Wednesday, May 20, 2015

1952 Walkaway Dress Meets 18th Century

In March Lucky Lucille posted a vintage sewing challenge for April: Spring for Cotton! While digging through my fabric and pattern stash I found:
1952 Walkaway Dress Pattern reissue, Butterick 4790
100% white cotton for the sheath part of the dress
100% blue and white gingham cotton that was also embroidered
netting for a petticoat


While researching the 1952 walkaway dress, I learned that the reissue pattern is full of problems. If the pattern and directions are followed as written, the resulting dress won't look anything like the pattern cover.  In my research I found one blogger who not only did her research with the Butterick company, but shared the details with us!

Katrina of Edelweiss Patterns Blog has all the details here. Basically she called the Butterick company and got all the details on how to convert the reissue pattern to how it would have actually looked in 1952.  

The walkaway dress gained its nickname because  a seamstress could open her pattern and begin sewing in the morning then easily have a finished dress to wear by lunch! However, this pattern needed too many alterations to regain its authenticity to have it done in half a day. Nevertheless I was up for the challenge, so I ammended the bodice pieces according to Katrina's researched directions.

However, when I began to lay out the skirt pieces, I had a problem.  My blue gingham is actually recycled fabric from my very first Civil War gown.  A few years after I had sewn the gown, I realized the pattern I had used was not historically accurate, nor was the fabric.  Since I am pursuring historical accuracy in  my sewing, I decided I had lots of fun with my first attempt =), but now it was time to reuse it for another fun attempt. I do know there was lots of gingham worn in the 1950's, however I do not know if it was ever embroidered.

Anyway when I laid out the pattern, I didn't have enough fabric.  Oddly,  my McCalls Civil War pattern (which is not historically accurate) had called for me to cut long and wide panels for the gown's skirts, instead of cutting only the lengths needed from the width provided, which I know is done in the 18th century and I think is also done in the 19th century.  Thus when I laid out the huge 1952 circle skirt pattern, there simply wasn't enough fabric.

Undeterred, I decided to employ an 18th century trick...piece fabric!  This was quite a common habit in past centuries, even with silks and velvets! Thomas Jefferson had a blue great coat with a velvet collar...the collar was pieced! If it's good enough of Thomas Jefferson, then why not me? I have no idea when piecing went out of faze.  I'm guessing by the 1970's or 1980's the crazy notion we have of "perfect" sewing arrived on the scene.  I had a gut feeling that a 1952 lady would have probably pieced her skirt if she were in the same situation as me. (Hang in there for the surprise ending!)

Here you can see the piecing on the completed dress, as well as its unusual shape.  This is a wrap-a-round dress. The white part is a sheath dress that hangs in front and hooks in back. The blue part is the back which wraps around to the front and then hooks, with the white part peaking from underneath.


For a perfectly non-pieced circle skirt, there would be no seam showing on the right side.


Later I was researching something on Katrina's blog, when I read this  from Katrina in the comment section!
...all three earlier versions of this pattern called for less material by simply piecing the skirt back. When you viewed the skirt from the back, there was a horizontal line about 6 inches from the bottom or so. That way the sewer could place most of the skirt on a folded peice of 44″ wide fabric so the top of the skirt was close to the fold. Whatever part of the skirt pattern piece extended past the selvage was cut as a separate piece and sewn to the larger skirt piece. From 1952 – 1999 that was the way that all of Butterick’s walkaway patterns worked!-Katrina from Edelweiss Patterns Blog

How exciting is that? =)

I also followed Katrina's tip to turn the bias binding under instead of exposing it.  In fact, I made  my own bias binding, since it's so much more economical than buying lots of notions at the store. It's quite easy to do and I can do a post on that if anyone is interested, because I took lots of photos of the process.










Appropriately reading a book from the 1950's, written by Winston Churchill!


  1. Such a pretty dress, I love the blue and white contrast.

    I think that most full-skirted 1950s dresses must have had pieced skirts, because the material available simply wasn't wide enough to do anything else. Certainly in the UK, 36" wide fabric seems to have been the norm at the time for cottons.

    1. Thank you! Here's an article about 20th century fabric widths...