Feisdress pattern: The physics of the skirt hang!

I have made over 30 dresses using the Feisdress pattern in the past year. I obviously love it and will never use another. The logic behind its design is solid. Any problems I have ever had are of my own devising. I have every size: the skirt has been perfect and except for waist enlargements, I do not have to alter the skirt pattern. I do alter the bodice pattern for every dancer because no two bodies are the same and I know the fit I like. I think I have only ever had one small dancer whose measurements matched the pattern exactly. I choose a pattern based on the upper chest measurement and then alter what I need.
Every problem I have encountered with skirt hang has been caused by something I did wrong. The Feisdress skirt pattern is brilliantly engineered – the angles of the panels and of the pleat seams and the tension of the pleats and waist seams make this skirt work the way it does. Folks claim that a curved waist seam keeps the skirt from being able to lay flat. I think it is the illusion of the straight waist line that makes folks think the skirt is hanging straight. Not so. The pic below is a flat skirt with an obviously curved waist seam. This pic showed me I had a waist seam to correct a bit, but everything worked so well with the skirt construction that the waist seam fix was more for my sense of symmetry. It is hard to see because of the fabric, but the skirt is offset forward of the side bodice seam about an inch. (This is the under-bodice and skirt of a 2 piece. I love these because I can make the skirt fit snugly and get the drop-waisted look with the shape of the jacket. Whole dress here.)



For the record, I check skirt hang on a hanger unless it is big enough to fit on my dress dummy. I have found that the problem I see on a hanger is exactly the same on a body. Sometimes on a body the problem is less exaggerated, but it is still there. When a skirt lays flat on a hanger, all is well with the world!

There are a few things to consider when trying to achieve a flat skirt front. First is the actual shape of the dancer – the flatter the dancer, the flatter the skirt. Susan explains it clearly here. Evaluating your dancer’s actual shape will help you figure out how to adjust the skirt for the flattest look possible which usually involves deciding how far to offset the skirt…or even deciding that the young lady’s shape may preclude a totally flat skirt. There is an offset skirt line on the pattern, but it is just a suggestion. Choose your own, move it forward, back, whatever works for you.

Second, there are inevitably skirt issues to resolve no matter the skirt shape and these involve simply getting the skirt panels to hang right, period.

1. Folding/bending of the top of the side panels at the sides. When this first happened to me, I solved this by sewing the sides of the skirt higher into the bodice. I angled the seam from the front dart, up higher to a point on the side bodice seam, then back down to the real waist seam line at the back dart. Because I kept having this problem, Susan included this alternate line (dotted) on the pattern. Below is the back and front bodice pattern pieces (1″ side seam showing).

And here are the front side panel (FSP) and the back skirt lined up to show the corresponding line.

This is a fix many folks have figured out for themselves no matter the pattern.

However, the problem I was having was completely my fault. There were 2 issues.

a) At first, I was not pressing and basting at all before I sewed the skirt on. As I have said before, I am a master with pins. Brilliant genius, truly. Well, the Irish dance dress skirt exists to thwart all seamstresses, to torture us, to humble us. The stiffened panels WILL move, WILL shift, WILL prevent you from every getting that skirt on correctly unless you PRESS & BASTE! You may laugh, you may scoff, but I guarantee that if you PRESS & BASTE, the skirt will behave and your adjustments will be fewer. I liken this to constructing a building – they don’t just pound in nails to make something fit and stay…they cut things to exact measurements and do all the necessary prep so that all the pieces simply fit. Same for this pattern. Yes, I do pin the skirt to the bodice after it is pressed & basted. I feel that this is more stable for sewing the 2 sections together.

b) I was altering the bodice pattern incorrectly: I put the bodice side seams too low on the altered pattern. I had not measured them too long but rather made them too low in their placement on the pattern which made them too long. Learning curve. So, if the side bodice seams were too low (long), then there was no tension on the skirt sides to hold them up, so the top of the panels would bend. I have corrected that alteration mis-perception and the problem has disappeared.

I was seeing the above bending problem mainly on smaller dresses because the skirts are not heavy. However, on bigger dresses with heavier skirts I was seeing…

2. Center front panel jutting forward. Because the entire skirt is heavier, the same issues discussed above (a & b) will cause the CFP to stick out. If you look inside the pleats, the half of the pleat attached to the CFP is folding, being pushed by the stiffened FSP, which does not allow the CFP to lay flat, hence the jutting. Pushing it flat then causes the tops of the side panels to bend. So, pulling it up into the side seams will help get rid of this unless you did not PRESS & BASTE…you might just have to start over.

3. Twisting center front panel. It won’t lay flat or evenly…you push the offending side down and the other side pops out. Things to consider:

a) Have I done the “PRESS & BASTE?”

b) When basting, did I lay the skirt flat to find the flat alignment of the pieces? This is important. If you are basting with the skirt in your lap, it WILL NOT line up as it should. Lay it flat on your table and baste it tightly, especially at the seam line itself.

Below is a pic of how my wrapped pleats seams line up when I lay the dress flat to begin basting. (I have put white fabric under them for contrast.)

Granted, if my pleat seams are not the same length to begin with, this is not a reliable indicator, but I try to cut and measure things consistently. If I have checked this prior to basting and they are even, all should be well. However, if twisting occurs and the inside looks like this (below), then things shifted or were basted incorrectly to begin with. One of the pleat seams has been pushed down (or up) and is pushing the CFP. If you only pin, no basting, this happens very easily.

c. Twisting can also happen if the CFP is too narrow at the top. This pic is of a different pattern for a skirt I was asked to fix because the CFP was twisting. Couldn’t be done…made a new skirt.

d. If all else is good and it is still twisting, check the waist seam. Is it even? I sew the skirt on from the bodice side (meaning I am looking at the bodice while sewing), but I check the OTHER side, the skirt side, for seam evenness. I can tell right away if things have slipped, shifted or if my sewing line went off on a random journey. I then re-sew or start over to make that seam line as even as possible.

4. Bowing CFP. I have never encountered this in a dress I was sewing, but I did just recently have to trouble shoot this while helping someone put a skirt on. I had cut the dress out so I knew we were ok in terms of proportions.

When she first arrived with the dress, the skirt was on and the CFP was twisting. There were enough issues to resolve that I had her take the skirt off and start again. What I did not check was how well the skirt was basted to begin with. This time, when the dress went on the hanger, there was the bowing CFP! Pulling it up into the side seams had a bit of an affect, but not enough. We straightened the seam across the waist to no avail. It was eventually time for her to leave, so I gave her a few more hints to try, but I have not heard from her since. I do not know how it ended up.

The one thing that occurs to me having had time to think, is that the front pleat seams were pulled up too high into the waist seam. Like I said, I did not check the basting stitches. If they were loose and she pinned that area pulling the tops of the pleat seams up to meet the selvedge edges, then the CFP is going to bow out because the pleat seams themselves have been shifted closer together changing their angle. They are closer together at the bottom of the CFP, and because that seam is stiffened (the only seam in which I include the stiffener because it does not fold)there is no give and the CFP is bowed and forced to stick out. Even if the pleats were totally soft, there would still be a problem – the pleats would fold and crease still affecting the hang of the CFP. Only solution is to rip it out and start again.

5. Vertical folding/collapsing of back or DUCK BUTT!So far I have found the fix for these two problems to be the same though they are usually caused by 2 different issues. I simply change the angle of the back outside pleat lines. I have not had to change the entire pleat. To figure the new fold line, I look at the back either on the dancer or on the dress dummy, and then I pin the new fold line. This obviously helps you see that it is going to lay flat and/or stop collapsing. I had a Duck Butt issue with the Flower solo and it was solved by moving the fold line out…the pic below shows a red line where the original fold was. For the collapsing issue, I move the fold the opposite way, in toward the zipper.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Dressmaking for Experienced FDS « Taoknitter

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