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!

Triangle Method for jutting skirts

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

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

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

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

Here’s my answer to her:

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

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

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

If this is unclear, please let me know.

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

Fitting issues: Dancer mis-alignment

Authors: Susan Gowin and Ann

Reading chapters 1 & 2 of “Body Alignment & Posture” will help you understand what is happening here.

(Susan received these photos from a mom making her first dress. She emailed them so we could see her problems and offer some help. We are using these pics with her permission. I want to be clear that I am in no way maligning this dancer…all my comments are factual observations based on what I see in the pics. Her alignment issues are NOT her fault.)

Every dress that we make at Feisdress, be it a custom solo or a school dress, is made to fit each client. (For one school account, I do make the dresses to fit looser than a solo dress because the parents are concerned that the dresses have plenty of room to grow…there is plenty of room to let them out, but it made the parents of the first few that I made for the school nervous that they fit so well to begin with. They wanted to SEE that there was room to grow into before any alterations had to be done. Have to admit that giving the dancers dresses that are a tad too big goes against my grain, but it is what they want.)

Back to the point…since I make the dresses to fit, I alter the Feisdress pattern accordingly. I take my initial measurements with the dancer in a relaxed, though straight, stance. Every once in awhile it is obvious that the dancer has a completely different way of standing when in front of the judge waiting to dance, so I will ask to see the “dancer posture” that they use. When it is drastically different than their normal posture, MOM and I have a discussion about that and how it will affect the fit of the dress, so which body does she want me to make the dress for? We do discuss the fact that most dancers cannot maintain an exaggerated posture while dancing to the same degree as when they are standing still. However, it is surprising what dancers can accomplish when they set their minds to it. So, which body to fit? And if we decide to fit the more exaggerated posture, how do we fix the issues that WILL pop up when fitting a pattern to the body?

Here we have a dancer in her dancing pose. Extremely exaggerated posture, very misaligned as indicated by the space between the back of her body and the door behind her.
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Side view.
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Notice the creases and pulls…
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When dancer raises her arm, it gets worse. The teacher in me is screaming bloody murder, right now!
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Ideally, the body should align straight down from the ear. Obviously not happening here. So, what IS happening? Considering the relatively balanced look of the dancer’s head (her chin is not jutting or lifting, which I have to say is extremely unusual with a posture like this), I am going to hazard a guess that this young lady has been told to lift her chest, pull her arms back and press her shoulders down which throws her entire upper torso back and down. The rest of her body has responded by counter-balancing so she can stand up: her lower ribs are jutting forward while her sacrum juts back putting her pelvis into a major tilt which causes her to sway her lower back tremendously. The front of her body is over-extended while her back is shortening to a huge degree. The side seam of her bodice should be on the blue line in the pic below…notice how far off it is.
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In terms of the bodice pattern, we must first understand that the side seam on the bodice does not divide the body into even sections front and back. There is more on the front side than the back side, but it should be a straight line. It is not straight here because of the dancer’s posture. We must address this. But this is only the beginning.

This pic of the mock bodice was the initial pic sent…sleeves are in. The commentary that follows was the process with which the fitting problems were assessed.

Pic 1: The dancer is in her “standing before the judge” pose.
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A: This should lay flat with no bubble here. Cutting the neck lower may eliminate this. There is too much fabric between the base of the neck and the bustline.

B: The shoulder/neck seam is too far back. Notice it is curving. You might consider moving it forward – this may help that bubble at the throat. You don’t want the seam to show from the front so having it back a bit is ok. Play with it.

C: There is something wrong with the sleeve cap. The sleeve shouldn’t be pulling back like that. The way the line starts straight and then angles…could the shoulder seam be too short? Actually, it looks like the sleeve cap does not have enough room…too short and/or not wide enough.

D: Side seam is angling towards the front – you need more room in the Front bust.

Pic 2: (Line A was originally a reference line on the crooked picture. I have straightened the pic and am using A to indicate the neckline problems.)
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A: The shoulders are too angled so the bodice is coming up too high on her neck. Caused by the pulling of the sleeves.

B: These wrinkles indicate pulling – something is too tight. But just looking at the picture, the upper chest is plenty wide, even too wide. The pulling is coming from the sleeves…the cap is not high enough, maybe not wide enough. Take the sleeves off .

C: I think this extra here at the sides is coming from the back because it is all hiked up. You need to fix the back before you try to address this.

Pic 3: Now sleeves are off…some things solved so the sleeve cap is one culprit in the fitting issues.
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A: (This is a vertical line for reference.)

B: neck is being dragged down by shoulder. See C.

C: Her left shoulder is lower than the right. Is this real or a momentary thing? If real, get a shoulder pad for that side. This will help the line and fitting the bodice. You can see it is even affecting the fit of the neck.

D: (This is a vertical line for reference.)

Pic 4: Sleeves still on.
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A: The back shoulder width is too wide in this pic. This is because of her exaggerated dance posture. Notice in Pic 5 (which was taken after the sleeves were removed and there must have been a conversation about her posture) that this extra fabric has been filled up with wider shoulders.

B: In this pic, this should be the actual blade width.

C: If the basted line is supposed to be her natural waistline, the back is way too long. Probably by 2”. This is the waist as marked on the mock bodice which should actually be marked…

D: …here on this line.

Pic 5: Sleeves off. Notice how the bodice fits better now, but there are still issues.
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A: See how the neck doesn’t fit the same in the back? Is that a sewing mistake? If not, she may be throwing one shoulder farther back.

B: (This is a vertical line for reference.)

C: You can see here again that her left shoulder is lower. Why?

What this all means to a dressmaker: since you have a dancer with posture issues, you have to mentally start looking at the dress in segments and fit it that way. The front of the dress is totally separate from the back – you are no longer trying to fit her all the way around. You make the front fit, then you make the back fit and THEN you put the sides together. That is why taking separate measurements front and back is so important. You cannot measure around the waist and figure half goes to the front and half to the back. It does not work that way. And the more exaggerated the posture, the worse it works. You are essentially trying to fit one dress on two totally different people. There is no way it is going to look good on both. This is a difficult situation.

This posture also causes a couple of other problems:

1) This posture causes the dresses to either be too short in back or the dreaded skirt problem called the “Duck BUTT!” The simple fact that the dancer tips her pelvis as much as she does will mean that the skirt back, if cut to the same length in the back, will look shorter. As the dancer become vested in moving in this mis-aligned place, her rear-end WILL GET BIGGER. Now add in overdeveloped gluteal muscles and that skirt will be even shorter AND it will flare out at the back, hence the “Duck butt” appellation for the dress. Take this into consideration when dealing with misaligned postures and obviously overdeveloped bottoms: make the dresses longer in back for the tipped pelvis (or don’t worry about it if your TC wants them to be shorter in back), and change the pleat fold lines to be closer to the back center seam to get rid of the duck butt.

2)If your dancer likes to yank her shoulders back, your dress may very well start to bell and the hem will protrude forward. There may be as many ways of fixing this as there are dressmakers, but my approach so far has been to take the skirt a bit higher into the side bodice seam. This has alleviated the problem.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology