Patterns I'm sick of seeing: Special Edition

Everyone who has ever sewn a vintage dress knows these types of patterns.

Butterick 6015: The Walk away Dress

Butterick 6150: The Saturday Morning Dress

Everyone who has sewn vintage styles has at least attempted this dress. It's a right of passage, it truly is. I TOTALLY see their value as collectable patterns, seeing how popular they are, but I have to say, I don't know many people who wear them a year or two past the novelty of making them. They are truly that terrible.

The walk away dress is the urban legend of sewing patterns!

Butterick's most sold pattern. Production of their other patterns were stopped until backorders of this one style could be fulfilled. I don't doubt that it was popular, but what I fail to find is all the dresses that these were made of showing up in vintage boutiques and the like. Or, photographs from the time when this dress was at its peak.

Why you may ask, why don't we see this.

My theory is because the women saw how silly they looked in it, the tremendous amount of fabric it took to make it, and just said fuck it,
'I'm going to make a blouse from this dress instead.'

Hey, I fell victim too.



I made a back opening version, thinking I was so, so cute. Even used good fabric. But I was just starting into vintage sewing, and I was grading this pattern and well...

Even that isn't an excuse. It's simply a poorly designed garment.

1) It uses way too much fabric.
You are closing in on five yards, depending on your size, and you have no guarantee that the dress will even stay closed. You are working with a circle skirt and a basic towel piece in the front. Any guest of wind is going to show your skivvies, more so that just a basic circle skirt. At least with one of those, you can use one hand to get the skirt anchored if a gust comes your way.


2) So much finishing.
The dress often touts an 'easy' to make monicker, but truth be told, the lack of a button front or side zip just account for more finishing on the sides of the dress. Get ready for bias tape bonanza!

3) Incredibly difficult to fit.
Most wrap garments are. The shoulders can be such a problem. Too long in the upper bust and you can get huge gape beneath the arm. Not tied tight enough and you get gape beneath the arm. Sneeze? You get gaping beneath the arm. The design of the garment is a smock. Sleeveless, which for me, is a big problem anyway.

4) I can not begin to stress how incredibly unflattering this dress design is on 98% of female bodies! Its amazing how this style can make a short torso look too long, or a hippy gal look like a bean pole. Brava, Butterick pattern.

In the years I've been sewing, I've made some terrible stuff. Horrendous in fact, but I've never felt stupid in anything I've made, until this style. Its amazing to me how popular this dress is still. Its been in reproduction for years, and there are sites and groups dedicated to it. And no matter how stellar the construction is, the dress still looks ill fitting.

I guess this dress is one of those enigmas in life.
You know, like black holes, or white after Labor Day.

40 comments:

  1. I haven't made this, I don't want to, I think its just ugly. Great post, thanks for making me smile.

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  2. I agree entirely about how fabric guzzling these patterns are - and how unflattering they can be... BUT I must say you look fantastic in that polka dot dress and, from where I'm looking, it's a really cute outfit!

    Your post made me laugh because I bought the Walkaway dress pattern a few years ago - as you do when you decide to sew vintage - and now that I know better, I know it's one that I have no intention of ever making! I still like some of those other patterns though, S3967 in particular, which I'm sure can be made to work (in fact I'm fairly sure I've seen some nice interpretations of it out there). I've never been able to lay my hands on it, so don't know whether I could make it work on my own body type! I do own S5449 and plan to make it as a housedress as I'm with you on the gust of wind/ flashing too much leg in public business!

    It's all about deciding what flatters your own body type. When you start sewing, you go for what looks pretty on the envelope, but the more you sew for yourself, the better you get to know your body and what lines look good on you. Early days of sewing are all about fantasy and aspiration, whereas the better you get at it, the more it is about reality and how to make it work for you.

    And to give credit where it is due, the Walkaway dress is an early triumph of marketing over design, which amazingly seems to endure to this day!

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  3. Actually that polka dot dress is S3967, isn't it? So you see, there's a very nice interpretation of it!

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  4. I happen to own orhave owned many of the styled patterns you show - I do have an earlier wrap pattern from 1952, S3945, and love that pattern and the dress. What attracted me was the adjustability of it after having a baby, my 4th, and tying it down a bit more as I went back towards normal shape. It worked for me, but the walkaway dress has been looked at several times and putback in my shelves for the fear it would not stay closed.

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  5. I agree with Myra. I've made a few of these wrap dresses and loved how adjustable they were after having my baby. When I was nursing, it was great because it always fit my boobs (unlike many other dresses in my closet) and when I was done, I didn't have to pack it away with other nursing/maternity wear. Maybe they should have marketed it to mommas! I did have to sew a second tie in back of the walkaway dress skirt to keep the hem even, though!

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  6. Ha! I agree with you on the urban legend part - not only do you never see all the vintage made-up versions (although, it is meant to be a house dress so they could have all worn out); but if it really sold that many, it ought to be all over ebay and etsy all the time.

    I do think wrap dresses can look good, I've seen several that came out great. And you have to admit, the whole ease-of-ironing thing is dead on.

    Also -- the original version is not a circle skirt, it's just a half-circle. I don't know why they redesigned it when they put out the latest reissue, I think it was a bad idea.

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  7. Interesting I have many vintage patterns and have been tempted by this but never succumbed, glad I didn't now, thanks for the heads up!!

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  8. Heh. I bought it, and haven't made it yet. Maybe I'll sell it to some other noob. LOL I liked the concept, until I saw how the ones made up cape under the arms. I'm not crazy about sleeveless to start with because I'm plus-sized, but that gaping? I just have a personal issue where I cannot STAND to have my bra showing at all, I think it's tacky. I'd be horrified if that gaped on me, I'd never wear it again. Thanks for being honest and saving me that much fabric and effort. :)

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  9. I never was really drawn to the dress myself. I never made it. All I could think of was how your slip would show if you sat down or whipped around!
    In college I worked for BCBG and we had to wear their clothes. Wrap dresses were THE THING, so I bought a few. I could NEVER keep the darn things closed, no matter how many safety pins I used, so they ended up just hanging in my closet until I finally donated them.
    I did make one really cute 50s wrap dress from a friend's mail order pattern. It was well designed with a full skirt so it didn't open up. I like a cleverly designed wrap dress, but they're so few and far between!
    I agree re: the fitting issues. I'm wondering if the fit of the original pattern was better- I think the sizing on most modern commercial patterns is just wonky and too big, and way too long in the torso for me (which is where it looks like this might be most critical on this dress?)
    I have the second one pictured (6150) and was considering making it up for myself, but if it's doesn't come out as cute as the picture right out of the envelope maybe I'll just skip it and list it on Etsy :o There's some dresses that look cute in theory, are super fun to make, but then I never wear because I'm finicky about fit in dresses... I'm such a slacks and shirt gal that if it takes any effort whatsoever to wear it will probably just sit in the closet after I wear it the first time... lol.
    Wow! Sorry for the long reply, but loved reading your post :)

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  10. Such discussion!

    First, Im not against wrap dresses. Though they are not my favorite type of garment, as Wearing History said, where are some clever wrap dresses out there. Im against *these* (the designs listed above) dresses. In my opinion, ANY dress that requires more than two safety pins for closure is poorly designed, and these are a poorly designed novelty.

    And thanks for the compliments on my versions. What you dont see is a clear shot of the bodice, because its terrible and thats why Im wearing a sweater and or a shawl.

    And as far as them just being house dresses, Sarah, I don't know...The ladies on the envelopes seem to be out and about their day instead of with a mop and bucket that could have been pictured with them.

    Its the whole smock design into dress that makes it a bad idea. I find wrap dresses with a shirt waist or wrap front and sleeves seem to anchor on the body better and are just constructed better.

    But as collectors items, these patterns are gold! :D

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  11. (whoops had to fix a mistake)

    Yeah, I don't know about them being housedresses either, although the Butterick catalogs I have from the era seem to be pitching these types of dresses as at-home. You also know the whole "make it and wear it today" line is nonsense because right in the instructions they tell you to hang the skirt overnight!

    6015 must have sold okay for it to have been knocked off so much, but still...you're right, why don't we see them all over the place?

    Lauren @ Wearing History, someone made up 6150 and posted it on Sew Retro not long ago, I thought it was pretty cute. And as for the fitting problems - I actually have all 4 issues of 6015 (not the remakes, that actual dress) and about a year ago I decided to compare them. Mostly it gave me a headache but I learned that it was changed every time, and the current version is vastly different from the original. The half-circle skirt has been changed to a full circle, and the bodice is shaped quite differently. It almost looks like someone just drafted a whole new pattern by looking at the original drawing instead of the original patter. The 1999 version (with the Swingtime label) is very close, mainly simpler in the instructions; and the 1959-1960 version has an extra back panel that probably helps keep it closed. I've always meant to blog the differences since I actually traced them onto one piece of paper but...maybe someday. Right after I actually sew it. (i.e. probably never!)

    And I'm sorry the bodice of the Simplicity version didn't work for you, NVL, because they do look really cute!

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  12. Oh! Thanks for the laugh! As a novice seamstress I thought a wrap dress would be easy to fit and tailor...actually I think I thought I wouldn't need to tailor it at all, that I could just follow the pattern and it would magically fit(!). Needless to say it didn't and the wasted fabric sits, with my regrets, in the bottom drawer of my fabric cabinet...I never bought a walkaway dress pattern because of that experience, and I never will.

    And, *yeah* how come we don't find these babies in vintage shops?!?

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  13. Thats interesting Sara. I actually owned the pictured version of the Simplicity I used, and an original copy of the Saturday Morning Dress (that pic is from my library). I almost kept it, for its celebrity if nothing else, but I needed groceries :)

    Id love to see the differences in patterns laid out like you described. I think that would be an interesting exercise.

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  14. This is terrible, but I bought the walk away pattern just to see if I could fix it and make it more wearable. So far I haven't figured out how to do this yet...

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  15. I will look for my tracing and if it's at all legible I'll post it and let you know! I should scan the instructions too -- I was surprised that they changed.

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  16. I got a good chuckle out of this post! ;) This is one pattern bunch that I have never been tempted to make; despite the mini-craze that the reissue prompted. Wrap dresses and I just don't play well together, and it has to be really well designed for me to want to make it! Frankly, I'm far more tempted to make a wrap dress from the 30s or 40s that uses less fabric. I think for me, I feel like it won't be as potentially dumpy-looking on me in the end?

    Speaking of wrap dresses, I'm really intrigued by the new Colette Patterns dress "crepe", since it looks like it's got a good overlap/underlap where the wrap is. That is what makes a good wrap dress--one that isn't a hazard to showing one's undies! lol.

    ♥ Casey | blog

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  17. ha ha, I haven't made this, lucky for me my partner in crime tried it first and found:
    1. that the waist is too small (even when cinched with corsetry)
    2. the front skirt rides up
    3. the frong skirt doesn't meet at the back
    4. the gape under the arms/bust area

    We have spent literally years coming up with fixes and trying them out about every 6 months and are nearly at the end (a wearable peice). As she had so many issues I decided I had better patterns to attempt.

    I did however reference this dress in a post calling it hte spawn of satan and got a reply quite veminent that it was an awesome dress, nothing wrong with it and they won a contest with their version. I did the only thing I could and bowed down to their obvious sewing superiority if they managed to get that thing looking great.

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  18. Oh dear, Butterick 6015! When I was new to vintage sewing, this was the pattern I bought after giving up on my first choice of Vogue 2903, thinking it would be way easier.

    This was the most ill-fitting garment I have ever made. The waist was too small, and the shoulders were far too wide and stuck out making me look like a South American General. The neckline was shapeless, and worst of all the front was obviously designed for someone with no bust or waist, it would have better fitted a large man as it just flapped around looking like a painter's apron.

    I wasted six yards of fabric on this dress, because I chose an enormous pattern which I had to match meticulously - black 'Virgin of Guadelupe' by Alexander Henry, made even worse by the fact that I had paid nearly £50 for the fabric as it is unavailable in the UK and I had to import it.

    The other horrible thing about this dress is that it asks you to make button loops out of bias, and with so much edging the whole thing looks a mess. I still hope to salvage the poor fabric at some point and make something wearable.

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  19. I actually made two of Butterick 6015, one summer dress and one Christmas dress (novelty print). I wore the Christmas dress and discovered that the ridiculous weight of the back would pull down, and the tight fit of the front skirt would creep up, so I had to keep adjusting it all night to avoid choking. Put the summer dress in the quilting stash without wearing it once, and turned the Christmas dress into a Christmas apron, which gets a lot of wear. I think I still have the pattern, but I really don't know why.

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  20. What would be a good option for a plus sized beginner sewer like me? I kinda thought these styles might be it (esp walkaway dress) but alas I take your point. I imagined that my small waist/large bust and hips would make it work but now I don't know...
    BTW although this is my first comment I read your wonderful site religiously :-)

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  21. Thanks for this post. I bought the pattern - yes.....and was wondering why I never saw a good made up version. Now I'm starting to understand why...

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  22. I love this post, I've been laughing ever since I read it! HATE the stupid walkaway dress, it never, ever works. When I read about people who have made it and says it's easy, I know they are lying! I love the 'urban legend' - why don't you ever see this dress in second-hand stores? I also have never met a sewer of my mother's generation who have made that dumb dress...

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  23. I know many people have already read the post, but Katrina @ Edelweiss Patterns Blog recently made up this dress with the necessary adjustments (with suggestions from Pati Palmer) to make it look as close as possible to an actual 1950s silhouette. I think it looks great, but then again I'm not the best seamstress or period knowledgeable.

    Check it out:
    http://www.edelweisspatterns.com/blog/?p=552

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  24. I make things to get my own opinion.I have come to a conclusion about all styles "THAT NOT EVERY STYLE SUITS EVERYONE"!!!!!! First of all if it was not for a sew along I did for fun I admit I would of never of touched it .
    1- I did not like the muslin fit I made from the original
    the back slouched on me the shoulders too wide and btw that is crazy because I am 5'8 and inherited broad shoulders from my German grandma and thought who has shoulders like this ?! Then again we all have different body shapes...my torso is shorter and my legs are long! so I had to shorten the shoulders so it would fit right .The back did not fit right either.
    Yes I saw all the various variations of this dress.
    Many were hideous ! I actually did a second look at one because the girl who complained about it used the same size cut (I did originally) complained it did not fit her but I realized at how she tried to finish the centre front with a corset type lace up it clearly was not the right sizing from the beginning.The bust was way too large on me ! I had to alter that as well !:(
    But I have seen some stellar examples ...lol mind you not many ! I did not do an underskirt for mine like the sew along suggested because realistically I would not be walking around with a puffed skirt.
    here are the "stellar" examples I speak about
    http://www.edelweisspatterns.com/blog/?p=750
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/62011444@N07/5644870709/in/set-72157626432054425/
    i don't like the idea it feels like something can come loose and you would be exposed at the back!lol so it is a dress for the house ..i would recreate this so that it is a full sheath dress with a fully removable skirt.

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  25. I found a 1954 example of the walkaway dress in my rummaging around the Australian Women's Weekly:
    http://vivatvintage.tumblr.com/post/6366763700/the-secrets-out-with-new-miracle-fibre-vilene

    It has a stand-up collar in the design and it looks like, as the ad says, the secret is a lot of Vilene interlining!

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  26. and I thought I was the only one.....thank you, new Vintage lady!

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  27. Alright, I am going to be a bad guy out here among the other posters, but - my dear, I think you need to look a bit more into patterns that can be tailored to fit your body type. A dress like that is not meant to be worn and flatter the curves that the powers that be saw fit to give you with. Don't get me wrong, you have fantastic curves, but that means taking the responsibility to understand what will flatter your type and what will not.

    Do not knock the "I am sick of seeing" card on a dress that does not fit you because you didn't take the time to consider the body that you have. :P (Also, you really need to invest in a proper bra. It might help with some fitting issues.)

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  28. Okay, Unknown, first off, you should check the date of a post before you comment. Second off, if you are going to insult me, you should say who you are.

    A few points.

    1) Its a terrible dress, regardless of body type as I said in the post and have linked to throughout the post. Please read the content, not just skim.

    2) If that was your quaint way of saying I'm too fat to wear this dress then just say that. Im not too stupid to read through thinly veiled insults.

    3) I'm not 'knocking' this dress because you think Im too fat to wear it or that I apparently cant get it to fit me properly because it was not made for me. The dress is terribly designed, period. The consciences is overwhelming, which is the reason I wrote this post, which I gather you didn't READ.

    4) As for the bra part, Im not even going to get into that. You obviously have not read my blog and what, created a log in just to comment on this post?

    So yeah, the dress still stinks and nothing you have said has changed my mind.

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  29. Dear Shelley,

    I want you to know I thought long and hard about placing a comment here. In the end I decided to because I have really enjoyed reading your blog (to be clear, I have read your blog from the first post to the most recent) and I think I can offer you and your other readers some valuable feedback.

    I'm a professional pattern maker and my analysis is that the design of the pattern(s) you have discussed in this blog is problematical. All wrap-around styles are inherently problematical when it comes to fit because the fabric that is not anchored by seams in areas stressed by movement will shift and gape when the garment is worn: In short, when the body moves the garment won't necessarily move with it. (I could easily give you 2,000+ words on the details of the problems with this design, but I'd like to keep this comment short.)

    I don't understand your reaction to Unknown's comment. You have pointed out in your blog a couple times that all styles do not flatter all body shapes. And you are an experienced seamstress who knows that if the silhouette of a garment pattern doesn't start out following the lines of the body it is being fit to, the process of fitting the pattern to the body will change the pattern silhouette to match the body's silhouette: In other words, if you fit a shift dress to a person with an hour-glass figure in order to flatter their figure, you won't have a shift silhouette anymore, you will have an hour-glass silhouetted sheath dress. (So why put yourself through all the hassle of converting or altering the pattern to a new style/design? Why not start out with a pattern for an hour-glass shaped sheath dress, tweak the fitting and save yourself time and effort?)

    I have a figure and measurements quite similar to yours and I would not expect Butterick 6015, or one of its many iterations, to be flattering to my figure. I would expect that by the time I was happy with the fit, the style/design would have significantly changed, basically morphed into a new one, so I would have been better off choosing a pattern with a silhouette closer to my own in the first place. And this is what I think Unknown was telling you. I don't think she was trying to insult you.

    You and I as sewing mentors/teachers have a responsibility to our students to teach them to analyze their choices/options before they begin sewing, going way back to when they pick the pattern, in order that they will be happy with their results, enjoy sewing and, I would hope, continue to sew. One of the ways we can do this is to encourage them to choose pattern styles that complement their shape without major alterations. For instance, I would not encourage a sew-er with a slim build and small waist to make a garment that doesn't follow her body's lines because she would be enveloped in all that fabric. It would not flatter her, so she probably wouldn't wear it and she might decide sewing is not for her because she is so disappointed in the results of her efforts.

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  30. As for the bra comment... I was taught, and I tell my students, that great fit starts with well-fitting undergarments and I suggest to them that before they start fitting a pattern they treat themselves to a bra-fitting and a new bra, because they don't want to finish their project, buy a new bra and find the garment darts no longer point to the body landmarks they used to (like the bust apex)and all the fitting they did is for naught.

    In my experience (and this is from years of working in retail store fitting rooms, teaching sewing and dressing in locker rooms) women do not buy new bras as often as they should. I would conservatively estimate that I have seen over a thousand women in their bras and most of them were not getting the support from their bras that they could have if the cup fabric was not stretched out. Large breasted women tend to not buy bras often because their bras are more expensive, but their bras stretch out faster because their breasts weigh more and that weight stretches out the cup fabric faster. I understand this intimately because I have gone from a C-cup to a G-cup in the last ten years. The solution for me has been to make my own bras because once I got the pattern to fit (which didn't take so long as you might imagine) I could make a bra in two hours or so, faster than I could make a trip to the mall and go looking for something that might not be there.

    I don't think Unknown meant to insult you by saying you need to invest in a proper bra. I think she meant a fitting by a bra expert might provide you with more support and a different shape that you are getting currently from the bras you have written about on your blog. On August 20, 2011 you wrote about creating a "leisure bra", as you called it, not an everyday bra, in part one of your series on sewing your reproduction bra pattern. The same day you posted part two, which showed you were making the bras in woven, stable fabrics, period materials, not modern materials. Bra design and materials have come a long way since this pattern was designed. I also found you've written (July 21, 2010) about changing the elastic on a purchased bra you wanted to get some more use out of it, but noted you did not think the cups were in need of refurbishing. (I wondered when I first read the 7/21/10 post if this was a bra that had not gotten much wear, because I would think a well-loved, and therefore well-worn, bra would have stretched out cups.) It seems to me that your coverage of bras, bra-fitting and bra-making is not comprehensive and I'd like to see you write further on the subject.

    Sincerely,
    Melissa Brown

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  31. Hey Melissa,
    I appreciate your analysis on the topic. And I understand what you are saying about choosing a garment that fits your style of body, as I have done so in my Stout Revolution posts, and about choosing the right bra as Ive posted about many, many, many times. So the stuff I was being criticized for by Unknown were indeed things I have covered before.

    My point with this post was to deflate the romance of this horrible pattern. It does not fit on any body type (as links I have posted in the story equate). People of all shapes have had severe issues with this pattern. If a pattern requires a complete rework, its a bad pattern. THAT is my point. So yes, I did find Unkown's comments a bit insulting, especially since what I was being criticized on was stuff I've talked about many times before on this blog.

    I am honored that you consider me a teacher in the realm of sewing. I don't hold myself up to such high regard. :) Im just a student of a lot of online research and trial and error. I need and want to learn so much. But this is also my personal blog, where I document the things I have learned and voice my opinions as freely as I choose, and I welcome people to debate back, but don't think I wont offer a rebuttal.

    I craft my responses very carefully on this blog, try and cite as much reference as possible, and offer opinion commentary in a structured measured way. I won't take responsibility for how people perceive that.

    Wow, this has been some stellar discussion! Thank you all!

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  32. I've made 6015 repeatedly. I wear them all summer and I get lots of compliments. I found it to be very easy.

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  33. My one and only experience of wearing a vintage wrap dress was horrendous. I was a movie extra in the remake of Charlotte's Web. My dress for the fair scene was a vintage housedress from the 40's or 50's with a back wrap. The dress kept blowing open despite the number of safety pins I put in it. I was so afraid of ruining the dress or my bum being on show that it spoiled my enjoyment of the making of the movie.
    So glad that I found your blog before I got suckered into making one of these dresses for my daughters. PS I think a lot of the really vintage dresses are in the wardrobes of the big movie makers waiting for a period film to be made. Either that or the originals were cut up for children's clothing when the dressmaker realised they were an impossible dress to wear. Waste not want not mentality was big back then and you couldn't justify wasting 4-5 yards of good fabric.Enjoyed your blog.:)

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  34. Tehe. No wrap dresses for me ever, I don't dare to move in them. I just found your blog, but had to comment here.
    My Gran financed a new water heater in the fifties by altering all those wrap dresses neighbouring ladies made into aprons and skirts. She was quite famous in her village for getting two or three fitting garments out of them without further waste of notions. She even got the walk away wearable once, by designing a linen shift to which the dress could be fastened, with lots of french tack ties. I remember the story fondly, since she'd retell it when we looked at old photographs - the scraps she kept and used for flounces, ruffles, pockets, cuffs etc. for herself and her girls, and would gladly tell which ladies paid for the fabric... I guess that's why you don't see them vintage, they were worn once and then cut up!
    I really like your style, clothing and writing!

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  35. These are designs from the 1950's, for waist sizes in the low 20s, Dior's New Look - of course they aren't going to work when sized up, they were intended for slender, corseted women.

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  36. Anne, no they were not! These dresses were intended to be wear around doing chores running errands dresses. Not many ladies were doing dishes in corsets in the 50s. The sizing for them went up to 42" in the bust, that is not a small size.

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  37. Thank you, once again, Miss Shelly for reminding us there have always been women of size and substance. Bravo!

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  38. Great post. Wish I'd seen it before I tried this pattern. Its terrible!

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  39. The only thing I want to 'wrap' myself in is a vintAge, mink, diamonds or robe!

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  40. I was actually looking at that dress as a first attempt at vintage sewing, because it looked like it would be easy to size up. Thank you for saving me from frustration and disappointment!

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