Hot! The “Jingle Dress” Separates

I don’t know about you, but about once a year I get an idea for a project that I’m so excited about I can’t sleep.  It pops into my head fully realized and I know it will be special.  This is one of those projects.

Fabric: 1.5m black twill from Focus Fabrics, Cape Town = $7
Pattern: Skirt Simplicity 7216 = free (used 3 times already); belt and necklace freehand.
Year: Rift on traditional
Notions: Black bias strips = $5;  100 copper jingles = $20; zip = $1; leather thong = free / recycled.
Time to complete: Skirt = 3 hours; necklace = 15 minutes; belt = 7 hours??
First worn: Hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house, October 7th.
Wear again? Yes, separate and together!
Total price: $33

When I read that we were doing a Western Challenge, I knew that most of us would think “Cowgirl”, but I looked at it from a completely different perspective and thought “Cree (Plains Native)”.  The only time I’ve lived out west was way back in 1990, when I worked in Banff National Park.  I was close enough to Calgary to go enjoy the Stampede and the cowboy culture, but it left me a bit cold: a lot of city kids dressing up in hats and boots and riding mechanical bulls was not my cup of tea.  On the other hand, visiting Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo-Jump World Heritage Site and attending my first Powwow was much more fun.

The museum was designed by my favourite architect, Arthur Erickson. It blends so well into the surrounding escarpment that you don’t see it until you are almost right in front.

I loved the food (mmmm…fry bread), the displays, the drumming and the dancing.  Oooo, the dancing:  When the women get up in their jingle dresses and start slowly sidestepping, you hear a soft tinkle from the 1000s of jingles.  Then the music picks up and the dancing gets more vigorous, and the jingling turns to waves of crashing sound.  It’s mesmerizing.  (Put on this video if you haven’t seen this style of dancing before)  Like a little girl who sees her first princess gown, I just had to have a jingle dress.  Totally impractical.  Totally inappropriate.  Totally out of my sewing skill set.


  (all images taken from my Pinterest board Jingle dresses)

Fast forward 22 years and now thanks to the wonders of the internet, it took me about 30 seconds of googling to find out the traditional construction, sewing patterns, and where to buy a whole mess of jingles.  The jingles are traditionally made from tobacco tin lids, but because they’re getting harder to come by, and I didn’t want to spend all the time preparing the lids by hand, I ordered premade copper jingles.  There are many companies in the US selling jingles made of brass, copper, tin, gold, and silver, but due to customs problems I often encounter when ordering from the US, I went with this Canadian company and bought the smallest copper jingles.  A traditional dress should have 365 jingles, but at $17 + shipping and handling /100 pack, it would have cost me almost $100 for the jingles alone!  I figured that none of you would mind if I only used one pack, eh?

Threading the jingles took forevah!


I used my TNT Simplicity 7216 skirt pattern.  There isn’t much to say about this foundation piece, except isn’t it great when you find a pattern that works perfectly for you?!  It took me a bit longer than usual to sew this time because the twill has a slight stretch to it, and I had to fit it a bit, but nothing a bit of seam ripping while watching Project Runway couldn’t fix. The only thing I pondered was the colour to use for the belt.  While basic black would be dramatic, wouldn’t turquoise look beautiful against the copper?  I thought about it until FRIDAY NIGHT before I finally bit the bullet and started attaching them.  As Tim Gunn always says, “Go with your gut”.  My gut said black.

When you’re wearing jingles, you just can’t help dancing, despite the looks people give you.

Jumping is too much fun too. Jingle jingle jingle!

I had about 20 jingles left over after making the belt, and I let my kids play with them for a while.  But the more I looked at them nested together, the more I liked the pattern they formed.  It made me think of an oversized, segmented insect leg.  So once they were in bed, I looked through their treasure boxes and stole them all back, strung them on an old leather thong and tried it on.  Bingo: An adjustable bolero necklace.  I guess that’s my little touch of Cowboy style to go with the Native Indian outfit.

In the same way I use my African fabrics, I didn’t want to make something “tribal” looking that would turn culture into costume.  I didn’t want to make an authentic performance dress, but I did want to retain the spirit of the design.  It’s a fine line, and I hope I didn’t cross it.  I’m not Plains Native, so I wouldn’t feel right walking around in a full competition dress. (Like most Canadians whose family has been here for more than a couple of hundred years, I’m a typical hybrid: French, Belgian, English, Scottish, Irish, and Métis.  My husband’s family is English and Scottish, with a stopover in Zimbabwe; my sister’s fiancée is Jamaican, St. Lucian and Indian.  Our kids are everything.   I guess that means we don’t have a national costume.  Or if we did have one , it would be made up of little bits of everything.  Now THAT would be an interesting project to try, don’t you think?

Some of my favourite outtakes, including the classic “Photo taken by a 3 year old”, “Mouth full of crackers”, “Surprise!”, and “Trying to answer a riddle posed by an almost 7 year old”.


More background info on jingle dresses:



Vicki used to sew when she was young and free, but then raising young'uns and bringing home (some of) the bacon took up all her time. Now her closet is full of skinny clothes, maternity clothes and post-partum clothes, none of which fit properly. Maybe that's why she started sewing again in 2010.


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  1. What an interesting project! Your belt looks great!
    I am off to check out those background links…

    • I toyed with the idea of traditional construction (the jingles sewn directly to the garment), but I realized that I almost always have to wash my clothes after one wearing (little kids and a messy lab job), so the copper would oxidize too quickly. The separates was my way of dealing with the issue, but I tried on the belt with some of my dresses and it looks good that way too. Bonus.

  2. My hat off to you! That is a fabulous take on the Western theme. Those jingles are fabulous and yes, I’ve seen the actual dances. Thank you for giving us a more in-depth look at this amazing custom with links to boot! LOVE the outtake pics, maybe someday we should all do a post of outtakes : )

    • I’d love to be able to pull off a dress with 365 jingles, but I’m not quite ready to do that yet, although it would sound glorious.

      An all outtake post would be both hilarious and embarrassing: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! Prepare yourself next time around for The Most Awkward Post in Sew Weekly History! ;)

  3. I love this!! So chic and such a great interpretation of the theme! Well done. :)

    • Thanks Erin! I’d still love to make a dress completely covered in jingles (maybe for my daughter?), but I decided to go a bit more subdued for this project. We took these photos at the playground, and I certainly felt waaaaaay overdressed in this outfit. The sweatpants parents at the park were giving me plenty of strange looks, I tell you!

  4. I love this take on the western challenge! I think it’s a nice middle ground between being influenced by another culture and going all-out costume.
    I think I would go crazy stringing all those jingles.

    • It took a lot of trial and error before I found out that I could use my tube turning tool to string the jingles on to the bias tape. It seems obvious now, but I tried a few other ways unsuccessfully before I came up with that. Then the process sped up quite a bit!

  5. Oh, lovely! What a fantastic way to celebrate your time in Banff, and the dancers you saw there. There was a Powwow held at my university every spring, and I loved the jingle dancers. I think your skirt is a beautiful way to honour the dresses without verging into cultural appropriation.

    • I’m glad you got to see them way over there on the other side of the world. It’s quite a spectacle, isn’t it?!

      • It is fantastic! I went to university in California, so it wasn’t quite so far! I’m pretty sure there isn’t much in the way of Native American culture in NZ, though intriguingly, fry bread is a local specialty among some Maori families.

  6. wow, great idea. This turned out beautifully!

  7. What a great tribute and labor or love! I enjoyed reading your post, looking at the pics, and visiting the links. I think the black on black works really well. Great choice of patterns too. Do you really jingle when you walk?

    • These little 1″ jingles don’t make much sound unless I’m shaking it, as I am in the photo with my daughter. But I can’t help shaking it when I wear this!

      (speaking of shaking it, we just had an earthquake while I was typing. Minor; probably around 4, but still enough to rattle the bookcases!)

  8. That’s so brilliant Vicki, If you get bored of the black it wouldn’t be too trying to change it to turquoise.

    Or maybe buy the bigger ones as you say. You did a fine job of retaining the spirit of the design.

    I love that you stole them back from your kiddies to make the necktie. Hehe and thank you for the links.

    • Yeah, I’m that kind of Mom. If they notice, I’ll let them wear the necklace ;)
      I know that the next time I’m out west, I’m going to stock up on the big tin jingles for future projects.

  9. I want a jingle skirt! Clothes that make you want to dance – brilliant! And thank you for the fascinating background info.

    • Thanks Taracat. I’m glad you like the background info, because I think that it makes it so much more interesting; otherwise it’s just a fringed belt. I have to admit to swinging my hips a little bit more when I wore it, just to get some jingling going!

  10. Yet another post I’m having to bookmark to go and do more research/check out all the lovely links. Please can you do me a favour and stop being so darn interesting! I think you toed the ‘dangerous’ line of cultural appropriation just right…I sometimes feel sad that we’re afraid to try and use things we see of beauty and of interest for fear of upsetting others, but I’m sure when it’s done in moderation with careful thought on how to be respectful it’s a good thing. I would LOVE to see your ‘national costume’ combination one day. Hang on, what am I saying….no I wouldn’t that would be interesting and would cause me to bookmark yet another of your posts! Strike that thought (don’t strike that thought).