Apparel · Sewing

That 70’s Dress Pt. 2: The Quest to Make the Perfect Dress

Hi Lovelies!

I’m back for part two of my search for that perfect 70’s dress. If you were with me for the first part, you knew that my “quest” started with finding a really great seventies vintage dress pattern.

Long story short, it was not an easy task, but I managed to find a really great pattern in the form of Butterick 5956—

—Which ended up being pre-cut, and too small for my size, unfortunately.

Long story even shorter, I ended up trying to do a pattern grade for the first time, promptly failed, and then found roughly similar dress patterns in my size for roughly the same style dress (albeit, they were maternity dress patterns), and decided to try and merge the set and see if I could come up with a workable dress.

On my first attempt at merging the patterns, I took the bodice pieces of the the B4233 since they were the most similar to the B5956 and also cut the same way, having a front and back piece that you attach the skirt pieces to. I had started a muslin, and for some reason, since I had the sleeves and bodice for the B4233 made already, I decided to just go ahead and continue sewing the full dress and see how it compared to the B5956. The big differences ended up being that the gathers on the 4233 are actually pleats, whereas the 5956 are true gathers. Also, my suspicions were correct in assuming that since the 4233 is a maternity pattern there would be a lot more room in the waist area to accommodate a pregnant belly. When I tried on the 4233 muslin, it was indeed too big for me despite it being my size.

So then my second attempt was to take the 4233 bodice and attach the 5956 skirt pieces to the bodice.

Well, uhh, I actually didn’t end up doing that.

Instead, I did a THIRD attempt and kinda went rogue and did my own fitting methods. I retraced the original B5956 pattern onto some old wrapping paper that I had, and added a few inches to the sides and top straps of the bodice pieces.

For the sleeve pattern, I knew by looking at it and tissue fitting it to my arm that the width of the sleeve was good enough so I didn’t want to make it any wider. I happened to compare the sleeve patterns on the B4233 and B3594 and saw that the 3594 sleeve had the same shoulder curve as the 5956 sleeve, so I just put the two pieces together and traced out a newly graded sleeve. When I traced the skirt pieces, I ended up just comparing the 5956 pieces together and took note of how many inches they spaced out from each other and applied the same method for cutting out the graded pattern pieces. It was an unorthodox move I know, but I was like, “screw it!” and risked it anyway. I started another muslin and just crossed my fingers and hoped that my daring grading method worked out for the best.

I changed my letter board for Spring 😂 I just love finding inspiration wherever I can to sew…LOL!

Well, things didn’t end up quite as perfect as planned, but by doing it in this weird way, I was able to make a new muslin bodice, try it on, and since it came out a little too large this time, I was able to grade IN and adjust the fitting around my bust line until it was comfortable and fitted the way I wanted it to. To my delight, my sleeve grading method actually worked and all I needed to do was adjust the gathers at the shoulder in order to match the arm holes and the bodice. The bishop sleeves on the B5956 are puffed (poofy? floofy?) at the shoulders, but I actually didn’t want mine to be as much. As much as I have an aversion/fear to/of sleeve sewing, my finished sleeves didn’t look half-bad! Crisis averted.

Since I was already on a roll with doing things “my way,” I didn’t really follow the sewing directions that the pattern stated either:

B5956 Pattern Changes

  • For the bodice, I followed up until after interfacing, but the directions stated to keep the front and back interfaced bodice pieces + their facings separate until later on. Instead of doing this, after applying fusible interfacing to one of the front and back bodice pieces, I immediately joined their facings together by stitching them at the neckline and turning them right side out. This finished the neckline beforehand so I wouldn’t have to do it later. I liked that method much better than the original directions.
  • After setting up the bodice, the skirt pieces get gathered and sewn onto the front and back bodice, which I did follow, but the original directions have you sew the side seams down before doing an in-set sleeve. I chose to sew the sleeves flat style instead. Either one will work and give you the same result, but I just find doing it flat style makes getting the sleeve in much easier. Afterward, I just sewed the sleeves and the side seams closed with one long stitch.
  • After the sleeves are put in is where the directions have you hand sew the bodice facings to the back of the bodice front and attached skirt. I believe this is done in order to hide the raw sleeve and skirt seams. From a professional standpoint, this makes everything from the inside look neat and tidy–a good practice overall for any sewist to remember to do–but in all honesty, it wasn’t too much of a concern for me since the outside of the garment is what everyone is going to see. Plus, I wasn’t about to hand sew the bodice when I can easily use my machine to do it. It’s a personal preference, so no biggie. I did however make sure all my inside seams were nice and tidy and pressed! (I don’t own a serger, so I finish all my seams with an overlock stitch.)
  • At first I was just going to do a simple 3/4 bishop sleeve with an elastic cuff like the directions said to do. There is another option to add a button cuff at the wrist and make the sleeve long. I chose to do a variation of both sleeve options, minus the button on the cuff, since I a) didn’t have any more elastic on hand and b) didn’t have any matching buttons on hand either. So I made a 3/4 sleeve and added a cuff with a larger circumference opening so it would sit comfortably past my elbow. In the end, I wanted the cuff even more narrow so I folded it in half and stitched it.
  • The directions say to cut the ruffle in 3 pieces and then sew them together at the seams before gathering and attaching. I did do this, but in the future if I make this dress again, I think I will just make two pieces and attach them front and back and then sew the side seams closed at the very end. It was no problem doing it the original way, but it did take much longer to do and it was more work trying to distribute all the gathers evenly. Plus, you get the visible seams of the three pieces sewn together if you don’t sew them on correctly (like I think I must have done, oops!)
  • The directions don’t call for one, but I made a separate sash for the dress, just in case I decide to cinch it at the waist. I did this by taking the extra fabric I had to cut from the bottom hem (as usual, the dress was too long for me, so I hemmed it to make it more midi). Well, I took off around 4 inches! I didn’t want to waste the fabric, and it ended up making the perfect length sash to tie in a bow.

I’m sooo glad I was able to finally figure this pattern out and get it sewn to my size! I just love the 70’s vibe of this peasant dress. Maybe for some of you, the whole loose-fitting, somewhat-granny-nightgown-house-dress look may not be your cup-o-tea, but it sure is mine!

I’ve been so into this silhouette lately. Probably because of all the times I’ve been stuck in the house all year with nowhere fancy to go. I might as well be comfortable, but also pretty while I’m at it, right?? But who knows? Now that the COVID vaccine is out, and cases seem to be dropping more and more, and we are slowly able to come out of hiding again, I can wear all the pretty dresses I’ve sewn FOR REAL and go out and enjoy life outside of my house.

The sash is pretty, but I prefer it to be loose and flowy, like in the pattern pictures

I used a quilting cotton to make this dress. The description on the listing read “Prairie Calico Mustard”, but I see it more as Goldenrod in appearance. It’s much brighter than the photo showed in the listing, and I’m glad for it. The floral print is so pretty! It’s ditsy floral without being too ditsy, if you know what I mean…Even though it’s a slightly heavier cotton, I still feel like it drapes well. I can definitely picture making this again in a cotton lawn, or lightweight linen. Rayon could work too, I think.

It was sunny in my mom’s backyard when I took these photos, but sooo cold and windy! You can’t tell, but I was freezing! 🥶

This dress was actually very simple to sew, but the fact that I had to do some fancy work to get the pattern up to my size presented a new challenge for me to continue to work on as I hone my sewing skills. Pattern grading is quite a concept to grasp, and I can only hope to get better at it with time! But I really love my little 70’s peasant dress and would make it again in a heartbeat! (Now that I have it in my correct size. Yay!)

B5956 Spool Rating: 🧵🧵🧵🧵🧵

She’s a winner!!

I’d say I fulfilled my quest to find the perfect 70’s dress, don’t you think? Now onto the next!


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