As for sewing novices, we all choose a pattern and eventually just choose the wrong fabric to go with it. The project turns out a disaster, we absolutely have a meltdown and the pattern gets called “stupid” and thrown back into the pattern pile never to resurface again. All in all, it was probably our own inexperience and our terrible fabric choice which resulted in a sloppy mess of a garment and not the pattern’s fault. I’m quite a forgiving person and often give people and things way too many chances, today, I am giving a second chance to a tainted pattern of mine, Butterick 5209. This pattern originally came out in 1947 and has been revised by Butterick and is now readily available.
This is the perfect Marilyn Monroe white dress over the subway vent pattern and it features a halter neck, self-lined fitted bodice, below mid-knee length, gathered skirt and a side zipper. The dress comes in two styles, one with cap sleeves and one without and for today’s sewing project, we will be reattempting style A which is just the plain halterneck. As this is my second attempt at this pattern, I will be making two alterations; I will be moving the side zip to the back as honestly, after being caught in many sides zips over the years, I carry the trauma surrounding them and just prefer a back zip. The second alteration is I will be adding pockets because it’s something I mostly skip doing because I just want to finish the dress by the time I get to the skirt. Everything else will be kept the same. For the sizing, I will be cutting out the size 12 as that’s the size I find fits me best when it comes to Butterick patterns.
As I learned in my first attempt, fabric choice is very important. The fabric I had for my first attempt was a very slippery printed rayon in a dusty pink background adorned with flying cranes. It was beautiful but because the dress is self-lined, I really struggled with how slippery everything was and I was just too inexperienced to make the project work. This time, I am sticking to good old cotton and I dove into the deepest, darkest part of my fabric stash to pull out a gem I bought all the way back in 2017. This is the ‘Floral Print Cotton Poplin Fabric Silver’ from Minerva crafts and for obvious reasons it is no longer available. I found a sort of dupe (closest I could be honest) in case you are looking for something similar. I had three yards of this fabric available and it was just enough with some clever pattern placement.
Sew, let’s get started! I was really cutting it fine when it came to fitting my patterns onto my fabric. If I had a directional pattern to work with, I would have been in big trouble as the skirt piece would not have fit. Due to my skirt pattern piece placement, I was left with fabric gaps large enough to comfortably cut up two sets of pockets so I used the pocket pattern from McCalls 7950. With the fabric I chose, the pattern could work in multiple directions so I kind of got away with it. As the pattern is self-lined, I’d recommend really strategically planning out your pattern before cutting. Whilst sewing up Butterick 5708 a little while ago, I struggled to get the three bodice points to match perfectly. For this pattern, I now had to line up four pieces to a perfect point. I sewed up the bodice as best as I could; taking the advice I learnt from sewing Butterick 6322 (post coming soon), I didn’t use dental floss to gather my bust pieces as it was just too slippery. Using two rows of basting stitches worked really well and I found my gathers didn’t drop nor did my dental floss slip around. I have learnt dental floss is great for gathering skirts, not so much for bodice pieces.
My intended bodice lining turned out the best so it became my front fabric and I’m glad no one can see the mess I made on the inside but me. I really need to practice bringing fabric pieces together into a sharp point more. After sewing the front bodice pieces together, I attached the two back pieces to either side of the bodice front as I was omitting the side zip. I did put my bodice on my dress form to check the fit and I had just enough room to add a zip. I don’t think the bodice sides were affected by changing the zip placement as the garment still looked smooth which is what I wanted. The part I most struggled with this pattern was connecting the back neckpieces. Because I moved the zip, I’m not sure if the way I flipped my bodice back to front after adding the lining changed which messed with my neckpiece. I was completely stumped (and over-tired by this point) and I couldn’t figure out what the instructions were saying so I just sewed it together over the top. I know it’s not the best result but I’m honestly stuck on this one instruction.
Putting the skirt together was pretty straight forwards and I simply added the pockets as I went on. It was way past my bedtime at this stage but I was determined to finish which means I sewed on one pocket correctly, though I did it wrong, unpicked it and then sewed it on the same way … go to bed Mon. Alas, two pockets were eventually added and I attached the skirt to the bodice without any issues. I’ve been trying to remember to clean up my edges as I go so I used my overlocker/serger machine to clean up the lining where the skirt and bodice met. With the skirt hemmed, I added my invisible zipper which is anything but invisible to the back and she was done.
Fit: The fact that I was actually excited to try her on is already a huge step away from my first attempt. In my first attempt, the back gaped so much it was practically falling down (no idea what I did wrong, it was a very long time ago) but this time it was perfect. My choice of fabric really made a difference as it all came down to inexperience in fabric choice and a slippery rayon was not a good idea. This delightful cotton really gave the dress the strength it needed to stay up and it didn’t weep or gape anywhere.
The bust area was a good fit but I should point out, I didn’t bring an appropriate bra the day I took photos so there is some odd puckering on the side of the bust but this does go away when a good bra is worn. I felt really supported in the bust which is always a plus and when worn with a bra, I have to say, I think my bosoms sat really nicely. The midriff panel hit me in just the right spot which was a plus and it fit me nice and snug.
I think the skirt could have been about 2 inches longer but I think that’s just a personal preference. I am so glad I added pockets as I can store several snacks for all my adventures. Adding pockets is something I really have enjoyed doing and I regret being a lazy sewer as I could have added pockets to a lot of my homemade dresses. This dress really made me feel fun, summery and cute; perfect for the warm weather we had on the day of shooting. This would be a great pattern if you were wanting to make the iconic white subway dress from Marilyn Monroe and I really would love to make myself a replica version soon. With this dress pattern, you can really alter it to suit your style and preferences; I think it would look beautiful with a pencil skirt or a pleated skirt.
I’m so glad I gave this pattern another go as every time I saw her whilst looking for other patterns, I knew the problem lay with me and not her. It was my inexperience with sewing and being seduced by the prettiness of a fabric that was out of my league that lead to her being ostracized and she deserved better. We all grow and get better as our skills develop through dedication and practice so if you have a similar pattern story, give the pattern another chance because you might just surprise yourself.
I’d love to try this pattern one more time and opt for the sleeve option which also includes the back of the dress being covered. I think this would allow her to be worn in cooler weather as personally, I like to stay a bit more covered up to avoid the sun. I really did enjoy this pattern and I hope you test her out for yourself.
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