Monday, June 17, 2013

Evolution of a Solo dress

I sew enough to be dangerous. I can make a mean hair accessory and sew up award winning Halloween costumes (Cinderella Sisters circa 2005). I feel very proficient with my three machines: my grandma's Kenmore workhorse, my Singer Future CE-150 embroidery machine, and a Project Runway Brother basic sewing machine Santa brought for the girls a few years ago that has a permanent spot with all purpose thread for quick projects.

That all said, attempting an Irish dance Solo dress is WAY out of my league. But necessity IS the mother of invention and with two girls quickly advancing in the competitive Irish dancing world who each need their own Solo competition dresses sooner than later, well, here we are. Both girls qualified for Nationals in late July. I found a used dress that Teagan loves and bargained on the price, getting it for $325. It was $1200 new. It's an older style and was well loved (translation: many of the sequins have come off due to wear and I'll need to replace them. The damaged area are under the arm and on the side and do not show on stage, but I want to fix it up for Teagan, and for resale. Piper couldn't find anything she remotely liked in the $300 price range. So this journey began. And I'd like to have a dress made by mid July.

Teagan's dress!! She wanted neon orange. I love how the blue tones it down.

A $2,000 Gavin (BIG name designer) dress we liked. Notice the "soft" skirt which is the newer style versus the firm embroidered style in Teagan's dress.

I'm foolish to think I can accomplish this, but somehow, I believe that I am going to be successful. I have not written in this blog in over a year, but I wanted to record the costs and the process and this is as good of a place as any.

So far I have spent about 40 hours doing research. I have joined a dressmakers forum specifically for those who sew these dresses and I have learned a lot and taken pages upon pages of notes. The main thing I have learned is that there are no beginning to end patterns to follow. Irish dresses are subject to fashion trends, and the only pattern on the market is very "old school" and hopelessly outdated, rendering it pretty much useless. There was a Simplicity Halloween costume years ago that had "good bones" but it is out of print and very expensive if you can find one on eBay. There is feisdress pattern, again expensive and the skirt is not of the current style. They do sell the bodice separately now, and I might end up going that way if I can't come up with a bodice on my own. There are several commercial patterns that have the appropriate basics, but all of them need some modification. It should have a drop waist and princess seams are best. Suggested patterns were Burda 9761, Simplicity 2843, Vogue 8570, ad Kwik Sew 3110. Several of those I was unable to find, or were for adults, so I opted to go with the Burda pattern- a flower girl/communion style. The sleeves are very wrong, and the neckline needs to be raised and the armsyce apparently lowered. It's my starting point.

Piper had a design idea, I modified it to what I think I have a reasonable chance of executing. I'm sure it will evolve even more as I go along and ht my limitations in areas. For now, we are thinking a velvet bodice with a star theme embroidery. Probably a circle skirt in 2 layers made of twinkle satin. The cape on the back will be a repeat of the star embroidery. Piper is thinking turquoise blue as the main color with a bright lime green as the secondary color with silver highlights.

So pleased with the sample star applique I made!

Irish Solo dresses have a very defined silhouette where the skirt sticks out (and stays out). The BNDM (an acronynm I finally figured out on the forums: Big Name Dress Makers) keep the construction secret. It's big business, these dresses. New BNDM dresses cost $1200-$2000+. Dresses from independent smaller dress makers run at least $600, usually much closer to $800-$1000. Used "old style" dresses we were looking at- around $400. I found a very helpful dress maker in Ireland who, after altering many BNMD dresses and being able to closely inspect their construction, was able to create a pattern for the frame the dress rests on. She offered her frame pattern and a sample mock up (a very helpful surprise in the package!) for 25 British pounds. Money well spent, and my first purchase.

What have I spent so far:
(*= a coupon was used. I have tried to use a 40% off coupon at Joann or Hobby Lobby when I can)
$40 skirt frame pattern
$10.80* 3 yards Pellon 70 Ultra Firm (I totally guessed on needed yardage- think I have much more than I'll need)
$14.40* 3 yards of braided sequin trim
$7.17 Burda pattern
$5* 4 yards of cotton muslin for the mock-up
$3.50* package of two gemstone buttons
$6.50 small and large star embroidery pattern (may need to go back and purchase the medium as well)
$5.09 5yds Rigilene Polyester Boning
$2.70 stiff white netting
$9 Fabric samples from SY fabrics. Fabrics in Motion and Stretch House sent them for free.
$1 shirt to make body double dress form (could have used and old one, but Piper didn't have any she wanted to sacrifice)
$3.50 fiberfill for dress form
$0 Duct tape for dress form (already had on hand)
$4.50* white ruffle trim
$8.50 1 yard turquoise crystal satin from ebay
$40 3 yards florescent lime twinkle satin from WhiteLodge fabrics in the UK
$33.16 2 yrds sparkle teal/turquoise velvet from Fabrics in Motion
Tonight we'll tape up Piper. I'll put her in the $1 clearance T shirt and duct tape her torso to make a body double. Then I'll cut it off, like a jacket and tape it back up. I'll put a sturdy hanger in the top, stuff it with fiber fill and seal it up- voila! Instant (and cheap) dress form.

I need to look at the skirt frame pattern size choices (they seem UK sized and I can't just go by number, so I'll have to measure Pip and then pick a size I think is best). Then I can cut out the Pellon and boning and make the frame.

My task for tomorrow is to look at the Burda pattern and see if I can begin to make a muslin mock up of a bodice with the appropriate adjustments using the homemade dress form (and the actual kid too!).

We loved one of the fabric samples that came today. It's the front runner by far for the bodice. It's a sparkle velvet where the sparkle is woven in (so nothing flakes off like in many of the other samples). I have no idea what yardage I'll need. I have to have my muslin bodice pattern figured out first. The skirt will likely be 3-5 fabrics + the netting and spandex that will cover the completed frame. I know I need a poly/cotton to line each of the bodice pieces since I think we'll be selecting a stretch velvet and we don't want it to stretch. I'll be able to get that with a 40% off coupon. I also need stabilizer for the embroidery. I have some on hand, but not yet sure exactly what kinds and what yardage.

And we're off..... Photobucket