The Gambian shift dress

The Gambian shift dress

The Gambian shift dress

Happy Christmas Mum….ok I know it’s January!

Well just a few weeks back I was struggling to think of a Christmas present for my Mother. I remember her saying she had some handprinted cotton fabric she had purchased in the Gambia a few years ago. Being the creative and caring son that I am, I offered to turn her fabric into a dress.

We sat down and talked through the type of dresses that she likes. Then we browsed one of my favourite pattern sites to find the perfect shift dress pattern (#5963). So next step was to take Mum’s measurements…yeah that was a first for me, lets gloss over how weird we both felt at that moment.

I entered those vitals into the site and within a couple of hours I received an email back with my print at home pattern. Once printed, stuck together and cut out I’m free to start the made to measure dress.

Here we go:

Note: I chose not to use interfacing, but if I followed the pattern I’d have applied it to start with on the front and back neck facings.

Cutting out:

The pattern is a very distinctive one, and took quite a bit of negotiating to get it just right. When I say just right, I mean so that it didn’t unnecessarily draw attention to certain areas. As you can imagine the large flowers could have looked quite prominent when placed side by side!!

Mum also requested a side zip, rather than one in the centre back, so instead of cutting 2 back parts I chose to cut one, on the fold, ensuring the pattern was kept central and no need for the seam.

The make:

Step 1: So my first step is to sew the side fronts to the centre front. Note theres no darting on this dress as the princess seams give it its shape.

Step 2: To neaten all the edges, I always serge by using an over edge foot and a zigzag stitch then press the seams toward centre.

Step 3: Next I sew side backs to centre backs and serge as above.

Step 4: Following this I stitch the side and shoulder seams. As stated earlier I opt to put the zip in the left side seam under the arm, so for this I serge both the front and back edges separately, insert the zip, and press the seam apart.

Step 5: Sew shoulder and right side seam of front and back facing, press seam allowances apart.

Step 6: Serge outer edge of the facings to make it comfortable against the body and reduce fraying.

Step 7: I pin facing to to the garment neck, right sides together and sew the neckline edge. Clip into curves, turn right sides out, press and under stitch.

Step 8: I sew facing to armholes in two steps: first the armhole of the back part, from top to bottom, then the armhole of the front part, I clip the curves and topstitch seam allowance onto the facing at 0. 2 cm off the seam.

Step 9: Slipstitch the side seam edges of the facing to zipper seam allowance.

Step 10: Lastly I turn under the bottom edge of the dress at 1 cm, then again at 2 cm and topstitch.

Of course I owned up to my Mum the fact that I hadn’t actually had chance to complete this make until into January, thankfully she understood.

What a great way to start the new year, putting a smile on someones face, I wonder what other makes I’ll achieve over the next 12 months.


The stitcher. A magnet for foolery & prankster at heart. Loves being creative, whether with some wood and a saw or with a needle and thread. Attempts to disguise his past time activities as manly pursuits, but is actually pretty handy at sewing!


  1. Linda 4 years ago

    Hi Matt, congratulations I’m lost now with no sewing bee. I loved your stones thought they were much better than pins, where. Did you find these as they looked polished.

  2. Author
    Matt 4 years ago

    Thanks everyone for your kind words, the great news is I have lots of spare material so watch out for another make soon….

  3. What a great dress out of such a special fabric. Lucky Mom.

  4. Well done Matt, it looks fantastic!

  5. Neela 5 years ago

    Lovely fabric choice Matt, Matt’s mum! Difficult to pattern match but you’ve done a fab job!!!
    Nee x

  6. Gill Pears 5 years ago

    Love it! Well done Matt.

  7. Rosemarie Pink 5 years ago

    i am most impressed Matt. Where did you learn to sew?

    • Matt 5 years ago

      Hi Rosemary,

      Thank you.

      I learned the basics from my days in the Army. More to look after your own kit etc.
      Admittedly I may have practiced a little more since then! I don’t think they really needed camouflage shift dresses for the females contingent 😉

      Best wishes

  8. Matt's Mum 5 years ago

    Well – it may be a belated Christmas present but just in time for my holiday next week! I love it. The material has been languishing in a box for ages and I kept meaning to do something with it – and then my wizz of a son has made me this super shift dress. Perfect.

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