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.


I just had an epiphany (because of something Caroline wrote in the comments of the last post), and as usually happens at those moments, lots of stuff blooms in my head all at once.  Before I get to the epiphany itself, I felt the need to look up the word.

Epiphany: a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience

Works for me.

I was also reminded of some thoughts generated about epiphanies from a book I am currently reading.  (Not the best book…I really am in a drought with good books these days because I want to be reading one that knocks my socks off but instead they have all been pretty ho-hum, except for Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason.  Quite an amazing book, but I am going between it and fiction books in a quest for a story that truly rocks my boat!)  There is a doctor in the book who fills his brain with as much info as he can and then he sits and waits for his brain to filter & percolate & assemble the epiphany.  I zeroed in on the story then as I realized that is what I do.  Always have, even when I was a young choreographer in college.  I will never forget one of my professors watching one of my rehearsals..she was astounded that I solved a choreographic problem by just sitting quietly watching the dancers.  She couldn’t believe that the answer presented itself in my head, fully formed, and that I did not have to get up and fool around with it.  I did not understand her amazement as that was simply how my brain worked.

Most of the things I figure out for the dresses I make literally wake me up in the middle of the night.  Suddenly, I am just awake and a construction solution is sitting on my chest looking at me like the cat does when he wants a rub!  I count on my brain figuring things out this way.  At the moment, I have a few things I need to decide on, and I am waiting for my brain to sift through all of the info…the decision will quietly appear.  It has been the same process these past few months deciding how I feel about ID, this blog, etc.

This morning, I had a loud epiphany…having them when I am awake is rather jarring as it is like 10 people talking loudly at once.  When I have them in front of the hubby, he always looks at me sideways and asks if I am having a seizure as I sit there blankly!  He walked in this morning as I was staring at the wall with my hands poised above the keyboard, and he says so gently, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!?!”  He is such a careful man…

So this is what occurred to me.  There is a way to alter the Feisdress pattern for a tunic dress.  Look at the two lines I have drawn on the pic below.


If I did not have the mighty Susan, I would alter the Feisdress bodice to drop the waist a LOT.  The red line above is my new waist line.  Obviously I have taken into consideration my waist curves.  I am not going to keep this waist line, but this is how I make the bodice to begin with.  Then, after the appropriate number of panels are fully embroidered, attach them to the bodice. (I would have a soft skirt already constructed so that the placement and attachment angles can be easily figured over the appropriate poof.)  The panels should be longer than you will really see.  Once they are firmly attached, decide on a shape to be cut and satin stitched up into the bodice…those are the yellow lines above.  I would baste the panels in place above and around the yellow lines, and then sew that shape with a good zizag to make sure it is all secure before I cut out the bodice fabric below the lines.  Then satin stitch those lines, remove the basting, and decide if the panels above the lines on the back need to be trimmed down.  My instinct is yes so that there is no extra bulk.

Why cut out a shape instead of leaving the straight bodice hem?  Well, besides the fact that it will look like a hem line which for me defeats the tunic look and looks like a flapper dress, I am feeling (like my fortune-teller spiel?) that the whole unit will move better if there is a bit more freedom gained by getting rid of that restrictive hem line…but I could be wrong.  The other reason is that even if the bodice and panels use the same base fabrics, the satin stitched line will look like an embellishment not an attachment line.  Or, if you use a different colored base fabric for the panels, then the shaped line is part of the slimming design.

And I would not put stiffener in the panels beyond the decor bond already fused to the fabric for the embroidery (I only use one layer of decor bond in the tunic panels).  This also obviously means I can embroider directly on the panels instead of making patches as I feel I must for a true tunic.

As for the bodice lining, the easiest way to do this would be to line the bodice and the panels separately.  You could put the bodice lining over the panel attachments either before or tacked on after the panel attachments: before would mean the satin stitching would be seen on the inside while tacked on after would hide the stitching.  The easiest would be to not put the bodice lining over the panels at all, but under along with the base bodice fabric.  The hardest would be to make a bag lining that encompassed the bodice and the panels after they were attached…pay me a bunch and I might do that!!

Does this make sense?  I feel like I am leaving something out, but I will add it if I think of it.

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

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhoto Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhoto Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhoto Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


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!!

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?

Measuring the Upper Chest & Troubleshooting Sleeve Issues

Now the following is written as support for the Feisdress pattern as many folks don’t really measure the upper chest correctly.  But, regardless of the bodice pattern that you use, this is just good information for making sure your bodice fits well.  

(Author: Susan; Models: the reluctant Divas)

It is easy to mis-measure the upper chest and shoulders. These measurements are used to determine your pattern size, so it is important that you get them right.

Start by marking the body landmarks. Yes, I mean MARKING. You have to consistently measure to the exact same points, otherwise your measurements are guesses and your pattern alterations won’t line up and make sense. If you don’t want to actually put marks on skin, put a little piece of adhesive tape on the area and put a measurement dot point on it.

You want to mark the upper chest points and back shoulder blade points (RED), the neck center front and back (PINK), and the outside and inside shoulder points (YELLOW). I’m going to be using photographs here, and these points are difficult to determine without a real body in front of me.

Here is our first example:

To mark the upper chest points, I’m looking at the creases that come up from the armpit. Often they angle inward, around the line that would be the armhole. Here, they point outward, so I’m going to come in from them slightly. Look at the second photo, you can see a the slight dent between her chest and shoulder muscles. You want your point to be in that divide. Too far over on the arm and movement will be restricted. Too far into the chest and it is too constricting. Our little gal here is fairly wide-chested. The upper chest is the measurement between these marks.

The pink dot is placed at the base of the neck. Technically it falls at the base of the clavicles, but go ahead and mark your finished neckline point.

Mark the outside shoulder points. To find these, you’ll have to ask the dancer to let her arm go limp and allow you to manipulate it. Place a finger at the shoulder point and move the arm up/down/around. Move your finger until you find the point where you don’t feel the shoulder movement. You want to be completely on the body side of the shoulder joint, not on the arm side. For team dresses, where there will be overhead arm movement, it is better to come a little further away from the arm. This will give you more arm freedom. Measure from the outside shoulder points to the neck center front point. Yes, it angles, but you have your “landmarks” for pattern alteration, so you can handle it.

Mark the inside shoulder points. Ideally, you would like this point to fall straight below her ear. You will probably need to move it towards the back so the seam won’t show from the front – especially if you will be using different colors in the bodice front and back around the neck. The point you mark will be the spot the shoulder seam ends at the neck line. Measure form this point to your outside shoulder point. This will be the length of your shoulder seam line.

Mark the neck center back. This will be the neckline point. Measure from the outside shoulder points to back neckline point.

Mark the shoulder blade points. This determines how wide the back of the dress will be from armhole to armhole. She is standing in “dance” posture and very straight, you’ll need to add more ease than if she’s standing casually, or rounded, so note her posture when you measure. This gal is wide across the back and not forcing her shoulders back and blades together. She won’t need much ease added in for movement.

Second example:


Note that her creases point inward, and I’m able to just follow them around to mark the upper chest points. She is standing without her head jutting forward, so her inside shoulder point is pretty much straight down from her ear.

Third example:


Although she isn’t standing with her head jutting forward, because of the slope of her chest/shoulders, the inside shoulder point has been moved back so the seam falls on the top of her shoulder and won’t be seen from the front. (I think she may have her head turned away from us rather than facing forward in the photo).

So you can’t move your arms…things to try:

1) Arm movement can be impaired if the bodice is too big. Check to make sure it is not too wide across the upper chest, that the shoulders aren’t dropping and/or that the armhole is too low or too big. You want the sleeve/armscye seam to fall at the pivot point of the shoulder joint. If it falls on the sleeve side, movement will be restricted. If it falls on the bodice side, it may feel uncomfortably small.

2) Is the armhole cut high enough? You want a high armhole – an inch at most below the armpit. Make it as high as you can without feeling like it is cutting into you. Depending upon the shape of the dancer, you may have to pivot the whole armhole more towards the front. (The FeisDress Designs™ pattern already has done this for you, but you may have to adjust the pivot or scoop out some more in the front if the dancer has muscle build up – tennis player or swimmer for instance. Remember, any changes you make to the armhole REQUIRES changes to the sleeve cap. There is no extra ease in the sleeve cap to accommodate any alterations in the size of the armscye.)

3) Shoulder seam length – make sure it doesn’t extend beyond the joint. Dropped shoulders decrease movement. You may even have to make the shoulder seam slightly shorter than actual body length. (If you are accustomed to only seeing your dancer in loose/casual clothing, a fitted shoulder might look “too short” to your eye.)

4) Widen the sleeve. If you are using a FeisDress Designs™ pattern, the sleeve cap is already rather low. Just add on to the width of the sleeve at the underarm sleeve line. If you are using a standard pattern, try lowering the sleeve cap and widening the sleeve keeping the cap seam the same length as before. (Pivot at the center point of the seam.) If you widen the sleeve and lengthen the cap seam, your resulting sleeve will be puffier. This may or may not be acceptable – just bear it in mind.

5) A gusset. No matter what you do, sometimes on some girls your only option will be to add a gusset. You can add a gusset to the normal sleeve bodice or you can experiment with cutting the gusset as part of the sleeve. Usually, it should be off-center, with more of the gusset in the front bodice than in the back. An oval is the best shape. Start small and gradually increase the size until you achieve the desired results.

If you are adding a gusset to an existing dress, open up the under arm sleeves –the sleeve cap, sleeve and bodice side (4 open seams). Do it a little bit at a time and them will all probably have to be opened different amounts. Have the dancer try to raise her arm. Open it up some more if you need to. Keep going until she can comfortably lift her arm. Look at the size and shape of the resulting hole that gaps when the arm is up. That will tell you the length, width and placement of the gusset for that dancer.

More on the Tunic Dresses

{This post was updated at 5:45 pm, December 3.) 

Susan wrote a bit to answer Caroline specifically, but others have asked similar questions: 

Hi Caroline, I used the FeisDress pattern bodice as the block from which this tunic was developed. But changes that I made to it were dictated by the bodies of the dancers whom I was fitting. Some changes were pretty general but others were very specific.

Dana’s tunic with 4 panels across the front was a much easier pattern to develop than Liz’s with 5 panels across the front.

It would be a very challenging pattern for the panels to come all the way to the hem. Additional seams would probably be required and it wouldn’t work on all fabrics. I’m amazed and very please how beautifully Liz’s tunic worked out with the striped fabric. I was afraid the design would require a fabric without an obvious design.

The tunics we chose to make all have a puffy-all-the-way-around skirt. In the process I did come up with a tunic pattern that would create a “flat” front, which we may make up for the right customer.

Ann will have to give you her story on construction difficulty. Remember, these were first-time-inventing the wheel dresses with a learning curve. I think when she can mentally take out the embroidery issues, she’ll say the tunic is easier to construct than the waist-seam dress. But a precise pattern is the key to easy construction of anything.


My two cents: Yes, minus the embroidery (which is no different in terms of time, prep, and creation), these tunics are so much easier than the traditional dress, but as Susan said, the key was a precisely designed pattern made to each dancers’ specific measurements.  As I stated in the last post, when Liz’s pattern had to be altered, the ENTIRE pattern had to be altered, parts and angles and panels re-drawn, etc, etc, etc! (Parts and angles and panels, Oh MY!…sorry…I heard Dorothy and the Tin Man in my head…) 

And that being said, the black and pink dress took just as much time as a waist seam dress because of the attachment issues for the pink panels (the pink panels are attached to the black bodice).  I am glad I did it the way I did…Liz’s mom Paula saw Dana dance and said that it moved beautifully.  But if I do this type of tunic again, I may have to explore some of the other attachment ideas that are rolling around in my head now.

Folks are asking if this is a pattern that will be available.  That is not feasible.  These two patterns were made specifically for each dancer, and as dressmakers know, no 2 dancers are built alike.  Creating a generic pattern really cannot be done as they cannot be altered easily…watching Susan alter the pattern for Liz was an education and brought home to me how specifically she tailored each pattern to each body.

After I posted the above, Mary Clare wrote:

Hi! Lovely work with this design. I was wondering in which are of the tunic that the specific fitting issues evolved. It seems to me that the bodice fit issues would be much the same as a “regular” dress but the fit issues would evolve below the waist. Am I correct? I realize that the seamstress would not have to deal with the challenge of the jacket fitting over a skirt that takes a sharp angled turn but that seems to make the job easier in my mind. The panel hang problems seem to disappear with this style too! I am terribly impressed with your talent!

And Susan again clarified:

(The issues evolved in) Both of them, although Paula was referring specifically to the red dress. Ann didn’t get to watch me mess with Dana’s pattern.

If you change the bust line the darts change and the angles change. If you change the waist all the darts have to be moved and balanced and again the angles and panels change. If you change the length of the panels the darts may have to be adjusted and the angles change. It is a juggling act. Ann’s right, a straightforward fitting adjustment may trickle down and cause the entire bodice to be redrawn.

The dress looks really simple but the pattern isn’t simple to make fit, at least not with the way I wanted the skirt to fall. The “hang issue” only disappears because the pattern was engineered with a specific hang built into it.

Right! Have to say that when we began I imagined that in one respect this would be an easier pattern to use because of the lack of a waist seam which meant I did not have to deal with the physics of the skirt hang.  However, I knew that engineering the pattern so that the panel hang was already incorporated was going to take some figuring…and I was glad it was not me who was figuring it out!  We had one hang issue that was only evident once the a bodice was made…Susan fixed it and a new bodice was then cut and constructed.

So, no, I did “not have to deal with the challenge of the jacket fitting over a skirt that takes a sharp angled turn,” but I did not expect to.  I had a different challenge to make this tunic fit beautifully over a different skirt with an evolving silhouette.

On a couple of boards, a few folks made comments that they “saw the dresses in pics” and that they were not flattering, making the girls look thick.  #1, where are the pics?  I would like to see these…as the SRO pics are not out and these dresses are new, I doubt there are any that I have not seen…and #2, these dresses have much less under them than the traditional stiff skirts which means they fit more closely and look great on their figures.  The tendency to jump to a conclusion with no actual info really irks the hell out of me as does the negation with no clarification.  I actually got a big kick and a laugh out of the comment on one of the boards that the tunics looked like Renaissance armor!  At least that was specific!!!

Others of you have asked some specific questions about the potential uses for this pattern…please excuse me if I take a few days to ponder this. I did not get my usual recovery time this weekend and am now fighting major brain and body malfunctions.  Great comments that I thank you all for and great questions to ponder.


The Tunic Dresses

I was planning on writing more about our new tunic dresses (Liz’s Tunic Dress, Dana’s Tunic Dress), but Caroline posted a bunch of questions before I got to it!  So I will use her list as my framework:

I love it! And BOY do I have questions! -D
You have again revolutionized the concept of an Irish dance dress…

So here goes,

How did you attach the pink panels? Are the black panels part of the bodice? How can I adapt Susan’s pattern to do this? Will Susan make a special pattern for this and where can I buy it?
How did you stiffen the panels? (Did you stiffen the panels? ) How did you work out the lining for the black panels? Is the underskirt secure? Is there any Velcro or other form of attachment to keep the bodice and skirt in their place?
At what stage of the bodice did you embroider the panels? Do you have to embroider around the edges of the panels when the darts of the bodice were already in place?

I am sure I can think of more questions, but let’s keep it with these for now -D


Let’s start with the bodices.  The black and red panels are cut as part of the bodices…there are NO horizontal waist seams! 
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Susan put her mathematical mind to work to create a custom bodice for each dancer.  The obvious challenge was to incorporate not only the appropriate darts and seam angles but also the angles and lengths of the panels themselves!  When she brought the first test pattern to me so we could look at it on the dress dummy, I was amazed by both its complexity and its brilliant simplicity.  Together we worked through a couple of things, but I served mainly as her sounding board… amazing, Susan!!

This pattern was not an alteration of the Feisdress pattern.  Each bodice was specifically created to fit two very different bodies.  I cannot imagine that this could be generated as a generic pattern…alterations would change it drastically and mess up the panels and their angles of hang.  We did have to alter the pattern for the red dress…I just stood there in awe as I watched what Susan did to it to make it right.  Not an easy task.  Later, I was able to make another SIMPLE alteration, but only because I had worked through it with her once before.

If you want a custom pattern, you will have to contact Susan.

Attaching the pink panels was not as simple an operation as I thought it would be.
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I had many ideas…many moments in the middle of the night when I would pop awake with the “solution.”  But I could do nothing until all of the pink panels were finished…11 of them…the never-ending panels………  Yes, the pink panels are stiffened.  The design was embroidered first, then I attached it to 1 layer of firmflex, attached a back lining, and satin stitched the outside of each panel.  Then I began fooling around with attaching them.  We wanted a narrow silhouette (no panels sticking straight out to the side), and we wanted them to move freely.  I was thinking that minimal attachment would be best, but then they hung at odd angles.  I ended up sewing the pink to the black across the top of each pink panel and the again down about 1 inch on each side of the black where it splits at the top of the pink panels.  Deciding on the width of that opening was a journey of trial and error.

The designs on the panels of the red dress and the black bodice were all done after the bodice was cut but before any construction was done.  I serged the lining to the black bodice as I always do, completed the satin stitching around the panels, then completed the bodice darts.  For the red bodice, I did a partial bag lining so that the darts would not become stiff simply because of the amount of fabric in them.  The lining was serged to the bodice around the edges.  Then, again, I completed the satin stitching, followed by the darts.  Both tunics have separating zippers.

There is only decorbond in the shorter panels of each bodice.  Keeping them soft, especially on the red dress, was a priority.  In fact, there is no firmflex (like timtex) in the entire red dress!  WOO-HOO!!!

Now, the underskirts…felt like I invented a wheel.  Thought this would be a piece of cake…not.  But, each of these skirts was a good challenge.

I decided that Dana’s skirt should be a drop waist so that there would be no extra bulk under the black tunic.  The attachment of the skirt fabric to the skirt yoke evolved.  My original thought (and attachment) was still too bulky, so this ended up working.  Here’s the top black layer (and the mysterious cat tail!)…
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…and the next poofy layer which I thought would be enough.  Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
But when the pink panels were attached to the bodice, it was obvious that we needed another layer of poof to resist the panel weight. So, I added the silver.  You can see here how soft everything is.
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This skirt is on a stretchy yoke with an elastic waist.

The red skirt is totally different. I forgot to take pics of it (walking dead), but here is a pic from the O as it was waiting to be worn…
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This skirt has 2 very gathered layers attached to a wide elastic band.  There is a short zipper in the back.  Finding just the right poofiness (love that technical term) is the reason for all of the “quilting” below the waist band.

At a fitting, young Liz said she loved the way this skirt felt because it is so light!

The tunics are made to simply be worn over the skirts.  There is nothing to attach the tunic to the skirt because they fit well and there is no centering to worry about.  If I needed attachments to keep things in place, well then I would not have done a very good job of fitting!

Liz’s Tunic Dress

As I wrote in the last post… 

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

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

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

The second was Liz. 

Liz and her mama Paula had been through an unfortunate experience with one of the well-known dressmaking “corporations” and had been…uh… dissatisfied.  Paula then discovered that I was a mom of dancers in her school…the rest is the beginning of what I hope will be a long friendship.  Wonderful people.

Liz is a little person.  Liz wanted a soft skirt dress, a dress that she did not have to fight in order to dance.  I saw and inspected the dress they received from overseas.  It did not work, and I understood why.  We talked about their dress vision, their dress dream.

We were so on the same page!!!

This dress, like Dana’s, is a two piece: a top/tunic and a soft skirt. The difference between this dress (as well as Dana’s) and other dresses is the lack of a waist seam. This required very specific patterns made specifically to these dancers’ measurements. Fantastic challenge for both Susan and I! Susan’s patterns were quite brilliant!

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And here is the very lovely young lady…
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…with Hunter and the flower dress, no less!!!!

Congrats to you both for your accomplishments today!

Dana’s Tunic Dress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inside the mind of Susan Gowin

Susan was asked about her pattern in a Yahoo pattern group, and she wrote this in response.  I thought it was high time the rest of us were privy to some of her thoughts about her own pattern.

The culture around Irish dancing is weirdly secretive from the steps through the dressmaking.  So there are no good books, or much of anything else, about ID dresses.  This is about the extent of it: http://www.amazon.com/Irish-dancing-costumes-illustrated-photographs/dp/0952795205 . Nothing on construction. 

When I got involved making the dresses (early 1990s), I couldn’t find a pattern, couldn’t find a source for embellishment designs, and couldn’t find anyone who could or would tell me how they made the skirts stiff.  So I had to invent a wheel.  I bought a few books on pattern drafting and taught myself.   

There are competition “solo” dresses which are supposed to be unique and fancy.  Right now, dresses purchased from “big name” Irish dressmakers run about $3000 with the currency exchange.  The “big names” are Gavin Doherty –usually called “Gavins”  (http://www.gavindoherty.co.uk/); Elevation Designs, “EDs,” (http://www.elevation-design.co.uk/) and Siopa Rince, “SRs,” (no website worth looking at).  Quality ranges considerably even between dresses from the same design house – from good to outright shabby.  Dresses are often ordered blind – the customer has no input on color, fabric or design.  Fitting measurements are crude and may or may not be taken by someone who knows what they’re doing, and even if they do, the measurer may not measure the way the dressmaker expects.  The general policy is “no returns”.   

This may give you an idea of why there is a market for ID dress patterns.  

I plodded along for years, drafting a pattern for each customer.  This worked fine for me with solo dresses, but school/team dresses was another matter.  (Every ID school has their own particular dress that is worn for group dances, parades, group performances etc.  Usually when a new school opens, they consider the other schools’ dresses in the region and pick color combinations and designs that are dissimilar to existing dresses.)  I embroidered dresses for a few local schools and other dressmakers put them together.  But there was no pattern, so we’d have to find someone who could work that way.  It isn’t easy.  And since the design is sized to fit on a given shaped piece, we couldn’t have dressmakers changing the skirt proportions and so on.  It was a challenge.   

About 4, maybe 5, years ago, I started selling embellishment designs to other dressmakers.  We created a CD catalog that showed drawings of each design. When a design was purchased, we’d email the customer jpgs of the design for each pattern piece: bodice, sleeve, skirt front, skirt sides, skirt back and shawl.  The second year, I added instructions for how to draft a bodice to the catalog.  I got requests for custom patterns and from there I FINALLY got around to creating a standard set of patterns.  (And yes, by this time there were other patterns available, but they all had construction and style problems.)  About this time I continued on my twelve year quest of figuring out armholes.  The ultimate “requirement” (nobody meets it, this is a heavenly goal) is that the dancer be able to raise her arms over her head without the waist or hem of the skirt moving too.  I wanted to be able to find a pattern design that didn’t involve overly large sleeves, gussets, unsewn armpit seams, stretchy inserts or any other bottom of the barrel fixes.  I eventual flew to El Paso and worked with Kathleen Fasanella for a few days.   

The “traditional” ID dress at the time (two years ago), consisted of a tightly fitted bodice, straight or belled long sleeves, and full “circle skirt” (that wasn’t really a circle skirt any more, but used to be 40 years ago) that had stiffened pleats in front.   

After that background, I guess it is time to actually try to answer your question about the pattern. 

I made this assumption about my customer base:  I figured I would be selling to a mom who wanted to make her daughter a solo dress, and/or maybe make a few team dresses for their school.  I didn’t know how much sewing expertise these moms had, but I knew from my own experience that most commercial sewing patterns are just this side of pitiful with lots of errors in the patterns and the instructions.  So I decided I’d make this my personal statement of what I considered a good pattern. 

I did not use any pattern drafting software to create the pattern.  The bodice sizing was generally based upon a commercially available set of slopers.  I used them just so I didn’t have to grade the patterns – each size was individually drafted.  I did draft the patterns on my computer using vector graphics software.  The skirts are purely mathematical, so I wrote visual basic routines to take measurements entered into spreadsheets I set up.  The calculations were done by the formulas I composed and the resulting information was passed directly to the vector graphics program and the individual sections of each skirt were automatically drawn for me.  I’d then collect the sections, add seam allowances, labels etc and create the actual pattern pieces which were composed of one or more of the generated sections.   

The bodices were created by manipulating the patterns on my computer just the way I would have using a pencil and paper on a table.  I’ve developed my own style of drafting using a compass, so in some ways this was actually easier.  And since I could instantly see the length of my seam lines (down to the .0000x of and inch), it is very accurate.  Yes, this did take a LOT of practice to get used to it, but now, when I alter a pattern to fit a customer, I just do it on the computer and print it off.  I’m much quicker at it than with pencil and paper.   

Every pattern piece is a full piece.  There are no “place on fold” pieces. 

The bodice is provided in both a darted and princess seamed version.  The princess seam has NO ease.  I can sew it together without pinning – which was a goal for all the seams in the pattern. 

There is NO ease in the sleeve cap which makes for a nice smooth, easy to sew sleeve.  (Yeah, I use a couple of pins, just to be safe.) 

The armhole is high, tight and shifted frontward. The sleeve cap is rather flat.  This allows the dancers to move their arms even thought the bodice is very fitted. 

Every seam allowance is marked.  I use multiple seam allowance widths throughout the pattern.  Since these dresses are sold and resold and altered, I wanted to leave roomy seam allowances where I could.  If I had a choice between sewing ease and jumbo seam allowances, I went with sewing ease.  So the shoulders and princess seams have ⅜” seams.  The sleeve and bodice side seams have 1” seams.  The neck has a ¼” seam.  The back zipper has 1¼” on each side.  I leave 2” at the bottom of the bodice and at the top of the skirt so that the skirt can be dropped if necessary.  The armscye has a ⅝” seam allowance. 

The neckline facing is one piece to reduce bulk (no shoulder seam). 

The skirt hem is marked in ½” increments from 11” through 19”. 

I do not give body measurements – all measurements provided are actual pattern measurements.  This removes ease from the issue, which, in case you haven’t guessed, is one of my pet peeves with commercial patterns.  Since the maker knows the measurements, why not provide them?  Why make the sewer measure the pattern and figure out what needs to be changed?    

The purchaser is strongly encouraged to purchase the pattern by upper chest measurement.  I don’t give my sizes numbers in order to force the dressmaker to actually look at the measurements to pick a size.  

The instruction “manual” runs 24 pages and there are photos for about every step.   

Finally, here’s how we print and send the patterns.  My pal, Gina, in Florida, is in charge of orders and distribution. (I’m in No. VA).  She doesn’t have the storage area for mass quantities of patterns, nor do we sell thousands of them.  So we print as needed in a local copy shop.  We provide the graphics files and they print them on the 36” wide black and white printer.  Yes, it is expensive, but this allows us to correct errors and only print what we need.  The patterns sold in USA are rolled into tubes and mailed out 2-day priority mail.   

Susan – FeisDress  

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