Esme dress with almost no Esme!

This month for the Make a Garment a Month sewalong, it’s April Foolproof so I had a bit of a think and came up with two possibilities. I also have an annual theme of stashbusting, so I needed to get rid of some fabric as well. The first of my two foolproof makes employs the subtraction cutting methodology, using the very top of the Lotta Jansdotter Esme dress as my pattern.

What is subtraction cutting?

Subtraction cutting has been developed by Julian Roberts, who is currently a lecturer at the Royal College of Art, but he delivers workshops around the world. It is one of my aims to attend a class. If you follow the link above you will get a lot of information

I’ll start at the beginning and try to document my journey so you can see what I did.

First you need quite a lot of fabric. Julian uses two pieces of about 2.5m to 3 m. I don’t have such lengths in my stash to play with, so I found two coordinating pieces of fabric which finished up being 84cms x144cms. A bit small, but I thought they would be ok. I chose some beautiful striped shirting left over from a shirt I had made for Mark, and some polka dotted cotton donated to my stash by my friend Leonie. I felt they coordinated well enough.


These two pieces get sewn together along three sides, creating a kind of bag, or what Julian calls a duvet. IMG_2305

Then you need a bit of a pattern. I used the Esme because it happened to be lurking on my table, but the Megan Nielsen Eucalyptus, or any t-shirt pattern will do. If you want sleeves, then choose a block which has sleeves. I did think about sleeves for this one which was another reason for choosing the Esme. You only need the very top, a yoke, if you like of the front and back. Here are my two pieces for your edification!


Julian does talk about pattern placement but then just throws them on the fabric, so I thought I would do that too. Next time I will be much more careful about my placement.

Draw round the pattern pieces, except for the bottom edge, and then drawn an arc from the bottom side of the back to the bottom side of the front, for both edges.


Next time I will place my pieces to minimise the size of the arcs.

the pattern pieces are cut out from one layer only, and they are cut out in one piece. Here is a little time lapse movie that I made (rather badly). It seems to be showing upside down but it plays the correct way so don’t worry, you’re not going to get a crick in your neck watching it!

To make the dress, just sew the shoulders together and then those curved seams, and that’s it! I made facings for the neckline and bound the armholes with self-made bias binding.

You can see the effect of the two different fabrics. I wanted my top to be the shirting, but if I had cut it out from the other side I would have had the polka dots.


It’s not my most favourite shape, but had I used longer and wider fabric it would have flowed about my body a lot better.

I finished up with a very strange shape, which I attempted to pin/drape/generally hide. The next two photos show the dress in its unfinished form and I’m actually wearing other clothes underneath it!


I tucked that proboscis shape into the dress and it formed a pocket that swallowed my entire arm!


I think the way the two fabrics form the shape is really interesting.


One of the side seams is dangerously short, but, because of the drape, it’s not really noticeable. DSC02329

If I make another one, which I’m sure I will, I will choose fabric which is much more flowy, and I might even put some darts in. Basically anything is possible with this methodology.


The reason I wanted to highlight this method is that size is irrelevant, you just draw round something that fits you and the rest just happens. It’s also a really interesting process. I found it fascinating and had a wow! moment when I lifted it off the cutting table. Unfortunately it didn’t translate to my video. DSC02333

If you want more information on this here is a brilliant youtube video on it:

And Julian has provided a free cutting book, which can be downloaded from here. 

I found this a really quick and fun make. I learned an awful lot and have done quite a bit of reading up on the process. This is just one of Julian’s methods of subtraction cutting – there are a lot more, so I shall report back sporadically.

This was almost a zero waste make as I used the cutout part for the facings and bias binding. These are my scraps which have been saved for some boro practice. IMG_2331

Right! Who is going to give this a go? Who wants more information? I strongly suggest you view all the videos, but especially the one I linked to. You won’t be sorry!

As mentioned at the beginning, this was one of my April Foolproof makes. It is pretty foolproof to do, but requires a bit more consideration to make it perfect.  I do have another make to show you, which took about an hour to do and was totally foolproof, but you’ll have to wait for that one.



14 thoughts on “Esme dress with almost no Esme!

    1. Thank you Lisa, avant garde is a great way to describe this dress, and it might be just too edgy for me, but I am totally hooked on the experience now!

  1. What an interesting approach and thank you for all the links that I am going to follow up. Much appreciated. It looks like a really good learning experience.

  2. Your dress reminds me of the one-piece side drape dress from a Japanese sewing book called “Drape, drape 2”. Do you know which one I mean? Your compatriot Sew Busy Lizzie made that dress more than once with great success. Now I can imagine how amazing such a graphic design would look in a very drapey and luxurious knit, let’s say, for an evening party dress or a cocktail dress. Great post Sue!

    1. Yes, it has a very Japanese vibe! I am really anxious to turn this into a long dress of some description. I will have to plan the layout a little better though. Thank you as always Hélène xx

  3. Cool! It looks like an easy way to make a dress – a duvet fitted to the body at the top only. I, unfortunately, have a great fear of adding any extra volume to my hips. 😂 but you look very avant garden in your new make! 😁👍. Don’t lose your keys in the pocket!

  4. What an extraordinary method. I might have to do it just to properly appreciate how it works. I doubt I will get such a good result as yours though, which looks very designerly. I expect having an engineering background helps with things such as this. I look forward to seeing the next one. S.trish

    1. Hi Trish, you must try it! Choose fabrics with more drape than I used and I think you’ll find it fabulous! I look forward to seeing it.

  5. The dress looks cool and unique. I downloaded the Julian Robberts cutting book a few years ago when I had been making the Pattern Magic one piece twisted sweater and came across his books. I all forgot about it until I saw you make.

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