Béa’s Sewing Adventures Stylish Shell Top Trapeze Dress Hack

admin FC Fabrics, Hack, Pattern Review, Tips & Tricks 7 Comments

If you look back over my makes for the Simple Sew Blog, you will notice that I’m a firm believer in making a pattern work hard! I generally make more than one of the same pattern, and I try to find ways of adapting it or hacking it, to make it seem different. There are many good reasons for working this way, but for me, it’s essentially because I’ve usually had to grade patterns to make them to my size, and make adjustments, such as an FBA (Full Bust Adjustment) or a Swayback Adjustment. And then I often have to toile the pattern, to be sure that my adjustments have been successful, and if not, tweak it. So if I’ve gone to all that trouble, it makes sense to use the pattern again, rather than starting from scratch with a brand new pattern that will need all the grading and adjusting and toile-ing and tweaking.

I first made the Stylish Shell Top earlier in the year, and I thought at the time that it could be easily hacked into a dress. This summer, I’m feeling a need for more “throw on” dresses in my wardrobe, and my thoughts came back to this idea. I was originally thinking of just lengthening it into a shift dress, but I kept seeing trapeze dresses on my social media feeds and they looked so lovely and loose and non-clingy, perfect for all the hot weather we’re having, and perfect for holidays.



As I already had a fully adjusted pattern for the bodice, with no colour blocking, I figured I could use the neckline & sleeves from that, and taper out the bodice. I decided that this dress was going to be sleeveless for extra coolness and non-clingyness.

I had two main concerns – firstly getting the angle of the taper right so that the dress looks flowing but not overly tent-like, and secondly making sure that the length at the front was enough to allow for the projection of my bust, without turning the dress into a hi-lo hem type of thing.

I didn’t think a trapeze dress would need a bust dart, because you don’t need to shape the fabric in below the bust, so I decided to taper the bodice piece right from the underarm. I took a stab at the angle of the taper, as approximately 25° from the vertical, taken from the point of the underarm on the bodice piece. It was basically gut-feeling, but also, that just about fitted the width of the fabric, so that was lucky! I just drew the line straight onto my fabric, using a frixxion pen (so that the marks would disappear when heat was applied).



I was using a recently acquired pebble crepe. It was from when FC Fabric Studios had their summer sale, and it was a bolt end. I love black & white prints, and I love a floral,  so this one was a no-brainer! I had 2.4 metres of it, which was just right for this make.



The construction was a breeze. I didn’t have any darts to sew, it was just the shoulder and side seams – it really couldn’t be any easier! I just had to try it on and be sure that the hem was OK.


For that second concern. I decided to allow 10 more centimetres at the front than the back, and tidy up when I had the chance to try it on. As it happened, I ended up cutting another 2cms off at the back.


Once I could try the dress on, I made a couple of tweaks to the neckline (deepened by 2cms) and shoulder (narrowed by 2cms). The armhole is a little long, to be honest, probably because it was designed for sleeves, and because it was designed to be boxy. If I make this again, I’ll shorten the armhole by one or two centimetres. But it’s fine for a loose-fitting summer dress.


I considered using a bias binding finish for the neckline and armholes, but settled on keeping it simple – it’s a straightforward turned under hem, finished by hand.



Béa blogs at Béa’s Sewing Adventures

Comments 7

  1. Hi Excuse my for asking but how many sizes did you make it bigger and how did you do it. Because I wanted to do that to a pattern and I was unable to do it. And that dress looks amazing and you done that from a top pattern.

    1. Hi Mandy, thank you for your comment!

      I suppose I bumped the pattern up by maybe one or two sizes from the largest size this pattern comes in – 22. If you read my post on Making the original top (https://simplesewblog.com/beas-sewing-adventures-stylish-shell-top/#comments) you can see all the pattern adjustments I did to get the pattern to fit me. The main thing for me is always the Full Bust Adjustment (FBA), because that’s where normal fitting is too tight for me. But for this dress, because I was taking the side seam out at a much wider angle I didn’t need that so much.

      If you want to read more about grading a pattern up, you could try my very first post for Simple Sew – the Skater dress (https://simplesewblog.com/beas-sewing-adventures-skater-dress-sizing-up-tutorial/). I used a really helpful blog post by The Thrifty Stitcher (https://thethriftystitcher.co.uk/how-to-grade-a-pattern-inspired-by-the-great-british-sewing-bee/?cn-reloaded=1). I think the trick is to find a relatively simple pattern, like the Skater dress or the Ruby dress, or this Stylish Shell Top, to start off with, so you don’t have too much fiddling about in your earliest efforts. And once you’ve got a basic pattern that you know fits you well, you can play around with it, like I have here.

    2. Hi Mandy, thank you for your comment!

      I would guess I went up one or two sizes from the largest size this pattern comes in (22). If you read my post on the original top that I made (https://simplesewblog.com/beas-sewing-adventures-stylish-shell-top/) you can see the adjustments I made. The main change I usually have to make is a Full Bust Adjustment (FBA) and that’s what really helps the fit, for me. But in this case, because I was taking the side seams out at a wide angle, that wasn’t really so much of a factor. As I mentioned, I just needed to make sure I gave it enough length to allow for the forward projection!

      If you would like to grade patterns up, I would recommend this very helpful blog post by the Thrifty Stitcher (https://thethriftystitcher.co.uk/how-to-grade-a-pattern-inspired-by-the-great-british-sewing-bee/).

      The other thing I would suggest is to start with a fairly straightforward pattern, like this Stylish Shell Top, or the Ruby dress or Skater dress. Once you’ve got a basic pattern that fits you well, then you can get more playful with it, like I did here.

  2. Hi Mandy, thank you for your kind comment.

    When I first used the Stylish Shell Top pattern, I didn’t have to make too many changes to it, I probably added one or two sizes to the largest size this pattern comes in (22). But the main thing that I usually do on all patterns is the Full Bust Adjustment, because that’s the main thing that improves the fit for me.

    If you click on the “Sizing” category, you’ll find my green floral Skater Dress, which gives a breakdown on grading a pattern up in size, including a link to a really useful tutorial by the Thrifty Stitcher. My suggestion would be to try using a fairly simple pattern like the Skater dress or Ruby dress, or this Stylish Shell Top, to start with. Once you’ve got a basic pattern that fits you well, you can play with it, like I’ve done here.

    Good luck!

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