My first White Tree Fabrics make – The Red Lace Dress
I am pleased to finally be showing you my first project made for the White Tree Fabrics blogger network. I say ‘finally’ because this dress has taken a very long time to plan and make. I first ordered the samples mid-June! The actual sewing spanned three weeks, which is extremely long by my standards.
White Tree Fabrics have an amazing range of ‘fancy fabrics’ – particularly lace. I knew that I wanted to make a lace dress – in fact, I’ve been wanting to make one for about four years! As I have limited experience of working with lace, I ordered a large selection of samples of the different types of lace so that I could see how they differ in appearance and feel. I also ordered samples of duchess satin, lightweight satin and organdie to see how well they might complement the lace. All of these samples I ordered in red, my favourite colour.
I chose a combination which I was pretty sure I liked (heavy corded lace, duchess satin and lightweight satin), but I had a last-minute change of heart and thought it might be better for me to make a green lace dress instead. So I asked for more samples to be sent out, this time in green, but when they arrived I couldn’t get the right combination of greens so it was back to plan A, and I was finally ready to order!
I knew from the start that I was going to use Simplicity Amazing Fit 1606 for my pattern. I have adored wearing my blue and white halter neck version, and the pattern includes a variation specifically designed for a dress with a lace overlay. However, I wanted to use the scallop edge of the lace for the hem of the skirt, which meant I wouldn’t be able to use the skirt pattern for this dress – instead I needed something with a straight hem. Looking through my patterns I came across New Look 6143, which also includes a variation for a lace overlay dress and the skirt is pleated rather than circular. The hemline wasn’t 100% straight, but I could just about get away with it as the curve was very slight.
I set about cutting into my lace fabric, which I’ll admit I was too terrified to prewash in case I ruined it, so this dress will have to be dry clean only! I had to cut it all on the crosswise grain, so that my hemline could be the scalloped edge of the lace. If you ever want to cut through corded lace, you will need really sharp and sturdy shears. I had a brand new pair (with red handles, yay!), and I was glad of them but it was still tough-going. Perhaps a rotary cutter with a cutting board would be a better option for corded lace?
My next challenge was – how on earth do I transfer the pattern markings to the lace? Notches weren’t going to show and I couldn’t draw on it… it had to be tailor tacks. Gah I hate tailor tacks. They take forever and they feel messy and fussy. Still, it seemed like the only way to mark the darts properly.
Now, call me a fool because it was only at this point, after having cut the lace, that I gave consideration to seam finishes. I guess I had just presumed I’d do French seams where possible, but when I practised with some scraps it didn’t look great. Because the lace has such an open weave you could see the seam from the outside, and the French seam was particularly noticeable because of the number of layers of fabric in the seam.
I searched the internet for advice on how to seam lace, and came across a technique called ‘applique seams’. Oh my word! Basically applique seams are where you match up the lace motifs and overlap them exactly, and stitch one on top of the other with a zigzag stitch and then carefully trim around the motifs to create an invisible seam. This discovery threw me into a total panic because I had already cut my lace out with the standard seam allowance, rather than a whole load of extra for matching-up and overlapping exactly. However, I started to calm down when I realised that the lace I was working with didn’t have a series of isolated motifs, instead it was a continuous pattern with continuous cording, and therefore applique seams would not be ‘applicable’ (haha) in this case. Phew!
I still had to decide on a seam finish, though. After trying a few different options, I settled for simply pressing apart and trimming and leaving it at that. The lace doesn’t fray, and any other seam finish was too visible. This is a special occasion dress, so I knew I didn’t need to worry about the seam finishes being super-robust for everyday wear and repeated washing.
The next tricky part was the actual sewing. Sewing over the cords meant that the line of stitching wasn’t 100% straight; where the needle hit the corded bits it went a little wonky (demonstrated below with white stitching on a scrap). I adjusted the stitch length to a slightly longer stitch and decided to just wing it… after all it was only irregular in extreme close-up and it wasn’t going to affect the bigger picture.
Once I’d gotten over these initial hurdles, sewing the dress was straightforward for a little while. I got my lace bodice overlay sewn up easily, and then made the strapless bodice underneath with the duchess satin, lined with lightweight satin and boned with black rigilene boning from Boyes. I then started on the skirt, which has 8 box pleats. The New Look pattern didn’t advise to sew the pleats in the overlay and the skirt together as one, but instead to do each separately. I followed the instructions but I should have trusted my instincts and sewn them together so that the overlay and skirt hung together perfectly. When I had made the skirt and the overlay, I attached them to the dress…and hated it.
It wasn’t hanging correctly at all due to the pleats in the overlay sitting on top of the pleats in the satin. In addition to this, the satin is so thick and ‘springy’ that it didn’t respond well to being pleated, and stuck out in a rather unflattering manner. I was crestfallen and wasn’t sure what to do. My options were to
- stick with it but be unhappy – but I couldn’t go with this option. This dress is supposed to be a testament to my sewing and something very special that I feel proud to wear. How could I wear it if I was unhappy with it?
- scrap the skirt and make a new one with extra fabric – the thrifty part of my brain wouldn’t allow me to do this. Wasting that amount of lace and satin would be a sin.
- unpick the pleats in both skirts and try sewing them together as one or
- unpick the pleats in both skirts and gather them instead
So it was either C or D, and let me tell you I’d had enough of pleats after sewing 16 of them, so I opted for gathering, and if it wasn’t going to work out then I’d have to fall back on option B – eek!
Unpicking the waist seam and then the pleats in the lace took FOREVER. The thread was the exact same colour, I thought I might go blind trying to see every stitch and distinguish it from the lace. The weave of the lace was so open that I had to unpick each individual stitch. I couldn’t rip out a few at a time or I risked tearing the lace. Eventually I managed it and miraculously I managed to retain my sight and not tear the lace. Whoop!
The next stage was to gather the waistline – straightforward, right? Erm NO. I sewed my two gathering lines and realised that the second one had accidentally crossed over the first in a careless mid-sewing swerve, so before I could even begin I had to unpick that line of stitches and redo it. Once I had done that I set about pulling the threads to gather them only to find that the stitches weren’t long enough and the threads snapped! I’d used a stitch length of 4 but it wasn’t enough! So I had to start AGAIN. This time I used a stitch length of 5 and thankfully it worked.
I used bias binding to bind the skirt and bodice seams together to make the waistline nice and neat on the inside. I had used French seams for the side seams of the satin skirt and when I hemmed it, I used a bias binding facing hand sewn into place. Both the overlay and the satin skirt are sewn together at the centre back zip because of the zip. Here’s a close-up photo of some of the insides.
I had quite a bit of bother with the zip. I ordered a ‘transparent’ concealed zip – the only type of zip available from White Tree Fabrics – designed to be ‘transparent’ so that you can use it with any fabric. You’ll note the quotation marks I have employed because the zip is not so much ‘transparent’ as just…white. As you sewists will know, it’s always tricky inserting an invisible zip especially if you have a bulky waistband to get past, and with the lace overlay added into the equation it did not go well! The zip was showing and it was showing white. To make matters worse, when I then tried on the garment, the zip pull got stuck at the bulky bit (despite me having snipped the corners to try to eliminate the bulk) and it wouldn’t move. I had to unpick it and go and buy a standard dress red dress zip for the job! I did a centred zip in the end, and the bulkiness of the seams means it stands out a bit, but I can live with it. Especially when the alternative is to unpick it AGAIN and re-insert!
I haven’t worn the dress yet as I am saving it for a dear friend’s wedding in October. Obviously I had to try it on for a few quick photos though, to give you an idea of what it looks like on!
I’m pleased with how it looks from the front, and from the side.
The back has a few issues – a bit of gaping in the upper back of the lace overlay. On the dressmaker’s dummy if the top of the neckline sits high, it reduces the gape, but it doesn’t want to sit high when I’m actually wearing it. What I’m going to do is to trim the neckline down a little lower to get rid of the excess from the top, and then re-finish the edges, and make a new button loop. But that can wait until nearer to the wedding!
Talking of button loops, this was my first ever go at it and I was pleased with how it turned out and relieved it was easy to do. I had to consult my 1972 Singer Sewing Book for instructions on how to do it! Here’s a photo of the loop and also the blind hem I hand-sewed on the satin. You guys know how much I hate hand-sewing so this deserves another photo:
If you’re still reading, congratulations on making it through such a long post and please accept my apologies: this dress took such a long time to get right and a lot of effort went into it so I like to give a full report!
I’m looking forward to wearing this to my friend’s wedding (once I’ve sorted the back gape). Thanks to White Tree Fabrics for providing the fabric! My next project with them is going to be super simple!