How to Fussy Cut a Bodice

on May 26 | in Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 7 Comments

Dana Egbert from The Freckled Pear showed us How to Sew Ruffles into a Neckline and how to make this little Elephant Bib. She’s back with her best tips for how to fussy cut the bodice of your next dress! Dana tells you how to avoid unfortunate design placements, and how to account for pintucks, etc. Let the sundress sewing commence!

Learn more about Dana in her introduction, and stop by The Freckled Pear for all of Dana’s designs. She’s a proud grandma to most of the darling models, and her patterns are all classic, pretty designs.


Several years ago I made an apron– a thank you gift for a friend. I used this large scale floral with a green dot fabric for the trim.

I was pretty happy with the apron, until I tried it on. Two blue zinnias were situated right across my chest in a very awkward way. Yikes! Learning opportunity… I needed to figure out how to avoid this kind of mishap in the future.

So now I use a “fussy cutting” technique that I’ll demonstrate. It’s super fast, easy peasy and
can prevent a lot of sewing blunders. All you need is some gift wrap-type tissue paper.

I’ll demonstrate with a bodice front piece from a digital girl’s dress pattern. Cut the pattern piece to the desired size. Use a sheet of gift wrap-type of tissue paper that is large enough for the entire bodice. Fold the tissue in half.

Note: You can press the tissue paper with an iron on medium heat setting if it is wrinkled.

Most bodice front pieces are meant to be cut on the fold and are therefore just one half of the bodice. Place the pattern piece in between the two layers of tissue with the center front edge right up along the fold of the tissue. Use just a few pins to keep the paper from shifting.

I’ve used a colorful background here so that the tissue can easily be seen.

Cut both layers of the tissue to the exact size of the pattern piece. Transfer any triangle notches or other necessary markings onto the tissue with a pencil or permanent marker.

Remove the pins. Transfer any markings to the other half of the pattern. Label the pattern piece, including the size.

Now you have a pattern piece that is transparent enough to see the fabric beneath. This makes it much easier to place the template strategically on the design of the fabric.

Note: It is important to remember to take seam allowance into account when situating the pattern.

Here you can see the paper template placed on the fold of the floral fabric. The fabric design cannot be seen through the paper. Also, you cannot see what is on the underside of the folded fabric.

Many patterns instruct you to have the fabric folded during the cutting out process. That’s okay. You’ll just need to have the fabric not folded over at the time you cut out the bodice front. I usually cut the bodice front first so I can place the pattern right where I want it on the fabric design. Just make sure you do not use up so much fabric with the “fussy cutting” that there isn’t enough left for the rest of the garment. It’s best to lay out all of the pattern pieces temporarily, to make sure there is enough fabric to fit everything before cutting. The big brand pattern companies use the tan colored tissue we’re all familiar with and that is somewhat see-through. I like using the white gift wrap tissue because it allows you to see the fabric more distinctly and to lay out the whole bodice front on the fabric instead of just half.

There are numerous situations when fussy cutting a bodice can be beneficial. You may want to center a design, or have it purposely off-center. You might be working with an animal print and not want to cut off the giraffe’s head right at the neckline. You may be adding a white Peter Pan collar and not want a large white flower popping out from under the collar in an unappealing way.

I’ve included some photos of little girl’s dresses I’ve made where fussy cutting the bodice has helped for various reasons.

Why the emphasis on the bodice? It’s a highly visible part of the dress that gets a lot of focus. The bodice is fairly small in comparison to the skirt portion and, therefore, it can be trickier to strategically situate a large print.

I was able to place the pattern so the entire bodies of most of the swans fit on this short (empire waistline) bodice.

For this bodice I wanted the vertical rows of kittens to be centered. I arranged the pattern so the entire face of the three kittens in the middle row were showing.

With this dress I wanted a flower to be placed in between the two sides of the collar.

This dress has a keyhole cut-out at the neckline. With this fabric I wanted to avoid having a pink flower right next to the cut-out. I thought the pink right next to skin tones showing through the cut-out would make the keyhole not as clearly defined.

There are six tiny pleats in the center of this baby outfit. I wanted to avoid having the body of a bird
or bunny folded up and distorted in the pleats.

You can see there a lots of situations where fussy cutting can help.

There are times when it’s not at all needed such as when you’re working with solid colored or small print fabrics. But, when using fabric with a larger print, I’ve learned that it’s wise to really pay attention to the pattern placement prior to cutting. Using this simple trick makes it very easy to get the most visible pieces– like the bodice front– just the way you want them. And it’s so easy!

Happy sewing!

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7 Responses to How to Fussy Cut a Bodice

  1. Anne says:

    what a great post – thanks!!! And ADORABLE dresses!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Jacqui says:

    Really good idea, clearly explained.Just about to. make some summer dresses for the grandlady, so this will help lot, thank youy!

  3. Thanks, Great information.

  4. Inge Lise Hansen says:

    So Nice, I watt to do one. Thaks for the toturial

  5. Brenda in Washington says:

    great job with these bodices! They are so lovely. thanks for the tutorial.

  6. Michelle says:

    What a fantastic tutorial!! I was wondering how people did that! I always have lifted up my pattern piece (and hold my breath).
    I can’t wait to try this!

  7. Nicole says:

    A couple of years ago I made my husband a nightshirt with some awesome star wars fabric and managed to line up TWO death stars right where his boobs would be. Thank goodness he doesn’t have boobs.

    I will definitely try the tissue trick in future!

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