Friday, March 28, 2014

Butterick 5970: Hook & Eye Hell



It has been awhile since I last posted. Sigh. You know, I seem to start a post with that sentence so much that it almost doesn't need to be written anymore. You good with that? Good. Here we go.

I was recently asked to help a friend out by sewing her daughter a costume for an upcoming school history competition. I happily said yes and started researching for ideas. The character she was playing is Minna B. Hall, a Boston socialite with a love of bird-watching. Through hosting well-attended tea soirees she and her cousin, Harriet Hemenway, (and their influential husbands) fought for the halt of the use of birds for fashion in the millinery trade. This eventually led into the start of the Audubon Society and many other bird-saving-laws. Very heavy stuff for a 13 year old! Since we needed a turn of the century dress I found a few that I thought would work. Most seem to straddle the line between Victorian and Edwardian, which is where we want to be: Steampunk costumes Simplicity 7517, 5900, 6060 and then one historical pattern, Butterick 5970. After she picked out her favorite pattern, the Butterick, I took it home to get a lay of the land. First, I looked at the pattern instructions and it listed forty-seven pattern pieces. That is no typo. 47. Now, granted, that was for both versions, so I relaxed a bit, but when I did the final piece count for the version I was doing, it clocked in at 27 pieces. That is just per piece, not including that some of these pieces were cut double and some triple and quadruple! I don't think I have ever worked with a pattern with that many pieces before. 

The pattern was created by the costumer designer Nancy Ferris-Thee and it must be based on an existing vintage pattern and/or techniques. There is no other way to explain the somewhat odd construction of the dress itself, for example, the bodice pieces are layered on top of lining and yoke and stitched down. Lace and epaulets are then placed on top of that to conceal all the raw edges. Nary a right-side-together seam, save the shoulders and side seams. Very interesting pattern. I searched online for reviews or any info and no one has conquered it yet. Not until today.



After the first muslin, I ended up adding an 1.25" to the bodice, same to the skirt, for comfort and even though this would make the collar even larger, for sake of it just being a costume, I left it as is. Honestly, I am not a huge fan of the collar in general and if I were to do it again, I would draft the bodice neckline closer to the neck and make the collar sit much closer than the pattern has you make it. But, the chances of me making this dress again are slim to none. I also added an inch in width to the bottom of the bodice to account for my ever-growing client. She grew a half-inch from the first fitting to the last! It is supposed to be bound with bias tape, but instead I made a new 2" interfaced band. To prohibit any belly exposure at all, I eventually slipstitched the two pieces together. This caused a bit of a problem, as the skirt waistband and my new band were not the same length. For now, you have to tuck the end end of the bodice inside itself and the back doesn't lay completely flat. If this wasn't a costume, I would have spent more time fixing it right. It works enough :)


Not a perfect collar (read below) and you can see the overlap, but thankfully this is *only* a costume!

I used a cornflower blue polyester taffeta for the main dress that was on clearance at Joann's. I also used the same poly taffeta for the contrast in white for the collar and yoke. This fabric was extremely difficult to press and I finally had to bring out my wooden clapper to make the skirt seams a little crisper. But even with that, it still was not fantastic. For the lace overlay on the yoke and the trim on the cuff I used a pink (I assume poly) lace curtain that I had found for a few dollars at a yard sale. The lace trim bordering the epaulets was also purchased at Joann's, yet the lace appliqu├ęs for the epaulets were found at Natick's  Fabric Basement. Finally a reason to make myself go and see this mecca of fabric! All of the flowers were plucked from a lace collar that was only $1.49! I skipped the steel boning and instead opted for plastic, but I did learn a new trick for straightening plastic boning, which I will share with you soon. Knowing me...don't hold your breath ;)


This dress was certainly a labor of love (even though it is not perfect!) and probably the most difficult dress I have made to date. All said and done, since I also made a cotton petticoat to go underneath, I think I spent over 40+ hours making this dress, not including the time to make the muslin. In retrospect, I could have just done the muslin fitting from just the lining pieces, which are essentially a bodice shell, but since I was so unfamiliar on how this would be put together I went the extra step and constructed most of the bodice (only one sleeve) and the skirt to see how it was all done. Why did it still take me so long? Just based on the sheer number of pieces involved the time to actually construct the dress was the bulk of it. The finishing of the dress, which was mostly hand sewing, also took a big chunk of time. I am glad to have it under my belt, but I would hesitate strongly to make this again, unless it was for myself :)

Half completed muslin on PGM

To those that are making this dress, I do have a few comments about the construction and a few things I did and also wish had done differently. For those who are never going to make this dress, you can stop reading now, unless you are curious!

Here are my thoughts on this pattern. First, the pattern pieces were all drafted well and fit together nicely, except the collar. When I did the first muslin the original collar pattern was about inch too short. So before you go cutting your good fabric double check those measurements. I made three different adjustments to this piece and still didn't come out great at the end. My final collar was exactly a seam-allowance too long. Go figure. My issues my be operator-error, but just keep it in mind or definitely make a muslin to test this out. Second, unless you are going for historical accuracy, see if you can find hook and eye tape. I ended up sewing all those little buggers on by hand, and there were A LOT! I can promise your speed and technique will be greatly improved by the twenty-something set or some equally ridiculously high number. Also the pattern recommends that you machine stitch the lace to the edges of the epaulets, and I hand-stitched it. I used a polyester lace that was not very forgiving when gathered and I figured to machine stitch would be a mess. It took longer, but I think it was worth it. The last thing I changed was the lining. The pattern calls for flannel for the bodice lining, which again I am assuming was for historical accuracy, but I opted for muslin to line it in. I also ended up not interlining (again calls for flannel) the skirt. I only underlined in muslin for the entire skirt. 

The inside of the bodice

Bottom line, I would recommend this pattern and enjoyed sewing it. It was a learning experience and fun to sew. Was this because I hadn't sewn something in four months? Maybe. But, honestly, (besides the hook & eyes) it really was fun to sew. If for some reason I need another historical pattern in the future, I would definitely see if this particular designer had one available first. Instructions were helpful and clear (even for a big 4!) and I would not hesitate to recommend this pattern for a historical reenactment. For a halloween costume—get ready to invest some serious time into it and start early! 

I already have my next project picked out. Grainline's Scout Woven Tee. Only *three* pattern pieces. Wheee!!!!

19 comments:

  1. Wow that is a labor of love indeed! I admit that I rarely/never sew for others because few realize the time commitment that it truly involves. It's been even longer since my last review. I made a dress for my sister-in-law's wedding in August, and still haven't posted pictures. With the new job, the sewing machine is only used for hemming pants (BOO! B-O-R-I-N-G). I enjoyed your review and makes me want to dust off that seam ripper!

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    1. It is so hard to stay on top of things: to get pictures taken, posts written *and* find time to sew, not to mention daily-life stuff too. Luckily, it seems all of us in this great online sewing community know that :) At least your sewing machine is out, even though are only doing the boring stuff (which I think feels like it takes forever! Haha!) you are still doing something! Baby steps to finding the time :)

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  2. I still can't believe you went with a 47-piece pattern! And sewed on all those hooks and eyes! The dress came out really beautifully; I hope it gets lots more opportunities for wear. Now you definitely deserve some selfish sewing time.

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    1. 47 pieces, I know, I clearly must me mad! Haha! Thanks so much, I really did enjoy the process. I have already cut the muslin out of my tee and will be sewing that up today! And have you been to the Natick store I mentioned??? If not, next time I go I will try to get a hold of you to see if you want to go too. I know you need more fabric in your life ;) Did I mention they have yarn too?!?!

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    2. Oooh, yes, I'll start clearing a spot in my stash in case we get a chance to go to the Natick store!

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  3. My daughter works/lives in a California ghost town....I make a dress for her every year for a celebration they have there. Last week, we bought this pattern....I promptly went home to check out the instructions...nearly had a meltdown! I'm scared as heck...I thought it looked EASIER than last years! Looks
    Ike my summer is shot!!!

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    1. It is not completely shot, but I did not sugar coat it in my review. It is a LOT of hand sewing :) I finished this dress in about two-three weeks (that includes doing the muslin). Good luck and shoot me an email if you find yourself scratching your head at all. I am more than happy to help out in any way!

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    2. Thank you for your offer of help, I may need it!

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    3. I wish you lived next door!

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  4. I modified this pattern to make a bishop sleeved blouse and skirt- had exactly the same problem as you with the collar (dont worry- it wasnt operator error! :)) When I saw how many hooks and eyes I would need- I modified the pattern so I could put buttons instead- well done on sticking with the hooks and eyes!

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    1. Good to know about the collar. I have still been wracking my brain to figure out what I did wrong! Haha! Smart solution with the buttons—that would have been way easier!

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    2. I made this dress in white cotton for Ragtime it was time consuming! I am a theatrical Costumer who is a stickier for historical accuracy and this is very accurate in construction and most definately in design. I found a picture of a dress, from 1904, that looks almost identical to the blue satin dress on the envelope. I found this pattern to be a Chalange but rewarding. I cheated though and used hook and I tape.

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  5. Hey Maggie,
    I am making the same dress and had the same problem with the collar.
    I looked up the pattern and your blog came up.
    I was at a draw until I saw your blog and that the reason the collar was not working was because of the pattern. Not me!
    So what exactly did you do to fix the collar??

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    1. Hi Abby! Since my original collar was too small, I measured the amount I needed between the collar and the edge of the bodice and then added that length to the actual collar pattern piece--which is not exactly what you want to do. I should have only added half the amount measured since the pattern is cut on the fold (I added the full amount which I think was why my final collar was too large). If you add half the amount of the length measured to the pattern piece it will be the full amount when cut out. If your collar is too large, just do the reverse! Either way just draw a line on the pattern parallel to the fold and cut. While keeping the edges of the pattern in line with each other, spread for increase or overlap for decrease. You will need to to redraw the curve, but you can use a plate or a curved ruler for that.

      Does that all make sense? If not, email me and I will take a picture of my pattern pieces for you :)

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    2. Thank you for replying so quickly.
      So you just widened your lining. Your Lining was not enough?
      Fortunately, my lining was wide enough. The only thing wrong with my lining is that it is an inch too short.
      I think you said something about how your lining was about an inch shorter than the collar. Well, That's what happened to me. I was just going to use a size 16 on the neck and the rest an 8 (since I'm making a size 8). I don't know if that'll work. What did you do?

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  6. Beautiful work! I have this pattern, too, and I really appreciate all your notes! I know historical pieces can be a monumental challenge, but your hard work really paid off. This dress is stylish for about 1900-05 and it's not unusual for dresses in this era to have 10+ pieces (not counting the lining and interlining) in the bodice alone plus the many gores in the skirt. Keeping track of all of them can seem daunting, but the lovely look of the final product totally makes it worthwhile! This would make a fun costume piece to save and pass down through the generations. I know I loved playing dress up in my mother's bicentennial costume from the 1970s.

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  7. So glad I read your blog before I cut out and made the collar! Yup, sure enough, the collar pattern piece was too small for me as well. I added almost an inch and a quarter (so 2.5 total) to the pattern piece before I cut it out. Perfect! Thanks so much for blazing a trail for the rest of us!

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  8. So glad to help! It was such a fun and challenging pattern.

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  9. Hello Maggie!
    I found your blog after looking for reviews about this pattern :) I bought it last year but I started to work on it just a couple of days ago. You did a great job, I love the blue taffeta and how the whole outfit looks. I almost finished the skirt (which had been a real pain 'cause despite the size 8 it was too big for my waist...but pleats save my fitting every time!) and started to put the bodice together. I chose white cotton for bodice and skirt and chiffon for yoke and collar.
    Yeah, it requires lot of work but I feel the result will be worthy! :)
    Cheers from Italy,
    Danielle

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