With the base of the top and the tulle skirt finished it was finally time to start on the decorations! The plan was to have a full lace bodice, some lace on the sheer overlay at the top, and if time permitted some lace motifs sprinkled on the skirt.
We bought two types of lace for this project, both with a tulle base. The first (left) was a little finer and thinner, the second (right) had some sparkle on it. The plan was to make the base of a lace overlay for the bodice out of the left fabric, and to use the individual motifs from both laces on top to create a denser, detailed lace overlay.
To make the lace overlay, I started with the pattern pieces for the bodice. The reason for making a lace overlay instead of just flatlining the lace to the original bodice patterns is to avoid any visible seams in the lace. In this lace overlay, the pattern pieces are cut so that all lace motifs were kept intact. Whenever the motif overlays where the seam needs to be, it will be cut out around the edges and placed on top of the panel next to it so that the original seamlines meet. When the seam lies in a place without a motif there will be a 5mm overlap between the pieces of tulle base. This is then sewn down by hand, around the edge of the motifs, and any tulle underneath a motif going over a seam is cut away from underneath after. This basically creates an invisible seam except where it’s just tulle, which will be covered later.
I have very little pictures of actually sewing the panels together, but below is one. You can see how the pins sort of follow the shape of the one lace motif, which is placed over the other side. This was then stitched by hand all the way around the lace. Time consuming, but definitely worth it for the effect!
When I finished the base of the lace overlay in this way, I put it on the dress on my dress form to have a look. The lace placement was intentionally picked to not be symmetrical. On the back, I ended up with just the little leaf of one motif on one side of the base of the bodice, and the rest of the motif on top. I left this in initially because cutting it out would remove a little piece from the lace base. In the end, both the bride and me actually really liked how this motif looked on the sheer overlay of the back, so we kept it in!
The next step was to cut out lace. A lot of it. I cut out both the bigger motifs, and little pieces from the borders of the lace for some diversity in size and shape. I used a small scissor for this, and a lot of tv watching was done in the meantime, and for a while my room was full of little tulle scraps…
When I had a good collection of lace bits, we had another fitting to try out how we wanted to place the lace on the bodice. Below you see two versions we tried. The right side of the bodice (left picture) is a bit less densely covered in lace than the left side (right picture). In the end, we ended up deciding to have the top half more like the right picture (less dense), and the bottom a little more like the left picture (denser). This actually gives a nice balance. You can see the neckline a bit through the lace at the top, but the edge of the bodice is completely hidden at the bottom. When placing the lace, I played around a bit to get it to hide all the seams in the tulle, not be symmetrical, but still feel balanced.
And then I could go back to stitching! All the little lace pieces (you can see from the pins a little bit how many there were) were stitched on the lace overlay by hand one by one, all the way around the edge. Again, this was some work, but it’s really the only way to give this a nice invisible finish. The lace which would lie on top of the side seam I actually left pinned and not sewed on for this stage. Because we started the bodice quite far in advance, we wanted to be able to do a final fitting closer to the wedding date. Not stitching on the lace on the side seam meant it would be much easier to take in the side seam later if necessary without having to unpick all of the lace bits first, or stitching over them.
Then it was time for the lace on the top half! Again, I used little lace cut outs, and played around with it. I ended up with a bit of the illusion of straps on the front out of little flowers, and a larger motif on each side on the back. This too took some pinning and re-pinning to design as I didn’t want symmetry, but it still needed to feel the same on both sides. Once these bits were pinned in place, I sewed on the lace overlay along the top and bottom edge of the bodice base, and then all the little lace pieces at the top over it one by one.
With the lace on, it really started to look finished, and I could finally work on closures. We’d been fitting with a canvas strip with lacing eyelets I was pinning into the back temporarily (with a red ribbon, because that’s what I happened to have laying around). I played around with the eyelets first, because I wanted to see what different sizes would do when placed on top of the lace, which is not quite flat. Both the 5mm and 4mm eyelets worked, so I let the bride pick a size, who went with the 4mm. I used prym two-piece 4mm silver eyelets for this. I’ve used one-piece before, and those tend to split, leaving sharp edges on the inside. That’s definitely not what you want, so the two-piece ones are much better. The 4mm ones have a little bit of an edge on the inside, but after trying it on this wasn’t feelable for the bride, so we ended up not placing anything underneath.
For the lacing, I used a white organza ribbon. I really love how this works very well with the lace an tulle of the dress. The dress criss-cross laces with this ribbon. As you can see, there’s a bone in the center back (sewn into the bodice base) which keeps the lacing straight. It was designed to have a small V shape when laced closed.
Then it was time to turn to the skirt! For the skirt, I cut out all remaining ‘smaller’ motifs on the softer lace, and sprinkled them around the skirt. Then I sewed them onto the top tulle layer, again by hand all the way around the edge, using an embroidery hoop to make sure it would lay nicely on the tulle layer.
This is one of the few things that I timed doing. Sewing on one motif took about 1 hour, and the skirt has 18 of them.
The very final step was to do the final fitting! At this step, I did indeed end up taking in the sides just a smidge to ensure a snug fit. I removed the bone casing from the side seam, sewed a new seam in the base layers only, re-trimmed the seam allowances and sewed on the boning channel again. Then I put a very small fold in the base layer of the lace overlay on top of this, to also take out the width in that layer. The lace motifs which I hadn’t sewed on yet were then pinned and sewed on top of that little fold. This way, it’s nearly impossible to tell it has been taken in a little bit!
And then she was, really, finally, done! I finished a couple of weeks before the wedding, after starting almost 10 months earlier. I really loved making this dress, and although I’m glad to free up some time for other sewing again, this was a very special project to work on. I learned so much, was able to make something that actually looks pretty inside and out, and take my time to do things well. And it was really lovely to make something for something that would mean so much to them.
Stay tuned for finished full reveal pictures in the next post!