be for everyone but fills an important gap.

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The basic patterns

The ‘Dressmaking’ patterns are pure classics based on fitted blocks with fitted armholes, most with zip opening.

There are 12 basic scaleable/ download patterns :
(The second top actually buttons up to the neck.)





Plus instructions for simple pattern changes to make 19 variations. A good range within one personal style and ease level.

As my body shape is far from average, I’m not the right person to test these patterns to find how well they work. These patterns are such simple basic styles it’s easier to adapt my personal fitting blocks, rather than going through the fitting process with these patterns.

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Fitted classics only

These patterns won’t warm your heart if you like casual slouchy/ body-con, frilly/ drapey/ vintage, or trendy styles.
No dartless styles with dropped shoulders. No raglan or cut-on sleeves.
No slimmer pants, or tops with generous or negative ease.
No notched or band collars (though sufficient instructions are there).
No dresses in dartless shift, wrap, or draped styles, and those can be more flattering for many body shapes.
Nothing on sewing knits, fleece, denim.

The late Shannon Gifford thought you need 5 basic pattern blocks : pants, a-line skirt, classic shirt, fitted tee, jacket. All but the tee are here.
I like to have basic blocks for drop-shoulder, raglan, and cut-on sleeves as well as fitted armholes. And I use a casual dartless block a lot. Some people like a separate block for slim fit pants like jeans. None of those are here.

If you follow designer fashion these patterns will look a bit dull. Nothing here if you want to mimic this season’s high fashion (see my review of seasonal trends). Or a tees-sweats-jeans or tunic-leggings look. Or a cascade cardigan or notch collar blazer.

The patterns are best suited to ultra classic personal style in woven fabrics.
For ‘modern classics’ including knits, see styleARC patterns.

Other personal styles

Using these patterns, you couldn’t copy the basic wardrobes from Janice of The Vivienne Files. Here’s her casual wardrobe , and here on a wardrobe as a background to accessories.
My posts on patterns for these are on a wardrobe of relaxed basics and a common wardrobe.

Staying with wardrobe pattern books which claim to teach you to sew :

If you like casual styles, you could combine the sewing instructions in this ‘Dressmaking’ book with Wendy Mullin’s pattern books. Her patterns have a wider range of style elements and basic blocks but sometimes poor sewing instructions (and beware the fit. See my wardrobe pattern book reviews – Index page 3).

What about flouncy or vintage styles for skirt and dress lovers ? Those can easily use the Steampunk clothing company production. The Colette Patterns or Burda Style pattern books might be a better choice, too. I haven’t seen the Colette Patterns book. I have seen the first Burda Style book, which isn’t right for me as it has brief written instructions with few illustrations.

Also Gertie’s new book for better sewing, which I haven’t seen as it isn’t my style or body shape. Here’s a helpful review.

For draped styles there are the ‘Drape, Drape‘ Japanese pattern books. I haven’t seen these books, but Japanese pattern books are usually very visual – many diagrams and few words. See Simply Pretty for extended images from Japanese pattern books, to see the instruction style (or get the Japanese editions of the ‘Drape, drape’ books 😀 ).

A Wardrobe of Classics

If you work through all the projects in ‘Dressmaking’, you’ll have a variety of standard fitted classic tops (5), skirts (6), pants (4), dresses (12), and jackets (4). (No classic casuals like tees, jeans, cascade cardigan.)

Co-ordinate fabrics and colours to make a wardrobe.

Using the patterns in ‘Dressmaking’ you can make clothes similar in style spirit to Nancy Nix-Rice’s basic starter wardrobe. Here’s the first of my posts on it. Better to read her complete set of newsletters.

Nancy suggests you use 3 colours : dark neutral, light neutral, accent colour.
And have a foundation wardrobe of 12 garments :
– top, layer, pants, skirt – one group in dark neutral and another in light neutral,
– top and layer in accent colour,
– top and skirt in mixed colour print.

You couldn’t copy Nancy’s suggested styles exactly using the ‘Dressmaking’ book, as there isn’t a pattern for notched collar or knits.
And Nancy doesn’t include any one-piece dresses.

Perhaps use Butterick 5760 wardrobe pattern for the further classic styles needed, once you’re familiar with the techniques in the ‘Dressmaking’ book. Add making a band collar, a more structured jacket, and a knit cardigan to your skill set.


Or just make the 12 dresses in the ‘Dressmaking’ book – plenty enough for a classic ‘dresses only’ wardrobe !
Once you’re happy with a bit of pattern altering, you’ll be able to combine patterns to add collars and different sleeves to these dresses. Though with only a narrow range of shapes.

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My first posts inspired by this book were on sewing guidance for complete beginners and advanced beginners.

The technique instructions in this book – for intermediate level skills – are very good (I plan to write on this later). And they apply to any style. But the patterns won’t be to everyone’s taste.

I don’t wear such extreme classics, so need to adapt the patterns a bit. Lengthen the skirts and jackets, make sleeveless vests from the jacket patterns, taper the pants, make tunic versions of some dresses. . . (examples of all these pattern changes are in the book). Shortened versions of the waist seam dresses can be used for tops while peplums are so popular. With my personal style, body shape, and local climate, I’m unlikely to make any bare-shouldered styles, unless I just made them to try the skills involved.

I’ll go elsewhere for my favourite loose fitting layering top and jacket patterns. The same pattern altering and sewing techniques apply to the casual dartless block, but there’s no pattern here to use as a starting point. Other guides also needed for sewing a wider range of fabrics.

Even if ‘classic’ isn’t your style, they can be good to use as background basics. Here’s YouLookFab on using a few classic items with others.

The cover of this book claims it’s a ‘one step resource’. It isn’t that, but it is very good on the styles and techniques it does include.

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Patterns and links available March 2013

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Explore posts in the same categories: Nancy Nix-Rice, personal style

2 Comments on “‘Dressmaking’ book – classic styles”

  1. diya Says:

    I love reading your Pattern drafting reviews on books 🙂 Thanks for them ..Does Dressmaking book have paper patterns or are they on a CD?

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Diya.
      The patterns are drawn in small scale on squared paper in the book, so you can scale them up on paper marked with 2 in./ 5 cm squares. Which is also useful if you want to go beyond the largest (48 in. hip) size provided. Or there are downloads of individual sizes, using a url provided in the book.

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