Princess Seams

I’ve been entrusted with the task of making a dress for my friend Julie.  Julie is tall, slender and not unlike Princess Aurora, so it’s only fitting that the dress I’m designing her is to have Princess Seams!

The princess line travels either from the shoulder, like in Aurora’s dress, or from the armhole as in Julie’s sleeveless bodice and it’s a curved seam that contours outwards towards the widest point of the bust then inwards to the narrowest part of the waist.  Often, the line can continue below the waist to the dress hem, curving outward to accommodate the hips.

The technique for construction is the same whether the seam starts from the shoulder or the armhole, and is the same for the back as for the front.  Having said that, the curve at the back is less radical that at the bust, so if this is your first go, I recommend that you get a little practice by doing the back first.

In this example, I’m using the front.

Step 1

On the centre front: reinforce the curved part of the seam by stitching 2mm away from the seamline inside the seam allowance, starting at the top and ending just below the bust point.  Clip the area at regular intervals.

Tip: Clipping means making single cuts into the seam allowance to enable the area to spread and curve outwards.

Tip: when clipping, watch the tip of your scissors carefully and ensure it doesn’t go too close to the stitch line.  That way you’re less likely to cut the stitching.

Step 2

With Side Front on top of Centre Front, match the bust points.  With the clipped area spread outwards, pin the two sections together.  Tack (red stitches).  Turn so the centre front is on top, and stitch, sweeping your index finger in front of the presser foot to ensure the underside is smooth.

Tip: when stitching curved areas, keep your stitch short and your speed slow to get the line as exact as possible.

Remove tacking.

Step 3

Finger-press (press seam open with your fingers) and notch out the Side Front seam allowance.  It’s best the notch out in between the clippings of the opposite seam allowance.

Tip: Notching means making double cuts, taking out wedge-shaped pieces in a seam allowance that curves inward.  This is to eliminate the excess fabric that would otherwise overlap or bunch upwards.

Step 4

Close the seam and press it over a tailor’s ham.  Do not press beyond the seamline into the body of the garment: this might create creases.

Press the seam open over a tailor’s ham.  As you go, move the curviest parts of the seam over the most curved parts of the ham.

Tip: don’t trim Seam Allowances as this might make them too short to lie flat against the body of the garment.

Finishing Seam Allowances: in this example, the seam allowances are unfinished so that the finish doesn’t show through the fabric on the right side of the garment.  Instead, the bodice is lined so that the raw edges are contained within and aren’t subject to much rubbing.  The alternative is to finish off the seam allowances prior to seam construction.

I think that once you’re sewing Princess Seams, you’re quite on your way to turning from dressmaker to tailoress; that is, beginning to create garments with a permanent shape built into them!

18 thoughts on “Princess Seams

  1. Thanks to you, I did indeed feel like a Princess for the day. The design and tailoring of my beautiful dress were exquisite and I floated around just like ‘Aurora’ all day. Jubilant Julie

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  4. Thank you for this tutorial. I’ve just finished the most beautiful princess seam, one more to go!

    Can I ask a question about finishing the seam? You suggest finishing before construction, but if you do that don’t you have problems making your notches and clips?

    • Yes, cut into the zigzag (or whatever finish): it’d be easier than sewing across spaces. But only finish if you must and make sure you press carefully as you don’t want the stitches to show on the right side.

      The best imo is not to finish at all (as in the picture) then line the bodice. The seams wouldn’t fray much as the angle of notches and clips is on the bias.

  5. Did you use a pattern for this? Or can you explain how you drafted the pattern? Thank you for the lovely tutorial anyhow.

        • The tutorial wouldn’t show you that but how to convert the basic block (with waist darts and bust or shoulder darts) into princess seams. I think you need a basic block first….

          Lemme think.

          I used Winifred Aldrich’s instructions but the resulting bodice is so loose that it needs lots of nipping in (otherwise those princess seams won’t hug the curves)

  6. Marianna, yours is the best how to sew princess seam instructions I’ve found anywhere. It helped me slow down and spend more time pinning them together now that I understand where they are to fit on the seamline thanks to the clipping – and now I’m finding them much easier! So, thank you, from an adventurous newbie in my quest for a muslin that fits yet.

    Could you tell me one thing, please? You mention that if the bodice is not lined, then: “The alternative is to finish off the seam allowances prior to seam construction.” What sort of finish is that? Do you first zig zag the edge BEFORE clipping the seam and before sewing the seam up? Help, please? Thank you!

  7. PS: This goes with my above question – but I read that some clipped and notched seams can be finished by hand using a blanket stitch. I’m guessing it would be sewing on each single fabric edge. It looks plausible and isn’t a difficult stitch to learn. Do you have comments on this idea? Thanks again.

    • Hi Lynn, thanks so much for your comment. It’s so lovely to get feedback.

      Regarding finishing off princess seams, that is what I meant – to zigzag before the clipping – but I don’t think it’s a popular way of going about things as I guess breaking the stitches when clipping/notching might ruin the neat effect. Also, there’s a risk that the zigzag might show on the right side if garment is pressed too hot. Blanket stitch would take very long but it might work if you have the time and are aiming for perfection as us sewists often do.

      Another thought: since a bodice of this type is close-fitting, there’s very little wear on those edges. So unless your fabric is prone to fraying, there probably won’t be much. Some people think that pinking the fabric is finish enough and wherever the princess seams meet the fabric on the bias, there won’t be much fraying anyway.

      Please let me know if you have anything to share from your own experience. Good luck!

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