Making a dress from silk and lace was a first for me, so I thought I could share some tips I learned while creating this wedding dress for my friend!
Step 1: Mock Up!!!
Mock ups are soooooo important and so helpful for those of us who can't visualize how things will look as easily as others. My friend originally wanted some gathered chiffon over the bust, as some way-out-of-anyones-price-range dresses had, but after mocking it up, we decided to nix the chiffon and move to silk. Use whatever you may have on hand for a mock up, but make sure the drape is similar to the final fabric. I have a weirdly large amount of orange polyester chiffon in my stash and I bought a silk polyester for the underdress mock up. This would have been very misleading had I made it in muslin!
Step 2: Make the Dress!
After finalizing our mock up, I proceeded to make her dress. Having never worked with silk before, I read all over the internet for tips and tricks. I learned to cut out the dress on the floor (because my table was not large enough) with the silk on a cotton sheet (can be muslin or just a flat sheet you buy at goodwill because those are cheap!). The cotton fibers gently grab the silk and help to keep the silk from sliding around while you cut out the pattern. I also chose not to use pins while cutting this out, but as I don't have real sewing weights, I just used some glasses from the cupboard to hold down corners and curves. You might not be able to see in the pictures, but I also added a bit on to the skirt with paper. This addition was made because my friend has a fairly high waistline and I wanted to skirt to drape more gently from the waist than that what would have happened with just the store-bought pattern. When sewing silk fabric, I HIGHLY recommend using fresh microtex needles, even when you think you don't need a new one. Punching cleanly through the silk will not snare the silk as easily than blunter needles.
Step 3: The Lace Top!
Once the dress is made (I self-drafted the top, it has a gentle v-neck, wide neckline, and single thin straps) you get to fashion the lace bit. I had no idea that this lace would be so tedious, I worked ~ 36 hours on just the lace part alone! After selecting a lace that my friend loved, I took it home and realized that the pattern of the lace florals on fabric were just not close enough to use as-is (see second picture). So I made the decision to cut out all the lace motifs and and sew them on to a sheer net top. This ended up working really well, as I could fit the sheer top to my friend, we could finalize it, and then I could put all the lace on. Had I not done that, I would have cut into the lace and if my friend didn't like the end result....eek! You can see that I used my dress form for playing around with how to place the lace. If you don't have a dress from, you'll probably want to have someone wear the top while you figure out where to put lace, I found it very difficult to work with the stretchy/movable netting when it was not on a body form when planning. After deciding that we wanted scallops on the neckline and sleeve hemlines, I got to work. I did place lace on the sleeves flat before I sewed them on to the bodice because I knew trying to work in the tiny arm circumference would be too challenging. The bodice part was worked with darts in place. Each lace motif was cut away from its home netting with a pair of ver tiny sharp scissors. As I wanted this to look well done, I took the time to cut closely around all the flowers and leaves. Then I started with neckline and just placed lace and sewed it down. I wanted the front to be symmetrical, so I took time to plan out where each piece of lace would sit. After the neckline was done, I took the lace motifs (there were two kinds) and placed them where I thought looked best, no particular plan. Complicating this all is the fact that I used (and recommend using) clear thread. Essentially clear thread is very fine fishing line, so it was a bit of a challenge to work with, mostly in regard to getting good knots and making them stay. I suppose you could use a fine white thread, but I just really didn't want to distract from the lovely lace.
Leave the back center seam uncovered from lace and put in whatever you are using to close the garment. My friend wanted tiny buttons, so I just flipped the netting under a few times at ~ 1/4" and stitched it twice to get a pretty sturdy place to sew the buttons and button cord on to. After installing the fasteners (which should come all in a line on a piece of fabric), finish sewing down all the flower motifs. Then you get sew all the buttons on! I had not ever made a closure like this, but fortunately found out that a shop in town carried 'bridal buttons' that were silk covered and instead of a loop shank to sew through, it was actually a bit of fabric for the shank. This was great because I could more securely sew down the buttons in many directions. I will admit that it was a bit challenging to line the buttons up with their respective loop!
We decided that we wanted to secure the lace top to the underdress, so again, using clear thread, I had my friend stand in the dress with the lace top on and I essentially tacked it on. I was unable to exactly place the lace top over the dress without her standing in it. She was a champ for standing for at least an hour while I was doing all this!