Preliminary Sketch for New Project-Chambray Shirtwaist Dress


I always start a project with a sketch. It acts as a roadmap. Once a fitting toile is made, the style may take on further changes. It depends on the resulting drape and other details I may want to add. Right now, I am considering this shirtwaist dress with additional details. The most practical are pockets set into the side seam. A shirtwaist dress is a working garment so I see the pockets as important. They can hold my keys, some money or receipts when I have to go to the lobby for a delivery or am at the laundry. Yet I want this dress to have a feminine look. I might also go to meet a friend or pay a visit while out. In this case I think a bracelet and small earrings are good. Pretty buttons also add a feminine touch.

A fashion sketch starts with a croquis. Here is how I make one and the reasons why a croquis is important.

The process of creating a preliminary sketch

10 1/2 heads tall croquis.

The function of the croquis is to provide a foundation upon which to project one’s vision of the style. It helps create an awareness of the body contours under the garment. Croquis can be shaped as you please. I use the 10 1/2 heads size because I like working with the elongated silhouette. I have a preference for the early 20th century artist Erte and take some inspiration from his work. You can also have croquis more life-like as to size and proportion. It is a kind of interaction between a person and their vision that will determine the kind of croquis to use.

To save money for fabric and notions I use simple supplies available at the 99 cent stores or Dollar General. Number 2 pencils, white tissue paper used for gifts, tracing paper, erasers, coloring pencils, and white copy paper. The croquis is drawn on white copy paper.

First sketch. Tissue paper over croquis. Shoulder pads added.

For the first layer, I use white tissue paper. This saves the tracing paper for the final sketch. Here I have drawn in a shoulder pad. Since I have slightly sloping shoulders I plan to make custom sized shoulder pads as a corrective which ensures a better fit. The pads will be no more than 1/8″ high. Having the shoulder pads drawn in results in the next sketch better reflecting how the shoulderline, collar and sleeve will look.

First sketch on 2nd layer of tissue paper.

Another layer of tissue paper is placed on top. The garment details are sketched in. I like the look of a paper doll so I use a ruler to draw most seams and lines. The hairstyle, jewelry, accessories and shoes are added in this sketch. Design details like tucks, gathers, and so on are also added.

Completed preliminary sketch.

The tracing paper is placed on top of the previous layer. All the lines, angles and measurements of the sheet underneath are not traced. Only the finished lines and features meant to convey the garment and style sense. I take the tracing paper off and color in on the opposite side using coloring pencils.

Notes about inspirations for notions and other details are penciled in. Swatches of the chambray fabric and underlining cotton are also pinned to the sketch. The chambray is light enough to give a graceful drape to the gored skirt. Since it is slightly transparent, I want an underlining. It will also add just a little extra body to support the in-seam buttonholes and in-seam pockets.


Once the sketch is completed ideas start to come. I pencil these on the sketch and then search them out. Right now I am thinking that porcelain or clay buttons will go well on this dress. If I go with this choice I’d like the buttons to have a white background and delicate blue designs or a border. Another possibility are vintage glass buttons. So that the buttons remain the key visual element I would make the belt and buckle of the same fabric as the dress. The jewlery can be silver or white.

Published by EmilyAnn Frances

I was born and raised in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, New York. I attended Hunter College where I graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in English Language Arts. After graduation I worked in various industries such as publishing, fashion, financial services, investment banking, and for government. My passion for fashion was nurtured at the French Fashion Academy where I learned dressmaking, patternmaking, sketching and draping. My enjoyment of dressmaking and family history find a wonderful home here at WordPress. I hope you enjoy both of my blogs.

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