Sewing with lace
Seaming lace is just one of the new techniques I’ve had to pick up for Zoe’s wedding dress. The effect of the all-over lace is stunning, but sewing it is not high on my list of experiences I would like to repeat. While every other aspect of the dress as well as I could ever have hoped, making the lace over-skirt nearly drove me to insanity.
A floating lace layer can’t be seamed like other fabrics because a normal seam would look unsightly through the fabric as the raw edges would be visible. A cheap lace garment would be zig-zagged or overlocked in a straight line, but that would not be suitable for a wedding dress. Internet research suggested the way to join lace seamlessly is to zig-zag around the shapes of the pattern and trim away the excess close to the seam – this is known as an appliqué seam. There are plenty of books that go into more detail, I was recommended Couture Sewing Techniques by Claire B. Shaeffer and Bridal Couture by Susan Khalje.
The skirt section of the dress has a fitted section and a flared section. I cut the main fabric on 7 vertical panels (3 front, 4 back), but decided to cut the lace differently to minimise seaming, keep seams to less noticeable areas and ensure that the grain of the lace pattern was vertical from important angles. I cut the flared part in in 4 sections; centre front, sides and back, and the front part of the fitted section in a single piece with two darts at the top. The back fitted section however had to be cut in 4 sections due to the complex shaping. That’s 8 pieces in total, and a lot of seaming. The theory sounded simple enough, but the practice was a little different.
Pattern pieces have to be cut outside of the cutting lines on the paper pattern, around the lace pattern, to allow for a significant overlap. I used lines of contrasting thread to mark seam lines since seam lines are not a fixed distance from the edge of the fabric.
Matching the seam lines, I pinned the pieces in place then tacked them together around the lace shapes. Using a different shade of contrasting thread was useful at the stitching stage to help me see where to machine sew. Pins are not much good at holding lace securely so tacking prior to seaming was essential.
I stitched around the lace patterns with a narrow zig-zag. The resulting seams are pretty hard to spot, the disruption to the lace pattern is hidden by it’s overall busyness.
Why was it such a nightmare? My machine couldn’t deal with it, the stretchy, uneven lace got chewed up. I did over half of the seaming by hand, which I am very, very slow at. When this drove me insane I went back to the machine and tried using paper to stabilise the seam. First pattern paper, because that was what I had to hand. It worked a treat… until I tried to get it out of the seams, that took longer than hand-sewing. Next I tried tissue paper, it made the machine slightly more temperamental but was doable. The tracing paper had to be stitched to the lace along the stitching line in order for it to work, and I could only sew along the cording. The preparation time was epic, and even then, machine sewing was only marginally faster than hand-sewing because of those pesky angled flower petals.
Finally, 2 full days behind schedule, the lace was finished.
Most all-over lace has decorative edging that can be cut-off and used for hems, but the edging on ours wasn’t great and we ordered some from Harrington who had been so helpful in sending us lace samples. When it arrived my heart sank, the colour was far paler than our lace. The scalloped edge that I thought would compliment the lace, also just looked wrong.
I found myself once again scouring the internet but found nothing, so hit the high street and found only edging that was the same colour, so I bought it, even though it was zig-zag shaped and nothing like the lace pattern.
At a loss, I sort the advice of my trusty Twitter followers, and got a unanimous response to use the zig-zag edging.
Thank you Twitterers! You were so right. It’s got a lovely antique feel that looks great on the final garment. Luckily the bride to be is delighted with it too.