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by Lady Nastasiia Ivanova Medvedeva

The Background

The Russian sarafan is an a-line jumper-style dress, worn over a rubakha, or shirt. While it is not definitively known whether or not it is period, some research opines that it is descended from the feryaz, an overgarment with long, vestigial sleeves and slits to put the arms through. It is theorized that the sleeves eventually went away and the resulting sleeveless garment became the sarafan.

The pattern outlined here is slightly different from that, in that it has straps rather than the scooped armholes that would result from the removal of sleeves from the feryaz.

Materials that can be used for this garment are linen, brocade, or wool. You can use cotton, but it is a little flimsy and does not give the monumental, static silhouette so prized by period Russians.

The Instructions

First, take a series of measurements, as outlined below.

Key What Am I Measuring?
A Under the arms, but above the bust
B Around the largest part of the bust
C Under the arm, from where Measurement A was taken to where Measurement B was taken
D Over the bust, from where you took Measurement A to the floor.
E From the hip to the floor.

Add two inches to measurements A, B, C, and D for seam allowance. Divide measurements A and B by two to lay out the pattern. The bottom edge should extend the full width of the fabric.

Sarafan Pattern

The important thing is to make the pattern fit over the largest part of the body. The point of the side gores (at the hip in this pattern) can be raised to accomodate larger waist measurements, if necessary.

Setting the gores in this pattern is very easy. When they are cut, you will have four right triangles. Take one triangle and set the right angle against one lower outside edge of one panel, right sides together, pin, and stitch. Do this for both sides of each panel. Press the seams flat.

Place the right sides of the front and back panels together, pin the side seams, and stitch. Use a minimum of a half-inch seam allowance; five-eighths is even better. Press the seams open. Turn the top edge down half an inch, then half an inch again and press. Don't sew it yet; you might have to adjust it.

Put the sarafan on. Right now it'll look like a strapless dress, but you'll be putting the straps on shortly. This is where you adjust the fit under the arms and make sure that it fits through the bust and hips. If everything's okay, we can proceed on to the next to the last step -- the straps.

Cut two five-inch wide lengths of fabric. Fold in half and stitch lengthwise, using a half-inch seam allowance. Press the seams open, then turn the tubes right-side-out and press again. Stitch the top edge of the sarafan, and pin the straps to the dress at the center back, angled outward slightly. Put the dress on again and pull the straps over your shoulders, pinning them to the front of the dress slightly to the outside of the bust on either side. Adjust as necessary and stitch in place. It's a good idea to stitch the back straps close to the top edge of the dress, as it can have a tendency to pull a bit.

That's about it, except for the hemming. Use your favorite method, but remember that Russian garb is hemmed to ankle or instep length -- no floor-sweeping trains here!

I hope that these instructions make sense. If you have any questions, please email me at

Everything I know about this pattern I owe to Master Mordak Timofei'evich Rostovskogo and his Amazing Russian Clothing Packet. Master Mordak was ably assisted in his development of the pattern that was my inspiration by his friend, Lady Anastasiia Ivanova, who did the practical construction and wear-testing.