Part 3: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker

12)Appliques: Next in this train of thought is preparing good appliques to ensure a good looking design.

First, stabilizing the fabric is a must. Different fabrics require different stabilizers but all of them perform the same function…supporting the applique fabric so it can stand up to the dense satin-stitching. Nothing worse than a fraying applique that eventually falls off!

Second, best way to keep the applique in place for satin-stitching and for all time is to adhere it to the base fabric. Fuse wonder-under to the back of a prepared length of the stabilized applique fabric using the dry iron press. The press can iron large areas, and the lack of steam keeps all things from crinkling. Then after cutting, these pieces can be fused into place on the base fabric and nothing will move.

And this brings up the very important third point: clean cutting lines on appliques. Sloppy, uneven applique pieces and then even sloppier stitching will always make a dress look “homemade” (in the BAD sense of the word). Obviously most of us are making these dresses at home, but there is a difference between “homemade” and “professionally made” in our basements (or dining rooms, spare bedrooms, kitchens, etc). Use precisely drawn and cut templates to ensure the appliques are the correct shape and then get down to the very time-consuming activity of tracing & cutting them all out very carefully. There are cutting machines for this that would make life easier, but I, for one, cannot justify the cost since I really do not do mass production. Maybe someday I will find a cheap one.

Again, remember to make sure the satin-stitching is dense and wide enough to ensure full coverage of the applique piece. No gaps, no misses, no fraying fuzzies.

I will not post pics of a bad applique (don’t want to embarrass anyone, least of all myself). Suffice it to say that crooked cutting, design pieces that should match in size and shape but don’t, sloppy satin-stitching (because the cutting lines are crooked or the technique is faulty), fraying fabric that is untrimmed or pulling away from the stitching…these all contribute to making something look unprofessional. And I am assuming most of us know it when we see it. We criticize it. However, the question is, are we that demanding of ourselves? A “Come to Jesus” moment for me every time! Then I take a break, re-evaluate, rip it out if needed, and begin again more slowly. Have ripped many an applique out, cut a new one using my template, and started again when I came back from a breather.

13) Things that don’t line up. This has been a real challenge for me. Designs that cross seams are very difficult to line up. It is of course perhaps near impossible to line things up EXACTLY, but I get a twitch when there is asymmetry in the wrong place. Have ripped out seams, zippers and even appliques themselves to get closer to the necessary symmetry. And it is not just me. I do believe that the eye is drawn to mismatches and asymmetry. If that is the point of the design, great. Otherwise, I am doing my client a disservice letting obvious issues go unaddressed: she wants them to watch her dancing, not fixate on a mistake on her dress.

Here are pics of what I mean. (These pictures are of a dress made by another professional dressmaker and used with her permission. They have first been altered to illustrate incorrect placement, but then shown again as is to illustrate correct placement.)

This pic is the back bodice showing the zipper above the shawl and the applique does not meet. I might be briefly tempted to ignore this, especially if the dancer wears a longer wig…but not for long. Here it is again with the angles meeting…much better.

Here is the same problem at the center back seam. This is always visible.


Here,it now matches. And this is a great example of design elements matching as they should not only over the seam but over a pleat fold. Notice the long zigzag line that visually meets up with the diamond on the back skirt outside the pleat fold.

This pic of the center front of the dress shows two things: the center designs do not line up and the curved appliques at the top of the pleat do not match up.

Here, all is well (the bodice is a bit folded so the center design still looks a tad off, but it is not).The execution of this design is a great example of several things: all elements are well cut and stitched, there is a clear & even repetition of shapes; sides mirror each other so it does not look lopsided; the pleats are folded in the same place in the design (on the back); hem-line shaping is even and consistent.

14) Design. (This was obviously written before I did start designing and created Taoknitter Arts.)  Now, I have come to terms with the fact that I am not able to create a design for a dress. I deal with color, embellishment, construction design and labor, and I can see when something just is not quite right with a design and I can adjust it, but I am incapable of coming up with a picture of a design. Made me a bit squirrely for awhile because I felt I needed to be able to do it all…but once I accepted the fact that my brain does not work that way anymore, I relaxed. I became severely ill back in 2000 after the birth of my 3rd daughter…almost left Michael alone with 3 kids to raise. Up until then, I was a choreographer, dance professor, director, costume designer, kinesiologist…I did everything I wanted and needed to create dance and guided my graduate students to do the same. My brain (looking back now) was a marvel in the way it worked, the way it saw dances, sets, lighting, costumes all fully realized. All of it would be there in 3-D glory, illuminated by a brain that simply had to create. After I got sick, life changed and I retired. When I began this, it never occurred to me that I could not design… I always had. But it took trying to create an Irish dance dress design for me to fully realize that my brain is different now. I still need to create, but it is working with my hands that provides me with the outlet now. I rely on Susan to create the beautiful vision, then I get busy making it real.

I am telling my story here to put my perspective on design in context. I may not be able to create a design, but I can still see it and its effects. Here are a couple of things I now consider:

A) Does the design work with a dancer’s particular body-type and posture? Type of design and its placement can hide or accentuate round, thin or overly wide shoulders; thick waists; large busts; wide hips; short necks. Placement of fabric color also affects these things.

B) Fabric color and dancer’s coloring. I cannot tell at a glance what will work on a dancer, so I now get big swatches so I can see it next to the dancer’s face. I just made a dress using a coral metallic silk. The young dancer lit up when she saw it but I thought it would not work because she is so pale. However, when we held it up, her cheeks blossomed and she looked so pretty. Reminds me to pay attention to what draws a dancer’s eye…we usually like what will look good on us.

C) Sometimes I see designs that have not taken into consideration placement of certain elements. To put it bluntly, arrows pointing to body areas, boob blossoms and boob eggs, and other unfortunate shapes placed badly draw the eye. To be more specific with examples is not nice and not my intention.

D) Ok, this one might just be my own weird quirk, but it pays to be wary of creating subliminal pictures in the design that are unintentional. Negative space is part of the design. The arrangement of shapes can create another picture because of the unused space. This is a pic of the shawl on the first dress I made for my oldest daughter. I did mess with the design I bought to create a shape for the stiff shawl, so this result is my fault, not the designer’s. Can you see the bunny? Use the shawl outline as your reference. My middle child pointed this out to me with a squeal of delight when I had the dress almost done. Oldest child thought it was funny, so I didn’t fuss.
Use of color can also affect what I see: on two of my dresses, an abstract Bullwinkle the Moose because of his white “antlers” and a grinning fool that I actually caught on the bodice so removed the silver in his “eyes & horns”, but I did not catch on the front panel. I have seen cows, bulls, crabs, cockroaches, Indians, devils…things funny and things weird. It pays to do a sample and step back…or better yet, bring in a child and listen when they squeal! My kids taught me to see these things and I do not claim to be the only one who “sees.” Have heard many a giggle about “pictures” at feiseanna…so I pay attention.

Feel like I’ve written an outline for a book. And I think I am done…for now.

Happy New Year to one and ALL!

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Dressmaking for Experienced FDS « Taoknitter
  2. Trackback: Part 2: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker « Taoknitter

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