Tutorial: How to Line a Sleeveless Dress

Life is full of simple pleasures that we easily take for granted. Slipping into a beautiful, fully lined dress is one of them. Imagine the softness and coolness of silk as it glides over your body, skimming your curves (if you have them) just so. No doubt about it, a full lining makes the simple task of getting dressed a little more pleasurable, a little more luxurious.

Lining- may it be in silk, chiffon, or cotton- may spell the difference between a well-made dress and an ill-fitting one. What the skeleton does to a body, the lining does to a dress- it provides support, gives it shape, and preserves its form. For this reason alone, any self-respecting seamstress should master the art of lining a dress. Self-respecting seamstress that I am (or so, I’d like to think), I set out to do just that.

This tutorial will teach you how to attach a lining to a sleeveless dress and will help you achieve that polished, bought-from-a-shop look on your garments. A bit ironic coming from a self-confessed handmade nut like me but let’s face it: the true test of a well-made handmade dress is when people see you strut your stuff and exclaim: ‘What a lovely dress! Where did you get that?’ and not ‘ Oh, you made another one again?’

With that inspiring thought hovering over our heads, let’s begin.

(Note: For this tutorial, I will only show attaching the lining to the bodice of our mythical dress as getting the armhole right is the trickiest part of the show. To complete the dress, all that needs doing is to attach the skirt. You will also notice that the bodice in question has no zipper or fastenings. Of course, you can modify this method for dresses with back or side zippers, but we’ll save that for another day.)

Step 1:

Cut out the front and back bodices of both the fashion fabric and the lining. In the photo below, my fashion fabric cut-outs are on the left while the linings are on the right.  With right sides together, join the fashion fabric front bodice to the fashion fabric back bodice only at the shoulders, leaving the side seams open. Repeat this step on the lining.

Step 2:

Open up your joined pieces and lay them on top of each other, still with right sides together.

Step 3.

Align the necklines, pin, and sew. Neaten the resulting seam either by serging (if you own a serger), by delicate french seams, or by using pinking shears to prevent fraying. This seam is hidden from view when the garment is finished but it should still be neat and secure, especially if your fashion fabric is sheer like silk or chiffon. Now reverse the unfinished garment so that the wrong sides of the fashion fabric and the lining are touching.

Step 4.

Next, understitch the lining at the neckline. Understitching reinforces the stitching where the facing or lining joins the fashion fabric and, more importantly, keeps the facing or lining in its rightful place – inside the garment. To start, position the neckline under the sewing machine foot as shown on the left photo below. Note that the neckline seam allowance and the lining are to the right while the fashion fabric is to the left. Next, stitch the seam allowance to the lining about 1/8 inch from the edge where the lining and fashion fabric join, as shown in the middle photo. The rightmost photo shows the finished understitched lining. This step seems unimportant but is essential for a polished overall look. For a simple tutorial on understitching, please click here.

Step 5.

Now that we have the perfect neckline, let’s go about making perfect armholes. Lay the unfinished garment on a flat surface (the floor works for me every time). Roll one side of the garment towards the middle, as shown on the photo below.

Step 6.

Next, make a fabric sandwich. Flip the fashion fabric to the right, like so. This becomes half of the bun.

Step 7.

Now, carefully pull the lining from underneath and ease it to the right. There is your sandwich! The center photo shows what it looks like inside: the fashion fabric is one half of the bun, the lining is the other half, and the rolled fabric is the sausage. Now align the armholes, making sure that the shoulder seams are perfectly matched. Pin and sew, taking care not to catch the sausage. Before proceeding to step 8, make sure that you neaten and secure this seam as this is the last time you will see it.

Step 8.

You will notice that up until now our garment is still the wrong side out. It’s time to turn it right side out. Sounds impossible, but with a little magic (and a lot of pulling), it really isn’t. Grab one end of the sausage and start pulling it through the shoulder gap.  The narrower the shoulders the harder this step is, but persevere. Keep on pulling as if your life depended on it, until the whole sausage is out and the garment has reversed right side out. Got it? Good job! Now release that breath you are holding (yes, I know you’ve stopped breathing as did I when I first tried this), press the seams flat at the armhole, and admire your perfectly attached lining! Repeat steps 5 through 8 on the other armhole.

Step 9.

By now your unfinished garment is beginning to take shape and should look like the photo on the left below. With the neckline and armholes done, we are now ready to close the side seams. Open up your garment as shown on the right photo, align the side seams, making sure that the bottom seams of the armholes match. Pin, sew, and neaten the resulting seam by serging, french seams, or using the trusty pinking shears. Repeat this step on the other side.

Step 10.

Reverse the garment, right side out. Press the side seams flat. There, a beautifully lined garment as polished the ones you see in the shops, as pretty outside as it is inside. Give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done and go make yourself a cup of tea. You deserve it!

To complete the garment, the only thing left to do is to attach the skirt but that is for another day. I hope this tutorial has helped you conquer that fear of lining, as it helped me.

Come again for more nifty tutorials! Hope to see you soon!

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76 thoughts on “Tutorial: How to Line a Sleeveless Dress

  1. I always say you can learn anything on the internet and – once again – it’s true. This was the most spectacular thing ever! Thank you so much for taking the time to make the tutorial!

  2. I can’t thank you enough! I was racking my brains trying to figure out how to do this. You made it so simple. I am so proud of myself and the dress I made for my daughter. And that cup of tea was delicious

  3. Thank you for your tutorial! I am sew a thicker fabric hopefully with piping. It is going to be a very tight, tight fit. Any suggestions or would you do it a different way?

  4. In step 7, do we do it twice? I understand the sandwich, but I don’t understand how BOTH armholes are going to be finished. At the end of step 7, it seems like there is one armhole left undone.

  5. Thank you sooooo much! I dutifully followed your clear instructions and created a two-layer chiffon “underdress” for a sheer, beaded evening gown. Wow. You’ve made the project easier than I imagined it would be!
    Heartfelt thanks from Canada. I’m grateful for your willingness to share.

  6. Thank you! I am making a tank style dress for a friend, she wants it for holidays and she leaves in 3 days. I have ripped out seams numerous times and couldn’t figure this thing out … 30+ years of sewing and I was lost. Thanks to you, now all I have to do is sew up the side seams and hem it 🙂 . She will have her sundress!

  7. Hello! Love love love your tutorial!
    Quick question…If I have boning in my bodice can I still pull it through the shoulders? Will it fit?

  8. I know I can do this! Your excellent photos and explanations are so understandable and I am so excited to give it a go. I do have a question regarding the fabric you used, is it stretchy? I’m planning to make a simple dress from knit fabric, it’s so thin that I will have to line it, which is how I came across your tutorial.
    I’m looking forward to exploring your blog for more sewing tips, thanks and Happy Sewing!!

  9. Thanks for sharing this wonderful tutorial. This is the best I’ve ever seen. The first time I read it I thought it was too complicated but then I decided I wanted to give it a try and…. U R GREAT!!
    I just finished the bodice (now it’s 3am here in Italy!!!!) and I’m too excited to go to bed.
    Thanks again, Caterina.

  10. Thank you!! I undid a whole shirt because a wrong lining attach. Now I can do it right. A very clear and memorable explaining.

  11. Excellent!! What a way to do lining!!

    Particularly I am impressed by your introduction sentence. “Life is full of simple pleasures that we easily take for granted. Slipping into a beautiful, fully lined dress is one of them.” I could not agree more!!

  12. Outstanding! I’ve been sewing all my life and I’ve never been able to remember how to do this. I’m a complete nitwit when it comes to spatial relations, so even Connie Long’s book on linings flummoxed me. Your photographs and accompanying text, complete with encouragement and reassurance, are perfect. I’m making a flapper dress for Halloween out of a sequin sheer with a matte jersey lining. I staystitched plus each armsceye to prevent stretching. Not sure if it was necessary.

    1. Thanks, Trudy, for your feedback! I’m a novice at sewing and I look to the internet to help me out when I’m stuck. I just want to pay it forward so I get more back :-). Glad to be of help.

  13. THANK YOU for posting this! I am part-way through an “Ocean Princess” costume for a neighbor girl and the included directions -which do specify a lining!- went directly from sewing the bodice to attaching the skirt and completely skipped over the lining (and the tulle “sleeves!”) altogether. Then, when I went to e-mail McCall’s about it, I got an error message that their website is down for maintenance… 😦 Anyway, thank you, thank you! I know I’ve done this before, but I just couldn’t remember how I did it and don’t remember what pattern I used at the time! *laughing*

  14. I can not thank you enough, your tutorial is an answer to my prayers!!!! I have sewn all my life and NEVER knew how to line a bodice without an inner seam that was hand stitched. I will continue to follow your posts. Thanks again. Becky

  15. Thanks so much your tutorial. The process had previously left me completely baffled (and with some unfortunate sewing mistakes) but I followed your instructions step by step and have now produced a really beautiful lined sleeveless dress. I think the future holds many more lined dressed for me…! Best wishes, Daniela

    1. Hi Daniela,

      You’re welcome! If you feel like showing off your lined dresses, feel free to email me photos and a short bio. I’ll be happy to feature them at the Sewing Museum 🙂 Cheers!

  16. I always wondered how to do this. Just made a pinafore with top part lined using your method. Now I have a fab garment. Thanks.

  17. Thanks so much for this. I had been puzzling, and experimenting, and ripping, and swearing. Even thinking it through with diagrams. So this is perfect. Thanks so much. Except the writing and patterns background do make reading it hard.

      1. I really don’t understand, if I sew as I see in the images it’s a dead end, I can’t turn upside down the fabric anymore, can you have tutorials for begginers, I mean really begginers? With more pictures, a person who never sewed like this before can’t gets the point. From step 6 it’s really magic… Thanks.

      2. Hi Miha,

        Trust me, you can! When I tried this first, I was also a novice, very new to sewing :-)…I think I made the tutorial as detailed as I could. So sorry if you’re having a difficult time with it. Anyway, send your video to blithe.sanchez@yahoo.com so I can see where you are having problems. Thanks for visiting!

  18. Yet to try this, my head is baffled so far! But can you help me – when the garment is in sandwich-mode, so to speak, are you then sewing JUST the armhole or down the whole side so as to more or less finish off the lining? The tutorial is not so specific on this. If just the armhole, how do you sew the sides together?! I think I’m being a bit thick here but please reply anyway! Thank you!

    1. Hi Charlotte Emily,

      This ‘sandwich’ step just sews the armhole. The sides of the dress, both lining and fashion fabric, are sewn together last (I believe it’s the last step in the whole process). Let me know how you get on. 🙂

      Thanks for visiting!

    1. Hi chuleenan, I’m happy to be of help. Your dress looks lovely – very vintage-looking with petticoat to boot! Thanks for sharing this. Is it okay to post it on the Sewing Museum? Cheers!

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