irish dance dress – the long way round

The making of this dress was epic and not in any good way.  I hadn’t realised how lucky I got with the last dress until I was in the thick of this one,

Last June, red was the chosen colour and I tried out some threads on it. The original motifs looked stronger in white (agapanthus leaf) however  Donna (niece/dancer) seemed to like the idea of a celtic motif and I got this one from Embroidery Library.  I had trouble with it from the start and could not get the outlines to work but as it was ‘voted’ a favourite with the outlines, I had to go with it. I tweaked it a bit to get it to fit in.  I figured I could make a simple collar out of ovals and crystal bling-stones could be set into them.  I was not overly enamoured with the whites as I tried out some more samples – then changed to some yellows oranges and reds and it all looked so much better, and it was the last week of August!  I was confident in the pattern as the dress I had made last time still fitted well so I could use the same pattern – my niece however had grown 5 inches!!!! and is no longer 5’3″ but nearer 5’8″,

1 embroidery testing

a mix of embroidery sampling – the lower LHS has a yellow outline on white in the middle  as a trial….

So once the colours were figured, I raced on ahead and the bulk of the embroidery took 7 days – except for the neckline which I ‘designed’ on the Sierra Software – which turned out to be easier this time than the last time as they had a software update.  However the skirt didn’t work like I had anticipated.   Donna had wanted a stiff stand out skirt and I was unsure on how the ‘classic’ one was constructured and the way I figured I would do it didn’t work – and I never did a ‘toile’ so was working on the real fabric all along.

And then after sending some pictures of the embroidery front –  Lisa/dance teacher asked for some changes to the centre front embroideries after I sent on some rough photos – she (rightly) felt the centre front needed definition and could I do an outline in lemon….after the lower bodice was cut

Irish Dance Dress Construction

initial pinnings

I was flumoxed and took a few days to figure what to do and took a break.

The Skirt – I did locate a pattern called guna rince and it seemed like the answer – which it was in part.  It had a pattern and instruction for the underskirt and corresponding overskirt.  I ordered it.  The pattern was what I needed but as the fashion here is for a shorter skirt longer bodice I adapted it a bit by shortening the skirt, and also had to tweak it so it would accommodate the cut skirt I had done.  I used Vilene S80 on the stiff underskirt, and basted interlining of sew-in heavier vilene M12 to the back and a double layer of vilene M12 on the front skirt.

3 construction Irish Dance Dress

The top LHS is the right panel of the back of the dress – the ‘fashion’ here now is no cape/braith at the back but to heavily embroider it in an ‘unexpected’ colour with less bling

The additional embroidery – The issue with the outline was that its not easy to fit in another embroidery after the fact and I did digitize a line on the Sierra software and kinda lined it up.  The difficulty for me is that the hoop on my machine is 150x230cm so the centre front motif took 3 hoopings originally and the outline took 4 and the fabric was pretty stressed by the time, I also figured covering the spaces with some bling would conceal.

The long way and the wrong way

So in all it took 5-8 weeks – the first 2 weeks of August I was only dabbling, and the last week of August I did most of the embroidery. Most of the dress construction was done in the last 2 weeks of September.  It was all rather stressful, as for a while it seemed everything that could go wrong did,   The bobbin tension of the machine was not great throughout, and I had to keep an eye on it.  I am still not sure what went wrong but it got half fixed with changing threads, dusting after each embroidery, and John in the Singer Centre Waterford posted up a new case (which still has not fixed it but helped a lot).  I bought the machine off him originally and cannot recommend him highly enough.  They really offer a great service there, and just plain lovely to deal with

I was also running out of embroidery thread a lot faster than I thought (there were over 600,000 stitches) so had to get WM Trimmings in Dublin  to post extra down from Dublin – They really are a wonderful shop – and both times I phoned lunchtime, and the thread arrived in the post the following morning! (local fabric shop does not carry the shades or the larger spools of thread).

Hindsight

should have made a toile – are these the ‘not so famous last words’?  as I hadn’t realised that the new fashion amongst Irish dancers here is a much shorter skirt (about 4 or 5″ from centre V)   and longer bodice – and I should have added 1.5″ more to the bodice length- my skirt length is 6″.  The dress pictures Donna had sent that she liked had a mix of skirt lengths and she never pointed out specifically till the end about the length.  It was not a deal breaker as the main request was a stiffer skirt.

Verdict 

I was so relieved when Donna tried it on.   when I saw her moving/walking around in it the hang and movement of it was good – and she seemed to move well/confidently in it – although I could swear she grew another inch since the beginning of the summer.  Lisa (Dance Teacher) has given her seal of approval so all good.

 

The Bling

My Sister, Eithne, is brilliant with the bling – I really don’t know where to start – or end.  She tells me it’s because she goes to so many feis’s (competitions) but I really think its more than that.  Luckily she will bling it – and hopefully I will have a competition dress photo soon!

meanwhile – here are some photos from when we were trying out different stones

4 bling

The Cost

The cost of dresses can run into about €2200 and the costs of this dress without bling ran to about €250 which included – I bought 5m of fabric and I have 1 m left over.  I could have bought less originally but I did need some to sample and am happier to have 1m left as this wa

  1. Fabric and lining – 80
  2. embroidery designs approx – 30
  3. threads approx –  approx 60-80 (yes really!!! )
  4. vilenes and stabelizer  – 40 (I did get too much
  5. machine needles – 5
  6. zip and bias binding – 10
  7. pattern – 40

The bling will cost about €150-200

What now

I am going to toile the Guna Rince pattern as when I compared the two – mine has a higher armhole and different darts so I am curious to the fit – and I also want to get a better pattern for the next dress and figure the shorter skirt long bodice.  I happen to have a cream fabric here that could work as an alternative and work on it slowly over the next few months – but as cream is not a good stage colour I will see if it mixes well with jade? but as one dress is done, there is less pressure now.

I am also keeping the embroidery machine out for the moment – as in order to keep my sanity with the dance dress, I started a side project of another coat so half way through that – and seems to be going to plan…….seems to be

The Finished Dress 

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irish dance dress – how hard can it be

the backstory
So I am not too sure of the sequence of events, but somewhere in between my saying to my sister, Eithne, that making a dress had to be easier than replacing the skirt of last years costume (her first solo dress), and her saying that it was difficult to find a new dress for her daughter Donna (neither of them saw anything they liked in the secondhand dresses for sale), that the idea of me making the dress came into play, and both of us having the same attitude, how hard can it be…..

Donna’s taste in dresses is relatively restrained.  She seemed to admire certain styles, but equally shied away from actually wearing some she admired, and by a process of elimination we came up with a style she wanted, and the fabric was bought in July (I had a toile made in June).   Her taste is muted, and it was decided a one colour dress, a pure purple, and Donna wanted an opening on the front which was so fiddly to get even!

I drew up some embroideries, as Donna doesn’t like celtic knotwork, and I naively thought I could do it in free-motion embroidery.  I am using the word naive loosely as in truth, I had never done free-motion embroidery as such (I was going to hand embroider originally but all the dresses are machine done now).

So after doing the drawings, I digitised one (another story) and emailed it to a friend far away who has an industrial embroidery machine…… and then I saw how the hand drawn and the machine lines don’t work so well together, my hand drawn ‘smooth’ curves, became rather scratchy looking, I retraced, but it was still slightly off so it was back to the beginning.  I really could not figure it out, and seemingly some dressmakers send the pieces off for embroidery and then make the dress, but I didn’t even know how you would approach this, and who to send it to, and its now mid-September so I started looking at home embroidery machines.  This is the type of desperate aunt I am!

I ordered a machine in October, and  I got to start on the machine 3rd November and had roughly 8 days of sewing and embroidering (I work part time) to the 14th.  the first few evenings I went through the machine stitches and got a feel for the machine, and from then on it was ‘dress dress dress’, and the work room re organised to have a second table for cutting and second sewing machine, as well as the embroidery machine on the main table!

Day 1 – Samples of patterns stitched out
Day 2 – More samples, and 1 skirt panel embroidered (later changed)
Day 3 – Front bodice embroidered and began running out of thread, sourced thread and ordered from Dublin to be posted down.
Day 4 – Back bodice embroidered  – but ran out of thread midway (so had to be ditched) cut  linings, and prepped sleeves
Day 5 – Back bodice  and sleeves embroidered
Day 6 – Basted linings, bodice sewn, 1 new skirt panel embroidered
Day 7 – 2nd skirt panel embroidered, net skirt made. basted skirt to dress

making an irish dance dress

The embroidery takes the longest time, after ‘setting up’ each skirt panels took about 4 hours each, and I also found out that it was better to have a more generous cut to each piece to keep the grains even while hooping.  I downloaded some digitised swirls and joined some to make up the design.  The brath design is also downloaded from urban threads. The embroidery machine is electronic which took some adjusting to, and I had a rather steep learning curve overall.

My sister and niece arrived for the fitting the following evening after work, and I sewed that evening and next morning, fixing the skirt, taking in the bodice (my niece is 12 so her measurements are changing fast!) adding more to the tutu underskirt, drafting and adding collar so they could leave the following day with the nearly finished dress to bring back as the ‘bling’ had to be bought and the dance teacher to see the dress, and we decided I would go up in a fortnight to help sew the bling.

The dance teacher liked the dress, and suggested HUGE stones to the front.  We had decided on lattices earlier on so my sister made a start on hand sewing that and by the time I arrived 2 weeks later, she had that done, and I started hemming the dress correctly (I had it tacked), and fixing the tutu (net underskirt) and we had Donna walking, hopping, dancing, to make sure the dress was moving correctly.

The large stones were glued in place then sewn, they are quite amazing as they are crystal so really catch the light.  My sister blinged the ‘brath’ (back cream panel which is held on with poppers) and its stunning as it has fushia and AB (Aurelia Borealis) crystals so it really pops (seriously, its like fairy lights), and then we put a small amount in the neck embroidery, as well as the sleeves, I can only take credit for the neck and sleeve placement and have now decided Eithne has a flair for the bling (I  am rather conservative I have now found out).

So…… its now done-ish, the tutu/underskirt needs an adjustment (extra layers) but that will be done after Christmas.  My niece is very happy with the dress and the dress was ready for the feis and she danced very well in it – and I am thinking of her next dress already!


the details

the dress took about 2 metres of duchese satin (I bought 3 metres, and had to cut an extra back panel and skirt panel), .25m cream gold satin for brath -the satin was so forgiving – only one tiny thread pull after countless rushed pinning and resewing.
the tutu (net underskirt) – 2 m of purple plain net, and 1.5m of shiny net although I now think it should have another layer which would be another .25 or .5 metre
the bodice lining – white handkerchief linen remnant from TWI
the pattern – 1960s ice-skating pattern – bodice used and adapted, sleeves,collar, and skirt own draft.

the machine


Few shops in Ireland sell embroidery machines, and getting to view one was a bother.  I went up to a shop in Dublin (and had phoned ahead) and they could only show me the machine but not demonstrate it (less said about that the better).  I bought my machine over the phone after talking to the Singer shop in Waterford, and although I wasn’t able to visit the shop (v far away), they sell a good enough variety of brands for John (owner) to go though the pros and cons (and at this stage had watched shedloads on youtube).

Topaz 25, its probably the more basic Husqvarna embroidery, but it also had the biggest available hoop (280x150mm) in my budget.  I was able to join motifs to get a larger spread (ie front bodice), I still don’t fancy my chances on doing a fully aligned border. It is also a sewing machine, and the only thing I didn’t like sewing on it were darts.  There is a baste stitch on it which is a dream (which I used a lot, both to fix dress before fitting, and also to attach stabilizer pieces to the dress).  My Singer Excelle has not been put to one side though as I well prefer it for tailoring.

 the verdict……..

It was as well in ways it was left as late as my nieces measurements changed a lot from June to September.  I am glad now I got an embroidery machine as its leading me to some other ideas and will expand my sewing.  At the time I felt a bit crazy buying it, but as some extra money came my way in September I justified it that way, that, future dance dresses and having a happy niece.

Donna got two sashes* in ‘the big feis’ – (as well as other trophys in ard grad), when the ‘sash’ awards are presented its a full on fanfare affair and at the end the competitors all have to put their cups in the air – and heres a photo of one!

* I am not very au-fait with the process but my sister explains it as similar to premier league, first division, second division etc in football, and that dancers start off as bun-grad (beginners/third division) and progress up to mean grad to ard grad(high grade/first division) and there is a process which I am not sure of which allows you to dance in the championship dance (premier division), which Donna is beginning to qualify for and if you place in these you get sashes……………