February 7, 2014


On Monday I shared pictures from my first evening at Alt Summit, wearing my handmade faux leather dress. As I mentioned, I found this gorgeous gold faux leather and quilted black faux leather at Michael Levine in the LA Fabric District, and instantly fell in love. After some sketching and trial and error in the construction, I made this color blocked fit and flare dress with a pleated skirt. The only thing that could make me love this dress more is if I'd put in pockets. Too bad.

Anyway, when I posted about it, I promised a tutorial, so here we are. It's not a difficult tutorial, but is a bit lengthy. Forge through -- you can do it!

Click through for the full tutorial!

Materials Needed: 

  • 1 yard fabric for skirt, bodice, and sleeves 
    • I used this gorgeous gold/tan faux leather from Michael Levine (I've purchased and handled lots of faux leather before and so much of it is super thick and has that horrible felted back. This does not have that and is incredibly soft, has a gorgeous drape (as you can see), and is really easy to sew. Highly recommend). 
    • if you're not interested in using faux leather, a medium weight stretchy knit fabric, like a ponte knit, is a good substitute!
  • 3/4 yard fabric for hem and dress back 
    • the black fabric I used was a quilted faux leather with a similar weight to the gold faux leather. It's not online, but this is similar
  • matching thread
  • parchment paper for pattern
  • 20-22" invisible zipper

Here's a little sketch of all the pieces you'll be cutting out, just so you have an idea of what pieces you'll need:

Step 1. Cut a bodice front pattern piece out of parchment paper, making sure the length of the piece is your shoulder to natural waist measurement (use a shirt you own as a guide, if needed).

Fold the pattern piece in half along the fold of your fabric and cut around it with a half inch seam allowance. Make sure the stretch of your fabric is going across the bodice.

Step 2. Next, do the same thing to create a pattern piece for the back. Then cut it out (on a different fabric if you desire), adding a half inch seam allowance. Again, make sure the stretch is going across the back.

Step 3. Now cut the side panels. Use the front and back panels you just cut as a guide, if needed, to make sure this piece fills in the empty sides. CUT TWO (2).

This piece will need a dart to form around your chest. My dart was about an inch wide and went from one side of the fabric to the other. DO NOT sew the dart in until you've attached it to the front bodice.

Step 3. With right sides together, attach your side panel to your bodice with a straight stitch and a half inch seam allowance. Trim the seam allowance and serge or zigzag the raw edge. Repeat on for the second side panel on the other side of the bodice.

Step 5. Add your dart, making it the size you need to fit your chest. Make the point of your dart end right at the bodice seam (but not overlapping the seam!). Repeat for second side.

Step 6. Once your darts are done, it's time to attach the back piece. Match up the sides and shoulders and sew up with a straight stitch and a half inch seam allowance. Trim your seam allowance and serge or zigzag the raw edge.

Now set your bodice aside. Let's move to the skirt.

Step 7 (not pictured). Cut two identical rectangles (mine were roughly 35"x17") for the front and back of your skirt. (I actually measured out and pinned all my pleats before cutting the skirt pieces to determine how wide my rectangles needed to be. I always cut big and then trim down if I need to as a construct the dress. I ended up cutting several inches off each side, but it was better to start big just in case).

Step 8. Determine how big you want your pleats and then pin in place, making sure their width is uniform. I also made sure that the width of the big pleat in the middle (5 inches wide) was the same with as the bottom of my bodice piece so those seams would match up when sewn together.

Once all the pleats are pinned down, baste stitch across the pleats to temporarily hold them in place.

Step 9 (not pictured). Cut the hemline pieces. Mine were 8"x35" -- make sure the width of these pieces is the same width as your skirt pieces.

Step 10. With right sides together, pin the hemline piece to the skirt piece and sew them together with a straight stitch.  (the extra fabric above my stitch line (below) is just the extra length I cut off of the skirt piece -- don't let it confuse you!) Repeat with the second skirt and hemline pieces.

Step 11. With right sides together, sew the two skirt pieces together (as seen below on the left) at the side seams. Make sure the opening at the waist is the same circumference as the bodice!

Then, take the bodice piece and tuck it inside the skirt with right sides together, pinning the skirt and bodice together it at the waist (as seen below on the right) -- make sure to match up your pleats and bodice seaming on the front of the dress!

Then sew around the waist with a straight stitch and a half inch seam allowance.
Step 12. It's time for the sleeves now. Cut the sleeve pattern piece using this basic shape below as a guide (you can also use a t-shirt sleeve as a guide), and then cut two (2) sleeve pieces out of the fabric adding a half inch seam allowance. 

Step 13. Fold the sleeve pieces in half with right sides together, and then sew along the straight edge with a straight stitch and a half inch seam allowance.

Step 14. With right sides together, insert the sleeve into the sleeve hole, pinning in place. Then sew around the sleeve opening with a half inch seam allowance. Trim and zigzag or serge your seam allowance. 

(obviously I'm doing this tutorial in a slightly different order than I actually sewed it since the bodice is not attached to the skirt here -- either way works). 

Repeat for the second sleeve.

Step 15. Now we need to put in a zipper so you can actually put your dress on. Cut a straight line all the way down the back of the dress from neckline to hemline, splitting it completely open. We'll insert the zipper in a minute.

Step 16. Using the bodice and back necklines as a guide, cut two rounded strips of fabric (about 2 inches wide), as seen below. Sew the two strips together at the shoulder seams, and then pin the strips to the neckline with right sides together (you'll have to cut the back strip since your dress is now cut open in the back too).

 Sew around the entire neckline with a straight stitch and a 1/8" seam allowance. Serge or zigzag the seam allowance.

Tuck the strip inside the dress and press into place, making a nice smooth neckline. Go back and top stitch around the entire neckline with a wide stitch.

Step 17 (not pictured).  Insert an invisible zipper according to the instructions on the packaging, and then sew the remaining inches of the back of the dress closed.

Step 18. Hem the sleeves and the dress to your desired length. Press all your seams and you're done!

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I will answer them as fast and as well as I can!


  1. Omg! I super love it. Actually I love everything you make.


  2. I have the hardest time doing 1) any kind of stripe or colorblocking and 2) hems. Getting the lines straight is so hard! Any suggestions? I feel like I try so hard to cut things out straight and sew them straight and I somehow end up with crooked lines every time.

    1. I use a rotary cutter and a big straight edge to make sure all my cuts are super straight. I'd definitely recommend investing in both if you're sewing regularly! Also, Melissa's suggestion below was a good idea -- try a post-it note on your machine as a guide (or I just use the lines provided on my machine). Another tip is to use a slightly wider stitch -- those tiny stitches can get squiggly much easier. Hope that helps!

  3. Hi Merrick!

    I love your dress, it's super cute and I love the colourblocking. I did have one question, when you are cutting the piece for the skirt how do you determine how wide to cut it for a general rule of thumb when doing a dress like this? Reading your tutorial gave me an idea for a different dress - a maxi dress with a slightly cinched waist. Thanks for the tutorial, I might just put this on my to-do list (maybe not leather though, I can't pull that off!)

    Glitter Bug

    1. oh good question! It totally depends on the size and number of your pleats in this kind of skirt. I laid my fabric flat and measured out my pleats before I cut, holding the fabric up to my waist from time to time to check the width.

      I always cut a few inches bigger on each side just in case, which is what I did here. I ended up cutting out one of my pleats at the end because I just had too much fabric.

      With just a gathered or cinched waist, I generally measure my waist and then double that measurement for the skirt. You can always cut down if that's more gathering than you want. Hope that helps!

  4. SO amazing! That dress is absolutely stunning on you!

    The Style Storm
    <3, Christina

  5. Tip for Stacy -- I use a brightly colored post it note on my sewing machine to line the edge of my fabric up with and help keep the seams straight. As for cutting... I think it's just a matter of using a straight edge and making sure your fabric is ironed and flat.

  6. WOW! Love this outfit, it's so pretty!!!

  7. Merrick! This is amaze balls. For reals girl. I am dying over that dress. I need you to move here and be my personal seamstress okay!?
    Love Me, Dani Marie

  8. That is so amazing! You are super talented! This is probably way beyond my beginner sewing level, but one day I aspire to make something this amazing!


  9. can you share some of your talent with me, missy?

  10. that dress is amazing!!!! you are soo talented and how awesome to have a one of kind gorgeous dress!

    Sandy a la Mode

  11. I don't wear much leather, or faux leather, but I never thought it had much stretch. Without a zipper of any kind, is the dress difficult to put on/take off? I hate doing zippers, so I usually end up with dresses a bit baggier than yours!

  12. This is so gorgeous, and you make it sound so easy! Very impressive!

  13. I would totally buy this dress! Let me know if you ever start making and selling clothes in any store anywhere!!!

  14. I'm seriously so impressed with you. This dress looks fantastic on you!

  15. This dress is amazing!! It looks great on you! Question -- How do you pin the leather so that there aren't any holes? I really wanna try sewing something similar but I'm nervous about leather because I know that once you make a hole, it stays but it looks like you just pinned it and it was fine. (On the neckline and sleeves - everywhere else it was in the seam allowance)
    Also did you take the baste stitches out -- do you even have to?


    1. This leather is actually really self-healing -- none of the pin holes showed at all! And no, I didn't take the baste stitches out...I just sewed the final seam below it so it wasn't visible.

  16. Oh my goodness, that dress is just so super amazing!


  17. love the tutorial! i bought a really long leather coat for $1 at a rummage sale and i've been looking for a project to use it with - i think i've found it!

  18. love the tutorial! i bought a long leather jacket from a rummage sale for $1 and i've been waiting for a tutorial to use it for - i think i've found it! thanks!

  19. The dress turned out incredible.
    Love your blog style aesthetic of saving money by making & revamping your own clothes.
    Thought I'd share another blogger with a similar aesthetic (conscious shopper) with you that I think you'll love if you haven't seen yet: http://www.un-fancy.com/category/capsule-wardrobe-101/

    if you ever want to talk fashion, you can find me at www.standingstellar.tumblr.com


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