After spending the summer swanning around in my giant orange linen dress, I knew I would need a cold weather appropriate version. Yes, this is my third version of Vintage Butterick 5744, a bathrobe pattern from the early 70s, which I happily wear out of the house. I’ve made one in carrot orange linen, another in white linen (which I subsequently dyed lilac, leading me to wear it All. The. Time.), and now, I have a new one in black silk noil.
Since posting about this dress on instagram, quite a few people have messaged me to tell me they have purchased the pattern on eBay or Etsy, and I’ve been tagged by several people who have sewn a version themselves! So, I thought it would be helpful to share what I have learned in the process of making this dress three times. Let’s start with the fabric.
For this version, I used Silk Noil from Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics, a soft unprocessed silk that handles more like cotton, and has a cozy, warm hand, almost like flannel. I prewashed my fabric in the washer and dryer, which personally I do with everything, except wool. This causes noil to become slightly more “raggy”, so if you don’t prefer that, don’t wash it, and dry clean your garment in the future. You can always wash a swatch before diving in with your whole cut of fabric. My past versions have been in orange mid-weight linen, and tissue weight linen. I prefer wearing the tissue weight one.
For this dress to be successful, you must use a fabric that drapes and flows. It’s a lot of fabric, and you want it to swirl and billow to give maximum dramatic impact! I would not choose cotton or anything crisp. Rayon or a linen/rayon blend would be great. Linen should be pre-softened by washing & drying on the hottest settings - I usually do this twice in a row before cutting anything out. Sheer fabrics would work well, and the pattern has instructions on how to underline the bodice if that is what you select.
I almost always alter patterns before sewing, because no one is shaped like a mannequin (well, I am not). I am 5’8” and almost always lengthen the bodice 1”, and bring the bust dart down 1” in the process. For this pattern, I did 1.5”. This pattern is very babydoll. I recommend tissue fitting this bodice to determine if it is long enough for your body.
Because the sleeve attaches to the side of the bodice, you must adjust the sleeve if you lengthen or shorten the bodice. I slashed down the center of the sleeve, and pivoted (spread) at the elastic casing line. I opened up the sleeve 3” at the shoulder, to accomodate my additions of 1.5” length in front and 1.5” length in back. By leaving the cuff as I did, it preserved a straight line at the cuff, and lengthened the sleeve a minimal amount (can always be shortened later if needed.
After wearing my first version several times, I knew I would need to drop the neckline. I lowered the center front neckline 2”. You can see the portion of the pattern I removed in doing so. I then folded this pattern piece, and adjusted attached facing to match. This makes the dress much more comfortable for me.
On all three versions, I have added trim to the seams attaching the bodice and sleeves. This can give a peek-a-boo effect to a more modest dress. On my orange dress, I used pom pom trim, which doesn’t show any skin.
For buttons, I have made one version with buttons sized and spaced as per the pattern. For the other two (including this black version), I have gone a size smaller, and I have spaced them by eye (my preferred method). On all versions, I have selected genuine shell mother-of-pearl buttons from Pacific Trimming in NYC. I love the glassy shine and weight of these, and I prefer to use natural material buttons on dresses made from linen or silk.
For each version, I have shortened the skirt pieces 3-4”, and added a ruffle. The ruffle is a different length on each version, and also a different density. I usually make ruffles 150% width of the hem they are attaching to, but for the black version, I did more like 125%, for a less dense ruffle. This ruffle is about 10” long.
I love wearing this dress - I feel so comfortable, and, with the right shoes and jewelry, glamorous. You can also wear it unbuttoned over jeans as a duster. I’m looking forward to doing that with this version! Let me know if you own this pattern or sew this dress, I would love to see your version! XO, Martha