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sewing a yoke dress

There's a moment in the process of everything that I sew, where I'm sitting with this ball of frayed edges and sticking-out strings in my lap, and I'm fed up with it and I just want to throw the whole thing in a corner and give up.  But every time, I sew just a couple more seams, clip, turn, press, shake it out, and oh! the thing becomes a dress.  Or the pants I was envisioning.  Or a shirt...

That moment.  That's why I sew.  The moment when the parts I cut out of flat fabric come together, stand up on their own, and become something more than bits of fabric joined by seams. 

This week I've finished three baby dresses for my three (!) nieces being born this fall.

And since I've already talked about the back placket and the puffed sleeve, now let's go through the process of sewing a basic yoke dress, shall we?

These dresses have a mid-height yoke seam, puffed, bias-bound sleeves, a straight gathered skirt, and a lined bodice.

Here are the pieces you'll need: 

(2) Bodice back and lining: The bodice back is cut in one piece with the lining.  There will be a center back opening, with buttons, and the bodice back will wrap right around and become the lining. 

(2) Skirt:  The skirt should be two rectangles, with the length being the desired dress length minus the bodice length, and then with hem and yoke seam allowances added. 

(2) Bodice front:  One of these will be the bodice front lining.

(2) Sleeve:  Puffed sleeves.

(1) Placket:  A straight-grain rectangle, twice the length of the desired finished placket, the width to be two seam allowances + two finished widths.  Mine was 1 1/2".

(2) Sleeve binding:  Bias-cut rectangles, seven times the desired finished width, length = child's upper arm measurement +1 1/2".


Here's what to do:


-Skirt side seams-Sew one skirt side seam.  Turn up the hem.  Mine was a 3" deep hem with 1/2" to turn under at the top.  Blindstitch this, or if you plan to cover the stitching with embellishment, straight stitch along the folded edge.

-Add skirt embellishment-Pintucks, ruffles, ruching...whatever you can come up with makes for skirt-hem fun.  My ruching (on the purple dress) is bias-cut strips 1" wide, ruffled down the middle with a shirring foot and then sewn to the skirt along the gathering thread. 

-When you've added any embellishment, sew the other skirt side seam, catching the raw edges of the embellishment in the seam. 

-Add a continuous bound placket in the center top back of the skirt.

-Loosen the sewing machine tension and sew two gathering threads along the top of the skirt.  One of these should be at your proposed seamline, the other halfway between the seamline and raw, upper skirt edge. 

Now hang the skirt up somewhere where you can see it while you work on the top of the dress. 


Sew the shoulder seams: Sew each bodice front shoulder seam to a bodice back shoulder seam.  The finished neckline should be make a complete circle.

Sew the neckline: Fold each bodice back in half along the center back, right sides together.  Match shoulder seams and center fronts.  Pin the neckline:

and sew from the back edge to the back edge.  Press this, clip the seam allowance to, but not through, the stitching, and turn the bodice right side out.  Press the neckline again.  Don't use steam here or the fabric may shape itself to the spaces you clipped in the seam allowance.  Just kinda looks funny.

Sew the side seams, making sure to match lining to lining, and bodice front to bodice back.


Place a pin at the point where the bodice back becomes the bodice lining, on the waistline edge.  Do this on both sides. 


Take the skirt down from the hanger and pin the bodice lining to the wrong side of the skirt.  Match those pins you just put in the back of the bodice to the edges of the placket.  Also match the bodice lining side seams to the skirt side seams.  Match the center front of the skirt to the center front of the bodice lining as well.

 Sew the bodice lining to the skirt. 

Now wrap the bodice around one side of the placket and pin the waist seam as far as you can go.  Match the bodice side seam to the lining side seam.  Wrong sides together. The bodice and lining sandwich the gathered skirt edge between them.

Sew this seam as far as you can, then press it, turn it right side out, and repeat for the other side.

You'll be left with a little opening on the outside like this:

Fold the seam allowance in and pin.

Beginning at the left upper side of the placket, topstitch very close to the edge of the waist seam, on the bodice fabric:

around the waist-

up the center back and around the neckline, then down the other back edge to where you began.  Make sure, as you sew, that there are no folds of the lining caught in your stitching.

Pin the bodice armholes to the bodice armhole lining and baste the armholes together.

Make a puffed sleeve.

Turn the dress inside out.  Pin the sleeve, right side out, in the armhole.  Match the center top of the sleeve to the shoulder seam, the underarm seam to the bodice side seam.  Place a pin at each end of the gathering threads. 

Pull the bobbin threads until the sleeve fits the armhole.  Adjust the gathers so they're distributed around the armhole.  Wrap the bobbin threads around the pin.

Stitch the sleeve into the armhole.  Press and finish the sleeve seam.

Turn the whole thing right side out and press it a little wherever it needs it. 

Put horizontal buttonholes where the arrows show you, one about 1/4" below the neckline, one at the top of the placket, and the third halfway between.

Sew on sweet little buttons and you're done.

Excuse me while I go find pink tissue paper and bows...


Reader Comments (12)

Wow--these are beautiful! I hope no baby ever threw up on them!

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

So gorgeous. You make it look so easy. I'm sure I could follow these instructions for a christening dress. Thanks!

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKim

Hello, just wanted to let you know I have been loving browsing your website as well as your blog. I LOVE to sew; I'm just getting back into it after a few years (my kids are 3 and 1) but look forward to making many cute dresses for my little girl. I love the yoke dress.... that is going to be #1, I think. If I buy the basic bodice and sleeve pattern as well as the puffed sleeve pattern, will that do it?

May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Hi, Karen! That's all you'll need (and you'll find the basic pattern useful for a lot of other designs as well...)

Best of luck!


May 6, 2010 | Registered CommenterErin

Hi, Erin,
My dress is coming along; I'm now at the bodice.... just wanted to let you know that some of the photos somehow got switched up, as there are now some pants photos where the bodice photos should be.
Hope you are having a great summer and feeling well :)

July 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Thanks, Karen, for pointing out my mistake! I've fixed the problem, although those photos are apparently lost and I've had to patch over with diagrams. I hope that none of the clarity has been lost. Good luck with your dress!


July 12, 2010 | Registered CommenterErin

Thanks! I was hopelessly lost the other night without the pictures, so those diagrams should help immensely.

July 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Once again I am admiring these adorable dresses. They are the cutest things I have seen. You are so talented! Thanks for the directions on making my own.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDebby

Hi, i am so happy I saw this tutorial, the result is wow...
I am facing problem with sleeves, that is more complicated than this kind of sleeves..
I am making a sleeping gown for children,,i need to connect the sleeve with the yoke and front part of the dress...i couldn't find my pattern but this is a similar one (the white & black dress)
i made one for my 6 yrs daughter and i had so much difficulties,, and now I am making another one for my 3 yrs daughter and I am have more trouble,, do you have any step by step instruction with pictures to help me,, I am good at attaching sleeves like the one you showed, but as i told you i would like to know how to deal with the other kind of sleeve & yoke gathering,,, can you please help me ...even if you can refer me to a link in other site coz I am not native English speaker and my searching may pinpoint my target...

July 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSafeyya

Hi, Safeyya! Thanks for your comment. If you're looking for examples of how to insert a sleeve into an armhole flat (as opposed to "in the round" as shown in this tutorial, I have instructions here:


and here:

Best of luck!

July 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterErin

A yoke is a fitted part of a dress which can be around the neck or waist. Yoke dresses are great for children’s and also for adults. The step by step procedure in making a yoke dress is easy to follow because you also indicated pictures along with the instructions.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchildrens clothing

Perhaps one of the most treasured items a mother may save will be her daughter's baby girl dresses. Many moms dress their babies up in the frilliest of dresses knowing that one day they may prefer jeans. These dresses can be saved for a lifetime of memories.

December 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchildrens clothing

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