Little red dress

Butterick B5880

When in doubt, wear red. – Bill Blass

Butterick’s Retro cocktail dress pattern was almost my nightmare before Christmas.

B5880I fell in love with B5880 courtesy of a friend; she took me fabric shopping, I spotted the envelope cover in her hand and, dear reader, I swooned. It seemed the perfect dress to wear for my Christmas invites; chic and glamorous (plus – and here’s the clincher – the sarong-style over-skirt would hide any evidence of over-indulgence. WINNING.)

Hitting my fabric stash I even found that I had the right kind of fabric (OK, a stretch satin; it calls for ‘light to medium woven fabrics .. crepe, damask’ .. close enough, right??), and the perfect colour: clear, true red. Frankly, all you’d need to do was stick a sprig of holly on me and call me done.

The good;

  • It’s a fairly quick and simple design to cut out and sew, with all the drama coming from that over-skirt. And WHAT drama; I’m still swooshing…
  • The online video tutorial by Professor Pincushion. While the dress is easy to work out, the over-skirt does trigger a moment of head-scratching. Her video meant there was a lot of ‘oh, I see’ rather than ‘what the h*ll??!’ at my sewing machine. Thanks, Prof.
  • The fit. You can’t see it from the pics (obvs) but the finished thing fits me like a glove. Despite some dodgy sewing in areas, the whole effect looks pretty good simply because it’s tailor made.
  • I looked SO Christmassy in it. Pretty much a ‘1950s-Mrs-Santa-Claus-meets-shiny-red-bauble’. What’s not to love about that?

The bad;

  • My chosen fabric was a cheap stretch satin, and the zipper was a nightmare to insert. I’ve never sewn one under the arm in a side seam before and, I joke not, this damn dress nearly ended up in a ball in one corner, with me left bawling in another, it took THAT MANY ATTEMPTS (and it still looks rippled and sh*t).
  • No instruction on how to shorten that dramatic sarong over-skirt. Given it’s sewn and completed before the rest of the skirt, I’m damned if I know how to adjust the length during construction. The finished length is pretty long on me, but the proportions still work.
  • My chosen lining fabric; a lawn cotton picked from my stash because I hate the feel of synthetic fabrics on my skin. Yay for skin feel, but God’s damn it makes the dress an absolute bugger to put on (and even more so to take off). Plus, as there’re no fashion fabric facings at the neck or arm holes, it’s slightly visible on those edges. Gaaaah!
  • I cut out the sarong skirt two sizes too small, due to .. let’s be honest, muppetry. Yay for choosing a stretchy fabric after all; the tension curves the front into my waist nicely, but if I’d have used a non-stretch fabric it would have been goodnight, Vienna.
  • The neckline is gorgeous, but clipping it to lie flat was a pain. And then I found out I over-clipped it when about to take the photos… The centre section is actually shorter than it’s supposed to be, as I’ve resewn the seam.

The ugly;

  • That zipper insertion. Will practise holding my left arm down when wearing it. SO BAD.
  • I didn’t complete sewing down the lining before I wore it (it was for a deadline, OK?). But it IS finished now; I completed it in time to meet my 2014 intention, woot!
  • The skirt vents I added. Because I tapered the skirt in at the side seams (reducing the hem circumference), I added walking vents at the bottom of each skirt-back seamline. Alas, I made them waaaay too deep, so it flapped like an unattached boot lid going 80mph down the motorway after a trip to Wickes. Horrendous. But not as horrendous as the hand-stitching I used to shorten the vents flap. Oh well .. I figure that folks’ll be too busy looking at my shiny red a*se to notice slightly dodgy stitches…


I’m definitely up for sewing it again. The vast majority of problems were due to my usual mix of over-confidence (“yeah, that’ll work“) and incompetence (“oh cr*p, it won’t“). I’m planning it in black crepe-backed satin (with satin showing on the reverse of the over-skirt), a matching black lining, going up a size on the bodice and possibly shortening it to just below knee-length. Oh, and putting in a centre-back zipper (under-arm zipper? NEVER AGAIN…)


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