“Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike”

Food for thought: “Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike”

I am often struck by those on the boards who want to know all of the “rules” of Irish dance costuming: how short, how many panels, soft skirt, stiff skirt, fabrics that must be used, etc.

We get in our own way, in the way of our own personal creativity when we believe there are rules to be followed.  And I understand (per the article) how once we are in it, once we “know” the rules, our own sense of adventure gets stifled.

Very interesting.

“Pricked: Extreme Embroidery”

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(“Death of Blinded Philosopher” (2006), embroidery on silk shantung, by Angelo Filomeno.)

Perusing the New York Times this morning and came upon this: Needling More Than the Feminist Consciousness

I am always amazed by artists who push boundaries like this.  I feel something turning in my brain…I often feel that we as ID dressmakers make wearable art.  A client and I were just talking about this…we make gorgeous, over-the-top, fanciful creations that no one in their right mind would wear…except to DANCE in front of a judge!  Every once in a while, the bizarreness of ID costuming spins my head around.

I love it.

More interesting reviews: Village Voice, Whipup (lots of pics here),

The exhibit is the second one in the textile vein.  The first was last year’s Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting.

Criticism III

Beth G left a comment:

It is sometimes difficult to give frank concrit because when a dress pic is posted, it would be after the fact and too late to fix (example: swirls over the bust). I also wouldn’t want to point out something that would keep the dress from selling, since lots of mothers read our board (example: that SR dress that resembled marijuana leaves). What do you think?

This does come up quite a bit.  Not really sure what I think…

One very interesting aspect of ID is that, as a general rule, we seem not to get very attached to our dresses as they are seen as commodities that we will/want/have to re-sell.  That fact alone seems to have created a rule about criticism – don’t give any negative feedback about the oingo-boingo dress from hell (not talking about a specific dress here) because it will affect the sale.  I really do not have anything pithy to say…except…so?  Truly not trying to be bitchy here, but…so?  Wouldn’t you want to know how reviled a dress is and why before you spent big bucks?

Now, on the one hand, there may be a child out there that sees the oingo-boingo dress from hell and falls in love with it.  Mama buys it for her and young dancer feels like a princess because SHE loves the dress.  Let’s say that criticism about the dress from the net reaches her ears and she is devastated…this would make me sad, and I would feel terrible.  I have taken the Divas to the bank and the grocery store not only in insubstantial princess costumes (complete with clickety-clackety plastic princess shoes and bobby socks), but in outfits startling in their garishness, and received many a confused and even accusatory stare from fellow mothers.  My response?  I smile because hey, the Diva kid is happy right now, so back off!

In Criticism I wrote: So what do I think about criticism and its place in any field? I think that if you don’t want any, keep your ideas & creations to yourself. Ultimately, if we “publish,” we invite comment. If we present our work to the public, we are fair game for positive and negative review.

I still think that.  As a general rule, there are not a whole lot of postings on the public boards asking for opinions about dresses.  There was one just a bit ago that pointed out a dress specifically because it was rather wild and different.  After quite a few strong and negative responses about how it looked on the dancer, it was pulled because the issue of the dancer’s feelings came up.  Fair enough…the whole post seemed to have begun with a troll looking for trouble anyway.  But when a dressmaker (or new dress owner) posts and asks, “What do you think?” are honest answers verboten?

In terms of privacy, I think honest criticism can be safely given in our private yahoo group, IDDressmaking.  Some of that is beginning to happen.

What do others think?  Any one have a perspective on when re-selling dresses started and why?

Criticism II

I posted this back in May: Criticism.

My last post, Letter to Dressmakers…or…Cogitating on Popcorn Thoughts…whatever, sparked  wonderful discussions on IDD and some great comments here.  It is so wonderful to read not only the opinions and perspectives but about the unsung support networks that have bolstered others, as well.  I love hearing from all of you as you make me think.

Ali always makes me think.  Her comments helped me organize this post which was sparked by all of you who commented here and on IDD.

(Cindy, I enjoyed reading your perspective on all art being derivative…that is another post that I need to ponder.  Susan & Ali, maybe you can write about that as designers.) 

Gina got this thought process going with her thoughts on the silence:

The easiest way to create silence and Pablum is to post a picture of your new creation on a board and ask “tell me what you think”. Regardless of the true nature of the beast, inevitably it’s “Great” “lovely” etc etc etc.

…[Einstein] said that above all we should be honest. If we feel we can’t be honest so that we spare someone’s feelings, then we should be silent. Didn’t Thumper’s mother say “if you can’t say nuthin nice, don’t say nuthin at all”?

The other side of this coin is – are we REALLY helping the blossoming seamstress by sugar coating the truth? They go blithely away thinking everyone loves their work – yet we are wondering at “Didn’t she realise the design has a hidden mouse?” “That dress is way too large in the neckline”, “the colors just do not work for that dancer” etc etc etc.

Should we be honest? IMHO Yes, but dare I say a word? No, because I use my name on the boards and would never hear the end of it.

Ali’s response:

“Should we be honest? IMHO Yes. but dare I say a word? No because I use my name on the boards and would never hear the end of it.”

As is often the case, Gina and I are in agreement.

I think the largest white elephant in our collective room is the fact that we are all consciously aware of each other still. We know our places in the network of dressmakers and designers NOT in a collaborative sense, but in a competitive one: “I charge less than X and Y, but draw better than Y and Z, produce a more coherent product than Z and A, and I know X and A won’t take clients for reasons 1, 2, 3…” and so on. Whether we fit in as moms or dancers (oh, heavens, lowest of the low ;) ) who are trying out designing or dressmaking for the first time, or as dressmakers of limited/some/extremely great renown, or as designers only (relegated into a sort of “separate but equal” mental status, usually), once you’ve been around–yes, even on our beloved CF board–for a short while, you start to get the feel of the community. It is, as you said, Ann, one so entrenched in not just competition but secret competition. We know it, and it makes us uncomfortable, and so we act “nice”.

Gina’s example is good: it doesn’t matter if the dress is crap or the best thing ever. If a dressmaker asks for feedback on her new creation, we will not give it. We will be kind to a fault and probably even lie–at the very least, lie by omission by choosing not to respond.

When we are not nice, we are especially vicious. We can rip others to shreds. So we usually avoid it–it makes so many of us uncomfortable to see any sort of “mean” comment that all criticisms are often avoided. Of course, knowing our internal social structure, we feel free (largely) to snipe at the biggest names. They are impersonal corporations, far away and faceless; they are the President to our local political action committee. We pose no threat to them, but they do to us, so we feel comfortable making real criticisms there and only there.

What the community needs is three things, to my eye: a) to learn that criticism is NOT meant to be mean, it is meant to help you grow, b) to learn that criticism of one’s work is not criticism of oneself, and c) to learn how to give criticism in a way that gets these points across. Musicians, dancers, other artists all manage this. It baffles me how stifling the ID community, and the dressmaking community within it, can be on this point. I think that innovation can only flourish when people both expect to receive and feel comfortable giving constructive criticism.

I responded:

As usual, your insight is right on, Ali. You know I have ranted about exactly the same things. Thank you, once again, for saying it so well…

And then she wrote:

It’s because we both come from a heavily academic space, I think. This is not to imply elitism, but I suppose it could be read that way. You taught for years, and I’m pretty over-educated for my age. DWe have stubbornly refused to let go of the idea of constructive crit being required for a healthy community; what baffles me is that, after seeing the poll on CF of what other dressmakers and designers do or previously did as their main job, we are the exceptions! The DM community as a whole seems to be pretty awesome based on that poll: we have biologists, engineers, teachers, social scientists. We have so many well-educated people, whether by formal or self education, who MUST have learned how to give and receive concrit at some point. Why do we allow ourselves, as a community, to follow the secretive, deadening path that Irish dance as a whole follows when we KNOW better? We are smart and creative. Let us set the example for how to criticize, critique, and share in an open, honest way. If we’re lucky, it will catch on to the whole of ID.

And then, before I could notate my profound thoughts on the subject,  Suz got in on the action:

Ali,
You got me thinking on why we can take criticism in our “real” professions but not ID. Just my first ‘gut-reaction’ here but my two worlds were built different!

My ID world formed WITHIN my family’s cultural life while my professional life is OUTSIDE my family. The university not only allowed me to evolve independently but encouraged me to be independent! In my science based career I was taught to question the methods and practices of other scientists to get ‘proof’ for my opinions!

My ID life has evolved AND involves numerous family members both immediate and extended. I already had my ‘place’ given to me because I was hopelessly unable to dance. Unlike the DANCERS(said in revered awe…) I could make my way around the left side of my brain as well as the right side so I chose to join the ’support staff’ as a dressmaker….really as an avenue to remain ‘in the family’. (Whole ‘nother psych. paper in that statement!!) So I do have enormous problems separating criticism of my work as not being criticism of me personally. By the end of a dress it is MY CHILD and the more difficult the ‘labor’ the more I tend to want it to thrive. So if it is “bashed” (as stagemoms are so apt to do these days) I am hurt. I’m sane enough to know the defect in my thinking, and do know how to consider the source, but that would be my brain’s left side which does not always control my world!

I had begun to focus in on that in a different way, Suz.  I wonder if the fact that most (nearly all?) independent ID dressmakers learn and function in relative isolation has something to do with the resistance to constructive criticism.  In terms of ID, even though I began on my own, when I started working with Susan I put myself into apprentice mode.  The first time I brought a dress that I had finished on my own at home to her for inspection was so stressful (in fact, I think I brought my mother!)!  I just KNEW she was going to rip it apart…when she smiled after she inspected it, I almost swooned (ok, a bit of hyperbole for effect!)! 

I also feel that my dresses are my “children.”  I felt that way about everything I ever created.  But, I think I am pretty open to true constructive, intelligent criticism (“The practice of analyzing, classifying, interpreting, or evaluating literary or other artistic works.” ).  As not only a young artist studying dance and choreography but also a university professor and professional choreographer, criticism was part & parcel a given, proven part of the process and the culture.  I learned early on that since art really is a subjective form (there is no objective right & wrong), that criticism is irrevocably tied to the critic’s subjective eye and taste no matter what anyone says!  However, what I learned from the best of my professors was that a good critic helps you evaluate your own methods, thought processes and techniques so that your vision is as clear as it can be, regardless of whether or not they like it!

Do I always graciously give my thanks for negative criticism that helps me refine something?  Of COURSE I do as I am a perfectly formed female specimen of fully-evolved higher intelligence……………………………….NOT!!!!!  If I am unsure to begin with, the process is quicker, but for the most part I whine, I bitch, I argue, argue, argue (ask Susan).  I do, though, take criticism that is clear, well-articulated, and right and assimilate it.  Sometimes the criticism, while valid, serves to point out a flaw in my thinking that creates a different view than I meant and arguing the point helps me make it clear.

Do I want to hear when someone does not like what I have created?  If you are going to be mean for mean’s sake, no.  Go suck a lemon.  If you are going to explain why, and are open to a discussion (unlike a recent naysayer on the boards who hid behind “It’s my opinion which is enough and nobody’s business”…ppphhhththth!), then go for it!  As I said in the last post, I totally appreciated the person who said the red tunic dress looked like Renaissance armor and then provided pics! 

Why can’t we not only take the real, helpful criticism, but try to also be truly CONSTRUCTIVE (“Serving to improve or advance; helpful.”)?  Maybe we should each ask ourselves what we truly want when we post pics of our creations on the boards (I am asking myself this very question as I write this).  If true constructive criticism is not what we want, then we should not post.  If it is what you want, but folks are only being nice, be clear that you are open to it all and hopefully someone will take you at your word.

Will all of the competition that Ali pointed out disappear?  Probably not.  We all want to be liked “best.”  But, we all can learn so much from the rest who want to share, not tear down.  And, it has been my experience that sometimes there is an epiphany waiting to slap our foreheads because of a statement from the “new” one in the back who restates a known fact in a different way because she just figured it out for herself.

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?”

“Yes”

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

 “IT.”

…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.

Sincerely,

me

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.

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.

Susan

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.

Cheers!

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

Love,
Caroline

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!

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