Feisdress FSP: Stiffener, boning & wrapping the seam

Cindy in ON wrote:

My first question is about the boning in the FSP. The instructions
say “the boning runs across the bottom of the skirt like it does on
the FSP and into the back side of the knife pleat.” I get about
running it into the knife pleat, but I’m thinking that boning going
two far into the FSP is going to cause a problem with my skirt
sticking way out or not bending unless I stop it somewhere. I also
wasn’t sure if I was going to use stiffener in the side panels. So
my questions are:

– if I put boning horizontally in the FSP, what guideline should I
use for where to stop it?

– Has anybody used a vertical piece of boning in the back edge of the
knife pleat and avoided having the horizontal boning in the side
panels and if so, how did that work?

– with the traditional skirt pattern, is stiffener recommended for
the front side panel, and if so, at what weight? The stiffener I
have seems quite stiff (almost as thick as felt and creases where
folded). Should I look for a softer stiffener for the side panels or
is this what I should be using?

The second part of my questions revolves around cutting the lining
for the FSP. The pattern shows an extra inch and a half or so to be
cut for the lining that folds around something. I just can’t picture
this or what it folds around and how it’s going to work.

– Can somebody explain this so I have an idea what I’m doing with
that extra bit when I prepare my lining?

Thanks all! I appreciate the help because the only dress I have
available to look at for construction questions is my DD school
dress, and it doesn’t feel that there is stiffener in the side
panels, or any boning, and clearly there are somethings that are done
differently than I will be doing for a solo dress.

I am assuming here that we are talking about a 3 panel dress, so my answers are in that vein.

Yes, you are correct that most solo 3 panel dresses are different than a lot of school dresses when it comes to stiffener in the FSP.  Solos dresses are usually much stiffer so that the side panels extend further out to the sides.  And, it is usually preferable that the FSP does not bend but instead is as flat in relation to the CFP as possible which is why the same stiffener is used in all 3 panels in the front skirt and why the boning extends from the knife pleat out to the edge of the FSP. 

Now, this is not a hard and fast rule.  Depending on the dancer’s ideas of stiffness and width, I did not always use the boning.  I found also that the thinner a dancer was (flatter torso) made it easier to achieve the flat front look so boning was not necessary.  The rounder girls did require boning to keep the panels flat because the waist line curved around their bodies more.  (You can read read Susan’s explanation of this here: Skirt Question.)

Be aware that if you do not use the same stiffener in the FSP, the side panels will collapse down and in.

A vertical piece of boning behind the knife pleat will not really accomplish anything except add weight.

Now for the seam wrap:  here are a couple of pics of the wrap.

seam wrap by you.

seam wrap by you.

basting & seam wrap by you.

(You can slso see my basting in the above pic.)

Let’s see if I can explain what I do.

First, I cut the seam wrap longer than the skirt hem.  The cut piece looks like this:

wrap info by you.

This allows me to wrap the bottom of the seam also.  Once the seam is sewn, I iron the vertical edge of the wrap to create a straight fold, fold the bottom of the fabric up over the bottom of the seam, fold the vertical edge, and then sew.  All seams are now hidden.

Corset-style Bodice

— In IDDressmaking@yahoogroups.com, “snipper0104” <musicalpair3@…> wrote:
> Can anyone please tell me if there are directions to alter the Feisdress pattern for the corset-
> style bodice? I’m assuming this is a one-piece dress because of fit issues. I have a design I’d
> like to try and I think it would look best with the corset top. Thanks so much.
> Debbie

I responded, but wanted to move it here to add pics.

I have done this in one configuration or another onseveral dresses.  Only 2 were specifically sweetheart/corset line, while the others were v-neckline variations, but my construction is the same.  This method can also be used for asymmetrical bodice colors as well

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Embroidered for MJ Farr
MJ Farr 2009 (1)

MJ bodice front

Embroidered for Colleen Murphy
Good photo of color

Pinned, no zipper

I am such a freak about symmetrical placement that this is what I do:

1 – Cut the full bodice out of the least expensive of the 2 bodice fabrics.  Let’s say I am going to use velvet for the corset body, so I would cut out the bodice using the fabric that will show above the corset neck/bust line.  Call this fabric 1.

2 – draw the sweetheart line onto the paper pattern pieces.  Decide where the shoulder/ side seams will meet (if necessary) so the front and back meet up neatly.  Cut the top and bottom apart on that line.  You have not added any seam allowance to that line.

3 – cut the velvet bodice using the bottom of the separated pattern pieces.  Call this fabric 2.

4 – Lay the cut velvet pieces onto the full bodice pieces you cut before.  Now you have to decide if you are going to keep all of fabric 1.  I have done 1 of 2 things: a) kept all of fabric 1 to act as a stabilizer for fabric 2 ; or b) cut fabric 1 free behind fabric 2 after sewing them both together to keep the bodice from being too bulky.  No matter what I decide, after I have lined up the pieces I pin or baste them together so I can sew a narrow zigzag stitch at the edges where the fabrics overlap, in this case along the corset bust line.

     a) If I am using fabric 1 as a stabilizer, I will fuse them together.  However, with velvet, I would probably not fuse but sew them together in the seam allowances.  If I am going to fuse, I already attached Misty fuse to the corset fabric before I cut it out.  Once the bust line is sewn, I fuse.

    b) If I am going to cut fabric 1 free after sewing them both together to keep the bodice from being too bulky, I do so after I run the zigzag attachment stitch.  Then, on the wrong side, I neatly cut near the stitching to remove the extra fabric.

5 – Now, using a good tear-away, I satin stitch over where the 2 fabrics meet.  I have done this with contrasting threads and with matching.

Why do I do all of this instead of creating an actual pattern with seam allowances?  Because I already know that my pattern fits as is and creating a sweetheart neckline pattern with seam allowances will create (for me, I just know it!) issues with puckering, fabric not laying right in the center, etc.  This way, I do it all as if it is a giant applique and no matter what shape I use, it works and lays beautifully.  Quite frankly, this is fast.

In the above pics, the only one that I did not cut away was the pink and black one.  I felt that the angle of the pink might not resist stretching even though it is all interfaced with a fusible.  I left the black intact underneath.

Edited 9/27/2010: Nowadays, I digitize this entire process so I am doing all of this in my massive hoop. If you would like more info about that, just ask!!

Triangle Method for jutting skirts

Diane had a question…sooner or later, ALL ID dressmakers will have to deal with this one!

I have a dress that I made this past spring that was just fine on the dancer when she got it, and quite honestly, is fine on her now – when she’s standing in a normal position. But, when she gets ready to dance, she pulls her shoulders back, puts her stomach and chest out and it makes the skirt stick put funny.  Of course, it’s all a problem with the dress, not the dancer.

I was thinking that the best way to remedy this problem on the dress, short of standing behind the dancer on stage and telling her not to stick her belly out – was to drop the center front of the bodice – graduated from side seam to side seam, so that it was nothing at the side seam and 1″ at the center front.  I was thinking that maybe the center skirt front needed the same thing, but then just pinning it, it looked funny. Unfortunately, she’ll be loosing a good bit of her bodice let down room- about half –  but that’s life.

Diane’s idea is right, change the angle of the skirt attachment, but there is a fairly easy way to accomplish this: the Triangle Method!

Here’s my answer to her:

Hi Diane,  All you need is to haul it up into the side seams. 

Triangle method: I always do this with the bodice sewn on the right way (meaning I don’t remove the skirt to fix this), then I go back in and draw a line from the waist seam at the front dart/princess seam up to a point that is about ½” higher than the waist seam on the bodice side seam, and then back down to the waist seam at the back dart, pin the skirt and bodice together, and then sew this new line on both sides.  It accomplishes what you need without having to change the length of the front skirt…it just changes the length of the side, but no one ever notices.  This will help flatten the skirt and counteract what the dancer is doing.  Susan wrote about this thing exactly here: “Brainstorm alert – The Unified Quantum Theory of the Skirt Hang”

The one thing about this problem is that dancers really do slip back into a more natural posture once they start moving.  I do make this change when it is a glaring issue, but I also tell the dancer and the mom exactly why the problem is happening in the first place!

If this is unclear, please let me know.

For more about fitting issues caused by the exaggerated dance posture: Fitting issues: Dancer mis-alignment

Caroline’s straight satin-stitch pictorial

Caroline Vermeulen of Lowland Design has done a pictorial/tutorial for satin-stitching straight lines.  Very creative approach that I have not seen before. 


I will link this in the dressmaker info post, Dressmaking for Experienced FDS.

Thank you, Caroline!

Satin Stitching and Appliques

Back to business.

There have been a few questions lately on IDD and Celtic Flame about satin stitching and appliques. Instead of repeating myself, here are the relevant parts of my Diary of a Daft Dressmaker. #10 and #11 are from Part 2 and #12 and #13 are from Part 3.

If you have something to add, more tips or ideas, please leave a comment!

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.

The pic above 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. (The pic below is of a design done in hand-guided satin stitch by Susan Gowin…unbelievable! See, it is possible to get a design to look fantastic without an embroidery machine!) 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.

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.

I have also gotten in the habit of using Fabri-tac to adhere my appliques into place. It is flexible and fast drying. Love this stuff!!!

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 zig-zag 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.

9 Panel Dress

Whoo-boy… another work intensive dress. Love it, love it…but why do my dresses seem to take longer and longer? Could it be that Susan keeps getting more creative, setting more and more intense challenges for me in terms of design, digitizing, creative hooping, and fabrics? 3 separate overlays that needed to be fused! SUSAN!!??!!

Before I get to it, first a pic of the snaggletoothed youngest diva in her princess gown. If you look carefully at the right side of her smile, you can see that there seems to be a whiter spot. That is a baby tooth that she has been working at so hard over the past few days that she bruised her gum!!! Did not matter what I said to her, she was determined to get that tooth out. She’s relentless. It did finally come out about an hour after this pic.

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And here is the dress that has been holding me hostage in the basement. It is a 2 piece, 9 panel. Fitting tomorrow to fine-tune the fit. The cotton underbodice is just serged right now…I will bind the armscyes and the neck after tomorrow.
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The sequins still have the plastic covering that I put over them to embroider. I will remove that when I am done wrestling with this dress. The dress has a full separating zipper.

Here is the bodice front.
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Like my toes?

Tomorrow I fit the bodice jacket as well. Thinking about a different hemline for it. We will see what all concerned think.

Time for bed.

Making an Irish dance dress

Someone on dance.net posted questions about making an ID dress. The last part of it summed it all up: “Would someone please answer some of my questions and advise me on whether or not I could make a decent… no, beautiful, Irish dance dress with NO SEWING EXPERIENCE!!!???”

Susan answered here wonderfully:


We’ve all heard stories about someone who never sewed a lick and just popped out a world-class dance dress. I haven’t ever seen one that was successful. I have seen pictures of some dresses that the maker claimed were first attempts at sewing anything, but of those that weren’t pretty lame, it turns out there was some experienced dressmaker guiding the process along the way.

Lately, I’ve received a bunch of emails from folks along the lines of: “I’m a real experienced dressmaker, but I’ve never made an ID dress before. How do I measure my daughter?” or “how hard is it to make a dress?” or “how long will this take” etc. Excuse me, if this person is “experienced” then she would know better than to ask these questions. She would know that there is no ONE answer to any of these questions.

I’m starting to wonder what “experienced dressmaker” means. Operating a sewing machine, no matter how many hours you log on it, gives you NO experience as a dressmaker. NONE. Operating a sewing machine I can teach you in half an hour. Dressmaking is the hours and hours and hours of work and skill that go into getting ready to sit down at that machine and sew.

Start here: Dressmaking Info.  Ann outlines the dressmaking process. Notice that sewing the dress together is at the very bottom of the list.

Are you good at following directions? Solving puzzles?

Are you patient enough to do something over and over and over again until it is correct?

Will you promise not to take shortcuts because you are in a hurry or because you don’t think a step is important?

Are you willing to go out and buy some cheap fabric and make an entire dress that you will throw away before you try to make a for-real one?

Are you willing to buy GOOD tools and a GOOD pattern (both are very unwise places to try and save a couple of dollars)?

Are you willing to give yourself enough time to accomplish this (think at least 6 months – probably longer)?

Your biggest hurdle will be getting a good fit. That isn’t something you just learn – it takes experience and trying things and understanding how to read wrinkles and fabric. If you are really committed to this project, even after reading Ann’s blog and my answers, I would still say don’t try to fit it yourself. You need to find a tailor or another ID dressmaker who will work with you and help you tweak your fit. You really do need someone to pin things while you have them on. So your first step is to find a mentor or buddy that will help.

Good luck. Keep us posted.


Copyright Law: Substantial Similarity

Susan started me thinking about this again. Very often on the boards you read about the “20%” rule…if a design is changed by 20% (how the hell can you know what constitutes 20%?!), then you are not violating any one’s rights. WRONG!!! My Needle Arts magazine just published an article written by a copyright lawyer that specifically states: “The [copyright] law uses the standard of substantially similar as their ruler for infringement. That can be confusing. A good rule of thumb is that when the average person can recognize the original work from the infringing work it infringes on the original designer’s copyright.” – pp 23, Needle Arts, Volume XXXIII, Number 2, June 2007

There is more info here on the EGA site, The Right Side of Copyrights.

Susan also found this link: What Rights Does Copyright Grant?: Substantial Similarity which really makes the point clear.

It is not often that we hear of one ID designer going after another for copyright infringement, but the more I read about this issue, there are a few folks who could definitely go after a few others. I think we need to be more careful and more respectful.

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
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

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 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

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