Six months ago, I had the idea to make a lace dress for my next dressmaking project, but I was seriously struggling to find fabric with a nice lace pattern. I’m very particular and quite a lot of the lace fabric you get in shops are quite generic and all look the same, with big roses in different colours. I saw lace materials and goods that had a good pattern, but I couldn’t find a supplier that sold the patterns I liked in larger sizes, wide enough for a dressmaking project.
I can’t even remember how I stumbled across it, but when I found inspiration from Valentino’s S/S 2012 Ready To Wear macramé lace dress, I knew that was going to be my next ‘This Is It’ dressmaking project!
While the pattern of the lace for the Valentino dress is produced from macramé (a form of textile making using various knots, see here for more information), the fabric I got is imitation embroidered lace and cost me £71 for 2.5 metres worth (I needed 2.2 metres) from an Etsy seller in China.
Close up of the embroidered lace fabric I ordered from Etsy
I must admit that I’m usually a bit skeptical about how great the quality of goods are, but I was pleasantly surprised that the fabric was actually quite good quality and heavy weight too. The seller was actually very accommodating and understanding of the rush I was in for the fabric to arrive in plenty of time so I could get started on making the dress.
One of the great things I later realised after I completed the dress was in talking to others about it, I realised how much I must’ve saved on making my own dress. The Valentino macrame dress worn by Alessandra Mastronardi in 2012 to promote Woody Allen’s film, To Rome With Love is worth a hefty £3650. Not too bad if you can afford the price tag!
Alessandra Mastronardi’s blue Valentino macrame dress. Source: The Shopping Trend
By comparison, when you’re doing the work yourself and there’s less intensive labour involved in knotting the macramé pattern for the fabric, the total cost of materials came to approximately £80. Big difference huh? I went with the most popular vote from the dress pattern poll and chose to make a boat neckline with the cap sleeves using the New Look #6723 pattern. A big thank you to all those who cast a vote!
#6723, £5.95 from Simplicity New Look
The great thing about dress patterns is that it’ll always offer you more than one style of dress, so you can always mix and match the pieces to suit your needs! Using the pattern for dress B, I used the sleeves from dress C but left out the band at the edge, I’ll explain why later. It’s always good to have a pattern handy that you can re-use and alter slightly to make a complete different dress (I used the same pattern but altered the neckline from the sweetheart to a V-neck for the watercolour print dress I wore to my friend’s wedding in Germany).
The first thing I did I did was cut into the pattern itself. I like to keep the pattern sizes intact without having to cut it to my size. This is so that when I get asked (which I do occasionally agree to for friends and family) to make the same dress in a different size, I don’t have to work out how much more material I need to leave for another dress. That’s where the great tip for cutting the pattern to your size from the Adventures in Dressmaking blog comes in handy!
First, you’ll need to look at your pattern and see where there may be curves or tricky corners that prevents you from folding easily along the lines and make small cuts to the size you need.
Then it’s as easy as folding each section over to the right size and pinning this to your fabric!
The whole process took longer than I thought, only because 4 of those hours spent was cutting the lining and lace fabrics separately. I wanted to keep the scalloped edges to the hem and sleeves so that A) it looked similar to the original Valentino dress, B) it gives it a nice uneven and interesting trim and C) so that I didn’t have to neaten the end of the sleeves or take up the hem. To keep the scalloped edges, this meant that it took some manoeuvering and planning on how the pattern pieces will be placed so the skirt and sleeve pieces will be along the scalloped edges.
When you’re working with fabric that has quite large gaps in the pattern, it can cause difficulty in sewing those pieces together. To solve this issue you’ll need to make sure you’ve got lining underneath that the stitches can hold onto. To keep the attention on intricacy of the blue lace, I decided to go with a nude coloured lining. Because I didn’t need to take in the hem of the blue lace, I took up the hem of the nude lining skirt pieces first (I didn’t to have any lining for the sleeves as this wasn’t really necessary).
If you’ve worked with enough dress patterns, you’ll know that the order of events are pretty much the same. First thing you’ll need to do is stay stiching any curved sections (like the neckline and collars). With polyester lining and a lace fabric, I didn’t want to have raw edges to the neckline, so I stitched the right sides (inside out) the lace neckline to the lining, close to the edge so the length of fabric isn’t wasted, for the front and back pieces separately.
When I turned this inside out, I realised the edges of the stitched lace was going to prevent the lining from sitting nicely once it was turned the right way out, so very carefully, I trimmed the additional lace edge quite close to the line of stitching.
Once the neckline was done, it was back to stitching the pieces together as normal (there aren’t any darts in this dress, but the side pieces act as darts for this style). Soon enough, the pieces were starting to come together and I couldn’t wait to get the dress itself finished!
When it comes to the skirt, you must now be wondering if I didn’t take up the hem, how was I to know that it was going to sit where I wanted it to be? It’s always a good idea, if your hem isn’t going to be taken up, to hold the pattern up to yourself to get an idea of where the hemline is going to fall. There are two ways to adjust the length of the skirt itself if you know the skirt is going to be too long:
1) Fold the pattern from the bottom to the correct length and pin this shortened length to the fabric. This will reduce the amount of fabric that gets cut and thus wasted, or
2) Once the skirt pieces are cut and pinned to the bodice, check the length of the skirt when worn and take it up at the waist. When the skirt is sewn to the bodice, you can trim away the excess fabric. You can also do this if you’ve followed step 1 above and the skirt still falls a bit longer than you thought. Remember that a paper pattern doesn’t always sit the same way as fabric when worn, so there’s every chance you’ll need to follow steps 1 and 2 to get the right skirt length!
The Saturday past I was so eager to get started on the dress, I was determined enough to get working right after lunch (this was about 2:30pm) and spent 10.5 hours on it, working until 2:55am – 4 hours were spent that day cutting fabric, 6.5 hours assembling the pieces together and sewing this on Saturday. I only stopped because I didn’t have a zipper to add to the back, so I had to wait until I could get to the shops to finish it off.
Progress at 2:55am early Sunday morning
By the time Monday came around, I went and got the requisite zipper from the fabric shop and spent another hour and a half after dinner to fix minor imperfections on the dress and adding in the hidden zipper. It took some time to make sure the zip was working fine and that the dress actually fit, so after a total of 12 combined hours of labour the dress is finally finished!
Technically the sleeves and the skirt should have gathered edges along the shoulder and waist seams, but I prefer structured and neater look of small pleats. I could have easily made the front panel one piece instead of having the separate side, body and skirt pieces (to do this, all you would need to do is align the side and skirt pieces to the centre bodice piece on the fold of the fabric and cut this as one whole piece instead of separate pieces), but I liked adding my own differences to it so it’s not an exact replica and I’m more than pleased with the end result!
As I mentioned in my previous post, depending on how you accessorised the dress and the shoes you were to wear, it can be made to look more casual and less formal with flats, or you can wear heels (preferably court shoes) for elegance and formal events like Claire Danes did above with her red Valentino dress.
What do you think of my finished Valentino-inspired lace dress? Have you made a similar dress yourself that you would like to share stories and photos of? Would you make one yourself?