(I know…I have been on the computer an awful lot today. Not feeling so well and staying in bed does not make me feel any better. Net surfing is a great distraction.)

For those who have asked me for more info on the growing dancer, read this: Position Paper: The Challenge of the Adolescent Dancer

Very interesting and thorough discussion.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

Doing a bit of surfing and found this in an article by Rachel Rist. Putting it here because it is important, and I could not have said it better myself:

“‘Push your turn out’

No one ever thinks they have enough turn out. I remember sitting in “frogs” for hours to try to gain more. I hear of horror stories of people who sit on each other’s thighs to get more turn out. Turn out depends on many factors, mostly predetermined ones:

1) The depth of the socket in the pelvis.

2) The length of the neck of the femur.
3) The angle at which the femur is placed in the socket.

4) The elasticity of the Y shaped ligament at the front of the hip joint.

5) The age at which dance training is begun (ie. how early this Y shaped ligament is encouraged to stretch).

These are mostly congenital factors over which a dancer has no control, rather like having blue eyes, or brown hair. The one thing that the dancer can do is strengthen the muscles of turn out, and this should be encouraged. Damage caused by forcing turn out is severe and long lasting and can affect the spine, hips, knees and feet. I have seen huge bunions on young children, combined with dropped arches and sore knees; all too often the result of over enthusiastic turning out from the feet.”

Pics for your enjoyment:
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The Y ligament is shown here.
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To learn about the hips and find a simple exercise to train the hips to turn out correctly, go here: Hips and Turning out

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology
To start educating yourself, try here.



A comment on my foot pain post reminded me that I had missed Morton’s Neuroma. How could I forget something so painful? Must have blocked it out.

A neuroma is technically a tumor. Morton’s Neuroma is NOT a tumor, but the name has been used for so long that it is here to stay. The true technical term is Morton’s metatarsalgia. This is a thickening of the sheath that surrounds the nerves that converge between the 3rd and 4th toes (usual place) or the 2nd and 3rd toes (less common). This thickening is caused by irritation caused by pressure or trauma. The pain associated is often described as burning and shooting and happens when the foot bears weight, meaning when you stand, walk, run…and dance.
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The picture above is from a website run by a podiatrist in Southern California: Dr. Daniel Bank. Clicking on that link takes you to his page on common foot problems.

In college, I dealt with this as well as sesamoiditis. When this pain hit me, I thought it was sesamoiditis again, so I self-treated this one by doing what my PT had done for the sesamoiditis: my PT made a pad from thick moleskin to cover the ball of my foot, but there was a hole cut in it over the area of the inflammation. This prevented me from putting weight on that area. We put a similar pad without the hole on my other foot so that my alignment was not affected. I wore dance shoes in all of my modern classes until it was healed. This healed, too.

Now, very often the cause of the Morton’s pain is attributed to shoes that are too tight or to tight high heels. The toes are squeezed together which irritates the nerves between the toes. This eventually causes a thickening of the sheath that surrounds the nerves which adds more pressure on the nerves…and now we have pain. Apparently this pain occurs mainly between the 3rd and 4th toes because 2 nerves converge here, but it can also happen between the 2nd and 3rd toes as well.

So what to do about those tight shoes in Irish dance? I am a proponent of the close-fitting dance shoe. In general, a loose shoe does not help the foot look its best. In ID, if the hard shoe in particular is loose it not only looks bad, but it can then offer NO support for the dancer in toe stands. Hmmm…back to that thought that someone needs to design the perfect ID hard shoe…

But there is perhaps another reason that MN happens. It occurred to me as I was thinking about this post that I dealt with MN when I was in college as a MODERN DANCER…I did not wear shoes. I had a suspicion. So, I went surfing the net to see what I could find…

“Pronation of the foot can cause the metatarsal heads to rotate slightly and pinch the nerve running between the metatarsal heads. This chronic pinching can make the nerve sheath enlarge. As it enlarges it than becomes more squeezed and increasingly troublesome.

Tight shoes, shoes with little room for the forefoot, pointy toeboxes can all make this problem more painful.

Walking barefoot may also be painful, since the foot may be functioning in an over-pronated position. “http://www.aapsm.org/neuroma.html

There it was! That nasty problem, OVER-PRONATION!!! It always comes back to mis-use of the leg and foot! Here is what over-pronation looks like:

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Why is this a problem? Some pronation happens when we walk, run, jump, etc, because it is part of the landing mechanism of the foot. Over-pronation because of weakness, incorrect alignment, and/or faulty movement technique weakens the structure of the foot by putting stress on the bones and soft tissues of the foot which will eventually cause pain not only in the foot but also the knees, hips and even the back.

So, what to do about MN? Making sure the toes are not squeezed by excessively tight shoes will help alleviate the pressure on the nerve. A pad as I described above might also help alleviate some pain. And if over-pronation is part of your problem, arch supports can help because they can prevent the arch from rolling in. Better yet, having orthotics made specially for you might be even better.

And then learn how to use your legs right. Most over-pronation in dancers is caused by not understanding how to rotate the leg in the hip socket. Dancers hear, “Turn your feet out” so that is what they do, turn their feet out. Yes, the knees and thighs follow, but turn-out happens more effectively and safely if the hips turn out first so that the thighs, knees and feet follow them! And if the hips are correctly rotating, then the leg stays in alignment which means the foot will most likely not over-pronate (there are always exceptions to the rule!).

To learn about the hips and find a simple exercise to train the hips to turn out correctly, go here: Hips and Turning out

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

To start educating yourself, try here.

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

Susan answered here wonderfully:


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

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

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

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

Are you good at following directions? Solving puzzles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck. Keep us posted.


(Please remember: Pain is your friend. It is signalling that there is a problem to be addressed. Do not ignore it. Seek professional advice.)

I woke up early with a post in my head…felt the need to write about feet. No, no…no foot fetish here. On the contrary…I actually have a very pronounced distaste for feet, toes in particular. Quickest way to get me off the couch is to touch me with your toes or, worse yet, put your feet in my lap for rubbing. AIN’T happening!!! Poke me with your toes and you might lose one.

But, feet are necessary, aren’t they? I have had my fair share of foot trouble, most of it when I was a modern dancer in college. Why? Because I did not understand hip rotation correctly which meant I was hyper-pronating my feet. There was also the added stress on my feet of dancing bare-foot…up until college I wore tight ballet shoes, jazz shoes or tennis shoes (pom-pon girl!). My poor feet were in shock when I took up modern dance in college!

Anyway, foot pain can be debilitating for a dancer for obvious reasons. There can of course be as many reasons for pain as there are dancers, but in my experience, a huge contributing factor to foot pain for so many dancers is hyper- or over-pronation.

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Sometimes over-pronation is simply caused by the fact that you have flat feet meaning the arch of your foot is very low or non-existent. If you were born with flat feet, this may not be painful for you. If flat feet are a new occurrence, it probably is. Either way, the sheer fact that the arch is collapsed allows the foot to over-pronate.

Over-pronation in dancers and athletes is usually caused by faulty biomechanics of the leg as a whole. Being evaluated by a doctor or sports therapist will help identify the problem so it can be addressed.

Here are some common foot problems.

1) Plantar Fasciitis: This is pain felt under the foot at the heel, in the arch, and/or all the places in between. The pain is caused initially by inflammation and swelling of the plantar fascia, and can worsen as tears and bone spurs develop.

“The plantar fascia is a ligament attached to the heel bone (calcaneus) that divides and fans out to attach at the base of the toes (metatarsals). Layers of muscles, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels run over the bottom of the foot. The plantar fascia covers these layers and acts as a bowstring on the bottom of the foot, helping the bones of the foot maintain the arch. A fat pad covers the plantar fascia beneath the heel bone; this pad cushions the heel as it takes the force of each footstep.”WebMD

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Plantar fasciitis can not only put you on the sidelines of dance, it can make the rest of your locomoting life miserable as well. See your doctor for diagnosis and help with the pain. Show your doctor what you do…if there are alignment issues, specifically with the leg and foot when turned out, get thee to a sports therapist or trainer so someone can help you learn to use your outward rotation correctly. More hip rotation info here: Hips & Turning Out

Treatment: R.I.C.E.R. This is rest (R), ice(I), compression(C), elevation(E), and getting that referral (R) for the necessary medical treatment. This is ALL so important. In my book, REST (meaning, NO DANCING!) is most important whether we like it or not. ICE alleviates pain as well as inflammation. COMPRESSION (ace bandage or taping) and ELEVATION (above the hip joint) both help to alleviate inflammation as fluids are directed out of the affected area. Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications like Ibuprofen (Tylenol is not an anti-inflammatory medication even though it is a pain killer) help this process as it alleviates the swelling as well as the pain. And then, to stop the pain train, REFER this problem to an expert: an orthopedic doctor, a sports medicine doctor, a sports therapist. There must be an analysis of any misalignment and pronation, and then professional direction for correction through re-training, strengthening, stretching, taping, adding orthotics if needed, etc.

2) Heel pain in children: This pain might be in the same place as plantar fasciitis, but can be caused by apophysitis instead of irritation of the fascia. Apophysitis is an irritation/swelling of bone growth plates that have not fused yet. Examples of apophysitis are calcaneal (heel, Sever’s Disease), tibial (shin, Osgood-Schlatter Disease), and iliac (hip).

Treatment: Go to the doctor. More info here: FootPhysicians.com.

3) Achilles tendonitis: This is pain felt at the back of the heel and/or from the heel up the back of the ankle. The pain is caused by the inflammation and swelling of the irritated achilles tendon. This tendon attaches the 2 calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and the soleus, to the back of the calcaneus (the heel bone).

Tendonitis is, for the most part, an over-use syndrome. Implications for treatment? Stop using it!! Treatment: R.I.C.E.R. (see above)

In my experience with dancers, tendonitis can be the result of trying to point the foot using the ankle only. It is important to understand that a pointed foot is accomplished by movement in 3-4 areas, not just one. 1st you move your ankle, then the bones in the tarsus (the area in front of the ankle), then the metatarsals (the long foot bones), then lastly the phalanges (toes). Learning how to use and articulate the intrinsic muscles in your feet can help alleviate the pain of tendonitis because you are no longer trying to use only your ankle. Trying to get more point out of your foot by pulling hard on your heel bone is a common cause of this problem in dancers. For more info, see On your toes.

4) Big toe joint pain, Bunions: This was my bugaboo. Started within months of going to college and starting modern dance. What changed? I was not wearing shoes which meant that there was no outside help for my over-pronation. As my feet spread, no longer being contained by tight dance shoes or supported by the arch in my athletic shoes, my over-pronation became worse which put tremendous pressure on my big toe joints. Taping my arch up helped. Powerful anti-inflammatory drugs helped. Cortisone shots helped (though they also made the joints crunchy). But all I really needed was to learn how to rotate my hips correctly which happened as soon as I went to grad school. It was that simple.

Now, of course in my undergraduate journey, I was told that I had bunions. “Bunions are often described as a bump on the side of the big toe. But a bunion is more than that. The visible bump actually reflects changes in the bony framework of the front part of the foot. With a bunion, the big toe leans toward the second toe, rather than pointing straight ahead. This throws the bones out of alignment, producing the bunion’s ‘bump.'” - Foot Physicians

One zealous doctor wanted to operate, to break my feet to straighten things out. Only problem was that I might not really dance again. I opted to deal with the pain a bit longer! So glad I did, because I did not have bunions, just faulty leg and foot mechanics.

If you are diagnosed with bunions, get thee to a sports doctor who specialises in runners to get help. The best would be a doc who specialises in dancers, but these are few and far between.

5) Sesamoiditis: This is pain caused again my inflammation and swelling, this time of the tendon that encases the sesamoid bones at the base of your big toe. These little bones develop in the tendon under the big toe to act as shock absorbers. I would imagine that sesamoiditis is fairly common in Irish dance because the technique requires jumping and landing on the ball of the foot.

Treatment: as soon as you feel any bruising on the ball of the foot, stop dancing and ice it! If you take care of it, it does not have to be a huge problem. But, obviously, if the pain continues or is severe, go to the doctor. When I had this, my PT made a pad from thick moleskin to cover the ball of my foot, but there was a hole cut in it over the area of the sesamoid inflammation. This prevented me from putting weight on that area. We put a similar pad without the hole on my other foot so that my alignment was not affected. I wore dance shoes in all of my modern classes until it was healed.

For more on the sesamoids, go here: Sesamoid injuries.

6) Ankle sprains, strains, and breaks of all kinds: Go to the doctor.

More: Foot and ankle information

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

To start educating yourself, try here.

Susan started me thinking about this again. Very often on the boards you read about the “20%” rule…if a design is changed by 20% (how the hell can you know what constitutes 20%?!), then you are not violating any one’s rights. WRONG!!! My Needle Arts magazine just published an article written by a copyright lawyer that specifically states: “The [copyright] law uses the standard of substantially similar as their ruler for infringement. That can be confusing. A good rule of thumb is that when the average person can recognize the original work from the infringing work it infringes on the original designer’s copyright.” - pp 23, Needle Arts, Volume XXXIII, Number 2, June 2007

There is more info here on the EGA site, The Right Side of Copyrights.

Susan also found this link: What Rights Does Copyright Grant?: Substantial Similarity which really makes the point clear.

It is not often that we hear of one ID designer going after another for copyright infringement, but the more I read about this issue, there are a few folks who could definitely go after a few others. I think we need to be more careful and more respectful.

I had forgotten that a comment on one of the kinesiology posts had sparked a few thoughts for me:

Beth M. said…
Ann, I was glad to see your post on uneducated dance teachers. I have been “rehab”-ing Irish dance injuries through pilates for the last 3 years. I had made a similar comment about An Com adding anatomy and physiology to the TC exam on Brooke’s blog; however, in thinking over the last few weeks I came to the following conclusion: CLRG’s role in certifying new instructors is only in administering an exam (both written and practical) to persons wishing to become certified Irish dance instructors. Those wishing to become teachers are left to learn the material on their own (through videos) or with the help of an existing certified TCRG (a TC does have to recommend them for the exam). Would uneducated teachers then help to create more uneducated teachers? Where would they get the correct knowledge? How can this be changed?

This comment was posted about the time I was researching the TCRG exam and writing “Dear An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha…” . Her last 3 questions are important ones not just for ID teachers but for all dance teachers. The lack of anatomical and kinesiological knowledge in the dance field as a whole is not new information. Where/how can a dance teacher learn this information?

Your best bet is to see what is offered at your local college. If there is a dance department, see what body knowledge classes they offer. If they offer none or there is no dance program, check out the Physical Education department. Unless it is solely a health management program, it would be highly unusual if the PE department did not have sports kinesiology or injury prevention & rehabilitation. Sometimes folks get fancy with the names, so call if you can’t decipher their course titles. Even though classes in the PE department will not be designed to look at movement from the dance point of view, the concepts are exactly the same. Perhaps your teacher will be game to help you translate the info for use in dance. One of the sports kines classes that I took was taught by this 6’3″ muscle-bound ex-football player…whose passion was lyrical ballroom dancing! He was thrilled to have a dancer in his class!

Now, suppose you have nothing at your local college or you cannot afford a college course? Can you do it on your own? Yes. This book, Dance Kinesiology by Sally Sevey Fitt can teach you just about everything you need to know. Take it page by page…stand up and learn how the information in the book pertains to your own body…use the book to learn how your own body works.

Am I talking about memorizing the book? No. You can memorize all the bones and joints and muscles if you want. It is in there. But what is also in there, the most important thing in there, is the framework for evaluating all movement. You will learn about the planes of movement and how gravity dictates movement. You will learn about joint classifications and the planes the joints are meant to move in. You will learn how the muscles move bones, how the pulleys affect the levers. Then you will have a framework for looking at a dancer’s movement, and this will help you to then zero in on specific movement issues which means even if you do not have all of the necessary info in your head to fix the problem right then and there, you will know what information you are looking for when you go back to the books.

Does your kinesiology training need to be specific to the dance/movement form you are engaged in? No. Movement of the human body is non-denominational! Rotation of the leg in the hip socket is the same in ballet as it is in fencing. The position of the pelvis affects movement the same way in Irish dancing as it does in tae kwon do. Hyper-pronation of the feet causes just as much pain for a runner as it does for a modern dancer. From lifting and throwing my male partner one year, I developed the same thrower’s arm pain as a baseball pitcher. This is why a sports kinesiology class can be just as valuable as a dance kinesiology class…the concepts are the same.

Reminds me…I was recruited for the track team at school when I was about 13 after I threw myself over the high bar during PE class. I stood up after hitting the mat, and both the girls and boys coaches were staring at me. The male coach told me to, “Do that again.” So I ran at the bar and threw myself over. When asked how I got over the bar with such height, I just shrugged…I was 13! What did I know!? I became a high jumper…and I hated track. I remember feeling so exposed during meets as coaches used to line up their boys to watch me…and then they’d discuss what they saw. After that season, I just went back to being a ballerina…having boys and men line up to watch me throw myself over a bar was unnerving! At least in a theatre those staring at you are in the dark!!! (Eeww…maybe it is all creepy…)

Now I can look back at that and see how my training as a ballerina made me a good high jumper. I was strong, yes, but it was also about the specific placement of my pelvis as I launched myself through space…the same placement I used to launch myself through the air in ballet class. The physics was the same.

It has come to my attention that my blog posts are being perceived by some as specific attacks on ID teachers. Except for the occasional specifically focused rant, that is not my intention. Irish dance is the dance form that my 3 divas are involved in so that is where my attention is currently focused. But, if I had had a blog years ago, I would have been taking modern dance, ballet, and jazz specifically to task, also. I did take them to task in my university courses as year after year students came in with bizarre ideas about how the body worked and the injuries to prove that they were bound and determined to make the body work that way!

Knowledge of how the body actually works is not as scarce in dance teachers as it once was. Generally, dancers and teachers who get college dance degrees are more educated in body knowledge because most dance degree programs have some sort of body knowledge courses these days. There are ballet and jazz degree programs, but most college dance programs are modern (at least in the US), but again it is not about the specific dance technique. I know there is now an Irish Dance Degree in Ireland (yay!), though I do not know what the curriculum is like. But, historically, the tradition of dance teacher training has been about passing the information, correct or not, from teacher to student in the dance studio. When I first started teaching at 14, my classes were exact replicas of my teacher’s! It is how it works.

But dance is not an ethereal, esoteric experience in the ether…we work with real substance – the human body. And there are rules of anatomy and physics that dictate how that human body works. Just because my dance teacher told me that the muscles under my leg would lift my leg high did not make it so!!! My leg finally went high the day I discovered that the muscles on the front did the very real lifting work! My chronic injuries, my students’ chronic injuries all disappeared as we learned the realities of moving the human body, of moving our own unique human bodies.

I am not dictating here HOW one should teach a specific technique. I am crusading for safe teaching no matter the form. Why does that piss some people off?

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

To start educating yourself, try here.

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

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

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

Making an Irish dance dress 

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

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

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

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

Per use fees for patterns
Copyright Law: Substantial Similarity

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

(This was originally written at the beginning of 2007. I have re-read it and find it to be a good refresher for me.)

And I do really mean “daft.” An anonymous poster gave me a nice correction…I must mean”deft.” I truly appreciate that, but I mean “daft.” And any of you who continue to do this and actually enjoy it like I do…you understand my meaning.

This started as something relatively short…and got longer…and longer. So I broke it up…and revised as I went along. It is in 3 parts now.

(The following retrospective is in no way meant to impugn any dressmaker’s honor. This list is dedicated to keeping me honest.)

Many, many, MANY things I have learned about sewing professional looking Irish Dancing Dresses…and I thought I knew much about sewing when I began. HAH! My learning curve has been great, even curling back upon itself occasionally. There has been confusion, exhaustion, exasperation, frustration, pain, blood, tears, profuse swearing and even the occasional thrown object. And then there was extreme satisfaction when I was rewarded with smiles, exclamations of joy, my middle child’s approval, squeals of delight, many hugs, and paychecks.

So before I begin this new year and the new list of dresses, I want to remind myself what I have learned.

1) Sergers were made by sewing angels. Although I could appreciate the value of a finished seam before, I always spent the time trimming & zigzagging or turning up an edge and top-stitching. No more. The speed, the fabric trimming, the beautiful dense stitching on the fabric edge! Ah, heaven!2) Good thread is a must. Period.Using the Feisdress pattern and working with Susan has been an amazing education. I have learned not only more about sewing in general but so much more about how one makes things that truly fit the human body. Irish dance dresses are truly odd things, but they still have to fit humans. One invaluable site is in terms of clothes and the human form (among many other things) is Kathleen Fasanella’s Fashion Incubator . This website, in general, is an unbelievable fount of information. Kathleen Fasanella is brilliant. An example of this and a discussion that illustrates why Susan’s pattern uses very little, if any, ease (most particularly in the princess seam) is this link. Even though I use pins, I use less because the Feisdress pattern pieces are designed to eliminate unnecessary ease so they match well to be sewn easily. This link takes you to another very interesting discussion along the same lines.

3) Stabilize, stabilize, stabilize! I like anything I can fuse – fusible woven cotton, French fuse, Decor-Bond…wonder-under when all else fails (NOT the heavy duty). Makes everything behave.

4) Other must haves: a good sewing machine; good scissors (and isolate the ones for sequins and paper); good iron; good press; a huge supply of sewing machine needles (I mainly use very sharp or denim needles, even for embroidery with metallic thread) and change them often; LONG pins & several magnetic “cushions” for said pins; round and rectangular hole punches; many sizes & types of rulers; markers of all kinds; pencils and chalk (in all forms); an awl; pre-wound bobbin thread in black & white; huge supply of Fray-chek and Fabri-tac; long hand needles and upholstery thread; huge supply of 24” zippers; canned air; and bandages, music, and someday, a fully stocked bar with a really cute bartender at my beck and call (oh, wait…that’s my husband…)!

As for making the Irish Dance dresses themselves:

1) First and foremost, use a good pattern! I use the Feisdress pattern. Have tried others, including one I created with my pattern making software. None as good as the Feisdress pattern. I choose the appropriate size using a unique measurement – the upper chest width, from front armscye to armscye. And, since the same upper chest measurement in a child goes along with other measurements that are usually different than those for a young woman (bust, waist, center front & back length, shoulder width, etc), there are two sets of patterns: Girls & Juniors. Yes, all dancer’s bodies are different, but alterations to the pattern are simple.


I have also altered the Feisdress pattern easily for other styles of Irish dance dresses. I have made two-piece dresses and panel dresses. My next challenge is a wrap dress…Susan has already prepared instructions for altering her pattern for this so I do not have to do it myself! You can email her for it… go here for her email.

2)Take precise measurements and do fittings. This seemed like a big, “DUH!” but I have continued to learn so much. I have learned to take a few extra measurements that help me get a very precise fit, but fittings are invaluable to ensure this. I am leery of doing custom dresses for dancers that I cannot get my hands on. There is always something that I need to tweak when I put a fitting bodice on her. I even do a fitting of the basically-finished bodice right before I sew on the skirt…sometimes they’ve grown or lost weight. I once had a young dancer change so much in 2 weeks (part of a large order for a school), that I had to do a new bodice. Solidified my stand on bodice fittings.

3) Always leave big seam allowances for easy alterations. When I began altering dresses, that was my biggest frustration…no allowance for squat! Or even worse, one side of the dress had extra in the seam but the other side was either terribly frayed or had none! I used a different pattern for my very first solo dress and drew in extra seam allowances on the pattern. The Feisdress pattern has this extra included: side bodice seams are 1″ each, the sleeves have the corresponding 1″ in the long seam and 2″ at the cuff, the zipper seam is 1.25″, and there is 2″ at the bottom of the bodice and at the top of the skirt. Perfect.

4) Actual cost vs. virtual I got sucked into the world of making ID dresses because my daughters dance… I thought making my oldest daughter’s dress would save me money. NOT! I probably did not save much on the first because of my mistakes and the number of times I started over. And I KNOW I spent way too much on her second dress. But that’s me because I found new puzzles to explore and solve, and I love doing it for my kids. There are things that I have learned that I pass on to whoever asks. But, what is important here is the actual cost vs. the virtual.

What does that mean? Well, let me try to put my thoughts down here. I can’t afford to buy a $2000 dress, but I want to make one that looks like it might cost $2000. So, the possibility obviously enters my mind that I can make my dd’s dress. I can sew…I started sewing clothes for myself when I was 10 (pants, jeans, skirts, dresses, jackets, formals…remember scooter skirts?), and have made dance costumes of all kinds, cheer leading outfits, wedding dresses, wedding veils, many a Hallowe’en costume…I can do this. At this point

I drag my daughter to the fabric store and we just start looking for colors we like. So I spend $400 on fabric and supplies initially (probably about average for just about anybody). I am not comfortable trying to design the dress, so I find a designer (the first designer I contacted was Alison Young. Lovely young woman and she designed exactly what I asked for…a purely embroidered design). I know now that she truly did not charge me enough for her lovely design. And this is important - if an actual $2000 dress were being purchased, the design would be about 1/20 of the true cost. Invest in a GOOD design.

In my opinion (and everyone has one like………….never mind), design and colors are what make the impression, not the shaped pleats and hem, not the stiff or soft shawl, not the sequins or feathers or fur or crystals or the name attached to the dress! It is the design and color and the rest is gravy. A well-designed dress has an impact on the psychology of the viewer, yes? So many posts on the boards debate what is important…isn’t the dancing most important? Yes, a good-looking dancer (in all aspects of presentation) will draw your eye, but if she can’t dance, what difference does it make? Last year, the champ in my daughter’s first prelim competition was wearing her school dress. Fantastic! Perhaps at the very top, the look might tip the scale, but I am not interested in that debate right now. I believe (after seeing it with my own eyes) that too much sparkle keeps the design from being seen. If catching and keeping the judges eye is important, then I think that the (very human) judge is going to focus on the one in which the interesting design and pleasing color are clearly visible, not the one where the dress is only a beautiful flash of light.

Diary: Part 2

Continuing the refreshment of my faulty memory…

5) Finish the bodice pieces with a serger!!! Before I started working with Susan, I was doing alterations for a local ID school. The bodice was completely bag lined, including the zipper seam (no seams are visible in the lining of the bodice). The hem of the bodice and top of the skirt were finished with bias tape. It LOOKED great, fantastic, but inside the bag lining all the fabric (including the lining) was fraying a great deal. This obviously impacted the amount the bodice could be let out because of the decreased fabric stability. When I altered them I always put things back as I found them, however, it was very time consuming.

This all changed when I met Susan. After I spent very little time serging the lining to the embroidered bodice pieces, I was hooked. Found myself a good serger the next day. Alterations are obviously easier because you can tell at a glance if there is room to let out (instead of feeling for seam allowance through the bag lining), and there is only one layer to work with instead of two (and the subsequent number of seams).

And obviously if all the seams are finished off with a good serger, there are no fraying issues. While I understand there may be a short debate about which looks better, there are two things I take issue with when it comes to bag linings: 1) since re-sale of these dresses is so important, alterations should be A) easy to do, i.e. seams are easy to get to, and B) the fabric should be properly finished to ensure that fraying does not decrease seam allowance; and 2) if a bag lining is used, the zipper seam should be covered by it or serged. Here is a pic demonstrating what I have seen too many times – unfinished fabric edges at the zipper leaving threads to be caught (the uneven seam here is another issue).

UPDATE: OK, my editor feels I am being a wimp. “‘Unfinished seams’ are not the [only] problem with [this] neckline. The zipper and neckline are not finished properly. I can live with large, unfinished seams (especially with fused, knit fabric as in the photo). But I won’t accept the top of that zipper and neckline binding. This is extremely unprofessional and ugly.” I agree…but she says I am still being too nice…give me time!

So that brings us to the next topic….

6)There is a good way to insert zippers and neck facings.
And here’s a link that explains it all beautifully: zipper. It was a bit inside-out for me at first but now my hands just make it happen. I used to hate, detest, DESPISE zippers…no big deal now. The facing also makes all the difference in the look, even when the collar is shaped and satin-stitched. I will admit I have cut corners a time or two and not done it when my fabric is already very stiffened as on two 2-piece solos I just finished. Otherwise, I always do this.

7) Line up the pleats with the seams. This pic is of the waist seam between the center front bodice and the center front pleat (CFP). There is an OBVIOUS problem in that they do not even remotely match in size…and the CFP is not centered.

(There has been a very long pause here as I struggle to comprehend this mistake which was not made by a newbie.) Note to self – make sure pattern pieces are matched. Every time.

Why is this important? Because it looks awful and amateurish! I am assuming that the basic shape of the ID dress came from a princess line dress – it is the basis for all our patterns whether our bodice is a princess line or 0ne-piece darted. When there is one base color, lining up the pleats with the bodice seams is not as crucial…who can tell as long as the designs are centered? Looking back, there came a time when the center fronts of the dresses were done in a different color. The emphasis was still on this princess line shape so the center front bodice and CFP had to match up in width at the waist to continue the unbroken line from the neck to the hem. Makes sense to me. So, unfortunately, this take on the center front of the dress is not ready for prime-time!

8) Press, baste; press, baste; press,PRESS, baste, BASTE!!!

My mother told me this, my sewing teachers (when I was 10, 17, 20) told me this…Susan added that pressing as I went along was perhaps most important. But, I am a master with pins. I really am!!!! But not when it comes to the physics of Irish Dance dresses. Unpressed, stiffened fabric pulls no matter what is done to it. Add the Timtex and no pin can answer the call. So I press using steam with a pressing cloth and then pull out the long needles and the upholstery thread and get busy. Saves so much time and frustration in the long run. I use upholstery thread because it is thicker (and waxed in some cases) and so it pulls out easily whereas the thinner stuff breaks in the thick layers.

Susan posted a comment that I am moving here: “Along with basting and pressing – PRECISE MARKING is often overlooked in the rush to get started. I hate it. I’ve muddled through the years with tracing paper and the little rotor-nobby thing, pins, clips etc. But once I had an accurate pattern the time spent making clips/notches and baste-marking fold/pleat lines — has not been lost time because assembly goes quicker. Or it least it seems it does because it it MUCH less frustrating. Kathleen Fasanella preaches that you should spend about 80%-90% of your total time and effort in getting ready to sew. The actually construction should be the quickest and easiest part of the whole project.”

So true. And again, with these stiffened, precisely made dresses, using precise markings is really the key. I should have put this first because all of the pressing and basting can only be as clean and sharp as it must be when I have clear lines to follow. I will admit I did feel as if the work I did getting the first dress I did with Susan ready (my “training” dress) was tedious and never-ending, but when I was able to move so quickly once the sewing began, I understood completely and was a convert (really and truly, this is not a religious cult despite my many attestations to conversion!). I mark everything very carefully now, every time.

9) Do not let the skirt lining bag. Major pet peeve of mine. I am a mom that wouldn’t let her daughter out of the house (beginning at age 1 going to the park with Dad…truly have mellowed 16 years later) if the hem of her little denim jumper was turned up from the dryer. Don’t get me started on the mental illnesses associated with that… however, on something that is supposed to be as clean and crisp looking as possible, seeing the lining bagging below the hemline on an ID dress makes me nuts. Such an easy thing to avoid!

Sewn 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 lies underneath the lining. 2) Then 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 fold lines from the hem to the waist. This basically guarantees that there will never be any bagging.

Satin-stitched hem: Before I insert the stiffening, I complete step 4) from above. Then, I stitch the stiffener into the hem.

10) Take the time to learn how to satin stitch and then TAKE the time to satin stitch correctly. Nothing worse than crappy satin stitching. I saw the example below a couple of months after I started making ID dresses and had to scrape myself off the floor. Completely beyond my comprehension..the money paid for this dress…the shoddy workmanship…I was speechless and Susan laughed that humorless, sardonic laugh she uses on me when my naivete is glowing radioactively. Stunning.I should think the problems with the satin stitching in the pic above are obvious…however, I feel the need to elaborate. First, the density of the stitching is not even. The obvious assumption here is that this is hand done (as are most/all edges) which means that the stitcher is forcing the fabric through the machine. Yes, sometimes our thicker fabric is difficult to get under the foot… this is where a practice piece comes in handy. How will it move? Does it need help? Is a plate needed to accommodate the extra thickness so things move smoothly?

Second: the width of the stitches is not even…let the machine do it’s job!!!!! Stop fussing and moving things around. Guide the fabric STRAIGHT and back off. Do not push and shift.

One thing I do on edges to help with the two issues above is use tear-away to help the machine move it through smoothly as some fabrics are “sticky” like lycra or get snagged.

Here is an example as seen from the lining side of a skirt. (This hem was done in different colored sections which is why only one part is done.) After I cut the shaped hem, I attach a length of tear-away using a small zig-zag. Then I do the first round of satin-stitching (rayon here, metallic would be second round). Then I Fray-chek and tear just the area hanging below the hem which allows the second round of stitching to cover any tear-away fuzz on the bottom, but leaves the rest to protect the lining and help move it through smoothly. After the second round of stitching, I Fray-chek again and tear the rest off.

Third: learn how to get around a corner. So many different ways. I have a couple, but we all have to deal with our own temperamental machines and fingers. Before each new hem/pleat/crown, it is worth my time to refresh/refine my memory or maybe try something new. Remember to remember!

Fourth: Fray-chek and then TRIM! When done, put fray-chek on the back and points of the embroidery. Let dry…trim threads and any fuzzies. Depending on the color, I try not to put Fray-chek on the front, but sometimes it is necessary. Do a fabric test. It shows on some…others can be scratched to make it invisible.

11) Sequins: The above pic brings up another special consideration when making ID dresses… satin-stitching around sequins. I have read a lot about dealing with them, watched Susan, asked questions… they are awful. But, there are ways of making them behave.

The pic below shows the equivalent of a wash-away stabilizer. This stuff tears away perfectly. Some people use plastic bags from the dry cleaner (it stretches and pulls too much for me) and I have recently read about using Press&Seal. So, why use this? This is see-through and it keeps sequins in place while satin-stitching…no tiny pieces flying into eyes, machines, coffee… But it also helps with coverage around the edge of the sequin applique piece by covering the sharp edges of the sequins which helps keep them from poking through the stitching. However, I will go over edges twice if I need to so it is fully covered. I also digitize my designs and stitch them out on my computerized machine. I do two things that work well to get full coverage. 1) Depending on the thread I am using around the applique, I can adjust the stitch density of the stitching for better coverage, and 2) because my machine does not need to “see” to do its job, I can use a thicker tear-away (in black or white) which really keeps the sequins from poking through the thread.

All of this has been about dealing with sequins from the outside. What about the inside? Fuse it!!! Except for the fishscale sequins I have bought from NY Elegant, every length of sequin fabric begins to lose huge amounts of sequins the second it is cut if it not fused properly. So, I fuse the backside well to anchor the threads holding the sequins. There seems to be no real fool-proof way to keep sequins anchored forever (short of spraying them with a thick layer of shellac), but fusing sequin fabric that knots at the back (more expensive) is fairly reliable. I have resolved to be honest with clients about the suitability of various sequin fabrics. Some work…some will shed as you pass the judge’s table no matter what you do.

There is also the issue of sequins in the seams. There is the obvious discomfort for the dancer when they scratch; this is not an issue when the bodice is lined with a true bag lining, but I am not going to do this. Sequins caught in a seam are pierced by the needle and are prone to falling off leaving bare spots, and they do not lay flat. We tried one solution: not putting it in a seam that would bend any sequins. The first pic shows the sequin fabric folded and then sewn close to the bodice side seam. This allowed me to try and fold a line so no sequins would bend or poke and catch the fabric under the arm. Also, there is a generous fold to guard against losing sequins from the cut edge.

The second pic shows a few things. 1) The collar was made as a single piece that I attached to the bodice after the shoulder seams were sewn in the base fabric, so, no sequins in the shoulder seams. 2) The neckline is bound with the fabric from the selvage edge of the sequin fabric (only because it was already the right color!). 3) After I sewed the shaped edges of the collar to anchor it to the bodice, I satin-stitched.

The third pic shows the folding and sewing of the side bodice piece to the finished bodice. I actually cannot remember if I did the same thing at the waist, but I am assuming I did since the waist seam would fold up and cause bending of the sequins.

Have not yet had a request with sequins in the same places, but it will be interesting to see if I still feel this is the best way to handle it.

Part 3: Diary of a Daft Dressmaker

Email me: taoknitter@gmail.com


Taoknitter Arts Embroidery

Reversible stripes scarf


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M back

AD 47 dress 1a

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