Sequin Appliques

(Bitch alert: On the ID voy boards, someone used the word “sequence” when they meant “sequins”…makes me want to take my red pen and mark up my computer screen!)

I could have sworn I did a post about sequin appliques years ago, but maybe not.  And sequins are back…I cannot tell you how happy I am not to be making dresses anymore.  I know, there are worse things than sequins (tissue lame, acetate, lycra, silk velvet, brussel sprouts…), but satin stitching over the edges of sequin appliques was always an activity that left me twitching because it was NEVER as smooth as satin stitching over flat fabric…no matter what I did, and I did it all.  It was a lesson in artistic humility…do your best and then stop looking at it!

Susan taught me to use the same solvy topper that we use when embroidering on velvet.

This works in 2 ways: first, it keeps loose sequins from flying off wildly and blinding you or getting into your machine works or ending up in your dinner casserole (ask me about that sometime); and second it can help smooth out the edges of the applique where you have cut the sequins…notice I used the word “help.”  Cut sequins have a mind of their own and never lay flat so your satin stitching looks like it has been done by a toddler even if you have digitized it all perfectly!!

So,  is it possible to have great looking sequin appliques?  Yes, with a little extra work.

I use two separate running stitch lines for the applique tackdown which helps keep the perforated sequins flat. Then, when cutting the applique after tackdown, I take the time to remove loose or especially sharp sequins around the edge. In my more OCD moments, I have totally removed all sequins from the edges, but this is time consuming and really not cost effective.

If satin stitching by hand, go over the edge twice.  I suppose you could digitize the design to go over the edge twice, but I have found that most home machines can get stuck with the extra bulk and/or put holes in the fabric because the stitching is more dense. My commercial machine can handle the bulk, but I do not care for height of the resulting satin stitch.

If the design is digitized and the computerized machine is doing all the work, I have found the edges look best when I use a tearaway on TOP of the applique after trimming.  Since the tearaway is stiffer, it is harder for the sequins to move and poke up, especially if there are two running stitch lines for the tackdown. This does of course run the risk of leaving you with some fuzz when you rip off the tearaway, but that is easily removed and wears away rather quickly.

I used the tearaway on top of this cute little patch:

Photobucket

(I always think these ID dresses and patches are so delicate, but I actually found this test patch a few months later after it had accidentally gone through the washer and dryer, and it looked perfect!  It was a quiet, proud moment for me and my patch…)

I did use the solvy on the sequins on this sleeve, but this is one that I sat and removed every last loose sequin…it served to calm my mind at the time since all the fabric on this dress was so delicate and expensive.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I used tearaway on these appliques.  I also had extra help keeping the edges smooth because there is another copper fabric covering the edges…you can see it in between the copper satin stitching.

 

There was a long post about satin stitching in general here: SATIN STITCHING AND APPLIQUES

Happy sewing!

Re-hooping for Large Bodice Designs

(This was first posted several years ago, obviously before the drop-waisted dresses we make now, but the info still applies.)

I routinely field questions from dressmakers with home embroidery machines about whether or not they can do large bodice designs that require one or more re-hoopings.  The answer is always, “Of course you can!!”

I have yet to find a design I can’t re-hoop, but I am honest with dressmakers about the complexity of re-hooping some designs.   In most cases, the dressmakers are game, so along with the split files I send detailed instructions written for their files complete with pictures.  Sometimes, when the design is big enough to need 4 re-hoopings or the design requires extreme precision to line up contiguous lines, then the dressmaker may send the fabric to me so I can do it in a big hoop on my commercial machine, but there have been brave, adventurous souls who still want to do it themselves…my kind of dressmakers!!

Do you need big hoops?  I have always assumed so since I have always had the mega-hoop for my Bernina and learned to use the Hoop-it-alls to expand my range, but I have had dressmakers use only their 4 x 4 inch hoops…that blew my mind, but they were determined!  And I do understand that determination…never occurred to me NOT do something because it did not fit into my hoop.  These were all done using my Bernina 200E:

Yes, each entire panel, edges and all, were done in the hoop with 1 re-hooping.

And my favorite of all time, my first, the one that was made all the more blissful by my ignorance!!!

molly by you.molly cape by you.

I re-hooped all  of these parts in the most convoluted, complicated way possible!  In fact, I had started on this (I learn by jumping in with both feet…or headfirst) before I went to take some lessons for my Bernina machine and software.  I was having trouble with the logic of the sleeve design, so I brought the file (as well as the front skirt panel) with me so the teacher could look at it.  She took one look at the size of the file and told me it could not be done…every time I tried to get her to focus on my question, she simply said what I wanted to do could NOT be done on my machine.  I finally whipped out the finished front panel (5 re-hoopings) to show her I could do it, I just had a question!!!  She had no answer.  Instead she asked me how I managed that front panel, but at that point my process was so twisted that I really could not articulate clearly.  It was a big sigh day.

My friend Kris is working on this dress:

Dressmaker & Embroiderer: Kristine Baker
Designer & Digitizer: Me (AD 6)

IMG_1693 by krispy_b2000.

Once the placement stitches are sewn onto the hooped stabilizers and the fabric is then lined up on the sticky stabilizer, 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. Some machines will add a basting outline with a push of a button. For others, this can be added to the embroidery files.

 

However, some velvet will very often be permanently marked by these stitches. Test a scrap by sewing and removing some basting stitches onto a scrap.I have found that crushed velvet can take it, but the shorter pile of regular velvet cannot always.

If your velvet cannot take a basting stitch, it is best to find ways to keep the fabric from shifting as it still can once the stitching starts even on the sticky back. I have a little stash of pins that I bent into curves to secure my fabric to the sticky back when I can’t use the basting stitches.)

I highly recommend you do a test stitch-out first.

Now, let’s understand your digitized files.

Bodice: This bodice design has been split into 4 sections. The black lines are the basting stitch reference lines in the stitch files.

kris curl bodice

Here are the 4 separate files:

bodice 1kris bodice 1 center bottom kris bodice bottom

right shoulderkris bodice right side left shoulder kris bodice left side

You will start with “bodice 1.” Below are the pics of the file and the placement lines in the file.

kris bodice 1  kris bodice 1 placement lines (This is not a separate file.)

Now, if this were me, I would have my fabric prepped and marked (not cut out to size yet). I would have the center line of the bodice marked as well as the line I wanted the top of the middle of the design to begin at.  The lines on the bodice would look like this:

judy curl bodice 1 placement lines center lineThis will correspond to the same lines in the file.

Now, once the hoop is ready, the placement lines in the first color (black in the file, but this could just be the first embroidery color you will be using) get stitched out onto the sticky stabilizer NOT on the fabric. You can stitch them onto your fabric if the fabric will not retain the needle marks, but as long as the interfacing is not removed, the lines will stay on the back for placing for the next file (the center line itself will be mostly covered by the stitching anyway). (For your test run, I would stitch all placement lines on the fabric.)

So, once the placement lines are stitched, place your fabric in the hoop, lining up your drawn line with the placement line.

Stitch out “bodice 1.”

Remove from the hoop and remove excess stabilizer. Be careful not to remove or pull on the first set of placement lines.

Re-hoop the sticky back and the tear away for the next part.

You will continue with “bodice left side.” Below is the pic of the file.

kris bodice left side   judy curl bodice 2 left shoulder placement lines(This is not a separate file.)

Stitch out the black placement lines.

Line up the placement lines from Part #1 on the fabric piece with the new black lines. Use the points where the lines cross as your center points for each placement. Finish stitching part 2.

Remove from the hoop and remove excess stabilizer. Be careful not to remove or pull on the first set of placement lines. Re-hoop the sticky back and the tear away for the next part.

Part #3: You will continue with “bodice right side.” Below is the pic of the file.

kris bodice right side  judy curl bodice 3 right shoulder placement lines(This is not a separate file.)

Stitch out the black placement lines.

Line up the placement lines from Part #2 on the fabric piece with the new black lines. Use the points where the lines cross as your center points for each placement.

Finish stitching part 3.

Part #3 is finished. Remove from the hoop and remove excess stabilizer. Be careful not to remove or pull on the first set of placement lines.

Part #4: You will continue with “bodice bottom.” Below is the pic of the file.
kris bodice bottom  bottom bodice 1 placement lines

Stitch out the black placement lines.

Line up the placement lines from Part #3 on the fabric piece with the new black lines. Use the points where the lines cross as your center points for each placement.

Finish stitching part 4.

Part #4 is finished.

Remove from the hoop and remove excess stabilizer. Remove placement line threads.

Et, voila!
IMG_1693 by krispy_b2000.

As I stated above, I highly recommend doing a test stitch out.  Perhaps there are superwomen dressmakers who can do this right the first time, but weirdness happens!

Many thanks to the dressmakers who send me pics of their re-hooped confections!

Dressmaker & Embroiderer: Molly Lafayette
Designer & Digitizer: Me (AD 12 )

Molly Lafayette 1, AD 12 by you.

Dressmaker & Embroiderer: Judy Poole
Designer, Digitizer: Me  ( AD 11)

Judy Poole AD 11 by you.

Dressmaker & Embroiderer: Judy Poole
Designer, Digitizer: Me  ( AD 4)

Judy Poole front by you.

Dressmaker & Embroiderer: Lisa Horn
Designer, Digitizer: Me  (Revised AD 6: Curls)

DSCF4530 by you.

Dressmaker & Embroiderer: Mary Reilly
Designer, Digitizer: Me  (Scrollwork Neckline 5)

Mary Reilly finished bodice 1 by you.

You can see these dresses and more in the Taoknitter Arts Customer Creations gallery.

Camouflage

(Ya know when you suddenly feel as if you have never spelled a word before, so you look it up, are surprised by the spelling, and are sure you have been spelling it wrong all your life?!  Having issues with “camouflage” this morning…now singing “kamooflayge” as a mantra…I know, now I am saying it wrong, but I will know how to spell it for the rest of my life.)

A mom wrote to me as she begins working on her young dancing daughter’s first solo dress.  The little one is thicker around the middle.  Since I have some experience with that because of my oldest diva, I told her I would write about how I dealt with it…and since I have been digitizing ’til I am dreaming about creating food out of embroidery stitches in my sleep, I figured a little writing break was in order.  I am by no means an expert in dealing with this figure (I just slap a shapeless shirt on my own [say that 10 times fast: slap a shapeless shirt, shlap a slapesesh shirt, shap a shapish sh…]), but I have a couple of dresses under my belt and perhaps some readers will offer their own experiences and suggestions as well.

We all know that there are certain silhouettes that look good on different body types.  There are certain silhouettes that certain body shapes shy away from.  Some people wear whatever they want, whenever they want, whether they should or not, and I say more power to ’em!  But Irish dance, not unlike other dance forms, does dictate a certain dress “look.”  I was glad when the teeny-tiny bodice on top of the gigantoid skirt became a thing of the past as it was a rare child of any shape who looked good in that.  Don’t really know why, but the wide skirts always reminded me of the Flying Nun… and I always felt I was looking at a costume that would fit right in with this group below –

Am I right? Ever hear of “The Triadic Ballet,” Bauhaus, or Oscar Schlemmer?  More info here if you are curious: Bauhaus

That overwhelmingly wide, stiff triangle look was particularly unforgiving when it was under a thicker torso.  It was a good thing when the waists started to drop, and even better when the skirts began to narrow.  Now we are seeing some extreme dropped waistlines…nothing better for making all but the skinniest minnies look like sausage tubes (brings back horrid anorexia-inducing memories of college and gray unitards and clanging gongs and a hippie choreographer who never came to rehearsal with her feet on the ground, if you get my drift…)……..deep sigh.

There is a freaking point here somewhere…

…yes, kamooflayging thicker torsos to create an attractive balanced look for the incredibly logical creation that is an Irish dance dress. Tongue Out

There is always the usual use of dark colors over all, as well as using darker colors strategically so that brighter colors can pull focus.  There was a time when it was de riguer for ID dresses to have a bright color down the center of the dress while the bodice and skirt sides were darker.  Those were passing when I started with my girls in ID.  You do see some of that still but it is not as stark a use of contrasting colors as it used to be.

So, off to the fabric store you go.  You want a color that complements your dancer’s coloring, obviously, but make life a bit simpler for yourself by letting the dancer loose to be drawn to the colors she likes.  It is rare that a dancer (or anybody, for that matter) will claim as their favorite a color that looks bad on them.  You may not like it, but hold it up under your dancer’s face to see what happens.  It will probably work beautifully. 

A few years ago, I brought a whole box of fabric to begin working with a 10 year-old.  Susan had given me all sorts of things that I loved as well as some that made me cringe.  This red-cheeked, slightly sallow little dancer went straight for this bright coral metallic silk that set my teeth on edge.  I knew she had to be wrong, but when we held it up, her complexion brightened, her red cheeks turned pink, and her eyes sparkled!  This is the dress:

I have since always trusted the dancer.

In my diva’s case she chose plum.  She was young yet, but we both wanted something a bit more understated than the bright flourescent colors that were still the rage at the time, so no dramatic color shifts for us.  This is her first dress (I just realized that we were a bit ahead of out time!  Applique was still what everyone was doing, but we did just embroidery!):

Now, it is rather subtle, but you can see that the center of the bodice and the center front skirt are lighter than the sides and the sleeves.  There is a black sparkly overlay over the darker parts.  In the sunlight in that pic it is not as pronounced a difference as it really was.  The design also worked to draw the eye in…you can’t see the top of the cfp but the design comes to a point like the bodice design.

The diva’s next dress was a bit more dramatic.

This time we made more of an effort to draw the eye in by using black on the bodice & skirt sides and by making the bodice point down the center along with the long tapering design.  In fact the black was so successful that it looks as if the bodice is standing away from the offset skirt waist.  It is a 2 piece, but the bodice fit snugly so there was no space at the waist between the bodice hem and the skirt.  The long straight lines of crystals also help draw the eye in.

I did make this skirt very offset which means the “sides” of the dress were more than 2 inches forward of the diva’s actual side.  This again tricks the eye into interpreting the front waist into a narrower width.

The longer, dropped, pointed bodice look is another tried and true device for altering the look of a thicker torso.  I wrote about making the pointed bodice here: Bodice/Jacket for 2-piece.  At the time that I made the dresses in that post, those were drop-waisted jackets…compared to now, they are high waisted, but I would make the same pattern alterations with a longer waist.  I know many people feel that the 2-piece dress makes dancers look thick.  I do not agree, because, in fact, there is no difference in the bulk of fabric that is in the waist area or at the point of bodice & skirt overlap.  There may be even less because there is no bodice/jacket fabric in the waist seam at all (just a single layer of cotton for the under-bodice).  The problem in the look comes when the bodice is poorly fitted so that it looks too big on the dancer or it cannot sit down far enough over the skirt.  I have never been a fan of the faux bodice point that is appliqued onto the skirt as I find the actual waist seam to be very obvious, which is why I like the 2 piece plus the fact the jacket can be removed in between dances to alleviate the sweat factor.  (That being said, I am working on an OTR with Susan and she wants to incorporate that faux point…I have to learn to never say never because it always comes back to bite me in the…)

Another trick is to direct the eye upward to the face by creating interest above the bust line.  You can do this with a collar design and/or a corset bodice look.  I wrote about my approach to the corset bodice here: corset-style bodice .

And that brings me to the design itself.  As I just wrote above, you can keep the eye away from the torso by keeping your embellishments above the bust line.  Another technique is to make sure that any design that comes down below the bust is thin or tapered…anything wide will just accent the dancer’s width.

Ultimately, I am a big believer in making the dress that the dancer wants, making the dress that makes the dancer feel like a spectacular princess.  When she feels beautiful, she dances beautifully.  Over the course of my life as a performer, I had to wear some pretty awful & humiliating things because someone (choreographer, director, costume designer) forgot that embarrassing the dancers meant they would not dance their best…we tried, but when you feel like a stuffed gray sausage you tend to dance like one!

Edge Binding Instead of Satin Stitching

IMG_3044  IMG_3046

Written by Mary Hackenberg, first posted on IDD:

I couldn’t find an embroidery thread that matched right for satin stitching the edges of my five petals.  I chose to try to wrap the edges with velvet instead.  Many dresses in this style use the same velvet as the bodice to flash under the petals in a solid support panel across the front. I was using a sequin fabric underneath, so I had no connection of the velvet from the bodice into the skirt.  I was hoping that binding the edges of my petals in the velvet would help pull the look of it all together, and I think it worked out pretty well.

After some experimentation, this is what I came up with:

I cut a strip of velvet about 1.25 inches wide along the lengthwise grain of the fabric. I wanted to get the most stretch from it so that I could form it around the edges without wrinkling.

My petals were prepared with all the layers basted together near the edge and cut to the exact shape.  Then I applied a strip of Wonder Tape all the way around the top of the petal right at the edge. I stuck my velvet right side down lining up the edge of the cut strip with the outer edge of the petal. Then I straight stitched about 3/8″ in from the edge.

Next I applied Wonder Tape all around the edge on the back, but a little bit in from the edge.  I folded my velvet strip in on itself like a bias tape and stuck it down so that I had about a half inch strip showing in back with the raw edge folded in.  I made the most of the velvet’s stretch to shape it around the edges.  I used pins in the two tricky corners to make sure the velvet was pulled all the way into the corner, and would still be caught in my seam.  I turned the piece over and straight-stitched from the top carefully along the edge of the binding where the stitch wouldn’t show.
I got in a good groove after a couple practice pieces and was able to get through the work pretty quickly. It came out looking smooth and really works with my dress design, I think.

I felt a bit like I was breaking new ground, although I am sure others have come up with this too.  I can say for sure that the small investment in the Wonder Tape made all the difference in getting a professionally finished look. Pins just didn’t cut it by themselves.

I hope this helps someone else 🙂

Happy Sewing,
Mary Hackenberg

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.

Back skirts, etc…

Today I got 2 similar emails, so thought I would do a post.

First Kilynn wrote: I have been looking at the school dresses you are making for Teelin. I really like the way they look in the back. How much stiffner are you using in the CFP, the FSP, and the back? Have you put decor bond on all sections? Do you use Firm Flex in the back or just the CFP and FSP? I am working on school dresses myself and an wanting to make them as easy to handle as possible. I also wanted to make them washable like the Teelin dresses. What mother would object to that!!!

Then Amy: I have a question about stiffener in the Teelin dress. I know you use Firmflex in the front of the dresses and they look great! We are so excited! We have ordered some Firmflex to try! You didn’t use Firmflex in the back of the Teelin dress did you? It drapes so beautifully. We are still working the “bugs” out of our school dresses. Currently, we have Decorbond in the back of our dress. The problem is, the dancer sits down wrong and BAM! nasty crease! We use a polyester satin as our lining and a gabardine as our main fabric. We were thinking of no Decorbond, but maybe a very lightweight interfacing on the satin lining to help give it some body. The satin tends to “grow” especially when you hit the curve and the bias kicks in. Does that make sense? We’re trying to get away from the stiff two-dimensional look. I love how figure flattering the Teelin dress looks, none of this trying to put flat cardboard on a round cylinder nonsense. Any advice would be appreciated.

Are you 2 working together or just on the same wavelength?

For the school dresses, I prep the fabric by fusing it to a tricot (just like french fuse) interfacing, not a woven and not decorbond.  The tricot supports the fabric, giving it a tad bit more body, but it does not add much weight at all, allows the fabric to move, and it will not crease the way a woven can and decorbond will!  I feel that this interfacing fuses the best, and I have yet for it to bubble away the way the woven can. 

That is all I do to the back of the skirts.  I do use decorbond on the areas to be embroidered on the front which then have one layer of Timtex underneath, but unless I am embroidering on the back, I do not use any other stiffener in the back.  Why?  First, I personally like the back skirts to move easily, and second, since these dresses get so much wear, I do not want decorbond or stiffener to crease or break down from all of the sitting and kicking that the backs are subjected to.  Even if the backs are embroidered, I only use decorbond in the appropriate area and then remove the excess to allow the skirt to retain as much movement as possible.

Now for the satin lining…I use crepe back satin which has some weight to it, and I do not interface it.  Here is what I do to keep the hem from bagging below the hem:

  1. After the lining and outer skirt are hemmed together, trim and clip the seam on the curves, then press the seam on the right side so the seam fabric lies underneath the lining.
  2. Use a multiple zig-zag stitch to attach the lining to the underneath seam fabric. The multiple zig-zag allows give on the curved seam and helps keep the lining fabric from falling below the seam to be seen from the outside.
  3. Iron the fold between the lining and outside skirt. I press on the inside so I can see a thin line of outside fabric to ensure the lining cannot be seen at the bottom of the hem on the outside.
  4. Then, I take the time to smooth and pin the lining to the outside fabric so I can sew a few lines of stay-stitching on the pleat fold lines from the hem to the waist. This basically guarantees that there will never be any bagging.  I sew 3-4 of these lines on each side of the back skirt (6 to 8 lines of stitching in total).

Did I answer everything?

Wearing Ease

(Edited to add a comment/question written by Kara.  Thank you, Kara, great observations.)

I received an interesting phone call last week from the alterationist that I send folks to, Hsiao Fang. When I gave up a school account a year or so ago, she started taking the measurements for the new company as this was a long distance operation. I hear from her periodically when she calls to discuss altering ID dresses that I send her way.

This time, she called to ask me if I, as an ID dressmaker, add ease to my patterns and if so, how much. I said yes, and that I add 2 inches at the waist, 3 at the bust, and a bit in a couple of extra places. (My specific amounts come from Susan.) Hsiao Fang breathed a sigh of relief and went on a rant about how that was how she was trained (as a tailor), and about moving bodies, and about dresses coming in from this company with ABSOLUTELY (her emphatic emphasis) no ease at all, and that parents were coming to her to alter brand new dresses that could not be zipped when they arrived. The parents are complaining about this and about sleeves that do not allow any movement at all and are so tight at the armscye that the dancers get rubbed raw! The parents and the TC want Hsiao Fang to add ease when she takes the measurements, but I was in total agreement with her that that is not her job! She was in quite an understandable snit and last I heard was going to stop taking the measurements.

She asked me several questions about the company making the dresses…I really know nothing about them…but I was just as bewildered as she. She told me about her conversation with the dressmakers about how they did want exact measurements from her with no extra room added into them, and then her surprise when the dresses would come in with those exact measurements and sometimes smaller! She asked me if I thought they were using generic patterns, “…grabbing the one with the 36 inch bust measurement if that was the measurement sent with no thought to the other measurements or wearing ease!” The last straw was a dress just brought to her that had been made to the exact bust measurement with no attention to the large waist measurement, and this brand new dress had a 6 inch gap at the zipper at the waist…Hsiao Fang was beside herself because there was absolutely not that much fabric in the seams to let that out!

Most home sewers do not really think about wearing ease because it is built in (along with design ease) to the patterns that we buy at the store…could this company be employing a dressmaker who does not know about wearing ease?  Susan wrote the following on her website:

 A Note About Ease
Dress and pattern makers talk about two kinds of ease: “Fashion (or Design) Ease” and
“Wearing Ease.” “Fashion (or Design) Ease” is the first kind. This is the extra fabric that
the dress designer puts into a garment to achieve the desired look. Sweat pants have a lot
of fashion ease. A bathing suit does not. Fashion ease is what has traditionally made
determining a pattern size difficult for the consumer. You select a pattern based on your
body measurements and sometimes it fits you well. Other times you find the same sized
pattern is “too big” or “too small”. That’s because you really don’t know for sure how
“baggy” or how “tight” the fit has been designed.

The second kind of ease is “Wearing Ease.” You need your dress to be bigger than your
measurements so you can breathe, turn, sit, raise your arms. In the real world you’d want
to be able to tie your own shoes and comb your own hair. In Irish Dance dresses, you
need at least an inch in the waist and about 2” in the bust extra. You really do want to
keep the waist snug so that the weight of the skirt is carried on the hips rather than on the
shoulders. If the waist is too loose, the skirt collapses inward and won’t hang right. So,
no matter how much you want to leave some “extra for growth,” the waist isn’t the place
to do it.

Susan does not add any hidden ease into the Feisdress Pattern.  What does that mean?  If I get a pattern at the fabric store, the measurements on the back are actual body measurements, not pattern measurements.  So, if I buy a pattern that has 3 inches of ease in the bust, if I have a 36 inch bust, the measurement on the pattern envelope says 36 inches, not 39.  The measurements that Susan publishes for her pattern are PATTERN measurements which means you have to decide on the ease you want.  If you have a 36 inch bust and buy the pattern that has a 36 inch bust, you will not be able to breathe (if you can manage to get the bodice zipped in the first place) unless you add ease.

So I take exact measurements (see Measuring for the Feisdress pattern & Measuring the Upper Chest & Troubleshooting Sleeve Issues ), plug them into my excel sheet which adds the ease that I want, and then decide which Feisdress pattern to start with (I alter this to make sure all measurements are as they should be).  I fit solo and school dresses differently in that the solo dresses fit closer.  For school dresses, unless a dancer has stopped growing, I actually make them a bit loose to begin with because parents want to see visible growing room when the dress is delivered!  I do admit that seeing the dress loose to begin with offends my dressmaker’s pride, but I totally understand the parents’ perspective.  I add ties inside the dress so that the waist fits snugly…any looseness in the back is hidden by the cape.  And, I make sure they also understand that there are huge seam allowances at the sides of the bodice and zipper, at the top of the skirt and at the bottom of the bodice so that the dress can be let out and down perhaps a couple of times…I actually add the same to solo dresses.

So fellow dressmakers, how do you deal with ease?  What do you add and where?  Do you fit school dresses differently than solos?  Do you build in large seam allowances for future alterations?  Would love to hear from you on this.

Kara wrote:

Since I have been making mostly off the rack dresses, exact fit to a particular body has not been an issue.  However, as I am selling these dresses and getting questions about fit, I’ve had a couple of thoughts and questions of my own.  Say I am selling a dress with a 32 chest measurement and a 27 waist measurement and someone emails me and says “I love the dress but the chest is too big for my 30″ daughter”  Am I correct in advising them that if the 30″ measurement is an exact chest measurement than this dress should fit fine in the chest?  An example that I just experienced was an OTR that was the exact measurements of a dancer.  She tried it on and of course it was way too small because the measurement the mom was going on were her daughters exact measurements not accounting for wearing ease.   So are there a bunch of people out there looking at used solo’s and rejecting them because they might seem too big because they are basing their decision on their daughters exact measurements and not allowing for movement and wearing ease?

I would say that yes, a 32″ measurement at the chest on the dress should fit a 30″ chest just fine.  As we all know, there are always posts on the boards about how to measure dresses, measure dancers, etc…have there been specific conversations about the need to be aware of ease when choosing a dress?  Since I do not do OTRs, I have not had to deal with this.  Dressmakers, how do you advise clients?

Troubleshooting: Vertical Skirt Crease

So, I made this dress for Aislinn last year:
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(Aislinn, Meave saw this dress on the dummy and asked if I could please make her a special dress just like it…and then she had to get a picture “in it”…so that is what this is!)

When I sent it off, it looked like this:
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Can you see the difference? Yes, it is on a hanger in the above pic, but the issue I have to deal with has nothing to do with whether or not it is on a hanger or a dress dummy. Here’s the problem:
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Looks like a belling issue caused by faulty connection between the bodice and the skirt…but is it?

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No, it is belling caused by a vertical crease…

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The creases that have been danced into this center front panel are faintly visible above.  Below I have drawn colors over the fault lines.  Pink are auxiliary lines to the main weak lines in red.

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When I fold the CFP, you can see the fold lines a different way.

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I can even feel them…which is what the gratuitous pic is below…I just love this lining fabric!

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So…what happened, why, and how do I fix it?

What happened?  Why?  Well, let me “free form think” this out:

One of the problems that Susan and I were seeing and trying to avoid, at the time, were the horizontal creases (hip to hip) that appear on single panel, flat front dresses…there was talk of it on the boards and evidence in pics everywhere.  I likened them to sandwich boards.  (Notice that trend seems to have died out…thank the dance costuming gods!)  That horizontal crease was happening because unless there were HUGE pleats behind the front side panels AND the dancer was flat as a board, the crease was going to happen in response to the stress caused by kicking and even sitting.  The weight of these dresses means that the creation of the crease was a faster and easier answer for the skirt to the power of the fast kicks…the crease could happen easier than lifting the whole front panel.  The swoop dresses had the same problem to deal with.

Our journey here: Swoop dress center front panel

According to the dancers, and according to the evidence, with this swoop dress construction, we eliminated the horizontal crease…there are none in these pics.  But, because the CFP is a separately moving entity UNDER the FSPs, there is stress being placed vertically, directly center on the CFP.  The FSPs are like walls that the CFP is trying to squeeze through…hence the vertical creases.  Does that make sense?

For me, now, this is big Duh.

How do I fix it?  I fix it with good old steel boning.

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I need two strips to stabilize the CFP horizontally: one near the top so the CFP can no longer be pushed through the FSPs, and one near the bottom to prevent any vertical folding when Aislinn kicks.  I am not going to put the bottom boning on the back side of the the CFP, however.

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I am going to put it on the front, underneath the pleated fabric.

First I have to prep these pieces of boning so that they are as unobtrusive as possible when they are on the skirt.

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First, I sew the pieces to strips of Firmflex.

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I apply wonder-under to pieces of the skirt lining, and the pleat underlining.

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Cut the fabric around the wonder-under and place the strips.

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Fuse the fabric to the front sides of the strips.

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Trim.

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Finish fusing.

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After I have carefully steamed the creases out of the CFP…

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…this is where I place the boning strips.

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These will be hand sewn.  Every few stitches, I will go all the way through the Firmflex to make sure these strips do their duty well!

I have a few quick alterations to complete on this dress, and then I will post pics of the dress with its corrected skirt hang.  You can see that here: Troubleshooting: Vertical Skirt Crease, Part II

(Suzanne pointed out that the ends of the boning should be finished off so there is no poking through at all.  I had forgotten in the pics, remembered at 3 am, so went back and added my usual which is either cloth bandaid tape or a bit of gauze and tape.  No pics though.  You just want to cover the sharp steel ends.)

Griping & trying to Grin

So… I borrowed the following quotes from another blog because I have never read them:

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. –Helen Keller

To stand in your now, looking forward with deliberate intent and anticipation of what is to come, is infinitely more satisfying than to stand in your now, looking back, retracing your steps as to how you got where you are.–Abraham-Hicks

They were part of a nice blog post…that did not speak to me…but these little quotes spoke to me.  They rather rattled my cage and the thoughts stuck in it.  Let’s see if I can articulate…

I will be honest here and say that sticking to my resolution that I will no longer post on Celtic Flame at all and only rarely on the others is difficult for me.  My practical Buddhist brain asks me why I bother then if I am not going to add anything helpful to the discussions.  My cranky lizard brain demands that I stop reading at all since it can have no satisfaction by setting some of the stupidity to rights…or at least by calling it out for the stupidity it is!!!  But, I am starting to find I am becoming more removed from it since I am not using valuable energy to formulate hopefully helpful answers anymore.

When this blog went private, so many of you told me of your reasons for no longer posting on or even reading the boards anymore…I understand even better now.

Why do I keep reading?  Part habit, part wanting to stay informed about the happenings, the opinions…the occasional altercation…I know, I am a rubber-necker!  But who can resist the morons when they tap dance on a train wreck?!?!?!

But since I changed the blog, other doors have opened for my energy, even in my own head.  Other thoughts are formulating in different ways because we are a smaller more open group.  (I feel the need here to apologize to anyone who was gearing up for a very active group here…we have slowed down…mainly because I wanted it to.  Don’t get me wrong – the number of members that we have is incredibly gratifying…I feel more like a rock star than a loser now that there are so many “friends!”  But I did feel very overwhelmed there for a bit.  I am figuring this out, and we can be as active as we want.)

My current thoughts are spawned by the continuing questions about how the BNs do things, make and design dresses, etc., as if there are rules that must be followed…fsm forbid anyone should be creative on her own…

You may remember this from my response to the first CCD:  [A] thing I have stopped doing is letting the nebulous “rules” about how these dresses are “supposed” to look influence me.  The only thing that influences me anymore is what the client wants.  I suppose if I made OTRs I would pay more attention to the trends…or maybe not.  The fact that the dress styles actually have very little to do with the dancing offends my artistic sense of what is supposed to be important!  The costume should complement the dancing, not hinder it.  The heavy, stiff dresses that have developed over the past 20 years are actually quite astounding to me.  As a choreographer, dancer, artistic director and professor, I stood my ground many a time with a costume designer who tried to force an undanceable design onto a dance!  The dance and dancer are most important and the role of the costume is to enhance the message and look that the choreographer wants.  It is not the role of the costume designer to force change and accommodation…I fired or failed those designers who could not understand their complementary role! 

Don’t get me wrong…I love making these wild, amazing, “ridiculous” pieces of wearable art.  These fanciful confections have developed in a very specific environment and would not be worn by anyone else!  But I find that I am increasingly interested in the comfort of the dancer.

I would very interested in that particular moment in time when someone decided that the ID dress needed to be more prominent in the dancing picture, because from there ID costuming evolved with no real thought as to the dancer or the dancing.  I think this strange mindset is what informs the creation of these dresses still.  So many questions about dress construction make it clear that the triangular, wide, flat, stiff shape of the dresses is considered to be traditional!  Granted, there also seems to be a renewed interest in the history of ID costuming which may or may not shoot that thought down…

But what is interesting to me are the objections, subtle or not, to dresses moving towards the soft skirt again, and my fascination is partially because it is still in my head that the dresses still need to be wider than any normal person would wear…although some of the fashion links on the boards have shown the fashionistas to be wearing pretty poofy skirts!

There is also, and still, this irritating idea that somehow the BNs are the gods of ID costuming who must be emulated at all costs!  Why?  Not too long ago, someone who claimed to just be making a comeback to ID pointed out that all of the current dresses look the same, no matter who made them!!!  I have to agree!  We are ALL doing panel dresses right now.  There are more folks trying to solve the soft skirt problem in many creative ways…but how many times have you read the same question on the boards:  “How do ED/Gavin/SR, etc, etc, etc…make their skirts look like that?”

Susan said something to me about how the harder people try to be different, the more they conform…  Wouldn’t you say that most dancers want to set themselves apart from the other dancers?  So out come the wild colors, the sequins, the crystals, the feathers, the 3-d flowers, etc, etc, etc…and what happens?  They not only all get lost in the cacophany of dazzling color, they all look the same!!

I have no earth shattering solution…I love making these dresses.  Each one is my baby.  When one client says subtle and elegant, that’s what I do.  When another asks for more sparkle, I do that, too.

I love our new tunic dresses mainly because I think they are constructed with the MOVING dancer in mind.  But being panel dresses, am I a sheep, too?  I think Susan and I, like so many other dressmakers, were interested in a different shape for designs so we were drawn to the panel look at probably the same time as everyone else!  I am quite sure it was a lone dressmaker somewhere who came out with the first one, but the second that a BN produced one, they were given the credit and proclaimed GODS once again…gag.

What is my freaking point?  Well, maybe it is that we all as dressmakers ought to slam the door on what OUGHT to be and open a new one doing what we want to do.  Yeah, when a client comes in asking for a dress like ED, you have to deal (or not), but when I expressed that I wanted to explore these soft tunic dresses, we got 3 clients in a row!  And we just turned down someone who wanted us to make a new jacket to match her ED skirt…I understand what she wants, but I am the wrong dressmaker for her!  I am not interested and told her the reasons why.  I suppose I could simply have said that we are booked up for quite a while (as we are), but I actually felt a bit insulted that I would be asked to essentially recreate someone else’s work, so I explained why I was not interested in taking her on.

Maybe this is it…newbies or not, we are each valuable artisans in our own right.  Perhaps not every one of us calls ourselves an artist, but we are.  Maybe our first attempts are less than stellar and actually petrify brain cells when we look back, but they are still created by us is “artiste mode,” sublime or not!

When a young choreographer is beginning her journey, yes she looks to the masters for information, inspiration, and guidelines, but she is also taught and guided to find her own voice.  The point is to bring to life her OWN vision.  We as dressmakers need to change our mindsets to #1 realize that the BNs are NOT the masters (far from it), and #2 that our visions are just as valid as any one else’s!  Maybe they are not all ready for prime-time right out of the gate, but we have to start somewhere.

So, open a door…and I’ll get off my soapbox before the swelling music in my head deafens me…

Words to the Wise: Considerations before Starting an ID Dressmaking business

 (Thank you for writing this post, Susan.) 

Cardinal rule: Listen to Susan.  You think you know better and your situation is different, but it isn’t.  You’ll make the same mistakes for the same reasons as everybody else.  You’ll nod your head and say, “she’s right,” turn off your common sense, and do whatever that leftover part of your brain tells you to do.  (And you will regret it!!! ~ Ann)

Starting out is different from being “in.”  What I am going to recommend is not going to get you financially sound from the get-go.  This is purely to protect your mental health and the happiness of your home and family.  If you start out this way, and it clicks, you can always change the way you do things so that you earn a more stable income.  But, by then, you’ll know what you are in for and whether or not you want to be there.  So don’t plan on making any money.  Don’t spend on anything you can’t afford to lose.

 

 

 

 

 

What does it mean to be a “hobby business” vs a “Business?” This may be the key question.  Most get into it as a “hobby” business and think they’re going to be able to make as much money as a “real job” and stay home with the kids.  A real business doesn’t stop because the kids are sick or there is a school holiday (unless this is planned and built into the work schedule).  A real business makes sure that the emails/phones/mail are covered every business day during business hours.  A real business has a plan so the work is covered if an employee is absent. As a one-man operation, who will pick up if you drop the ball?  If you’re going to have contracts and down payments and act like a “real business,” you’ve got to be sure you’ve covered your side.  What happens if your machine breaks and it takes 3 weeks for a new part?  “Gee, I’m sorry but it isn’t my fault” doesn’t cut it.  

 

Start small. Very, very, small.  Do not be flattered or tempted to start a “waiting list.”  Don’t be afraid to offend people by saying “no.”  Since most of us start by making dresses for “friends,” pick the one that will be the easiest with whom to work, not necessarily your best buddy.  You know who’s crazy and who’s not.  Say “no” to crazy people, even if the TCRG begs.  Say “no” to crazy people even if the little girl is the sweetest thing who’s ever been born.  You don’t need crazy people.  You know exactly who I’m talking about.  You can list them. And they tend to cluster.

 

My first question to potential clients is, “Who’s your dance teacher?”  This is not because I’m snobby but because I won’t make dresses for ANYONE who goes to one particular school.  They’re all crazy.  You’ll learn which schools are more trouble than they’re worth, so you can be “booked up.”  If at all possible, DO NOT make dresses for dancers in your own school because they come with baggage.  Ann did not listen to me, took on her own school, and the stress became so bad that she almost gave it all up.  Thinking she was shutting down her business, she gave the school up…and the business was miraculously saved because the stress departed.  Right, Ann?  (Yes, yes…I thought I could handle it, but I had been so accommodating in the past helping with the school dresses as a mom, that changing the relationship to a business relationship was too difficult.  However, I also make the school dresses for the school we are with now, but I started my relationship with the TC as a dressmaker 3 years ago.  This situation has proved easily handled because of what we already had set up, and nothing changed when we joined the school this past year.) 

 

When you do venture out into another school, you need someone there you can trust, someone who thinks like you.  When Mrs. A calls to inquire, you call your friend and vet Mrs. A before you say yes.  Weed out the crazies.  When Mrs. A shows up and you figure out she’s crazy, don’t hesitate to say, “I’m afraid our visions/styles are not very compatible.  I think you will be much happier finding another dressmaker.” Don’t feel bad if the DD runs out to the driveway and cries.  Don’t back down.  Don’t weaken when they offer to change whatever.  If you got your guts up to say that, your guts were trying to tell you something important.  Listen to them.  When I started, there were very few sources of new or used dresses.  Threads of Green was “IT” and they had something like a 3 year wait.  So if I backed out of a dress, folks were really out of luck.  Now there are plenty of options for used dresses and OTRs.  So if a particular dress with you doesn’t work out, she won’t have to dance naked.  Don’t worry about it.

 

Back to small.  Your first customers, besides being sane, must also have another extremely important characteristic: no deadline.  I don’t care if the drop dead date is 6 months out, don’t promise anything.  You don’t know for sure what all will be involved when you “sew for strangers.”  You will not be comfortable and confident when you start.  This will affect your home and family.  Everyone will be uneasy. You don’t need deadlines on top of that.   

 

Do not take a deposit.  Have enough money to front the first few dresses entirely.  I have rarely taken a deposit, at least not until we’re well into finishing the dress, and never used a contract.  I know, I’m crazy.  But I wanted to be able to fire my customer if it wasn’t working.  Once you have that money or contract, you are stuck. I was probably stuck without it, but I felt like I could bolt if I had to.  Anyway, I was more comfortable assuming the costs in case I really screwed things up – at least they hadn’t paid for anything yet.  If this becomes a real business instead of a “hobby business,” then you can adjust your contract/deposit practices.  Don’t even think about doing a dress for someone you didn’t personally measure. And you will need to do fittings.  Do not trust anyone else to measure a dancer.  Not the mom, not the TCRG, not even another dressmaker (unless you really know her and have worked with her).  That will come later.

 

For steady income (but less creative fun), school dresses are where it’s at.  Schools are begging for dressmakers.  There’s a reason for that.  They aren’t willing to pay solo prices but want solo quality and extravagance.  Yes, fabrics are different and the design is repeated over and over, but when it comes to cutting out the dress and putting it together, there isn’t any difference between a solo dress and a school dress.  But they only want to pay you half a much for those hours.  At some point you’ll find a school that is willing to pay you any amount you want.  When that happens, there are lots of logistics to work out.  But even if you know in your heart of hearts this is the prefect, dream fit, do not take the job. You are in the driver’s seat – after all, if they had someone else, they wouldn’t be talking to you.  Agree to do ONE dress.  ONLY ONE.  INSIST AND STICK TO YOUR GUNS!!!  You will be donating your labor, and they will be donating the materials.  This is the prototype dress.  Make it to fit someone, but it is not “her dress.”   

 

Then everybody (parents, dancers, TCRG, you, your mom, etc) gets the opportunity to view the dress and comment.  (HINT:  be there when the dress is “unveiled” to the school parents.  Bask in the glow, but pay attention.  This is a good time to learn the ratio of crazies to not crazies in the school and you still have time to bail out!)  You and the TCRG work out which comments are reasonable and you decide what you’re willing to do.  Now you know how much work is involved in making this dress, and you can make sure the price is adequate (and work out the procedure for payment and ordering).  You can negotiate changes that will make the dress easier to make (“save money here”).  They’ll be able to see if the skirt is “too wide” or “too stiff” or “needs more appliqué” or whatever.  These are the things you don’t want to find out after you’ve delivered 6 dresses and all of a sudden they aren’t what the teacher expected.  And you’ll know how long it takes you to make a dress start to finish.  Add a week.  They’ll want to know “how long it takes” from time of order (measuring).  If you’re lucky, you can batch them and that will save some time, but don’t tell them that because then they’ll plan on it.   Remember, you will get the flu.  And, there will be a dress that almost puts itself together it flows so fast.  If you deliver that dress early to Mary, then Jane and Beth will be very, very upset if you take longer when they order their dresses.   What do you promise, and what is reasonable for the customer to expect?

 

This probably sounds like I think all ID parents are crazy.  Those that are will suck the joy of creating these dresses right out of you in one dress.  You’ve got two choices 1) prepare defensive business procedures to distance yourself from them (like ED and Gavin – no input, no returns) or 2) learn to spot them and cut them off before they start making you miserable.  I think most of us here opt for 2.  But you have to learn to say “no” and to fire customers. 

 

Ok, so what behavior am I calling crazy?  Simply, it is the act of trying to impose unreasonable expectations upon you. Please note that these expectations may come from the “mom,” the dancer, the TCRG or just a bunch of other moms in the school.   Specifically, watch out for:

  1. People who blame the dancer’s placement results on the current dress.  Your dress will be the next blamed.  These customers start out with statements like “All the other dancers in her competition have wrap/panel/Gavin/Elevation dresses and she NEEDS a new dress to get noticed” (and they mean NEEDS not WANTS).  Or “Her current dress is [not latest style for whatever reason] and it is costing her points.”   These customers NEED a different dressmaker because you don’t NEED them.  You want customers that appreciate the latest styles, sure, but who also know it is about dancing.  Let’s face it, how many World Champions can there be in a year?  Ten?  They are not your customers – your customers are the thousands and thousands of dancers who are NOT world champions.  And you really want customers who have enough grounding in reality to know where they stand.
  2. Run, run, run! if someone asks you to “make it so it is a perfect fit for the Oireachtas in 7 months.”
  3.  Nitpickers are poisonous.  I’m not talking about someone who has a reasonable request.  Usually it is the degree that separates the two.  Reasonable: “The sleeves are ¾” too long”.  Nitpicker: “The skirt is 1/8th too long.”
  4. Your PITA detector should go off when mom comes in and dumps all the decisions on you and the DD, who is 12.  The age is important.  At 12, the child understands expensive, has no way to contribute anything towards the cost of this dress, and is scared to death she’s going to make a very expensive mistake in whatever she picks out.  Therefore, she says nothing.  You will feel the need to keep the “conversation” moving and pull every single item in your stash out waiting for an eyebrow to twitch encouragingly.  If you must carry on with this project, make a dress you like and know you can sell off.  Guaranteed you will misinterpret what they want and go against what you think would be best in order to please them and fail.  Momma is just hanging back so she can complain later.
  5.  Avoid those with an “I’m doing you a big favor (seeing as how you’re not a Big Name) by letting you make this dress for my daughter” attitude.  They are only there because they want a cheap dress.
  6.  If someone comes in with swatches, file folders and index cards and says “We’re really open about designs and colors.  But I asked my daughter to draw up a picture of the dress she wants.  It is just so you have an idea…”  They’re not going to let you change ANYTHING about that design, no matter how awful.
  7.  Decline if someone comes in and says “We want this dress,” hands you a pic, and will not listen when first you point out ways to emulate the style without copying and then second, you state that you will not copy a design or a dress.  Don’t go there.
  8.  Oh, and if mom makes an appointment and shows up with DD and 8 other kids under the age of 9 (which she had to bring because she home schools but didn’t think it was important to mention that the whole crew would be showing up) – well you won’t see your cat or the remote control for at least a week.    

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