Back skirts, etc…

Today I got 2 similar emails, so thought I would do a post.

First Kilynn wrote: I have been looking at the school dresses you are making for Teelin. I really like the way they look in the back. How much stiffner are you using in the CFP, the FSP, and the back? Have you put decor bond on all sections? Do you use Firm Flex in the back or just the CFP and FSP? I am working on school dresses myself and an wanting to make them as easy to handle as possible. I also wanted to make them washable like the Teelin dresses. What mother would object to that!!!

Then Amy: I have a question about stiffener in the Teelin dress. I know you use Firmflex in the front of the dresses and they look great! We are so excited! We have ordered some Firmflex to try! You didn’t use Firmflex in the back of the Teelin dress did you? It drapes so beautifully. We are still working the “bugs” out of our school dresses. Currently, we have Decorbond in the back of our dress. The problem is, the dancer sits down wrong and BAM! nasty crease! We use a polyester satin as our lining and a gabardine as our main fabric. We were thinking of no Decorbond, but maybe a very lightweight interfacing on the satin lining to help give it some body. The satin tends to “grow” especially when you hit the curve and the bias kicks in. Does that make sense? We’re trying to get away from the stiff two-dimensional look. I love how figure flattering the Teelin dress looks, none of this trying to put flat cardboard on a round cylinder nonsense. Any advice would be appreciated.

Are you 2 working together or just on the same wavelength?

For the school dresses, I prep the fabric by fusing it to a tricot (just like french fuse) interfacing, not a woven and not decorbond.  The tricot supports the fabric, giving it a tad bit more body, but it does not add much weight at all, allows the fabric to move, and it will not crease the way a woven can and decorbond will!  I feel that this interfacing fuses the best, and I have yet for it to bubble away the way the woven can. 

That is all I do to the back of the skirts.  I do use decorbond on the areas to be embroidered on the front which then have one layer of Timtex underneath, but unless I am embroidering on the back, I do not use any other stiffener in the back.  Why?  First, I personally like the back skirts to move easily, and second, since these dresses get so much wear, I do not want decorbond or stiffener to crease or break down from all of the sitting and kicking that the backs are subjected to.  Even if the backs are embroidered, I only use decorbond in the appropriate area and then remove the excess to allow the skirt to retain as much movement as possible.

Now for the satin lining…I use crepe back satin which has some weight to it, and I do not interface it.  Here is what I do to keep the hem from bagging below the hem:

  1. After the lining and outer skirt are hemmed together, trim and clip the seam on the curves, then press the seam on the right side so the seam fabric lies underneath the lining.
  2. Use a multiple zig-zag stitch to attach the lining to the underneath seam fabric. The multiple zig-zag allows give on the curved seam and helps keep the lining fabric from falling below the seam to be seen from the outside.
  3. Iron the fold between the lining and outside skirt. I press on the inside so I can see a thin line of outside fabric to ensure the lining cannot be seen at the bottom of the hem on the outside.
  4. Then, I take the time to smooth and pin the lining to the outside fabric so I can sew a few lines of stay-stitching on the pleat fold lines from the hem to the waist. This basically guarantees that there will never be any bagging.  I sew 3-4 of these lines on each side of the back skirt (6 to 8 lines of stitching in total).

Did I answer everything?

Swoop dress center front panel

One of the things I have not liked about the swoop dresses I have seen and gotten to really inspect is the fact that the front skirt essentially functions as a single panel. They have kept the pleats between the front side panels (FSP) and the center front panel (CFP), but because of the shape of the FSPs, there can be no movement. Those pleats are useless and in some cases have been sewn completely shut. One dancer described her experience dancing in one as restrictive and even painful as she had to keep kicking against this sandwich board that did not move.

Some dressmakers have now come to the conclusion, rightly so, that since the pleats are useless, why not just make the front skirt a single panel from side to side? No pleats, no separate panels. But then there appears that problem of the side-to-side crease at hip level where the skirt has to bend when the dancer kicks.

Susan and I kicked this swoop skirt issue around quite a bit. It’s what we do, talk things to death while we check out photos of dresses. Sometimes, with the phone on speaker, we just sit there and stare as we analyze everything and propose answers for some of the issues we see. We decided to try a swoop dress with a totally free center panel.

This was the first one we attempted this on. First, I should clarify the size of this dress as it had bearing on the skirt hang. Many have told me they thought this dress was for a little girl, that it was a small dress. It is not. The young dancer is 16, and this skirt is 17 inches long. And, the dancer wanted the swoops to come pretty close together at the bottom to frame the cross.
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Considering how close in the swoops come, Susan and I both felt that the CFP did not need to be very wide, which I assumed would then make this very easy to dance in as not only would there be no pleats attaching the FSPs to the CFP, but the narrow width of the CFP would allow the dancer to move the FSPs more easily. Well, the swoops collapsed in and covered the cross. Granted, this skirt was fairly heavy because of its length and because of the 2 rows of pleated ruffles, but there was something else going on. Only option to fix this skirt was to sew the FSPs to the CFP. So much for this attempt at that idea.

There are still pleats behind the FSPs (front side panels).  In fact, we added to the depth of the side pleats to make up for no front pleats, therefore allowing kicking room.

I still need to ask the dancer how it feels to dance in this skirt.

So, Susan and I sat and analyzed the pics I took of that skirt before I sewed the panels down. It did not take Susan long…the tension in the skirt was all wrong, in fact, it was missing from very key areas. Susan’s design of the Feisdress skirt pattern in general is based on tension. She explained it to me in that scientific way she possesses, and off we went to the next dress.

And it worked perfectly.
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The front side panels are completely free, no collapsing, and the young dancer says dancing in it is very easy.
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So, what is different? The CFP is wider, and most importantly, wider at the top. This provides the necessary tension and support for the FSPs so they do not collapse. If you want instructions for this alteration of the Feisdress pattern, email Susan ( ).
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Next time I make one I will add boning to the CFP from the get go.  This dress made its way back to me because the CFP began creasing vertically.  You can read about that and the fixes here: Troubleshooting: Vertical Skirt Crease and Troubleshooting: Vertical Skirt Crease, Part II

There have been a few questions on the boards lately about stiffeners and how many layers to use. I use FirmFlex that I get from shopper’s rule. Love this stuff. I only ever use 1 layer. Go here for my little treatise on using this stiffener.

Feisdress pattern: stiffener placement & seams

When making an Irish Dance dress, I only sew the stiffener into 2 seams – the front pleat seams. In the Feisdress pattern, the skirt is constructed from 3 pieces: the center front panel (CFP) which includes the front half of the front pleat, and 2 side/back skirts. (Click here for visuals.) The side/back skirt includes the back skirt, side tuck/pleat and the front side panel (FSP) and the other half of the front pleat all in one piece. There are 3 seams (not counting hem and waist): the back seam and the two front pleat seams. I use FirmFlex (same as Timtex) in the CFP and the FSP. I do not stiffen the front half of the pleat attached to the CFP, but I do include it in the FSP pleat seams because they do not bend and it is part of the tension mechanism for the skirt. Here is a top cut-away view (thanks, Susan):

I do not include any of the stiffener in the waist seams, either. I cut it to just below the waist seam.

Placement of stiffener: I do not use stiffener in my back skirt. The fabric has some stiffness due to the fact it has been stabilized, but I have only ever stiffened the back skirt once because it kept collapsing (another construction error on my part). For the CFP and 2 FSPs, I make pockets in the lined skirt pieces and insert the cut stiffener. The CFP is a complete pocket made by sewing 2 lines from the hem to 2 inches below the selvedge at the waist, through the lining just to the side of the flash pleat color. I roll up the Firmflex and put it through the top, work it into place, give it a good shake, and it is in to stay. For the FSP, I sew 1 line from hem to the waist selvedge this time, on what will be where the FSP folds back into the side pleat/tuck. I insert the cut piece which extends from the fold line all the way to the pleat edge. This I either fuse into place with a bit of WonderUnder or with some Fabri-tac.

The above is what I do when I have a regular hem on the skirt. When I am going to satin-stitch the hem, I still make the pockets, but there is no hem. This makes it easier to insert the FirmFlex into the CFP as I do it from the bottom. For both the CFP and the FSPs, I make sure it is fused to the fabric about 1/8″ below the waist seam line, but I do not worry about cutting the hem line exactly. I leave the stiffener longer so I can easily & smoothly fuse the base and lining fabrics into place. Next, I run a stitch along the hem line (shaped or unshaped)to secure it all, then trim the hem neatly, and I am ready to satin-stitch.

Physics of the Skirt Hang