Evening Wear, Lace

Three Gowns; One Pattern

Don’t we all love a pattern that fits perfectly and can be modified in multiple ways. I created this gown for a client last year. The dress worked so well she requested more variations. This one was done with French ribbon lace and a full circle skirt of silk tulle.


For the second version I fashioned the bodice from an Oscar de la Renta guipure lace and paired it with silk velvet A-line skirt. The black fox collar and cuffs are vintage and were restyled to fit the gown.
complete gown 2complete gown 1



The bodice lace (from Mood Fabrics) worked better cut crossgrain as the pattern could be cut attractively at the waist seam. I’ve shown it here running lengthwise. By rotating the bodice pattern 90 degrees, I was able to use the leaf pattern as an edging.

Oscar Lace

The lace was backed with black silk organza and black silk crepe de chine formed a built in strapless slip. The lace edge was flipped up out of the way, waistline seam sewn and then the edge tacked down to the velvet skirt.

Lace Overlayfront bodice

The lace was positioned as not to interfere with the side seam. Silk velvet is tricky to sew and will shift all over the place if you don’t baste. I find diagonal basting holds it firm.

invisible zipSide Seam

Vintage fox collar and cuffs were trimmed to size, backed with grosgrain ribbon, and attached with snaps. I found holding the fur out of the way by placing it at the edge of my work surface saved many frustrating thread tangles.

fur snaps

The third version required extending the bodice a few inches below the waist. For this I used a wonderful Armani stretch satin from B&J Fabrics. The lace is from Mood. If you happen to shop for lace in Mood, Carman is wonderful to work with and knows every piece of lace in her department. The skirt is a simple flared shape cut from 4 ply silk crepe.

white bodice layoutthread tracing

The bodice needed some sort of interfacing and I found Pro Tricot from Fashion Sewing Supply a wonderful product. I was skeptical about fusing a stretch fabric but the interfacing stretches and worked beautifully. I’ve thread traced the seam lines with silk thread. The armhole was cut wider at the shoulder as we were considering an extended shoulder line like a small cap sleeve, but would up just trimming the armhole at the natural shoulder line.

The heavy guipure lace had a shiny finish on the right side. I reminded me of patent leather. I planned to cut out motifs and arrange them in mirrored pairs on the bodice. Rather than cut and try to match individual pieces, I arranged the lace right sides together and shifted it around until the pattern on both layers matched. Pin together and then cut out the motifs as matched pairs.

lace pairs

I cut varying size and shaped motifs to form the pattern I had in mind. Now for hours of hand sewing as every motif was stitched in place. I made a wonderful pressing tool which is a bag of heavy muslin filled with sand. Press the appliqued sections wrong side up and the lace will sink into the sand and prevent you from pressing the lace flat and damaging the effect.

b&w gown armholessandbag

The bottom edge of the bodice faced with silk organza. The first fitting on the dress form showed the bodice hem flared out a bit to much; easily corrected at this stage.

b&w gown bodice hemb&w gown 1

An invisible zip closed the back. How to insert a white zip into black fabric? I hand sew the zippers as I have much more control that way. Press the coils of the zipper open and sew with a backstitch just inside the zipper coil. Hand stitching allows you to vary the stitch distance from the zipper coil. If you’ve ever sewn a zipper into a garment where the thickness if one section is substantially different from another, you know that the zipper often refuses to jump over the hump. I’ve stitched just slightly further away from the coil at this point to allow the zipper to close smoothly. Notice also I switch from black to white thread. A tiny bit of zipper tape shows but it’s preferable to the zip not closing or breaking. Some might prefer a lapped zipper application, but I like the clean line of an invisible zipper. A ribbon waist stay is added.

zip black to whiteb&w waist stay



The white zipper is well concealed. I waited until the zipper was installed before sewing the last bits of lace motifs in place so they would match perfectly at the back.

b&w gown back

b&w gown finished


Beach Chic Update

I totally agree with those of you who commented that you would like better pics. Unfortunately all of my photos from the evening were underexposed and not worth using. Hubby agreed to do another photo shoot so hopefully these are better. I find the photos the hardest part of doing this blog.

I also left out a few details in the previous post. I had originally intended to use Vogue 1460 as the bodice. I liked the drapey cowl neck and slight blousing at the waist.

Vogue 1460 1460 Flat

I had planned to cut the sleeves off but the muslin toile just didn’t work. The neckline just didn’t work and I could never get the sleeve/armhole to work. I will give it another try but decided to go another direction for this dress. I had already cut the bodice pieces from silk and hadn’t enough fabric to ditch them. Time for a different style; a simple sleeveless with lowered neckline would work. The back was cut on the straight grain but the front was bias. That worked fine until I got to the bust darts. If you’ve ever tried to sew darts on bias, especially on silk, they are a nightmare. The solution was to sew them by hand with a tiny running stitch and ease the fabric until it was flat.

Bust Dart

The tiny piping stabilized neck and armholes and will prevent them from stretching out of shape. It also adds a nice custom finish to the edges. The lining was understitched by hand to keep it from peeking out.

Piping w understitching

Front and back views; no selfies!

Front View

Back View

The back drapes softly and is left open. Self stick bra cups work great or you could close up the back seam to hide a bra. Please excuse all the wrinkles; I didn’t iron before the reshoot.



What to Wear to a Beach Chic Wedding

What is your interpretation of “beach chic” attire? This was for a very casual beach front wedding. If you google the term “beach chic” the attire most often suggested for women is a long sundress.

I had fabric purchased at Mood last summer in the stash. It was a silk crepe de chine panel print. Very interesting but would definitely require some creative cutting to make the most of the design. I had two panels and planned to use one for a long wrap skirt and the second for the bodice and trim.

Silk Panel

Skirt draping started first. I have a professional style dress form which has been padded to my size. I find the effort spent constructing this saves so much time that I can’t imagine working without it now. The process I used is detailed in my post on April 25, 2014. How time consuming to drape and fit a design only to need to make alterations because the dress form is shaped differently than your body.

I basted a lightweight silk/cotton batiste to the silk and thread traced a reference line for the hip. Start at the left side which will be the skirt underlap and work around to the right side seam. At this point, just get the hip aligned; don’t worry about the waist shaping.

Begin DrapingContinue Draping

When you reach the right side seam, smooth the fabric downwards from the waist, which will drop the reference line. My post on November 3, 2015 also gives an explanation of how to drape this style of pleated skirt.

Right Front Drape

Form the first pleat. Second and third pleats are formed.

First PleatSecond PleatThird Pleat

Shape the back darts, pin in place and thread trace. Thread trace the waistline. I’ve also placed a thread mark at the center back line

Back Darts PinnedThread Trace Waist 2


Next you want to accurately mark the front waist and the pleat shaping. I pin a narrow ribbon around the waistline. Remove the skirt from the form, being careful to keep everything pinned in place.

Front WaistRemove Front Waist

Now I cut the waistline seam leaving a 1 inch seam allowance.

Trim Front Waist

I wanted the front overlap to gently curve from the hem to waist. An easy way to experiment with possible shapes is to use a length of leaded drapery weight. It is easily shaped yet is heavy enough to stay in place while you cut.

Drapery Weight

Front Curve

I had considered a lapped closure but as the bodice and skirt were attached the easiest solution was to insert a zip at the center back. How to do this with no back seam? I found inspiration from Valentino. Here is a center back invisible zip with a contrast satin welt.


Why not turn this into a design detail? Construct it like a narrow welt pocket.

Zip 2Zip 1
The bodice was a simple scoop neck with tiny piping at the neck and armholes. It was cut on the bias so the design is shifted 45 degrees from the skirt.  I left the center back seam open to the waist so ties at the back neck were in order. I used thin drapery pull cord; measured the amount needed for the neck edge and added about 15 inches to each end for the ties. The ends were done first, cording removed from inside and then a bias strip covered the center portion. The bodice was lined to the edge with the same lightweight silk/cotton and fell stitched to the piping seam line.

Cording 1Cording 2Cording 3Piping


Finished 1Finished 2

I must also mention that in addition to his medical practice, my husband decided to become a licensed U.S. Coast Guard captain,  which gives him the authority to officiate at weddings. We are close friends with the bride and groom and they were thrilled to have him conduct the ceremony.



French Jackets

The Chanel Shoulder

One of my latest projects has been to reshape the shoulder line on two Chanel jackets for a client. These are not couture but from the Chanel RTW line. Chanel does produce some of the very best RTW clothing and many of the techniques can be incorporated in home sewing. The first jacket was long, almost a coat. I’m not sure who they intended this coat to fit, but the sleeves were inordinately long. There is a white cotton cuff, attached by tiny buttons, which gives the illusion of a tailored shirt underneath. I’m fairly tall with longish arms so imagine how this looks on a petite figure! Also notice how the plaid matching is slightly off from sleeve to jacket body.

The sleeves needed to be shortened by a whopping 5.5 inches. In addition the shoulder was too wide and needed 3/4 of an inch removed and 5 inches of width removed from the body.

The width alterations needed to be done at the side back seam as that was the only seam without pockets or vent. Chanel leaves wonderfully wide seams in both the outer garment and lining. 3/4 inch or 2 cm. seems to be standard. Notice the hand sewn hem. Chanel also finishes each garment piece by individually overlocking so that taking in or letting out seams is a dream.

The sleeves needed to be shortened from the top down, leaving the working sleeve vent intact. My method is to remove the sleeves and open all seams except in the area of the sleeve vent. I certainly didn’t want to redo that detail! Trace off the sleeve patterns without seam allowances.

The completed sleeve pattern needed to be narrowed by 2 inches at the bicep, tapering to 1/2 inch at the hem. I slit the pattern and removed the excess width.

Place the altered pattern down the required length to be removed and recut the sleeve. I thread traced the new seam lines.

Notice that Chanel presses the center 3 inches (1 and 1/2 inches each side of center) open. The remainder of the seam is pressed towards the sleeve. The blue thread is my mark for the amount to narrow the shoulder when the sleeve is reinserted. I use Japanese basting cotton as it has some texture and tends not to pull out during construction.

Here is a second jacket getting similar treatment of narrowing the shoulders.

Notice the little shoulder pad with built in shape for the sleeve head. Here is my pattern for making these. I make my own shoulder pads and find them far superior to purchased ones, not to mention being almost free.
I posted two variations of shoulder pads Chanel uses in RTW on November 18, 2014. One of my readers, olden bears, kindly sent me pdf files for these and I’m inserting the link in case you want those patterns.

Shoulder Pad Pattern

This post has been edited to link to a pdf pattern. Click on the above link and the pattern should open in pdf format.
(I’ve scanned the new pattern but don’t have software to convert to pdf. I think if you open the picture and print, scaling to 8.5 x 11 paper it should be close to size. The size isn’t too critical and you can add or subtract according to your shoulder length.)

Here is the pattern for another shoulder pad with a built-in sleeve head.

Shoulder Pad Pattern
For each shoulder pad you will need to cut pieces 1 and 2 twice, piece 3 once and 4 once. Piece 4 is optional. Use it if you want an additional layer for more lift in the pad. Butt the edges together and sew. I use a three step zig-zag stitch.


You will have two (or three) dish shaped pieces. If using piece 4, place inside the sewn outer layer sections; Place piece 3 on top and pin the layers together.

Baste through all layers. I just discovered the basting stitch on my Bernina. Maybe I should read the manual. Your machine may have a similar stitch. Loosen the tension so you don’t wind up with a puckered mess like this.

Fit the pad over a tailors ham and steam heavily to set the shape. Let the shoulder pad dry before removing from the ham.

Completed jacket with a beautifully shaped and supported sleeve cap. I was also able to get a better pattern match between jacket body and sleeve.


Draping an Asymmetric Skirt

One of my blogging buddies, Kate at Fabrickated, has been exploring the world of garment draping. She has several recent posts documenting her experiences and produced some lovely draped skirts. Head over to her site for some inspiration. Her latest post deals with an asymmetric pleated skirt drape, not the easiest thing to tackle. I’ve done this a few times and offered to post a pictorial of the steps I take when doing this type of garment.

Judging from the directions Kate was given, I suspect her instructor is referencing a text “Draping: Art and Craftsmanship in Fashion Design” by Annette Duburg. It is sold on Amazon for an exorbitant price and was (as I understand) out of print for awhile. Fortunately it is now available at the Center For Pattern Design in St. Helena, CA. Latest price when I checked was $60. It’s not a beginner book but will push those with some experience to a new level.

This is a detailed post with many photos but I wanted to err on the side of too much information rather than too little. Draping is more technical than just wrapping the muslin around a dress form and this might shed some light for those of you who want to give it a go.

You will need a dress form. The closer your form is to your (or person you are doing this for) size, the less fiddling you will need to do with the finished pattern. A professional form is ideal. If yours is the adjustable kind it will have gaps and knobs, so cover it with a tight tee (or two) so you have a somewhat solid surface to pin into. I’m working on a professional form which I have padded to my exact size and covered it with a tight linen cover that mimics my shape. Permanent  lines mark center front, back, bust and hip. These serve as points of reference during the draping process.

Choose a fabric which has similar weight and drape to your finished garment. You don’t want to drape in heavy canvas or a slinky sheer. A solid light color is best as a print will be distracting and prevent you from seeing the style lines clearly.

TEAR, don’t cut, a length of muslin the guesstimated skirt length plus 60 cm (about 23 inches). This is overly generous but what Kate was given in her directions, so I won’t confuse the issue. I used 150 cm (60 inch) wide muslin, which is what is called for in Duburg’s book. The book has five photos of the process and assumes you are quite experienced so this will be a much more detailed explanation.

Lay your muslin out flat and mark a line 50 cm (20 inches) in from the left side along the lengthwise grain. I like to do this in a dotted red line to distinguish the fabric grain from subsequent markings. The light colored muslin allows me to see the dress form lines through the fabric. Leave about 15 cm above the waist and pin the muslin to the center front at the waist and bottom of form. Keep the grain line straight.


Closeup of my grain line marking:


Starting at the center front hip line, gently smooth the fabric along the hip line towards the right side seam.


Smooth the fabric around and pin at the waist on the right side.

You will have fullness at the waist. This would be converted into a waist dart on a straight skirt but I don’t want a dart on this draped panel, so we’re going to transfer this excess fabric to another location. If you’ve ever studied dart manipulation, you know that fitting darts can’t be taken out but they can be moved.

Working diagonally from the center front hip towards the waist side seam, smooth the fabric. You will be able to remove some, but not all of the excess fullness. Don’t pull or stretch the fabric, just gently smooth it with your hand. Re pin the side seam.


Now work from the right hip diagonally up towards the center front smoothing out the remaining fullness. Remove the pin at the center front waist and allow the center grain line to move to the left. Don’t get right and left confused here. When I refer to right or left, I’m talking about the FORM’S right or left side. Pin along the waist from center front to right side seam.


You will now see some fullness along the left waist. We are going to incorporate this into soft pleating.


The fabric is tight above the waist and I like to clip it, relieving the tension. Be careful not to clip into the seam. I fold the fabric towards me along the seam line, insert sharp scissors not quite to the fold and clip. No risk of clipping too far that way.

Form the first pleat: Decide where you would like the uppermost pleat to lie. I wanted it to run diagonally across the abdomen from the left side to just above the hip on the right side. I find it easiest to visualize it as a big dart. Place your left hand at the dart point and hold the bulk of fabric on the form’s left side in your right hand. Lift the fabric and allow a soft pleat to form.


Adjust the depth of the fold. I have about 2.5-3.0 cm takeup. The depth of the fold is your choice but this seems like a good amount, not too shallow so it looks unintentional and not so deep you are dealing with unwanted volume. Pin through all layers at the waist seam. Repeat the process for the next pleat. I offset the pleats from each other at the waist so they don’t stack up one on top of another. You may need to play with holding the fabric away from the form and letting it fall into a soft fold a few times before getting a pleasing look. Don’t rush. Get each one right before going on. It is much harder to come back and adjust after you have pleats on top of more pleats. Let the fabric fall as it wants. An important part of successful draping is to let the fabric tell you what it wants to do. Don’t force it.

Repeat for a third pleat.


Notice how the red grain line is drifting all over the place. This is supposed to happen. Having it marked in red and being able to see the black CF line on the form is helpful so you understand exactly how this grain line is shifting.

I think three pleats here are enough and now I’ll shift the pleat direction and allow them to fall more along the side seam.


These pleats are formed exactly the same way. Decide where you want the pleat to fall, how full it should be, hold the fabric up with your right hand and let it fall into a soft pleat. Pin at the waist and repeat two more times.



Happy with the look. If not, unpin back as far as needed and try again. Nothing has been yet cut so you are free to do this until you are satisfied. Be aware of how much fabric overlap you are creating. This pleating resulted in 13 layers of fabric so be sure the fabric you are planning to use is thin enough so multiple layers won’t be a problem. I would use a fairly lightweight fabric for this design and even so, it’s going to need some serious pressing to get a smooth waistline seam.

Now you need to mark all the design and seam lines so this design can be laid flat, cut and put back together. A professional form will have slightly raised side seams so you can feel them through the fabric. Mark along the right side seam line.


Also mark the hipline and new center front. I mark seam lines in black and balance lines (that’s the hip and CF) in blue. Tie a length of elastic around the waist and carefully draw the waist seam.



Trim the excess fabric. I leave a 2 cm seam. Make sure all your pleats are laying nice and flat; mark and cut the seam carefully. You’ll need the resulting odd shaped edge to re-position your pleats. I have also placed a little mark about where I want the curved edge of the skirt to end.The reason for marking this will become clear when we remove the fabric from the form. Mark the hem. Also I placed pins in the approximate place where I want to trim the left side.


Mark each pleat carefully. I have marked all the pleat fold lines in green and drawn arrows to indicate what folds where.




Starting with the last pleat you formed, work backwards marking each pleat and removing pins as you go. I like to mark almost the entire length of the folds; it makes it easier for me to see exactly where I want each pleat placed when I return this to the dress form.


Remove the fabric from the form and re-pin all the pleats. Lay it flat on your work table and mark the new center front line. Also drop the right side seam to the hem, tapering slightly if desired.


Remove all the pins from the pleats and lay the fabric flat. I now want to cut a smooth curve along the left edge. Using a drafting curve create a smooth curve from the hem up to the mark I previously placed at the left side seam. The mark was to ensure that the pleat underlay was covered by the last fold.


Finished drape. The irregular edge is your guide to reforming the pleats so be sure to cut it accurately when you cut your fashion fabric.


Return the section to the dress form and pin in place. Check that everything lines up and you are happy with the final look.


I decided to create a steeper curve along the left edge.



The remainder of the skirt is draped as a simple straight or pencil skirt starting at the right side seam, around the back, past the left side seam to the center front. Don’t forget that this still needs to be sewn up and fitted on the wearer’s body. The closer the form is to the body shape, the less altering will be required. If you decide to do much draping, then a form which mimics your body will save hours of work.

I hope this has made the draping process clearer. There are many ways to approach draping but the more you do it the faster and more adept you will become. It will also give you a clearer understanding of with fabric will and won’t do and you will be better able to judge if a particular fabric will work in the design you have chosen. Have fun!


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


French Chantilly Lace/ Layout and Pattern Matching

This strapless cocktail dress presented some interesting construction and layout techniques unique to lace. The hem is lower in the back and so the usual way of laying out a skirt with the hem following the finished lace edge doesn’t work here. Also the neckline is edged with a scalloped border. The right and left sides are mirror imaged. Picky details but never seen outside of couture workmanship.

I start a project like this by studying the lace pattern carefully and noting where and how the motifs repeat. This lace is a fine French Chantilly with a double galloon edge, meaning there are scallops on both edges.
The lace is laid out with a scalloped edge running the length of my long cutting table. This shows the pattern repeating vertically every 11 inches. Note the top of the swirl at the end of the ruler and again at the 11 inch mark. Also notice that the same swirl is reversed at 5.5 inches. If you’ve ever worked with upholstery/drapery fabrics you’re familiar with the term “half drop match.” The pattern repeats in some form halfway between the full match.

Probably the easiest way to illustrate the entire dress layout is this:

Starting with the corrected toile, position the front piece at the far right hand edge with the hem along the scalloped edge. You will have already determined the finished length. I also trimmed the scalloped edge along the entire length, cutting around the motifs. Since back hem was longer than the front, the other pattern sections were moved upwards a full pattern repeat. The waistline was used as a reference point and was also positioned parallel to the lower edge. Now for the interesting part.

At the half drop line (halfway between pattern repeats) the pattern mirror imaged. On this diagram I’ve illustrated this with red C’s. Notice how the C’s flip. The easiest way to get perfect matching is to cut the left (or right side) first, flip the lace piece and lay it down matching the pattern motifs.
Perfectly mirrored back sections.
My muslin toile is folded or cut along the seam line, so matching is easy. I fold the seam allowances under and check that the seam doesn’t fall along an unwanted pattern placement. Here I will shift the piece over to avoid a prominent double “fern leaf like pattern” along the seam line.
The dress is constructed of silk crepe de chine with silk organza underlining. The lace is backed with a layer of silk tulle. That means the dress has four layers: Chantilly lace, silk tulle, crepe de chine and silk organza. They are basted together, seams lines thread traced, and then treated as one layer. I frequently use silk tulle as backing for lace. It’s wonderful to work with and almost adheres itself to the lace. I think it softens the contrast between the lace and silk underlayers.
Silk tulle comes in black, white and ivory but I’ve successfully dyed it when needed. Nylon tulle is NOT the same. Unlike silk tulle, the nylon version fights you all the way. It doesn’t behave and insists on doing its own thing.
Some advocate using silk organza as backing for lace, but I find it too opaque and doesn’t produce the effect I want. Here is the Chantilly lace with no underlay, silk tulle, and organza.
Try different materials under your lace and see which produces the effect you like.

Sew major seams through all layers. I hem the crepe de chine/organza layer before finishing the seams. Working with only the lace layer, hand applique the hem border following the motifs. I found silk thread blended in best.

Lace for hem edge trimmed along motifs:


Trim away the excess lace underneath the appliqued edge and tack it to the silk tulle.
The neckline trim is done the same way except trim closer to the scallops so the trim is narrower and follows the shaped edge easier.
The lining is the same crepe de chine. I fused a high quality weft interfacing to the hip line and added boning for support. This will be worn over a foundation garment, so heavy boning wasn’t needed. A ribbon waistband keeps the dress in place and prevents it from slipping down.

Perfectly matched seam with invisible zip.
If you noticed at the beginning of this post, the photo of the front neck shows the center front as about 3/8 inch off center. This was done to correct for one hip being lower than the other. The toile had a definite right and left side. The pattern pieces are shaped differently but the garment looks symmetrical when worn. The dress form was wearing bust pads and a spandex tank; explains the strange undergarments.

Wedding Gowns

The Wedding Gown: Creating the Understructure

Although wedding gowns can look complicated, the basic lines are often fairly simple. For this dress McCall’s M4776 (not sure if it’s still in print but there are loads of similar patterns) provided a starting point.

I find it easier to create the understructure of the gown first. That way you can have it on the dress form and get a clear idea of how the dress will actually look. The fullness also dramatically affects the hem length. I used only the four main pieces and created the boned corslet and petticoat from them.
Master Pattern
Here is an illustration of the basic pattern with my additions. The corslet pattern is shown in red. It extends 4 inches down from the waist and will be sewn with slightly (about 1/16 inch) larger seams as it needs to be skin tight. For fitting I copied the corslet shape in cotton drill fabric and padded a dress form ( the junky adjustable kind) to mimic the bride’s shape. Since this dress is only fitted through the upper bodice, no need for a fully fitted custom shape.

I used white cotton coutil. If you’ve never used this before it works wonderfully for a tight fitting support garment. It presses easily and flexes just enough to mold to the body. It’s sturdy and heavy enough to support the boning which will be added to each seam. The cotton fiber is also cooler to wear than a synthetic. The boning channels are sewn along each seam and at center front. Flexible steel bones will be inserted into the back and side seams; spiral steel into the princess seams over the bust and center front. The gown flares out below the waist so I decided to end the boning at the waist. Since this bride is not full busted, I’ll decide whether or not the bodice needs additional boning after a fitting. The waist has been thread traced to use as a reference during fitting and also as a guide for the ribbon waistband which will hold this whole thing up.
Rather than make or buy a separate petticoat I chose to integrate one into the dress so it could hang from below the waist. The pattern for this was drafted 4 inches lower than the waist (it will ultimately be stitched to the bottom of the corslet) and two inches narrower at the bottom than the outer skirt. It is about 5 inches shorter than the finished hem. The petticoat is shown in green. By removing two inches from each skirt seam I decreased the circumference 28 inches to allow for the petticoat ruffles.

The petticoat skirt was cut from satin faced silk organza. It’s stiff enough to hold the shape without being heavy. Two lower layers of stiff nylon netting were gathered and sewn to the petticoat base. I cut the netting 30 inches wide and folded it lengthwise (no scratchy exposed edges) and gathered it  4:1. An easy way to keep the gathering even is to mark every 18 inches on the netting. Zigzag over a length of heavy thread and pull up gathers so every mark is 4.5 inches apart. The two ruffles were attached along the dotted purple lines.

To soften the outer petticoat layer I used soft nylon tulle and gathered it 10:1. It was attached along the uppermost purple line. Two inch wide nylon horsehair braid keeps the hem of the organza layer full.  3/4 inch horsehair braid is topstitched along the top edges of the lower ruffles. If you want to keep your sanity while sewing this, leave the center back seam open so the piece can lay flat. Close it and lap the ends of the tulle and braid as a last step.

A closer view of the underskirt layers.
Here is the muslin toile draped over the underlayer. Notice how I’ve made a slight adjustment to the side seams under the arm. The neckline has also been shaped. Having a muslin also allows me to determine a final hem length, play with bustling options and minimizes handling the silk outer fabrics.

I keep the corslet and petticoat separate as long as possible. The corslet will be sewn into the finished gown first. The petticoat layer will be hand sewn into the dress once all else is complete; SO much easier than wrestling with mountains of poufy fabric at the machine.

Next step is construction of the outer silk gown!


Vogue 1440 Finished

I hate having unfinished projects cluttering up the workspace, so before getting to work on the bridal gown, I needed to finish Vogue 1440.  I left off with a fitted shell but no sleeves. I have given up on the sleeve shape of most patterns and find I get much better results with my own draft.

The cap has less ease in the back and more rounded at the front to accommodate the ball of the shoulder. I also raised the underarm and decreased the overall width.
Here is the muslin showing that most of the easing is in the front.
I also shaved an inch and a half off the collar width
The sleeve was stretched and steamed into shape.
before setting the sleeve, snug the back of the armhole which creates a pocket for the shoulder blade.
The collar back was too floppy and benefited from a felt collar stand. This was interfaced with hair canvas, pad stitched and applied to the collar back.
To maintain the soft drape of the front I stay stitched 3/4 inch from the edge and fringed the cut edge.
Most trims are far too stiff and would have destroyed the drape of the front section. Black chenille yarn was soft enough to apply to both front and back sides without altering the drape of the wool boucle. I chose to omit the seam piping. The boucle is underlined with silk organza and lined with silk crepe de chine.

Wedding Gowns

Follow the Birth of a Custom Wedding Gown

I have an exciting project in the works and finally have enough pics to share it. I’m creating a gown for a July wedding and will be posting the progress, both as a record for myself as well as a memento for the bride.

The focal point of this gown is absolutely spectacular handmade Point de Venise lace which has spent the last couple of months in Connecticut being cleaned. Hard to believe this lace was created with a single needle and sewn entirely by hand. We were told by the restorers that the lace was likely made during the 1820’s!DSC_0572
Closeup of the detail
There are two matching pieces. One is rectangular with a scalloped border and the other this shape.
The dress will be a simple strapless gown with train which will be bustled up for the reception. The lace will be a separate top hemmed at the midriff with short sleeves. Buttons covered with dress fabric will close the top at center back. The fitting muslin with lace draped to approximate the top.
A gown with no embellishment calls for luxury fabrics. I met the bride and her mom at B&J Fabrics in NYC and set up a work station at one of the long tables overlooking 7th Ave. The window provided loads of natural light for color matching. Antique lace is never white and and we needed a LARGE selection of fabrics to choose from. The staff at B&J were incredibly helpful, pulling roll after roll of various shades of ivories. We finally decided on a wonderfully drapey 4 ply ivory silk crepe which will be underlined with white double faced silk charmeuse. The white underlining brightened up the ivory just enough to compliment the lace.
Fabrics 1
The lace will be backed with ivory silk tulle which will provide just enough stability for it to hold its shape nicely. The same silk tulle will be used for a short veil.
Fabrics 2
Veil 2
The first step is now to create the gown’s under structure of a boned corset and attached petticoat. I’ll tackle that in the next installment.