“Orange Flower” Sheer Cotton Dress

I’ve seen sheer dresses for 2016’s Summer trends, but I’m not one for following new fads.  However, it is a good excuse to make a new dress for myself!  Thus, using a modern pattern I’ve put my own spin on the trend to harken back to a past time when feather-weight sheer dresses were the most beautiful way to be covered up in the heat.



FABRIC:  a sheer handkerchief weight cotton/poly blend print

butterick-5951-pattern-compNOTIONS:  I used all notions from on hand: thread, a zipper, and vintage cotton bias tape given to me by my Grandma.

PATTERN:  Butterick #5951, year 2013

TIME TO COMPLETE:  It took me 5 or 6 hours to make the dress but then a few more added hours to fit and adjust the sleeves.  My dress was finished on April 22, 2016.

THE INSIDES:  A combo of French seams and bias bound seams make for a super clean finished and nice looking inside for my dress.dsc_0342-comp

TOTAL COST:  This fabric was bought when our local Hancock Fabrics store was closing so it was dirt cheap.

This pattern is a really interesting one that seems to have escaped the official labeling as “retro”.  It is pretty much as good as a vintage reprint, though.  I love the options and the details – no sleeves, quarter sleeves, or long sleeves, different necklines, skirt options, smart gathering, and streamlined seam lines.  To entice me even more, all the other versions of this pattern I saw on everyone’s blogs look so ‘to-drool-over’!

The design features to this pattern’s styles are akin to dresses from the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, depending on which options you choose an how you tweak the design.  Go see my brand spanking new Pinterest page where I have a board dedicated to designs from and similar to Butterick 5951.  The way I made my dress is more like something from the late 1930’s, especially since I made mine from a sheer fabric.  The blog “Just skirts and dresses” makes this same point on this page, where she pairs the modern Butterick with a 1938 dress drawing.  “Witness 2 Fashion” also has a post on sheer dresses of August 1939 (link to the post here), where you can a DuBarry pattern (#2319B) with very similar design lines to it modern counterpart.


I must say right off – the fit on this dress pattern is awful, whether it’s really modern, or vintage or hybrid.  To me, the fit seems to run quite small all over, but especially in the waist and hips.  The sleeves are designed very badly, providing zero, zip, zilch in reach room.  The high arched neckline, for me, needed some adjustments to become what the cover drawing portrays.  Beyond these frustrating quirks, my finished dress is something I’m decently happy with, but I feel vintage original patterns have offered me better results.  If you can find a similar old original pattern, go try it first.  However, don’t shy away from this modern pattern, though, if you can tolerate extra time fitting or perhaps altering the dress.  I know I will use this pattern again, at least in parts, as the base for creating some other 30’s and early 40’s dresses I want to make, but cannot afford the pattern price to actually buy.  Has anyone else had problems with this modern-does-vintage Butterick pattern?


On the envelope cover, one would be led to think that the skirt options offered have lovely shaping, but I just don’t see it in the pattern as it is made up.  I made the paneled skirt version, and it does not have a bias flare to bottom hem that the envelope made me believe.  It is quite straight-line!  Other versions which I see made up look the same, and I’m supposing the only way to achieve the drawn version of the skirt is to go against the layout instructions and actually cut the skirt panels on the bias (across the grain).  Having a bias skirt would actually be more comfortable for this dress, anyway…live and learn, so I say to myself.  The four piece flared skirt option looks like a cross between a 50’s and a 40’s thing to me in the drawing, looking at the actual pattern pieces and other version sewn up out on the internet.  This is very confusing and disappointing to see such a promising pattern that is seemingly deceptive by not living up to its cover.


There are a handful of both changes and adjustments I had done to make the dress more vintage and accommodate my limited fabric amount of only 1 ¾ yard (50 inch width)!  Firstly, I eliminated the center back zipper.  Instead, my dress has a short back neckline placket that ties closed together (via self-fabric ties) paired with a ‘traditional’ vintage method of side zip closing.  As my fabric is sheer, I did not use the given facings and merely used bias tape to turn under at the raw edges.  As the sleeves were tight and restricting, I ended up adding in a rhombus shaped gusset for more room.  Without any substantial fabric scrap sizes, I had to make the sleeves work as they were.  I just wish I didn’t take it for granted that they would fit.  Adding the gusset gave me just a bit too much room so I added lightweight shoulder pads to fill in for and pick up the extra fabric in the chest

dsc_0699a-compTo complete my dress, I made a skinny tie-on belt out of a remnant of basic black chiffon, and decorate it with a fabric flower.  Many 1930’s fashions seem to always have a flower as part of the outfit, whether it’s on the belt, the shoulder, the neckline, wrist, or even the hair.  I also adapted my modern sheer mesh sunhat to become more vintage-ish by pinning the brim back, just like what I see in many movies, fashion pages, and pattern covers from the late 30’s to early 40’s.  Ribbon laced Chelsea Crew brand sling-back heels, orange mid-length gloves, and a handmade-by-me polished rock necklace finish my ensemble.  I’m really quite comfy and cool in this while feeling so nicely put together.  The whisper-thin cotton blend material feels so delicate, like nothing’s on…oh my!

When wearing a vintage-style sheer garment, something nice and not your regular run-of-the-mill slip will do under these fashions.  For my year 1935 sheer silk chiffon dress, I made my own detailed matching slip to be worn as the foundation.  For this dress,dsc_0341a-comp I wore my prized vintage 1940’s bias black rayon slip underneath because it is about the nicest I own, first of all (besides my 1942 rayon princess seamed slip), and also because the dark color provides opacity.  Plus, the black slip gives a nice contrast, I feel, and makes it just a bit more obvious that the dress is sheer.  (Colored, opaque slips were popular as a visible part of a multi-use ensemble in the mid-1930’s to early 40’s – see more about this here – look for Butterick 7405.)  My last sheer dress had its slip or under dress in a floral and it was attached, but not only was it from the 60’s era, but it was also was poufy, made in man-made fabrics, and not as casual and comfy as this post’s late 30’s style dress.

A see-through garment of course shows off the intimate apparel worn underneath, and although we are overly used to this fact in modern times, this is sort of weird when you think about modes of dressing in the past 20th century.  Strong corsetry and many layers were being worn by women for several decades since sheer fashions had begun to be worn around the 1900’s with the introduction of lace bodices and dresses. “Intimate apparel” ceases to become “private and personal” with transparent, gauzy, or lace fabric.  (More can be read about this here at this “Witness 2 Fashion” post.)  Perhaps the reason why this subject is interesting to me is the way I see vintage fashion knowing how to ride the fine line between classy and trashy when it comes to wearing see-through fabric.  Vintage transparent fashion sure knows how to make showing off your underwear look feminine, tasteful, and understatedly lovely.


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