Bodice Neckline Applique

This is how I add an applique to the neckline of a bodice.

I used to use sticky back stabilizer exclusively, because I could not stand when the embroidery shifted and the Celtic knots did not line up. About a year ago, though, I got over myself mainly because the number of thread breaks and the slow stitch speed had finally driven me nuts. Now, I hoop my stabilizer and use temporary adhesive spray.

Since I float all of my fabrics, when it is important I first stitch out a placement cross onto the stabilizer. This same cross has been drawn in chalk on the back of my fabric. I then lightly spray the temporary adhesive onto the stabilizer.


After I line up the cross on the back of the fabric with the stitched lines on the stabilizer, I run a basting box around the area to be embroidered. Then, an outline of the applique area is stitched. (I have digitized all of these lines into my embroidery file.)


Next, I spray the stabilized applique fabric with the temporary adhesive so it will not shift on the base fabric…


…and then lay it over the applique area, making sure to check that the area is covered.


Now, I run double lines to tack down the fabric.


Here’s a closer look at the double lines. Why double? I have found that the two lines keep the fabric from fraying (even if the outside line gets clipped here and there) and then pulling away from underneath the covering satin stitch line. Because there are 2 lines, I can trim as close as possible so I can avoid any fuzzies showing.




Finished and ready to be cut out.


Sometimes, when both fabrics are thick, I might lay the applique first, and then after tackdown of the “base” fabric, trim the larger piece of fabric away from the area, but I always worry that the 2 fabrics might pull apart. I tend to do the above as often as possible.

Newest Endeavor

A while back, dressmaker Colleen Murphy contacted me about collaborating on a very cool project: an ID dress reproduction of a full sized, hand embroidered velvet dress…for an American Girl doll!  I was intrigued so, of course, said yes.

The original dress is unbelievable!  Black velvet, orange crocheted collar, and some of the most interesting & beautiful Celtic/Irish hand embroidery I have ever seen.  I will admit to being intimidated on SOOO many levels, but the challenge could not be ignored.

Colleen is game for me to write about this, and I will include pics of my work, but I will not post pics of the original dress until I am sure it is ok with the owners.

Photos arrive…and I sit there and stare…and stare…and stare some more.  So many things are going through my head about  colors, stitches, faithful reproduction, artistic license… have I bit off more than I can chew?  I dreamed about this dress and how the gryphons and lions chased me while I was trying to thread a needle! 

My biggest obstacle was dealing with my “feelings,” my philosophy on faithful reproduction.  Besides the fact that neither my embroidery software nor machine can manage a chain stitch, there is the integrity of someone else’s artwork to consider.  As you may know, I am a retired dance professor/dancer/choreographer/artistic director…the issues of artistic integrity are part and parcel of who I am on so many levels.  My master’s degree encompassed directing and Labanotation/movement analysis, and it is this training in Labanotation in particular that honed my focus on/obsession with faithful reproduction. 

Labanotation is dance notation, a logical though complex system of symbols and rules used to first record dance and then to reconstruct it again on new people, sometimes decades later.  If you are interested, you can learn more here: Labanotation.

Not long after I got to grad school at Ohio State, I changed my concentration to include Labanotation.  I was fascinated by and drawn to this extremely logical approach to dance.  Now, I am sure my professors would tell you they shook their heads many, many times at my emo approach to dance in general, but I will never forget the day I let the logic take over…Vera Maletic gave me a very rare smile and nodded her head before turning away to bark at me to do it again!  Not only did my symbols need to precisely record illogical movement, but when I read notated scores and performed them, it better look the way Doris Humphrey demanded decades before!  It was a very intense LOVE/HATE relationship.

So, here I was 24 years later, looking at someone else’s beautiful art with the intention of reproducing it.  I swear I felt Vera thwack the back of my skull.

The animals were glaring at me, so I chose a knotwork braid to start with.  That I could handle easily.

vertical braids by you.

Now, I have not ever done anything as small as was going to be required here, but I knew that I could not do this the way I would if it were going to remain full size.  So, even though I did the original digitizing in a decent size, instead of outlining all of this with a satin stitch, I chose a backstitch to approximate both the look of the chain stitch outlines and to accommodate what I knew would end up being very narrow lines.  But, after doing this design, I knew I was going to have to do a test dress to get a real feel for the size and to get a sense of stitch density for something as small as the designs on an AG dress.

Colleen sent me pics of her pattern pieces & dimensions so I could digitize the outlines to use as templates.  I then used one of my designs.  Even though I have not done mini-designs, I have enough experience by now to know that if I used the same stitch density that I use for the ID designs, I was going to be tunneling to China!!  Too many stitches in such a small area was only going to pull in, and perhaps make holes in the fabric no matter the pull compensation, so I lightened the density a lot.  Here’s the result:

dolltestdress 011 by colmurph2000.

And here is it finished…I am so tempted to buy an AG doll for the youngest Diva!

AG test dress by you.

(I feel the need to say here that I so admire that Colleen likes doing these little dresses, and she does them so well!  I have this psychotic aversion to sewing things with small pieces which is why I am not a quilter…these dresses qualify as beautiful small things that make me twitch!  I know I do applique with small pieces, but like every other psycho, it is the context…it goes on a BIG dress.)

So, I learned I was right about stitch density.  The test turned out well…and everyone in my family got a big kick out of this tiny little dress.  Even the macho hubby talked to it like it was a gerbil…

The next design I tackled was what I call the Nessies:

nessies by you.

This design took me days.  Why?  Because I kept finding myself mired in choices…colors (decided Colleen can match colors since she has the dress, but still wanted to match as closely as possible so the client could have a visual); stitches (leave plain or play with texture?); overs and unders (fix them so that they make sense or keep them as they were originally stitched?); symmetry (make things perfectly symmetrical as I imagine they were intended and as I can with the computer or stay true to the actual pics keeping in mind that over the years the fabric changes and hangs differently now?); handmade look versus computerized perfection…haven’t there been more than a few artists driven insane by the demands of their art?!?  Ya know Van Gogh and that ear…???

I cannot count the number of times I would find myself just sitting in front of the computer contemplating the photos…I imagined how much of it was done in the company of other women doing exactly the same thing.  I wondered how many mistakes occurred and were then simply incorporated because the embroiderer got caught up in a conversation with her fellow stitchers.  I wondered how often the zen of the repetitive needlework sent the embroiderer on a quiet journey of her own…and then I would start.

I decided that if this were me doing the hand stitching, I would work for symmetry.  I would work for the logical progression of the overs and unders, but I would get over myself when the logic failed.  I decided I would follow the handmade lines but clean things up when unique moments took on the aura of a mistake.  I decided I would try to keep the look of its handmade beauty while using my technology to enhance it where applicable.  I decided less was more…and that was hard!!

And this is what I have so far:

vertical braids by you.birds by you.

nessies by you.

winged lion by you.

serpent braid by you.

eagle by you.

braid by you.

waist braid by you.

griffins by you.

And here are the dress pieces:

reproduction front skirt by you.

reproduction skirt back by you.

reproduction bodice by you.

This weekend, I will do another test.  I will post pics of it, succeed or fail.

Stealing Designs and the “IDEA” of Custom

There is a new thread on Celtic Flame about stealing designs.  A dressmaking mom writes that another mom in her school told her she was wasting her time coming up with her own designs because there was so much to COPY on the internet.  When she first wrote, she alluded to a website that sells embroidery, so I wondered if she might be talking about Taoknitter Arts.

An answer that she just posted to another reply makes me think she is talking about my website.

Big sigh. 

Susan and I have hashed out the pitfalls of posting clear pics of the designs since I started.  She has dealt with this issue far longer than I have, and I respect her viewpoint, her advice and her experience.  I will not bore you, or myself, by re-visiting  the mental gymnastics (complete with teeth gnashing) that helped me arrive at the current presentation of the designs on my website.  If you look at it, I think you get it.

But, I do want to say that I know I take the risk of people copying things.  I have this tendency to believe that all folks are inherently honest and honorable.  I do, routinely, get blind-sided by self-serving idiots with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, and I sometimes finally get really irked by stupidity and mean-spiritedness, but I have yet to see a change in my basic trust.  I now know what it sounds like when Susan shakes her head at me over the phone.

It would make me crazy to try to police things or try to find a more complicated way of managing the designs.  But let me be clear, copying a design is stealing and I am not shy about approaching the thief and making it public if I have to.  I did, by accident, see an exact copy of a dress I made for my daughter.  Susan designed it for us.  The design was never made available, but there it was, perfectly copied on someone else’s dress.  When I contacted the overseas dressmaker, she was great about it, very sorry, and told me that the design had been given to her by the dancer. 

I get contacted rather often by dancers who send me pics of designs from other dresses, even BN dresses, wanting THAT design digitized.  Sometimes I get a design “created by the dancer” only to be led by the dressmaking gods to pics of the EXACT design on a finished dress…that blows my mind.  Once I explain that I will not copy because it is both unethical and illegal, they usually calmly explain that they did not know that and we go forward.  Only once did I not hear back after my refusal…I think that was embarrassment.

I do think most folks either do not know or really do not think about it.  One poster on CF wrote: ” I think the problem is that most people don’t equate “appropriating” someone’s design as stealing because they don’t physically take something.  It isn’t like shoplifting where you actually take something in your hand.

It’s more like cheating on a test.

Ask your friend if she encourages her dd to copy her neighbor’s answers on exams in school. Why not? It is just what she did. She used someone else’s work and passed it off as her own.

Ask her if she’s going to brag about how she aquired her designs – Wow look what I copied off of the internet and I didn’t have to pay for it! If someone asks her where the design came from, is she going to say “Oh I digitized it myself” or something equally evasive. If she’s so proud of her cleverness, why not tell all?

Ask her if she thinks the TC will be happy if she finds out the design was lifted. Is she OK with her school being known as the one where it is OK to rip off other people’s dresses?”

Interesting viewpoint.

Susan made me laugh when she pointed out that truly, the only thing I should worry about is if someone else’s poorly digitized “copy” was thought to be mine!  Now that would be a drag!

There was also a point made by someone about using designs from a site on the internet.  She wrote: “While there are a couple of sites out there that have drawn up several dress designs specifically for irish dancing use, you have to remember then, that your dress won’t be an original. Chances of running into another dancer with the same pattern are slim but just something to keep in mind.

That mind set has never occurred to me!!  Yes, yes, I know that the conversation about whether or not a BN dress is really custom when they re-use designs in part or in whole pops up routinely.  But, it has always been my assumption that each dressmaker brings a totally different perspective to making a dress and so it will be rare that 2 dressmakers will use the same design the same way let alone the same fabrics.  In fact, what I love about my clients is that they always do something I did not envision.  Very often, they ask me to modify the designs by taking something out, putting something else in, taking it apart or trying something new with a piece of something else!  I love it.

Still, I guess that is a concern for some people.  I appreciate that.  And I also thoroughly appreciate my creative dressmaking clients.  Thank you for spurring me on!

I thought that the above might have been a rant…I guess it was just a bit of mental popcorn…

There are a couple of links in this brief post about Copyright Law: Substantial Similarity

New ID School Dresses: Design, Digitizing, & Finding Fabric

Susan and I have been working with an existing ID school to create new dresses.  I have really been enjoying those process.  Good folks.

We sent them first to read these two posts: ID School Dress Design  Chapter 1 & Chapter 2.  I don’t think I have ever finished organizing the info, but the process is there.

So far, the focus has been on getting a new design.  Lots of talking, critiquing, tweaking, and then the design is ready for me to digitize it.

I am not going to use the actual design here (don’t want to steal the school’s thunder for the unveiling day), but I can still talk about my approach using Dana’s design from her tunic dress.  Dana’s design was digitized with the same stitch ideas in mind that we are using for this school.

Here is Dana’s finished bodice.  We used a satin-look step stitch for the black and then a narrow satin-stitch for the silver.

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In a nutshell, I get the design from Susan in either a jpg format or as vector graphics.  We have experimented with the vector graphics format to see if the auto-digitizing function would work to make things go faster, but I have NEVER been happy with that function.  The logic of it on complicated designs like this one is NOT logical, and I spend so much time cleaning it up that I might as well have done it by hand in the first place.  Vector graphics can be a cleaner pic to follow, but these days I have gotten good enough at this that clear lines are no longer mandatory in the pics.

Susan has always sized the designs correctly, but sometimes in the translation from her computer, thru email to mine and then opening them in my software the dimensions have changed.  I re-check dimensions and re-size the graphics accordingly.

In the past, I have whined until Susan has put in tremendous time to show all of the overs and unders.  Again, because I have gotten pretty good at this, this time I told her I really did not care if it was drawn correctly, just indicate!  So she indicated!

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Then, I choose a starting point and get busy.  Here is the finished design.  (The lavender stitches making the box outline are basting stitches to hold the fabric in place since I use sticky stabilizer more than I actually hoop the fabric.  More about that here: Embroidery placement.)

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Not really interested in going through my whole approach to digitizing something like this, but I will say that making the overs and unders true overs and unders is important to me.  When the auto digitizer is used, this does not happen…lines just butt up against one another with weird gaps and even stitches filling angles in odd ways.  What I do takes time, but the end result is worth it to me.  This pic shows a close-up of the end result.
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My process for the new school dresses will be the same.  A big part of this process is doing test stitch-outs to see if it looks the way I want, to check thread tension, coverage, and any consequent pulling, puckering, tunnelling, or drilling.  I am expecting a full round of stitch tests on this new design because the fabric is completely different than Dana’s even though the stitch combination is the same.

Once the initial middle-range size is digitized, then I create files for each size dress.  Time-consuming, but once it is done we are set!!!

During all this time, I have also been researching fabric sources to find not only the kind of fabric we want (durable and washable), but also the quantity.  Since this is a new dress for an established school, we have many, many dresses to make.  And, another consideration for a source is that they will have this same fabric far into the future.  Heading off to JoAnn’s or Hancocks is not the solution this time.  Even my favorite online stores cannot be counted on for this kind of reliability.  But, Susan suggested Raymond’s Textiles, and I think I am set!

Susan is also creating a custom set of patterns for this school because the skirt is a bit different than the regular three panel.

So now I am doing a few wash tests to see how the fabrics react.  If all goes well, then the prototype dress made for the school director is the next step.

Dana’s Tunic Dress

We at Feisdress (Susan and I) have been contemplating a different approach to making Irish dance dresses for a while now. As I have said before, I love making 2 piece dresses for a variety of reasons (ease of skirt attachment onto soft cotton bodice, ease of dealing with dropped waist look, dancer can remove jacket in between dances to avoid stinking it up!!!), so this was part of thinking about a different dress. Susan and I both wanted to try a soft skirt but were not interested in ruffles or tulle (brings back the horror of making a tutu for me!). And we were both interested in maintaining that slimming, wonderful drop waist look and combining it with a narrower silhouette…but of course you need dancers who want to try this with you!

Well, we found not one but two dancers who were game to go on this journey with us!

The first was Dana.  She is in the “& Overs” and wanted a dress made just for her.

Here it is: the 21 panel!
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The 10 top black panels are part of the black tunic.  There is no waist seam.  The 11 pink panels that were a particular challenge to attach so that they moved freely but were also secure in the correct hang angle…I attached one of those buggers 6 times before I got it to behave!!!!

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This is the totally separate, totally soft underskirt.  I am particularly enamored of this pic…I call it “Skirt with Tail.”Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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This is a pic of the dress before the pink panels were attached.  This works, too!

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I love this design.  It was a particular challenge to digitize this one.  There were several test stitch-outs of the pieces and parts until I found just the right way.  I am very happy with the way it turned out.
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More later if there are questions.  One more dress to put up, but must go to the hometown Christmas Parade!

Basting Boxes

 Rebecca left a question for me on IDD:

I was looking at your blog, and studying your work. I have a question. Why do you sew rectangles around the embroidery? It looks like it’s machine sewn. What does it accomplish?

Those are basting stitches. 
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Because Gina sent me pieces to be embroidered, I did not hoop the fabric pieces.  Instead I attach sticky stabilizer directly onto the inner hoop, put a good tear-away behind that and then put both into the hoop ring that tightens.  Then, part of my design is a set of placement stitches that get sewn onto the hooped stabilizers…I remove the hoop from the machine and then, using lines that I have drawn on the back of the stabilized fabric pieces that correspond to the digitized placement lines, I line up the fabric piece.  The next thing to get stitched out is a long basting stitch around the design area.  This ensures that the fabric will not move or pull or come away from the sticky stabilizer.  I have also found that it helps eliminate any puckering.

Here is a pic of the digitizing…you can see the dark blue placement lines in the middle…this only gets sewn onto the stabilizer in the hoop or even just punched in with no thread.  I have marked the same lines on the back of the fabric.
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I very rarely actually hoop fabric anymore.  I am so freaking picky about puckering that I use this method for just about everything.

For a rather intense look at doing this so I can use my hoop-it-all for a long project, click here: Embroidering in the Hoop-it-all

Embroidery Heaven

See this beautiful thing?
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Maggie’s eyes say it all…

This is Gina’s embroidery…that I did…on a friend’s commercial machine.
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I am in heaven…the clarity of the stitches… the speed, the ginormous hoop…the amount of work I got done in one day…the speed….the speed…oohhhh, I am in heaven!
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 I am in love with that machine.  We have done a couple of school dresses, and our new school account is designed with this machine in mind.  And while I do have to interrupt my hermithood to go use this machine, it is SO worth it.
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The bodice embroidery is on this incredible, plush purple velvet (I have not run the lint roller over it in the pic so it looks…well…linty). Interesting stitching issue to solve…I knew that the stitches were going to sink into the velvet so I tried a couple of things. First, I knew that I would have to use a topper to help keep the stitches up. Gina sent along a relatively thick plastic topper (what brand is it, Gina?)…not a solvy, but it ripped fairly easily. I had also digitized in a pretty dense underlay thinking that it would help the top stitches stand up and out, but the test stitch-out ended up dipping, diving, and waving like a bad trip!!! So, I made the underlay very sparse, stabilized the back of the velvet with 2 layers of decorbond, and used 2 layers of the topper. Mission accomplished…clean-up still in progress.

The embroidery on the lavender fabric is for the sleeves. No topper needed. What you see has not been ironed yet…and there is no puckering! Another reason to love this machine!!!!

So, I will finish the front panels, back skirt, and crowns and ship it all back to Gina for assembly for her daughter.  I am liking being the embroidery lady…have 2 more to stitch-out for my 2 in current production…

This was all digitized using my Bernina Designer Plus V5 software. Converts easily into the format needed for the commercial machine.


Almost 2 dress designs down, 1 1/2 left.

This is a design done by Gina Foster for her daughter Shaylah. She sent the designs to Susan who made the vector graphics and then sent them to me for digitizing. Here are pics from my software after digitizing.

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I will get them stitched out this week so Gina can get the dress done for the SRO.

This one below is for another O dancer. This will have a double row of panels (front and back), short over long, and a completely soft underskirt. Still have the bodice to do, but we are still working on that idea because we want to construct this bodice differently. More on that later when it works!!!
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I am actually going to be in the dungeon today…I am so sick of being on the computer all week that this makes me very happy. So, TA!

Digitizing & Insomnia

It is late…dammit. Earlier today on into the evening I was so tired I could barely function. But I did not allow myself to take a nap so that I would sleep well. Made no difference as I am obviously not sleeping. I fully understand how folks become psychotic maniacs when sleep eludes them.

But, instead of going postal, I have been amusing myself by digitizing. I have a friend for whom I am going to embroider the fabric for her wedding dress. We have been looking at embroidery collections, but I have not seen anything that is as fine and wonderful as it should be for her. So, I digitized something for her to give her an idea of what we can do.

Here is just an idea of how we can cover the fabric.
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Here is the basic digitized piece in a wreath of three.
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Just for the hell of it, I tried the auto digitize function in my software function again…not really sure why as it never works well, and sure enough it did not. I keep waiting for the day that my EXPENSIVE software will do all the work for me…not holding my breath, tho’. It’s ok. I love doing the digitizing myself.

After I sent off the pics to my friend, sleep was still nowhere to be found, so I did a couple more.

This was fun.
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This was complicated, and if decide to use it somehow, I must go back in and clean up a few things.
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Maybe the next time I can’t sleep I will go embroider these in the sewing dungeon.

Back to the sewing

My last post reminded me why I stopped answering technique questions…the drama is draining.

As much as I have been blogging about dance technique issues you would think I have not been paying any attention to my dressmaking. Not so, not so.

But before I go there, I want to post this link to Kathleen Fasanella’s tutorial on “centered zipper construction.” My blog analytics show that lots of folks come here looking for info on putting in a zipper…I have also put the link under the Feisdress information on the left of the blog for future reference.

Back to the dressmaking…

1) Susan and I have been very busy working with an established school to design new school dresses. Very interesting process, and so far I am enjoying this immensely. I say so far because I know that this is not always an easy endeavor. Yet, the folks that we are working with are wonderful, very clear in their ideas and open to discussion. This is my first time being involved in the school design process from the very start…very interesting.

I have been looking at sources for fabric for this school. We need to find a supplier that can always get us what we want, but we also need to be realistic about the types of fabrics that we choose not only for their sturdiness and washability, but for the fact that they will still be available through the supplier 10 years from now!!

Designing the new embroidery has also been very interesting for me to be a part of. As soon as that is finalized, I will get busy digitizing while Susan develops their school patterns.

2) I have been digitizing the dress designs for a school account that I’ve had. Susan has been doing that by hand, but has decided to give that up. My idea of great fun is digitizing her designs!

3) We are working on our current custom solo dress. This is a client that has worked with Susan before…very nice folks. They chose a new design from Susan’s newest Feisdress design cd. It is a 2 piece, 10 panel dress. We went shopping with the dancer’s mother for more fabrics last week and then did up some panels with different fabric combinations for them to choose from.

Here are the three choices we sent. There is no embroidery yet…useless to mess with that until the colors are chosen.
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I was going to do one more combination, but they like this one. This was the 1st one Susan and I put together…messed around quite a long time deciding which fabrics to put together. It is on the fabric that will be used for the underskirt. Now to start messing with thread colors and finish the digitizing.
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These are the rejects.
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Susan has an incredible eye for color. I know what I do and don’t like, but I do not have her ability to look at a color and know what will work with it. This process was educational and fun once again. But now she gone on a trip and I have to decide on thread colors myself!!! Ack!

It is a sewing dungeon day…and I am looking forward to it.

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