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#058: Making a twist-front dress with Tilly & The Buttons Stretch!

with your host, Jacqui Blakemore

Are you inspired to make a twist-front top or dress? Sewing a twist-front top was the first technical challenge in the latest series of the Great British Sewing Bee. It looked like a complicated challenge for their first task but the garments they made looked gorgeous. So if you were inspired to give twist-fronts a try then this pattern (and book) review is for you. Read on to find out more!


Great British Sewing Bee Contestants with their twist-front tops
Sewing Bee Contestants with their Twist-Front Tops

Why make a twist-front dress or top?

It can be hard to find a style of garment that has a wow factor but isn't super-complicated to make. When I made my first twist-front dress a few years ago I was desperate for dresses I could wear for work that looked smart but were still comfortable.


But I didn't want them all to look the same so I was looking for styles and patterns that would add a twist (ha ha - see what I did there?) to my wardrobe.


I also wanted to see how the patterns for those types of garments looked and how they were assembled because as I had started to draft a few patterns myself, I hadn't seen any instructions on how to create that type of twist.


Why Tilly & the Buttons Stretch! book?

I got the Tilly & the Buttons 'Stretch!' book when it came out in 2018. I was hugely inspired by her when she was on the Great British Sewing Bee back in 2013. She was the first role model I had seen that had gone from a normal day job to making a living from her home sewing.


I was totally envious but hugely inspired. Her background in marketing definitely shows through in all she does, and when her book was released I hadn't really done a lot of sewing with stretch fabrics and thought it would be a great place to start.


The book is really comprehensive and although it's aimed at beginners and I now have a lot more experience sewing with stretch fabrics, I still find myself going back to some of the patterns again and again.

Step by step photo instructions
Step by step photo instructions

In addition to the patterns, the book also includes:

  • tips on equipment and stitching techniques for sewing stretch fabrics with a sewing machine or an overlocker

  • an introduction to the types of stretch fabric

  • how to measure stretch percentage

  • and some common pattern adjustments

The projects include a wide range of skirts, tops, dresses and even joggers to get you started.


NOTE: One thing to note is that the patterns are supplied on A0 sheets printed on both sides so you will need pattern paper or equivalent to trace them off.


For more tips on how to do that check out this video tutorial: Pattern Jargon and top tips to trace off patterns.


So What is the Joni Dress?

Different Joni dresses from the Stretch! book
Joni dress options

Pattern description

The book describes Joni as a dress that "may look complicated, but it's surprisingly simple to make. The fitted bodice has a stunning draped twist at the front, creating a plunging neckline and a shaped empire waist seam".


The dress is a half-circle flare that finishes just above the knee and has two sleeve length options - 3/4 and elbow length.


Pattern sizing

Tilly uses her own sizing chart and this pattern covers the following sizes:

Sizing charts
Body and finished garment measurements

NOTE: The finished garment measurements for the bust are smaller than the body measurements. This is called 'negative ease' and what it means is that the garment is designed to be close fitting and stretched across the bust when worn.


But at the waist and hip, because of the empire waistline, the dress flares out to be much looser through the natural waist and hip.


MY MAKE(S): I didn't want it to be too tight across the bust so I opted for the size 5. My measurements are bust = 36, waist = 31, hip = 41 inches.


Fabric type

This dress is designed for cotton or viscose jersey for everyday wear or can be made from stretch velvet or silk jersey for a more dressy version.

Animal print jersey version of Tilly & the Buttons Joni Dress
Animal print jersey version

The pattern states that any light to medium-weight drapey knit fabric with at least 25% crosswise stretch and good recovery will work.


MY MAKE(S): I have made it in a striped jersey that feels a bit like a scuba, an animal print cotton jersey and a shiny gold foil jersey.


Fabric quantity

For the two smallest sizes you can fit the skirt into a fabric width of 115cm or 45in. For all other sizes, you need a fabric wide of at least 130cm or 51in.

  • 2.1m for the elbow-length sleeve version

  • 2.3m for the 3/4 length sleeve version

If you have a pattern repeat or want to do pattern matching you may need more fabric.


Other notions/supplies

  • Clear elastic: to stabilise the shoulders and the waist seams

  • Jersey needle or ballpoint needle: depending on what type of stretch fabric you choose

  • Twin needle: if you want to create two straight lines of stitching for your skirt and sleeve hems For my FREE comprehensive guide to choosing the right needle click here:

What techniques do you need to make it?

So there are 6 elements of the construction that I think it is worth highlighting:


1. Tracing off the pattern

The patterns that come with the book are printed on A0 paper on both sides with some of the pattern pieces overlapping. This means that it's designed so that you trace off the pieces that you need (as mentioned above).

The easiest way I have found to do this is to put a cutting mat or protective surface on my table, place some plain pattern paper onto the mat and then place the pattern pieces, face up, on top.


I then use a pinwheel to go over the outline of the pieces including the markings such as grainlines. This puts holes in the plain pattern paper underneath that you can then use to cut out the pieces and add the markings with pencil. For more details on this see this video: Pattern Jargon and top tips to trace off patterns.


2. Sewing stretch fabrics

The book gives lots of great tips on this so I am not going to cover that too much here. I tend to sew up my stretch garments on my sewing machine first and then finish edges or reinforce seams with my overlocker.


But be reassured that you can make this whole dress just on your sewing machine using a zig-zag stitch for the seams. I tend to use a stitch width of 1.0 or 1.5 and a stitch length of 2.5. On more basic machines you may just have 2 or 3 zig-zag options, so for the seams, I would recommend picking the smallest zig-zag option you have available.


I like to use a twin needle for the hems on the skirt and the sleeves. I overlock the edge first just for neatness, then turn it up once and stitch with the twin needle. I use a straight stitch with a length of 3.0.


3. Stabilising with clear elastic


Tilly covers this in detail in the book. It can be a bit tricky to get started so it's definitely worth practising on some scrap fabric first. The idea is not to stretch the elastic but to use it to improve the recovery of the seams that take most of the weight i.e. the shoulder and the waist, so that your dress doesn't overly stretch out.


4. Neck binding


I think this was the trickiest bit of the make as sewing bindings onto stretch fabrics is not my favourite. I found that using a straight stitch and not a zig-zag worked best for me and on the striped version I made I just used an overlocker to neaten the edge of the neck opening, then turned it over once and used the twin needle to stitch it instead of using the binding.

My striped version of the Joni dress
Sewing the front twist

5. The front twist


This is actually simpler than I thought it was going to be. You cut the front bodice piece on the fold. To form the twist you lay the piece face up on the table, then turn just the right-hand side over once so the wrong side shows. You then turn the right-hand side again so that you can see the right side of the fabric.


Once you have your twist you then sew the remainder of the centre front seam to hold the twist in place.


6. Sewing with a twin needle


If you decide to do your hems with a twin needle and haven't used one before then I would recommend trying it out first on a scrap of fabric. In fact, I would always recommend testing all of your stitches on scraps of your project fabric so you can see how they look and what settings work best.


With a twin needle, you insert the needle into the usual needle holder but you need two threads. Most machines have a second thread holder that you can use for this. Thread both threads together through your machine and then put one in each needle.


You use just one bobbin and the machine will then stitch straight stitches on the right side of the fabric and a zig-zag on the wrong side. So that means you have to sew your hems with the right side uppermost, so be sure to practice.


If you don't want to use a twin needle then you can use your zig-zag stitch to secure your hems instead.


My tips and alterations for this dress

I did make a toile the first time I tried this dress. I used relatively low-cost jersey and I just made the bodice part first without the sleeves so I could practice the twist and check the fit.


I made the following alterations to the pattern to fit my particular body shape and style:

  • Added 3/4 inch to the length of the shoulder at the neckline on the back and front bodice pieces

    • This was because I wanted it to fit more closely to my neck and for the V to be a bit narrower.

  • Raised the centre back by 1/2 inch at the neckline

    • This was because it wasn't very flattering for my slightly rounded shoulders

  • Adjusted the front neckline to position the twist closer to the bust

    • This also involved making the lower portion of the centre front seam shorter

  • Adjusted the sleeve pattern to shorten the length and add flare

    • Using the slash and spread method, I added width to the hem of the sleeve to create fullness

  • Lengthened the skirt

    • I wanted the skirt to sit below the knee so I added 4 inches of length to the skirt.

My pattern alterations - scroll to see more


My summary

If you can't tell already I do really like this dress. The empire waistline is one of my favourite silhouettes, particularly with this half-circle skirt.

Striped version of Joni dress with perfect pattern matching
Look at that pattern matching!!

I did have to faff about with the twist, particularly on the animal print jersey version to get it to sit how I wanted it. On the striped version, I ended up putting a stitch in above the twist too, to get the V-neck to sit where I was happy.


I get a lot of wear out of these dresses and they are very comfortable. I am particularly proud of my stripe matching on the blue and white striped version and I like the chevron effect that creates.


The only possible downsides are that you have to buy the whole book to get the pattern. But at the time of writing, you can pick up copies of the book for the same price as some individual patterns.


The dress also doesn't have any pockets and having now made several of the Itch to Stitch Antrim Dress, I think I would consider adding pockets to this pattern next time I make it.


More resources

If you’d like more inspiration on sewing with Jersey fabrics then if you haven’t already done so I would highly recommend going back to episode 30 - Fabric Spotlight - Jersey and giving that a listen.


And if you would like more information on how to lengthen or shorten your pattern then take a look at this video: Lengthening and Shorting.


And if you would like more help with any of the aspects mentioned in this article or this podcast episode then I would love to hear from you so do please email me at hello@sewmuchmorefun.co.uk.


Thanks for taking the time to read this article and I hope you find some useful tips that you can apply.


To listen to the podcast version of this topic click on your favourite podcast app below:

In this episode you'll hear:

  • [00:01:04] Why make a twist-front dress

  • [00:01:39] Why choose Tilly & the Buttons Stretch! book?

  • [00:03:24] Help with tracing off patterns

  • [00:03:35] So what is the Joni dress?

  • [00:04:01] Pattern sizes

  • [00:05:47] Types of fabric

  • [00:07:14] Fabric quantities

  • [00:08:03] Other notions and equipment

  • [00:09:19] Construction techniques

  • [00:17:20] Tips and alterations to the pattern

  • [00:19:17] My thoughts about this pattern

Other twist-front patterns you might like:

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Thank you so much for listening and for all your support. x

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