The Dress

Yes, I’m finally blogging about my cousin’s wedding dress!

It’s hard to believe the wedding was almost a year ago!  At this time last year I was anxiously watching my flowers, hoping that they’d bloom in time to decorate the wedding tables, and had just finished the lining…  but let’s start at the beginning!

Daydreaming and design

My cousin and I started talking about her dress in December of 2014.  The first conversation involved all three of my younger cousins, including the bride to be “A.”, sketching ideas and pulling up photos on our phones, resulting in this vision:

An elegant, floor length, all-over lace, keyhole back, suited to a mid-summer, outdoor conservation area wedding.

After a flurry of emails back and forth, we identified a few patterns that seemed like a good way to try a cut out back – something I’d never made before. Enter Deer and Doe Belladone, McCall’s M6924 and Vogue 1102.

We played with these over a two month period.  None of them worked, Deer & Doe – too angular, not suited to A’s body.  Vogue, not quite right with its full skirt. We played with the McCall’s for a bit but in the end, didn’t love the look of it.

We even tried fiddling with our own keyhole ideas.   Nope.


Field Research

In the spring, we visited a bridal boutique in Burlington.  Well, I made her do it. The staff there was very helpful, even though we did tell them we were in the “research phase”.  While in the shop, I studied the beading, appliqué, lace hems, closures and finishings of dresses on the rack. Then A. emerged this stunner.  It was tempting to just buy this and call it a day!



The dress featured some flattering elements.   A softer neckline, perhaps not so wide as this, a slightly fitted skirt with a flared shape, and instead of a keyhole, a lower back!   Armed with this new vision, we started looking for patterns again.

Construction and fitting

It took another month or so of pouring over patterns before finally deciding on the bodice from By Hand London’s Elisalex dress and  Burda 6994 for the skirt. The Burda pattern was ideal as the dress was backless so I didn’t have to worry about removing anything there, and the shape was perfect. The train of the dress is longer than A. wanted for an outdoor wedding, but that was easy to change.

The desired dress was a mash up between these two patterns – Burda on the left, and Elisalex scooped out back on the right.


But the U-shape back caused the sides to sag out.  Ugh.  Scouring sewing blogs on the GO train revealed a couple of tips: V-backs are less likely to gape out!  Problem solved thanks to this tutorial on By Hand London’s blog.  On to cutting a muslin!  I decided to use lace and a lightweight lining for the muslin.  Things went pretty well, the first muslin fitting was pretty spot on, just a few adjustments around the hips…


…and then I made some mysterious error that caused the underlining to be too tight, so that when A. came for a fitting and sat down, the pins holding the back seam went flying in all directions – aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!  I had a few temper tantrums choice words and took a two week break to regroup.  During that time, took day trips to check out fabric shops in Hamilton and Toronto, finally discovering what we wanted at Chu Shing on Queen Street West.

construction progress
Pattern cutting and  lace muslin  – second attempt.
Muslin issues resolved, it was time to very carefully and very slowly cut the silk lining and the real lace.  My aunt, A’s mom helped me with cutting and basting, all the while listening to my musings and discoveries – like how to blend lace seams, how to line a sleeveless dress (another first for me, thank you Gail for sending me your tutorial – it worked like a charm).

I bought a rolled hem foot for this dress – and spent a few nights just practicing and practicing…and cursing and practicing. I’m so glad I made the effort  – it made for a professional looking finish on the hems.




Once the zipper was installed, I was on a roll and looking forward to the next phase. It was starting to look like a real dress!


Finishing touches

This is where I really hit my comfort zone and the part I enjoyed most: button loops, pearl buttons, lace appliqué and beading! After the focus on getting the construction done, this part was almost meditative, and so much fun!

I must have lined up these button loops and buttons at least 5 times before I started stitching them in!


For the scalloped hem, I cut out lace flowers one by one and overlapped them on the edge trying to make it look continuous. I may even have done a fist pump of triumph – the moment the hand cut and appliquéd lace edging looked exactly as I had imagined. After attaching them with a zigzag machine stitch, I cut away the under layer so it didn’t show through.




This appliqué edging and the addition of some pearl buttons hidden in the bottom seams gave just enough extra weight to create a nice swoosh in the skirt which already had three layers of lining: one underlining and two layers of silk under that – it was just too transparent otherwise!

Next up, beading!  I think this was my favourite part, aside from seeing it all come together.  I loved adding the white, pearl and silver crystal seed beads and watching them sparkle across the fabric. There is something special about sitting with a pile of silk, lace and sparkly crystals in your lap…


Did you know that a watchmakers head lamp works wonders for doing clear or white seed beading on white lace with clear thread? The things I wear for my craft! All joking aside (and there were jokes), it saved my eyes!


The result? Scattered beading from the neckline, back edge and down the skirt.




The very last finishing touch was unplanned, a last minute idea. I finished the dress just shy of two weeks before the wedding date, but didn’t put this handwritten label in until the night before, so it was a surprise.


The wedding itself was beautiful.  So true to the bride and groom’s shared love of each other, and of the outdoors.  They were married under the trees on the island of Guelph Lake conservation area, it was perfect! These were just some of the special details:

  • guests invited to camp for the night in a field strung with twinkly lights,
  • homemade by bride and groom – pouches of delicious caramel popcorn as seating cards. I cannot imagine making vast amounts of popcorn just days before my wedding!
  • a delicious southern bbq dinner, mason jar pies by the groom’s mom and our aunt.
  • flowers grown and assembled by family.
  • a music tent for singing and instruments, guests were invited to suggest songs which became song books complete with sheet music and lyrics, and to bring their own instruments.
  • a honeymoon tent.
  • in lieu of a bouquet, a circlet of ivy grown from the mother of the bride’s wedding bouquet 33 years ago!
  • and if that wasn’t enough –  a duet sung by the newly weds to the guests in lieu of a first dance! An amazing moment and such a treat.

…and through the celebration the dress stayed together, my fears of the zipper, the buttons, something, somehow going wrong, happily vanished.


Full length

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Sneaky matching suprise
(copyright Ariana Shaw)
Photo credit: Ariana Shaw
This was a major sewing project that involved so many firsts for me.  First of my younger cousins to get married! First time making a fitted garment for someone else, first time merging two different patterns together; first time working with lace fabric; first time using silk and lace; first project with an epic non-negotiable deadline! A lovely dress for a special and beautiful bride.

I learned so much while making this dress and came out a better, more confident sewist at the end.

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Thanks to Lissa Varga Photography for permission to use her work in this post.

Now, what to make myself with the left-over lace?

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