The Little Black Dress

Like many people’s, my wardrobe is almost always filled to its limits, which led me to the logical conclusion that I’ve kept myself well-supplied in the clothing department. A recent invitation to a pre-wedding cocktail party, however, drove home the realization that I lacked one wardrobe staple— the Little Black Dress. The magnitude of this omission was highlighted by comments from both my husband and male coworker to the effect of “I thought every woman owns a LBD!” Chagrined, I decided it was high time to remedy the situation (with one week to spare before the party).

I turned to Vogue 8766 for my pattern, which I had already fitted with tips from Craftsy’s “Sew the Perfect Fit” class. (The fitting process had led me to the surprising realization that my cross-back width is a little wider than standard, which finally explained why I look terrible in cap sleeves). I decided to make View D (a straight tank dress) in a black lace fabric underlined in gunmetal grey polyester lining fabric. I found a lovely Ralph Lauren lace sample remnant in my local fabric store for the fashion fabric.

Fortunately, I fit the standard smallest size of the pattern fairly well. The adjustments I made to the pattern were to extend the shoulder seams, lower the front waist darts by about ½” and let out each waist dart by about 1/16” each, as the allowance for the zipper had been a bit tight at the waist (with 4 darts in the bodice, this amounts to an increase of ½” in circumference). I also used a ¾” allowance for the center back zipper at the top, and tapered to a standard 5/8” at the waist, since the back neckline had gaped in a previous version. Finally, I used a 3/8” allowance for the neckline, rather than the recommended 5/8”, as the neckline had looked scandalously low.

I gave myself an additional challenge with this dress, which was to cut the hem-line to exactly the right length. I decided to use the selvedge of the fashion fabric as the hem, as it had a very pretty scalloped edge that I wanted to retain. I typically cut skirts and pants extra-long, and adjust the hemline in the final step of the construction process, so I found the pressure of getting it perfect at the outset a bit overwhelming. I couldn’t bring myself to cut the lining to perfection as well, so I allowed extra length in that, and adjusted it after construction. In retrospect, I should have cut the lining and hemmed it to the exact length at the beginning, because I ended up with a slightly awkward transition between the underlined portion and the unlined lace hem.

The dress was completed in 5 days, working about 2 hours a day. I cut the pattern pieces on Day 1 (cut on the cross-grain, as I wanted to use the selvedge as the skirt hem). Day 2 involved sewing all the darts, 10 total. Day 3 was spent on sewing the waist seams and installing the zipper. I ignored the pattern instruction’s advice on construction, and sewed the waist seams first. I installed an invisible zipper after the bodice and skirt back pieces were attached. The invisible zipper turned out to be not-so-invisible, as my plastic invisible zipper foot was unhappy navigating the lumpy lace fabric. I plan to go back and hand-pick the zipper in place, but for now I decided to look the other way. On Day 4, I sewed the side seams. I prefer to sew side seams last, as these are the best regions for making last-minute adjustments. I let out the seams at the hip by about 1/8” (1/2” all round) for wearing ease, but otherwise did not need other adjustments. Day 5 was spent on finishing the lining hem and weaving in all loose threads, which always takes far longer than I anticipate. Normally I make self-bound or French seams, but I left these as is. I may go back and finish them if the fraying lining becomes a nuisance. Here’s the finished result, for a grand total of $17:



And here’s an identical dress (only lacking the underlining around the neck and shoulders), which I saw this afternoon in the store, for $258.

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