Category Archives: Little Black Dress

December Surprises

While a life in sewing can never be humdrum, a few good surprises are always welcome. What better month for surprises than December? While my focus right now is almost entirely on getting ready for our family Christmas celebration, four unexpected occurrences have recently added fun and focus to my life in sewing. I will tell you about two of them . . .

Of course – when it comes to sewing, finding a special fabric is always a welcome surprise. Those of you who follow Fifty Dresses regularly will know that I am always on the lookout for exceptional vintage fabric. After feeling so fortunate to find one gorgeous piece of French Lesur wool earlier in the year, I thought my chances of running across another piece of Lesur were next to nothing. So – imagine my surprise when a length of midnight black Lesur came to my attention. Although this piece did not have a selvedge marking, its tags were still attached. In addition I was able to match its weave to another example which I have found in my research on this storied French manufacturer. The weave is a minute basket weave, with almost a stretchy component to it, although the weave is quite tight and the fabric is fluid.

I am always excited when I can date a fabric. From what I can tell, the real heyday of availability for Lesur wool in the USA was the early to mid 1960s. The tag on this wool clearly supports that timeframe.

The date of this fabric is in pencil on the right margin of the tag, 1/14/64.

The tags also indicate the purity of the wool, and they show the process it went through during importation from France to this country.

The lovely person who sold me this piece told me it came “from the collection of an amazing professional dressmaker who definitely splurged on her fabrics.” I have had it in the back of my mind to put a “little black dress” in my sewing queue, so this purchase now makes that inevitable.

Surprise number two is also fabric-oriented. Like many of you, I always look forward to hearing what the Pantone Color of the Year will be. I am often surprised and sometimes delighted with the choice. For the year 2018, I was both. Color 18-3838 Ultra Violet is “a blue-based purple that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level.” According to Pantone’s description, “Ultra Violet suggests the mysteries of the cosmos, the intrigue of what lies ahead, and the discoveries beyond where we are now.”

Although I do not wear a lot of purple, I love the color. I think it can be distinctive, flattering, and creative, if handled correctly. It was for that reason that when I had the chance, a few years ago, to purchase a length of vintage, purple, wool boucle, I felt very fortunate.

This is a coat weight boucle, with a distinctive windowpane weave.

What made this purchase even more exciting for me is that this is a piece of Einiger wool, from a distinguished American manufacturer of fine woolens (now no longer in business). It is not often an opportunity to own such a piece of wool comes along, especially one whose origin is clearly marked.

“Luxury Inspired by Einiger” sounds good to me!

From the early 1960s, this wool embodies not only the “intrigue of what lies ahead,” but also the intrigue of what was in the past.

So, what does lie ahead for my treasured Color of the Year fabric? Since its purchase, I have collected a flowered silk charmeuse to coordinate with it, I have picked a coat and dress pattern from the early 1960s, and I have thought much about this project. Obviously, 2018  will be – should be –  the year to make this coat.

Now, if only the “mysteries of the cosmos” could promise more sewing time in the year to come!


Filed under Little Black Dress, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, woolens

Out and About in Los Angeles

One sure way to get me away from my sewing room is TRAVEL. Sometimes, however, there is a lot of sewing that happens before that travel commences. The impetus to the creation of my recent fancy dress was, indeed, a recent trip to Los Angeles, California, which was part business for my husband and pure pleasure for me. The lovely hotel where we were staying was actually in Beverly Hills, at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive. For those of you unfamiliar with Rodeo Drive, it is one of the most exclusive shopping areas for fashion and jewelry in the US. Although I am not much of a shopper at home – either window shopping or real shopping – it is quite a pleasure to do just that while on vacation.

Because I sew, I probably look at fashions with quite a different eye than most people.   My interest in the current influence of mid-century fashion and the use of beautiful, fine fabrics guided my approach, as both were on full view on Rodeo Drive. The first morning while my husband was in business meetings, I went out before most stores were open and snapped a few pictures of store windows. I was delighted to see this tailored Escada gown transformed into a totally feminine look with its voluminous bow:

Escada gown

The St. John Store featured this straight skirt and overblouse (with demure fur collar), with a flavor reminiscent of the 1960s:

The reflection of palm trees in the window obscures some of the fashions.

The reflection of palm trees in the window obscures some of the fashions, but I love this understated, but sophisticated look.

And what could be more classic than this jacket and blouse with a bow, also St. John.

St John jacket and blouse

How I loved this Little Black Dress by St. John, made with lace-embellished fabric:

A front view ...

A front view …

... and a back view.  The V-back is just lovely!

… and a back view. The V-back is just lovely!

Later in the day, I was captivated by some of the fashions I saw in some of the stores, especially Dolce and Gabbana and Hermes. Unfortunately photos were not allowed, so I cannot show you the classic princess lined coats and lace dresses in Dolce and Gabbana made from fabrics which were either identical to or close relatives to some pique and lace that Mendel Goldberg carries in their store in NYC. And Hermes had a color-blocked coat that looked right out of the early 1970s.

One excursion I wanted to make while we were in LA was to the museum of the Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing. I follow their blog, which regularly features items and fashion from their permanent collection, from all time periods. They have two small exhibit spaces which were currently featuring items from the Helen Larson Historic Fashion collection in one gallery and “Inspired Eye” in another gallery.

Inspired Eye is an exhibit of items from the Donald and Joan Damask Design Collection.  The exhibit  includes classic photographs as well as accessories and items of apparel.

Inspired Eye is an exhibit of items from the Donald and Joan Damask Design Collection. The exhibit includes classic photographs as well as accessories and items of apparel.

It was fun to see this Claire McCardell dress, circa 1950, looking every bit as fashionable now as then.

Claire McCardell dress

(Check out Julie’s recreation of a similar Claire McCardell dress on her blog, JetSetSewing)

Of course, for me, one thing I was looking forward to was the event to which I could wear my new fancy dress. As luck would have it, our camera was acting up for some unknown reason, so my husband had to resort to his iPhone for a couple of pictures of me wearing it.

LA fancy dress

One thing was certain – no one else at the party was wearing anything quite like it!

LA fancy dress

Our trip continued up to northern California, where we spent a few days with our son and his girlfriend, and which also included a trip to Britex Fabrics in San Francisco, where I picked up a few choice notions and buttons. Now we are home and a new project is strewn out in my sewing room, asking for attention before TRAVEL once again will wisk me away.


Filed under Cocktail dresses, Little Black Dress, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

Are You a Hopeless – or Hopeful – Dressmaker?

The other day I was rushing around getting ready to go to a meeting. I pulled some heels out of my closet and by the time I had arrived downstairs, ready to put them on, I realized I had picked up an errant white sewing thread, hanging tight onto my stockings. The first word into my mind was “Hopeless!” I really can’t go anywhere in my house without dragging little snippets of thread and fabric with me. This made me start to think about how pervasive dressmaking and sewing are in my day-to-day life. So, of course, I had to make a top-ten list…

You know you are a hopeless dressmaker when …

1) you arrive at your destination, only to find that aforementioned sewing thread clinging to your skirt , or you find a straight pin still holding tight to a finished garment.

2) a sale on Gutermann thread makes your heart go a-flutter.

3) you receive a bar of soap in the shape of a dress form in your Christmas stocking!

Wrapped in pale pink paper, this scented soap might be too pretty to use...

Wrapped in pale pink paper, this scented soap might be too pretty to use…

4) you instinctively check plaid lines and design placement in the clothes of everyone you meet to see if they match.

5) a new issue of Threads Magazine or Vogue Pattern Book Magazine (or Burda Style, etc.) arrives and it becomes your nightly reading until you have gone cover to cover.

6) you look for greeting cards with a sewing and/or fashion theme (sometimes just to keep for yourself!)

A birthday card for a fashionable friend!

A birthday card for a fashionable friend!

7) you can’t wait to study the instruction sheets in new patterns (in my case, new-to-me vintage patterns).

8) one of your favorite cookie cutters is a Little Black Dress.

Hopeless Dressmaker 9) you maintain a steady supply of muslin and silk organza underlining, because you never want to be without these building blocks of couture sewing.

10) your pets wander into your sewing room asking forlornly for their supper, as you have lost complete track of time.

So then – how do you know you are a hopeful dressmaker?

A friend or acquaintance who doesn’t know that you sew, said to you when last you met, “I want your wardrobe!”

It doesn’t get much better than that! Well . . .  in an effort to share a bit of my hopeful hopelessness and have some fun, I’m having a giveaway of duplicates of 1) the dress form soap, 2) the Little Black Dress cookie cutter, and 3) the Little Black Dress birthday card.

To be entered to win these three items, please leave a comment by Saturday, February 14th; I will draw the winner on February 15th

Heart lace

Happy Valentine’s Day to each and every one of you!


Filed under Dressmaker forms, Little Black Dress, Love of sewing

Fashion Past, Fashion Present

Many reviews of Linda Przbyszewski’s book The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish have been written. Two of the most recent ones are by Stephani Miller of Threads Magazine, and by Joy Landeira in the quarterly newsletter (Summer 2014) of the American Sewing Guild, Notions (available to members only). Both of these, plus many others give an excellent overview of the subject of the book. For those of you abroad and others who may not have been exposed to this book, here in a nutshell is the narrative: From 1900 – 1960, American women’s interest in fashion was shaped to a great degree by many professionals in the fields of Home Economics, Retailing, and Art. Following certain concepts espoused by these “Dress Doctors”, as the author calls them, average American women embraced style, grace, appropriateness, and practicality in their dress, making them paragons of American fashion.

Lost Art of Dress - cover

I found the book completely fascinating to read, learning much about the cultural and social history of this country during those six decades. Although the book is scholarly in its research, documentation, and overview, Linda is an engaging writer, infusing humor frequently, adding pointed commentary throughout, and, finally, extrapolating meaning from the “lessons” taught by the Dress Doctors for present seekers of style. As a dressmaker and frequent user of vintage patterns, I read the book looking for specific references, which would apply to my sewing and fashion sense, and to help me answer the question “Just exactly why do I find the fashions from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s so captivating?” To say that I found much to savor is, indeed, an understatement.  However, certain “Aha” moments stood out for me, so that is what I will try to cover in my remarks here.

1) To be successful and enduring, fashion should emphasize one’s face. When I look at vintage patterns, so many of them have details at the neckline, or unusual and flattering collars, or necklines cut gracefully to frame the face. This seems like common sense, doesn’t it? Fashion should bring attention to one’s face – and therefore, one’s person – so that YOU are remembered rather than your attire (although the proper fashions can help you be remembered at your best). Jewelry is one way to help emphasize a face, but, of course, it should not overpower your countenance. Prior to 1965, wearing hats was commonplace, adding another point of emphasis to the face. Now we are not so lucky, save for some very special occasions.

2) Black is fine to wear for evening, but think again for day-time wear. While I am not naïve enough to think that black is going to leave the wardrobes of American women (after all, what is more classic than the Little Black Dress for after-five?), most of us would do well to consider adding more color to our fashion sewing and wearing. Color is a powerful enhancer to complexions (of all hues) and moods.

3) Older women were once considered at the apex of elegance and style. Women and girls younger than 30 were expected to dress in a more youthful manner that mimicked their elders, rather than the other way around! (Isn’t it interesting that 30 was considered the age at which women were expected to assume a more polished appearance?)   Vogue Pattern Book Magazine contained the occasional feature on young girls and college girls, and Vogue even had a pattern series called Young Fashionables. But the majority of their patterns were for the 30 – and – older crowd, showcasing models and fashions which were demure but elegant, feminine but refined.

Here is one "Young Fashionable" pattern, to illustrate the type of style designed for the younger than thirty age group.

Here is one “Young Fashionable” pattern, to illustrate the type of style designed for the younger-than-30 age group.

This page from the October/November 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine shows many of the ingredients of a polished look, the norm among American women at that time.

This page from the October/November 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine shows many of the ingredients of a polished look, the norm among American women at that time.

Even fashion illustration included all the elements of a polished look.  (From the same VPB magazine as above.)

Even fashion illustration included all the elements of a polished look. (From the same VPB magazine as above.)

4) The Dress Doctors were not only concerned with fashion, but also with how fashion could influence the rest of one’s life. First and foremost, one should buy, or sew one’s own attire, which is appropriate for the life one leads. Buying on impulse is rarely a good idea if the item you are buying has no use in your weekly or monthly calendar. Further, if you find a style or look which works for you, repeat it – easily accomplished by those of us who sew. And those of us who sew know that tweaking a pattern, adding or subtracting a detail, and choosing diverse fabrics can make any pattern look new. Hooray for us!

5) A final point – and it is about many women’s favorite fashion accessory — shoes. According to Linda Przbyszewski, shoes have taken on much more significance than they once did – and should. Shoes should never be the focal point of one’s outfit. They should be chosen to enhance the overall look and to be functional for the occasion for which you are dressing. Shoes used to be just one of the accessories adding to the complete outfit, along with gloves, hats, scarves, handbags, jewelry, and coats. As gloves and hats and coat “wardrobes” have receded from the recipe for a “fashionable look”, shoes have filled that gap for many of us.

The last chapter of the book is devoted to the “demise” of the Dress Doctors in the 1960s and ‘70s. The emphasis on “youth”, starting in the ‘60s, and the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s changed mainstream fashion dramatically. Not addressed in the book is the continuance of some of the standards, established by the Dress Doctors, by the pattern companies in these two decades. Although my experience is mostly with Vogue patterns, I continue to be inspired by many of the fashions, Designer and otherwise, featured in patterns during these two decades. Once again home dressmakers were at an advantage – and continue to be.

The author leaves the reader on a positive note, stressing lessons for all of us to be learned from the wisdom of the Dress Doctors, and crediting the home sewing movement NOW for the beginning of a return to standards and style in the art of dress. I look at this  as a responsibility.  How about you?


Filed under Book reviews, Little Black Dress, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, Vogue patterns

“P” is for Pearl — and — Perseverance

Among timeless fashion statements, pearls and wrap dresses both make my top-ten list.  The opportunity to combine the two was just too good to pass by, especially after being inspired by a silk charmeuse perfectly suited for just such a pairing.

Pearls and ribbons and clusters!

Pearls and ribbons and clusters, fabric purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in NYC.

As luck would have it, shortly after I purchased the silk for this dress, an entire article in the Style & Fashion section of The Weekend Wall Street Journal of August 24 – 25 (2013) was devoted to “the old-fashioned allure of pearls…”  It seems that pearls are “showing up on everything from shoes to wallpaper to chairs”  – and to fabric, as evidenced by my Italian silk charmeuse.  I am just “old-fashioned” enough to think that pearls are never not in style, but I must admit that even I was smitten with the unusual and modern approach of this fabric design.

Pearls required - WSJ article

Pearls are showing up everywhere, it seems.

So – how would this modern fabric look, made up in a mid-1970s’ wrap dress pattern?   I thought it would work quite well. But getting there turned out to be challenge.  Although I was lacking the classic Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress pattern that I envisioned for this dress (blogged about here), I thought I could piece together a 1976 Simplicity version and a new Vogue wrap dress pattern to achieve my goal.

This is the dress I wanted to recreate...

This is the dress I wanted to recreate…

The Simplicity "version" of the Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress.

The Simplicity “version” of the Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress.

Vogue 8784 diagrams

Vogue 8784 diagrams

Here’s what I did:

1) I decided to use the princess-seamed bodice back from the new Vogue pattern.

2) I re-cut the collar and the cuffs from the Simplicity pattern so that the points on them would not so extreme.

3) Because the ties on the Simplicity pattern were not attached to the dress (the tie was just like a very long separate sash) I used the ties from this DvF pattern, and attached them to the side seams.

Pearls required - DvF pattern

4) The missing sleeve pattern piece in the Simplicity pattern meant that I had to use the sleeve from the new Vogue pattern and basically redraft it, with an elbow dart, and with cuffs.  I also used Simon Henry’s book The Little Black Dress: How to make the perfect one for you as a reference.

Pearls required - LBD book

This is the wrap LBD dress featured in the book.

5) I ended up making two complete muslins and re-stitching one of those muslins, before I had a workable pattern.  All of this seemed to take forever!

When I finally cut out the black silk organza underlining, I was ready for a celebration, but of course, that would have been premature.  Although the design in the fashion fabric really could not be “matched”, I still had to respect the placement of the “clusters” as they would relate to the bodice.  (I did not want “clusters” at the apex of the bust darts, for example.)   And I felt like the “clusters” should be placed at equal distances from each other over the expanse of the dress, if possible.  After determining all this and  cutting out the fashion fabric, I finally got to sewing, which included lots of basting, catch-stitching all the seams to the underlining, understitching the collar by hand (which worked beautifully, for which I was very grateful!), setting in the sleeves, making the lining, etc., etc.

Here is the final placement of the fabric design on the front of the bodice . . .

Here is the final placement of the fabric design on the front of the bodice . . .

P is for pearl

. . . and here is the bodice back.

Understitching the collar created a slight under-curve which helps the collar lay flat.

Understitching the collar created a slight under-curve which helps the collar lay flat.

This boring view just shows the lining that was so tedious to attach!

This boring view just shows the lining that was so tedious to attach!

I made the mistake of making the cuffs before a final fitting of the sleeves. (I thought I was being smart and getting “prep” work done, but I just made more work for myself).  I ended up shortening the sleeves and enlargening the openings so that I would be able to push them up on my arms if I wanted to.  The cuffs I had made were not long enough to accommodate these adjustments, so back I went to cut and make new cuffs.  Fortunately I had just enough fabric to squeeze these out!

For buttons for the cuffs, I went to my button box and came up with this card:

The original price of these buttons was 10 cents.  I picked them up for 50 cents at some point.  It almost seemed a shame to cut them off of the card!

The original price of these buttons was 10 cents. I picked them up for 50 cents at some point. It almost seemed a shame to cut them off of the card!

Because I had reduced the points on the cuffs, I needed “not-too-big” buttons and these proved to be perfect, I thought, and in keeping with the “pearl” theme.

Here is one of the cuffs with buttons attached.

Here is one of the cuffs with buttons attached.

Working on the black fashion and lining fabrics was tedious.  And it seemed the more I worked on this dress, the more there was to do on it!  Kind of like eating a big bowl of pasta – the work seemed to multiply before my eyes.  Fast, easy, and jiffy this was not!  It’s times like this that being of a stubborn nature serves me well.  I persevered and got it done!  And even better, I am really happy with the results.

I will replace this photo with one of me in the dress as soon as I can!

Here is the dress on my new dress form . . .

. . . and here it is on ME!

. . . and here it is on ME!



P is for pearl

Now – two more “P” words.  I have “P”romised myself that my next “P”roject will be simple.  Maybe a blouse – or even a blanket?


Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, couture construction, Little Black Dress, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s, Wrap dresses

Cookie Cutter Fashion

One thing that might get me out of the sewing room and into the kitchen is the thought of making “fashionable” cookies.  It must be the thought of producing numerous Little Black Dresses in one day, or of attaching sugary flounces onto the skirts of many ball gowns, or dreaming of more shoes than I could possibly wear, that makes this activity so enticing.  Add the ambience of Paris to that – and suddenly baking is almost as much fun as sewing.

What suddenly took my thoughts away from sewing  – and to flour, sugar, butter and rolling pins?  An image of the newest cookie cutters from Ann Clark recently arrived in my Inbox – and among the offerings is this lovely ballgown:

Cookie cutter fashion - gown

I can’t wait to add it to my small collection of other fashionable cutters, shown here:

Cookie cutters

The Little Black Dress is a must for any dressmaker’s wardrobe – and kitchen:

LBD cookie cutter

The tags which come with the cutters are as charming as the cutters themselves! (All images copyright by Ann Clark Ltd.)

The tags which come with the cutters are as charming as the cutters themselves! (All images copyright by Ann Clark Ltd.)

Think of the possibilities for the High Heel Shoe: polka dots, sparkles, stripes, plain and simple or fancy evening slipper:

High heel cookie cutter

Cookie cutter fashion - shoe

And what fashionable kitchen is complete with out the Eiffel Tower for stylish ambience?

Eiffel Tower cookie cutter

Cookie cutter fashion - Paris Recipes are included with each cutter, although I always use a tried and true shortbread concoction  that never fails me.  The decorating is the fun part – probably because it is creative, like sewing.  (I am hoping that a “Kelly” handbag cookie cutter might be the next addition to Ann Clark’s selection!)

Now, to be a little more serious about fashion sewing . . .  I’ve added another “page” to my blog – Favorite Products and Resources  (see up top).  This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and I’ll add to it as I discover more treasures to share.

But – back to baking.  Should anyone be hosting a “Fashionable Feast,” I’ll bring dessert.  Cookies, of course!


Filed under Little Black Dress, Uncategorized