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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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b&w gown finished

Lace

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.

Ana

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.
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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.
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Press the seams only within the seam allowance to avoid crushing the ribbon.
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Trim lace seam allowances only, leaving the silk tulle wide enough to fold over twice and bind the seam edges.
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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.

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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.

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The lace edge was then steamed to follow collar curve.

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Completed lace collar is tacked on from the wrong side.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

Lace

French Chantilly Lace/ Layout and Pattern Matching

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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.
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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:

Layout
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.
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Perfectly mirrored back sections.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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:

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Trim away the excess lace underneath the appliqued edge and tack it to the silk tulle.
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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.
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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.
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Perfectly matched seam with invisible zip.
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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.

couture sewing

Luxury Lingerie

I am on a ready-to wear fast for 2015, (hosted by Goodbye Valentino) participating in another year of refraining from buying manufactured clothing. Although underwear is allowed, I delved into the world of luxury lingerie.

Carine Gilson creates the most exquisite lingerie in Belgium. Pieces are made one at a time by artisans with prices to match. The Carine Gilson site has a button on the right for either French or English. Look under the “News” section and on the far right will be a video of her working in the atelier.

The line can be purchased at Nancy Meyer or you can just drool over the selections. Purchasing these creations would probably blow anyone’s clothing budget for years.

My first clone is a simple bias cut chemise which can be either a slip or nightgown. Bias techniques are from those used by Madeline Vionnet and explained in the book by Betty Kirk. The fabric is silk charmeuse and the lace is a French chantilly, both from B&J Fabrics.

Cut garment sections on the true bias allowing generous side seam allowances. The sections will stretch in length so don’t worry about extra at the hem. The side seams will narrow considerably, so allow at least 2 inches for seams.  I stay stitched the neck and armholes and draped on the dress form.

The secret to Voinnet’s garments holding their shape over the years was in allowing the bias to fully hang out before construction. She frequently weighted bias sections by hanging weights at intervals along the hem to accomplish this. I was concerned that the fabric might not hang evenly.  I created a weight which distributed the weight evenly along the bottom.

Take 1 inch bias tape and cut in about 18 inch lengths. Put two lengths together. Sew along the top edge. Sew along the middle. Then insert drapery weights along the bottom edge at both ends and about every 4 inches in-between. Slip a length of spiral steel boning in the bottom channel. I made 4 of these which will be enough to weight most garments.  The spiral steel distributes the weight evenly.

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Pin the weights along the hem. Allow to stretch for a day or two. You are encouraging the bias to fully stretch. As Voinnet said “the bias has done its work.”

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Difficult to see in the photo are silk thread tacks along the center front and back lines. This ensures that the bias stays centered on the form. Don’t be surprised when the right and left sides stretch differently and you wind up with a 3/4 inch seam on one side and 1/2 inch on the other. This is because the warp and weft threads have different tensions. Remember, couture sewing focuses on the stitching line, not the cut edge.

After your fabric has had a chance to stretch, baste the side seams and remove from the form. I used narrow French seams. Now the fun of embellishing with lace. I cut around the scalloped hem and medallions, allowing extra fabric. Stitching the lace is done with a zig-zag stitch, about 1.4mm wide and 0.8 mm long. I tried two methods. One is using the Bernina BSR foot which allows you to move the fabric in any direction since the feed dogs are lowered. You can also use any free motion technique. I also tried leaving the feed dogs up and stitching with an open toe foot. All methods worked well, so choose the one you are comfortable with. Trim the excess netting after stitching is completed. Dovo lace scissors have a nub on one blade and are wonderful for this. They allow you to slip the scissors under the lace without snagging. Notice how the lace pattern is mirrored at the neck line. I noticed this detail on most of the designs.

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Luxury at a fraction of the cost!