1960s | Dresses

Retro Sewing Woes

August 9, 2012
Butterick Retro B5748

Butterick Retro B5748Hi all, this is my first post here, so pleased to meet you!

I recently made a dress from a Butterick Retro pattern (B5748). I made it out of a nice cotton piqué I bought online. I made view A of the dress with notches at the front and back of the bodice and decorative bows.

I had the hardest time making the bodice of the dress. I’m not sure what was wrong with the pattern. I’d love your suggestions on what happened and if it’s possible to fix it.

I made a mock-up of the bodice with scrap fabric without the notches which seemed to fit me fine. Then I made it out of the actual fabric and notched it and everything started going wrong! The notch at the front and back gave an extra ease of a few centimetres which made the shoulder straps slide off my shoulders. To make things worse, the pattern didn’t add any reinforcing to the notches and, after putting it on a few times for fittings, the end of the notches ripped (worsening the shoulder strap problem).

I stitched the notches closed above the rip and tried to reinforce it by hand stitching the end of the notches together many times (I’m sorry if I’m not explaining this right). The straps were still falling off my shoulders and the curve of them seemed wrong so I had to take off about 2 inches on each straps and change a bit the curve of them (therefore making them not as wide). It’s still not perfect though and I can see that the notches will start ripping again in a few wears.

I’m a bit at my wits’ end on how to save the dress. I don’t have enough fabric left to remake the bodice without the notches and it seems strange to me that the pattern didn’t take the extra ease and fragility of the notches into account.

I thought of using satin bias tape as some kind trim on the neckline and somehow close the notches with it. I also had a little accident with the serger on the skirt (I sliced the skirt a bit while serging) and I thought I could use the same bias tape to hide it (kind of like a sailor skirt). The skirt is a circle skirt and I’m not sure the bias can make the curve. Has anyone tried to do something like this (view B) with bias tape on a circle skirt?

  1. It’s always off-putting when things don’t quite go according to plan. I am sure the satin bias tape would work, although you may still see the split. My suggestion would be a contrast fabric (like maybe a B&W gingham, or maybe spots, or even a red) made into a floppy bow. You don’t say where the skirt problem is, if it’s the hem, the bias binding will certain go around the circle, but if the ‘ problem’ lies elsewhere, maybe a pocket or an appliqued shape over the little mishap? Hope that’s of some help x

    1. I thought it would be an easy ‘made in a weekend’ dress!

      I thought of a pocket or appliqué but the cut on the skirt is in a really weird place.. it’s in the front on the right half about 1 foot from the hem. I repaired it with glue on interfacing in the reverse and Fray-Check (I didn’t cut out a piece of fabric it’s just a slice) but you can see the glue of the Fray-Check where I repaired it which bothers me.

      edit: I’m not sure I understand what you mean by floppy bow but it sounds cute!

      1. I would make my own bias strips/tape in a nice fabric that would co-ordinate well with your dress, add a wide band at the neck, covering the slash entirely, and a wider band at the hemline to hid the cut in your skirt.
        You can make bias out of any material you choose. Bias will go really well around a curve, at any width, just steam press into shape before stitching down.

  2. Bias tape is ace with curves. You stretch it as you iron it into shape at the pinning stage. If you are intimidated, hand baste before sewing.
    If you have a tear to repair, you can use bias tape as though it were fabric (ironed flat), or a scrap of fabric. Patch as normal.
    Insofar as the neckline issues, I’d like to suggest that next time (and before you do further work on this garment) you stay-stitch your necklines, armholes, and any slashes anywhere. Stay stitch is a long basting stitch done in the seam allowance just after cutting the piece.
    If you want to modify this neckline to take out the slash, you could cut wide strips of fabric on the bias (like 3″ wide) or a shaped facing to make a boat neck. Just an idea.
    As for loose straps, perhaps they are too long, or perhaps you can take a dart at the armhole. Fitting problems are always a pain so good luck.

    1. Gros-grain (I hope that’s right in English) would’ve looked great with the fabric but I don’t think it will make the curve so I thought bias would stand a better chance. Can I just applique it on the skirt (about 1 foot up the hem) and topstitch?

      I overlocked all the hems and thought it was as good as basting. The instruction asked me to recut the seam allowance (sorry if it’s the wrong way to say it) on the neckline so I don’t have a lot of extra hem there. (About as large as the serging)

      The boat neck is a great idea! I just just stitch it between the lining and the piqué. I took in all the darts a lot as the dress was very loose. The problem with the straps is that the inner part should be more over my shoulder, so I think it would have to have been cut differently. As much as I love the look of the slashing, the straps fit better (but not perfect) without it.

      Thanks for your help!

  3. Grosgrain will not take a sharp curve very well. But if you can find some Petersham ribbon, which looks a lot like grosgrain, but is actually flexible along its edges, that would work. It comes in lots of widths and colors. Google Petersham ribbon. The difference between it and grosgrain is that the grosgrain ribbon’s edge is a straight cord, where the petersham ribbon edge looks like tiny scallops, where the ribbing texture makes a sharp curve at the edge.
    Bias tape or self-fabric bias will work well around curves too.
    You might want to try drafting a facing for the neckline to help reinforce the neckline notches (not slashes–I had the hardest time figuring out what you meant because “slash” means something quite different). Check out Threads Magazine’s website. It has lots of tutorials and tips and you might find the information you need about how to draft a neckline facing there.

    1. Oh thanks for the term! I tried to look online but had no luck! I usually sew in French so I often have a hard time translating sewing ‘technical’ terms into English. I’m going to edit the post to avoid confusion.

      I’m going to try finding the ribbon on ebay! Thank you for the suggestion!

      I’ve made my own facings many times in the past, but I didn’t draft a facing this time because the bodice is lined so it acts like a facing at the neckline. Unless I am wrong?

  4. What a BUMMER. I hate when you get those nasty surprises in the final stages…. Have you looked at what people said on Pattern Review? I’m sure other people have had the same problem. I made this dress but the one without the slash so I can’t be of more service….

    1. I checked after I finished the dress and only one reviewer made view A. She did not mention having any problem with the notches but I could see on the picture she uploaded that they gaped open instead of falling flat against her chest. I’m guessing that the shape of her shoulders somehow made the straps stay in place despite the extra ease and that my shoulders might be more sloped than hers.

  5. You may be able to make the shoulders fit by running a hand basting row of stitches along the wide part of the neckline just inside on the facing fabric, and then pull it tight to ease it just a bit. This is to make it slightly narrower. When it is tightened up to where you like it and it seems like it won’t slip of your shoulders, then tack the basting stitch there. Then you can sew what is called a “stay” into that seam. You can use the selvedge edge of your fabric or a narrow satin ribbon, anything lightweight that does not stretch. This may work and is worth a try; simple and inexpensive without changing the look of the dress.

    Another thing you may try on the skirt issue is using ribbon, any kind, that you gather down the center and sew on in straight line around the skirt or curlicue designs, etc. If you do a row straight around a foot above the hem, I think it would look better if you added three rows rather than one to make it look like an intentional part of the design.
    Good luck!

  6. Oh I feel your pain, I have been through similar woes with bodices and accidentally knifing holes into garments while serging them. These accidents just happen. Re the bodice, I had a similar issue with a surplice (“wrap-over”) front that was supposed to leave a little notch and was likewise very floppy. You can rescue it though.

    I don’t own this pattern, I am guessing to make the notch that you just cut down a centre-line and then folded the excess fabric back to make a hem? I can see why that woud add width to your neckline. What you actually want is to “cut out the wedge” not spread the fabric. Close the notch again (temporarily tack it shut) and face it with a rectangle of fabric larger than the notch, right-sides together, and stitch down the seam lines of the notch. Reinforce the stitching at the point. Cut the wedge out leaving a narrow seam allowance (ca. 1/4″) and beneath the notch slit up the centre almost to the stitching line. Flip the facing to the inside, trim, press and catch-stitch down. (Have you ever seen a bound button-hole tutorial? Same kind of idea). That *should* eliminates the extra width you get from slashing and spreading your notch (which adds volume) and support it too. I would do this after interfacing the neckline but before facing or lining the whole neckline.

    The entire neckline definitely needs interfacing which will support the edges and strengthen that notch, helping prevent it tearing. You can get iron-on bias seam-tape (I think Vilene do some), which you can apply to your edges and the notch – overlapping below the point. Narrow strips of bias-cut (firmly woven) fabric or the petersham mentioned above will also do this job very well. I often use 3/8″ (10mm) petersham or grosgrain to support the top edges of bodices. (Beware when shopping for petersham that some sellers will treat grosgrain and petersham as an interchangeable term, try a corsetry supplier). Twill tape can be used but it will stretch out of shape over time.

    Do all this to the back as well as the front so the shoulder is supported back and front. Use a strip of the petersham or bias tape centred across the shoulder seam too to support both shoulder and neckline.

    Add a facing or lining to the bodice ( a facing will be about 3″ deep and should be the shape of the entire front (and back) cut on the fold including shoulder straps and sewn to the back facing at the shoulders before inserting; a lining will cover the entire bodice). This will cover your interfacing, raw hem and support the seam allowance at the same time. The depth of the facing will give more support to the edges helping them lie flatter. Even with only a narrow seam allowance left, you should be able to add a facing, using a very narrow seam allowance and flipping it to the inside.

    If your notch is still misbehaving sew a narrow strip of rigilene along each side of the notch. Alternatively use a shirt collar stiffener (an arrow like piece of plastic or steel) or piece of cable tie inserted into a channel of notch-facing or ribbon or fabric strip.

    [I assume that you did stay-stitch since that is almost certainly in the instructions. This is always important because the neck edges end up on the bias and will stretch as you work with the garment. As soon as you cut the fabric, stay stitch the curves before doing any other work (they are left in the finished garment). I use a slightly longer than regular stitch length 1/4″ inside the seam allowance. Start at the shoulder and sew into centre and stop, then start at opposite shoulder and sew into centre. (The same theory applies to skirt waistlines.) Also stay-stitch a short horizontal line below the notch point.]

    As for the skirt, I think your ribbon detail idea is great. You could always do it in a black ribbon jacquard print or black velvet or satin ribbon if you didn’t want to add a contrast colour to the fabric. I find it helps to position and then attach the ribbon to circle skirts using iron-on hemming tape/wondaweb (the spidery glue stuff) and then hand (or machine sew) the ribbon permanently in place. Keeps it where I want it while I’m sewing – I do the same when hemming circle skirts!

    Good luck and I hope you get to enjoy wearing the dress, it looks so pretty and pique is such a great fabric! Keep us posted!

  7. I have the same pattern but haven’t yet made it up. Here are some quick thoughts of mine…..when I went to school they taught us to cut the notches out not in, therefore maintaining the integrity of the seam. I still think I should be doing that, not cutting them in like my Mum taught me. Secondly, vintage garments often had stay straps sewing in at the shoulder seams. You could buy them or make them but basically they are some ribbon stitched on for about an inch with an inch left hanging. Each end has a press-stud bit on it so you wrap it around your bra straps and petticoat straps and do it up. This keeps everything in place. I bought a dress from the USA recently brand new and it had them in it! I was stoked, they are such a great idea and I also have smallish shoulders.

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