Dress Observations

(Disclaimer: I love making Irish dance dresses, I love making Irish dance dresses, I love making Irish dance dresses,I love making Irish dance dresses…)

In order to meet & fit a new client, I went to the Nation’s Capital Feis yesterday. I had made the mock-bodice from measurements Susan had taken a few weeks ago…the client lives in southern Virginia and was here, obviously, for the feis. Very nice people. Good bodice, if I do say so myself…only have to make it smaller in the bust.

The young lady has quite a beautiful dress now. Dancer said it was a second hand Siopa Rince. Nicely made except for that zipper…shows on the inside of the skirt, not covered at all. What is that?!!! Dress costs a fortune and no one can take the extra five minutes to tuck the zipper into the lining and whip-stitch it into place? Irritates the bejesus out of me. Had a nice visit with the new clients. Had some musical accompaniment as a dancer prepared to play her fiddle for the music competition. Just love that. Finished with the dress business, Meave and I began our slow trek back to the car.

It felt very odd walking through a feis after all this time. Molly’s last feis was the Oireachtas in December, and Maggie’s and Meave’s was earlier in the fall…it may be almost a year by the time we go to our first one this fall. Anyway, I was hit by a very odd feeling as Meave and I maneuvered our way through the crush of bodies…I felt my shoulders rising to my ears. I felt a twitch starting at the side of my mouth… No doubt that “competing” charges the air in a very specific way. It was a disconcerting feeling.

Of course I was compelled to study every dress I walked by…quickly because I was NOT compelled to stop (had to escape some of this mania. Note to self: remember what it is like before we go to our first feis this fall). There were so many made almost entirely of sequins! And not just any sequins…FISHSCALE sequins! For those unfamiliar with them or who might call them something different, this pic illustrates what I call fishscale sequins:

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Rather pretty, aren’t they? And they make a whole Irish dance dress something to behold. Very striking…and very expensive!!!

I saw every type of dress imaginable…even a bubble skirt bobbing down the hall in the distance. Little girl moved too fast for me to see much before she disappeared. So many ideas…just proves what many on the boards have said…there is no absolute style to these things, no standard to measure yourself against. If you like it, do it because anything goes!!!

I did manage to end up next to some dresses sporting the “newest” trend (translation: it will change in five minutes) of using mainly embroidery and very little applique. The satin-stitched lines are thick so the design can be seen, which is great. I for one am happy to see some knotwork making a comeback. But what I have noticed in pics as well as in person yesterday is that they all seem to look the same. Why? All of the knotwork designs from days gone by did not look the same, but these are all using the same sharp-pointed diamonds, curly Victorian scrolls, and flowers. Can we not be creative on our own?

And it does look as if computerized machine embroidery is close to the norm now. I do not have a problem with that since that is my expertise. It also means that folks have seen the value of what we digitizing artists can do…perhaps there will be no more of those moronic statements on the boards about how this kind of embroidery takes no skill.

Interestingly, there was recently a lamentation on the Celtic Flame dressmakers board that all the new embroidery was being done by machine and that perhaps the hand-guiding embroiderers were now behind the eight ball, that only those with computerized machines can pull this stuff off. I do not believe that to be so. I know that there are ID dressmakers who are capable of doing hand-guided embroidery of all kinds. My Feisdress partner, Susan Gowin, still does the embroidery by hand for the dresses she designed for Dudney and Maple. I am amazed by the clarity and neatness of the stitching. Don’t give this up, too, ladies!!!!

Here are pics of Susan’s gorgeous handiwork:

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Beautiful. You can see more in her Feisdress gallery.

Meave and I both said, “Whoa!” when we passed the for sale area. The rack set up for the sale of used dresses was packed, stuffed, and scarily overwhelming. Meave and I did stop briefly as I glanced over them, but there were so many, so precariously smashed together, that I did not want to really examine any too closely because I might have to pick them all up from the floor! But a couple of things struck me.

1) They all looked new…and beautiful. I could see “used” on many of the info signs attached to them, but the signs of wear were not immediately evident.

2) There were so many of them.

3) The use of fabrics of all kinds was fantastic! Visual feast!

4) The dresses that I could see were ALL 3 panels.

5) There were so many of them.

6) The prices for these “used” dresses were out of this world! From $1200 to $2500 for a used dress!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Susan and I are about to put a used dress up for sale…it has been worn 5 times and we are thinking of asking $950, half the actual construction price…$1200 is a new dress!!!!

7) There were so many of them!!!!

Conclusions that one might draw…one must not keep a dress too long because you must keep up with the trends, so sell it when it is still technically new. Charge an arm and a leg so you can make up what you spent in the first place so you can buy another new dress that you will only wear 4 times so you can then repeat the process. 3 panels are old fashioned…so why would anyone want to buy it? At that PRICE?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I feel a twitchybitchy fit roiling…

There have been several “conversations” on the boards about the glut of dresses in the used dress market. It is a very interesting phenomenon, this mentality that a dancer must only wear a dress a few times, that staying “current” is SOOOO important. I am pretty sure that every solo client that I have had still owns the dress I made. They do not feel compelled to keep buying new dresses. Not sure I understand this aquisitive state of mind. I am interested to see what happens in the next year as folks are unable to sell their used dresses. Perhaps a change in attitude is a-comin’!!!

While I was at the feis for the fitting, Molly and Maggie were in Irish dance class. Meave and I went back to wait. Meave spent that time practicing her steps. Near the end of class, I went to watch for a little. Jordan was really putting Molly thru her paces. Loved it. Such interesting, wonderful choreography. After my short trip into La-la Land at the feis, it was nice to see just dancing. I will admit here that going to feiseanna can make me crazy. Competition was nowhere to be found in my classical dance training. I competed as a cheerleader…and that is what competing in the upper levels at a feis reminds me of. Made me crazy as a teenager… makes me very tense as an adult.

Good to have this reminder now. I am resolved to be as cool as a cucumber at our first feis back this fall. I will encourage the divas to be friendly, to talk to their fellow competitors. I resolve to keep all of this light and fun and social. I resolve to meet at least 2 new folks. Maybe I will go introduce myself to ZandB and get myself a MoonPie!

More fun

More playing with the Bernina Designer Plus Version 5 software. I am having such a blast! And learning so much as well.

So I have this shape: Susan designed it, I digitized it (that adventure here).
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After I digitized the piece of lace Susan designed, I began to really look at more complicated designs and realized that many (most?) are really not so complicated after all. (Is that a big, “DUH!!!”?? I slapped MY forehead!!) They are composed of one or two “building blocks” and manipulating them gives you a unique design. So, using more of the amazing buttons (functions) built into the software, I began playing. The design above gave me the lace below:
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A tiny edit and then addition gave me this:
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Then I looked at some of the celtic knot collections that I have acquired and messed with a triskele knot to get this:
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And THEN, I digitized a free clip art knot design I had, put it in the wreath tool, and got this:
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Removed some stitches, but as Susan pointed out to me, this would look much better if the design did not still look as if it was 5 separate chunks. I need to change the knot to connect them all. Told Susan SHE gets to redo the original line design for me. Criticise me, will you? I’ll put you to work!

Putting my money where my mouth is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the inspiration, CJ!

Rose of Tralee Gallery


Rose of Tralee 2007
Designer: Susan Gowin
Digitizer & Embroiderer: Me
Sashmaker: Susan
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Rose of Tralee 2006 winner: Carolyn Kerwin

Rose of Tralee 2006
Designer: Susan Gowin
Digitizer & Embroiderer: Me
Sashmaker: Susan


Embroidering in the Hoop-it-all

Couple of folks have expressed interest in how I did the Rose of Tralee sash in the Hoop-it-all so here goes.

Here is the digitized front sash. I used Bernina Designer Plus Version 5. (You can read my opinion about this software here…it is near the bottom of the post.) In the center, running left to right, there is a black line. This is a line of long stitches I added to mark the long center of the design, a center that would not change when I split the design. There are also 3 red crosses: 1 after the flower, 1 on the bottom of the “g”, and 1 above the “r” in “Tralee.” These reference stitches were digitized to stitch out first.
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Below you can see the crosses more clearly and a bit of the stitches for the applique process.
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The important thing to remember about the HIA is that although it affords you a larger stitching field, the embroidery machine is still only able to compute in its own sewing fields, the largest being the mega hoop. But, in order to use the HIA, you cannot use the mega hoop because mega hoop designs are automatically split and as that stitch out progresses you are asked to move the mega hoop to different positions that the machine recognizes because of the construction of the mega hoop, something you cannot do with the HIA. So, I used the large oval hoop as a reference to split the design for the HIA.

Here is a pic of the entire front sash as I begin splitting .
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The HIA Super Giant-long hoop has a vertical sewing field of about 21 inches… this front sash was a bit over that, so first I stitched out the flower in the oval hoop and then began using the HIA. In order to split this design into separate files, I copy what I need out of the original full front sash file and create new files, 4 in all for this front sash. Here’s the flower with 1 red reference cross and a shortened black center reference line. This black line works in 2 ways: 1) all the split parts of the design are centered on the same line so that I can line up the parts in the oval hoop manually on the center line of the grid; and 2) before I lay my fabric down on the HIA sticky stabilizer when I begin the rest of the sash, I run this line without thread so it punches holes in the sticky stabilizer for a reference line that I can align my marked fabric with. This line is not stitched out onto the fabric.
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After the flower was finished, I attached the sticky stabilizer to the HIA, opened the next design (the beginning of the words), tightened the hoop into the correct placement on my machine, and punched the black and red reference lines in the stabilizer by, again, running the machine with no thread. Then, I lined up the center of the fabric (that already has the flower) and the first red cross that was stitched out (in white thread onto the flower portion) with the lines punched into the stabilizer. You can see the red cross in the pic above and then vaguely in the pic below centered on the broken blue center line at the top of the hoop above the “R.” I then centered the rest of the fabric onto the center line of the stabilizer (which matched the center lines of the design files), threaded the machine and off I went.
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The stitch out above includes another red reference cross which sits in the crook of the bottom of the “g.” (Cannot really see it here.) This was stitched out in white onto the fabric in the design above so that when I was moving the hoop to the new position for the next design, I could line up my designs by using the cross as reference points for my needle. I do this by advancing the stitches on the Bernina computer screen to find the appropriate stitch, and then move the HIA until the needle pierces a corresponding needle-point. Then I tighten the HIA into place, and the next portion begins. Sometimes I did use the knob on the machine that shifts the design in the hoop by tiny increments to get it lined up horizontally.
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I repeated the process for the back of the sash, though it was more involved because of the overlaps. I still used the reference lines, but this one involved more movement up and down of the hoop. The parts of this design were numbered from left to right as follows: 4,1,5,2,6,3,7. We did decide finally that the back sash would only include the first 5 parts so I numbered these as 3,1,4,2,5. This all fit in the hoop. But there was another challenge…this design stitched out by moving the hoop down then up then down two then up 1…damn. So, here is what I did- I attached the fabric onto the sticky stabilizer and then stitched out the reference line & crosses (in white) as follows: 1) the short, straight black line at the far left which marked the top of the design and the first red cross; 2) then I opened each design in the finished order you see below so I could line up the first cross to then stitch out the second cross. When I was done, I had the reference crosses stitched out in the appropriate places on the fabric. Then I started over and began stitching out the actual designs, beginning with designs 1 and 2 which were the green vines and then 3, 4, & 5 which were the flowers. And it was so easy because everything was already lined up!
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I hope this was clear. If not, please ask questions. It is good for me to have to articulate this.

Digitizing & Embroidering

When oldest diva Molly hit the novice level in Irish dance, I decided to try my hand at making an ID solo dress. Her teachers did not really encourage solo dresses at that level, but her school dress was getting too small and we were all interested to see what I might do. I figured it would be a challenge, but I had been sewing since I was a child, had training and experience making clothes and theatre/dance costumes, and I had been altering the dresses for our ID school for a couple of years…I felt up to the challenge.

As most ID dressmakers know, no matter your prior experience, the learning curve is actually a vertical climb, especially when it comes to putting the design on the dress. In this area, I was a babe in the woods…in a vast desert…on an iceberg in the middle of a never-ending ocean!!! But I persevered, mainly because I was so ignorant of what I was about to take on!

Briefly, that journey went like this:
1) Tried to design a dress, found I was hopeless, so bought one. I found Alison Young of Darkwoods Studio and she made this design for me:
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She did exactly as I asked and we loved it. She emailed it to me and I just stared at it…now what? I figured it was up to me to enlarge it and transfer it to the fabric somehow. Seems that’s how most folks did it. Beginning of my vertical climb on the learning “curve!”

But I had bought myself a Bernina 200E…at the time, it was the top of the line in home embroidery machines. It came with embroidery software and I just assumed I could put the picture in there and it would do the rest….(wry smile, snort…SNORT, chuckle, cackle… GUFFAWWWWW! )

I quickly realized that the software I had was useless. Bought the Bernina Designer Plus…and began my journey. First I cleaned up the drawings because I wanted to use the auto digitizer function. So, I broke Alison’s design up into pieces. The drawing was originally done on 8 1/2 x 11 paper and was of course a hand drawing, a really good hand drawing. I knew that the auto digitizer was going to follow the lines exactly so I had to change this…
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…to this so the lines were even. Have to say that I felt strange “changing” another artist’s design. I hoped I was not messing it up!
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I used Paint in a very laborious fashion. Ugh. Now I know I do not have to do that.

Next, I sized them, and then I began the labor intensive process of learning how to re-hoop. The front panel alone took 6 hoopings in the mega hoop (about 5.9 x 15.7 inches, I think), and I did it the hard way by LITERALLY hooping the fabric each and every time. Makes me twitchy now thinking about how hard I worked, but here is my first digitized and embroidered design:


Knowing what I know now, I am amazed.

Now on to what I do now.

Susan (Gowin, my Feisdress partner) does all the designs I work with now. She gives me the designs in the correct size, placed correctly on the pattern, in either an EMF or JPEG file. Sometimes the file is in color, sometimes black and white. This is the bodice design for the flower solo as sent to me by Susan.
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All embroidery lines are to scale, tho’ sometimes we fuss after the fact. I then digitize. Even though the embroidery software can digitize embroidery and applique automatically, I do not use those functions because I do not like what happens. Strange computer logic that irritates me. I do it all “by hand,” so to speak. This is a pic of the flower dress bodice in the software after I finished digitizing.
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I am not always diligent about using the correct colors of thread when I am digitizing…the blue here should be green…but I know what I want. If I were doing this for someone else, I would use all the correct colors. The single stitch curved lines down the center are placement lines for the green ribbons. I digitized the blue first because its ends must lie under the appliqued flowers. There is an underlay stitch under the blue satin stitching. The appliqued flowers are digitized as follows: placement stitches for the applique fabric, tack-down stitch that runs after I have secured the cut applique pieces within the placement lines, then satin-stitches with underlay. There are several ways to digitize the varying thicknesses of the satin stitch lines…I use whatever gives me the best look.

In the center of the design, I have put in a single stitch cross of black (it was actually white and was removed when I was done embroidering). Since this design is too big for one hooping and I have to split it, I add this basting stitch to help me line up the designs when I re-hoop. Below is the first section I did.
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Below is the second. The top of the cross matches the cross above.
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And this is the result:
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So, how do I re-hoop? I use sticky stabilizer. I attach the sticky stabilizer to my inner hoop. I put another layer of stabilizer, usually a tear-away, behind this and put it in the outer hoop. Then, I sew the line of placement basting stitches, the crosses in the pics above. I remove the hoop from the machine and then carefully line up the basting stitches on the fabric from the first embroidered pass with the lines I have sewn onto the sticky stabilizer. Once it is lined up, I make sure the fabric is secured to the sticky stabilizer by rubbing it down. A basting box I have digitized into my file now sews out to make sure the fabric does not pull up or shift which can happen especially when I am embroidering larges pieces of fabric like this:
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This one took 5 hoopings. And I bent way too many pins rolling this mass up in a variety of ways so that it would not drag on the carriage.

The embroidery software that I originally bought was the Bernina Designer Plus Version 4. Wilcom makes it. A friend who has commercial machines uses the commercial version of mine. I got a chance to see how he does things and he let me play with his software. Same capabilities but mine is WAY cheaper, tho’ still not cheap. I eventually bought bought the Version 5 upgrade.

There are other software applications out there and I have explored several. All the others seem to come in pieces: you buy a platform and then add on only what you want. For craft folks who only want to stitch out designs they have bought, this is a cheaper alternative. But, by the time I would have purchased all I needed to do all that I want, I would have spent a lot on software that ultimately could not do what mine can.

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