Back in April of this year, a lovely lady named Ardith sent me a request through my website asking if I would be able to create a custom dress for her. She was looking for a special little dress to wear for her wedding, but not anything traditional as she is in her 70’s and was long past the fuss of anything traditional in that sense. She wanted an elegant and sophisticated little dress that she could wear again, something that would be flattering, feminine and comfortable for the ceremony.
She sent me some photos of the idea she was looking for: a knee length sheath dress with elbow length sleeves made in lace.
Of course, I was delighted that she requested my services and got started right away planning out her vision. We set up a consultation meeting, I pulled some pattern ideas and began to look for fabrics that would be suitable for the great little lace dress.
Being physically active with doing many outdoor activities like hiking and paddling (she is on a Dragon Boat racing team here in Portland, OR!), Ardith is in great shape and was very easy to find a pattern and fit it with very few adjustments.
As a usual part of my dressmaking process, we had our first fitting using the tissue paper of the pattern that I thought would be best for this garment. This tissue fitting I used a different pattern than what I ended up using, afterwards realizing that a dress without a waist seam would be best to no break up the lace design.
I searched around and found this New Look sewing pattern that I thought would be a good starting point for her dress. I did a tissue fitting as shown above, as well as a muslin toile to double check for fit which was a super quick session with Ardith and hence, I forgot to get photos of.
I felt this dress was a good match as it has fish eye darts and no waist seam so to have as little interruption to the lace design as possible, the front of the dress would be cut in one piece and the back in two for the zipper opening. The pattern came with elbow length sleeves which was perfect for what she was looking for.
Even better, I had used this same pattern previously to make a dress for myself so I was familiar with the steps to create a lovely little lace sheath dress!
I love how this dress turned out in lace for myself using the same pattern.
It happened to be that I was planning a trip to Los Angeles, CA with my husband soon after I met Ardith. We were going to visit his son who lived there, plus the fashion district in LA has plenty of fabric stores to find whatever fabric you could ever dream of.
When it was time to go fabric shopping, I took along my notebook where I had jotted down ideas on what Ardith wanted in her dress, plus a swatch of fabric in a color she liked. She wanted a lace that was not floral (which most laces have some sort of floral pattern), an open design (as opposed to a dense design), a decorative edge, and in a shade of jade green that her fiancé really liked on her.
I shopped and shopped, walking up and down the main street in the fashion district, looking for the perfect fabric for my client. Of course, since she wasn’t there with me, I had to keep in mind all of her wishes and try not to get distracted by all the rest of the wonderful fabric there.
I stopped into Michel Levine fabrics where they have so many beautiful fabrics of all kinds. Cotton, linen, silks, leather, you name it. Most fabrics are displayed on bolts or rolls by category throughout the large store, but they had some lace options displayed in a glass cabinet which caught my eye.
This was the closest to the green I could find. I know it is blue, but it was a similar jewel tone and a lovely color in itself!
I purchased a 1/8 of a yard large swatch of this color, as well as the coral pink lace that I thought would look really nice on Ardith. I made note of the end of the bolt so that I could call back with an order once I got home if she chose this fabric.
As soon as I got back from my trip to California, I arranged a meeting with Ardith to show her what I found. We agreed that although the blue was a nice color, and the other colors available were all pretty, the coral really looked great on her and that was the one for her.
So, I got to work ordering the lace from Michael Levine, and it came pretty promptly which was nice.
Next, we needed to continue shopping for materials for this dress as the lace with the very open pattern needed to have a backing sewn to it for structure in the dress and make it easier to sew the pieces together, and then also a lining as the lace and backing fabric were still quite sheer. We headed to Mill End Store in Milwaukie, OR where they stock an abundance of fabrics suitable for this project. Ardith chose a nice sheer mesh for the backing and another shade of peach for the lining. I had some additional lining at home that would finish off the inside of the dress, so we were all set to go and I could get started cutting out the dress.
She wanted to keep the beautiful edge of the lace as the hem of the dress and bottom of the sleeve, so I had to carefully plan out and cut the lace to make sure to do this. It’s not too difficult to do with a simple design like her pattern, plus it saves me from making a hem, so cutting out wasn’t too bad.
The most difficult parts of making a dress like this is to make accurate markings in the fabric where seams match and the darts are to be sewn. I used a chalk transfer paper to do this so that the markings would brush off later and not be seen in the final dress. Also, sewing the seams and making them just blend in and not be obvious was another challenge. But with the help of some of my sewing books, I was able to to a little reading up on some of the best ways to sew with lace and achieve nice results.
We had a couple of fittings in the final fabric, one which I realized that I needed to have a longer zipper in order for her to easily be able to step into the dress.
Unpicking the stitches to remove the zipper from this lace proved to be quite the challenge, but with patience and good lighting, I was finally able to get the job done.
The final dress turned out better than I imagined!
The perfect little lace dress!
Once this had a good press, the zipper was nearly invisible!
The inside looks great too, although if I were to do it again, I would add a binding edge to the zipper to finish it off nicely and prevent fraying. Next time!
For the final pick up, Ardith brought along her Fiancé Ralph which was really nice. He was just delighted to see her in the dress and grew that much more excited to wed his lovely bride! She looked beautiful and elegant in the dress, the color and the style perfectly suited her and the upcoming occasion. I was SO happy with how it turned out and that I had not only one happy bride, but a pleased fiancé as well!
Congratulations to Ardith and Ralph! May you have a long and loving marriage! I can’t thank you enough for coming to me to make your dream dress come true!