Lace Ballgown for a Beauty

I’ve known Michel for a few years now. She has come to me on several occasions to alter and do minor repairs on her clothing. She loves fashion and is always intrigued with what projects I am working on, especially the custom dressmaking ones. She would say to me that someday, she’d love to have me make something custom for her. Well, that day came along when she was asked by her best friend to be the Maid of Honor in her wedding, and she had the choice of what to wear in the wedding as long as it was formal, elegant and black.

As soon as Michel was asked, she reached out to me to see if I was available to create a gown for her. Of course I was! Michel is such a wonderful person and a repeat client of mine, so I was honored to create something special for her.

We had our first meeting at my house on a warm sunny afternoon, over a light lunch and refreshments, sitting out on my back deck. We talked about what style she likes, what parts of her body she’d like to highlight and what she’d rather not. We talked about color (black), and fabric options, the timing of the wedding, and I showed her some images I put together on Pinterest.

A black lace gown I pinned on Pinterest

She loved the idea of a fit & flare dress, or a mermaid style that is fitted from the bodice to the upper leg, then flares out at below the knee. She wanted to highlight her slim waist and also wanted sleeves as the wedding was scheduled for the end of January, so she might get cold. It was great as we worked together to decide on a suitable style as she had an idea of what she wanted, but also put a lot of trust in me and my experience in the fashion industry, dabbling in image consulting.

I found a couple of sewing patterns to start with, and eventually decided on this one: McCalls 6838.

McCalls 6838 sewing pattern

The pattern cover is really not all that elegant, but if you look past that and look at the illustrations and line drawings, the pattern becomes much more appealing. To me, at least!

Line drawings of McCalls 6838 sewing pattern

In my sewing experience so far, I like to take an existing pattern that is already graded and figured out, and make it extra by adding design details, using nice quality fabrics, linings, embellishments, and leveled-up sewing and dressmaking techniques to really make the design special and valuable.

As a side note, I have been working solely for myself since June of 2022, running my design, dressmaking and bridal alterations business Love, Stephanie. Since then, I have leveled up my sewing and strive to create high quality garments with special details including fit, better fabrics, quality construction and special personal touches. Doing so, I have also revised my price list and raised my prices, no longer giving friends and family discounts or doing free-bee trades just because I feel like I am charging too much or still in training. Now, I charge accordingly for my work, my experience, my dedication to my clients, and my attention to detail. Saying that, this gown took a lot of time and effort to create, and I priced it at $1,400 not including fabric. Just in case you were wondering!

Back to the dress!

We had our first fitting using the pattern tissue paper to just get an idea of fit for the main parts of the pattern. Michel has a great figure, virtually zero body fat, so the pattern essentially fit right out of the envelope with very little adjustments needed. Must be nice, huh!

Tissue fitting!

From there, we went fabric shopping together and Michel chose and purchased a lovely black lace with a little floral motif all over, and a scalloped edge which I used later for the neck and sleeve edges of the shrug.

The pattern and the lace! Please excuse the cluttered background of my studio!

I then moved on to making a muslin mock-up of the dress to further ensure the fit and style are what she likes before I cut into her fashion fabric. I only had to make a few more fitting tweaks at the muslin stage, taking notes along the way to keep track of what I needed to do as I made progress.

The muslin!
In her mock-up, Michel just needs a few tweaks to the fit, and to decide what lining she preferred (nude lining won!)

For each of my custom sewing clients, I keep a dossier type folder with my notes, sketches, pattern pieces, inspiration images, fabric swatches, receipts, and have this handy as I’m working on the project to keep it all together and organized. I keep and store each client’s dossier after the project is complete for my own records as well, and as a reminder as to how far I’ve come along which is nice 🙂

Michel’s dossier cover image, with my sketching & scribbles, stored in a pocket folder, with all my notes kept together

With the muslin fitting stage completed, it was now time to start cutting into the fabric and constructing the dress.

I cut out all of the lace pieces of the dress, including the bodice, the skirt, and the lower skirt flounce. I also cut the exact same pattern pieces out of a light weight lining material in a flesh tone to underline the lace and give it structure and opacity. Here I have my pattern pieces all cut out, stacked and pinned with the lace and underlining, ready to be hand basted together and later treated as one layer to be sewn together.

The bodice pieces cut out in lace with underlining pinned and ready to be basted together by hand
The upper skirt pieces marked and ready to be basted together by hand
One half of the lower skirt portion ready for basting the layers together.

Once the layers were basted together, I could move on to sewing the pattern pieces together and start forming the dress.

The bodice sewn together
The bodice and upper skirt sewn together. It looks great just like this!

To give the lower circle skirt more body, bounce and twirl appeal, I added a layer of tulle between the lace and the lining, gathering it as I sewed it to the upper seam edge before attaching it to the lower skirt. I thought this was a great idea as I’ve seen this kind of layer in big ball gown type skirts, knew it would be easy to do and create a great effect.

Lots of pins to keep this tulle in check!
It looks like a messy nest, so one pin at a time controls the tulle before and during machine stitching

This is the stage where I wanted to start adding the beading. I planned it at this stage of the construction process as I wanted the stitching and threads of the beading to be hidden between the outer layer (the lace and underlining) and the lining. I bought some lovely little black glass seed beads and black sequins and created a little stack of them and sewed 2-3 stacks to the large flower motif in the center. It wasn’t all that noticeable on the dress, especially in a photo, but in person, it gives the dress a tiny little shimmer and adds a slight texture to the lace.

Hand sewing the seed beads and sequins, one by one, to the lace
I created tiny little stacks of seed beads and sequins to the center of the large flower motifs all over the dress and flounce

As I sewed the beads and sequins to the dress, I kept track of my time using the timer on my iPhone and jotting it down as I went. Adding it all up, it took me about 9 hours to bead the dress. If I had the time, I would have beaded more of the dress, but this wasn’t feasible with just my two hands and lack of time!

As the dress progressed, I had a couple of more fittings with Michel, this time in the fabric, before I added the lining, just to check fit again and make sure everything was perfect before the lining installation

Michel pinned into her dress, the straps and belt also just pinned, and deciding on the finished hem length.
Pinned into the dress, with the unfinished shrug (again, please excuse the mess!)

She also wanted a sleeve option for the dress, so I made a little matching shrug for her using Butterick 4731 for the pattern.

Butterick 4731 for the shrug only (although I also like the gown in this pattern)
I used the sleeves of view A and the front and back of view B to make the shrug
I cut out the shrug in the same layers as the dress, also beading the outer lace layer before adding the lining

I used the pretty scalloped border of the lace material to create a trim to go around the edges of the shrug at the neckline, around the back, and the sleeve hem.

Hand stitching the lace edge trim to the finished shrug

I wanted to be sure to have a well made garment that would last a long time, and be extra special to slip on and wear comfortably. I added two hanging loops into the side seams of the lining using a narrow satin ribbon, so that when the gown was hanging, not all of the weight of the dress was on the straps and it was supported with the loops. These loops would then just fall down into the dress when worn and are not seen. I also added a little waist stay right at the waistline of the dress using a wider ribbon and a hook and bar. This feature helps to support the weight of the dress on the inside. I see both of these interior details in some of the wedding gowns that I have altered, so I like to adapt them into my dresses for a high end, secret quality detail!

The hanging loops do their job to help support the dress while hanging
The waist stay added as her exact waist measurement inside the dress for support

Jumping ahead, as the wedding date was rapidly approaching, the dress and shrug were turning out so well, and I couldn’t wait to get Michel in it and delivered before the big day.

Before delivering it though, I wanted to add a little special and personal touch to the garment bag that I usually include with the dresses that I make for my clients. This time, I used my embroidery machine and made a monogram for her on the outside of the garment bag.

The purchased garment bag with the personal monogram

Finishing up the dress and delivering the finished product always feels great! She’s excited, I’m excited and everyone can’t wait to see her dazzling in her new custom made gown!

Checking and double checking the hem is even and balanced

The time finally came that I was 100% finished with the dress and I was ready to deliver it to Michel. It kind of feels like I am handing off a little part of me whenever it’s time to deliver the dress, so I try to take the time to get some good photos of the finished product before she’s gone off to her rightful owner!

She’s done! Isn’t she lovely!
With the matching shrug

All dolled up and in her gown, Michel is absolutely STUNNING! She’s a natural beauty and does not need makeup of any kind, but boy, when she dresses up and gets all dolled up, WOW! Breathtakingly beautiful!

Stunning!
Simply gorgeous!
Michel and her best friend, the lovely bride Megan!

Another dream dress come true!! Onwards and Upwards!

6 thoughts on “Lace Ballgown for a Beauty

  1. What a stunning gown for Michel!! It’s another masterpiece that you have created, Stephanie! Was the beading hard to do with the fabric and trims all being black? I am a bit nervous to try sewing trims and beading to lace.

    • Thank you so much Jennifer! The beading wasn’t difficult, just time consuming. I did the beading while the dress was still incomplete so it wasn’t all at once and smaller sections to manage. I just took my time, sitting with good lighting, and made stitch by stitch by grabbing a sequin and 2-3 beads at a time with my threaded hand-sewing needle to make the little stacks, and made a knot behind each stack. So not difficult, it just took patience and precision. Just try it! I made a little sample on a fabric scrap before doing the whole dress.

  2. So lovely! I enjoy seeing your process, from sketch to completion. A couple of thoughts: I’m curious how the final actual time compared to what your estimate called for, whether your price gave you the rate you planned. All that beading time would certainly have put me way over any estimate, I think! And second: Lovely photo of Michel with the bride at the end of your post, but I can’t help but look twice at the hem of the wedding gown!

    • Thank you so much for your thoughts and feedback! The time I estimated vs. actual was definitely different as the beading idea was not originally part of the plan. Since I charge by the hour for things such as beading by hand on top of the price of creating the garment, that was in addition to my original quote.
      As for the bride’s gown, I am not sure if that horsehair hem was supposed to look like that or it was added or altered to be that way? I am anxious to see what the other bridesmaids chose to wear for the wedding as Michel told me that they didn’t put all that much time or attention into what to wear and chose less than formal-type dresses for the occasion. They should have ALL called me months ago!

      • That’s a very sound approach to pricing the beading – I do the same, and tell my client I can’t really give a firm estimate until I’ve done a sample – even then, it’s really rough.
        Re that horsehair hem: I can guarantee it wasn’t meant to look that way. It rides at the hemline, so only the bottom 3″ or so should be opaque. It was altered, probably in a way to save time and money.
        Would you have been able to accommodate ALL the bridesmaids with custom gowns?? You must have great time management!

      • I have never done custom dresses for an entire bridal party, so I’d have to really be realistic in my approach, timeline, and schedule in order to do that successfully. Sounds scary, but I’d love an opportunity like that. I’d have to hire help in that situation for sure in order to keep my sanity!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s