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!

Emily’s 9-panel

(Edited 10/11 to include more info on the panels as asked for.)

Great fitting meeting on Sunday. Another extremely nice family. Their reactions to the dress were so wonderful…just spurs me on to make it all work perfectly.

Young miss had lost a bit of weight, so there were some fitting issues to be addressed. But otherwise, all is well. The colors on this dancer are unbelievable. Her last name is Irish, but she and mom, though blonde, have this beautiful naturally tanned skin…gorgeous. (Makes me feel like an albino mole rat…) And these colors on her are so wonderful. These are not my colors at all, but I absolutely love this dress. Even my girls all love this. Ahhh!

Here is the front skirt again. The bodice neckline and armscyes are just serged here.
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And here I have finished them off with a double-folded bias tape that I made myself…I was so proud of myself!!!! Had my nifty gadget and it was so easy! (I am such a geek about these gadgets!)
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Here is the back of the dress on the floor…no real reason that it is on the floor and not on the dummy… just my state of mind…Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Here you can see the full separating zipper…separated!!!
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And the lovely, wild skirt lining!
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This dress was supposed to be a 10 panel dress – 5 front & 5 back. I truly could not find a way to add that 10th panel so that it would fit into this skirt seamlessly, so I canned it. The back panels were all embroidered separately just like the 5 front panels, but these back panels had less stiffener so I could sew them down onto the back skirt. This is different than Molly’s dress below-
Here you see one back panel lifted. These had the full amount of stiffener in them and were only attached at the waist. This allowed for a lot of movement which I do love. But Molly (my daughter) is a different build than Emily. I have not seen Emilly in true dancing action, but she is a much slighter build than my Molly. I did not feel that adding extra weight via flying free panels was a benefit to Emily, so I sewed the panels to the back skirt which reduced the overall weight (less stiffener) and drag (no flying panels).

Someone asked if this was a flat panel skirt, meaning no pleats in the front skirt. No. The underskirt is a 3 panel skirt. Here is the underside of the very center panel on the CFP.
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The 3 panels on the CFP are sewn down about 1/3 of the way simply because they were not still enough for me when I was trying to get everything even!!!! Freaking OCD sometimes….

Here is the underside of the panel on the outside of the CFP. This panel lies a little more than half off of the CFP as you can see here.
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This is a side view of the same panel. The 2 CFP side panels were obviously only sewn down on one side.
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This is the side most panel on the front skirt. I did not have it overlap the outside edge of the FSP (front side panel) because I did not want to add width to the bottom of the skirt.
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Here you can see a bit of the FSP peeking out from behind the panel on the edge of the FSP.
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I have also been asked about deciding on the spacing for the panels. Quite frankly, I eyeball it and then use my ruler to make it as even as possible. These panels all met at the top and then I made decisions about final skirt width. After that, the other panels fit inside evenly, front and back, and were then sewn down.
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This is one of the back panels sewn onto the outside of one of the back pleats which brings me to…
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…the questions about which back panel configuration to use on these skirts – standard or inverted.

Answer: Whatever floats your boat!

I have made a couple of dresses with the inverted back pleats. My opinion? I do not think they balance most skirts well. If you have a flat dancer upon whom you can fit an absolutely flat panel dress, then yes, an inverted back panel pleat makes sense. I have not had one of those. I do feel that the skirts with the inverted back panels that I have made do not look proportioned because the front skirt has a fuller volume than the back. When I get Flat Stanley for a dancer, I will make a flat dress.

That being said, this dress is made differently than my daughter’s or the Webmaster’s panel dresses ( go here). Molly’s and Webmaster’s dresses were made to hang in a narrower silhouette than most. Emily’s skirt was not cut to hang the same way. Just another example of the versatility of the Feisdress pattern.