1950s | 1960s | Vintage Sewing

Green Shell Top Tutorial

May 19, 2013

Today I will be showing you a variation on Burda Shift Dress 09/2012 #107

This variation turns the top into a 50s/60s shell style top with a cross back. You can use Burda 09/2012 #107 or Collette patterns Laurel as your base as we only need the front and part of the back of the pattern.

If you have another pattern for a shift dress or plain top, you can use this too! I will instruct you to make this top to fit you so make sure you have your measuring tape and if you have one a dressmakers mannequin or packing tape shell (if you ever made one). I don’t have a mannequin and I did ok so don’t worry if you don’t have one

Step 1 – Modifying the Pattern
So first you will need to cut the front piece on the fold

To get the back, I took the back piece of the pattern and cut it at the mid-point. To get the mid-point I measured from my Shoulders down to just above my bra line and subtracted this from the pattern.

As the back piece now has nothing to hold it in shape, we will insert a box pleat later on.

Ensure you cut the back piece on the fold also.

Now this part may seem unconventional, but it’s how I measured the cross back! If you have a dressmaker’s mannequin, then this would be the perfect time to use it! Using the discarded half of the back cut a second piece from tracing paper so you have a full back piece.


With a measuring tape, measure the length from the shoulder to where you want the strap to end. I again used my bra as a guide and aimed to have the strap attach where my bra strap attaches to its back. Make sure you also mark these attachment points onto the back piece as we will refer to these when applying the facings.

The width of the strap is dependent on the width of the shoulder piece, but you will need to trim that down slightly by 5mm (1/8 inch). We’ll see why later.

Transfer these measurements to tracing paper or directly to the fabric remembering to add 1.5cm (5/8 inch) seam allowance

Cut 4 and put to the side.

Step 2 – Making the facings

Now going back to the front and back pieces, on the tracing paper trace your facings, cut, pin and cut your fashion fabric.

The facing for the back piece will need to be shorter depending on how deep the box pleat is. You shorten it later on once you’ve inserted the pleat

Step 3 – Construction

Now we have all our elements, let’s get to constructing!

Sew in your front darts, press to shape over a tailors ham

Insert your side zipper. You can also do a hand-picked zipper on this top if you want to fully line the top. But being a summer time top, the fewer layers the better

Sew the other side seam and admire your work so far

Find the middle piece of the back and make a box pleat with 2 cm (1/2 inch) depth, you may need to make this tighter or looser, so go and try the top on and make any adjustments.

Baste the pleat and try again just to be 100% as you don’t want a saggy back!
Leave your basting stitches in for now.

Now you have the correct length of the back, trim your back facing piece down to size

Step 4 – Applying the facings

Sew the facings together, ensuring you leave one side open for the zipper. (Make sure it’s the correct side!)

Sew the facing on with right sides together around the arms, back and neck.

Leave the facing open at the strap insert point on the back and at the shoulders

Clip the round edges and press the facings to the inside. Top stitch the facings to lay them flat or you can slip stitch them flat.

Remember not to top stitch over the back facings hole!


Step 5 – Shoulder Straps and finishing

Take your 4 strap pieces and sew down either side, turn out, press and top stitch

As we cut them slightly smaller than the shoulder, they should easily insert into the hole, make sure you turn in the raw edge, stitch and press.


Cross the straps over, and insert into the holes in the back facing, and complete the top stitching to secure. If you didn’t leave a hole, that’s ok you can just stitch them to the inside.

Stitch to secure

Straps done!

Sew in a hem to the bottom and you’re done!!

I hope I haven’t completely confused you – but if you have any questions below, please comment below and i’ll try to assist!

xoxo Cat

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