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.

New ID School Dresses: Design, Digitizing, & Finding Fabric

Susan and I have been working with an existing ID school to create new dresses.  I have really been enjoying those process.  Good folks.

We sent them first to read these two posts: ID School Dress Design  Chapter 1 & Chapter 2.  I don’t think I have ever finished organizing the info, but the process is there.

So far, the focus has been on getting a new design.  Lots of talking, critiquing, tweaking, and then the design is ready for me to digitize it.

I am not going to use the actual design here (don’t want to steal the school’s thunder for the unveiling day), but I can still talk about my approach using Dana’s design from her tunic dress.  Dana’s design was digitized with the same stitch ideas in mind that we are using for this school.

Here is Dana’s finished bodice.  We used a satin-look step stitch for the black and then a narrow satin-stitch for the silver.

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In a nutshell, I get the design from Susan in either a jpg format or as vector graphics.  We have experimented with the vector graphics format to see if the auto-digitizing function would work to make things go faster, but I have NEVER been happy with that function.  The logic of it on complicated designs like this one is NOT logical, and I spend so much time cleaning it up that I might as well have done it by hand in the first place.  Vector graphics can be a cleaner pic to follow, but these days I have gotten good enough at this that clear lines are no longer mandatory in the pics.

Susan has always sized the designs correctly, but sometimes in the translation from her computer, thru email to mine and then opening them in my software the dimensions have changed.  I re-check dimensions and re-size the graphics accordingly.

In the past, I have whined until Susan has put in tremendous time to show all of the overs and unders.  Again, because I have gotten pretty good at this, this time I told her I really did not care if it was drawn correctly, just indicate!  So she indicated!

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Then, I choose a starting point and get busy.  Here is the finished design.  (The lavender stitches making the box outline are basting stitches to hold the fabric in place since I use sticky stabilizer more than I actually hoop the fabric.  More about that here: Embroidery placement.)

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Not really interested in going through my whole approach to digitizing something like this, but I will say that making the overs and unders true overs and unders is important to me.  When the auto digitizer is used, this does not happen…lines just butt up against one another with weird gaps and even stitches filling angles in odd ways.  What I do takes time, but the end result is worth it to me.  This pic shows a close-up of the end result.
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My process for the new school dresses will be the same.  A big part of this process is doing test stitch-outs to see if it looks the way I want, to check thread tension, coverage, and any consequent pulling, puckering, tunnelling, or drilling.  I am expecting a full round of stitch tests on this new design because the fabric is completely different than Dana’s even though the stitch combination is the same.

Once the initial middle-range size is digitized, then I create files for each size dress.  Time-consuming, but once it is done we are set!!!

During all this time, I have also been researching fabric sources to find not only the kind of fabric we want (durable and washable), but also the quantity.  Since this is a new dress for an established school, we have many, many dresses to make.  And, another consideration for a source is that they will have this same fabric far into the future.  Heading off to JoAnn’s or Hancocks is not the solution this time.  Even my favorite online stores cannot be counted on for this kind of reliability.  But, Susan suggested Raymond’s Textiles, and I think I am set!

Susan is also creating a custom set of patterns for this school because the skirt is a bit different than the regular three panel.

So now I am doing a few wash tests to see how the fabrics react.  If all goes well, then the prototype dress made for the school director is the next step.

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  

Feisdress presents: The Emily 9-panel Solo!

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Oh, and..ta-DAH!!! (Please excuse the crud on the crown…had to take pics before I was done trimming.)
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So, to review, this is a 2-piece, 9-panel dress. The regular Feisdress pattern was used and altered for a panel skirt using Susan Gowin’s directions (email her if you want them). Designed by Susan to be a 10 panel, but I could not truly find a way to add the 10th panel over/around the zipper in a way that pleased me, so the 10th panel is hanging on my embroidery rogue’s wall. Turns out that the young dancer has lost more than a bit of weight, so I would have had to remove it anyway to make this skirt the correct size. Here is the skirt and under bodice:
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Here is the finished under bodice. I was so excited that I had learned how to make bias tape that I made more to finish the neck and hem of the bodice jacket…such a dweeb!
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Here is the sleeve in its entirety…
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…and the lining for the bodice jacket and the sleeves (I LOVE the wild stuff):
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We used a regular 3-panel construction for the underskirt (the details can be seen here: Emily’s 9-panel). I have recently had the opportunity to really inspect a couple of panel dresses that did not have anywhere near enough room for a dancer to move freely: one had box pleats between the panels that were small and so terrifically stiffened that they did not have much give, and the other was a supposedly soft underskirt that was actually a set of ruffles attached to a RIGIDLY stiff CONE with vestigial, tiny stiffstiffstiff side pleats that did not move and NO back pleats…no room to dance here at all. I like the 3-panel underskirt because I already know how it moves and there is enough room for the dancer to kick freely. The next dress on deck is another panel with a completely soft underskirt…can’t wait to tackle that!

Look at the crown/headband “from a distance”…
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The clients had sent me a description of the type of headband that they wanted, but I had not received it by the time the dress was to be picked up, so I did my embroidery impression of a headband…does it look like one? A fat one? Molly thought I had succeeded. I am waiting for a pic of the dancer in full regalia to determine my success.

Here are my shawl “pins.”
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These are not actually pins…they “pin” the shawl underneath with a sandwich of velcro as shown in the Webmaster’s revamp, the flower dress, and Aislinn’s teal dress. One of Susan’s genius ideas. All of our clients are so amazed by them!

Here they are at work:
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(Notice the bunching above the embroidery line on the back of the bodice jacket? In a former life, my dressmaking dummy was an Olympic swimmer by the name of Helga…and this is as small as she goes. Does not fit this way on Emily, thank goodness!)

This is the skirt lining:
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Not enough fabric for the bloomers so made them out of heavy dark pink satin that matched the pink in this fabric.

Ended up putting some crystals at the neck…I like the necklace look. Used a tip from IDD posted by Erika…I put 2 fabric bandaids on my left index finger so that I could really press these hot-fix crystals into place. Great idea, Erika!

Yesterday, diva Maggie was looking at the bodice jacket and she exclaimed, “It looks just like a corSETTE!” That’s how she pronounced it.

” Yeah.. that’s the point, dear.”

“Oh…well, it’s cool.” The Divas are all lovin’ this dress! I feel truly successful when the Divas approve!

Even diva Michael is impressed with this dress. He actually came down the stairs into the dungeon to look and discuss it with me last night. Tonight I showed him the finished shawl product in this pic and he laughed…
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…can you see it?

The whole family has remarked that this dress, though intensive in its work process, has not been as crazy as others. However, Michael said, “That is so perfect!” when, in the background, he saw this:
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Not birth, but these creations make me tired and a bit bug-eyed!

Now…on to the next!

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