• Garment Sewing,  Sewing

    I Made My Wedding Dress, Part 2: Lace Couture Techniques

    how to sew lace for a wedding dress

    In Part 1, I talked about the fun parts of making my wedding dress: brainstorming designs and choosing a lace (aka fabric shopping). Welcome to Part 2: this is where the WORK happens. But first, let’s talk timeline.

    We got engaged in February 2019. I’ve actually always wanted a fall wedding, so we considered a wedding in Fall 2019, but that would have been pretty tight – especially with long-distance planning and, you know, making my dress. So we scheduled our wedding for May 2020. 

    Somehow, February through December 2019 went by with very little dress progress. I know my mom was getting nervous! There were always more urgent wedding planning tasks to do, like finding and reserving vendors while they still had our date available, and our marriage preparation classes and retreat with the church. (Catholic marriage preparation is AWESOME, by the way. It’s mandatory, so it sounds like a chore to some people, but it was hugely beneficial for us to answer some tough questions before combining our lives.) We also moved! I had wanted to wait until we were married to move in together, but once we were engaged for a few months it was the right time for us – especially because, with a combined household, we could afford to live at the beach. Can’t pass that up.

    By the time I had made my muslin and had my lace in hand, it was January 2020: four months to go.

    sewing my wedding dress

    Of course – spoilers! – we all know what 2020 would hold. But it sure felt like nothing could get in the way of our May wedding, and I had a lot of dress to make. I spent most of my free time in January-March 2020 sewing away on my lace overlay. I used what I call a “lace invisible seam”. It’s a couture technique to sew lace seams without straight line seam allowances, because any seam allowance will show through the translucent fabric. Was it necessary? No. Was it worth it? I really think so. But it did, absolutely, take a lot more time and effort.

    This post on Instructables (Step 10) explained the invisible seams in a way that I could wrap my head around. First, you mark the pattern lines on the lace by running a contrast-color basting stitch along each stitch line. Then you line up the stitching lines, overlapping the pieces. Finally, you cut along the edge of the lace motif and stitch it in place.

    handmade diy wedding dress
    Laying out the skirt fabric to sew it together using the lace invisible seam method, then marking the seam lines with blue thread

    Of course, I immediately made this more difficult for myself because my lace had a border, and I wanted to use that border as the bottom hem of my dress. I took my skirt pattern pieces and stitched them together at the hem, then laid them out on the table, above. Next, I placed my lace on top, and lined up the lace border with the bottom hem edge of the pattern pieces. Then I started the invisible lace method by marking each seam line with a line of blue thread. This just marks the lace, it doesn’t actually sew anything together.

    Once each seam line was basted, I cut between the panels, taking a meandering path around the motifs. Then I overlapped my blue thread seam lines and had to decide what motifs to sew down, and what to trim away.

    Illustration: pink is cutting path, yellow arrows show direction of overlap. Click for larger image.

    Here’s a maybe helpful, but still confusing, picture of how this worked. The pink squiggly lines are an approximation of where I cut. And then the yellow arrows show which direction I overlapped the fabrics. Once I overlapped them, I sewed on top of the motifs that followed the pink squiggly line, and trimmed away any excess material on the back so the lace was back to being just one layer thick.

    how to sew lace for a wedding dress
    Lace cut around motifs, pinned in place with purple marker to indicate stitch path

    It’s hard to show in a photo, but above you can see one example. I’d already trimmed around the leaves of the overlapping piece. Then I pinned them in place, with the blue threads overlapping, and then I marked with the purple marker (disappearing ink! of course) everywhere I wanted to sew. That way, when I sat at the machine, I wouldn’t get lost in a sea of lace… I just had to follow my purple marker.

    Here are the things I found to be essential for sewing the invisible lace seam.

    1. Disappearing ink marking pen: Dritz Mark-B-Gone. I use this pen all the time. It has two ends: the blue end disappears in water, but the purple end disappears magically with AIR. The one downside is that sometimes I mark something with the purple ink, and then don’t work on it right away… and it disappears so I have to mark it again. It usually lasts a few days, but sometimes depending on the humidity or the fabric type, it will disappear in a few hours. Of course, ALWAYS test something like this before marking your fabric. But I found that it disappeared from the lace without issue, so I was able to pin my fabric and then mark the path through the lace that I wanted to sew. Otherwise I would have gotten lost every time I took my fabric over to the machine.
    2. Free-Motion Quilting foot that jumps: I bought this 3-pack. My machine came with an FMQ foot, but it doesn’t jump. The jumping FMQ foot has a little bar that rests on the needle bar, so when the needle is up, the foot is up, but when the needle is down, the foot is down. This makes the fabric easy to manipulate, especially since the lace varies so much in thickness. With the “jump”, the presser foot is only applying pressure when you need it, and it leaves you to move the fabric freely in between stitches.
    3. Small, sharp needle. I don’t change needles nearly as often as I should, but for sewing the lace I changed my needle often. Since I was sewing through thick layers of embroidered thread, my needle would snag occasionally and cause my thread to get all looped up, and then I had to stop and deal with the tangled thread. It was much smoother when I changed my needle more regularly – I probably still only used 4 needles.
    4. Sharp, skinny pins: Dritz Glasshead Pins. I love these glass head pins, they’re extra long and they’re very sharp and narrow. Just like with the needle, their sharp point and narrow shaft was able to pin the lace in places where a different pin may have snagged. I also used my Clover Flower Head Pins, especially to pin the lace to my dressform.
    5. Sharp, tiny scissors. You may be noticing a trend with this list. Sharp tools were KEY, because the fabric was delicate, so a dull tool would have caused awful snags. I used my Gingher thread snips for trimming all of the lace contours. I tried my small Kai snips, which I love for everything else, but they have a square end and weren’t as effective at maneuvering in the tight spaces.

    Here’s a video I made of sewing the lace layers. You can see how my Free Motion Quilting foot is jumping up and down. You can also see that I pinned like CRAZY, and I was sewing over my disappearing purple-pen lines. The video is at 8x speed, so you can imagine that each seam took… a while.

    It was tedious but it was also satisfying. Especially since my lace was just an embroidered mesh, my stitching lines blended in easily. I had a few sections on the skirt where there were no motifs, so I couldn’t avoid sewing just mesh-to-mesh. This means I do have a few tiny segments that have a visible seam with a seam allowance, but they are not noticeable.

    Six slow seams later, I had a skirt. I left the center back seam open until later. But this was a big moment. I could finally tell that I really liked my lace, and I really liked the direction my dress was headed. It was a slow project, with so much uncertainty and so much pressure. So this moment was a beautiful chance for me to step back and acknowledge that yes: I was making the dress I wanted to make.

    Let me give a quick shoutout here to my dressform’s dress: this is the bridesmaid dress I wore in my Matron of Honor’s wedding. It was the perfect under-layer for my dressform because it fit me very well, and it wasn’t white so I could see the overlaps in my white mesh fabric as I worked. I sewed a marking knot at the belly button of the blue dress, and a corresponding marking knot on the belly button of my lace piece, to make sure I lined up the fabric in the same way every time.

    As you saw above, I had used my skirt pattern as the guideline for the lace seams on the skirt. But once I got to the bodice, I didn’t use the pattern anymore – I think that would have been more difficult and less reliable. I was sufficiently comfortable with the “seams anywhere” approach that I realized I’d rather drape the fabric directly over my dressform for a perfect fit. Plus, that way I could make sure all the motifs were where I wanted them. I wanted a lot of leaves and the smaller flowers around my neckline.

    • how to sew lace for a wedding dress
    • how to sew lace for a wedding dress
    • how to sew lace for a wedding dress
    • how to sew lace for a wedding dress

    Here’s an example. I held up the lace to figure out approximate motif placement, then pinned it in place just like before: lots and lots of pins, with purple marking my stitch path. Obviously the fitted bodice curves were a lot tighter than the relatively straight lines of the skirt, so this was harder to contour and sew.

    And then… March 2020 arrived. In mid-March I sent an email to my bridesmaids saying, “it sounds like this Coronavirus thing is getting to be a big deal. We’ll see what happens, but right now we’re planning to get married as long as they’ll let us.”

    Literally hours later, our venue cancelled the reception and the church said they would only allow ceremonies with 10 total people inside the church. So unless one of my brothers was ready to take our pictures, and the other could binge a 6-week organist crash course, we’d have a very quiet, undocumented ceremony. Without my matron of honor, without David’s best man, without a party.

    It was hard. We were so ready to get married. But at the time, COVID-19 felt like such a temporary problem. I couldn’t bear the thought of going forward with a slapdash ceremony just to “get it over with”. I was still so hopeful that we could have a wedding with “our people” there, and that was worth waiting for.

    So we waited.

    We cancelled what we could, and we were very fortunate compared to many other wedding planning couples I’ve talked to. Our venue returned our full deposit, and we kept most of our vendors on hold and on alert.

    Maybe I should have kept working on my dress. But I had no deadline, and I wasn’t even sure what kind of wedding to look forward to. So I put the dress in a drawer, and took a big break, and made a big, gorgeous quilt.

    Don’t worry, I won’t make you wait months like my dress did. I’ll be back later this week with plenty more dress construction photos!

    This is the second post in my “I Made My Wedding Dress” series.

  • Garment Sewing,  Sewing

    I Made My Wedding Dress, Part 1: Inspiration and Design

    handmade wedding dress lace fabric

    I MADE MY WEDDING DRESS. It feels so good to finally get to say that sentence. Especially in the past tense. It’s been four months and I’m still filled with relief that I’m not working on my wedding dress anymore.

    I worked on my dress for a long, long time, and I kept it a surprise – not just from David, but from EVERYONE. It was a long and lonely road, so I’m excited to finally share pictures of the progress – and, of course, the finished product – here on the blog over the next few weeks. Today, I’m starting with the inspiration and design.

    Everyone always says, “oh, girls grow up dreaming about their wedding day,” but I was never one of those girls. Yes, I knew I wanted to get married, but I always daydreamed about the guy, not the day. (i think this is probably a good thing). If I thought about it, I figured I’d make my dress, because that’s what I do. But that didn’t mean I had any idea what I wanted my dress to look like!

    Why did I make my own wedding dress?

    Like I said, it’s what I do. It’s sort of a silly answer, but the primary reason I made my dress is that I would regret it if I didn’t. I only get one wedding, and one wedding dress, and I knew that wearing a dress I made would be very special. I knew this was one of the details of The Day that mattered to me most.

    I didn’t know what I wanted it to look like, but I did know what I didn’t want. I didn’t want sparkles or sequins. I didn’t want strapless and I especially didn’t want cleavage (not that I really have that option anyway). Already you can see that I’ve narrowed my way out of 90% of a standard bridal store selection, so it’s fortunate I decided on the handmade route.

    One thing I did want was lace. So much lace!

    With my list of “don’t want”s, you can imagine my reaction to most celebrity wedding dresses. But one day, pre-engagement, I came across Pippa Middleton’s wedding dress and thought, “wow. I would like to wear something like that”. It was my first anchor of inspiration, and it’s still the closest dress to what I was going for. I also loved everything about the wedding photo on the far right, taken by @lextakepics_, our engagement photographer. Her dress and look were slightly casual in a way that resonated with me (not to mention… succulent flower crown?!).

    I made an enormous Pinterest board filled with more lace dresses, some of which I even pinned to remind myself what I didn’t like. The beginning of this project was so overwhelming. I knew some of what I wanted, but not everything. I wanted to make it up as I went, but I was obviously on a deadline, and any fabric in these quantities gets expensive fast. And I was just so worried I’d make it all the way to the end and not like the finished product. What a stressful journey!

    There were lots of moments when I got stuck worrying about my design decisions. With every project, I always have to remind myself that it’s better to just make it, just try it, than worry about it. Even with a deadline… if I start, and don’t like it, I might be able to change it. But if I just worry, and don’t start, I lose the chance for redos.

    So I began with patterns.

    handmade wedding dress patterns

    I found Vogue 1484 and initially thought it was perfect. The lines were just like Pippa’s dress: cap sleeves, lace overlay, just remove the collar and lengthen the skirt and we’re set. I even had my mom cut the pattern out for me to get me started! (thanks mama!) And then I realized I didn’t want a lace shoulder seam… and the bodice wasn’t made to hold itself up… and it wasn’t a lace overlay, it was a separate piece. Too many seams. Back to the start.

    I pulled patterns from my stash to start a muslin, and cut the skirt from Simplicity 8384 in my lining fabric. It probably seems like an odd choice, but the skirt had the princess lines that I was looking for. Then I stole the strapless bodice from Simplicity 4070, made some fitting adjustments, and merged them together. Finally: I had a pattern for the solid part of my dress.

    handmade wedding dress skirt muslin

    It was a little silly because I could have just used a dress pattern with long princess seams. But I also always have to do a lot of bust adjustment on princess seams, so in some ways this was easier because I wasn’t messing with the entire length of the seam yet. All I can say is: this is what I did and it worked for me.

    handmade wedding dress muslin
    I mean, look: it’s practically done.
    cutting out my handmade wedding dress

    Cutting those long, long seams was crazy! I butted my cutting mats against each other so I could use my rotary cutter for everything but the gap. Sewing a wedding dress was so. much. work. Every seam was so long, and all that fabric got heavy. The sheer size of the project meant that each step took a lot longer than expected.

    Choosing a silhouette and corresponding pattern was one big decision that shaped the outcome of the dress. The other big decision was, of course, LACE. I combed fabric sites and Etsy. I had hopes that my trip to India might yield wedding dress fabric (and it’s probably good that it didn’t, because my suitcases were already full).

    I didn’t want sequins or beads, but I also didn’t want anything too antiquey. I visited a few stores around Miami, and it was good practice to hold up the various fabrics because there were a few that I really liked, but then I held them up in front of a mirror and… I looked like a tablecloth.

    This is where I deviated from Pippa Middleton, and it’s mostly because I was petrified of looking like a tablecloth.

    handmade wedding dress lace fabric

    I found this lace, that’s actually just embroidered netting so it has better drape than true woven lace (and it’s much cheaper). This was the winner because it has some big flowers, some small flowers, and lots of leaves. I love that it incorporates leaves alongside the flowers! That’s unusual for bridal lace and felt very “me”.

    Dealing with lace in a couture way was entirely new to me and I learned so much! Get ready, because next week’s post will have a LOT of lace pictures.

    This is the first post in my “I Made My Wedding Dress” series.