What I wear

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:



  1. ladyjanewriter says

    Gorgeous!!! I can’t imagine all that hand-sewing of the facings.

    • Well, I love hand-sewing, so I don’t think of it as a burden. I just cuddled up with Mr D on the couch and watched Sione’s Wedding (bad NZ comedy) and sewed away, and before I knew it it was done.

  2. Stella says

    Wow! That is awesome. I love the turquoise accents. Next time I make a black garment (read: next time I make a garment) I want to put bright colours under the hems too.

    Looking forward to seeing more of The Sew Weekly.

  3. Polly says

    Beautiful!, love all the hidden detail, but can you please tell me why you hand sew in your zips?

    Thanks, Polly

    • I hand sew in my zips for three reasons:
      1) I find hand sewing more relaxing than being on the machine. And I’m really fast at it, so hand-sewing in a zip takes about the same amount of time and doing one on a machine.
      2) I’ve never put in a hand-sewn zip and had to take it out again and re-do it. A hand-sewn zip always comes out right for me. Machine sewn zips? Those I take out and re-do over 60% of the time (this doesn’t include invisible zips which I rarely have to re-do). Granted, maybe if I did them more often I wouldn’t have to re-do them so often!
      3) I just think hand-sewn prick-stitched zips look prettier. The stitching disappears into the fabric, so they are almost invisible. They are also a technique you see on a lot of vintage dresses – possibly (and this is just conjecture here) because the seamstress didn’t own a zipper foot.

      I don’t do this with all zips though: some garments work better with invisible zips, and some fabrics (like the silk crepe I used on Shell’s wedding dress) aren’t suitable for hand-sewn zips. The fabric just pulls and snags.

      I might very well make this dress again and put an invisible zip up the back next time.

      • fidelio says

        I learned to do a hand-set zipper frm my mother, who learned it from her mother, a professional seamstress who started before zippers were seen much in clothes. Partly, the zipper foot was a rare accessory early on (although the Singer my mother bought in 1942 had one, along with other useful accessories, including the World’s Best Buttonholer). But mostly, a hand-set zipper is a sign of fine finishing–along with hand-hemming and other hand sewing details. You see it a lot in expensive ready-to-wear of a certain vintage (I have an Evan-Picone skirt from the late 1950s with a hand-set zipper and hand-done arrowhead tacks), and in fine dressmaker work and in couture as well.

        It is also, as our hostess notes, much harder to screw up with a hand-set zipper, while it only takes a small mistake to make a machine-set one look awful.

  4. I think I’m in love! The waist bow is truly stunning and it comes together beautifully!
    I’ve never heard of dress clips before. Are they designed to be a feature or to hold fabric together?

    • They are a feature/accessory. Dress clips are basically a matching pair of brooches/clips that were meant to go on either side of a square or sweetheart neckline. The earliest ones I know of are Victorian, and they were popular up into the 1950s. Clearly I should do a post on them!

  5. I am in love with those dress clips! And yes, I think you should do a post on them, as this is the first I’ve heard of them. That is a great LBD, and I think having to use the ribbon as the belt was a happy accident, as it brings a nice contrast. Also I am a fan of hidden colors in a dress!

  6. I am a big fan of both little black dresses and dress clips, yours are fabulous. The dress is classy and elegant.

    • Thank you! Now I need a dress to wear the brooch with too 😉

      And I think it is fantastic how similar our thoughts for this challenge were!

  7. Cornelia Moore says

    everything about this dress is so right, it’s an absolute 12 out of 10 for me! those are the second nicest dress clips I’ve ever seen, my favorite being ones made of Canton Glass…or Jade, I now forget which, with a little sterling high-light to them. there are some amazing dress clips out there. some of the older (Art Deco and earlier) earrings can double for dress clips, as well, having very simple clips.

    • Oh, thank you! I love the jade dress clips too. I’ve never thought of using earrings, but now that you mention it I have the perfect pair.

  8. I love the dress clips, they’re gorgeous! The brooch is very pretty as well.


  9. Joie de vivre says

    Oh this is lovely! I’ve been an avid reader of the Sew Weekly for the last 6 months or so and it is a wonderful blog (although I’m having issues with their feed at the moment.) I can’t wait to see your SW inspired garments – I’m sure they’ll all be gorgeous!

    On dress clips – here is a blog post I really enjoyed by another blogger I follow. I’d still LOVE to see your take on it as well though! http://tuppencehapennyvintage.blogspot.com/2011/03/jewellery-week-dress-clips.html

  10. Now that is one lovely dress! Vavoom without being trampy! A nice necklace may draw the eye to the clips if you feel they are being lost. (But, I think subtle is nice) I am assuming they are moveable? They may show up more on some of the other colors you are planning to make.

  11. What a lovely, classic dress! It has a vintage feel without looking like it is stuck in the past. I’m tempted to make one myself some day…

  12. Gorgeous, you and the dress! The dress clips are neat, I hadn’t seen them worn before.

  13. I love that you’re finally making outfits for yourself — and how cute is that sash?!

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