Red Letter Day-Dress

Red Letter Day:  “A day that is pleasantly noteworthy or memorable.”  (Cambridge Languages)

Day Dress: “The perfect all-in-one outfit, a day dress is a versatile and fashionable way to look chic and stay comfortable at the same time.”  

Any day I finish a lengthy project (successfully) is definitely a “red letter day.”  This dress just happens to be red, adorned with letters, and “back in the day,” as they say, it would have been considered a “day-dress,” although the apt description above is actually from a current website. (  

I found this silk at Britex Fabrics in San francisco.
I used this blouse pattern from 1957 as the basis for the dress, opting for long sleeves and the lower bow. I did not have enough buttons to make French cuffs, so I did plain cuffs.

I go into a little bit of how this dress evolved in my last post.  But of course there were many more decisions to be made along the way.  I had to decide: 

  • Do I underline this crepe de chine? 
  • If I underline it, what do I use for my underlining fabric?
  • Do I also line this dress?
  • If I line it, do I also line the sleeves?
  • The blouse pattern has floating, released darts at the waist.  Do I use that technique for this pattern transformed into a dress?
  • What color and type of buttons will most enhance the fabric?
  • Do I make bound buttonholes or machine-stitched ones?

So, let’s start at the beginning.  Because this was a very soft, fluid, lightweight crepe de chine, I thought it best to underline it.  My normal go-to for underlining – silk organza – would have reduced the fluidity of the silk, so I ruled that out.  Cotton batiste just did not seem the way to go.  When I found a silk batiste on the website for Farmhouse Fabrics, I knew I had my solution.

I believe you can, in this photo, see how lightweight and lovely this silk batiste is.

However, even with the ethereal nature of the silk batiste, I decided not to underline (or line) the sleeves.  I wanted them to retain their uninhibited flow.

I clipped the armscye seam carefully and pressed it to the interior of the dress. Then I fell-stitched the lining to the interior edge.

Once I had the underlining basted to the fashion fabric, I weighed whether or not to line the body of the dress.  I went with my gut feeling about this and decided to line it with a soft and lightweight red silk crepe de chine – almost a perfect match in color, as is evident in the above picture – which I purchased from Emma One Sock Fabrics.  

In doing so, I eliminated the front and neck facings which were replaced with the solid red lining. 

I eliminated the facings and used the red crepe de chine lining fabric to finish the interior of the body of the dress. Here is the right front edge.

I had worked out the floating dart question in my muslin/toile and decided to use them for the dress.  This left above the waist “blousy” and made it more fitted below the waist.  

This shows the released darts on the back of the dress.
Here is a side released dart on the front of the dress.
The released dart on one side of the dress front.

Buttons are always one of my favorite parts of a project.  I simply love looking for buttons – and I really love finding the perfect ones.  In this case, I knew I needed a large quantity – at least 10, depending on the size I found.  I did not think red buttons would do anything to enhance the dress, and I thought white pearl buttons would be too much of a contrast.  But then I found these buttons on eBay:

They are probably from the 1940s, cut glass, made in Czechoslovakia.  The card held 12 buttons, a good quantity for my purpose.  I think of these buttons as “small, but mighty.”  They provide the right contrast, and the faceted surface picks up the shimmer from the slight jacquard weave in the fabric.  I think they are perfect!

I used ten buttons for the front of the dress. These buttons are small so I was able to space them closely together to get the effect I wanted. I always know I have found the right buttons when they look like they “belong” – they do not steal the show nor are they too weak.
The right top neck edge, with a snap to keep things tidy under the tied bow.
The lone button on the sleeve, showing a bit of shimmer to match the shimmer in the fashion fabric.
The importance of the buttons shows off well in this photo, I think.

And finally, bound or machine-made buttonholes?  I did a sample of each.  I have recently started using my automatic buttonholer for my 1951 Singer Featherweight, and I must say, it is an engineering marvel.  It makes such amazing, precise buttonholes.  And although I do love bound buttonholes, I decided in this instance I would be happier with machine-made ones.  

I haven’t even mentioned the belt! I wanted a self belt, so I knew I would have to make it myself. I found a belt-making kit from the 1960s on eBay and used it for the buckle and the belt canvas.

So that about sums it up.  I had just barely enough fabric to eke out this dress (which seems to be a theme with me!), so I think it was meant to be.  Here’s to Red Letter Days – and the dresses which make them happy.  


Filed under Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Bows as design feature, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Day dresses, Linings, silk, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

36 responses to “Red Letter Day-Dress

  1. Patricia Ross

    Wow!! that is the smartest dress, looks stunning on you, one of your best.
    Well done, just beautiful a real head turner.

  2. Anne Devaney


  3. Donna

    I’m a big dress fan and think it’s a shame more women don’t wear them and see how adaptable they can be, depending on the accessories you team them with. This is an elegant “day dress”. Beautifully made and no doubt will be much admired and envied!

  4. I remember when you first showed this fabric. The dress is fabulous and details are perfect. I agree that the blue buttons compliment the fabric beautifully; machine buttonholes were the right choice. I’ve also started using silk or silk/cotton batiste as underlining because, as you noted, silk organza can be too crisp for the desired effect. Beautiful job.

  5. Your dress is sublime! And I love the shoes! This was another wonderful post. xo

  6. Mery

    It’s just perfect. All your details make the dress as a whole just right. Red is a happy color. (I think I once heard that’s a common Japanese wedding dress color.) This season in particular needs a bit of brightening up, so I hope you wear it as often as possible. And the letters are so fun.

  7. Old sewing machines are an engineering marvel, and these buttonholes prove it! I love the style you chose for this fabric, and the belt kit worked perfectly. Just seeing this dress in your closet has got to make you smile. Fabulous workmanship as always!

    • Thank you, Kathy. This dress does brighten up the closet, even if I have no place to wear it right now! You know, for years I stayed away from the buttonhole attachment for my Feathwerweight as it looked intimidating. Go figure?? Now it is so much fun to use – and easy! And an amazing piece of machinery.

  8. JE

    I like the vintage buttons. I often haunt the eBay UK site for silver. The shipping cost is often the same as shipping within the US. I’ve noticed sterling silver button sets. Most are only 6 buttons but there are some with more. I’ve also seen antique London police buttons, etc. I only mention this because you often include unique flourishes to your projects. Many thanks for the interesting blog; I read every posting.



  9. PatB

    Beautiful dress, so elegant like you. I love reading your technique and process of decision making. Always love a Red dress and yours is unique.

  10. This is gorgeous. Your sewing in an inspiration.

  11. Teri

    Perfectly lovely dress. You are adorable!

  12. Kati

    A really beautiful dress! The buttons are perfect also!
    Thank you so much for your detailed post about it!

  13. sewdivine

    You look lovely in your new red dress! Beautifully done too! And, I just LOVE those flats!

  14. Terri

    What a BEAUTIFUL dress! You are such a lovely lady. I always enjoy your posts. Keep them coming and Happy Fall.

  15. Betty Morgan


  16. Love the red! and the letters are very cute! I love Featherweights too, I have one myself!

  17. Barb

    Beautiful work! And those shoes! ! ! ! ! Perfection!

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