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!

A Lady in Lace

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.

Inspiration Dress 1-the length and shape
Inspiration Dress 2-the lace overlay
Inspiration Dress 3-for color

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.

New Look 6261 sewing pattern
The pattern line drawings for New Look 6261 pattern

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.

Wearing it for a holiday party out with my (then) fiancé!

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.

My notebook!

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.

Guipure lace in so many colors!

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.

Gorgeous Guipure lace!

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.

Choosing the perfect lining

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 unboxing of the lace!
The lace is so pretty! The mesh backing material is practically invisible under the lace.

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.

The mesh backing material is used to create support behind the delicate lace and needed to be sewn to the wrong side of the lace, then the two layers treated as one.

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!

The beautiful bride Ardith!
The Newlyweds!
Cheers to the happy couple!

My Custom Dressmaking Process: From Start to Finish

Meet the Maker: Stephanie of Love, Stephanie

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a custom dress or outfit made just for you? Have you thought that just buying something off the rack or from a website is good enough and will do for the occasion, but deep down (or not even that deep) you wish you could wear something that fit you perfectly, was made well, is a flattering color on you, and was something you would be comfortable, confident and proud to wear to your event and beyond? Do you want a great dress, top, suit or outfit hanging in your wardrobe that you can reach for again and again and just know it works? If you said “yes!” to all of the above, I would love to be the one to make this dream come true for you!

So, what does this process look like, how does it all happen and how long would it take? It’s this going to cost me an arm and a leg?

For those questions, the answer is: it all depends.

First off, I am a one woman operation (at least for now I am) and only have so much time in a day. My goals for my Love, Stephanie custom sewing business include creating quality, timeless apparel for special clients who recognize the value in a well made custom garment. I use fine quality materials and construction methods, I don’t take on rush jobs, and I don’t take shortcuts. That being said, that is what takes the time to perfect the fit, using smart construction techniques, and all of the education and sewing skills that I have learned over the years that rolls into the lead time and cost of a custom made garment.

That’s me! Stephanie of Love, Stephanie

Sound intriguing so far? Great! Read on and I’ll walk you through what my typical process looks like from the perspective that includes the client experience and what to expect.

We begin with an initial meeting where I get to know you better, what your ideas and visions are for your custom garment, what your lifestyle is like, and what mood or purpose you’d like to portray through the garment you’ll be wearing.

Initial Client Consultation

From there, I build a plan and a timeline to achieve the finished garment before your deadline and get started sourcing fabrics and pattern options that go into making your garment.

Going over sketches and fabric ideas

I like to create sketches, a mood board, and gather any other ideas and components that go into the creative process of making a successful garment, and share these with you along the way.

After our initial consultation meeting, I gather up all the information and write up a contract that includes all of your contact information, the deadlines, our design concept agreement, project components, costs and payment schedule for you to read over and sign. This is an important step as I want to ensure both of us are in agreement over all of the details in case any questions or concerns should arise.

Then the fun begins! I’ll take all of the body measurements I need from you and get started making the garment.

Taking measurements
Lots of measurements!

Using your measurements and a pattern, I cut out and sew up a simplified mock-up garment in muslin fabric to check fit, style preferences and to make sure you are happy with the basic silhouette before cutting into any fashion fabric. At times, an additional muslin, or part if it, needs to made and fitted again if there are a lot of changes that need a review before proceeding.

A mock-up fitting in muslin
I check for any fit issues that need to be corrected, and make sure you are happy with the style lines and length

Meanwhile, the fashion fabric that you want, including any lining material, trim and notions needed, is confirmed and purchased. I aim to use the best quality fabric that is within your budget (not included in the cost of my labor) as I truly feel that the fabric makes all the difference in the look and wear of a garment. I prefer to work with natural fibers such as cotton, wool, silk and linen, but will consider good quality man made fabrics to sew with such as rayon and synthetic blends.

Fabric choices are important in the outcome of a beautiful garment
Silk is my personal favorite!

Once the muslin is approved and the fabric is all here, I transfer any changes to the pattern, and start cutting!

The beautiful silk georgette is laid out and ready to cut
And sewn (silk is notoriously difficult to sew)

Most times, I have one last fitting of the garment in the fashion fabric to double check the fit, pin the hem, and work out any last details before delivering the finished creation.

From concept to creation!
Perfection!
The final fitting!

And that’s it! Easy, right?

Well done! Cheers!

In a nutshell, that’s the process in creating a unique custom garment, made especially just for you! No matter what size or shape you are, it’s an exciting and rewarding experience like no other.

Want to give it a go? Reach out to me and come on by my place with your dream garment vision and we’ll make it happen!

Welcome! Come on in!