Summer is here! Time for more summer dresses and here is my Empire of the Sun-Dress. It has a cross-over bodice front and back, and an elastic fitted empire-line waist, and a softly gathered skirt. Pull it on and go – it's actually reversible! The front and the back are the same.
If I can get the time, I'll try to do a bonus extra pattern in July too – no promises!
Features of the Empire of the Sun-Dress
- Cross-over front and back
- V-front and V-back
- Empire line waist with elastic
- Flared skirt
- Optional contrast trim on neckline and armholes
- Layered PDF file – just print the size you need
- Just two pattern pieces
- 7 sizes for 31 to 45-inch bust
For your summer sundress pattern, you will need:
- Softly draping stretch knit fabric
- Optional – contrast fabric for the trim
- Narrow 1/4 inch elastic
- The pattern download
How to Make the Empire of the Sun Dress
Download, print and assemble your pattern. If you need help in printing the layered PDF file just in your size, check out this previous article – How to Print a Layered PDF Pattern. Or you can just print all sizes, like a regular pattern. Instructions for printing are included in your download.
Cut your fabric pieces. You'll need 2 skirt pieces and 4 bodice pieces. The back and the front of this dress are the same. Lay out your bodice pieces so you can be sure which pieces go where and that the ‘points' are pointing towards center with the armholes on the outside. I know it seems obvious, but just double check. Then join two opposite pieces together at the shoulder. Repeat for the other side.
To finish the edges, you have two options:
Contrast or matching fabric trim
Cut yourself some contrast (or matching) trim 1.5 inches wide. The stretch in the fabric runs along the length of your trim.
Fold it in half and match the raw edges of the trim with the raw edges of the bodice armholes and neckline. You can pin if you like, or just match up as you sew. Slightly stretch the trim as you sew it on. As a rule of thumb, your binding should be about 85% of the length of the neckline, but this depends on your fabrics so use your own judgment and experience. Sew along the middle of the width of the binding. Leave an inch of spare binding at each end, we can trim this later.
Fold back the binding and press seam allowances to the main fabric. Stitch through all layers close to the binding stitching line. This holds everything neatly in place on the back and keeps it all flat.
Here's what it looks like on the inside. You can choose to trim away any extra close to the stitching line if you like.
No trim – turn and stitch option
You may also turn a small seam allowance to the wrong side and stitch if you don't want to use binding. Finish the neckline edges while flat. You may choose to turn and finish the armhole in the round once the side seam is sewn if you aren't adding the binding.
Here are the finished bodice pieces.
Join the bodice side seams. If you've added the trim, make sure the edges match neatly under the arm.
Mark 9 inches from the point on each bodice piece and overlap the points by the 9 inches. Pin the overlaps in place. CAREFULLY try on your bodice and check for fit. Try not to get a pin in the eye! Depending on your size and unique body shape, the 9-inch overlap might or might not work for you. Adjust the fit until you are happy with the neckline. Hand baste in place with a loose stitch. Repeat for the front and the back. Both are the same.
Sew the skirt side seams to make a tube of fabric.
Match the side seams on the skirt with the side seams on the bodice, matching right sides together. Your bodice and skirt empire lines will be different lengths. No problem, our fabric is stretchy and we're going to ‘ease' the two together to fit.
Find center front and center back on the skirt and bodice and match. Ease the fabric evenly between the 4 quarters and pin the bodice and skirt together.
Join the two with a 3/4 inch seam allowance.
With raw edges matching, finish with a serger, a zig-zag stitch or an overcasting stitch to join all fabric edges and create a casing within the seam allowance for your elastic. Leave a small gap to thread through your elastic.
Press the casing down towards the skirt and sew close to the edge to secure it. Make sure to leave enough room for your elastic.
Thread your elastic through the casing and then try on the dress to check for fit and trim your elastic to fit snugly but comfortably. Stitch the ends of the elastic together and close the gap in the casing.
Try on your dress and check the length of the hemline. Trim if necessary. Finish the hem with your favorite method. A stretch stitch isn't necessary. I just turned up the hem, pressed and stitched. You can use a twin needle for a nice finish – read how here.
Your dress is finished. I hope you have great success making this summer sundress pattern. Enjoy wearing your Empire of the Sun-Dress and maybe think about making one in a glitzy fabric for a date night dress. That would be nice too with the low back.
Hi all, can anyone tell me how long this dress should take to make, from piecing together the pattern, cutting and sewing to a finished product?
Someone hired me to make a similar dress for her and was shocked at how long it took me. I sewed steadily and took my time to get it right rather than rushing through and risking mistakes.
I’ve been sewing for 40 years so I know what I’m doing. I just never tried to be speedy because that can lead to time-consuming mistakes to be repaired. But now I’m wondering if I’m just a slow-poke.
Thanks for any input you all can offer.
You are not a slowpoke, you need to sew at your pace. Only by making the same thing over and over that you can get faster. Like a machinist at a factory that sews zippers all day. You are absolutely right you need to focus and go slow to make a well made flawless beautiful dress that you will be proud of. So stand your ground, rushing does lead to costly mistakes.
Thanks so much for the validation. The dress was stunning because I took the time to pay attention to the details.
Can you tell me an average amount of time for an experienced seamstress to make this dress for the first time? I know I’m a little slower than average because I’m slightly (LOL) obsessed with perfection but I want to know how far outside the norm I might be and also I want to be able to tell the woman how long a similar dress takes other experienced sewists.
I would appreciate it.
Cutting the dress, the fabric should be laid the night before on the cutting table to allow the fiber to relax and recover from being on a roll for months or even years. Marking or pining, cutting, sewing could be four hours maybe five. This is if there are no fittings to be done. If you, however, have to modify the pattern to adjust a full bust, short torso, etc. You might be looking at another hour or two of work. I am not the fastest seamstress but I hate making mistakes so I take my time. My finish is flawless you can never tell it was hand made. Stay proud of your craft and know that the only way to be faster is to make the dress at least three times maybe more.
Thank you so much, Mayra! Now I know I’m not that far off the average. I was required to make a pattern from a finished dress that I wasn’t allowed to take apart (not so easy with the gathered yoke it has), and that part alone took as long as sewing the dress. I also needed to figure out how the original dress was constructed, and include details such as a patch pocket and a button closure at the yoke. Hand stitching was required on some areas of the finish work. Just the layout, cutting, marking, sewing and finishing took me over 7 hours.
Maybe a little slower than another experienced sewist
but not unreasonable! Thanks again for the reality check. I get so much value from your website!! I’m “buying you a cup of coffee” to help support all your work.
Thank you Marcia! You are so sweet!
Will you be putting this on PayHip?
Yes I will be moving it soon. Thank you!
Hi there. This is my first attempt at making one of your patterns using PDF. I have followed the instructions scrupulously, but there are no “pie” marks. I set about matching the lines with a quilting ruler and it was OK until I get to one piece where I would need to cover the previous page by about 1/3rd to meet the lines. I’m sure this can’t be right. I have cleaned the nozzle on my printer, and put in a new set of ink, but to no avail (I have printed from latest Adobe). Any ideas?
Are scaling the pattern or using “actual size”? This problem I have never heard before.
You know how much I love you ❤️ and your patterns. You have saved me a lot of worries and stress about fabric or pattern? I have enjoyed following you for several years and your patterns inspire me so much. I do have one small problem, though. I keep losing weight and I don’t know why. My first thought was that this is so cool. Now it’s not so cool. I have gone from a 2X to a 1X to an xtra large to a large to a medium. I went to see my doctor 17 days ago and weighed 130. Then I had to go back yesterday and weighed 117.2 pounds. Now I don’t even know what size I should make. This just isn’t funny anymore. I’m 5’7″ so maybe that gives you some idea. I go for an MRI on Friday. I wonder what I’ll weigh. Any suggestions besides see my doctor and hurry? We’re working on it. I borrowed my daughter’s size 10 jeans and now they’re getting rather loose. I think your dress will be perfect but I have this issue with all my skin. Any way I can start adding sleeves?
Hi Cheryl, I’m going to post an article about how to add sleeves to this or pretty much any dress or top in the next couple days. Please stay tuned!
What size cups is this intended for? I tried to make one similar (pretty sure it was not this one though) and the bodice was not long enough for DD cups size.
No bigger than D.
I’m a larger busted person size G. Please tell me how to enlarge the pattern
This looks so pretty I would love to make it, I even have the fabric I would use, but I do not like to show any cleavage could you let me know how to make the V neck line not so deep?
Link not working today!
Hi D, I’ve checked all the links and they seem to be working fine. Please try again.
Short Sleeves would indeed be a good idea. I would simply take front and back (when sewn together) take the form and construct easy-peasy sleeves. probably even something lighter, half-transparent, flared for more summerfeeling to a dress in a non-patterned fabric
Love the idea of reversible, especially for travel. In the instructions I can’t seem to find how you recommend handling the skirt hem in a reversible version. Thanks.
Great questions that requires a few answers and most importantly a whole tutorial. I will let you know when it is ready.
Hmmm.cute, easy. But, . . ., I have big boobs. The front and back CAN’T match, I think. Any thoughts how to do an FBA?
Here is the tutorial for a FBA, https://so-sew-easy.com/how-to-make-a-full-bust-adjustment/
TH A itself isn’t a big deal, but my question is, would I then use the altered pattern piece for the back as well? Or the original pattern piece as printed?
Here is how to make a full bust, please use the adjusted pieces to cut your fabric.
Thank you for the pattern. I feel a new sundress for me coming up. ?
Love it but would like a long version of it.
I like this dress but might not want to show so much cleavage. What’s the best way to accomplish that?
You have to raise the neckline (the amount you will be comfortable wearing) in the pattern.
Pockets are a necessity for me. Any ideas? Thanks.
I am with you on this but, I would have to write a full tutorial for this. I am on it.
I love the idea of reversible for travelling – but on reading through the instructions I can’t see what you are recommending at the hem – two free floating hems or stitch around the
bottom and turn before attaching waist?
Doesn’t it mean reversible as in “front and back are the same” rather than inside out?
Thank you for the pattern. I would absolutely love this if it had short sleeves. Could you possibly do a blog on how to add sleeves, along with a pattern, to sleeveless dresses. My arms are large and I am not comfortable in sleeveless dresses. Thank you so much!
I second that request.
This pattern with sleeves is similar. You could probably combines them. https://so-sew-easy.com/wrap-dress-pattern/
I’m looking at this too-but instead of adding sleeves, I think I’ll try to crochet a light shrug or cardigan!!
A perfect Florida summer dress. Thank you.
I love it! But . . . What do you do for bust support? Are you able to wear a bra underneath? Would it be possible to sew in cups in between the two fabrics for the bodice and / or firmer elastic support? I would need that to keep from sagging or “tuning in Tokyo” if you get my drift!
yes to all your questions:)
Please tell me what the sizing letters correspond to in dress sizes.
ie: does size B = dress size 12-14, C= 16-18, etc.?
Hi, Donni, sadly I have to do an update on this pattern. I will Let you know so I can work out the sizes and perhaps add more to it.
I would also like to know the sizing as i am not sure which to print and cut. Thank you!
I loved this pattern, however I think I overestimated my size! I did a size 12 and even after attempting to make it smaller, it’s still pretty large on me. I think I will retry with a smaller size, but I have a question / issue with the casting:
When fitting together the skirt and the bust, I used a serger/overlocker. I then measured and stitched further in to house the casting, and threaded my elastic through. However, I now have a “flappy” casting which can either stick up towards the bust or point down towards the skirt. In the pattern, did you refold the casting down towards the skirt and sew another stitch through all the layers (therefore leaving 2 stitch lines on the front of the dress under the bust)?
HI Kay, the casing is stitched down towards the skirt. Try the dress and trim your elastic, then you can close the gap in the casing.
Hello! Part way down this page is a baby blue floral sundress with thin straps that I would like to make for my granddaughter. Where can I find the pattern?
I was on this page as I want to make the dress on this page but have never worked with knits, is there a link for tips for working with them? Thanks
Hi Debra, just click on the link it should get you there.
When I saw this pattern I thought “hooray! A sundress that I can wear with a bra!” Then I saw the back. Drat. Can’t wear a regular bra with that. Do you have a similar pattern in the front with a higher back that you can throw on over a regular bra? Thanks!
You can certainly wear this with a regular bra, I do all the time. The front and back are the same exactly, so where it finishes on the front is where it also finishes on the back, therefore assuming your bra is the correct size and the back band sits level with the front band, it won’t show at all. However, if you want it to come higher at the back, you can change the slope of the pattern when you cut the back so that it crosses over higher. Hope that helps.
The pattern piece says grainline. Is it Cross grain or length grain. How should I cut the pattern piece? Sewing first time with knits. This looks simple but totally confused with grainline. Thank you!
The grainline on the pattern should normally be placed parallel to the selvedge edge. However on knits it all depends on the direction of stretch. You knit may stretch more in one direction than another and you want to have the direction of greatest stretch running around the body not up and down. If you have a border print, you may also decide to place the pieces perpendicular to the edges to make use of the print. So you have some flexibility on how to place your pattern pieces.
Thank you ! Nicely explained.
does this pattern have to sewn with knits? My granddaughter wants a sports theme sundress but don’t think the fabric comes in knit———-probably all cotton Thanks Betsy
If it’s not made with a stretch fabric, then you won’t be able to get it on and off unless you add a zipper, and the style isn’t really suitable for a zipper as its designed because of the V front and back. Sorry, but this one really is knits only.
could you maybe put in a side zip? That wouldn’t affect the crossover
Not at all, go for it!
Lovely dress, I can’t wait to make it for myself.
Thank you for offering patterns like this for free, it makes creating my own clothing that much more accessible. You rock!
This is very cute. I might kill multiple birds with one stone by cutting 8 bodice pieces and sewing them right-sides-together along neckline and armhole to finish those edges like a facing. Makes construction a bit more complicated but it’s a typical sewing process if you have made vests or similar garments. Just have to stop at the crossing seamlines so you can sew shoulder and side seams, slipstitch the inner layer closed so all seam allowances are hidden.
You have the best indie/free patterns worldwide. Thank you for all your hard work.
That’s very kind of you to say so Carmen, makes me very happy to know that you like them.
Love this dress. Am going to try this. Also viewed your video sewing with the twin needles, just what I needed, easy to follow! Thank you!
This is an awesome dress!! I love that it’s reversible. I think it would be so cool to make the front and back from different fabrics! I’ve got a Craft Gossip post scheduled for later this morning that links to your post:
Now you’ve got me thinking! I’d love one in a print on one side and solid on the other, or mix and match so the skirt and top are different on each side. Hmm, back to the sewing room. Thanks so much for the share Anne.
I’ve been oagling your patterns but don’t much confidence to try sewing with knits?
I know a lot of people feel this way, so you are not alone. I started out with knits really so never knew any better! You would find the Craftsy classes good for learning everything you need to know. I took the Sewing with Knits class (my review here) – its a bit slow paced, but perfect for beginners and I learned so much from this. 5 patterns are included as well, to get you started.
Very nice – thanks for sharing!
I printed the pattern in size C and D using the layers. The only thing that printed was the pattern lines. No grainlines, test square or words showed up. Is this what you would expect?
You should also leave on the layer which says Print for all Sizes or all Layers – this is the layer which has the grain lines, markings, test square etc. So you will need 3 check marks, the size C and D and the Print for all sizes too.
Just yesterday I printed the wrap dress pattern. Now I don’t know which pattern to use. I like both styles. I have some fabric that would be great for either one. I think if I made this one, I might make the “back” a one piece scoop neckline instead of the crossover. That way I could wear it either way have two styles to choose from with one dress.
Sounds like a good idea to me Sandy.
Thank you, very pretty dress.
I’ve been looking for a summer dress pattern & I think I’ve just found it! This is perfect, thanks.
Thanks so much for this pattern – perfect for Florida summers!
Hi Deby, so flattering. I downloaded the pattern, I have to focus and finish a dress already in the works. Then I plan to make this will post when I get it done. You are the best. Have a great weekend and thanks so much. Val;)
very pretty Deby, thanks Sew much!
Wow. Thank you. And, wow.
Just in case I didn’t get my point across, wow. (This is just what I’ve been looking for.)