Charity Sewing,  Free Pattern,  Sewing Tips

How to Make an Empire Angel Gown

Upcycling wedding dresses into angel gowns is one of my favorite sewing activities. Each vintage gown has it’s own unique properties of textile, silhouette and trim, making every project a fresh design challenge. For example, take a look at this amazing vintage wedding dress:

This special gown was sent to me by Mary Molnar in Florida for charity sewing. Not only does it have so many details that wouldn’t easily fit into a traditional tiny preemie angel gown…it is also made of a lightweight charmeuse so it is the perfect choice for making a more formal classic baptism gown, which is preferred by some of the hospitals that I work with. I’ll be using this gown to show how to tweak the traditional angel pattern into an empire gown with a gathered skirt.


  • paper-cutting scissors
  • Scotch tape
  • clear ruler
  • pencil
  • tape measure
  • 8 sheets of computer-printing paper

Start by printing the basic angel gown pattern from this previous post. The beauty of this style is the kimono sleeves which make dressing tiny bodies easy. You can use this basic block to make a raised waist “Empire” style gown by cutting off the bodice above the waistline, and then adding fullness to the skirt. To locate the cut-off point of the bodice, mark the side-seam 1″ down from the sleeve seam:

The cut-off points for the bodice should look like this:

Measuring upwards from the hem, create the raised-bodice seam line. In this example I’m using size Preemie:

The cutting line should match the slightly curved shape of the original hem:

Connect the dashes to create the cutting line, then add in the sewing lines above and below, using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Repeat with back pattern:

Now cut off the skirt portion:

Use the “slash-and-spread” flat-pattern-making method to increase the width of the skirt. The amount of additional width is determined by the fabric you will be using: the heavier the fabric the less width that can be gathered up to stitch to the bodice. For example a sateen or taffeta may require just 25% of additional width, while a chiffon could take 3-times the original pattern width. I’ll be doubling the width for use with a lightweight satin. Start by cutting the skirt into four equal pieces. Fold the skirt pattern in half lengthwise:

….and then again lengthwise:

Unfold the pattern piece and cut along the fold lines:

Spread the four pieces apart equally to add fullness. Tape extra pieces of computer-printing paper together so that you’ll be able to extend the width and length of the skirt pattern:

Using a straight-edge, double the length of the skirt and mark in a new hemline:

Your new longer, fuller skirt pattern should look like this. I like to color the edges to differentiate the sizes:

Repeat with back skirt pattern piece:

Now the pattern is ready for cutting out:


To cut out the fabric, first work with the skirt since the pattern pieces are much larger than the bodice . If you have a finished wedding dress hem to use, that’s perfect! NOTE: since the skirt is not closely fitted, you can use the pattern merely as a guideline. As long as the center-front and center-back skirt pieces are on the lengthwise grain, it will hang beautifully:

Of course most wedding gowns have a train which means that the hemline goes off-grain towards the back. In this case it’s best to un-stitch the trim along the hem, cut the skirt, and re-attach the lace edge.

The bodice pieces can be squeezed out of smaller fabric bits:

Cut garment lining pieces (using the same pattern pieces) out of lightweight cotton, for softness and absorbency. A single white cotton vintage top-sheet from a thrift shop will make dozens of linings.


(Note: there is a video showing how to put together the bodice on YouTube:

BODICE: Pin front bodice to back bodices at shoulder seams:

Straight-stitch shoulder-seams with a 1/4″ seam allowance, press open….repeat with lining pieces:

Check the front bodice, see if it can use any embellishments. This bodice front had been cut of fabric with the embellishment already there, but I felt it needed a little extra so I pinned on more appliques cut from the wedding dress:

Stitch appliques on with a zigzag stitch:

Place the bodice lining onto the bodice, outsides touching, and pin at shoulder seams and neckline seams:

Stitch center-back seam, neckline seam, and sleeve-hems with a 1/4″ seam allowance, clip neckline (this is the same sewing as the classic angel gown EXCEPT you do not stitch the hem closed):

Turn bodice to the outside:


To make side-seams, match up the underarm seam points:

Pin together at underarm seam:

Continue pinning the side-seam, making sure that the outer fabrics are touching each other (front to back) and the lining fabrics are touching each other (front to back):

Again, if this is confusing, please refer to the YouTube video mentioned before.

Stitch bodice side-seams with a 1/4″ seam allowance, then clip curves:

Repeat with the other side-seam. Turn the bodice so that outer fabric is on the outside, and press:


Stitch side-seams together and finish with overlock or zigzag stitch or pinking shears. Repeat with lining. Hem the lining, either using an overlock/serger, or zig-zag stitch, or press a tiny hem and straight-stitch. Decorate with narrow lace if have it:

Pin skirt to lining at center-back edges, stitch together, turn to the outside, press:

Gather the top edge of the skirt:


Pin top edge of skirt to bottom edge of bodice, adjusting gathers:

Stitch waistline seam, turn garment to outside, and lightly press the waist seam with seam allowance going up towards the bodice:

Enclose the raw edges of the waist seam allowance with the bodice lining, and pin:

Hand-stitch into place:


For center-back closure, cut 2″ pieces of super-soft Velcro. You will need two pieces for the bodice, and a few for the skirt depending upon the length (they should be about 4″ apart):

Pin hook side of Velcro to outer edge of right side, and loop side of Velcro to inner edge of left side:

Stitch the Velcro into place:

Finished! Of course you can add on any hand-sewing touches such as bows, rosettes, or pearls.

Save to your Pinterest board here:

Happy Sewing!



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