When Tessuti announced their most recent competition, the Cut Out Lace Sewing Competition, I looked at the fabric and knew that I would never sew it for myself. I don’t really wear lace, as much as I love it on other people. But I had a very strong suspicion that Clare would like a lace dress. There were three colour ways on offer – black, red and ivory. Clare chose ivory, and I ordered two panels. When it arrived and I opened the parcel all that I could think was “tablecloth”.
Now that I’ve said that, it’s all that you can see too, isn’t it! I had a dilemma – how was I going to best use this fabric in a way that it wouldn’t look like a tablecloth? I ran a few pattern options past Clare, and a few lining options, and in the end we decided to base her dress on view B of Simplicity 8086 with a contrasting taffeta lining.
So, the first challenge. This is a women’s pattern. Clare measured a 4 bust and an 8 waist. I didn’t care about the hip measurement as I knew it was a full skirt. I also checked front and back waist lengths, and shoulder width, and knew that I had some adjustments to make. I really would have made life easier for myself if I’d started with a girl’s pattern. I needed to focus on the bodice pieces. Firstly I graded between sizes where needed then did a SBA to remove the copious bust shaping. Then I cut a muslin from an old sheet and tried it on.
It was SO worth sewing the muslin. As you know, I’m not usually a muslin maker, but there are times when I can really see the value. I made some more alterations, sewed them, tried it on Clare again, then unpicked it completely and used it as the pattern to cut out the lace. Having sewn the muslin also meant that I had all the pattern pieces needed for the bodice, which made working out the lace placement more straightforward. Hooray!
See those instructions? They were basically gobbledygook, so I discarded them completely. I cut out the bodice overlay entirely from the lace. For the under bodice I cut the bodice waistband and lower back pieces from the lace and underlined them with taffeta. I cut the upper front and back bodice from the taffeta as well, then cut all the same pieces again to sew a full bodice lining. The taffeta is a copper colour, with red threads in one direction and green in the other. It has enough depth that the patterns on the lace really stand out, yet it blends fairly well with Clare’s skin tone beneath the looser overlay.
I sewed the overlay, the under bodice, and the lining separately. Then the fun began. I needed to join these pieces in a way that would fully enclose all the seam allowances. There was a lot of fiddling, a lot of pinning, and a lot of working in small spaces involved. I started by putting the overlay in place on top of the under bodice, then sewing the lining to it right sides together around the neckline. This seemed to work okay. Then I used the burrito method to sew one armhole, then the other. The overlay is joined at the neckline and armholes, but hangs free elsewhere. Once I’d done that, I needed to finish the edges of the upper back under bodice. Once again there was a fair bit of pinning and turning inside out. I’d left the waistline and centre back seams open so that I could manipulate the rest of the bodice. By taking things slow and steady, and thinking logically, I was able to complete the bodice other than the centre back seam. I knew that I wanted to leave it for the eventual insertion of an invisible zip.
The skirt width is the full length of two panels of the lace. I cut it as a long rectangle, without any shaping. I underlined it with the taffeta, hoping that the taffeta would add fullness to the pleats and prevent any show through of the seam allowance at the centre back skirt seam. This worked well. Pleat placement was a matter of trial and error. I spent some time manipulating the skirt fabric, measuring, pleating, pinning, unpinning, re-measuring, pinning, checking, and so on, until we had the pleats at a depth and distribution that was pleasing to the eye. The mirroring of the lace was really important here as well – some pleat depths looked better than others. Eventually the pleats were stitched in place, then the skirt attached to the bodice and the seam allowance edges overlocked together. There is quite a bit of bulk in that seam and we wanted it to sit as flat as possible from the outside of the dress.
After all of that it was a relatively simple matter of inserting an invisible zip at the centre back seam. The bulk at the waist seam made this a slightly delicate process, but once again patience was my friend. I sewed a button loop from embroidery thread at the centre back neckline, and covered a button with a flower from the lace, with taffeta underneath.
The last step was to sew the hem by simply turning the edge of the lace under and stitching it by machine. This just made it a little more substantial and helped with the skirt fullness.
This was one of those special sewing occasions where I turned the finished dress around the right way, gave it a shake, and felt a huge smile spread over my face. I just loved it! Then I called Clare – and she had entirely the same reaction. And once she tried it on? Just beautiful. I know that I am biased – she’s my daughter, after all – but I think that this dress is absolutely perfect for her.
We had an absolute ball doing a photo shoot down at the local creek. We managed to get some lovely photos in the natural environment, as well as some at the industrial estate nearby. That green wall is an auto body repairers, and the grey wall belongs to a funeral director!
So now I’ll subject you all to yet more of the photos that I took – because I found it incredibly difficult to narrow down which ones to enter in the competition. There is a week or so left before the competition closes, and there are already a number of stunning entries. I don’t expect to win the competition, but as far as Clare and I are concerned, this dress already takes first prize.
You can follow the entries for the competition on Tessuti’s Pinterest board here.