Tips for a Successful Dress Mock-Up

“Make a mock-up”, we say! “Check the fit before you start”, we say! Well what does that mean?

Generally that it’s not too tight, too loose, too long, too short, no funny bunching, or gaping, or anywhere uncomfortable. Easy enough, right? In this post, I want to highlight how to set yourself up for success with your mock-up, as well as the six things I always check!

For a comprehensive resource on making adjustments to your patterns, check out our PDF Pattern Alterations for Better Fit Guide.

The dancer should wear thin clothing similar to what they would wear under their actual costume. This may be a thin, fitted, t-shirt, tank, or only a sports bra. If the dancer is old enough to wear a bra, it’s important that they wear their dance/performance bra for this. Especially for busty dancers this can make a huge difference in the fit!

I also recommend bare legs (ie. shorts) if the dancer usually performs in bare legs. I’ve had more than one dancer say the length is fine when they were wearing leggings, and then later they try the dress on with bare legs and feel that it is a bit short for their comfort. The closer they can dress to the real thing, the better! (For those who compete in tights this is generally less of an issue, but I’d still avoid loose pants, even if they are very light-weight; stick to shorts or leggings.)

It’s always nice to have someone besides the dancer fitting a mock-up, but if you are sewing for yourself, this may not be an option. If you are fitting a mock-up on yourself, baste a zipper into the center-back. It’s almost impossible to pin the center-back seam while you’re wearing it, so using a zipper will ensure that seam is connecting as intended. It also makes for faster on-and-off if you need to take the mock-up off to pin something.

Simply, can the dancer get their shoulders down and back into the posture they dance in? This may be a little farther back than their usual upright posture, and those with hypermobility may especially need a little extra width! If the dress is too tight across the front, widen the armscye (armhole) slightly. I usually leave the top point of the armscye where it is unless it seems too high up on the shoulder.

Similarly to the last one, can the dancer reach forward? Enough to put on their shoes, or catch themselves if they fell? If more width is needed you can alter the back in the same manor as the front. Irish dance definitely isn’t known for excessive arm movement, but we still want to be safe and practical!

The dropped-waist seam (seam between skirt and bodice) shouldn’t sit lower than where the dancer’s hip naturally creases. If it does, it is likely to restrict movement on high kicks. This can be remedied by shortening the bodice (where marked in the pattern), and lengthening the skirt the same amount so the overall length remains the same but the seam sits higher.

A mock-up is usually done out of thin fabric such as muslin cotton (we recommend paper for the skirt). But it’s almost guaranteed that the real dress is going to be thicker and heavier. Especially where the skirt frame sits at the hips. What seems loose and baggy in the mock-up will fit like a glove in the real dress. Make sure to keep the correct amount of ease throughout the bodice circumference. We recommend:

2 inches at bottom of bodice (1.5 for small kids)
1 inch at waist
1.5-2 inches at bust (1.5 for small kids)

When pinched at each side as shown in the photo, 2 inches of ease will look like two 1/2-inch tucks. 1 inch of ease will look like two 1/4-inch tucks.

The neckline will eventually be finished off by satin stitching – this means that it isn’t very alterable later on. If the neckline is tight and uncomfortable, carve it out now. If it’s loose and gaping, you can make it higher.

For necklines that are too loose but have a collar, another option is to leave the neckline where it is, and simply take a tuck in the collar so it angles in closer to the neck. In this photo we took a tuck with a safety pin, which we can transfer to the pattern for a tighter-fitting collar.

If the dress is too tight in the hips, it will ride up in the back, causing horizontal wrinkles across the back waist and bottom of bodice. The best solution for this is to let out the bodice at the side seams, and increase the skirt width the same amount (slash and spread the back skirt pattern vertically near where it hits the side seam to add the appropriate width). This issue can be harder to spot when the skirt is only added in the front, as I have done. Using a paper skirt all the way around will provide a better representation of the fit at the hips and bum.


If you enjoyed this post, check out our Fit Guide, or more blog posts about alterations!

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