Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tried 'n True (TNT) Pattern - Part II

As previously mentioned, Butterick 5932 an out of print pattern is my number one favorite, take anywhere, use anytime TNT dress pattern. I started working with this pattern ten years ago when my two youngest daughers were 9 & 10 years old. I was married at the time, worked a full-time job, volunteered at my church, did afterschool activities with my daughters and only had 6-8 hours per week to sew.

It could take me an entire month to complete a complicated project and at least two weekends to make one dress or top. And at the end of that time, the garment might not fit or work well for me. To address this situation, I went looking for a couple of patterns that I could make over and over with a little diversity so that my limited sewing time would yield better results. That's how I stumbled upon Butterick 5932.

Now I originally made this dress and jacket combo exactly as it appears on the envelope. It was a perfect work and church dress and I really liked the fit on it. So my first alteration was to change it from a sleeveless dress to a short sleeve dress, thereby making it more versatile and less likely to need a jacket to complete it.

I really wasn't sure how to accomplish this task but during that time I was on an internet sewing list and I asked the question there and got an answer. It took a couple of attempts but I finally got the shoulder to fit, the sleeve to fit into the sleeve cap and the two to work together as a cohesive unit. I didn't draft a new sleeve pattern - had no clue how! I took the sleeve from the jacket pattern and played with it until the cap fit into the newly adapted shoulder seam of the dress. I definitely used the trial and error method for this and I'm sure that I wore some dresses that weren't perfect...but I was learning! *LOL*

The first instance of using this pattern repeatedly was when I made a series of linen summer dresses that I called, "The Necklace Dresses" so named because there were four dresses and each one had a different type of embellishment at the neckline. For this series of dresses I changed the side vents to a back vent but besides color, embellishment and a simple design change, the dress still looked remarkably like the pattern envelope. Sadly, I have no pictures of these dresses because the affordable digital camera had not yet arrived!

I worked the pattern in this condition for about a year, using color, fabric, border prints to make each new dress distinctive from the others. It became a go-to pattern when I needed a dress without a lot of effort. Then I was inspired to remove the empire seaming detail. This was another simple change. I laid the bodice on top of the skirt (both front and back pieces) overlapped the 5/8" seam allowance and traced off a new piece. It was during this transformation that the dress went from long to short. Here is one of my first attempts at this dress using a distinctive fabric and a little piping to make it work:

...and this dress is still in my closet today! Just ran it through the wash to wear next week!!!

Each change to this pattern was accomplished by adjusting the pattern, making several dresses and with each wearing...adjusting...adjusting...adjusting!

One more from that time period - Lulu wearing it in wool crepe again with a piping - this time the piping is suede and the dress is lined:

I've always taken details from other garments I like. I've continued this and it was this practice that elevated my TNT dress pattern into it's greatest and most imaginative phase. It started with The Chanel Knock-off Dress. *sigh* The Chanel Knock-off Dress is one of the milestone markers of my sewing because it changed everything about what I thought I could do to or with a pattern and it's really the godmother of all the dresses you seen here since. Even though I'd shortened and made a few changes to my TNT pattern, I'd never really had the courage to cut a pattern apart to reproduce a look I wanted...normally I would just look for and buy a pattern to achieve the look.

Making that dress was my "Aha Moment!" I fearlessly cut and rearranged the pattern, used some sewing techniques that I had learned from years of sewing, screwed up my courage and went for it. Constructing that dress opened my eyes and showed me that there are unlimited horizons and that I can make anything I want from a picture, a tv show, something I saw on the street or dreamed up.

It's funny because several dresses into my new world view, Summerset called my TNT dress pattern a sloper and maybe it is. Especially since I've used it so much to interpret looks as well as a vintage pattern - Vogue 5265. Now it's become a roadmark, a place where I begin my creative journey and where anything can happen.

Let me stress again that getting a well-used, well-fitted TNT pattern is a process. My pattern has been in the making for ten years and has seen many incarnations as well as many wearable muslins! Along the way there have been some wadders, a few "What was I Thinking!" dresses and some that failed the wearability test spectacularly!

Another thing that Cynthia Guffey said directly to me in one of those fitting classes was that, "Sewing is your hobby, it should not be rushed. It is a journey. Enjoy the journey!" She gave me those sage words after I asked a question about why she invested so much time in sewing a hem. At the time they were delivered, I was embarrassed and a little humilated because if you've ever taken a class with Cynthia you know that her delivery is crisp and to the point!

However, after internalizing those words, they have become my sewing mantra. So now I'm passing them along to you...if you really want a well-fitted, lay it down on the fabric, cut and sew it TNT pattern...enjoy the journey! Don't skip any steps! Don't go to fast! Because you must see the adventure in the process and you have to make the journey to get a TNT pattern...


  1. Thank you for taking the time to take us through your TNT process. And thanks for linking to the Chanel dress - what a beautiful garment. You're truly inspirational!

  2. I have seen many of the dresses you've made from your tnt pattern, but the journey has not been clear until now. A great, inspirational post that shows the endless possibilities of a simple pattern. It really is a sloper that fits you well and frees you to be creative.

  3. I've enjoyed reading this series of posts very much. Thanks Caroline!

  4. One of my favorite sewing stars is Shirley Adams. She teaches exactly what you have done with your TNT's. Hers is jackets, primarily. I learned a lot from here, about knocking off garments, using a basic pattern that fits, over and over.

    I agree about not rushing the sewing. I mean--why?

  5. Carolyn, I always look forward to your posts. I learn something each time and I feel like we are sharing a cup of tea and a good chat. :)

  6. I really enjoyed the TNT posts and Thanks for sharing.

  7. Your journey has been a very rich one! Thanks for sharing this story.

  8. I agree with Cynthia's words of wisdom that sewing should not be rushed. I find when I rush through a garment thats when I make the most mistakes and the journey becomes very frustrating to me. Thanks again for sharing.....

  9. Thanks so much for the TNT history. I've never made many things for myself. Always sewing for my 5 children or 8 grandchildren. But I really want to start sewing for myself and develope some TNT patterns for myself. It's so easy to sew for my daughters who look good in anything. But I'm far from starving to death (it would take years and years) so I never feel satisfied with sewing for myself. But the time has come. Love your blog.

  10. What a great post. Thanks so much for sharing your process with us. The "Chanel" dress is beautiful.

  11. Many thanks for this piece of wisdom and advice. I'll listen to you and enjoy my journey in sewing!

  12. Carolyn - Sound advice, clearly written. I intend digging out a simple dress pattern, adding a shovelful of courage and a wheelbarrow of determination (a la Carolyn) and go for it. Estimated time for completion of project unknown, but I promise that I shall enjoy the experience. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Wonderful post, Carolyn, and wonderful attitude, process, and results.

  14. I really enjoyed these posts Carolyn. Thanks for sharing. It is amazing what you can do with one dress pattern.

  15. Carolyn, thank you for always taking the time to explain things so carefully. Reading your posts is a tonic to me. It gets me thinking and sewing.

  16. This was a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing this.

  17. Extremely wise, insightful, and inspirational post, Carolyn.

    Karen Karendee

  18. Janina the MomBeastApril 17, 2009 10:31 AM

    Excellent post series. When I was younger and fit more closely into the patterns' average model, it was worth it to me to just buy a few patterns on sale, cut them out and go. All I ever did was shorten length.

    Now I am different sizes altogether, and the shape has shifted too. I also have a much deeper expereince of what fits where and why, so I make many more changes. There are so many large alterations and small tweaks neccessary on each pattern, that I can see how developing a TNT sloper would be a real asset.
    Unfortunately (only in the sewing sense) I am in the midst of losing a great deal of weight, so right now each garment is fitted to a different body!

  19. I sometimes find that sewers don't take into account style that suits them, or a good basic pattern to start with. You have created professional looking garments that fit well, and have style. Thank you for inspiring me!


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