Creative articles about sewing

“Irina” Sew Along – Week 1 – Prepare Pattern

Welcome to the first week of the “Irina” Sew Along. I’m so happy to have you here and can’t wait to see what you all create! In this post we’ll cover how to prepare your pattern and make pattern alterations for your own version of the “Irina” dress, which was the free pattern from Inspiration Sewing Magazine last month.

Because I will be covering how to make 2 different dresses there will be lots of information in each post! Some relevant for both dresses and some for only one but I’ll make it clear which is which.

As a refresher these are the 2 dresses I will be showing you how to make by adapting the Irina Dress. You can click on each dress image below to see a nice little twirly GIF of me modelling them for you. 😉

The Linen Colour Blocked “Irina” Dress

The Merino Sleeveless Tunic “Irina” Dress


Week 1 – How to Prepare your Pattern

This first week we are preparing our pattern and doing some pattern alterations. This post will cover:

  • Different ways to print and assemble the Irina pattern
  • Choosing your size
  • Tracing off the pattern onto Tracing Vilene
  • Adding design lines  –  for the Linen Colour Blocked dress
  • Altering the bodice pattern  – for the Merino Sleeveless Tunic dress
  • Adding seam allowances


Printing Option:

#1 – Print on A4 paper and tape all the pieces together.

This is a great option if you have a printer at home. I like to tape mine to a large window so that you can see through the paper which makes it easy to be able to match up the marking lines on each page.

#2 – Take it to a printing shop and get it printed on A0 paper.

Faster than taping all the A4 pieces together but there is a small cost. Make sure with both options that you select “Actual size”, “100%” or “No Scaling” so that your pattern is the correct measurements. There is a 10cm square on the pattern that you can measure after it’s printed to check this. 


Choosing your size

Before tracing off the pattern you need to know which size to make. The Irina dress is designed to be quite over sized. I made size 40 which is recommended for a waist measurement of 75cm. The finished dress waist measures 110cm! So that’s an extra 35cm of positive ease. If you are unsure about which size, I highly recommend you make a quick toile from scrap fabric to see how it fits. I made a couple of toiles which I will talk about in the next blog post. 


Tracing the Pattern

I like to trace all my patterns onto tracing Vilene a.k.a. Light weight non-fusible interfacing. Using tracing Vilene for patterns has a number of advantages:

  • It’s see-through so makes tracing off the pattern very easy
  • Easy to match patterns and lines on your fabric because you can see through the tracing Vilene pattern
  • It’s thin and folds up small for storage
  • It doesn’t rip like tissue or paper does.
  • If you want to adapt your pattern in the future, you can cut and sew different pattern pieces together
  • You can wash it when you eventually spill your tea/coffee on it 😉

But of course you can use your preferred method for patterns. 

If you are making the Irina pattern as it is designed then you can go ahead and trace off your pattern now, then skip to the bottom and see instructions about how to add your seam allowances. If you are doing the Linen Irina or the Merino Tunic then read on for the pattern alteration instructions for those.


Pattern alterations – Linen Colour Blocked Dress

For the Linen Irina dress we need to plan our design lines. Where do you want the colour changes to be? We will then draw them onto our pattern and trace off separate pattern pieces for each section, adding seam allowances and notches.

I sketched a few different versions of design lines on my working drawing. You can add whatever lines you wish but here is a few things to keep in mind. 

  • Gentle curves are easier to sew and keep flat.
  • If you put lines higher than the armpits, you will need to extend those design lines into the sleeves which can be hard to match up. So I decided to add my lines from below the armpits to make it easier.
  • If you want really easy just add different lines in the skirt.
Step 1:

Trace all the pattern pieces off into full pattern pieces. I.e. Whole symmetrical pieces (left image) instead of the half pattern pieces that are included in the printed pattern (right image). We need to be able add our design lines across the whole piece. To do this fold your tracing Vilene in half and place the fold line on the CF or CB line. Trace off the pattern, cut out and unfold. 
N.B. You don’t need to add seam allowances yet but my pattern pieces in the images below have a 1cm seam allowance added because I had already used this pattern to make up a toile.

Step 2:

Draw your design lines on the pattern pieces. Starting with the centre front (1), then match the line to the side body piece (2) and continue it across the back piece (3), then continue it back onto the side piece again. It could be helpful to copy off 2 side body pieces so you can have a left and right side piece but I just drew the 2 different lines on the one piece. 
N.B. The front and back curves don’t have to be the same but I did mine the same.

Make sure to match up the seam lines in between bodice pieces to get smooth design lines. In the picture below you can see I have overlapped my pattern pieces so I can ignore the seam allowance and draw the line across.

Step 3:

Do the same for the skirt pieces. I actually lengthened my skirt by about 10cm first then drew a nice big smooth curve. At each end, keep the design line perpendicular to the side seam. That way you know it will be a smooth line when sewn together. 

Step 4:

Add some notches to help make joining the curves easier, especially on the bigger pieces of the skirt. Draw some small perpendicular lines across your design line, doesn’t matter where but roughly at 1/4 intervals is good.

Step 5:

Trace off each of the new pattern pieces onto tracing Vilene, making sure to clearly label each pattern piece with a new name. E.g. “Centre Front Bodice Upper, Right Side Bodice Lower” etc. You could also add which colour linen they will be if that helps. Add your seam allowances (see notes at the end) and cut out. 

Centre Front Bodice Upper & Lower – Cut 1 of each.

Centre Back Bodice Upper & Lower – Cut 1 of each

Right Side Bodice Upper and Lower. Left Side Bodice Upper and Lower. Cut 1 of each.
Make sure to flip the original side bodice piece when tracing off so you end up with a pair of side bodice panels.
TOP TIP – Talking about Right or Left on a pattern always refers to which side of the body when you are wearing it. 

Skirt Upper and Skirt Lower – Cut 1 pair of each

We haven’t adapted these pattern pieces but make sure you’ve traced the pocket and sleeve off too.

That’s it for the Linen Colour Blocked Irina Dress. You are ready for cutting out fabric next week! 


Pattern alterations – Merino Sleeveless Tunic

For the Merino Tunic version, I altered the pattern by removing the side bodice panels and turning them into a one piece front and a one piece back. I also removed the sleeves and extended the shoulder width so it falls off the shoulder. I chose to do this because I liked the look but doing it this way removes the bust shaping, which for someone like myself with a small bust, doesn’t matter. However if you have a bigger bust and want to keep some shaping I will show you where you can add a dart.

Step 1:

We will be using pattern pieces 1, 2 & 3. First cut the paper pattern pieces out on your size.

Step 2:

On the side panel (2), draw a vertical line between the 2 notches relevant to your size and cut the pattern piece in half.

Step 3:

Tape the centre front (1) onto a big piece of paper. Take the front half of side panel (2) and match the seam line and bottom point of centre front (1) as seen in the red rectangle. Tape that piece in place too. 

Step 4:

Place your ruler on the should line and extend it down/out towards the side. Measure approx. 17cm from the top shoulder tip and then draw a perpendicular line down approx. 15cm.. This might change depending on what size you’re doing and how much you want to extend the shoulder. 

Step 5:

Draw in a curve at the bottom of that line and ending at the underarm. It should look similar to one one below. Just free hand drawn is fine.

Optional dart for bigger busts:

You can see the triangle shape that it created when you put the 2 front pieces together. This is the bust shaping that is created by that seam line which gets removed/ignored in my dress. If you want to keep that shaping there, draw in the red V lines and sew them as a dart. You can extend the shoulder line, in Step 4, by a couple of centimeters and draw your curve smaller. This compensates for the shoulder length lost in the dart.

Repeat steps 2 – 5 with the centre back (3) panel and the other half of the side panel (2).
  • Match up the panel line and tape them both onto paper.
  • Extend the shoulder line and measure 17cm (or the same length you did for the front)
  • Draw a perpendicular line down.
  • Draw in a small curve to meet the underarm point. This curve will be much smaller than the front piece.

Add seam allowances all the way around the new pattern pieces and trace them off onto tracing Vilene. Your new pieces should look like something like this. I sewed a quick toile from some scraps of knit fabric to check that I liked the shape before I made the final garment. If you do this, you need to cut the armhole seam allowance off your toile so that you can accurately see how the sleeve hole will sit. I’ll show you some of my toiles in the next post. 

Step 7:

Make the tiered skirt pattern pieces. They are just long rectangles so you can draw out a rectangle directly onto your tracing Vilene. I made each tier of the skirt 35cm tall. You can choose however tall you like or you could add more tiers!

When making the pattern pieces – the top tier needs a standard seam allowances all the way around (1cm) and the bottom tier needs a bigger hem allowance at the bottom edge (5cm). So my top tier pattern piece is 37cm tall and my second tier is 40cm tall. 

In terms of how wide to make the skirt pattern pieces – my top tier is 1 x width of my fabric (150cm) and the bottom tier is nearly 2 x widths of the fabric. I will explain more in the next blog post when we cut out the fabric. As long as you have decided how tall each tier will be we can easily cut out a rectangle of fabric next week.


Optional: Make pattern pieces for neckline and armhole facings. 

Instead of binding the Merino Tunic I made facing pieces which were sewn on and turned to the inside of the garment. You could use a strip of bias binding for this but I like using the same fabric. 

To do this measure out from the neck line and armhole by 2cm and mark a whole lot of small dashes as in picture below. 

Join these dashes up and create a smooth curve. (It says 3cm in my picture but I ended up cutting it down to 2cm so just ignore that!)

Trace off these pieces including a 1cm seam allowance around the neckline and arm hole. You pieces should look something like this. If you’re not sure about this you can wait until we get to the week about sleeves and I will explain more. Just keep some small-ish pieces of fabric aside for it.

And that’s it for the Merino Tunic dress. You’re ready to cut out next week 


Adding Seam Allowances

Once your pattern is ready it’s important to add seam allowances! This pattern does NOT have them included. 

How big should the seam allowance be?

I use a 1cm seam allowance as standard and between 2 -5 cm allowance for hems, but you can use whatever seam allowance you are used to. Just remember to write it on your pattern pieces so you know in the future. 

In regards to hem allowances, on the sleeves of the Linen Irina dress I used 2cm hem and on the skirt I used 5cm. A deeper hem at the bottom of a dress will help it hang nicely and it will stop the hem from flicking upwards and showing the insides. 


Week 1 complete!

Thank you for sticking with me right to the end of this long post! Please share your progress photos on social media or in the comments below. And don’t forget to tag us on socials with #IrinaSAL and #BERNINANZ or #BERNINAAUSTRALIA if you are in those countries and want to eligible for the prize pack. See the intro blog post for details about the prizes: Intro Blog Post

Feel free to ask any questions. Happy pattern making and I’ll see you next week!


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  • Leona Bridges EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

    I do not see the pocket pattern included with the pattern pieces (I downloaded my pattern for free in May).  Where will I get those please?

  • sewfuntoys EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

    Thanks Anna for hosting the Irina Dress Sew-Along. I traced out my pattern pieces on pattern tracing material.  I have a few questions about the pattern. You mention the “ease” is very generous. Pattern measurements have me over a range of sizes therefore I am reluctant to grade the pattern for the larger size. What do you suggest? Also, grading the side panels  <pattern piece #2>changes the angle/slope of the pattern piece. I plan to make the sleeveless tunic from a stretch-type light-weight denim. Any input would be appreciated.

    • Anna Hicks EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

      Hello. I think if you’re unsure about the size it might be worth taking a guess on which size and making a quick toile/mock up to see how it comes out. The 2nd blog post is up now and I talk a bit about making a toile in there. You can also measure the pattern to find what the finished garment measurements will be. If measure across the waist of all the bodice pieces and add them together, that will give you the finished garment measurement of the waist. You can then wrap a tape measure around yourself to see what it will be like. That might help you narrow down the sizing.
      Changing the angles/slopes won’t matter too much. If you’re using the light weight fabric like you’ve described it will be fairly forgiving with different angles. Hope that helps.

  • NANCY MERRITT EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.


  • Barbara Olde EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

    Hi Anna I am drafting the tunic pattern and wonder whether the back shoulder should be the length of the front when the dart is closed. I have inserted a dart in the front and extended the shoulder by 1 cm.  It looks like the back shoulder will be too long if I close the front?  sorry probably stupid question but I don’t want to mess this up. Better safe than sorry 🙁 ThanksBarb

    • Anna Hicks EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

      Hi Barb. Not a silly question and you are absolutely right! Yes, I forgot to mention that the back shoulder should measure the same as the front when the dart is closed. Thank you for asking because I’m sure there will be someone else wondering the same thing. 🙂

  • Kim Browne EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

    Thank you, these instructions are super helpful. I am still pondering what i will do but this gives me some useful ways to adjust. For me upcycled t-shirts option, probably patchworked (largish patches), I am thinking it might be better to do what you did on the tunic and remove the side panels, but then again….

    • Anna Hicks EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

      Oh I’d love to see it done from upcycled t-shirts! It would be great without the side panels but I think it would work just as well in the normal dress style as well. Can’t wait to see what you decide!

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