• Sarah

Easy Vintage Sewing

Sewing a 1950s dress

BUTTERICK B5708


 

For my very first attempt at sewing a vintage dress, I decided to make Butterick pattern B5708. This pattern is a modern print of a vintage pattern originally sold in 1953.


The dress features a self-lined bodice, gathered skirt, invisible zipper and shoulder ties. Since it's sold as an 'easy' pattern, I figured it would be a good starting point for my vintage sewing adventures.


This is a very popular pattern online and can be purchased from several retailers. I bought mine on sale from Fabricville over a year ago. Fabricville had a really good sale at the time and I purchased around a dozen patterns all at once. However, since then they've just been sitting in my sewing stash waiting for me to get around to sewing them.


This pattern is sold in sizes 6-22.



Top Tip!


ALWAYS choose your size based on the measurements on the package and NOT on the size you typically buy in store.


Check the pattern measurements to find your size!

 

COST & MATERIALS

Materials

Fabric (6 meters):

$18.00


Thread (Gutermann 250m):

$4.49 (-25% discount)


Zipper (55cm):

$5.00 (-10% discount)


Invisible zipper foot:

$17.07


(Pins, chalk, scissors and hand sewing needles)


Subtotal: $42.94

Tax: $6.44

Total: $49.38



 

PREPARATION


According to the pattern the best fabrics to use for this project are cotton broadcloth, chambray, linen, crepe or shantung.

My fabric for this project.

I chose 100% polyester.


I had absolutely no problems working with this fabric. It's lilac in colour with pink flowers. It's also soft and pretty and it hangs beautifully. It may not be the most accurate fabric for the time period, but I'm definitely happy with my choice of fabric.


The only problem with the fabric is that the manufacturer decided to print the fabric in sections and sew those sections together before wrapping the fabric around the bolt. This means that there is a sewn seam roughly every meter. I've never seen this, so I asked the people working at the shop if they had come across this before. They hadn't seen it either, and no one is entirely sure why it comes that way.


This strange addition of the seams, combined with how I want the pattern to fall on the dress, means I bought more fabric than the pattern calls for. The pattern requires three to four meters of fabric depending on size, but I ended up buying six meters.


My desire to have the pattern fall a certain way also means that I will be ignoring the grain line when cutting out the pattern. Ultimately, my goal is to have a finished product that I'm proud to show off. This may not be best sewing practice, but I'm the only one who will be wearing the dress.


You'll notice in the 'Cost & Materials' section that I bought a 55cm zipper. The pattern only calls for a 35cm zipper, but the shop didn't have any at the time. I bought the 55cm zipper and I’ll cut it down to size before attaching it to the dress.



Top tip!


If you shorten a zipper, stitch horizontally across both short ends of the zipper. This will prevent the zipper pull from flying off while you are sewing.



Remember to sew your zipper ends closed!

 

BODICE

(pattern instructions in italics)

Step 1


Easestitch lower edges of one bodice front section between small circles.


Pattern image, step 1.

Ok, so right off the bat I've run into a problem with this pattern. The written instructions say 'easestitich'. This typically means to sew one line of long stitches. However, the image alongside the instruction clearly shows two rows of stitching... which would be a 'gather'.


Looking at the drawing on the pattern package, I don't see any gathers on the bodice. I've decided to stick with with written instructions and do one row of stitching between the small circles. Honestly, I don't think it will make a huge difference to the final appearance of the dress either way.


 

Step 2


Stitch two midriff front sections together at centre front, ending at large circle.


Easy enough. After sewing the seam, I pressed the seams open.


It turns out that I forgot to cut the pieces for the bodice lining. It’s not an issue right now, but I’ll have to get my fabric back out and cut more pieces for the bodice lining.



 

Step 3


Pin midriff front to lower edge of bodice front. Adjust ease; baste. Stitch, pivoting at large circles.


Ok, this step was a major problem for me. When I piece the bodice and midriff sections together, they create a triangle pointing towards the bellybutton.


I don’t know how to sew the point! It took me AGES to figure out how to get it to lay smooth. I kept accidentally attaching the midriff pieces further up the bodice towards the sternum area.


Google also wasn’t helpful. All of the tips online are about how to sew a corner. I’m not trying to sew a corner, I'm trying to sew a point. After a quick YouTube search to see if anyone has made a tutorial for this dress, I was able to find a video by creator Whispered Moon. It’s not a tutorial exactly, but it was filmed clearly enough that I was able to see how the point was sewn.



After several minutes and a lot of frustration, I think I've finally figured it out. It's still not laying completely flat. There's a bit of extra space created in the front. But it's as good as I can get it.


The good news is, I have to repeat this step when I make the back bodice pieces as well as the bodice lining. So, I’ll get lots of practice. Since the lining is identical to the bodice, if the lining turnouts out better, I’ll just use that as the bodice.


You can see some folding of the fabric below the point, between my fingers. It's slight, but still there.
 


Step 4


Stitch two midriff back sections together at centre back, ending at square.


No problems. I once again pressed the seams open.



 

Step 5


Pin midriff back to lower edge of one bodice back section. Stitch, pivoting at square.


So here I have to sew to the point from step 3 again. I had no problems this time! I think I’ve figured it out. Once again, I pressed the seams open.


No problem on the bodice back. It's laying completely flat.

 

Step 6


Stitch bodice front to bodice back at right side, ending at large circle.


No problems. Easy peasy. Pressed seams open.


After I finished sewing the bodice, I started to sew the lining straight away. The pattern doesn't mention sewing the lining until much later at step 17. However, my preference is to sew the lining while I still have the bodice at the front of my mind. That way I won't forget how I sewed the point and everything will match.


Sewing the lining was uneventful. It was once again tricky to sew around the point of the bodice front, but easy on the bodice back. That makes me wonder if the ease stitching from step 1 is the problem when trying to get the point to lay flat.


It's also possible that it's just not supposed to lay flat at all. It may, in fact, be a design element to allow more bust space. I'm just not experienced enough in dress making to know if it's a pattern fault or a design element.


 

SKIRT

(pattern instructions in italics)


Step 7


Gather upper edge of each skirt front and back section between seamlines.


This step is simple enough, though slightly ambiguous.


You simply sew two rows of stitches parallel to one another within the 5/8" seam allowance. at the top of each skirt piece. I find it easiest to sew one row at 3/8" and the second at 1/4".


Use a basting stitch (or as long a stitch as your machine allows) so you can remove them easily later on. You may not need to remove them. If they are safely nestled within the seam allowance, you can just leave them. But if they happen to waver outside the seam allowance, you can use a seam ripper to pick them out of the fabric.


At step 11 you'll adjust the gathers to match the length of the bodice. But at this point, all you have to do is sew the two parallel lines on each skirt section.


 

Step 8


For front, stitch two skirt front and back sections together at centre front / centre back.


The pattern doesn't give any advice about how to finish the seams. I guess they just assume anyone making the dress will have their own preferred method for finishing seams. I would typically just finish seams using pinking shears. However, for this project I've decided to sew the skirt using French seams. I've never done this before, so it took a bit of Google research to figure out how to do it.


Sewing French seams starts with sewing the fabric wrong sides together. This goes against my sewing instincts and was a bit difficult to wrap my head around at first.


How to sew a French seam:

1. Sew the fabric wrong sides together at 3/8".

2. Trim the seam allowance close to the seam.

3. Turn the fabric right sides together.

4. Press the fabric.

5. Sew the fabric right sides together at 1/4".


This creates a fully enclosed seam. No worrying about the fabric fraying over time.



Here you can see two images of the French seams.
The seam allowance is completely enclosed.

 

Step 9


For back, stitch remaining sections together.


I repeated the same process of sewing French seams as in step 8.



 

Step 10


Stitch skirt front and skirt back together at right side, ending at upper large circle.


Pattern image, step 10.

Uh-oh. Problem. The image at step 10 shows the stitching going all the way up to the upper edge of the skirt. We seem to have another example of the instructions not matching the image. I’m going with the written instructions again. I’ll stop sewing at the upper large circle.



 

Step 11


Pin skirt to bodice, matching centres. Adjust gathers; baste. Stitch in a double-stitched seam. Press seam toward bodice.


Ok, here I got a little bit confused again.


If you look at the image in step 10, one whole side of the skirt is still open!


Slit on the upper right side of the skirt.

Also, since I sewed up to the large circle in step 10, there is a little slit on the upper part of the skirt on the right side. Which is not in the step 10 image.


I'm assuming the slit on the right side is for the zipper, but maybe not? I really wasn't too sure at this point. The zipper looks like it could be installed on either side. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


After matching and pinning all of the seams and notches, I began to make the gathers. To do this, I pulled gently on the two parallel rows of basting stitches I made in step 7. It was a little tricky to get all the gathers to lay nicely. This is one of those things where you literally could sit and fix gathers all day trying to make them perfect. At a point I just had to stop and let it be.

After I was satisfied with the gathers, I pinned roughly every 5 cm. I put in a ton of pins, because I really didn't want anything to move.

Skirt gathers (back).

After pinning, I used a basting stitch to hold all the gathers where I wanted them. Then I sewed around the entire perimeter of the skirt, affixing the skirt to the bodice. I then sewed a second row of stitching around the skirt. So, if you're counting there is now 1 row of basting stitches, and two row of normal-length stitches holding the skirt to the bodice. I think I can safely say that the skirt will not be detaching from the bodice any time soon.


I then pressed the seam with the gathers towards the bodice.


So far everything looks exactly as I would have expected it to look.


So I must be doing a decent enough job.


When I was making the mock-up, I kept getting the skirt fabric stuck to the gathers and sewing them together. I managed to avoid that this time round. So there’s been improvement in that respect.


Skirt gathers (front).

All of the gathers look really good! I wasn’t sure what to do with the slit on the upper right side of the skirt, so I just kept sewing it with the gathers. I suspect I may have to unpick and re-adjust that part of the skirt when I put the finishing touches on the dress.




 

Now we get to the part I’ve been dreading the most...


Sewing in the invisible zipper.


This is something I have literally never done before. So, fingers crossed!


I’m going to need to watch some invisible zipper tutorials before I tackle one myself.



 

Step 12


Open zipper. On outside, pin zipper to front opening edge, face down in seam allowance, placing zipper tape 6cm down from upper edge of fabric and zipper teeth on seamline. Position left-hand groove of zipper foot over teeth; stitch close to teeth, ending at lower large circle.


Installed zipper.

Ok… so, figuring out the zipper took some work.


After popping out to pick up an invisible zipper foot (turns out that’s a thing), I got to work on installing the invisible zipper.


In the end, installing the first side of the zipper was rather uneventful. Once I figured out how the invisible zipper foot worked, it was smooth sailing.


The only thing I’m not too sure about is whether I should have lined the zipper up with the edge of the fabric or along the 5/8" seam allowance.


I decided to line the zipper up with the side of the fabric. In any event, it seemed to work.



 

Step 13


Close zipper. Pin remaining zipper tape to back opening edge, placing zipper teeth on seamline.


Easy enough. Just line up the other side of the zipper on the fabric.


 

Step 14


Open zipper. Position right-hand groove of zipper foot over teeth; stitch to lower large circle.


This is where all the problems happened.


It didn’t work when I lined the teeth up with the right-hand groove of the zipper foot. My sewing machine kept stitching on the zipper teeth directly. Thankfully, I bought a plastic zipper so this didn't hurt my sewing machine.


I had to unpick and re-align the zipper twice.

Installed zipper.

I ended up using the left-hand groove of the zipper foot instead of the right as the instructions recommend.


Perhaps that means I sewed the second side of the zipper upside-down. I sewed both sides of the zipper from top to bottom. Maybe I was supposed to go down the left side, across the bottom, and then back up the right side.


Ultimately, the zipper was installed. I'll have to remember this for my next project.



 

Step 15


Close zipper. Slide zipper foot to notch on the left. Pin front and back together below zipper. Position and lower needle slightly above and to the left of zipper stitching at large circle. Stitch side seam below large circle.


This step confirms that the zipper was indeed intended to be sewn on the side of the skirt that has been left completely open.


Could I have installed the zipper on the right-hand side of the skirt with the slit from step 10?


I also forgot I was doing French seams at this point. I sewed the seam incorrectly, and had to unpick and re-sew the French seams correctly. It really wasn't difficult to sew the French seam close up to the zipper either. I cut a tiny notch into the seam allowance right at the bottom of the zipper, and was able to successfully complete the French seam.



This is what the dress looked like before I sewed the French seam under the zipper.

 

Step 16


Stitch or hand sew each end of zipper tape to seam allowances, keeping dress free when stitching.


I didn't do this step until the very end when I was putting all of the finishing touches on the dress.


I want all of my seams to be completely finished. It feels like if I did this the way the instructions suggested, my seams wouldn’t be as finished as I would like them to be. It may not make a difference. It's just my preference.



 

LINING & HEM

(pattern instructions in italics)



Prepare and stitch together lining sections in same manner as bodice.


I did this immediately after I finished the bodice and before I started the skirt.

Seam at the pivot point of the bodice.

I just thought I would find it easier and less tedious to stitch the bodice and the lining back to back.


If I had almost finished the dress and then had to go back and make the lining, it would feel as though I’d started the whole project over again. Which would make it feel like I was never going to finish the project. Again, this is just my preference and makes absolutely no difference to the construction of the dress.



 

Step 17


Turn in seam allowance on lower edge of bodice lining. Press.


No problems. Easy enough.



 

Step 18


With right sides together, pin lining to bodice, matching seams. Stitch armhole, tie ends and neck edges between large circles. Trim. Understitch lining neck edge.


Uneven seam under the right arm.

This part was tricky just because of the distance I had to stitch.


I also had some difficulty getting the seam joins under the arms to match up correctly and not pucker. They’re still not perfect. But after a couple of un-picking and re-sewing attempts, I’ve managed to get the to a point I’m happy with.


Considering where this minor problem is located, it’s not something that anyone is ever going to see. I’m going to leave it as is instead of messing around with it even more and risking making the problem worse.


There’s still a bit to do to close everything up fully, but that will be something that gets doing in the finishing touches.


The under stitching wasn't the most fun thing I've ever done. The pattern was vague as to how far along the neck line I was supposed to under stitch. I'm not entirely sure I got this part right.

 

Before I continue with the final two steps of this pattern, I'm going to take a moment and correct all of the mistakes I've made so far.


"What mistakes?" you ask?


"Everything seems like it's gone well so far!"


Well... remember how the instructions said to sew the bodice lining in the same manner as the bodice? It turns out that is not entirely true.


If you sew the lining in the same manner as the bodice, you end up with the lining open on the wrong side... which means the lining is closed on the wrong side.


You see, ideally you will have the lining open on the same side as the zipper. That way you can actually put the dress on... which is the goal.


If you sew the lining in the same manner as the bodice, as instructed, you end up with the problem in the photo below. The lining seam is closed on the side with the zipper.


Luckily, this is an easy enough fix. I just had to unpick the lining on one side, and then sew the other side closed.


Closed lining (mistake).
Open lining (fixed).


Also, there's still that small slit on the side of the skirt from step 10!

Hole in skirt side.

I guess in this case, it would have been better to follow the image instead of the written instructions.


In any event, it's an easy fix. Although, it's a bit trickier since I decided to do French seams.


It would have been nice if the instructions would have been written properly in the first place. It's just an unnecessary fix.




 

Step 19


Turn lining to inside, turning in side opening edges to clear zipper teeth. Press. Slipstitch to zipper tape and lower edge over seam.

Lining whipstitched over raw edge.

I did this step by hand. I really didn't want the stitching in this step to be seen from the


outside of the dress. Hand sewing meant I could hide the stitches in the lining. It took about an hour to sew down the lining by the zipper and over the seam attaching the skirt to the bodice.


 

Step 20


To hem lower edge of dress, stitch 13mm from raw edge. Turn in and press edge alongside stitching. Trim very close to stitching. Turn in again along trimmed edge. Stitch in place.


I left the dress to hang for 24 hours before hemming. The instructions don't say to do this, but I know from watching sewing videos on YouTube that it's best to let the dress hand over night.


Some fabrics can stretch and warp once they've been on a hanger. It's best to let that happen before sewing the hem. Once the fabric has warped, you can trim the skirt evenly all the way around.



Skirt hem.

If you just sew the hem without letting the dress rest, the warp will happen to your finished dress. This means you will end up with a very uneven hem. It's not a guarantee that your fabric will warp. Mine didn't. But I'd rather be safe than sorry.


The finished dress is a bit too long for me. Instead of cutting the skirt down to size I decided to sew a 2" hem. I did as the instructions said. I sewed a stitch 13mm from the raw edge, turned that edge in, pressed, and then turned the fabric in again by 2".



 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Finished dress.

The bodice is quite boxy. I would prefer the bodice to be more cinched at my natural waist.


As it is, the waistline in this dress falls across by bellybutton.


I think for my next project I'll make a couple of mock-ups. I'll make one in my size according to measurements, and a second in a smaller size. Once I figure out which size I prefer, I may try making some adjustments.


Since this was my first vintage sewing project, I wanted to stay as true to the pattern as possible. My theory was that I was likely to over complicate the project if I tried to do too many new things at once. Next time, I'll really focus on the mock-up to make sure I get the exact fit I want.


Were the instructions easy to follow?

Dress inside out.

They were easy enough to follow, but there is definite room for improvement with regards to clarity. It should have mentioned that the sides of the bodice lining need to be sewn opposite to the way in which the bodice sides are sewn.


Also, the instructions did not match the images at step 1 and step 10. I don't think it matters for step one whether you do an ease stitch or gathers. But it definitely matters for step 10. Following the written instructions in step 10 is what resulted in the strange slit at the upper right side of the skirt. In that case, I would have been better off following the stitch lines on the image.


The pattern does assume a certain amount of knowledge. For example, it does not state how to finish seams. It's left to each individual's best judgment.


Does the finished garment look like the drawing on the pattern envelope?


Yes.


Would I sew this dress again?


Maybe. I can't see myself needing multiple versions of this dress in my wardrobe. But it's nice to know I can make it for someone else if I wanted to.


Would I recommend this pattern?


Yes. I think this dress could be made in a day or over a weekend by more experienced dress makers. It's also easy enough for a novice dress maker to make with a bit of help from Google (as I did).





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