Wedding dress: constructing the lace overlay

This is the fourth post in a series about making my sister’s wedding separates, which were completed in mid-June. The next posts will cover the final dress and resources. 

Are you ready to talk lace??

From the very beginning, my sis had her heart set on the stuff. I think it’s gorgeous too, but I was apprehensive from a technical standpoint. This apprehension heightened as the wedding date loomed and I still hadn’t started. I kept chipping away at the bodice, telling myself that rushing wouldn’t make the lace any easier. When I was finally ready, there was a mere week and a day before the wedding.

I’d put out a cry for help from my friend Casey, who is not only a fashion designer but had worked in a bridal alterations job. He told me that lace is surprisingly easy to work with and that I’d be fine. I had no choice but to believe him.

He and Bee came over on a Friday night and we started draping. I’d bought 2 yards of 16″-ish wide alencon lace, which was heavy and corded, with dense motifs and a lovely scalloped edge. Since lace has no grain, our job was to position the motifs and the scalloped edges of the lace to get the look Bee wanted.

Image credit:
Image credit:

Casey suggested starting from the back, as it was the largest area to cover. We draped it with the scalloped edge perpendicular to the neck for visual effect, and marked the shoulder and arm scye locations with pins. At Casey’s suggestion, we labeled the pieces as they could quickly become indistinct from one another! | draping lace

Next, I had to cut off the piece we’d draped onto the back, which was nerve-wracking. Finding the right place to cut the lace was a fun brain-teaser, though, since it was corded and the motifs were large. | draping lace
Draped and labeled

On to the front; after testing the angle of the v-neck scallops with a longer piece of lace over Bee’s shoulders, we draped one scalloped edge to form half of the v-neck. Then, with a deep breath, I cut this shape out and we draped the final piece on the other side. Even though a big chunk of the lower back was missing and there was lots of overlap in the lower front, Casey assured me that it would be easy to add where I needed and cut out excess.

My take-away from this little lesson? Drape the sections that are large and/or visually impactful first, then fill in the rest with the leftovers. Also, consider buying lace in the same fashion one buys fabrics – get more if your lace has large motif.

When Bee came back the next morning, I overlapped and pinned the front and side pieces together at the shoulders, and pinned the back and front pieces onto the bodice. | sewing lace
Amorphous lace blob

Then begin the fun; I spent the next few days securing the lace to itself at the shoulders and to the bodice. It reminded me of sculpting in the earlier stages, removing excess to reveal a shape underneath, and collaging in later stages, adding little bits on top where necessary. I felt emboldened by Casey’s parting words of wisdom, that any area I really messed up could be solved with a lace patch sewn on top of it. | sewing lace
Many layers of lace at the shoulders

I appliqued the lace to the bodice by hand using fell stitches, and machine-stitched the free-standing shoulders with a zig-zag (per Susan Khalje’s suggestions in Bridal Couture, surprisingly invisible). I tried to bind any cording that I ended up having to cut. Any cording I’d had to cut (in spite of my best efforts to avoid that), I secured by hand to prevent unraveling.

Everything took a long time – I watched an entire dull but lengthy BBC period drama – but every step made the bodice look better than the last. It was as gratifying as sweeping or house-painting, both of which I love without reservation or sarcasm. | draping lace
Of course I tried it on!

I especially love how the lapped side closure and bodice hem turned out; I let the lace motifs end organically and didn’t worry about them going right up to the edge. The hem was hidden under the skirt and the side closure wasn’t very visible, but it was a fun and organic-looking finish. | sewing lace
Hem (right) and closure (left)

In spite of my absurd timeline, the lace and the entire wedding ensemble were finished with days to spare – no hurried or last-minute sewing, thank goodness, just many hours of slow sewing. I thanked my past self profusely for having the foresight to take the week off of work.

My one lace-covered regret is that I didn’t stitch in some ribbon to stabilize the shoulders. We used pieces of scalloped edge for the armholes, and by the end of the wedding, they were looking a little winged. Lace can have quite a bit of stretch due to the mesh. To his credit, Casey suggested some sort of binding or stabilization, but I was pretty much at my limit after I’d finished the lace and the lining. | sewing wedding separates
Finishing the bodice lining

With that, I’m done with my construction posts. Thank you to everybody who’s been following along; I’m so terribly excited to share the finished dress in the next post!


32 thoughts on “Wedding dress: constructing the lace overlay

  1. Amazing. You were so wise to take the time off work. I’m in awe of this dress and the work you have put into it… And I havent even seen it fully finished….can’t wait!!!!

  2. Lace is not so difficult as it seems! The scariest part is to make the first cut into it, and then everything becomes so natural 🙂 I can’t wait to see the dress!!!

    1. I was pleasantly surprised – working with it was the most fun part of the process! I’m lucky I had an expert to push me into the cutting because I definitely would have hesitated for longer.

  3. Fantastic! The neckline is gorgeous, and I really love how you lapped the lace over the zipper–so smart. Can’t wait to see the finished dress.

    1. Thanks, Lisa! I’m pretty sure I got that idea from somewhere, but I can’t remember where! The closure is actually hook and eye tape, and I’m pretty much in love with it. So sturdy!

  4. This was such a huge undertaking! Can’t wait to see the finished dress, and thanks for blogging it all so thoroughly – quite an undertaking in itself.

    1. My pleasure, Nina! Reading other people’s posts on how they sewed formal dresses were hugely important to me, so I tried to include as much detail as possible. I felt like the project wasn’t completely finished until I’d blogged about it!

  5. I made my wedding dress which had a little lace jacket and I TOTALLY agree with you about the sculpting/collage feel of it!! That’s a really fantastic metaphor for working with lace in this way.

  6. Looks beautiful! I made my wedding dress, which was also entirely lace, back in 2008. I also was so scared to work with it, but it was surprisingly easy to handle. I used the same method you’re describing here for my dress. I unfortunately was a bit behind and had to do some hand sewing the night before the wedding. And, the insides of the dress were not finished beautifully because I ran out of time (and figured no one but me would know about the guts of the dress!). Anyway, it looks awesome!

    1. Good for you! Having sewn a wedding dress for someone else has given me an increased amount of respect for someone who has sewn their own. I was busy enough sewing without planning a wedding! My friend Casey frequently compares bridal sewing to costume sewing – it just has to look good on the outside and not fall apart “on stage”. 😉

  7. Beautiful job thus far! I now really want to work with lace. I can’t imagine when I’ll have the occasion again though.

  8. I’m so proud of you! This came out spectacularly. I’m really happy to have been included in the process.

  9. Morgan, thanks for taking us on this journey with you. What a beautiful gift to your sister!! I’m awed by the amount of time and attention to detail that this took. And the end result is absolutely gorgeous :-).

    1. Thanks, Heather! I’m so glad it was easier than expected, because I would have been out of time if I’d run into difficulties. Kind of makes me shudder to think about!

  10. Wow! Your workmanship is amazing!!! I loved this window into the dressmaking process. I’m so glad that you had Casey’s moral support and knowledge to carry you to the finish line!

  11. You did a fantastic job! I remember the first wedding dress I made from scratch…. for my niece. The pattern picture was beautiful… and they found the exact lace that they had on the front of the pattern. Yep…. they found the lace for $80.00 a yard. But because the Fabric store was going outta business they marked everything down to 40% off and then since it was the last few days of the sale…. we got another like 20% off. Ended up being like $19.00 a yard and we only needed 1 1/2 yards. Amazing….it was the hardest thing I had ever done cutting into that lace. But she looked stunning. She has been married along time now and I still think about that first one. Funny cause I’ve sewn about 40 wedding dresses by now and altered tons of others including one that was so expensive that my dear hubby called the insurance man to make sure if anything happened while it was in our house that it would be covered! Lol…. keep up the good work! It’s always appreciated!

  12. I LOVE LOVE LOVE everything about this dress. And like a true creep I keep coming back to read your construction post again and again. (As much work as it was for you, the posts, all the steps, feel very relaxing to me, somehow.) So much patience, work and love and it really shows in the finished dress.

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