Letter to Dressmakers…or…Cogitating on Popcorn Thoughts…whatever

Dear Dressmakers:

I have been thinking…or rather percolating which is an ongoing activity that I do not have to be consciously aware of. 

Sparking events:

*A family member asked again if people use the info on this blog and if I get paid for it. 

Yes.  No.  My choice.

*Last night, Susan pointed out to me that Rebecca W’s ID dressmaking website and blog had disappeared.  My email to her bounced right back.  Called out to her on the dressmaker’s board…and she emailed me.  Her email got me thinking and the percolations began to rise…do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do {twilight zone}…

*I have noticed recently how many times folks have tried to start positive thought trends on the ID message boards.  They are lauded for their efforts and folks chime in and add wonderful things to the discussion.  There were a few postings about our new tunic dresses, which I found gratifying, and some interesting comments.  But, so much of the boards are taken up by screaming, mind-numbing, destructive negativity…why?  Are more endorphins produced by causing trouble rather than inspiring laughter? 

*Today on the knitting site Ravelry (I am SOOO enamored of this incredibly creative site!), someone brought up the issue of others using her photos without permission.  She said all anyone had to do was ASK!!!  I was very flattered when I was asked by a designer to use one of my pics to illustrate a pattern…in my hermit universe, I felt like a rock star!!!  The discussion was wonderfully constructive and educational…someone wrote about the benign internet mentality that what we can so easily find in the ether must be free!!!!  Most folks really do not seem to mind while understanding that some others are really bothered by it.  And technically, the law is on the side of first documentation. 

*And prior to this,  Susan and I had a conversation about the “sharing” of ideas that happens in ID dressmaking.  Folks in the ID world “share” differently than the rest of the children on the block.  Knitters do not “share” ideas the ID way because everyone calls them on it!  Every message board calls out the offender as the idiot they are!  The offended designer will visit you in your dreams!!!  Consequently, very, very few share without asking, attributing and/or pointing out VERY specifically how they changed things.  It creates a very open culture of folks that share in the true sense of the word.

And then there is my other world…dance.  If you borrow from another choreographer and yet present it as your own, you are very quickly nothing more than mud.  Everyone knows… a critic will take you to task in print.  In dance, as in so many other art fields, a true artist talks openly and with pride about who and what influenced them.  Training and working and studying with different artists are encouraged.  There is dignity in discussing the lineage of your artistry, if that makes sense. 

Plagiarism in all fields, artistic or not, ruins your DNA for generations to come.  In the performing arts, literature & art worlds, artists publicly acknowledge their influences as badges of honor! 

But ID is different.  We are not allowed to videotape competitions for fear steps will be stolen (how many different ways can you do a batter/treble?!).  Dancers can only train at their ONE sanctioned school (although I do find the rise of ID summer camps to be wonderful).  Transferring schools is cause for much teeth gnashing, many bad feelings, and nasty bad mouthing!  The case for the over-use of the trinity knot is before the Supreme Court…knot not.

All of that, and public and private dressmaker angst (I use that word for its power, not as parody) brings me here: even ID dressmaking is very weird…still.  I do think that it is much more open now than it used to be because of the great influx of newbies over the past year or so.  Yeehaw, Newbies!!!!  When I finally discovered the boards (a year or so after I started) getting real help was difficult as the secrecy thing was still in full force.  There were a couple of websites to go to for info…I still see them in my head as I studied them with awe and absolutely zero comprehension. 

My first foray onto a board went something like this:

“Are there patterns for Irish dance dresses?”


…after a length of time… “Where can I find them?”


…after another length of time…”What is ‘IT’?”

…doo-do-doo, twiddling thumbs…”Irish Threads.”

“Great!  Where can I buy it?”

…time…”Search on Google.” 

My frustration knew no bounds.

I will say that the first ID dressmaking person I ever talked to was Pat at Irish Threads.  She was extremely knowledgeable about all things ID, and very helpful & patient, especially considering I really knew nothing.  She was the first to warn me that getting info and help from others would prove difficult…to put it mildly.  She was also encouraging and I appreciated that.  So I plugged along in my frustration until I met Susan…and she blew my mind.  That experience here.

Even now, still, the old guard seem to continue to be very quiet folks.  Perhaps they pay us no heed at all, but I do think they are there, listening and even contributing to the boards and groups, anonymously for the most part, though I imagine the old culture of secrecy, of “guard your trademark secrets for they are your identity” is still at work.  And yet, as Susan pointed out to me, everyone used to use mainly the designs from Seven Gates!!!  The designs had the same source but no one would talk about it!!!

My blog was the first ID dressmaking blog, and I only started it in March 2006 {what a hoot this is now…notice my tiny font…did not want to seem presumptuous}.  I searched and searched and I was really surprised at the time that there were no ID dressmaking blogs (update: turns out there was one t I did not find!).  I started mine because I was encouraged by reading knitting blogs, and I was so tired of feeling alone in the ID virtual reality.  But, I did it with much trepidation because I was afraid I would be perceived as an interloper, a fraud too big for her britches even though I really only started it as a way to share things with my family who live way off in California and Louisiana!! 

So…what is my freaking point?  I dunno…do I have to have one?  [[[whine, whinge, snarf, snurf…]]]

I feel like there is an elephant in the room…only I can’t see it to point it out.  It is part of what drove my whinging about no one talking to me a while back…it is part of the mild surprise that we at Feisdress felt when we actually heard very little from our fellow dressmakers about our tunic dresses because we value those discussions, those insights.  We do thank those of you who responded with such enthusiasm!  Kisses!  We also want to hear from those of you who did not feel enthusiasm…there is nothing better than a good, thorough, Irish dissection and debate!  My favorite “criticism” of the tunics from the boards was that they resembled Renaissance armour, and then pics were provided.  It was specific, and I understood.  My laughter was appreciative as well as highly amused.

ID is a very strange and irrational world.  I really do not understand because my Irish heritage is filled with people who looked/look you in the eye and told/tell you when you were/are full of shit!  Quite frankly, if it weren’t for Susan I would not be doing this.  I truly appreciate her blunt, take-no-prisoners attitude as my tendency is to take most things to heart.  Even though I can be perceived as a hard ass, once you get past what is a facade wrought by stellar teenage shyness coupled with the rigid ballerina posture, I am basically a marshmallow (as my sister Katie puts it).  I do think Susan and I make a good great team, and that is why I continue.  My former dance life was about collaboration… this dressmaking life is also a collaboration.

That’s it…collaboration.  We dressmakers are in collaboration.  We share and borrow, spy and steal, evaluate and re-format.  The Celtic Flame dressmaker’s message board has become quite a wonderful thing…except when we feel there is a sacred cow/elephant in the room.  We have become pretty wonderful about sharing in the true sense of the word…except when we don’t.  We are so giving…except when we aren’t.  We are supportive and funny and forthright…except when we are silent.  And we do all of this in packs.

Am I making sense?

I, for one, vow to start thanking any dressmaker that shows me something new.  I vow to look at all pics. I vow to answer all specific questions if I have something even remotely valuable to add. I vow to give feedback if asked.  I vow to help/support/validate/educate any dressmaker in conflict with a TC or client.  I vow to get over myself and be the collaborator I know I can be.

That is what this blog has evolved into.

The ID world, the TCs and parents, can be hard on dressmakers.  (So far my experience has been nothing but good, great and amazing…I KNOW I am lucky.)  Human psychology is a bitch to begin with, but the psychology of an art form that finds its validation in competition is so freaking complicated!!!!  So much of their anxiety gets taken out on us…we are ONLY people who ONLY work with our hands and EVERYONE knows that takes no brain power, for goodness sake!  (I am stopping there as THAT crap is a sure-fire way to get my juices flowing in a non-constructive way…)

We as dressmakers have a rarefied, immensely stratified and separated support system.  When we are dismissive and uncommunicative, we hurt each other.  When we are good, we help people fly.  I was so struck by the support Rebecca W received in the IDD group…it was not only wonderful, it was ‘us’ at our best.

I vow to try to support everyone who asks for it.



Reality Check, Part Deux

(I am seeing stitch points on my divas’ ears!!!! Digitizing is invading my reality…so, I need to contemplate a different reality at the end of this day…)

Great comments and emails about this issue, folks. Thank you so much. I love reading your thoughts.

Miss Alison wrote a bit that, once again, got to the heart of the matter of ID dress design.

I love the Silverlode dresses. Rachel is a true artist. The beauty is in the incredible detail work she does. They really confirm that ID dresses can be true pieces of art worthy of a gallery, to me–I only wish I could attain that level of artisty, myself.

However, and this is a BIG however, I don’t think they show well on stage. Because she tends to go for the details and uses complimentary colours (and rarely any unusual fabrics), they tend to blend at a distance. What is a stunningly detailed and gorgeous dress up close can be a swamp of green (or blue, or pink) on stage, just as what is hideously garish and overwhelming up close can be quite striking and interesting on stage. Add into that the utter disregard for trends (something else I wish I had in me!), and she has a very niche market to sell to.

None of this negates the utter beauty of her work, mind. It does lessen her audience of likely buyers, though. I think Cari Buziak runs into the same problem: beautiful, detailed work that tends to be so detailed as to lose itself on stage.

Also, $850? Madness! There is so much detail involved in her dresses they truly do deserve a very high asking price, trial run or not. I’m sure it will be snatched up quickly. If I’m ever rich, I want one just to have as an art piece in my house!

I understand what Alison is saying about the design elements and their impact. She is right…as she is right about the garish being effective from a distance on a stage. And she is right about how dresses by Silverlode and Buziak tend to get lost from a distance. The enjoyment to be had from these gorgeous dresses are close up. It is a choice.

Thanks for saying it so well, Ali.

I have been thinking a lot about this the past couple of days…in between stitch points…all the creative issues that artworks like Rachel’s bring up. What Ali says about the visual impact of design is so very true. While I can and do deal with the larger issue of shape and form, design as we know it in ID has always been basically beyond me. I am an editor when it comes to design…I can tell you when the design parts do not work, and I can tell you when your vision is fuc.. messing with the digitizer, but I cannot come up with the elemental parts myself. Really, truly sucks for me, but there it is!

I had the opportunity to see a Gavin up close and personal about a year ago. I will be honest here because it will serve an illustrative purpose…I hated everything about it. The colors, the design, the whole organization of the dress was awful to me. To continue with a desciption of the repugnance I felt would be off-putting…get it? At the time, Susan said that she was sure that it worked on stage… and I worried about our association for the first time.

One month later, I saw the dress in action at a feis, and I was blown away! Un-freaking-believable…it worked!! From that performance distance on a dancer with the right coloring, it was spectacular. Everything about it was strong, coordinated, and right. I hope the dancer’s mama did not think I was a stalker because I could not let her out of my sight even after she danced!!!

It was such a lesson to me. I already knew that I could trust Susan’s unbelievable sense of color, but I had never seen a combination like that Gavin. I truly now just go with the flow with Susan. She does listen to me when I gag on an experiment, but her combinations usually leave me in awe. It expands my view.

I truly admire what designers like Susan and Alison do. They have a grasp on the visual purpose that ID dress designs serve…and I now know what works because of Susan.

Reality Check!

Hoo-boy…see this dress?
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

This dress was made by Rachel from Silverlode Needlecraft… gorgeous. I am a huge fan of her spectacular work. She is quite the artist. Look at the detail…and this is one of her simpler dresses. The River Silverlode is my all-time favorite. It is like an incredibly complicated quilt! Unbelievable!! If it was mine, it would be hanging in a shadow-box frame in my living room.

So what’s the reality check?

On Dance-Again are scores of used, old dresses for $1600 on up. There are hundreds of worn BN dresses, cookie-cutter designs, priced ridiculously high because their owners want to recoup some of the price they originally paid. There are new ones made by experienced folks priced reasonably that do not get even a nibble. And there are so many brand new dresses made by inexperienced people that are priced unrealistically at $1200 -2000.

Guess how much Rachel is asking for this dress, this gorgeous, one-of-a-kind dress made by a highly skilled, very experienced, accomplished dressmaking artist?

Only $850…it is on Dance-Again for ONLY $850!!!!!!

Reality check!!!!

……………reality is shifting………….

(SOMEONE needs to snap this dress up. Better yet, I hope there is a bidding war so that Rachel gets what this is really worth!!!)

We all know that the ID dress market is changing. Rapidly. Used dresses now typically languish on sale sites for a very long time. I hear that the numbers of dancers are falling which affects sales. Styles change so fast that the perfectly good and beautiful dresses that were stylish 1 year ago are considered out-of-date…which affects sales. Even the re-sale market for the BNs is stalling because there is a glut of them. This is of course not the BN’s concern because the dresses belong to others, but as the BNs are increasingly being called out on their unfair business practices and dresses that cannot be danced in, I do believe that their future sales will also be affected if they haven’t been already.

It is a rare dressmaker (any?) who makes a living from the sale of Off-the-Racks (OTRs) because there are so many dresses for sale. But there continues to be an influx of new dressmakers who seem to think there is high money to be had for their first few attempts. Do many of them actually get what they ask for? I have no way of knowing.

Let me say here that I have nothing against newbies…the more the merrier. It is great fun talking to all the new people on IDD and the boards. Yes, they ask questions that have been asked a thousand times before, but when we answer, we get to define and refine our thoughts about our respective techniques. I am always learning something new from a “newbie,” especially the ones who think and work outside the box. I learned something great from a seamstress who alters ID dresses but has not made one yet herself because she is not sure she can!!! (Slappin’ my forehead!!!)

So many of us encourage newbies all the time, because ID dressmaking should not be an elitist art form. But it takes time to become proficient, and the learning never ends. It is the weird pricing by the inexperienced that makes me twitch. Having made the journey myself from newbie to now, I know that my skills and therefore my dresses are INFINITELY better now…no way would I have asked $1800 for my 1st dress…or 2nd…or 3rd…you get it. On the ID dressmakers board, Celtic Flame, someone did take the time to ask about pricing and there was a great response: “If you are looking to build your name/reputation, then price on the low side of ‘reasonable’ to get your name out there. If you do this a few times with some great looking dresses, you’ll begin a ‘following’……” Great advice! I know I have done it.

Another pricing issue…I have not really commented on this before, but I have had a big problem with the fact that the BNs were/are still charging BIG bucks for dresses that now have very little embroidery and/or appliqué. Quite frankly, it would be a breeze for me if I got to make a dress that depended mainly on the fancy fabrics for its “identity.” It would NOT cost as much as a dress dependent on embroidery and appliqué for it’s look. I have a breakdown of what I charge for everything…if there is little to no embroidery or appliqué, the price is significantly lower. In fact, this next solo will cost less because the underskirt will be completely soft! The one after that will have no stiffening anywhere which brings my labor cost down again!!!!

But here, in Rachel’s dress, we have a skillfully designed, carefully constructed stiff dress with detailed embroidery and appliqué made by a well-known and respected dressmaker…and she is only asking $850. On her website, she states: “We were recently trying out a new skirt style** before beginning a dress for another dancer. It might have been overkill, but we designed a whole separate dress as our test dress with its own design and color scheme, and we are happy with the results and have decided to sell our finished ‘test dress’!” We should all be so lucky to make a “test” like Rachel’s! And, she is only asking $850!!!!!

Reality check!

Does Rachel really think her work is only worth $850? I hope not. Or, is her (too low) price a reflection of an honest, realistic look at the current dress market? Perhaps this is something we should all be doing.

Reality check.

Making an Irish dance dress

Someone on dance.net posted questions about making an ID dress. The last part of it summed it all up: “Would someone please answer some of my questions and advise me on whether or not I could make a decent… no, beautiful, Irish dance dress with NO SEWING EXPERIENCE!!!???”

Susan answered here wonderfully:


We’ve all heard stories about someone who never sewed a lick and just popped out a world-class dance dress. I haven’t ever seen one that was successful. I have seen pictures of some dresses that the maker claimed were first attempts at sewing anything, but of those that weren’t pretty lame, it turns out there was some experienced dressmaker guiding the process along the way.

Lately, I’ve received a bunch of emails from folks along the lines of: “I’m a real experienced dressmaker, but I’ve never made an ID dress before. How do I measure my daughter?” or “how hard is it to make a dress?” or “how long will this take” etc. Excuse me, if this person is “experienced” then she would know better than to ask these questions. She would know that there is no ONE answer to any of these questions.

I’m starting to wonder what “experienced dressmaker” means. Operating a sewing machine, no matter how many hours you log on it, gives you NO experience as a dressmaker. NONE. Operating a sewing machine I can teach you in half an hour. Dressmaking is the hours and hours and hours of work and skill that go into getting ready to sit down at that machine and sew.

Start here: Dressmaking Info.  Ann outlines the dressmaking process. Notice that sewing the dress together is at the very bottom of the list.

Are you good at following directions? Solving puzzles?

Are you patient enough to do something over and over and over again until it is correct?

Will you promise not to take shortcuts because you are in a hurry or because you don’t think a step is important?

Are you willing to go out and buy some cheap fabric and make an entire dress that you will throw away before you try to make a for-real one?

Are you willing to buy GOOD tools and a GOOD pattern (both are very unwise places to try and save a couple of dollars)?

Are you willing to give yourself enough time to accomplish this (think at least 6 months – probably longer)?

Your biggest hurdle will be getting a good fit. That isn’t something you just learn – it takes experience and trying things and understanding how to read wrinkles and fabric. If you are really committed to this project, even after reading Ann’s blog and my answers, I would still say don’t try to fit it yourself. You need to find a tailor or another ID dressmaker who will work with you and help you tweak your fit. You really do need someone to pin things while you have them on. So your first step is to find a mentor or buddy that will help.

Good luck. Keep us posted.


Dressmaking for Experienced FDS

So many folks are wanting to make ID dresses. Great. I love it and feel all should join in the fun. But, let’s be realistic. Sewing the seams is not the hard part…it is the easiest and the quickest part. ID dressmakers spend hours and hours on the prep work so that the dress looks perfect once those seams are sewn. This spells it out: 100 hours…or so

Here are a list of dressmaking links for those really wanting to know what they are getting themselves into.

Part 1: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker
Part 2: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker
Part 3: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker

Making an Irish dance dress 

About the Feisdress pattern
Taking Measurements
Measuring the Upper Chest & Troubleshooting Sleeve Issues
Skirt pattern
K. Fasanella’s zipper tutorial
Serging pieces together
I hate setting sleeves…
Stiffener placement & seams
Soft Capes
Panel dress
Swoop dress center front panel
Bodice/Jacket for 2 piece
Altering the Feisdress bodice
Kite Shawl Construction

Embroidering and Digitizing:
Digitizing & Embroidering
Splitting a digitized design
New ID School Dresses: Design, Digitizing, & Finding Fabric
Embroidery placement
Putting my money where my mouth is
Caroline’ straight satin-stitching

Triangle Method for jutting skirts
The physics of the skirt hang!
Fitting issues: Dancer mis-alignment
“Brainstorm alert – The Unified Quantum Theory of the Skirt Hang”

Caroline’s shaped sleeves with French seams
Caroline’ straight satin-stitching

Per use fees for patterns
Copyright Law: Substantial Similarity

Rants and other thoughts:
Construction issues
Criticism II
Criticism III
Reality Check!
Client from Hell
Dress Observations
Irish Dance Dresses: Beginning of a Revolution?
Embroidery…and a rant
Alterations Price List
Irked, Irritated, Steamed…
Brain Warp