1950s | Dresses | Pattern Drafting | Pattern Sizing | Shirts | Vintage Sewing

Advance 5971, pattern woes edition

July 14, 2012


Hello again!  Thank you all for the very warm welcome.   I’ve been working on a bit of a “wearable muslin” for the bodice of a dress pattern I picked up a while ago.  I’m using up remnants from one of my circle skirts, and if the bodice turns out properly I plan on adding some ballet loops so I can stick the two pieces together and wear them as a dress.

So.  I have a question.  Have you ever been sewing along and looked at your pattern and realized the pattern writers must have gone out to lunch and left a team of monkeys to finish writing the pattern?  Because this has been my experience with Advance 5971.

Here is the pattern envelope illustration.  To be honest, I have a couple problems with it.  First, and perhaps more importantly, it seems to think it is a pattern for a person with a 29 inch bust.  The illustration does not come anywhere close to depicting the amount of ease in this pattern!  I was sure I’d have to make some creative adjustments to size it up, but first I compared the bodice pieces to the bodice pieces for a 34 bust 60s sundress pattern I’d made earlier.  To my great surprise, they were very nearly the same size!  The pieces for the smaller pattern were a smidge smaller, but so were the seam allowances, so I forged ahead.  I DID skim the instructions ahead of time, but apparently not in enough detail, and for whatever reason the pattern images of the collar did not quite click…

Um.  Look at Step 9 for me, if you would.  Step 7, too, I suppose… although that I was able to figure out eventually by ripping out the seam I’d sewn until I got it back to where I was supposed to have stopped.  Because, you see, from the pattern picture I had not figured out that at this point the pattern (written by the aforementioned monkeys) would have me do some impressive sewing origami to end up with A ONE-PIECE COLLAR.

Pardon the lack of finishing inside, I’m sure I’ve committed a minor sewing crime.  It’s evident that my corner turns are less than entirely smooth… but everything seems to have worked out okay in the end.  However, I’m not really sure that the amount of swearing is worth actually making the entire dress ever.  Also, I can’t work out why the monkeys (who may have gotten into the pattern drafters’ liquor cabinet) would have you sew the center front seam of the bodice BEFORE doing all of the fiddly neckline work!  I think this pattern would be much easier if you waited to sew the center front seam until AFTER you’d assembled the collar.

I’m also a little skeptical of this sleeve finishing… I think there ought to be a better way to do it.  For now, though, I’m just following the pattern… which has you attaching the cuff to the outside of the sleeve and then sewing a layer of bias facing over it, turning the facing to the inside, and slip stitching it down.  It makes for a very bulky cuff edge.

Do any of you have advice or suggestions for dealing with this pattern?  Is anyone else planning on sewing Advance 5971?  Or just inebriated monkey pattern stories?  I’m going to add a strip of fabric to the bottom to cover the raw edges, put in a zipper, and stick the ballet loops on, and we’ll see how the whole thing looks.


  1. I’m curious to see the advice as well! I too had a pattern written by inebriated monkeys (hehe). My very first dress ever was a drop-waist with a similarly crappy collar and sleeves that were finished the same way. After much screaming and seam ripping, and unintentional fabric ripping, I just slopped through the thing, put the zipper in upside down, and have is shamefully hidden in a tub in a closet. 🙂

  2. I’m convinced that Vogue employs said inebriated Monkeys to write their pattern instructions, and have for decades. I have yet to find a Vogue pattern with comprehensible instructions!

  3. The cuff insertion does sound bulky.

    Try trimming the seams, staggering them as you go, that is, don’t cut all at the same level, one at 1/4 in , one at 3/8 in, etc.

    Then, when you turn the cuff to the right side of the sleeve, don’t try to do it right on the seam. Rather, turn so that the seam is still on the underside, like with the “turn of the cloth” for making collar undersides.

    Hope these ideas help. Good Luck. It looks like it will be gorgeous when finished.


  4. It makes sense to me. I’ve found that the vast majority of “vintage” pattern instructions are written for people who grew up sewing, or written with the assumption that you’re a fairly accomplished seamstress (as most women were, including my grandmother and great-grandmother). Maybe that’s why they make more sense to me than modern pattern instructions–I’ve been sewing a LONG time. I’d rather have one sheet of instructions that assume I know what I’m doing than 5 sheets that treat me like an idiot. 🙂

    1. I did grow up sewing, and mostly the old patterns seem better-written than the new ones. This one made sense AFTER I got the piece attached, sort of, but the illustration was so mind-boggling in comparison to the directions!

  5. I have deff had thisroblem before! As for the cuffs, I French seam them with the seam pointing up and sandwiched between the cuff turn up and the sleeve. You never see it and it doesn’t add bulk to the cuff seam.

  6. Oh, you’re so hilarious! And I love the word “aforementioned” – you must be a very excellent writer. : )

    To be honest, I usually don’t use pattern instructions at all! Most of the time the pattern companies don’t do the best job of combining illustrations and instructions, so I just kind of glance at their method to figure out what’s going on, then assemble the dress in the way that makes the most sense to me. When I toss the instructions “out the window” so to speak, I usually never get frustrated with a project!

    I look forward to seeing the finished dress!

    Happy sewing,


  7. Oh, but that did turn out to be a pretty collar anyway!
    I have a partially sewn pair of ’40s trousers that got stalled in the “facing the opening in the pocket” stage. These are the wonderful Katherine Hepburn Hollywood Patterns trousers. I read and re-read, fiddled with the facing several ways from Sunday, and never did work it out. I love openings in the pocket, but I guess they are not to be (unless someone knows how to do it and wants to do a turtorial!).
    Yep, these patterns were definitely written for people who already knew how to sew. I love the ones where they say something like ” face the neckline opening” with no pattern or illustrations. You’re supposed to know how to draft a facing pattern. And I’ve been sewing for 40+ years…. :/

    1. This sounds like an interesting pattern problem.
      I would love somehow to see the pattern pieces and instructions.

      I have 52 years of sewing under my belt starting at age 6 though no one seems to know just how I figured out how to use the sewing machine (thank goodness for the old school knee pedals)

      I continue to enjoy learning the tricks of older patterns as the details and unusual techniques often result in lovely details such as the cool collar of the original post in this thread.

      Looking forward to seeing this pocket process if there is a way.

    1. Uh. Google is no help, is it? I’m not sure if that’s their proper name or not, it’s a term our costumers at the opera use… they’re for keeping 2-piece costumes together. I’ll explain them with pictures when I finish the dress!

  8. I’ve made this dress twice! It was a nightmare getting the collar to fit and I ended up just making it fit after much screaming, tears, trimming and forcing. I was convinced I must not have followed the instructions properly the first time, so like a woman who has forgotten the pain of childbirth, I made another. Nightmare! Same problems with the collar! Both dresses looked fine in the end but it was not an enjoyable project.

  9. I agree that a lot of vintage patterns assume that the “average” seamstress has some advanced skills. I like the Clotilde’s Sew Smart book, since she does a good job of explaining how to do basic tailoring and things like drafting facings and installing zippers. That collar looks super complex! Even with the aggravation, I think it’s really pretty. Inevitably, complex sewing seems to get easier after you do it repeatedly. I found this out while making bras. Complicated, small pieces, lots of curves, uncooperative fabrics. The first one was horrible. By the time I got to the third one, each seam made more sense. Ugh! Good luck!

  10. I can beat that.I made a very similar dress(1953)which I bought cheap because it _had no instruction sheet_.It may be because the last owner had a ceremonial burning!!
    As I had already copied the pieces onto paper to redraft it as I am a high waisted 6 footer, I simply threw away the offending pieces(which didn’t seem to fit anywhere)and redrafted a new collar using common sense and experience.It worked and I have a beautiful custom fitted dress:)

  11. I’m sorry I missed this when you posted it.

    I don’t know what’s up with the bias facing on that cuff. I’d skip it, especially if the cuff is interfaced.

    Also, this past weekend I made a muslin for New York 1263 (top view, with pockets), which has a one-piece collar almost identical in construction to the one here. I’m not sure what I’d tell you except to measure, measure, measure, and clip your seams carefully. Mine came out just fine, but maybe the monkeys were more sober when they drafted my pattern?

  12. Tricky turns and fidgety collars….

    I have had great success adding a simple stay stitch line along the intended seams of tricky collars like this. The great benefit is the stitch line give me a perfect guide to where the seam needs to land. The stitch lines also provide a little ridge that allows the fabric pieces to grab each other. You can immediately feel if your seam slips. I also hand baste first and then machine stitch the final seam…less pins….less blood. I apparently leave a DNA trail on every difficult piece.

  13. Your dress turned out great. See the rewards of sticking a difficult project out?
    Love the petticoat.
    Child, you are wearing it with style.

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