Big Vintage Sew Along - Retro Butterick '47 - B5209 - 1940s Tea Dress

by - 6/20/2016

My finished Butterick B5209 1940s tea dress!

If you've been following my blog since I started back in April, you'll know about the plans I had for my Big Vintage Sew Along make! If not, you can read the post HERE. I chose the Retro Butterick B5209 pattern, a halter neck and tea dress from 1947. With plans to make the short sleeved tea dress style.

Possibly the most perfect fabric for a 40s tea dress ever!

I decided last week that I should get round to actually making it! I was a little daunted by it so I'd been avoiding it. After sewing a couple of modern and easy to follow patterns recently, I wasn't looking forward to Butterick instructions again.

Here's a peek at the pattern:

To me, the pattern looks like a quintessential 1940s tea dress. With the halter neck version being a great option for a smarter occasions or a high Summer look. However, we don't get the sun enough where I am for me to get to wear the halter neck version, and I find tea dresses super flattering and thought I'd get far more wear out of it.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may already be aware me and this dress didn't have the best relationship to start! Even though I'm very happy with the out come, there was certainly a point where I was ready to set it on fire and never look at this pattern again. So let me explain where it all started going wrong for me...

Good hair days are the best!

Straight away! Again, I had a sizing issue, the US size 12 is approx. a UK 8. And as I bought the pattern in size 6 - 12, I had already shot myself in the foot. So being the thorough, careful, sewist that I am (ahem...) I decided to just generously cut around the size 12. Roughly cutting out the US 14, which I think is a UK 10, but at this point I really have no idea! But I knew I had cut the pattern pieces generously enough for me to alter the fit later on.

So, sizing issues aside. I went straight in to sewing the dress, step by step from the beginning. But it wasn't until I had sewn the lining in, overlocked my seams and went to the ironing board that I thought 'when do I sew the sleeves in?!'. In my auto pilot sewing mode I had managed to sew nearly the entire bodice for the halter neck version. I know, I know. It was a ridiculous mistake. I could have totally just carried on, and made a perfectly nice halter neck dress. But damn it, that's not what I wanted!

I took a break, had a coffee, watched some Veronica Mars and sat and upicked for 2 episodes. Luckily I had enough fabric to cut out new waist band pieces, and I had cut everything out generously enough that loosing some of my seam allowances wasn't an issue.

The image on the left was my 'take my photo to war with you' pose... 

Stupid, self induced mistakes aside, I did find the lining construction quite tricky & the instructions hard to follow. I think being stressed out anyway didn't help. But it certainly gave me a headache! I ended up using common sewing sense more than anything, and inserted the invisible zip following instructions from a previous make. I got there in the end!

The dress certainly isn't without it's issues, but I think I can get away with them! Some I feel are quite obvious, but not so much at a first glance. The center front isn't as sharp & tidy as it should be, the waist band is a little too loose and the under arms are messy from my lining construction. But after a good ironing, I still love the appearance of the dress and will be very happy to wear it out and about!

Sewing Summary:

Pattern: Retro Butterick '47 - B5209

Fabric: 3m (or 4) of floral printed viscose

Notions: 14" red concealed zip

Sewing time: I spent the best part of one day to start, which included cutting out, all my mistakes and unpicking. Then picked it up the morning after and finished by the afternoon. If I knew what I were doing and had made no mistakes, this could be done in a day for sure!

Modifications: I shortened the bodice waist band for my body shape, and I had to pick it up at the shoulders and stitch, (but pressed the seam flat and the tuck in the sleeves turned in to a nice feature!)

Fit: Surprisingly good! Perfect on the bust for once, okay on the waist, a little baggy under the arms.

Difficulty: I'm sure someone who hadn't made all the mistakes I did would find this pattern reasonably simple.

Watch out for: The lining.

Make again?: Not any time soon!

Overall, this dress gave me a headache but it was all my own fault. The fabric is beautiful and suits the style perfectly. Even though I know the dress has mistakes, to the untrained eye I think it looks very nice indeed and I'll still be very proud to wear it! I find the style flattering, it fits me nicely and will be great for dressing up and dressing down.

To keep with the 1940s style I wore my white sheer six strap suspender belt with my favourite coffee seamed stockings. Both available from my store My Retro Closet. They finished the vintage style perfectly!

Are you taking part in the Big Vintage Sew Along? I'd love to see your makes!
Thanks for reading, pinups!

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  1. Sometimes sewing just goes terribly wrong! Well done for persevering, your dress is super cute now that it is finished!

  2. I know what the bodice construction and instructions on this one are like and it was confusing trying to make an unlined muslin! I need to look at adjustments for me, and maybe reassess the fabric I wanted to use, as it's probably too stiff. This viscose looks like the perfect choice ;o)

    1. Thank you! I think this pattern and fabric were meant to be! I hope your version goes well! xo

  3. Wow, I can't believe you made a recovery like that! Well done! It looks fantastic :)
    I love the look of the pattern but am definitely not game to try a vintage pattern; I like my instructions simple and logical :P

    1. Thank you! I wasn't going to be beaten! Oh how I love simple instructions though! xo

  4. Love it! The fabric is a perfect match. I have the same pattern cut out at the moment so will see how I get on.

    1. Thank you, they were meant to be! Good luck with your make! xo

  5. I have this exact same material. Looks so gorgeous on you…..I can't wait to use it :) <3

    1. I'm in love with this fabric, it has such a lovely drape! Good luck with your make! xo