Sew for Victory: The Drafting Process

Without a doubt, this is one of the most ambitious projects I have attempted.

I have only just begun to dabble in drafting my own patterns. I’ve been playing around with adding details (like the collar on this Sorbetto) and also attempting to draft a sloper. But trying to copy details from RTW or doing any of my own designing–that’s a big step for me. A very big, hairy, scary step. Keeping that in mind really helps me be realistic (and not so disappointed) about how the whole project turned out.

The process was a long one. It began when I discussed my inspiration (gleaned from teh interwebs and my grandmother’s trunk of old family pictures) several weeks ago (maybe just a few. Time has ceased to mean anything to me. . . ).

I also asked for opinions about fabric choices. Twice.

And then I pretty much disregarded everything just about everyone said and picked the fabric that almost no one wanted me to use (it was last in the poll with two votes). But–and here’s a life lesson, kids–sometimes the unpopular choice is the right choice. But, I’ll come back to fabric later. I have some Things to Say. (Also, if you’re devastated by the lack of snails on my dress, stay tuned. . . )

The pattern that I used is Butterick 5209  a reprint from 1947. I had originally planned to modify Simplicity 1801, which I’ve made before (I swear I have pictures of that dress. They’re coming!), but I happened to be in Jo-Ann’s during a Butterick sale. When I found 5209, it seemed like a better starting point.


My first step was to make a muslin of the pattern with no modifications. The result was disastrous but full of potential. So much so that I thought about abandoning my original inspiration and just going with the pattern. I shortened the midriff front and back (by about 3/4″) and also removed about an inch from the bodice above the bust.

This is one of my first muslins following the original pattern design.

This is one of my first muslins following the original pattern design.

I raised the neckline about an inch or two. I rotated some extra fullness from the armscye into the under bust gathers. I shortened the sleeve (which is actually just a triangular piece that you sew to the back bodice–it’s really bizarre) so it would fit my shortened bodice.

The original sleeve.

The original sleeve.

After all that, I took another look at my inspiration picture. I still really wanted that collar. And the shoulder gathers. And the pleated skirt.

Orla Kiely Tea Dress

So, after much deliberation, I finally combined the shoulder area of the bodice from New Look 6107 with B5209. I raised the armhole an inch. I added more fullness to the shoulder gathers and then later removed all the fullness I had added (in one of the muslins, it looked way too bulky). And, of course, when it was all done, I really wished I’d kept a little of the fullness in. I also reduced the width in the back by about two inches (it was seriously broad).

The original bodice pattern. . .

The original bodice pattern. . .

And then came the collar.

Oh, that collar. . .

I didn’t know what kind of collar it was. I learned after lots of at-work-bored googling that it was a shawl collar. But, I couldn’t find a good step-by-step tutorial for drafting one. (Hey, internet tutorial writers: If you’re not going to use pictures, you might as well not even bother writing tutorials. I don’t know what any of you are trying to say. Sincerely, J.)

Not initially finding any drafting help online, I tried to draw and sew a collar shaped like the inspiration picture like you would a simple Peter Pan collar. And guess what. It doesn’t work.

Ask me how I know. . .

Ask me how I know. . .

After a few more Google sessions, I did find a picture on Threads that showed what the pattern piece should look like and discussed a little (we’re talking one paragraph) about how to draft one (I’m going to share the link when we have a nice little chat about shawl collars later on).

Not really knowing exactly what I was doing, I dove right in to drafting. And, it wasn’t that bad. Tricky, yes. But, my instincts were good, apparently, because my first muslin turned out really well. I had to tweak the collar length a few times, but I’m really happy with how it all turned out. I plan to go into more detail about this later because I picked up a lot of helpful tips during all my trial and error (especially with the actual sewing of the collar).

After I conquered the collar, I turned my attention to the sleeves. I started with the New Look 6107 cap sleeve which I lengthened a few inches. After lots of back and forth, I added a single box pleat to the bottom of the sleeve–a detail that I really love!

The sleeve. You can sort of see the original shape.

The sleeve. You can sort of see the original shape.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time adding and removing sleeve cap width and height. I also lowered the armhole 1/4″ because the sleeves were cutting into my underarm. I scooped the front armhole about 3/8″ and added a sort of “wave” to the front of the sleeve cap to compensate. I also added about an inch into the back bodice because I realized that’s why the sleeves were pulling so badly. In the end, it probably would have been better with just an extra 1/2-3/4″.

The last major mod I made was to the skirt. I calculated all the ease meant to be gathered and redistributed it as pleats. Easy peasy. Thank goodness.

Adding pleats. Thank goodness for something that didn't turn my brain to mush. Though, there was a LOT math involved. . .

Adding pleats. Thank goodness for something that didn’t turn my brain to mush. Though, there was a LOT math involved. . .

All together, I sewed up over seven complete bodice muslins and four different sleeves.

SFV muslins

I’ll be back later to talk about construction and fabric. (Yes, I plan to milk as many posts as I can from this one project because now I’m working on either bridesmaid dresses or my sloper and it may be awhile before I have anything else to share! Though, I am finishing up my Beignet as we speak–getting ready to sew on all those buttons. . .)


10 thoughts on “Sew for Victory: The Drafting Process

  1. I used the same pattern for SFV (started with a shawl collar, too, but replaced it eventually with a separately-cut one) and am so impressed with how much work you did. SEVEN muslins and four sleeves–I would’ve given up sewing entirely long before then. I never would’ve recognized your finished dress as being from this pattern, either–really lovely job!

    • Oh, I loved the collar on yours! I’m impressed that you got it to roll so nicely!
      To be honest, I can be terribly stubborn–which sometimes works to my advantage while sewing. But, also, each muslin was to test out something different, so at least it wasn’t like I was trying repeatedly to correct the same problem–which would have driven me mad!
      Thanks, though 🙂 Even if this never becomes my favorite dress ever, I still learned so much that the process was totally worth it!

    • Hmmm. . . that’s a very broad question. . .
      But, to answer simply: I love to create things that are both beautiful and useful. And I love learning to solve the problems that arise along the way.

I'm done. Now, YOU can talk :)

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