Black Only

It’s really been a busy fall.  My girls have had a great new opportunity this year to participate in a hand bells choir through the Rochester Area Homeschool organization.  I love the fact that music is a part of everyday life in my home, and the girls have been excited about being part of a hand bell choir that is large enough to cover four and one-half octaves.  They have a great teacher, Mrs. Lytle, who calls them to the challenge of playing well.  They also love the opportunity to spend four hours each Monday afternoon with other musicians of their age.

The dress requirement was to wear only black.  I’m told this was the tradition for musicians; the idea being that the players are in the background.  The bells and the music is in the foreground. (I welcome any thoughts from the historians out there. I found an interesting post on the traditions of the Symphony in Black and White here.)

So we were inspired.  I decided to make a smocked silk dress for Rachel, who is nine years old. The smocking had to be subtle. It could not include beading, which would interfere with the bells.


I purchased the silk charmeuse through Ginny’s Fine Fabric in Rochester, Minnesota. I learned that working with black silk floss on black silk can be a challenge for the eyesight. The best time for this task was during the top of the day, in the best natural light. (Possibly I need to look into a natural light setup for my home!) The sleeves are silk chiffon with a band of charmeuse, and the tie for the back is silk organza.

I tried my hand at hand made buttonholes using Wendy Schoen’s instructions. This also required good natural light. I spent about three hours working the button holes while waiting at the girls’ final hand bells practice before their grand performance with four vocal choirs a few weeks ago.

Hannah and Lydia created their sleeveless dresses. (Hannah is wearing a cashmere sweater in this picture, since it was cold in the building where the concert was held.) Hannah’s dress has a fitted bodice with darts and an A-line skirt, and it’s also made of silk charmeuse.


Lydia created her dress from a Vogue pattern. Lydia’s dress includes princess seams on the bodice and gores on the skirt. The fabric is double sided silk satin purchased from Thai Silks. It has a dropped waist and a lovely belt that we found at Ginny’s Fine Fabric.


Madeline’s dress is also sleeveless. The bodice has princess seams, and the skirt is an A-line. It’s made of a cotton and silk fabric recommended by Ginny as a good “playful” fabric as a alternative to charmeuse. It is not a blend, but it is cotton on one side and silk on the other. Her dress is lined with Bemberg fabric, a cellulose fabric that breathes.


We had a great time with this project. There are so many lessons that the girls learned in project planning, working hard to do a good job and get the job done in time. I am proud of my girls. I’m also thankful for Ginny at Ginny’s Fine Fabric. She was willing to answer the questions I asked via email and phone for reassurance. We also visited her the day before the concert for a “second eye” on our work. She is always willing to share her experience and wisdom. I’m also thankful for my friends Patty, Sandra and Lynn, who also were willing to give their opinions on techniques as we worked along on this project.

Now the girls have a “formal” dress that can be worn for future bells performances, of which they have a lineup this year, as well as piano recitals. They have plans to add sashes of color or other accents for other occasions. It’s a dress that will be suitable for all seasons and should last.


2 thoughts on “Black Only

  1. Thanks, Alison. It took me a while to figure out what you were referring to. That’s hilarious. No, that is part of the nursery furniture where Rachel ‘hung out’ for 1/2 hour before the hand bells performance. I apologize that my pictures are so poor. I’m hoping to improve my photography abilities with a better digital camera after the holidays. I’m told product photography is far more difficult than taking people shots, and black silk dresses are even more difficult. Back to the 1/2 hour, you might relate. I was terrified that Rachel would snag her new dress during that time in the nursery. I also have a picture of her sitting on a “springy horse”. I was sure she’d get herself caught up on some toy in the nursery. I told her it was her evening to “be a lady”!

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