The Tunic Dresses

I was planning on writing more about our new tunic dresses (Liz’s Tunic Dress, Dana’s Tunic Dress), but Caroline posted a bunch of questions before I got to it!  So I will use her list as my framework:

I love it! And BOY do I have questions! -D
You have again revolutionized the concept of an Irish dance dress…

So here goes,

How did you attach the pink panels? Are the black panels part of the bodice? How can I adapt Susan’s pattern to do this? Will Susan make a special pattern for this and where can I buy it?
How did you stiffen the panels? (Did you stiffen the panels? ) How did you work out the lining for the black panels? Is the underskirt secure? Is there any Velcro or other form of attachment to keep the bodice and skirt in their place?
At what stage of the bodice did you embroider the panels? Do you have to embroider around the edges of the panels when the darts of the bodice were already in place?

I am sure I can think of more questions, but let’s keep it with these for now -D


Let’s start with the bodices.  The black and red panels are cut as part of the bodices…there are NO horizontal waist seams! 
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Susan put her mathematical mind to work to create a custom bodice for each dancer.  The obvious challenge was to incorporate not only the appropriate darts and seam angles but also the angles and lengths of the panels themselves!  When she brought the first test pattern to me so we could look at it on the dress dummy, I was amazed by both its complexity and its brilliant simplicity.  Together we worked through a couple of things, but I served mainly as her sounding board… amazing, Susan!!

This pattern was not an alteration of the Feisdress pattern.  Each bodice was specifically created to fit two very different bodies.  I cannot imagine that this could be generated as a generic pattern…alterations would change it drastically and mess up the panels and their angles of hang.  We did have to alter the pattern for the red dress…I just stood there in awe as I watched what Susan did to it to make it right.  Not an easy task.  Later, I was able to make another SIMPLE alteration, but only because I had worked through it with her once before.

If you want a custom pattern, you will have to contact Susan.

Attaching the pink panels was not as simple an operation as I thought it would be.
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I had many ideas…many moments in the middle of the night when I would pop awake with the “solution.”  But I could do nothing until all of the pink panels were finished…11 of them…the never-ending panels………  Yes, the pink panels are stiffened.  The design was embroidered first, then I attached it to 1 layer of firmflex, attached a back lining, and satin stitched the outside of each panel.  Then I began fooling around with attaching them.  We wanted a narrow silhouette (no panels sticking straight out to the side), and we wanted them to move freely.  I was thinking that minimal attachment would be best, but then they hung at odd angles.  I ended up sewing the pink to the black across the top of each pink panel and the again down about 1 inch on each side of the black where it splits at the top of the pink panels.  Deciding on the width of that opening was a journey of trial and error.

The designs on the panels of the red dress and the black bodice were all done after the bodice was cut but before any construction was done.  I serged the lining to the black bodice as I always do, completed the satin stitching around the panels, then completed the bodice darts.  For the red bodice, I did a partial bag lining so that the darts would not become stiff simply because of the amount of fabric in them.  The lining was serged to the bodice around the edges.  Then, again, I completed the satin stitching, followed by the darts.  Both tunics have separating zippers.

There is only decorbond in the shorter panels of each bodice.  Keeping them soft, especially on the red dress, was a priority.  In fact, there is no firmflex (like timtex) in the entire red dress!  WOO-HOO!!!

Now, the underskirts…felt like I invented a wheel.  Thought this would be a piece of cake…not.  But, each of these skirts was a good challenge.

I decided that Dana’s skirt should be a drop waist so that there would be no extra bulk under the black tunic.  The attachment of the skirt fabric to the skirt yoke evolved.  My original thought (and attachment) was still too bulky, so this ended up working.  Here’s the top black layer (and the mysterious cat tail!)…
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…and the next poofy layer which I thought would be enough.  Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
But when the pink panels were attached to the bodice, it was obvious that we needed another layer of poof to resist the panel weight. So, I added the silver.  You can see here how soft everything is.
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This skirt is on a stretchy yoke with an elastic waist.

The red skirt is totally different. I forgot to take pics of it (walking dead), but here is a pic from the O as it was waiting to be worn…
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This skirt has 2 very gathered layers attached to a wide elastic band.  There is a short zipper in the back.  Finding just the right poofiness (love that technical term) is the reason for all of the “quilting” below the waist band.

At a fitting, young Liz said she loved the way this skirt felt because it is so light!

The tunics are made to simply be worn over the skirts.  There is nothing to attach the tunic to the skirt because they fit well and there is no centering to worry about.  If I needed attachments to keep things in place, well then I would not have done a very good job of fitting!

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. K8
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 12:59:49


  2. Caroline
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 13:33:10

    Wow Ann, you work really fast! Don’t you need some rest by now? 🙂

    Thank you for answering the questions and I have some more 😀

    -I can see two darts on the bodice of the red dress. I think I can understand how this works….is the black bodice also constructed like this?

    – you said the pink panels are basically attached to the black panels. So, when the bodice is off, the pink are attached to the bodice and not the skirt right? Did you just finish the tops of the panels with serging (like a normal inside “raw seam” dress construction) ?

    -How are the darts on the back bodice?

    -Do you think it is workable to make “full length” panels attached to the bodice instead of the half length you have now?

    -Will Susan and you develop this further? Were there any problems in construction? Was it easier/harder than a “normal” one? More or less hours?

    -Do you think a more “adaptable” version of this is possible? I mean, to put panels on the bodice in the construction (thus creating a waist seam again) so that the feisdress bodice can still be used? I was thinking of putting the panels on the bodice at the fashion fabric only and then attaching the lining over that to create a nice finish and hide the top and attachment of the panels inside.
    -Do you think the above idea is worth exploring, or would it be better to just attach the panels to the top of the soft underskirt?

    Well, those are just my ramblings again. As you can see you got my brain rattling. I am extremely interested in this as I can see the potential for showcostumes and displaydancers that can thus easily switch “outfits” by putting on another skirt or top. This is GREAT for teams and school costumes as the skirt and top can be interchanged separately as a dancer grows in either length or bust!

    Of course, I would LOVE pictures from the inside, the linings, the panels underneath, the zip. All the details!!! 😀

    And lastly, I would gladly PAY Susan and you to learn this technique. I have read some of the pattern alteration guides from Susan before and I hope I will be able to figure this out… If Susan would be able to make an e-book or instructional pdf on how she did it I would gladly buy it! Just so you know…I’m interested 😀


  3. Rebecca
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 14:54:21

    I’m so excited and amazed, I can’t even think about what to say! WOW! You guys rock!! I can’t believe it. This is amazing, and I’m SOOOOO excited that you 2 were able to make it work so perfectly. Congratulations on a job well done. (or 2 jobs well done)

  4. Susan
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 15:25:44

    Hi Caroline, I used the FeisDress pattern bodice as the block from which this tunic was developed. But changes that I made to it were dictated by the bodies of the dancers whom I was fitting. Some changes were pretty general but others were very specific.

    Dana’s tunic with 4 panels across the front was a much easier pattern to develop than Liz’s with 5 panels across the front.

    It would be a very challenging pattern for the panels to come all the way to the hem. Additional seams would probably be required and it wouldn’t work on all fabrics. I’m amazed and very please how beautifully Liz’s tunic worked out with the striped fabric. I was afraid the design would require a fabric without an obvious design.

    The tunics we chose to make all have a puffy-all-the-way-around skirt. In the process I did come up with a tunic pattern that would create a “flat” front, which we may make up for the right customer.

    Ann will have to give you her story on construction difficulty. Remember, these were first-time-inventing the wheel dresses with a learning curve. I think when she can mentally take out the embroidery issues, she’ll say the tunic is easier to construct than the waist-seam dress. But a precise pattern is the key to easy construction of anything.


  5. Paula
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 16:23:34

    Liz LOVES her dress!!! Weighs next to nothing, easy to get on, SOOO easy to dance in, transport it in a normal garment bag and what a knockout look! So many comments at the O. Everyone loved it — kind of like, why didn’t we think of that? I’m so sorry her injury (while practicing for her second round!) kept it from getting more exposure with a recall. There were some other soft skirts in her competition, some better than others, but none as stunning as Liz’s. She walked around the hotel between rounds in a tank top and just the “sugar plum fairy” skirt and got comments! There’s no goin’ back to big, stiff and heavy now!

    Since Jordan only got a quick look at the dress and hasn’t seen it in action — Liz will bring the dress to class — Ann, you could take more photos of it then. Or, if Caroline can’t wait, I’d be happy to take more detailed photos and send them to her.

  6. Paula
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 17:19:20

    I watched Dana’s soft shoe round — she looked fab! I was wondering if those longer panels would flap around too much, but they didn’t – they must have just the right weight to move but not fly. These dresses are made for DANCING!

  7. GailV
    Dec 02, 2007 @ 19:27:44

    I so adore this concept in dresses that I can’t WAIT for my kids to get to Novice and be ready for a solo dress. These are so cool!

  8. Jenny P
    Dec 03, 2007 @ 05:34:45

    Just love both these dresses! I particularly like the way the two panels either side of the centre panel on the red dress, form the darts of the bodice. Most ingenious! Briliant pattern cutting and sewing!

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