Letter to Dressmakers…or…Cogitating on Popcorn Thoughts…whatever

Dear Dressmakers:

I have been thinking…or rather percolating which is an ongoing activity that I do not have to be consciously aware of. 

Sparking events:

*A family member asked again if people use the info on this blog and if I get paid for it. 

Yes.  No.  My choice.

*Last night, Susan pointed out to me that Rebecca W’s ID dressmaking website and blog had disappeared.  My email to her bounced right back.  Called out to her on the dressmaker’s board…and she emailed me.  Her email got me thinking and the percolations began to rise…do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do {twilight zone}…

*I have noticed recently how many times folks have tried to start positive thought trends on the ID message boards.  They are lauded for their efforts and folks chime in and add wonderful things to the discussion.  There were a few postings about our new tunic dresses, which I found gratifying, and some interesting comments.  But, so much of the boards are taken up by screaming, mind-numbing, destructive negativity…why?  Are more endorphins produced by causing trouble rather than inspiring laughter? 

*Today on the knitting site Ravelry (I am SOOO enamored of this incredibly creative site!), someone brought up the issue of others using her photos without permission.  She said all anyone had to do was ASK!!!  I was very flattered when I was asked by a designer to use one of my pics to illustrate a pattern…in my hermit universe, I felt like a rock star!!!  The discussion was wonderfully constructive and educational…someone wrote about the benign internet mentality that what we can so easily find in the ether must be free!!!!  Most folks really do not seem to mind while understanding that some others are really bothered by it.  And technically, the law is on the side of first documentation. 

*And prior to this,  Susan and I had a conversation about the “sharing” of ideas that happens in ID dressmaking.  Folks in the ID world “share” differently than the rest of the children on the block.  Knitters do not “share” ideas the ID way because everyone calls them on it!  Every message board calls out the offender as the idiot they are!  The offended designer will visit you in your dreams!!!  Consequently, very, very few share without asking, attributing and/or pointing out VERY specifically how they changed things.  It creates a very open culture of folks that share in the true sense of the word.

And then there is my other world…dance.  If you borrow from another choreographer and yet present it as your own, you are very quickly nothing more than mud.  Everyone knows… a critic will take you to task in print.  In dance, as in so many other art fields, a true artist talks openly and with pride about who and what influenced them.  Training and working and studying with different artists are encouraged.  There is dignity in discussing the lineage of your artistry, if that makes sense. 

Plagiarism in all fields, artistic or not, ruins your DNA for generations to come.  In the performing arts, literature & art worlds, artists publicly acknowledge their influences as badges of honor! 

But ID is different.  We are not allowed to videotape competitions for fear steps will be stolen (how many different ways can you do a batter/treble?!).  Dancers can only train at their ONE sanctioned school (although I do find the rise of ID summer camps to be wonderful).  Transferring schools is cause for much teeth gnashing, many bad feelings, and nasty bad mouthing!  The case for the over-use of the trinity knot is before the Supreme Court…knot not.

All of that, and public and private dressmaker angst (I use that word for its power, not as parody) brings me here: even ID dressmaking is very weird…still.  I do think that it is much more open now than it used to be because of the great influx of newbies over the past year or so.  Yeehaw, Newbies!!!!  When I finally discovered the boards (a year or so after I started) getting real help was difficult as the secrecy thing was still in full force.  There were a couple of websites to go to for info…I still see them in my head as I studied them with awe and absolutely zero comprehension. 

My first foray onto a board went something like this:

“Are there patterns for Irish dance dresses?”


…after a length of time… “Where can I find them?”


…after another length of time…”What is ‘IT’?”

…doo-do-doo, twiddling thumbs…”Irish Threads.”

“Great!  Where can I buy it?”

…time…”Search on Google.” 

My frustration knew no bounds.

I will say that the first ID dressmaking person I ever talked to was Pat at Irish Threads.  She was extremely knowledgeable about all things ID, and very helpful & patient, especially considering I really knew nothing.  She was the first to warn me that getting info and help from others would prove difficult…to put it mildly.  She was also encouraging and I appreciated that.  So I plugged along in my frustration until I met Susan…and she blew my mind.  That experience here.

Even now, still, the old guard seem to continue to be very quiet folks.  Perhaps they pay us no heed at all, but I do think they are there, listening and even contributing to the boards and groups, anonymously for the most part, though I imagine the old culture of secrecy, of “guard your trademark secrets for they are your identity” is still at work.  And yet, as Susan pointed out to me, everyone used to use mainly the designs from Seven Gates!!!  The designs had the same source but no one would talk about it!!!

My blog was the first ID dressmaking blog, and I only started it in March 2006 {what a hoot this is now…notice my tiny font…did not want to seem presumptuous}.  I searched and searched and I was really surprised at the time that there were no ID dressmaking blogs (update: turns out there was one t I did not find!).  I started mine because I was encouraged by reading knitting blogs, and I was so tired of feeling alone in the ID virtual reality.  But, I did it with much trepidation because I was afraid I would be perceived as an interloper, a fraud too big for her britches even though I really only started it as a way to share things with my family who live way off in California and Louisiana!! 

So…what is my freaking point?  I dunno…do I have to have one?  [[[whine, whinge, snarf, snurf…]]]

I feel like there is an elephant in the room…only I can’t see it to point it out.  It is part of what drove my whinging about no one talking to me a while back…it is part of the mild surprise that we at Feisdress felt when we actually heard very little from our fellow dressmakers about our tunic dresses because we value those discussions, those insights.  We do thank those of you who responded with such enthusiasm!  Kisses!  We also want to hear from those of you who did not feel enthusiasm…there is nothing better than a good, thorough, Irish dissection and debate!  My favorite “criticism” of the tunics from the boards was that they resembled Renaissance armour, and then pics were provided.  It was specific, and I understood.  My laughter was appreciative as well as highly amused.

ID is a very strange and irrational world.  I really do not understand because my Irish heritage is filled with people who looked/look you in the eye and told/tell you when you were/are full of shit!  Quite frankly, if it weren’t for Susan I would not be doing this.  I truly appreciate her blunt, take-no-prisoners attitude as my tendency is to take most things to heart.  Even though I can be perceived as a hard ass, once you get past what is a facade wrought by stellar teenage shyness coupled with the rigid ballerina posture, I am basically a marshmallow (as my sister Katie puts it).  I do think Susan and I make a good great team, and that is why I continue.  My former dance life was about collaboration… this dressmaking life is also a collaboration.

That’s it…collaboration.  We dressmakers are in collaboration.  We share and borrow, spy and steal, evaluate and re-format.  The Celtic Flame dressmaker’s message board has become quite a wonderful thing…except when we feel there is a sacred cow/elephant in the room.  We have become pretty wonderful about sharing in the true sense of the word…except when we don’t.  We are so giving…except when we aren’t.  We are supportive and funny and forthright…except when we are silent.  And we do all of this in packs.

Am I making sense?

I, for one, vow to start thanking any dressmaker that shows me something new.  I vow to look at all pics. I vow to answer all specific questions if I have something even remotely valuable to add. I vow to give feedback if asked.  I vow to help/support/validate/educate any dressmaker in conflict with a TC or client.  I vow to get over myself and be the collaborator I know I can be.

That is what this blog has evolved into.

The ID world, the TCs and parents, can be hard on dressmakers.  (So far my experience has been nothing but good, great and amazing…I KNOW I am lucky.)  Human psychology is a bitch to begin with, but the psychology of an art form that finds its validation in competition is so freaking complicated!!!!  So much of their anxiety gets taken out on us…we are ONLY people who ONLY work with our hands and EVERYONE knows that takes no brain power, for goodness sake!  (I am stopping there as THAT crap is a sure-fire way to get my juices flowing in a non-constructive way…)

We as dressmakers have a rarefied, immensely stratified and separated support system.  When we are dismissive and uncommunicative, we hurt each other.  When we are good, we help people fly.  I was so struck by the support Rebecca W received in the IDD group…it was not only wonderful, it was ‘us’ at our best.

I vow to try to support everyone who asks for it.



Putting my money where my mouth is

No, no, no…I am not referring to the “Busy bee” post. No apologies for presenting an opinion and a general critique of Irish dance dress design. Another day I will expound upon the lack of any critical review of most aspects of Irish dance. Touchy bunch, we Irish.

This post has finally percolated through my brain after experimenting with a few things in my Bernina Designer Plus, Version 5, embroidery software. I was inspired by a fellow Bernina user that I “met” in an internet group. Her name is CJ and she is the author/owner of The Wandering Quilter. I have learned much on her website. One day recently, I was exploring her blog and found this treasure about making free-standing lace. I was in awe, and I had found a new challenge…lace-making…and learning to digitize free-standing lace designs. My computer has been getting a work out.

I have stated on my blog, on the Celtic Flame ID dressmakers board, and in a couple of Yahoo groups (IDD, BerninaArtista, etc) that I:
#1 – Love this software in general
#2 – Hate parts of it specifically. I dislike the parts that are supposed to make life as a digitizer easier such as the auto-digitizer, magic wand and auto-split functions. I find them not intuitive and usually useless.

So, the past couple of days I have taught myself to digitize lace. Fun, fun. This morning I asked Susan (my Feisdress partner) to give me something that I could turn into lace. I love what we have done, but I have decided that this particular design would be better suited to being stitched onto fabric or net. When I applied the principles of digitizing free-standing lace to this design, too much of what I did changed the basic look, so it evolved into an exercise in using two of the functions I dislike: auto-digitizer and the magic wand.

Let me say here, that I fully understand how the auto-digitizer and magic wand functions work. They must work very well for most folks or they would not exist. I usually try them when first digitizing a new design, but I always erase it and do it myself. I have documented my attempts at using them today…and I learned a few things. I took pics as I went along.

This is a section of the whole design Susan sent me. It is the approximate length of the mega-hoop. Pretty, isn’t it? (Please do not copy this design as it belongs to Susan.)
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This is the basic unit in a jpg format.
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And this is the result of the auto-digitizer. Yuck.  This rather bizarre organization is one of the dead give-aways that a digitizer chose the “easy” way.
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Now I realize it is a computer program and it reads the lines as they are…I expect to clean up the clarity of edges. But what is happening at the line junctions is unacceptable. Susan has sent me designs in an emf format in the past. We did some research and thought this might help the software better read the sequence of lines, but we have not had any better success.

Here is the magic wand at work. Double yuck.
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Here I changed the angle of the satin stitch that the magic wand generated, but in a design like this, there is always going to be a section that is wrong.
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So, before I scrapped the whole thing, I changed the original jpg. Using Paint, I separated the design at the appropriate junctures.

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Then, I tried auto-digitizer again and got this. Better, but still not right.
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So, I ungrouped the design and deleted the part that did not work.
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I fixed all the curliques. The area of each junction needed fixing mostly because my jpg edit was not as careful as it could have been, but also because I wanted them to overlap, not simply butt up against one another.
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Then I digitized the big curl myself, and voila!
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I did this whole thing below here myself before I did my experiments above.
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Now that I have explored further and found a way to use the auto-digitizer, I could use it in the future. It is a tool I could use for parts, not the whole thing.  However, it is not a quick solution.  In fact, it might even be more inefficient because I have to re-check everything and make adjustments.

So have I changed an opinion? Yes…sort of.   Auto-digitizer can be used and manipulated. Magic wand? No, still not magic for me.

Thanks for the inspiration, CJ!