Working With Ribbon Lace

September and October were filled with nonstop sewing and I’m happy to have time now to get back to writing. Lace dominated and here is another gown created for the winter ballet and opera season in New York. My client is petite and has difficulty finding evening gowns that don’t overwhelm her slim shape. She spied this lace in my studio and we designed a gown to compliment her figure.


The underskirt is silk taffeta draped into a half-circle skirt. The pattern was split into thirds; two seams at side fronts and one seam at center back. Placing the grain line down the center of the skirt sections caused the skirt to drape evenly all around.
Taffeta Layout

The bodice lining and underlining were cut from silk crepe de chine. The underlayers ready for lace and tulle.
The bodice is a simple, waist length top, 3/4 length sleeves and opens down the center back. The lace is underlined with silk tulle. Seam lines thread traced with generous seam allowances. The pink thread is the original seam line; the blue is alterations after fitting.
Press the seams only within the seam allowance to avoid crushing the ribbon.
Trim lace seam allowances only, leaving the silk tulle wide enough to fold over twice and bind the seam edges.
The back closes with tiny buttons covered with the silk taffeta and elastic button looping. I use size 16 tufted-back button blanks and a Handy button press.



A narrow stand-up collar finishes the neck edge. The collar is crepe de chine and interfaced with medium weight iron-on weft interfacing. I wanted to use the scalloped lace edge along the top but felt  the scallops were too deep and extended too high along the neck.

DSC_0344 Problem solved by hand gathering the scallop tops to create a less pronounced curve.


The lace edge was then steamed to follow collar curve.


Completed lace collar is tacked on from the wrong side.


Completed collar.

DSC_0366 Looks good but I felt the neckline seam needed a little camouflage. A common technique in couture is to deconstruct and manipulate the fabric. I removed a long length of the ribbon from the lace, hand gathered the edges together to create a double sided band, and applied it over the neckline seam.


Here is a closeup of the additional ribbon along the seam.


Next was the tulle skirt. I used a soft finish silk tulle which would drape better than the stiffer version. Fortunately this stuff is available in extra wide widths so the skirt could be cut with only side seams. Using a circular skirt would also give fullness at the hem and allow the waistline to have a slimmer look. I felt a full, gathered skirt would overwhelm this figure.

This is the same design technique used for a bridal gown skirt, also for a slim, petite figure.

Kathleen GownBridal Gown Back

I cut four circles of silk tulle 98 inches in diameter. An inner circle with a diameter of about 4.25 inches created the waist seam. Two circles sewn together at the sides created the top tulle layer; the other two circles were for the under layer of tulle. Slit both layers along the center back for the zipper opening.

Tulle Skirt Layout

Baste the two layers of tulle together along the top edge. I had calculated the finished length of the gown before cutting but needed to allow for final tweaking of the length. The length was adjusted by raising the waistline seam, NOT recutting the bottom edge which would have been over 12 yards and taken forever! Notice I use safety pins for fitting to avoid snagging the delicate fabrics while getting the garment on and off.


The tulle is hand sewn to the base layer; lace bodice flipped down and tacked and bodice lining tacked along side seams and upper edges.

Finished Ribbon Gown

23 thoughts on “Working With Ribbon Lace”

  1. Hi there. Your work and patience for quality and doing things “the right way” are a breath of fresh air…so tired of fast fashion and poorly made garments…may I ask where you get your silk tulle from? am looking for a company with a steady supply, and ebay is unfortunately the only source I have found and not a great one…thanks for your time and keep up the amazing work!

    1. The most reliable source is B&J Fabrics in NYC. They always have silk tulle. Mood occasionally gets it. I enjoy sewing with quality fabrics and feel they deserve good workmanship. I’m with you about the overwhelming abundance of cheaply made garments.

  2. Hi Mary…another gorgeous creation ! Question, in adjusting the skirt length by raising the waist instead of trimming off the bottom would result in a wider circle at the waist. Did you accommodate that by a slight gather to draw it in ?

    1. Thank you. Yes, the waistline seam did get larger as I shortened the skirt but the tulle is so soft that it eases in without rippling. I planned for this at the cutting stage and left myself an inch leeway shorter or longer.

  3. Lovely photos and such a clever tip using the lace doubled as a camouflage. You make it so easy to follow along and see the gorgeous results! Once again you have produced a stunning one-of-a-kind ball gown!

  4. What lovely work. I especially like the neckline and the three quarter sleeves – the proportions work beautifully. Thank you for all the tips Mary – you are so skilled, and so very kind.

  5. Lovely gown!! I would love to wear something like this! When you mentioned a top and an underlayer of tulle, do you mean that one is under the one is under the taffeta skirt?

    1. Yes. The taffeta layer is the opaque layer and I referred to it as an underskirt. The tulle is sewn in two separate layers, joined at the waist. A lining wasn’t necessary in the skirt as the taffeta seams were overlocked.

Leave a Reply