Dressmaking for Experienced FDS

So many folks are wanting to make ID dresses. Great. I love it and feel all should join in the fun. But, let’s be realistic. Sewing the seams is not the hard part…it is the easiest and the quickest part. ID dressmakers spend hours and hours on the prep work so that the dress looks perfect once those seams are sewn. This spells it out: 100 hours…or so

Here are a list of dressmaking links for those really wanting to know what they are getting themselves into.

Part 1: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker
Part 2: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker
Part 3: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker


Making an Irish dance dress 

About the Feisdress pattern
Taking Measurements
Measuring the Upper Chest & Troubleshooting Sleeve Issues
Skirt pattern
K. Fasanella’s zipper tutorial
Serging pieces together
I hate setting sleeves…
Stiffener placement & seams
Soft Capes
Pleating
Panel dress
Swoop dress center front panel
Bodice/Jacket for 2 piece
Altering the Feisdress bodice
Kite Shawl Construction

Embroidering and Digitizing:
Digitizing & Embroidering
Splitting a digitized design
New ID School Dresses: Design, Digitizing, & Finding Fabric
Embroidery placement
Putting my money where my mouth is
Caroline’ straight satin-stitching

Skirts:
Triangle Method for jutting skirts
The physics of the skirt hang!
Fitting issues: Dancer mis-alignment
“Brainstorm alert – The Unified Quantum Theory of the Skirt Hang”

Caroline’s shaped sleeves with French seams
Caroline’ straight satin-stitching

Per use fees for patterns
Copyright Law: Substantial Similarity

Rants and other thoughts:
Construction issues
Criticism
Criticism II
Criticism III
Reality Check!
Client from Hell
Dress Observations
Irish Dance Dresses: Beginning of a Revolution?
Embroidery…and a rant
Alterations Price List
Irked, Irritated, Steamed…
Brain Warp

Part 1: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker

(This was originally written at the beginning of 2007. I have re-read it and find it to be a good refresher for me.)

And I do really mean “daft.” An anonymous poster gave me a nice correction…I must mean”deft.” I truly appreciate that, but I mean “daft.” And any of you who continue to do this and actually enjoy it like I do…you understand my meaning.

This started as something relatively short…and got longer…and longer. So I broke it up…and revised as I went along. It is in 3 parts now.

(The following retrospective is in no way meant to impugn any dressmaker’s honor. This list is dedicated to keeping me honest.)

Many, many, MANY things I have learned about sewing professional looking Irish Dancing Dresses…and I thought I knew much about sewing when I began. HAH! My learning curve has been great, even curling back upon itself occasionally. There has been confusion, exhaustion, exasperation, frustration, pain, blood, tears, profuse swearing and even the occasional thrown object. And then there was extreme satisfaction when I was rewarded with smiles, exclamations of joy, my middle child’s approval, squeals of delight, many hugs, and paychecks.

So before I begin this new year and the new list of dresses, I want to remind myself what I have learned.

1) Sergers were made by sewing angels. Although I could appreciate the value of a finished seam before, I always spent the time trimming & zigzagging or turning up an edge and top-stitching. No more. The speed, the fabric trimming, the beautiful dense stitching on the fabric edge! Ah, heaven!

2) Good thread is a must. Period.Using the Feisdress pattern and working with Susan has been an amazing education. I have learned not only more about sewing in general but so much more about how one makes things that truly fit the human body. Irish dance dresses are very odd things, but they still have to fit humans. One invaluable site in terms of clothes and the human form (among many other things) is Kathleen Fasanella’s Fashion Incubator . This website, in general, is an unbelievable fount of information. Kathleen Fasanella is brilliant. An example of this and a discussion that illustrates why Susan’s pattern uses very little, if any, ease (most particularly in the princess seam) is this link. Even though I use pins, I use less because the Feisdress pattern pieces are designed to eliminate unnecessary ease so they match well to be sewn easily. This link takes you to another very interesting discussion along the same lines.

3) Stabilize, stabilize, stabilize! I like anything I can fuse – fusible woven cotton, French fuse, Decor-Bond…wonder-under when all else fails (NOT the heavy duty). Makes everything behave.

4) Other must haves: a good sewing machine; good scissors (and isolate the ones for sequins and paper); good iron; good press; a huge supply of sewing machine needles (I mainly use very sharp or denim needles, even for embroidery with metallic thread) and change them often; LONG pins & several magnetic “cushions” for said pins; round and rectangular hole punches; many sizes & types of rulers; markers of all kinds; pencils and chalk (in all forms); an awl; pre-wound bobbin thread in black & white; huge supply of Fray-chek and Fabri-tac; long hand needles and upholstery thread; huge supply of 24” zippers; canned air; and bandages, music, and someday, a fully stocked bar with a really cute bartender at my beck and call (oh, wait…that’s my husband…)!

As for making the Irish Dance dresses themselves:

1) First and foremost, use a good pattern! I use the Feisdress pattern. Have tried others, including one I created with my pattern making software. None as good as the Feisdress pattern. I choose the appropriate size using a unique measurement – the upper chest width, from front armscye to armscye. And, since the same upper chest measurement in a child goes along with other measurements that are usually different than those for a young woman (bust, waist, center front & back length, shoulder width, etc), there are two sets of patterns: Girls & Juniors. Yes, all dancer’s bodies are different, but alterations to the pattern are simple.

I have also altered the Feisdress pattern easily for other styles of Irish dance dresses. I have made two-piece dresses and panel dresses. My next challenge is a wrap dress…Susan has already prepared instructions for altering her pattern for this so I do not have to do it myself! You can email her for it… go here for her email.

2)Take precise measurements and do fittings. This seemed like a big, “DUH!” but I have continued to learn so much. I have learned to take a few extra measurements that help me get a very precise fit, but fittings are invaluable to ensure this. I am leery of doing custom dresses for dancers that I cannot get my hands on. There is always something that I need to tweak when I put a fitting bodice on her. I even do a fitting of the basically-finished bodice right before I sew on the skirt…sometimes they’ve grown or lost weight. I once had a young dancer change so much in 2 weeks (part of a large order for a school), that I had to do a new bodice. Solidified my stand on bodice fittings.

3) Always leave big seam allowances for easy alterations. When I began altering dresses, that was my biggest frustration…no allowance for squat! Or even worse, one side of the dress had extra in the seam but the other side was either terribly frayed or had none! I used a different pattern for my very first solo dress and drew in extra seam allowances on the pattern. The Feisdress pattern has this extra included: side bodice seams are 1″ each, the sleeves have the corresponding 1″ in the long seam and 2″ at the cuff, the zipper seam is 1.25″, and there is 2″ at the bottom of the bodice and at the top of the skirt. Perfect.

4) Actual cost vs. virtual I got sucked into the world of making ID dresses because my daughters dance… I thought making my oldest daughter’s dress would save me money. NOT! I probably did not save much on the first because of my mistakes and the number of times I started over. And I KNOW I spent way too much on her second dress. But that’s me because I found new puzzles to explore and solve, and I love doing it for my kids. There are things that I have learned that I pass on to whoever asks. But, what is important here is the actual cost vs. the virtual.

What does that mean? Well, let me try to put my thoughts down here. I can’t afford to buy a $2000 dress, but I want to make one that looks like it might cost $2000. So, the possibility obviously enters my mind that I can make my dd’s dress. I can sew…I started sewing clothes for myself when I was 10 (pants, jeans, skirts, dresses, jackets, formals…remember scooter skirts?), and have made dance costumes of all kinds, cheer leading outfits, wedding dresses, wedding veils, many a Hallowe’en costume…I can do this. At this point

I drag my daughter to the fabric store and we just start looking for colors we like. So I spend $400 on fabric and supplies initially (probably about average for just about anybody). I am not comfortable trying to design the dress, so I find a designer (the first designer I contacted was Alison Young. Lovely young woman and she designed exactly what I asked for…a purely embroidered design). I know now that she truly did not charge me enough for her lovely design. And this is important – if an actual $2000 dress were being purchased, the design would be about 1/20 of the true cost. Invest in a GOOD design.

In my opinion (and everyone has one like………….never mind), design and colors are what make the impression, not the shaped pleats and hem, not the stiff or soft shawl, not the sequins or feathers or fur or crystals or the name attached to the dress! It is the design and color and the rest is gravy. A well-designed dress has an impact on the psychology of the viewer, yes? So many posts on the boards debate what is important…isn’t the dancing most important? Yes, a good-looking dancer (in all aspects of presentation) will draw your eye, but if she can’t dance, what difference does it make? Last year, the champ in my daughter’s first prelim competition was wearing her school dress. Fantastic! Perhaps at the very top, the look might tip the scale, but I am not interested in that debate right now. I believe (after seeing it with my own eyes) that too much sparkle keeps the design from being seen. If catching and keeping the judges eye is important, then I think that the (very human) judge is going to focus on the one in which the interesting design and pleasing color are clearly visible, not the one where the dress is only a beautiful flash of light.

Diary: Part 2

Part 2: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker

Continuing the refreshment of my faulty memory…

5) Finish the bodice pieces with a serger!!! Before I started working with Susan, I was doing alterations for a local ID school. The bodice was completely bag lined, including the zipper seam (no seams are visible in the lining of the bodice). The hem of the bodice and top of the skirt were finished with bias tape. It LOOKED great, fantastic, but inside the bag lining all the fabric (including the lining) was fraying a great deal. This obviously impacted the amount the bodice could be let out because of the decreased fabric stability. When I altered them I always put things back as I found them, however, it was very time consuming.

This all changed when I met Susan. After I spent very little time serging the lining to the embroidered bodice pieces, I was hooked. Found myself a good serger the next day. Alterations are obviously easier because you can tell at a glance if there is room to let out (instead of feeling for seam allowance through the bag lining), and there is only one layer to work with instead of two (and the subsequent number of seams).

And obviously if all the seams are finished off with a good serger, there are no fraying issues. While I understand there may be a short debate about which looks better, there are two things I take issue with when it comes to bag linings: 1) since re-sale of these dresses is so important, alterations should be A) easy to do, i.e. seams are easy to get to, and B) the fabric should be properly finished to ensure that fraying does not decrease seam allowance; and 2) if a bag lining is used, the zipper seam should be covered by it or serged. Here is a pic demonstrating what I have seen too many times – unfinished fabric edges at the zipper leaving threads to be caught (the uneven seam here is another issue).

UPDATE: OK, my editor feels I am being a wimp. “‘Unfinished seams’ are not the [only] problem with [this] neckline. The zipper and neckline are not finished properly. I can live with large, unfinished seams (especially with fused, knit fabric as in the photo). But I won’t accept the top of that zipper and neckline binding. This is extremely unprofessional and ugly.” I agree…but she says I am still being too nice…give me time!

So that brings us to the next topic….

6)There is a good way to insert zippers and neck facings.
And here’s a link that explains it all beautifully: zipper. It was a bit inside-out for me at first but now my hands just make it happen. I used to hate, detest, DESPISE zippers…no big deal now. The facing also makes all the difference in the look, even when the collar is shaped and satin-stitched. I will admit I have cut corners a time or two and not done it when my fabric is already very stiffened as on two 2-piece solos I just finished. Otherwise, I always do this.

7) Line up the pleats with the seams. This pic is of the waist seam between the center front bodice and the center front pleat (CFP). There is an OBVIOUS problem in that they do not even remotely match in size…and the CFP is not centered.

(There has been a very long pause here as I struggle to comprehend this mistake which was not made by a newbie.) Note to self – make sure pattern pieces are matched. Every time.

Why is this important? Because it looks awful and amateurish! I am assuming that the basic shape of the ID dress came from a princess line dress – it is the basis for all our patterns whether our bodice is a princess line or 0ne-piece darted. When there is one base color, lining up the pleats with the bodice seams is not as crucial…who can tell as long as the designs are centered? Looking back, there came a time when the center fronts of the dresses were done in a different color. The emphasis was still on this princess line shape so the center front bodice and CFP had to match up in width at the waist to continue the unbroken line from the neck to the hem. Makes sense to me. So, unfortunately, this take on the center front of the dress is not ready for prime-time!

8) Press, baste; press, baste; press,PRESS, baste, BASTE!!!

My mother told me this, my sewing teachers (when I was 10, 17, 20) told me this…Susan added that pressing as I went along was perhaps most important. But, I am a master with pins. I really am!!!! But not when it comes to the physics of Irish Dance dresses. Unpressed, stiffened fabric pulls no matter what is done to it. Add the Timtex and no pin can answer the call. So I press using steam with a pressing cloth and then pull out the long needles and the upholstery thread and get busy. Saves so much time and frustration in the long run. I use upholstery thread because it is thicker (and waxed in some cases) and so it pulls out easily whereas the thinner stuff breaks in the thick layers.

Susan posted a comment that I am moving here: “Along with basting and pressing – PRECISE MARKING is often overlooked in the rush to get started. I hate it. I’ve muddled through the years with tracing paper and the little rotor-nobby thing, pins, clips etc. But once I had an accurate pattern the time spent making clips/notches and baste-marking fold/pleat lines — has not been lost time because assembly goes quicker. Or it least it seems it does because it it MUCH less frustrating. Kathleen Fasanella preaches that you should spend about 80%-90% of your total time and effort in getting ready to sew. The actually construction should be the quickest and easiest part of the whole project.”

So true. And again, with these stiffened, precisely made dresses, using precise markings is really the key. I should have put this first because all of the pressing and basting can only be as clean and sharp as it must be when I have clear lines to follow. I will admit I did feel as if the work I did getting the first dress I did with Susan ready (my “training” dress) was tedious and never-ending, but when I was able to move so quickly once the sewing began, I understood completely and was a convert (really and truly, this is not a religious cult despite my many attestations to conversion!). I mark everything very carefully now, every time.

9) Do not let the skirt lining bag. Major pet peeve of mine. I am a mom that wouldn’t let her daughter out of the house (beginning at age 1 going to the park with Dad…truly have mellowed 16 years later) if the hem of her little denim jumper was turned up from the dryer. Don’t get me started on the mental illnesses associated with that… however, on something that is supposed to be as clean and crisp looking as possible, seeing the lining bagging below the hemline on an ID dress makes me nuts. Such an easy thing to avoid!

Sewn hem: 1) after the lining and outer skirt are hemmed together, trim and clip the seam on the curves, then press the seam on the right side so the seam lies underneath the lining. 2) Then use a multiple zig-zag stitch to attach the lining to the underneath seam fabric. The multiple zig-zag allows give on the curved seam and helps keep the lining fabric from falling below the seam to be seen from the outside. 3) Iron the fold between the lining and outside skirt. I press on the inside so I can see a thin line of outside fabric to ensure the lining cannot be seen at the bottom of the hem on the outside. 4) Then, I take the time to smooth and pin the lining to the outside fabric so I can sew a few lines of stay-stitching on fold lines from the hem to the waist. This basically guarantees that there will never be any bagging.

Satin-stitched hem: Before I insert the stiffening, I complete step 4) from above. Then, I stitch the stiffener into the hem.

10) Take the time to learn how to satin stitch and then TAKE the time to satin stitch correctly. Nothing worse than crappy satin stitching. I saw the example below a couple of months after I started making ID dresses and had to scrape myself off the floor. Completely beyond my comprehension..the money paid for this dress…the shoddy workmanship…I was speechless and Susan laughed that humorless, sardonic laugh she uses on me when my naivete is glowing radioactively. Stunning.I should think the problems with the satin stitching in the pic above are obvious…however, I feel the need to elaborate. First, the density of the stitching is not even. The obvious assumption here is that this is hand done (as are most/all edges) which means that the stitcher is forcing the fabric through the machine. Yes, sometimes our thicker fabric is difficult to get under the foot… this is where a practice piece comes in handy. How will it move? Does it need help? Is a plate needed to accommodate the extra thickness so things move smoothly?

Second: the width of the stitches is not even…let the machine do it’s job!!!!! Stop fussing and moving things around. Guide the fabric STRAIGHT and back off. Do not push and shift.

One thing I do on edges to help with the two issues above is use tear-away to help the machine move it through smoothly as some fabrics are “sticky” like lycra or get snagged.

Here is an example as seen from the lining side of a skirt. (This hem was done in different colored sections which is why only one part is done.) After I cut the shaped hem, I attach a length of tear-away using a small zig-zag. Then I do the first round of satin-stitching (rayon here, metallic would be second round). Then I Fray-chek and tear just the area hanging below the hem which allows the second round of stitching to cover any tear-away fuzz on the bottom, but leaves the rest to protect the lining and help move it through smoothly. After the second round of stitching, I Fray-chek again and tear the rest off.

Third: learn how to get around a corner. So many different ways. I have a couple, but we all have to deal with our own temperamental machines and fingers. Before each new hem/pleat/crown, it is worth my time to refresh/refine my memory or maybe try something new. Remember to remember!

Fourth: Fray-chek and then TRIM! When done, put fray-chek on the back and points of the embroidery. Let dry…trim threads and any fuzzies. Depending on the color, I try not to put Fray-chek on the front, but sometimes it is necessary. Do a fabric test. It shows on some…others can be scratched to make it invisible.

11) Sequins: The above pic brings up another special consideration when making ID dresses… satin-stitching around sequins. I have read a lot about dealing with them, watched Susan, asked questions… they are awful. But, there are ways of making them behave.

The pic below shows the equivalent of a wash-away stabilizer. This stuff tears away perfectly. Some people use plastic bags from the dry cleaner (it stretches and pulls too much for me) and I have recently read about using Press&Seal. So, why use this? This is see-through and it keeps sequins in place while satin-stitching…no tiny pieces flying into eyes, machines, coffee… But it also helps with coverage around the edge of the sequin applique piece by covering the sharp edges of the sequins which helps keep them from poking through the stitching. However, I will go over edges twice if I need to so it is fully covered. I also digitize my designs and stitch them out on my computerized machine. I do two things that work well to get full coverage. 1) Depending on the thread I am using around the applique, I can adjust the stitch density of the stitching for better coverage, and 2) because my machine does not need to “see” to do its job, I can use a thicker tear-away (in black or white) which really keeps the sequins from poking through the thread.

All of this has been about dealing with sequins from the outside. What about the inside? Fuse it!!! Except for the fishscale sequins I have bought from NY Elegant, every length of sequin fabric begins to lose huge amounts of sequins the second it is cut if it not fused properly. So, I fuse the backside well to anchor the threads holding the sequins. There seems to be no real fool-proof way to keep sequins anchored forever (short of spraying them with a thick layer of shellac), but fusing sequin fabric that knots at the back (more expensive) is fairly reliable. I have resolved to be honest with clients about the suitability of various sequin fabrics. Some work…some will shed as you pass the judge’s table no matter what you do.


There is also the issue of sequins in the seams. There is the obvious discomfort for the dancer when they scratch; this is not an issue when the bodice is lined with a true bag lining, but I am not going to do this. Sequins caught in a seam are pierced by the needle and are prone to falling off leaving bare spots, and they do not lay flat. We tried one solution: not putting it in a seam that would bend any sequins. The first pic shows the sequin fabric folded and then sewn close to the bodice side seam. This allowed me to try and fold a line so no sequins would bend or poke and catch the fabric under the arm. Also, there is a generous fold to guard against losing sequins from the cut edge.

The second pic shows a few things. 1) The collar was made as a single piece that I attached to the bodice after the shoulder seams were sewn in the base fabric, so, no sequins in the shoulder seams. 2) The neckline is bound with the fabric from the selvage edge of the sequin fabric (only because it was already the right color!). 3) After I sewed the shaped edges of the collar to anchor it to the bodice, I satin-stitched.

The third pic shows the folding and sewing of the side bodice piece to the finished bodice. I actually cannot remember if I did the same thing at the waist, but I am assuming I did since the waist seam would fold up and cause bending of the sequins.

Have not yet had a request with sequins in the same places, but it will be interesting to see if I still feel this is the best way to handle it.

Part 3: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker

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!

Part 1: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker

And I do really mean “daft.” An anonymous poster gave me a nice correction…I must mean”deft.” I truly appreciate that, but I mean “daft.” And any of you who continue to do this and actually enjoy it like I do…you understand my meaning.

This started as something relatively short…and got longer…and longer. So I broke it up…and revised as I went along. It is in 3 parts now.

(The following retrospective is in no way meant to impugn any dressmaker’s honor. This list is dedicated to keeping me honest.)

Many, many, MANY things I have learned about sewing professional looking Irish Dancing Dresses…and I thought I knew much about sewing when I began. HAH! In the past 16 months, I have made 33 dresses and altered more than I can count starting 2 years before that. My learning curve has been great, even curling back upon itself occasionally. There has been confusion, exhaustion, exasperation, frustration, pain, blood, tears, profuse swearing and even the occasional thrown object. And then there was extreme satisfaction when I was rewarded with smiles, exclamations of joy, my middle child’s approval, squeals of delight, many hugs, and paychecks.

So before I begin this new year and the new list of dresses, I want to remind myself what I have learned.

1) Sergers were made by sewing angels. Although I could appreciate the value of a finished seam before, I always spent the time trimming & zigzagging or turning up an edge and top-stitching. No more. The speed, the fabric trimming, the beautiful dense stitching on the fabric edge! Ah, heaven!

2) Good thread is a must. Period.

3) Stabilize, stabilize, stabilize! I like anything I can fuse – fusible woven cotton, French fuse, Decor-Bond…wonder-under when all else fails (NOT the heavy duty). Makes everything behave.

4) Other must haves: a good sewing machine; good scissors (and isolate the ones for sequins and paper); good iron; good press; a huge supply of sewing machine needles (I mainly use very sharp or denim needles, even for embroidery with metallic thread) and change them often; LONG pins & several magnetic “cushions” for said pins; round and rectangular hole punches; many sizes & types of rulers; markers of all kinds; pencils and chalk (in all forms); an awl; pre-wound bobbin thread in black & white; huge supply of Fray-chek and Fabri-tac; long hand needles and upholstery thread; huge supply of 24” zippers; canned air; and bandages, music, and someday, a fully stocked bar with a really cute bartender at my beck and call (oh, wait…that’s my husband…)!

As for making the Irish Dance dresses themselves:

1) First and foremost, use a good pattern! I use the Feisdress pattern. Have tried others, including one I created with my pattern making software. None as good as the Feisdress pattern. I choose the appropriate size using a unique measurement – the upper chest width, from front armscye to armscye. And, since the same upper chest measurement in a child goes along with other measurements that are usually different than those for a young woman (bust, waist, center front & back length, shoulder width, etc), there are two sets of patterns: Girls & Juniors. Yes, all dancer’s bodies are different, but alterations to the pattern are simple.

Using the Feisdress pattern and working with Susan has been an amazing education. I have learned not only more about sewing in general but so much more about how one makes things that truly fit the human body. Irish dance dresses are truly odd things, but they still have to fit humans. One invaluable site is in terms of clothes and the human form (among many other things) is Kathleen Fasanella’s Fashion Incubator . This website, in general, is an unbelievable fount of information. Kathleen Fasanella is brilliant. An example of this and a discussion that illustrates why Susan’s pattern uses very little, if any, ease (most particularly in the princess seam) is this link. Even though I use pins, I use less because the Feisdress pattern pieces are designed to eliminate unnecessary ease so they match well to be sewn easily. This link takes you to another very interesting discussion along the same lines.

I have also altered the Feisdress pattern easily for other styles of Irish dance dresses. I have made two-piece dresses and panel dresses. My next challenge is a wrap dress…Susan has already prepared instructions for altering her pattern for this so I do not have to do it myself! You can email her for it… go here for her email.

2)Take precise measurements and do fittings. This seemed like a big, “DUH!” but I have continued to learn so much. I have learned to take a few extra measurements that help me get a very precise fit, but fittings are invaluable to ensure this. I am leery of doing custom dresses for dancers that I cannot get my hands on. There is always something that I need to tweak when I put a fitting bodice on her. I even do a fitting of the basically-finished bodice right before I sew on the skirt…sometimes they’ve grown or lost weight. I once had a young dancer change so much in 2 weeks (part of a large order for a school), that I had to do a new bodice. Solidified my stand on bodice fittings.

3) Always leave big seam allowances for easy alterations. When I began altering dresses, that was my biggest frustration…no allowance for squat! Or even worse, one side of the dress had extra in the seam but the other side was either terribly frayed or had none! I used a different pattern for my very first solo dress and drew in extra seam allowances on the pattern. The Feisdress pattern has this extra included: side bodice seams are 1″ each, the sleeves have the corresponding 1″ in the long seam and 2″ at the cuff, the zipper seam is 1.25″, and there is 2″ at the bottom of the bodice and at the top of the skirt. Perfect.

4) Actual cost vs. virtual I got sucked into the world of making ID dresses because my daughters dance… I thought making my oldest daughter’s dress would save me money. NOT! I probably did not save much on the first because of my mistakes and the number of times I started over. And I KNOW I spent way too much on her second dress. But that’s me because I found new puzzles to explore and solve, and I love doing it for my kids. There are things that I have learned that I pass on to whoever asks. But, what is important here is the actual cost vs. the virtual.

What does that mean? Well, let me try to put my thoughts down here. I can’t afford to buy a $2000 dress, but I want to make one that looks like it might cost $2000. So, the possibility obviously enters my mind that I can make my dd’s dress. I can sew…I started sewing clothes for myself when I was 10 (pants, jeans, skirts, dresses, jackets, formals…remember scooter skirts?), and have made dance costumes of all kinds, cheer leading outfits, wedding dresses, wedding veils, many a Hallowe’en costume…I can do this. I drag my daughter to the fabric store and we just start looking for colors we like. So I spend $400 on fabric and supplies initially (probably about average for just about anybody). I am not comfortable trying to design the dress, so I find a designer (the first designer I contacted was Alison Young. Lovely young woman and she designed exactly what I asked for…a purely embroidered design). I know now that she truly did not charge me enough for her lovely design. And this is important – if an actual $2000 dress were being purchased, the design would be about 1/20 of the true cost. Invest in a GOOD design. In my opinion (and everyone has one like………….never mind), design and colors are what make the impression, not the shaped pleats and hem, not the stiff or soft shawl, not the sequins or feathers or fur or crystals or the name attached to the dress! It is the design and color and the rest is gravy. A well-designed dress has an impact on the psychology of the viewer, yes?So many posts on the boards debate what is important…isn’t the dancing most important? Yes, a good-looking dancer (in all aspects of presentation) will draw your eye, but if she can’t dance, what difference does it make? Recently, the champ in my daughter’s first prelim competition was wearing her school dress. Fantastic! Perhaps at the very top, the look might tip the scale, but I am not interested in that debate right now. I believe (after seeing it with my own eyes) that too much sparkle keeps the design from being seen. If catching and keeping the judges eye is important, then I think that the (very human) judge is going to focus on the one in which the interesting design and pleasing color are clearly visible, not the one where the dress is only a beautiful flash of light.

Diary: Part 2

Part 2: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker

Continuing the refreshment of my faulty memory…

5) Finish the bodice pieces with a serger!!! Before I started working with Susan, I was doing alterations for a local ID school. The bodice was completely bag lined, including the zipper seam (no seams are visible in the lining of the bodice). The hem of the bodice and top of the skirt were finished with bias tape. It LOOKED great, fantastic, but inside the bag lining all the fabric (including the lining) was fraying a great deal. This obviously impacted the amount the bodice could be let out because of the decreased fabric stability. When I altered them I always put things back as I found them, however, it was very time consuming.

This all changed when I met Susan. After I spent very little time serging the lining to the embroidered bodice pieces, I was hooked. Found myself a good serger the next day. Alterations are obviously easier because you can tell at a glance if there is room to let out (instead of feeling for seam allowance through the bag lining), and there is only one layer to work with instead of two (and the subsequent number of seams).

And obviously if all the seams are finished off with a good serger, there are no fraying issues. While I understand there may be a short debate about which looks better, there are two things I take issue with when it comes to bag linings: 1) since re-sale of these dresses is so important, alterations should be A) easy to do, i.e. seams are easy to get to, and B) the fabric should be properly finished to ensure that fraying does not decrease seam allowance; and 2) if a bag lining is used, the zipper seam should be covered by it or serged. Here is a pic demonstrating what I have seen too many times – unfinished fabric edges at the zipper leaving threads to be caught (the uneven seam here is another issue).

UPDATE: OK, my editor feels I am being a wimp. “‘Unfinished seams’ are not the [only] problem with [this] neckline. The zipper and neckline are not finished properly. I can live with large, unfinished seams (especially with fused, knit fabric as in the photo). But I won’t accept the top of that zipper and neckline binding. This is extremely unprofessional and ugly.” I agree…but she says I am still being too nice…give me time!

So that brings us to the next topic….

6)There is a good way to insert zippers and neck facings.
And here’s a link that explains it all beautifully: zipper. It was a bit inside-out for me at first but now my hands just make it happen. I used to hate, detest, DESPISE zippers…no big deal now. The facing also makes all the difference in the look, even when the collar is shaped and satin-stitched. I will admit I have cut corners a time or two and not done it when my fabric is already very stiffened as on two 2-piece solos I just finished. Otherwise, I always do this.

7) Line up the pleats with the seams. This pic is of the waist seam between the center front bodice and the center front pleat (CFP). There is an OBVIOUS problem in that they do not even remotely match in size…and the CFP is not centered.

(There has been a very long pause here as I struggle to comprehend this mistake which was not made by a newbie.) Note to self – make sure pattern pieces are matched. Every time.

Why is this important? Because it looks awful and amateurish! I am assuming that the basic shape of the ID dress came from a princess line dress – it is the basis for all our patterns whether our bodice is a princess line or 0ne-piece darted. When there is one base color, lining up the pleats with the bodice seams is not as crucial…who can tell as long as the designs are centered? Looking back, there came a time when the center fronts of the dresses were done in a different color. The emphasis was still on this princess line shape so the center front bodice and CFP had to match up in width at the waist to continue the unbroken line from the neck to the hem. Makes sense to me. So, unfortunately, this take on the center front of the dress is not ready for prime-time!

8) Press, baste; press, baste; press,PRESS, baste, BASTE!!!

My mother told me this, my sewing teachers (when I was 10, 17, 20) told me this…Susan added that pressing as I went along was perhaps most important. But, I am a master with pins. I really am!!!! But not when it comes to the physics of Irish Dance dresses. Unpressed, stiffened fabric pulls no matter what is done to it. Add the Timtex and no pin can answer the call. So I press using steam with a pressing cloth and then pull out the long needles and the upholstery thread and get busy. Saves so much time and frustration in the long run. I use upholstery thread because it is thicker (and waxed in some cases) and so it pulls out easily whereas the thinner stuff breaks in the thick layers.

Susan posted a comment that I am moving here: “Along with basting and pressing – PRECISE MARKING is often overlooked in the rush to get started. I hate it. I’ve muddled through the years with tracing paper and the little rotor-nobby thing, pins, clips etc. But once I had an accurate pattern the time spent making clips/notches and baste-marking fold/pleat lines — has not been lost time because assembly goes quicker. Or it least it seems it does because it it MUCH less frustrating. Kathleen Fasanella preaches that you should spend about 80%-90% of your total time and effort in getting ready to sew. The actually construction should be the quickest and easiest part of the whole project.”

So true. And again, with these stiffened, precisely made dresses, using precise markings is really the key. I should have put this first because all of the pressing and basting can only be as clean and sharp as it must be when I have clear lines to follow. I will admit I did feel as if the work I did getting the first dress I did with Susan ready (my “training” dress) was tedious and never-ending, but when I was able to move so quickly once the sewing began, I understood completely and was a convert (really and truly, this is not a religious cult despite my many attestations to conversion!). I mark everything very carefully now, every time.

(I will put up pics as soon as Blogger fixes its problem.)

9) Do not let the skirt lining bag. Major pet peeve of mine. I am a mom that won’t let her daughter out of the house (beginning at age 1 going to the park with Dad…truly have mellowed 16 years later) if the hem of her little denim jumper was turned up from the dryer. Don’t get me started on the mental illnesses associated with that… however, on something that is supposed to be as clean and crisp looking as possible, seeing the lining bagging below the hemline on an ID dress makes me nuts. Such an easy thing to avoid!

Sewn hem: 1) after the lining and outer skirt are hemmed together, trim and clip the seam on the curves, then press the seam on the right side so the seam lies underneath the lining. 2) Then use a multiple zigzag stitch to attach the lining to the underneath seam fabric. The multiple zigzag allows give on the curved seam and helps keep the lining fabric from falling below the seam to be seen from the outside. 3) Iron the fold between the lining and outside skirt. I press on the inside so I can see a thin line of outside fabric to ensure the lining cannot be seen at the bottom of the hem on the outside. 4) Then, I take the time to smooth and pin the lining to the outside fabric so I can sew a few lines of stay-stitching on fold lines from the hem to the waist. This basically guarantees that there will never be any bagging.

Satin-stitched hem: Before I insert the stiffening, I complete step 4) from above. Then, I stitch the stiffener into the hem.

10) Take the time to learn how to satin stitch and then TAKE the time to satin stitch correctly. Nothing worse than crappy satin stitching. I saw the example below a couple of months after I started making ID dresses and had to scrape myself off the floor. Completely beyond my comprehension..the money paid for this dress…the shoddy workmanship…I was speechless and Susan laughed that humorless, sardonic laugh she uses on me when my naivete is glowing radioactively. Stunning.I should think the problems with the satin stitching in the pic above are obvious…however, I feel the need to elaborate. First, the density of the stitching is not even. The obvious assumption here is that this is hand done (as are most/all edges) which means that the stitcher is forcing the fabric through the machine. Yes, sometimes our thicker fabric is difficult to get under the foot… this is where a practice piece comes in handy. How will it move? Does it need help? Is a plate needed to accommodate the extra thickness so things move smoothly?

Second: the width of the stitches is not even…let the machine do it’s job!!!!! Stop fussing and moving things around. Guide the fabric STRAIGHT and back off. Do not push and shift.

One thing I do on edges to help with the two issues above is use tear-away to help the machine move it through smoothly as some fabrics are “sticky” like lycra or get snagged.

Here is an example as seen from the lining side of a skirt. (This hem was done in different colored sections which is why only one part is done.) After I cut the shaped hem, I attach a length of tear-away using a small zigzag. Then I do the first round of satin-stitching (rayon here, metallic would be second round). Then I Fray-chek and tear just the area hanging below the hem which allows the second round of stitching to cover any tear-away fuzz on the bottom, but leaves the rest to protect the lining and help move it through smoothly. After the second round of stitching, I Fray-chek again and tear the rest off.

Third: learn how to get around a corner. So many different ways. I have a couple, but we all have to deal with our own temperamental machines and fingers. Before each new hem/pleat/crown, it is worth my time to refresh/refine my memory or maybe try something new. Remember to remember!

Fourth: Fray-chek and then TRIM! When done, put fray-chek on the back and points of the embroidery. Let dry…trim threads and any fuzzies. Depending on the color, I try not to put Fray-chek on the front, but sometimes it is necessary. Do a fabric test. It shows on some…others can be scratched to make it invisible.

11) Sequins: The above pic brings up another special consideration when making ID dresses… satin-stitching around sequins. I have read a lot about dealing with them, watched Susan, asked questions… they are awful. But, there are ways of making them behave.

The pic below shows the equivalent of a wash-away stabilizer. This stuff tears away perfectly. Some people use plastic bags from the dry cleaner (it stretches and pulls too much for me) and I have recently read about using Press&Seal. So, why use this? This is see-through and it keeps sequins in place while satin-stitching…no tiny pieces flying into eyes, machines, coffee… But it also helps with coverage around the edge of the sequin applique piece by covering the sharp edges of the sequins which helps keep them from poking through the stitching. However, I will go over edges twice if I need to so it is fully covered. I also digitize my designs and stitch them out on my computerized machine. I do two things that work well to get full coverage. 1) Depending on the thread I am using around the applique, I can adjust the stitch density of the stitching for better coverage, and 2) because my machine does not need to “see” to do its job, I can use a thicker tear-away (in black or white) which really keeps the sequins from poking through the thread.

All of this has been about dealing with sequins from the outside. What about the inside? Fuse it!!! Except for the fishscale sequins I have bought from NY Elegant, every length of sequin fabric begins to lose huge amounts of sequins the second it is cut if it not fused properly. So, I fuse the backside well to anchor the threads holding the sequins. There seems to be no real fool-proof way to keep sequins anchored forever (short of spraying them with a thick layer of shellac), but fusing sequin fabric that knots at the back (more expensive) is fairly reliable. I have resolved to be honest with clients about the suitability of various sequin fabrics. Some work…some will shed as you pass the judge’s table no matter what you do.


There is also the issue of sequins in the seams. There is the obvious discomfort for the dancer when they scratch; this is not an issue when the bodice is lined with a true bag lining, but I am not going to do this. Sequins caught in a seam are pierced by the needle and are prone to falling off leaving bare spots, and they do not lay flat. We tried one solution: not putting it in a seam that would bend any sequins. The first pic shows the sequin fabric folded and then sewn close to the bodice side seam. This allowed me to try and fold a line so no sequins would bend or poke and catch the fabric under the arm. Also, there is a generous fold to guard against losing sequins from the cut edge.

The second pic shows a few things. 1) The collar was made as a single piece that I attached to the bodice after the shoulder seams were sewn in the base fabric, so, no sequins in the shoulder seams. 2) The neckline is bound with the fabric from the selvage edge of the sequin fabric (only because it was already the right color!). 3) After I sewed the shaped edges of the collar to anchor it to the bodice, I satin-stitched.

The third pic shows the folding and sewing of the side bodice piece to the finished bodice. I actually cannot remember if I did the same thing at the waist, but I am assuming I did since the waist seam would fold up and cause bending of the sequins.

Have not yet had a request with sequins in the same places, but it will be interesting to see if I still feel this is the best way to handle it.

Diary: Part 3

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. 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!