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DIY LBD: How to Sew a Dress that Fits You Perfectly

In 1926, Coco Chanel introduced the world to the "little black dress," also known as the "LBD." Now, 89 years later, it's a timeless staple in women's wardrobes. Chanel wore her LBD with cuffs and several strands of pearls. Pair yours with a statement necklace, conversation-starting earrings, or a simple red lip for instant oomph! Here's how to sew a dress you'll want to wear always.
little-black-dress-illustration-2-1015.jpg (skyword:191150)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

This project is from my book "Sew Fab: Sewing and Style for Young Fashionistas." I absolutely love a little black dress! This classic closet essential can be worn over and over in different variations -- it's forever chic. I was inspired to include this LBD because it is fun to wear and easy to sew once you create the pattern. I recommend using an inexpensive fabric the first time you make this dress to get the correct fit. Muslin is a good example. With the holidays right around the corner, you'll want to start now. It is "sew" perfect for an artsy party.

Materials

  • Sewing basket (your usual tools and supplies)
  • 2-2 1/2 yards of a lightweight woven fabric like broadcloth, chambray, cotton or linen
  • 1 yard of 1-inch ribbon for straps (you can also make them from the scraps of your fabric)
  • 1/2 yard of iron-on interfacing
  • 7-inch zipper
  • Newspaper or pattern paper
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Trims (optional)
  • Notebook for writing measurements and project details
little-black-dress-10-1015.jpg (skyword:191152)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

Make the Bodice Pattern

Draw your pattern. For the bodice, measure around your bust in inches and complete this sum:

_____ /4=_____
+ 1/4 inch= _____

 

Now measure from your underarm to your high waist (the area right under your ribs).

 

Cut a rectangle of newspaper that is the length of the first answer multiplied by 2, and the width of the second answer. Fold one corner on a slight diagonal (A). This is the front of your bodice.

 

Measure and cut a piece of newspaper that is the width of the folded side (A to B) and the length of your second answer. This is the back of your bodice.

Make the skirt pattern

For the skirt, measure around your high waist in inches, and use the measurement to complete this sum:

_____÷4 = _____

+ 5⁄8 inch = _____

 

Take a piece of newspaper and use your tape measure to measure your waist answer along the top edge. Draw a mark here and then fold the paper at a slight angle as shown.

little-black-dress-materials-1015.jpg (skyword:191153)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

Cut the fabric

Use your patterns to pin and cut the pieces of your dress. You will need to cut:

  • 2 x bodice front (one piece will be used as lining). Be sure to cut these on the fold of the fabric.
  • 4 x bodice back (two pieces will be used as lining). These will be cut into individual pieces.
  • 1 x bodice front in interfacing.
  • 2 x bodice back in interfacing.
  • 4 x skirt pieces front and back (tip: cut the front piece on the fold of your fabric to avoid having a center seam).

Please note: The seam allowance for this sewing project is 5/8 inch.

little-black-dress-9-1015.jpg (skyword:191154)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

Add interfacing

Press (iron) the interfacing onto the wrong side of the lining of the bodice.

little-black-dress-7-1015.jpg (skyword:191157)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

Pin!

You will need to pin your bodice and skirt pieces together. For the bodice, pin the sides, right side facing, of the bodice back and the bodice front, matching up the corners.

little-black-dress-8-1015.jpg (skyword:191158)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

For the skirt, pin two panels, matching up corners D and E (from diagram up above). Repeat.

little-black-dress-6-1015.jpg (skyword:191159)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

Attach the straps

Sew the sides of the bodice on each set. Try on the bodice and use chalk to mark the position of the straps. They should be evenly spaced. Ask someone to pin the ribbons in place for the straps while you check the fit. Cut to the correct length and use a running stitch to baste in place.

little-black-dress-5-1015.jpg (skyword:191160)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

Sew the Bodice

Stack the sewn bodice panels, with right sides facing, matching up the side seams and keeping the straps hidden. Pin. Sew along the top edge. Turn right side out, revealing the straps, and press flat.

little-black-dress-4-1015.jpg (skyword:191161)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

Sew the skirt

Sew each set of two skirt panels together along the straight edges pinned in step 5. Leave one side open about 4 inches (10 cm) from the top. Now layer the two skirt pieces on top of each other, and pin and sew down the sides. Together, the panels create a skirt.

little-black-dress-3-1015.jpg (skyword:191162)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

Join the bodice and skirt

Pin the bodice to the skirt with right sides facing. You may need to gather the skirt. Sew around.

little-black-dress-2-1015.jpg (skyword:191163)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

Add a Zipper

Place the zipper neatly over the bodice opening, and the opening at the top of the skirt. Pin or tape and then hand or machine sew the zipper in place.

 

(Tip: If inserting a zipper is too daunting, it's inexpensive -- about $8 to $11 -- to have a tailor at the cleaners insert the zipper for you.)

little-black-dress-1-1015.jpg (skyword:191164)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

Hem and finish!

Try your dress on. Decide how long you would like the skirt to be, and trim any extra material. Next hem the skirt. Use your tape measure or seam gauge to help you turn under the raw edge. Pin and sew.

little-black-dress-illustration-1-1015.jpg (skyword:191171)
Illustration by Sabine Pieper

Your finished LBD is a blank canvas for embellishment! Add accents like a trim, topstitch, or belt loops, if you like. Or just add some killer accessories and call it a day! Now that you know the basics on how to sew a dress, you can even make a few and add a different detail to each.

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About the Author

Lesley Ware

Lesley Ware is a "Jill of many trades." She's an author, teacher, designer, art gallery co-owner, and former nonprofit program manager with an MPA. She is currently touring her first book, Sew Fab, and just finished writing her second -- Style File (published by London-Based Laurence King). When she's not writing, teaching, traveling or making things you'll likely find her with her...

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