ANATOMY OF LACE (AND MY WEDDING DRESS, PIECE BY PIECE)

by Daughter Fish

Guipure lace

Almost three weeks ago—before Sandy, before the election, before the November blizzard—I took an hour-long class on working with lace, taught by Susan Khalje over at Mood. To tell the truth, lace has always seemed too high maintenance for me. I’m more wash-and-wear, prone to spilling coffee and mashing my wardrobe into a too small closet. However, I wanted to take the class because Susan was teaching. I’ve read some of her Threads articles, own her Craftsy The Couture Dress class (which I’ve yet to start!), and I’d heard great things about her from one of her former couture students, Puu. Lace seemed as good an excuse as any to learn some grown up sewing skills.

As it turned out, I knew about half the people in the class (most of them other sewing bloggers), and we all sat wrapped as Susan walked us through the finer points of working with three laces: guipure (heavier, large patterned); chantilly (super delicate); and alençon (chantilly that’s been enbroidered and sometimes sequened or beaded).

Alençon covered bodice

By the end of the class I had a little more confidence and some ideas for projects. But more than that, I had an intense curiosity to to take a closer look at one of the only lace garments I own: my wedding dress.

When Mr. Fish and I first got engaged, I dreamed of making my dress, but really didn’t have the time or energy. I ended up finding the above Claire Pettibone gown at a sample sale. It fit the 1930′s look I’d been lusting after, and something about the lace over silk charmeuse seemed elegant but appropriate for our country wedding. Even on deep discount, the dress was the most expensive thing I’d ever purchased, besides college tuition and a car.

I obsessed for months that I was spending more on alterations and vowed that as soon as the wedding was over, I was reselling that baby. But as it happened, about 5 minutes into our reception someone spilled red wine all down the front of me, the shock of which catipulted me into a very unlady-like rage in the privacy of my mother’s bedroom, where I became soundly drunk and so unihibited for the rest of the evening that I danced my bootie off on the barn dance floor, then proceeded to stomp into my parents corn field somewhere around midnight to pee—still wearing my precious lace gown. Lets just say, the gown wasn’t really resellable and my overall behavior demonstrates why, perhaps, I’m not the best candidate for lace garments.

The gown fiasco was so upsetting, I haven’t really look at the dress since. Yet after Susan’s lace class,  I decided to crack open the garment bag. The outer layer of the dress is made of three different laces. The top, as I discovered, is what I think would be considered alençon—lace that’s been embroidered and beaded. This covers everything to about mid-thigh.

Attached to the alençon is a band of what I think would be considered chantilly.

Below that middle layer is a more home-spun looking lace that covers the lower skirt and train. I’m not sure if this is a chantilly, or something else, but it’s what originally sold me on the dress.

This layer looked the most antique to me, and I also appreciate that it’s a little bit tougher than the other two laces.

Besides finally figuring out what my dress is made of, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the dress wasn’t quite wrecked, as I’ve come to imagine over the past three years. In fact, I think it’s quite salvageable. I’m not sure for what, quite yet. I’m not really the type to keep a dress for my daughter to wear. But all of that lace is so beautiful, it’d be a crime for it to hide forever.