The Allure of Silk, Part 3: Finishing Touches for a Fancy Frock

In planning for my ‘50s-inspired silk party dress, my original intention was to use a red sash, just as shown on the original dress which I first saw on Pinterest.

Blue taffeta:silk dress - originalWhen I sent off for swatches of silk taffeta from Emma One Sock Fabrics, however, I requested reds and yellows, just in case I might change my mind. When the swatch card arrived, there were clearly two obvious choices – the clear red and the vibrant yellow.Allure of silk - cummerbund picture

Then a funny thing happened. I ordered the red, which was out-of-stock temporarily. The owner of Emma One Sock (who, I might add, is one of the pleasantest and most helpful people from whom one will ever order fabric!), held up the order, at my request, while I thought about it some more. By the time I went to Baltimore to start my dress in Susan Khalje’s Couture Sewing School, I had just about decided to switch to yellow. With Susan’s hearty endorsement and the additional approval of my classmates, the decision was made: the sash would be yellow, not red.

When the yellow silk taffeta arrived, I knew the decision was the right one. All I had to do then was figure out how to make the sash. Easy, right? With lots of time to think about this while I finished the embroidered organza top and the sapphire blue skirt – and the dress lining – I gradually came up with a plan. I decided a more structured cummerbund and bow would be the best look. First I went in search of a cummerbund pattern, which I found in an early 1960s pattern in my collection:

Allure of silk - cummerbund picture-1

I decided to loosely pleat it instead of gathering it, so it would appear smoother around my waist. Because I had underlined it with silk organza, I had an anchor upon which to secure the soft pleats:

I used a loose catch-stitch to secure the pleats.

I used a loose catch-stitch to secure the pleats.

allure of silk final

And I folded in the two ends, ready for hooks and eyes.

Then I lined it with silk crepe de chine.

Allure of silk final

Now –  I really love a beautiful bow. And I knew just where to go to get the perfect bow pattern. I made this Butterick pattern in the early 1990s, and while I still like the dress I made (I’ll feature it sometime… it’s still in my closet!), I love the bow. I have used this bow pattern numerous times, always successfully.

Allure of silk - bow picture-2

Here is a close-up of the instruction sheet, showing the simple but effective construction of this bow.

Allure of silk - bow diagram-3

I increased the width and length a bit, as I knew it would need to be a focal point of the dress. I attached the bow to one end of the cummerbund, and used a snap to secure it in place on the other end.

All of this took more time than I could have ever imagined! The event for which I made this dress is next week, and I’ll get proper pbotos taken then. But here is a sneak peek, first of the shoes I found which really seem to be the perfect pairing for this dress:

allure of silk final

And here is the dress on my dress form:

Allure of silk final

Allure of silk final

I thought I'd include this photo of the dress lining for anyone interested in seeing it.

I thought I’d include this photo of the dress lining for anyone interested in seeing it.

I am very pleased that I decided to "V" the back of the outer bodice!

I am very pleased that I decided to “V” the back of the outer bodice!

A close-up of the bow.

A close-up of the bow.

One of my favorite fashion quotes is one from Madeleine Vionnet: “The dress must not hang on the body but follow its lines. It must accompany its wearer and when a woman smiles the dress must smile with her.” Will my dress put a smile on my face when I wear it? Yes, if only for the fact that it has been finished just in time!


Blue silk taffeta:  Britex Fabrics

White embroidered organza:  Waechter’s Fabrics (now out of business)

Yellow silk taffeta:  Emma One Sock Fabrics.

Under bodice and outer bodice pattern:  Vogue 8766

Cummerbund pattern:  Vogue 5234 (vintage)

Bow pattern:  Butterick 3582 (vintage)

Shoes:  Butter, sold by Simply Soles


Filed under Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Mid-Century style, sewing in silk, Shoes to make an outfit complete, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns

40 responses to “The Allure of Silk, Part 3: Finishing Touches for a Fancy Frock

  1. Marilou

    Once again you have made a gorgeous dress! Thanks for all the details in the construction. This dress will compliment your wonderful personality. Have a great time at the party.

  2. Love this dress. Karen you never fail to enlighten me. Thank you so much. See you in September!

  3. Cissie

    The yellow cumberbun and bow are both perfect. Everyone who sees you in this dress will smile. Simply stunning!

  4. I would have picked the red too. But I do think the yellow is stunning. I love the cumerbund and will try one myself in time – it is a great way to emphasise a nice waist line and can probably be used on other garments. And I am sure the dress will make you, and everyone around you, smile when you wear it.

    • Before I made the cummerbund, I thought, “Oh, I could make several, all in different colors.” Now I feel lucky to have one made and ready to wear! It’s amazing how much work is in it!

  5. Spectacular! And those shoes….perfect.

  6. Heather Myers

    Wow, very lovely. And more impressive that you can remember details of patterns you own!

  7. Mary

    Absolutely beautiful! You will look lovely in it & will have on the prettiest dress at your event.

  8. Looks fabulous. Thanks for showing us all the details, especially the inner workings.

  9. Beautiful! The yellow silk taffeta is perfect!

  10. You did a fantastic job! I can’t wait to see the whole look. Love the shoes, too! It’s funny how important shoe shopping becomes when you’re making your clothes.

  11. Magnificent! Love the yellow with it too, cheerful and incredibly chic at the same time!

  12. Yellow was totally the right colour. It really pops against the blue. Beautiful work as always. And those shoes are divine! 🙂

  13. Love the lace, love the shoes, love the yellow! I can’t wait to see the dress in all its glory!

  14. Everything is just perfect together! Sash, lace, the blue fabric, the shoes!

  15. Anonymous

    Oo! Oo! Oo! Please take a picture of you in the dress. It’s so pretty, and you always look so wonderful in the clothing you make.

  16. What a beautiful summer party dress, Karen. Thank you for sharing the cumberbund instructions (and bow)! You’re right they look simple even to those who sew until you look at the instructions. Have fun next week and take lots of photos!

  17. Fashionista

    Beautiful outfit, cannot wait to see the photos of it on a real live model. Yellow was most certainly the perfect sash colour.

    I have that Butterick pattern, bought new late 80s/early 90s, so I find it a little amusing that it is now called “vintage”. Interestingly I have never made up the frock but have used the bow pattern numerous times.

    • I agree – when I wrote “vintage” in connection with that Butterick pattern, I was myself amused. It doesn’t seem like that long ago I made a dress from it, but it was over 20 years ago! Isn’t that bow pattern fabulous?

  18. What a gorgeous dress! You did a great job.

  19. Karina McIntyre

    Thanks for sharing the process of the construction of your dress. From inspiration to execution every thing was spot on. Beautiful dress!

  20. Mary Lynn

    For some reason, probably my lack of computer skills, I lost your blog along with several other favorites. So, I’ve had the pleasure of reading the 3 blogs about your amazing dress all at once. I’m exhausted! You (and Susan) are remarkable. Your dress is exquisite both inside and outside and following ALL of the steps you took, it’s easy to see why couture clothing is so incredibly expensive and treasured. You have such a talent and always know what to make that is perfect for you and you for it.

    • You always write the loveliest comments, Mary Lynn! Since I started using couture techniques in my sewing – and knowing how time-intensive it is – I can understand how name-brand haute couture is so expensive. I must say I love the process – and every project is a learning experience in some way.

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