Embrace the alterations!

I have been thinking a lot about what it takes to create a good fitting Irish Dance dress.  Not only have Susan and I been talking about it, but there have been a couple of things that have set my brain going…again.  One has been the recurring statements on the boards that the dresses from the ID dress companies capable of big volume “fit like a glove” when pics posted belie that fact as you can plainly see shoulder seams that are 1/2″ too high at the neck, wrinkles at the waist/bust/armscyes, shoulders are too wide, necks gape, zippers pull, hips pull, stomachs pull, chests pull…does “fit like a glove” mean that it fits tightly since it rarely means it fits the wearer correctly?!

Now, some will say that long distance dressmaking is difficult so some error should be expected, but I say that if that is your business, then you should learn how to make it right, especially if you are charging the outrageous sums that those companies are!  I am sort of sorry if I offend anyone with this, but I think that if one spends a mortgage payment on an ID dress and it does not fit well and the construction is not impeccable, then you should be sending it back at the company’s expense to be fixed and not accepting the crap they hand you!  But instead, it seems that folks are more willing to put on the “Emperor’s New Clothes” 3-D glasses so they can believe the crap they get is the best they can get!  What is that?!  (Ooh, and don’t get me started [again] on the deplorable construction that folks [still] accept.)

Now on to the second thing that has set me thinking about fit again…I have started working with a seamstress who is new-ish to ID dressmaking, new to making school dresses.  I have been working with a teacher of a new school, and in getting to know him and this dressmaker, I found myself rather involved (call it “pay-it-forward,” Susan).  I went for another meeting about 2 weeks ago so I could help her work through the bodice pattern. Now, she did not understand that even though she had taken all of the necessary measurements to decide on the appropriate Feisdress pattern, she still needed to check all of the other measurements against the pattern to make alterations to ensure that it fit the dancer.  She had simply cut out the bodice pattern as presented and was confused about why it did not fit the dancer. 

I arrived that day thinking I was going to have to teach her the logic needed to alter a pattern, but once I got going, it became clear that she actually did know how to alter a pattern…and right behind me was a rack of altered non-ID patterns that clearly showed she understood how to expertly fit a bodice.  So, I asked her why she hadn’t checked the Feisdress bodice before she cut out her muslin, and she said she had assumed that since she took so many specific measurements to begin with that the pattern must have been made to those specs. 

I wondered then if a lot of folks make that assumption.  How many folks order the Feisdress pattern thinking that it will simply fit their dancer because the upper chest measurement is correct?  That upper chest measurement ensures a good, close fit of that tricky part of the body, but the rest of it must be checked and altered to ensure the entire thing fits, and I am not talking simply about the bust and waist.  We have neck widths, slopes, side lengths, bust & waist widths, full lengths, etc….to achieve the close, perfect fit required of an ID dress bodice, so much must be measured and checked.

Since then, Susan and I have both received emails asking why the pattern does not fit “the way the patterns I buy at the store do?”  Ok, do commercial pattern buyers really believe that the pattern they buy based on bust and waist measurements will really fit perfectly?  Most are loose enough that we can go with the flow, but if a close fit is required, we will have to adjust the pattern to fit our respective bodices.  There is no perfect pattern unless you want to send your measurements to Susan to have her make a custom pattern just for you!!

Susan and I have this running conversation going about how most people alter patterns so they look right on us or our children.   I think that most folks use the eyeballing & pinning technique to make a pattern fit, but while that can work for the dancer you have constant access to, it is hit or miss if you don’t.  So, what’s a dressmaker to do???

Learn the logic of patternmaking and altering.  There are books out there that explain things from a variety of viewpoints, and you can learn from them all though of course most authors feel their way is the ONLY way.   We do have an incredible resource in this group in our own Susan Gowin who created the Feisdress pattern.  I am obviously a fan or I would not be her partner in crime, and the day she explained her pattern to me and showed me how to use and alter it changed my approach to sewing forever (cue the violins).  I always had a good eye for what did not work, but once I went to Susan University, I understood the whys and wherefores.  Learning how to alter a pattern to fit a specific set of measurements made everything easier and faster.

I keep telling Susan she needs to put her approach to altering a pattern into a book or at least a PDF that folks can purchase…nudge, nudge…  I know she has her measurement sheet available to IDD members which is a gift!

(Altering the Feisdress Bodice)

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