Brocade Butterick 5520

By | September 12, 2015



Yeah, it’s another dress. Apparently, that’s what I do around here. The pattern is Butterick 5520, and I sewed this in a brocade from stash.


One thing I like about this dress is the fabric. I have a couple of brocade pencil skirts, and I kind of hoard them. They feel very special, even though they’re not exactly precious and would be easy to remake. I bought this fabric right after my separation, in the limbo couple of months where I wasn’t yet able to move back to my home state. It was a time when I turned, quite suddenly, to sewing as an escape. Everything in my life seemed lost, and my reaction was to try to stitch my way through it, like creating a new wardrobe would let me shed my old life and allow a brand new person to emerge. I have to admit, it kind of worked.

I bought this fabric in that window, at a Joann’s in Idaho in the middle of an unexpected divorce, and it feels alternately perfect and weird that I finally stitched this dress to wear to a celebration of my impending wedding. Full circle, indeed.


Again, pattern measurements will be the death of me. As I try to readjust my mid-thirties body into Big 4 measurements, I find myself baffled. I ignored the body measurements and went by the finished garment measurements. It’s definitely a better place to start, but I’m struggling with my waist most. When I measure it, it corresponds to sizes anywhere from 12 to 16, and then even after sizing down quite a bit, the dress is still a bit roomy. I’m paranoid from that time I made McCalls 6706┬áin a “sounds right” waist size and it ended up too small. I need to get used to it, and consider myself at the beginning of a steep learning curve. I also needed to take out quite a bit from the shoulders, and after wearing the dress, across the torso too.

Size-related whining aside, I like the final dress. Like I said, it’s a bit roomy in the waist. I could probably take more out of the front darts, but I won’t. It’s fine as is, and I do need room to move. Making fitted dresses in wovens really makes me appreciate how much more movement-friendly today’s clothing is, compared to 50 years ago. This dress is not great for bending over in any direction.

I used the lining as a muslin, and made adjustments as I prepped it. I then unpicked the basting stitches, transferred some changes to the paper pattern, and used the muslin/lining pieces to cut the fashion fabric. I also used Crayola washable marker to mark changes, and rejoiced when I saw La Sewista using the same marker.

What I learned from this project is that I am a sloppy sewer. When I unpicked all of my basting to mark the pattern, I found out how unsymmetrically I’d sewn (and taken in) the darts. And BTW, there are a lot of darts in this dress: 12 to be exact–and none in the bust. I’m inspired to be a little more careful with marking things as a result. No point in doing 80 bajillion fitting sessions if I’m undoing my work with inexactitude.

I know raglan sleeves are supposed to be easy to sew compared to set-in sleeves, but I do not like finishing short, lined raglan sleeves. The two times I’ve done it, the lining and garment fabric have not lined up and it’s been fussy, unsatisfying work. Of course, I didn’t follow the pattern’s order of construction (because I swapped a regular zipper for an invisible zipper, and installed that first instead of last as was recommended). So, there might’ve been an easier way. I’ll try to remember that for next time.


I’m not totally sold on how high the neck is. Even though I wanted a super-high neck on my previous sheer-panel dress, it seemed severe on this make. I left it, because I didn’t feel like doing major edits, and it wore fine. I do think more of scoop would be nice, but I’ll leave that for another non-raglan pattern.

Skills I learned:
Hook and eye insertion — believe it or not, I’ve never installed a hook and eye in any garment. Ever. I fully believe in placing the zipper stop at 5/8″, and forgoing an alternate closure altogether. With the invisible zipper, my right and left sides ended up being off by about 1/8″ after installation. A hook and eye (rather poorly inserted, but DGAF) makes it line up reasonably well and look complete instead of wonky.

Tailor Tacks — I also tried tailor tacks for the very first time. My mom is a pinner, so that’s what I saw and knew growing up. I transfer all pattern markings with pins or snips. No chalk, no tailor’s tacks. The idea of trying this old-fashioned, couture-esque method was fun, and I’ve been challenging myself to learn new things. They are super easy and they stayed in till the bitter end. I don’t know that I saved much time compared to pinning, and I’m not sure they were any more accurate. I’ll keep trying them on occasion, and at the very least, I’ve added another technique to my arsenal.

Stitching the lining to an invisible zipper — This was easy-peasy and beats doing the hand-stitching. However, I need to learn some nuance. I didn’t fully understand what was happening in the steps I was taking, so I ended up with the lining a little larger (due to having a smaller seam allowance) compared to the fashion fabric. I’m sure I’ll be doing this process plenty more in the future, and can refine my technique then.

Invisible zipper foot — It was easier this time, the second time around. I did not use the sticky basting tape this time, and didn’t really miss it (or pulling it out, which was a minor pain). After watching a couple of tutorials, I was brave enough to put on the invisible zipper foot (the little plastic one, you know what I’m talking about), and it did make it seem easier… at first. I ended up stitching too close to the zipper, though–so close that the zipper wouldn’t close–and having to take out and restitch portions. Lesson learned–if I want to use the specialty foot, I really have to finger press the zipper teeth flat to get the right angle.


So, to sum up: I’m working on my fitting skills slowly, and I have a nice dress. As a coworker said: “It looks like the curtains of a bordello. But you totally make it work!”