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The little black dress-clips dress

One of my sewing goals for this year is to make time to sew more for me.  It’s a bit embarrassing to be a professional seamstress who never wears anything she makes!

This goal is being helped by my newest obession: The Sew Weekly.  Every week they set a challenge/theme, you complete it, and then get to post photos of it and brag about it.  I love the inspiration of the theme – it helps me to sew in new directions.  And I love their little wrap-up of the project (see my version at the end of this post) And the brag opportunities don’t hurt either 😉

This week’s theme was accessorize: sew a garment to go with an accessory you already own.  It was the perfect theme for me.  Mr Dreamy gave me the most gorgeous vintage marcasite dress clips for our anniversary, and I’ve been planning to make a dress to wear them with ever since.  And I don’t really have a little-black-dress, so I got to kill two birds with one stone.

Aren’t they exquisite?  They also clip on to a brooch back, so that you can wear them as one piece.

Anyway, without further ado, here is my little black dress-clips dress:

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric: 1.3 metres of thrifted black wool crepe.

Pattern: Self drafted, based on Grandma’s blue dress, which I am sure was made from an actual sewing pattern.

Pattern alterations: The original dress also had two zips, one at the side and a little one at the back neck.  While I’m not an anti-zip seamstress, I’m also not a glutton for punishment.  So I switched out the back-neck zip for a button and loop.  Much more elegant anyway.  I also lowered the front neckline a bit to showcase the dress clips.   The only unintentional alteration is that my draft of the pattern ended up too short in the bodice, so I added a waist-band.  Unfortunately that meant that I didn’t have enough fabric left to do a belt, so I’m wearing with a piece of vintage ribbon for a sash.

Year: ca. 1956 (I wondered about the date of Grandma’s dress, but now that I have drafted it and sewn it up the construction details suddenly make a mid-50s date really clear)

Notions: a side zip recycled from another garment, an orphan vintage black jet button from Grandma’s button stash, turquoise hem facing and ocean blue bias binding from my stash (either thrifted or inherited from Nana or Grandma).

Hours: 2.5 hours to draft the pattern off of Grandma’s blue dress, 5 hours sewing (hey, I hand stitched the zip and the facing!).

Techniques used: Pattern drafting, side zip, faced hems, blind-hem stitching, pick-stitched zip.

Will you make this again? YES!  I love it!  I’m going to make this over and over and over again, starting with a wear on Tue to the opening of Lonely Hearts.  I want one in every colour (OK, not quite, but a few prints might be nice).  It also is the perfect background for my Not-So-Secret-Garden necklace by Things Unseen.

Any changes? I think I’ll make two not-quite-bows similar to the ones the original blue dress has on one side to go under the dress clips when I wear the dress with them.  Right now it’s a bit plain, and not really making the clips ‘pop’ in the way I want them to.  And I’m going to alter the pattern so that I don’t have to do a waistband

Total cost: Not sure, but under $5 – the fabric was thrifted and the zip was recycled from another garment.  I guess the cost goes up by a scarily extravagant amount a bit if you count the dress clips too.

And the inside?: Overlocked finished seams, bias faced hem and sleeve hems, roll-hemmed neck facing which is hand bound. I think the pictures of the dress turned inside-out say it all (including “it’s really hard to photograph black fabric with bright blue trim and get any details”):

Do you love the bright turquoise hem & sleeve facings and belt-finish?  I do!  Even if it is a little black dress I thought the inside should have a bit of fun.

The sewn-down neck facing (wool crepe is so perfect for hiding prick-stitches!)

The back button detail:


Isabella has a companion!

Remember Isabella my dressform?

I’ve just bought her a companion.  Meet Lady Murasaki:

Lady Murasaki

Murasaki is a vintage Japanese dressform.  She’s a size 8 (so one size down from Isabella).  She’s also slightly longer – so suitable for draping garments that are fitted over the hips.  Doesn’t she have beautiful lines?

She is foam (great for pinning and draping on) with a synthetic taffeta cover which has a bit of foxing from age.  Right now I like the evidence of what she has been through; if it gets too bad I’ll re-cover her.

Wearing her age

I found her at the Asia Gallery.  I’d actually noticed her months ago, but I didn’t have the money for her at the time, and the price was a bit more than I wanted to pay.  I also wondered if I really would get much use out of such a small dressform.  However, my last three clients have been size 8 or smaller, and I find it easier to draft on a small form and size up than to draft patterns and size them down.  The real clincher was the price though: I went by the Asia Gallery on Friday and she was marked down.  Dressform for $80 = major happy dance!

Isabella and Murasaki

I knew almost immediately what I wanted to name her.  Isabella is named after the Italian Renaissance arts patron Isabella d’Este, and most of my other sewing equipment also have names related to Renaissance art, but that didn’t suit Murasaki.  Instead I named her after the 11th century Japanese poet and writer Murasaki Shikubu, author of The Tale of Genjii.

The slightly different shapes are fascinating.

My interest in Murasaki goes back even further than my interest in Renaissance art patrons.  I read a book about her as a early teen, and continued to read up on her and The Tale of Genji.  I drove my Japanese language teacher in high school batty by knowing (and using) all sorts of obscure Japanese nouns (starting with her name, murasaki, which means ‘wisteria’ and also the purple colour of wisteia) but being hopeless at grammar.

I don’t immediately have an excuse to use her, but I’m very excited about doing so: she has the perfect seams for draping – so much better than Isabella’s.

Finished project: an utterly adorable 1930s playsuit

A client contacted me to make a playsuit from a late 1930s pattern she owns.

New York Patterns 1040

After we looked at lots of modern fabrics without finding anything inspiring I suggested an early-mid 20th century style print, and she picked an adorable bows & flowers print in grey and yellow from Reproduction Fabrics.

I’m a huge fan of the yellow (so exciting to have a client who loves it too), and the print and colours are the perfect mix of pre-war innocence while still being fresh and modern.

The playsuit

To relieve the rather busy print, I used custom made white piping with a very subtle woven-in stripe, and graphite-grey buttons.  I think this was particularly important on the front of the skirt, where I did a piping-bordered placket.

Buttons and piping on the skirt placket

Isn’t the halter back of the playsuit clever?  How it combines with the side-fastening of the connected shorts so that you can get in and out easily?

The rather revealing, and very clever, playsuit back

And the halter is so unexpected: we don’t usually think of them featuring in fashion that early.

The fastening at the back of the halter neck

To keep the halter modest, and for ‘less active play’ as the magazines of the time called it, there is a skirt to go over the shorts.

The overskirt

Inside both garments, I finished all the seams with French seaming, and completely lined the halter bodice in the same white voile with woven in stripe as the piping. The hems are done with a machine blind-hem stitch.

French seams and blind hem on the skirt

I just love it when the insides of garments are almost as beautiful as the outside.  It’s like a personal present that only you know about.

Two little bundles of happiness

I’m pleased to say that S. loves it, and it fit her perfectly (another feather to add to my ‘I did this without ever meeting the client’ cap), and hopefully we will see photos of her in it.

UPDATE:  Now with photos!