Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wedding Dress Wednesday: Hand beading

Wedding Dress Wednesdays are guest posts written by my Mom, Janet

Last week, I covered how I engineered a button-off removable train.  This week I'll tell about hand-beading the bodice.

The inspiration dresses featured a variety of bodices: One was plain silk, which showed everything (seam lines, underwear, jiggly bits, etc.).  Some were heavily embroidered.  One even had 3-D lace flowers scattered around (which we really liked).  Bonnie liked an open lace design (where the flowers are spaced apart) and I thought it looked lighter, airier, and more summery. 

I shopped around, and found lace I liked in the garment district of LA.  The one I picked is a lightweight lace called Chantilly lace, which is re-embroidered and lightly beaded.  I picked one that had a pretty border in case we needed it (we didn’t) and that looked pretty on top of the dress fabric.  It was only $35 a yard and I got 2 yards to play with.

Lace for Bonnie's wedding dress
Lace for Bonnie's wedding dress - you can see the beading more clearly in this photo
Close-up of the original beading on the lace

I started by examining the floral design very carefully.  You want to be sure that the flowers are going the right way!  No dead flowers!  This lace pattern was actually across the fabric, I guess to facilitate using the border on a hem. 

To get the flowers spaced out well on the pattern, I laid the bodice parts under the lace and wiggled them around until the flowers were scattered in good places on each bodice piece.  I strive for ‘controlled randomness’ – not too crazy but not too lined up.  You should also avoid placing a flower right on the end of the bust. 

I loosely pinned the lace to the dress fabric and chopped around each bodice section.  Save all those extra pieces because you can use stray flowers to fill in gaps at the end.  Also be sure and keep any beads that fall off!

Next comes layering each section of the bodice.  I layered the lace over the dress fabric, then put a cotton underlining beneath them.  The underlining prevented being able to see through the lace and dress fabric. 

I pinned all the edges extremely well, stretching the lace netting so that it laid very flat.  I thought the wrinkles in the lace would iron out, but it was actually a function of how the lace was made, so by stretching it slightly, it lay a lot smoother once everything was all sewn together.  Once the pieces were pinned, I sewed a stay-stitching line about ½” from the edges. The stay-stitch gets hidden in the seam allowances once everything is sewn together.

The most important hint I have is to trim away beading anywhere near a seam!  Sewing over beads is a nightmare – your seams end up wonky and you end up breaking beads and needles.  You’ll want to remove all beading within about 1 ½ - 2” from all edges.  Be sure to examine how the beads are sewn on.  In our case, each flower cluster was attached with one continuous piece of thread.  If you trim off just one bead or sequin, the whole flower cluster needs to be redone.

After the dress bodice is sewn together and you are happy with the fit, you can use those spare beads and sequins to fill in where you had removed them earlier.  I used matching thread and a narrow needle.  Some seed beads require a beading needle, but most of the fake pearls and sequins work fine with a regular sewing needle. 

I like to bead sitting at a table with the item laid out in front of me.  This enables you to slide your hand underneath and control everything.  I use a dark colored towel under my beads – they can’t roll around and you can pick them up easier.

Beading the belt, but I use the same set-up regardless of the project

When beading a gown, I first repair all the flowers where I had to remove beads.  In a few instances, an important flower ended up on a seam.  I wanted ones’ eye to travel smoothly over the lace design and not stop at a seam, so I cut out flowers from the scraps and appliqu├ęd them over seams.  I also used this trick in areas that seemed too sparse.

I appliqued lace flowers on top of seams and in sparse areas
Then I started “beefing-up” the beading.  I added a few on the ends of tendrils where there was only thread.  I followed some main stems of flowers and made some of the importantly placed flowers more heavily beaded. 

I added pearls and sequins to the flowers

One thing I learned years ago was to scatter your beading lightly. Then go back and do more, and repeat until you are satisfied or run out of patience or time!  If you start out heavily beading a section, you are locked into doing the entire dress that way!  

I like to bead more on the neckline and bust area; it leads the eye up to the bride’s face.  The top of the dress also gets seen and photographed more than any other part.  I left the waistline alone since the belt would be there, and having the belt on top of heavy beading would be too bulky.

If your pearls are too white for the fabric, you can dye fake pearls in a weak mixture of Rit Dye.  String them on a thread and dip them in a measuring cup filled with hot water and 1/4t of dye.  Start with a weak solution - you can always add more but you can’t take it away!  Most fake pearls are very white, so this helps if your fabric is ivory or ecru.  Fortunately Bonnie’s lace had plenty of beads we could reuse, so I got to skip this step. 

I kept adding beads whenever I had some quiet time, right up until two days before the wedding!  Then I tacked down the lining and added a personalized tag. 

Next week is the final Wedding Dress Wednesday post!  We'll cover some lessons learned, give some tips and tricks, and do the big reveal!!!


  1. the photos came out great!

  2. what kind of thread would you use for this?

    1. we just use regular sewing thread, nothing special!


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