So…

I haven’t written in a long time. Thinking about it today…could just be a brain fart.

I have been knitting a lot. Thoroughly enjoying it. Started thinking about blogging about it (as if the world needs another knitting blog), and remembered that when I started this blog over on Blogger way back when, it was a place for me to write about my knitting and Irish dance dressmaking (there were no ID dress blogs at the time). The name, “Taoknitter,” made perfect sense then. As Irish dance dressmaking began taking over my life, the name traveled with me.

I love the name and the creative person she is. Perhaps SHE needs to start writing again.

Sequin Appliques

(Bitch alert: On the ID voy boards, someone used the word “sequence” when they meant “sequins”…makes me want to take my red pen and mark up my computer screen!)

I could have sworn I did a post about sequin appliques years ago, but maybe not.  And sequins are back…I cannot tell you how happy I am not to be making dresses anymore.  I know, there are worse things than sequins (tissue lame, acetate, lycra, silk velvet, brussel sprouts…), but satin stitching over the edges of sequin appliques was always an activity that left me twitching because it was NEVER as smooth as satin stitching over flat fabric…no matter what I did, and I did it all.  It was a lesson in artistic humility…do your best and then stop looking at it!

Susan taught me to use the same solvy topper that we use when embroidering on velvet.

This works in 2 ways: first, it keeps loose sequins from flying off wildly and blinding you or getting into your machine works or ending up in your dinner casserole (ask me about that sometime); and second it can help smooth out the edges of the applique where you have cut the sequins…notice I used the word “help.”  Cut sequins have a mind of their own and never lay flat so your satin stitching looks like it has been done by a toddler even if you have digitized it all perfectly!!

So,  is it possible to have great looking sequin appliques?  Yes, with a little extra work.

I use two separate running stitch lines for the applique tackdown which helps keep the perforated sequins flat. Then, when cutting the applique after tackdown, I take the time to remove loose or especially sharp sequins around the edge. In my more OCD moments, I have totally removed all sequins from the edges, but this is time consuming and really not cost effective.

If satin stitching by hand, go over the edge twice.  I suppose you could digitize the design to go over the edge twice, but I have found that most home machines can get stuck with the extra bulk and/or put holes in the fabric because the stitching is more dense. My commercial machine can handle the bulk, but I do not care for height of the resulting satin stitch.

If the design is digitized and the computerized machine is doing all the work, I have found the edges look best when I use a tearaway on TOP of the applique after trimming.  Since the tearaway is stiffer, it is harder for the sequins to move and poke up, especially if there are two running stitch lines for the tackdown. This does of course run the risk of leaving you with some fuzz when you rip off the tearaway, but that is easily removed and wears away rather quickly.

I used the tearaway on top of this cute little patch:

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(I always think these ID dresses and patches are so delicate, but I actually found this test patch a few months later after it had accidentally gone through the washer and dryer, and it looked perfect!  It was a quiet, proud moment for me and my patch…)

I did use the solvy on the sequins on this sleeve, but this is one that I sat and removed every last loose sequin…it served to calm my mind at the time since all the fabric on this dress was so delicate and expensive.

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I used tearaway on these appliques.  I also had extra help keeping the edges smooth because there is another copper fabric covering the edges…you can see it in between the copper satin stitching.

 

There was a long post about satin stitching in general here: SATIN STITCHING AND APPLIQUES

Happy sewing!

New things are happening!

Slowly but surely, yes, new things are happening.  I decided last year that I needed to make Taoknitter Arts designs available for automatic purchase and download…and the site is up!  Little did I realize what an extreme undertaking this was going to be!  The sheer time involved in just getting designs ready, converted and then uploaded has been staggering.  So, the site does not have the full catalog of designs up yet, but we will get there.

You can see the new site here – Taoknitter Arts: Irish Dance Dress Designs & Embroidery

Photos of all the designs can still be seen on Flickr.  If you want to see all of the design parts with dimensions and prices, just write to me at taoknitter@gmail.com and I will make it happen.

And I have recently updated my Customer Creations gallery with all of the fantastic work done by dressmakers using Taoknitter Arts designs.  I am so impressed!  Please visit Customer Creations to see all of the creativity!  If you have a dress and a happy dancer to add to the gallery, please just let me know.

So, the old Taoknitter Arts is now a blog for my Irish Dance dress embroidery information to separate it from this Taoknitter blog about actually sewing Irish Dance dresses.  I am still trying to organize the information, but you can get to that embroidery blog here: Taoknitter Arts

I hope I can keep it all straight!

Embrace the alterations!

I have been thinking a lot about what it takes to create a good fitting Irish Dance dress.  Not only have Susan and I been talking about it, but there have been a couple of things that have set my brain going…again.  One has been the recurring statements on the boards that the dresses from the ID dress companies capable of big volume “fit like a glove” when pics posted belie that fact as you can plainly see shoulder seams that are 1/2″ too high at the neck, wrinkles at the waist/bust/armscyes, shoulders are too wide, necks gape, zippers pull, hips pull, stomachs pull, chests pull…does “fit like a glove” mean that it fits tightly since it rarely means it fits the wearer correctly?!

Now, some will say that long distance dressmaking is difficult so some error should be expected, but I say that if that is your business, then you should learn how to make it right, especially if you are charging the outrageous sums that those companies are!  I am sort of sorry if I offend anyone with this, but I think that if one spends a mortgage payment on an ID dress and it does not fit well and the construction is not impeccable, then you should be sending it back at the company’s expense to be fixed and not accepting the crap they hand you!  But instead, it seems that folks are more willing to put on the “Emperor’s New Clothes” 3-D glasses so they can believe the crap they get is the best they can get!  What is that?!  (Ooh, and don’t get me started [again] on the deplorable construction that folks [still] accept.)

Now on to the second thing that has set me thinking about fit again…I have started working with a seamstress who is new-ish to ID dressmaking, new to making school dresses.  I have been working with a teacher of a new school, and in getting to know him and this dressmaker, I found myself rather involved (call it “pay-it-forward,” Susan).  I went for another meeting about 2 weeks ago so I could help her work through the bodice pattern. Now, she did not understand that even though she had taken all of the necessary measurements to decide on the appropriate Feisdress pattern, she still needed to check all of the other measurements against the pattern to make alterations to ensure that it fit the dancer.  She had simply cut out the bodice pattern as presented and was confused about why it did not fit the dancer. 

I arrived that day thinking I was going to have to teach her the logic needed to alter a pattern, but once I got going, it became clear that she actually did know how to alter a pattern…and right behind me was a rack of altered non-ID patterns that clearly showed she understood how to expertly fit a bodice.  So, I asked her why she hadn’t checked the Feisdress bodice before she cut out her muslin, and she said she had assumed that since she took so many specific measurements to begin with that the pattern must have been made to those specs. 

I wondered then if a lot of folks make that assumption.  How many folks order the Feisdress pattern thinking that it will simply fit their dancer because the upper chest measurement is correct?  That upper chest measurement ensures a good, close fit of that tricky part of the body, but the rest of it must be checked and altered to ensure the entire thing fits, and I am not talking simply about the bust and waist.  We have neck widths, slopes, side lengths, bust & waist widths, full lengths, etc….to achieve the close, perfect fit required of an ID dress bodice, so much must be measured and checked.

Since then, Susan and I have both received emails asking why the pattern does not fit “the way the patterns I buy at the store do?”  Ok, do commercial pattern buyers really believe that the pattern they buy based on bust and waist measurements will really fit perfectly?  Most are loose enough that we can go with the flow, but if a close fit is required, we will have to adjust the pattern to fit our respective bodices.  There is no perfect pattern unless you want to send your measurements to Susan to have her make a custom pattern just for you!!

Susan and I have this running conversation going about how most people alter patterns so they look right on us or our children.   I think that most folks use the eyeballing & pinning technique to make a pattern fit, but while that can work for the dancer you have constant access to, it is hit or miss if you don’t.  So, what’s a dressmaker to do???

Learn the logic of patternmaking and altering.  There are books out there that explain things from a variety of viewpoints, and you can learn from them all though of course most authors feel their way is the ONLY way.   We do have an incredible resource in this group in our own Susan Gowin who created the Feisdress pattern.  I am obviously a fan or I would not be her partner in crime, and the day she explained her pattern to me and showed me how to use and alter it changed my approach to sewing forever (cue the violins).  I always had a good eye for what did not work, but once I went to Susan University, I understood the whys and wherefores.  Learning how to alter a pattern to fit a specific set of measurements made everything easier and faster.

I keep telling Susan she needs to put her approach to altering a pattern into a book or at least a PDF that folks can purchase…nudge, nudge…  I know she has her measurement sheet available to IDD members which is a gift!

(Altering the Feisdress Bodice)

Satin Stitch Lattice Tutorial

(The author of this post, Paddy Kelleher, has graciously allowed me to post this tutorial which is fantastic.  Thank you, Paddy!)

For this embroidery I consulted the talented Summerset. She uses a lot of lattice in her wearable art pieces so I asked for some advice, which she graciously provided.

Lattice satin stitch all-over embroidery
 
The pattern is on left. On the right is a tracing on reverse on right. Again I have used a satin fused with cotton interfacing for the base, with the upper fabric in a cotton velvet. The darts are marked on the bodice and thread traced through all layers.

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I sewed on the pink applique at neckline to have an end point for the embroidery. Sometimes you end up with a gap otherwise. The straight stitching lines follow the grid. This stablizes the layers and shows where to stitch.

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Keeping the line straight to do the stitching was a challenge for me. I wanted to stitch at an angle. I also found it better to stitch over the straight line with the line being just covered at one side by the stitching. If I tried to centre it I got crooked.

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I did not go through the dart area because I wanted to do as much as possible in the flat. I left one square blank on the side of the dart and then finished the stitching once the darts were sewn.  The stitching in flat nearly completed. I kept missing areas and would have to go back to them.
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The darts are sewn, the fused satin was trimmed away and the dart was catchstitched open.
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Dart is sewn and the gap in embroideryshows. It looks like my lines match up-Yay!
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Stitching complete, but the bodice hasn’t been trimmed to size yet. This dress is still in production, so I will get some pictures up once it has been completed.

ETA: Here is the completed dress…beautiful, Paddy!

Cranky Velvet

…and it was making ME even crankier!! 

A client sent me fabric to embroider.  Velvet.  I have not met a velvet I cannot embroider…until now.  I have worked with a huge array of different stretch velvets, microfiber velvets, cotton velvets, very plush velvets, silk velvets (my least favorite for embroidering, let alone sewing no matter how beautiful it is), and the longest haired velvet I have EVER encountered!  But this was the most difficult, so there was much snarfing here the past few days as I tried to figure this out.

They interfaced, stabilized, and marked the fabric perfectly!  Perfectly.  Sent me a perfectly finished piece for the testing I always do before I set upon the actual dress pieces.

The first test sucked.  Look at this puckering!  Erg!!

erg by you.

The second test was still bad even though I steamed the hell out of it at the risk of leaving marks and even tried to pull it apart which did not happen without some effort:

DSCN0784 by you.

So frustrating,  I try to keep costs down, but this was looking like I was going to have to purchase a variety of stuff to try to solve this problem.

I went back and forth about asking my fellow dressmakers for help because I was sure I was just going to have to bite the bullet and re-do the whole thing, but I posted my dilemma to my Taoknitter forum just in case.  Well, Katherine reminded me I might need to change the needle (which I did) and suggested I might want to try an adhesive spray even though I avoid the stuff like the plague because it sets off exploding migraines.  I was ready to buy the stuff.  Then maid2feis chimed in (she never posts her real name, so I won’t post it here either) to suggest that I use a fusible webbing to get the interfacing to stick…………………there is a reason I love those women on the forum!!!  It worked!!!!

DSCN0785 by you.

Thank goodness!  And thank you maid2feis!!!!!!!!!!

Now, I am still not sure why this velvet was so difficult.  It did not look or feel any differently than any other stretch velvet I have encountered.  The fusible cotton interfacing looked the same.  But none of it adhered the way I am used to.  After really fusing, steaming the test piece, all of the glue was gone from the interfacing, but it did not stay stuck to the velvet.  The velvet really did not seem to be any different than any I have used, but it was like teflon in terms of the adherence of the interfacing…it must be the velvet, yes?  Are they including teflon in the mix these days as a stain resistor?  Is there a new polyester out there that resists fusing?

Well, Mistyfuse came to the rescue.  Interestingly, I could still pull the velvet off the now Mistyfused interfacing, but it was much more difficult, and it stood up to the embroidery.  Weird

Isn’t it time for velvet to bow out of Irish dance dresses?  I’m ready.

Waxed Paper!!!!

So there I was, working on some shawl patches for a client.  Beautiful silk velvet…I would be happy in silk velvet sheets.  I was using the sticky back stabilizer in my hoop because these are patches, so everything was prepped the way I always do, the topper was doubled, all was basted into place…and 20 stitches in, the thread breaks.  I re-thread the machine, rub the needle with some silicon to help things along, and re-start.

15 seconds later, the thread breaks again.  I fix it, re-start…10 seconds later it breaks again.  My ears are starting to steam mainly because every time a thread breaks, my machine BEEPS & BEEPS & BEEPS in a high pitched tone that drives me insane.  Just so this blog does not become x-rated, suffice it to say that my frustration hit dangerous levels and I almost knocked that machine through the wall.

Why was this happening?  Well, because I was embroidering on SILK velvet on top of sticky back.  The silk shed more fibers than anything I have ever used and it also picked up huge amounts of the gummy stuff so that every few seconds, I had a ball of stuff at the top of a thoroughly coated needle and the machine would have a fit.  I cleaned it out top to bottom to no avail.

I resigned myself to standing there, in front of my machine, taking deep, cleansing breaths, swearing up a blue streak as these little patches that should have taken 30 minutes tops, including fabric trimming, took me 2 1/2 hours.

That same day, I get an email from Colleen Murphy.  I had just sent her some designs for her daughter’s dress, and because she was having to re-hoop for a big bodice design, she was using sticky back…and her thread was not only breaking, it was shredding!  The dressmaking gods were in a really bad mood.

I called Susan.  I am thinking there has to be a way around this, that there has to be a way to coat the needle with something that will repel the gummy silk lint and help Colleen.  Susan and I start tossing it around, and suddenly, Susan says, “Waxed paper.”  Ooo.  Was this another genius moment?

She and I talk a bit about whether or not to use it on top or the under the sticky back, but I do not remember now if we came to a conclusion.

I write Colleen back with several suggestions, including the waxed paper idea.

She writes back to say it worked beautifully.  Her thread stopped breaking and shredding.  I was psyched because I was prepping a big skirt job using what looked, felt and behaved like more silk velvet.  Colleen used it on top of her solvy topper, so I asked her if it left any tiny pieces.  She said no, that she was happy with the way it looked.

First thing I have to do is make two long appliques for a belt for this dress which meant I had to trim this velvet which was going to leave all sorts of silk fibers everywhere which was really going to test this waxed paper theory.  I took a breath, put the waxed paper over the solvy topper, and began.

The first applique, after trimming, stitched out without a single break.  15 inches of dense stitching with metallic thread…45 minutes of non-stop embroidering.  I was stunned.  There is always a break or two, sometimes more with metallic threads.

The next applique only stopped once.

Here they are:

11 by you.

And Colleen was right, the paper just came right off, no bits.

So, I do a test for the skirt design using a different velvet, but I use the waxed paper anyway, just to see what happens with this design.  Here are pics of the process:

Waxed paper over the solvy, basted in place – 6 by you.

Stitching out beautifully…not a single break – 7 by you.

Finished design, paper beautifully perforated – 8 by you.

Tearing it off first – 9 by you.

But this time, there are little bits that I cannot overlook – 10 by you.

See the “rough” edges?  I start to pick all of those off, but I know that if I have to do this on 13 separate pieces of embroidery on this skirt, I might lose my mind.  This will make me very cranky.

I contemplate putting the waxed paper under the sticky back, but something tells me that might be a moot point.  So, what if I put it on top of the sticky back?  But then why use sticky back at all since it won’t be serving its purpose of anchoring the fabric in place so I can hoop it according to the placement lines on the skirt?

So I try it this way:

(See the end of this post for simpler instructions if the thought of being this ANAL makes you twitch!)  Around the design area, I added extra placement lines that were then stitched out onto the sticky back –   5 by you.

Using half the design template, I cut pieces of waxed paper – 7 by you.

I laid a piece on one side of the central placement line – 8 by you.

…and the second half on the other side – 9 by you.

I left an open area of sticky between the 2 pieces – 10 by you.

Why?  Because I did not want my center line to slip around as I was placing the fabric on the sticky back.  I also had the sticky exposed around the design area to hold the fabric as well.

So, I stitched out the design…with no breaks, no huge lint and gum build up – 3 by you.

And I am doing a little jig around my embroidery room -4 by you.

I ripped off the solvy fast to get this pic, so there are a couple of pieces, but it looks great!  Much better!

Is it more work?  Yep, but sitting there pulling all the ittybittyteenytiny pieces of waxed paper off would take me WAAAYYYY longer.

Yeah, genius moment, Susan.

UPDATE:  I could not continue to be this anal, so now I just hoop a length of waxed paper under the sticky back, and off I go.  In fact, because I have now found the best sticky back ever (strong and thicker) I do not always use a tearaway as long as the fabric is fused with a good woven cotton.  Works beautifully!

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