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!

Aislinn’s Teal Solo dress

(I added the little girl’s name because she wanted her dress known by her name…you got it, Aislinn!)

Another custom solo dress walked out the door this afternoon…fastest one yet! I love the color of this one.

Please excuse the hanger…one of these days I will get a child-sized dress dummy.

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This is a Feisdress pattern…Susan has designed a pattern for this swoop skirt and it works beautifully. The skirt went on in one pass and hung perfectly.
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I even pleated the left side of the cape.

Here is a cool thing…the center front panel is totally free! No useless pleats (no reason for them with a swoop or wrap), and no need to sew the side panels to the front to keep them in the right place (sometimes swoop panels can collapse into the center). The center front panel itself is wide enough to eliminate using pleats for modesty’s sake, and the width & stiffness of it add the necessary tension to keep the side front panels in their wide spaced place. Very cool pattern, Susan!
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I will be interested in how it feels to dance in. I did get the chance to inspect an Elevation Designs swoop dress just after the Oireachtas…the mom brought it over for some repair advice. The young dancer commented that she found it difficult dancing in it because there was no give in the front. That one did have pleats at the sides of the center front panel, but everything was sewn shut. Essentially, there was no movement in the front skirt and it moved as a single panel. This one moves quite easily when you lift the skirt by hand, but the center front panel is wide which makes me wonder how it will move. Since it is not attached to the side front panels, will the skirt have movement for the dancer? As a dressmaker, I love this…now I am waiting for a dancer’s perspective.

Update: The dancer said it was very easy to dance in. Plenty of movement in the skirt, did not feel like kicking a board. This is a keeper!
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Love this lining.

If you are interested in the pattern, you can get Susan’s email on the Feisdress site.

Flower Solo Dress

Woo-hoo, woo-hoo, it’s done, it’s done (this is accompanied by my version of the cabbage patch dance…kids aren’t home so it is only me and I am not embarrassing anyone else…)! I always feel so proud when I finish a dress, like I really accomplished something! Once again learned many things making this dress. Also found that I am quite efficient with digitizing and stitching out the embroidery now.

Handed the dress off a bit ago and all seem pleased. I think it turned out beautifully! The design is based on the dancer’s concept…Susan gave it order and the knots. Susan also altered her pattern for me to make the swoop skirt.

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(That black spot is a weird sequin facing…no black spots.) Notice the claddagh cross? A design moment for moi…designed it in my digitizing software based on a cross that the dancer and her mother wear…fun, fun!

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Quite the pleat pro now.

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Cape was the dancer’s idea. I really like it. Nice clean lines.

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Diamonds and pearls…I wish I had gotten a better pic of the tiara. It is quite beautiful.

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I believe they found the skirt lining first and it inspired the dress.

Here’s a pic of the side and back skirt. For those who are not familiar with the Feisdress pattern, this pic illustrates one great feature…fewer seams! In fact, this skirt only had one vertical seam at the center back… sort of. This dress actually has a separating zipper so that the whole thing open up to get it on and off. There is a flower patch that covers the bottom of the zipper and continues the design line.
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Here’s the shape of the cape. Made a pattern based on the dancer’s drawing.
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Here it is folded up at the bottom and with the “pins” in place. The pins are now attached to the dress. The cape is attached under each with velcro and snaps.
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And here is what the young dancer wanted on the under side of the cape. Very sweet.
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So, now on to the next…dancer coming for a fitting this weekend!

Misty Fuse

One of the ever-nagging problems we Irish Dance dressmakers face is how to attach overlay to our base fabrics so that they do not shift or wrinkle during embroidery and sewing seams. I have used temporary basting sprays which I hate because of the smell and the resulting headache, even when I spray outside. I used regular Wonder-under on the bodice of my current dress…it works beautifully under the organza but it does make the fabric stiffer, not something everyone wants.

Somewhere, on some dressmaking board, someone put up a link to Misty Fuse. I decided to try it and found it on sale here.

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So what do I think? Fantastic stuff! Anytime you “fuse” 2 fabrics there will be a change in the fabric drape, but the stiffness of this stuff is minimal. Here you can see how sheer it is.
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Here is a sample with the chiffon overlay. The effect on the sheen of the satin underneath is almost non-existent…look near the bottom of the pic and you can see the sheen.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Then, for the hell of it, I tried it to attach some tulle to the satin. Only drawback to this stuff is that it does not come on it’s own paper backing. That would make life a bit easier since you have to work your way through layers of this soft filmy stuff to find a single layer and then you must use parchment paper if there is room for it to bleed through as there obviously is on tulle. I found that I needed a higher heat here because even though the tulle was firmly attached, I could clearly see the Misty Fuse mesh. Pressed it several times with the parchment with no change. Just to see if I could melt it, I put it directly under the press with no parchment…obviously made a mess on the heated part that I had to clean up, but it did melt it! Could be a problem…the higher heat, I mean. Can’t always use a high heat on all of our fabrics. But, you cannot see it through the chiffons at all. Notice the satin sheen through the tulle?
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I think I have found a keeper.

New solo: bodice

Been awhile since I posted. Working on the new solo rather intensely…have had some interesting issues to address. The base fabric is a white satin with a wonderfully made chiffon/sequin overlay. Thought I would baste it at the sides and leave it loose over the top of the satin, but it looked messy and kept shifting. So used regular weight WonderUnder to fuse it and it looked beautiful! Straight on pic below. The morning sun has washed out the colors a bit…the pink is quite vibrant.
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Tried a different angle here to see if I could get the green to do its sparkle thing… it is visible at the center. Have to say I was not sure that the silver sequins would work, but the iridescence works wonderfully as it reflects the same pink and green in the design.
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The green between the flowers is grosgrain ribbon. Another small challenge there getting it to curve, but steaming made it behave.

Everything is backed with a fusible interfacing. I like a crisp look for the bodice, so the satin is backed with a woven cotton fusible. The center bodice is also fused to Decor-bond…it is a bit siff, but there is no denying that it stands up to the embroidery with no puckering or tunneling. Everything turns out clean and sharp. The applique fabrics are fused to decor bond. After tacking down and trimming the green glitter dot appliques, I applied Fray-chek. Since the glitter dots are on a type of netting, I have found that the Fray-chek keeps the netting from breaking and leaving holes when satin-stitching around. Forgot to do that on my sample and had several holes. Was generous with the Fray-chek on this and not a single hole!

The pink fabric in the flowers is a satin with tiny dots of glitter…the kind that eventually ends up in every nook and cranny in my sewing room and on my body! So, I sprayed the fabric with my good ol’ No Fray Spray!
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I am always amazed that it works as well as it does. Here’s a pic of the fully sprayed fabric…still sparkly! Doesn’t change anything except make the fabric a tad stiffer, but since I was using it for applique, it did not matter.
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The design is of course by Susan Gowin based on the dancer’s ideas. This will be a swoop dress…pattern by Susan.

The dancer and her mother and grandmother came for a fitting yesterday afternoon. They are happy and all is well. The dancer had such an adorable smile on her face…gives me the biggest charge when they are thrilled.

Molly & Michael brought me a large cafe mocha from Starbucks yesterday afternoon…about 5 pm. Moron that I am, I drank the whole thing…guess what time I went to bed? I was wide awake digitizing the rest of the skirt design until 3 am. A bit bleary now…good time for a morning nap!

Feisdress in Action!

I finally got some pics of the Boyle School Dancers on the IsleInn Cruise this past January. Here are the Fire Solo and the Black Solo dresses in action!
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There was a question on the Celtic Flame board: “…do those of you who have used the FD method feel the front skirt stands out at the bottom completely or does it tend to “wrap” slightly to the back when the dancer has her arms in place?” Both of these dresses were made with the Fesidress side tuck, not a pleat, and they work just fine. This question is also about the ever-elusive flat skirt which is just not possible on every dancer. Susan explains this well here, and I discuss other skirt issues that affect the skirt hang here.

And this is another performance dress I made for them, white lace over a pale gold glistenette.
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Knitting & Embroidering

I am almost done with the Aran poncho…need to do a couple more rows of a crocheted edge. Thought I might do a picot edge, but looking at the pic here it might look too fussy. And I am thinking I will not block this…I like the way the long edge flows and the sheer weight of this thing will block it for me!

I cannot find the pattern I used…I had everything committed to memory. It was not an Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern, but I did not like the way the top down percentages were figured so went to my EZ books and made it work better! EZ to the rescue!

This pic shows the color better. It has more green than the pic above shows. You can also see the cabling section better…sort of.

Miss Maggie generously broke her frown to give me a smile while modeling for me. The poncho is for me but I do NOT put pics of me fluffy self on the net willingly, so here you see that it is a BIG poncho. Actually fits me very nicely.

And here are my flowers! (See Marianne, I do flowers, too! Not as subtle as yours, though…) Susan’s design, my digitizing and sew-out. These are my experiments…new solo dress client wants these so had to figure out which threads, which center fabric, etc. I like the top right, but from a distance you cannot see those tiny iridescent dots. The bottom right works the best. The flowers on the left were thread color experiments…hard to find the right shade of pink slightly darker than the fabric.

They come tomorrow for a bodice fitting and we will decide.

Dudney Dresses

Delivered 3 more dresses last night for the Dudney School for the 1st St. Patrick’s Day parade in Alexandria. 2 more to do for next week. This is a nice photo of some of the girls who competed in December at the 2006 Southern Region Oireachtas. I blurred their faces because not every parent is comfortable having pics of their children online. But you can see the dresses and even get an idea of just how excited they were!

I had a partner while sewing this week. A mom in the Dudney School wanted to put her daughter’s dress together herself. I was hesitant at first because there was no way to really know what her sewing skills actually were…telling someone what to do is one thing, teaching them is another. But I took a chance and I am so glad I did. Not only did Jane really know how to sew, but she was great company. I think she was a bit surprised at all that actually goes into making one of these, and she has now joined the ranks of the frustrated Irish dance dressmaker – she sewed and ripped out and wrestled and sewed and ripped out and wrestled, wrestled, wrestled…with the blasted skirt! I give her a LOT of credit…she never once swore in my presence (not that I would have cared) and she always had a smile on her face!!!! At one point she said, “I think it might be awhile before I want to attempt a solo dress.” I told her that after I finished all the dresses I was working on for the Oireachtas, I did not venture back into my sewing dungeon for 6 weeks…and then it took me 2 WHOLE days to clean it up! It takes time to recover from the Irish dance dress adventure.

A small milestone: I put one of these dresses together in 1 day. 1 day. I feel like Super Woman…Speedy Seamstress…Turbo Taoknitter. I am usually putting 2 to 4 dresses together at the same time in an assembly line fashion, so I had no idea I had become so proficient. What a shock when it was simply done. And the skirt went on in one pass! When I put it on the hanger to see if the skirt was hanging right, I just stood there in shock…I was done!

Simple pleasures for simple minds…

Webmaster’s dress

Here are pics of Webmaster’s finished, re-vamped dress.

Shawl #1.
Shawl #2.
New stiff bodice.
Under bodice front.
Under bodice back.
Still soft sleeve.
New crown.
Skirt lining.

Webmaster’s re-vamp

Webmaster, Susan and I all agreed that we wanted to re-do the bodice of the Webmaster’s new dress. Being a 2-piece, we had wanted to try to make it as comfortable as possible, so we were trying for a t-shirt feel…nothing was stiffened except for the embroidered areas, and even those were cut out and appliqued onto the unstiffened bodice pieces. Although soft, it did not lay right and Webmaster was somehow uncomfortable as she kept tugging on it…it seemed to ride up.

This is the original bodice.

We decided to re-vamp it and make it stiff with a v-shape at the center bottom.

I took the entire bodice apart. It was originally a one-piece darted bodice on the front with an embroidered panel appliqued onto it, and we wanted to change it to a princess seam. I left the sleeves as they were – soft and unstiffened. I kept the original back bodice. I cut the embroidered panel off of the front bodice, and cut a new front princess seam bodice. The fabric was interfaced first with french fuse as was the finished back bodice. Then I interfaced all five pieces (2 back, 3 front) with Decor-bond – 1 layer on the 2 back bodice and 2 side bodice pieces, and 2 layers on the center front bodice. This pic below is the new very stiff center front bodice.

Below are all five stiffened pieces. The embroidered front panel has only been partially attached to the center front bodice. I finished attaching it after I have sewed the princess seams because the panel overlapped the seams.
All bodice pieces were all lined in cotton (I love having a wild inner bodice!) and serged.
The Feisdress pattern does not use any ease in the princess seam. (For a thorough discussion of the reasons for this go here.) Webmaster’s original pattern was custom-made for her, so I altered that to create a princess seam pattern and did not include any ease. Here the two pieces are ready to be sewn.
Here is the finished seam showing no puckering because there was no extra fabric to be “eased” in.

The bottom edge of the bodice was satin-stitched as was the neck. I still included the neck facing for a clean look.

Here is the finished bodice.

I used a separating sports zipper in this bodice. They feel so much sturdier… I am thinking I might start using these in all the dresses I make from now on.
Now, Susan came up with an ingenious idea for attaching the soft shawl. The triangle knot seen here is a “pin.” It is a mirror of what is on the other shoulder, but this lifts up…

…and underneath the pin and on the bodice are two big pieces of the soft side of heavy-duty velcro.

The end of the shawl is encased in a double triangle of the hook side of the velcro which then is sandwiched (pinned) under the shoulder “pin.”

The same happens at the right hip.


Webmaster also asked for a crown…

…and a second shawl.

I will post full pics in the next post.

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