Apparel · Sewing

That 70’s Dress Pt. 1: The Search for the Perfect Dress Pattern

Hey guys!

For those who have been following my sewing journey thus far, first of all, thank you, from the bottom of my 💗, and second of all, it’s pretty clear that I love sewing vintage dresses.

Even before I got into sewing, I’ve always been drawn to retro/vintage clothing. It’s been a dream of mine (or any girl’s dream, right?!) to own a closet full of vintage dresses. Often though, for me, I tend to run into issues with fit, style, price point, etc. Sometimes I find the perfect style of dress, but it’s too expensive. Or sometimes I find the perfect print, but it’s the wrong style of dress. Yes! It’s the perfect style, but the fit is off. And so on. You get it.

This is why I love vintage sewing patterns. The thrill of searching and finding the perfect ones is such a high for me! It’s like a treasure hunt. Also, being able to find the perfect vintage dress pattern and knowing I can recreate it and tailor it to my fit and liking is the icing on the cake, and the driving force of why I challenge myself to keep learning how to sew.

As far as dress patterns go, I’ve currently been interested obsessed with finding that perfect 70’s dress. As you probably also already know from following this blog, my absolute favorite fashion era is the Seventies. For dresses in that particular era, I’ve always been drawn to the bohemian style, and I love that whole country-cottage-hippie-gypsy-peasant-Little-House-on-the-Prairie kind of dress that is so indicative of Today’s modern-vintage boho fashion trend. Think Anthropologie, Free People, Christy Dawn, Spell..If I had all the money in the world to shop boho clothing all day every day, I would raid every one of their stores in heartbeat!

Probably the most iconic boho style prairie dress of the 60s-70’s: the Gunne Sax dress. Image source via moonchildvintage on Etsy

But since that is another dream yet realized, I have to just take matters into my own hands and try to recreate all those dream dresses on my own, right?

Oh man, there were so many cute dress patterns back in the 70s!

L-R: McCalls 3131/Simplicity 9259/Simplicity 9486/Simplicity 6036

The only problem, of course, is tracking down those patterns and getting my hands on one that is not only available for purchase, but also complete, in good condition, and most importantly, in my size. A challenge that is almost always nearly impossible to fulfill when it comes to obtaining true vintage sewing patterns.

Almost.

After many hours and attempts at searching both in-store and on the web, I was able to find a dress pattern that I really liked in the form of Butterick 5956.

Once I saw a photo of this pattern on a google search, I just had to have it. I see this kind of dress everywhere on all those boho-clothing websites, and the pattern itself lends to lots of other variations you can sew—different skirt, different sleeves, different bodice, different lengths. To me, it was just the perfect base pattern for creating lots of beautiful 70s style dresses.

I tell ya, I searched far and wide for the Butterick 5956. I even tried doing searches for more current, similar style patterns but just couldn’t find one that I truly liked and that was even available for purchase. That is, until Etsy came through for me, yet again, and I was able to find only one more left of this EXACT pattern. The good news was that the pattern itself was complete and in very good condition. The bad part was that it had already been cut to size—an XS-S to be exact—which is totally NOT my size range. 😭

However, in the Sewing World, you have what’s called Pattern Grading, and this is essentially the fix for when patterns are too small/too big and you have to adjust it to your personal fit. This generally works well for most patterns, and although I’ve heard of it, I’ve yet to try and attempt to do it.

But after knowing that there is a possibility in getting the b5956 to fit me, I knew that I needed to act quickly and purchase this pattern before it was too late and I miss my chance to ever see it resurface again.

So I did. And here it is, in my possession, along with a really pretty mustard yellow, floral print calico from, you guessed it, Etsy!

My heart was so happy seeing these two together. 🥰❤️ I can’t wait to try pattern grading this and sewing it up.

===FAST FORWARD!===

Soooo. Unfortunately, my attempts at pattern grading did not go as well as I hoped. I blame myself. Overall, I think I just need to study up more on grading in general Also, I think I need more patience. A lot of patience. To be honest, I kinda just jumped right into it and expected it to be perfect the first time around. The good thing was that I made the wise choice not to cut up my pretty fabric right away. I attempted to make a graded pattern onto some muslin first. It was actually working until I got to the sleeves. For some reason, I have this fear of sleeves that I really have to overcome. I kept getting confused with grading the sleeve to fit my newly graded bodice piece. I just couldn’t get it right, and after a few hours of attempting to make the whole thing work, I think I just needed to stop and take a break. While I was wallowing in my self-pity at having failed at pattern grading, I kept browsing the web, hoping beyond hope to find another vintage b5956 in my size so I could call it a day.

Well—I guess the odds were in my favor. Of sorts. I was doing an extensive search on eBay when I came across some vintage 70s patterns that, lo-and-behold, were not exact b5956’s, but very similar replicas. Actually, when I really studied the dresses and the pattern pieces on the envelopes, it turns out that the dresses were pretty much the same dress, just labeled and pictured differently. And the best part was, they were in my size!! Yessss!!!

Okay. I know what you’re thinking. These are MATERNITY dress patterns, Gilly!! Believe me, I too, was disappointed and tempted to skip over these patterns when I first saw them. BUT! When I thought about it, all I really needed to have to create the b5956 was the bodice and the sleeves in my size. If I could somehow get that, then the rest of the dress is a piece of cake to make. The skirt pieces of the b5956 pattern are literally just rectangles that need to be gathered and stitched to the bodice. Grading those pieces are a little easier than grading the bodice and sleeves. So what I plan to do is pick one of the maternity patterns and form a bodice, and then take the skirt pieces from the b5956 and use that to attach to the maternity bodice piece. OR I could just follow the full directions of the maternity pattern and add the ruffle from the b5956 to the bottom of the maternity dress. I’m not sure yet. I’m still waiting for the patterns to get here so I can see how the skirt pieces match up with the b5956. Because they are maternity patterns, I’m wondering if the size of the dress will be roomier than usual to accommodate a preggo belly.

Here is the comparison of all the dresses together. In my eyes they all look quite similar, if not the same, even. The fact that they are all Butterick patterns is good to know too, because chances are they will have similar instructions and pattern design. In the maternity patterns it looks like the square neckline is a bit higher than the b5956, but lowering the neckline isn’t hard to do. I’m really hoping that this will work out and I can make that perfect 70’s dress! I’ll keep you posted with the process and show you guys the finished dress in the next post.

Stay tuned!

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