This is the third post in our Sewer Feature series, which aims to highlight great sewing being done in the Irish dance community and to inspire those who may be considering sewing Irish dance costumes for the first time. We’d love to feature you too – share your own experience in the link at the bottom of the page!
Name: Natalie McKeever
Where do you live? Sacramento, California (US)
Tell us about your sewing experience. How long have you been sewing? How did you start? What do you usually sew?
My mom taught me how to sew as a teen and I have done a bit of sewing for fun over the years. I started seriously sewing when I came back to competing as a dancer about 5 years ago and wanted to make my own solo dress to have something unique and affordable.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever sewed?
I loved wearing the second solo dress I made for myself with the gold velvet and teal brocade [right]. It had lots of special details. I based the design off of ancient Viking and Celtic jewelry and it had a digitally printed cape of an ancient Viking brooch.
How did you get involved with Irish dance?
I started Irish dancing when I was 10 years old with the DeNogla School of Irish Dance in New Jersey. My family heritage is mostly Irish-American so I loved connecting to the music and culture through dance. As a young dancer I achieved the level of Preliminary Champion, recalled in solos at the Regional Championships several times, and qualified for the North American National Championships as well. I stopped dancing at the end of high school and studied art and film in college and grad school. I started dancing again (about 13 years later) when I moved to Sacramento where my sister Nicole has her school the McKeever School of Irish Dance. As an adult dancing with McKeever I reached some of my highest dancing achievements! I earned the rank of Open Champion, passed the 12 Grade Exams with Distinction and Honors, and competed with McKeever on our Senior Ladies 8-Hand Ceili team at the World Championships. During this competitive era I exclusively wore solo dresses that I designed and made!
What pattern did you use for the dresses you’re sharing?
2nd, 3rd, and 4th Edition Solo Dress
What was your favorite part of the process?
I am a professional digital/video artist, so it is really satisfying to get off of the computer and use my creative skills to make something in real life and then wear it on stage!
What was the most challenging part for you?
There was a lot of trial and error for me and it can be so disappointing to bring out the seam ripper and redo something. The first dress or two I made without the aid of a dress form so getting that fit just right on oneself without one was especially challenging. That zipper can be so frustrating! Learning how to finish the dress nicely on the inside took a little time to learn as well. My craftsmanship has gotten better with each dress!
Where do you get your design inspiration?
I get a lot of inspiration from fashion or runway designs. My first dress was inspired by McQueen’s “shipwreck” dress. I also like to remember that these are costumes for stage and so it is fun to have a bit of an abstract feeling or character that you interpret into the costumes. You should feel transformed when you wear your costume on stage! I also let the fabric inspire me. I do not have embroidery capability so I like to find unique fabrics with lots of texture and build the design from there.
What would you tell sewers thinking of making a costume for the first time?
I have many years of art and design experience, but I was definitely a novice seamstress when I made my first dress, so even though it is challenging it is possible! I felt that making my own dresses gave me a lot of confidence on stage. I really got to craft my look and be unique. I would start by making a few dresses with simple fabric like muslin so that you can work through the process. Make notes on your pattern especially if you do not use it frequently, you will forget your discoveries from dress to dress.
What’s your next sewing adventure?
I’ve started to make dresses for dancers in my community which is so exciting!
At this point Natalie is only making custom dresses for dancers at her school, but she does have a few “off the rack” dresses for sale. If anyone is interested in seeing these we are happy to share her email.
Interested in being featured? We’d love to hear from you whether you are a first-timer or a seasoned sewer! See details and submit your story in the form below. Profiles chosen will receive a 20% OFF coupon to use on our website.