Tutorial for Tiaras & Headpieces

Hello!  We’ve had some requests to make a tutorial for our tiara and headpiece embroidery files…so here you go!  This method could work with free-hand embroidery too, or with any design that you digitize yourself.


– Fabric for background
– Dress stiffener or extra-heavy interfacing.  We recommend S80 Vilene or Pellon 70 (or 72). Fusible optional not necessary.
– 1/4-inch wide ribbon (8-12 inches), for bobby pin loops
Embroidery file
-Tear-away or wash-away embroidery stabilizer
– Embroidery topper, such as Solvy, if working with velvet

Video Tutorial:

Have you made a tiara or side-piece from one of our files?  Share a photo in the comments below!

If you like this content, check out our Solo Dress Video Masterclass!

Drafting the “Flippy Skirt”

What is the style that you’re calling “flippy skirt”?

The “flippy skirt” style has grown in popularity over the last couple years, mainly due to its use by Eire Designs/Gavin Doherty*.  I was asked to draft one last month, so I thought I’d create a little tutorial so you can draft your own at home.

This style is similar to a circle skirt, but with the fullness concentrated into little wedges, like springy box pleats.  Extra fullness at the bottom, but not at the top of the skirt.  On some of these dresses, the wedges are done in a contrasting color, but the skirt panel is all one piece regardless of color.

So how do we draft one?  Let’s dig in!

Planning and Preparation

The first thing to do is to decide how many “wedges” you want on both the front and back.  All three of the dresses shown above have 6 across the front, but you could do however many you want.  I’ll do 6.  The back skirt panel is actually the back and side of the skirt combined, so there really isn’t a reason to place them all the way across the back panel; leave some room at the side for the dancer’s arms, as shown in the photo of the neon yellow dress.

I’m going to be doing this draft digitally, but I’ll assume most people are using a pencil and paper.  Here are the tools you’ll need:

–Your single-panel skirt front and back pattern pieces; save the originals!  (View I in our 4th Ed. patterns.  Use Skirt Blocks for older editions)
–Large paper (newsprint, craft paper, butcher paper, printer sheets taped together, etc)
–Ruler, preferably a grid ruler
–French curve (recommended)

The Draft

  1. Trace your skirt front pattern piece onto a new sheet of paper.  Add 1 inch of seam allowance along the top edge.  Don’t add seam allowance elsewhere, and don’t erase the top edge of the pattern, which is the dropped waist seam line.  See my two lines up top?  Some of the older editions of the pattern have seam allowance built in.  Ignore it by tracing the dropped waist seam line, then drawing your own inch of seam allowance above that.
  2. Now that we have our skirt ready to go, we need to determine the placement of the wedges.  We’ll start by drawing a line representing the center of each wedge.  An easy way to get them evenly spaced, is to divide the top and bottom edges of the pattern by twice the amount of wedges you want (top = dropped waist line, not added seam allowance line).  I’m doing 6, which is 3 each side of the front panel, so I divided my front into 6 pieces.  Then we’ll erase every other line, as shown.  See how I have 3 dark lines remaining (2 light ones erased)?  3 lines = 3 wedges.
  3. Next we’ll draw the outlines of the wedge.  These can be a bit tricky to visualize, because they won’t be quite as wide when they’re springy and 3D; you have to imagine them pressed flat.  A good rule of thumb is to take the distance between lines, and divide evenly in 3, so 1/3 goes to one wedge, 1/3 to the other, with 1/3 in the middle.  You can definitely make them larger, but I wouldn’t go much smaller.  The wider the blue angle, the bigger and fuller the wedges will be.
    Notice that I’m taking the angled lines all the way to the seam allowance line.  This is important.
  4. Number your wedges to help keep things straight later.  On each half, write an A or B as shown below.  Number the spaces between the wedges as well, with another system.  Perhaps 101, 102, 103, etc.
  5. Now we have all our “information” and we can make pattern pieces from the lines we just drew.  For each wedge, we will want 1 piece the full width of the wedge (blue line to blue line, in the image above).  This is the red in the illustration below, and I’m going to call it the “front”.  The “red front” of each wedge.  Trace those lines onto fresh paper to create 3 (or your amount) of red fronts, labeled 1, 2, and 3.Then we’ll also create pieces for each half of the wedge (blue to black line).  Let’s call them the “yellow sides”.  These need to be labeled with the A or B, since each piece is a little different.  When you’re finished you’ll have twice as many yellows as reds, and they’ll be labeled 1A, 1B, 2A, etc.Lastly, we’ll trace the sections in-between the wedges.  Pay attention here:  this is NOT blue line to blue line, but black center line to black center line.  Instead of tracing, you *could* just cut apart your template to create these last shapes, but I suggest leaving it intact in case you need to refer to it later.  These will be the “greens” below.  When tracing, mark the seam line near the top.  It’s not necessary to mark the seam line on the top of the others.See below, how I’ve created and labeled my three types of shapes
  6. Well now putting them together is really quite easy.  The main thing to remember is that ALL the yellow wedges need to be placed upside down (underside of the paper facing upwards).  I have notated this with a stripy coloring.  Each wedge will follow the same pattern and we’ll work from center-front outwards.
    Step 1:  Green skirt piece
    Step 2:  Yellow piece A upside down
    Step 3:  Red piece
    Step 4:  Yellow piece B upside down
    Repeat until the last green panel is attached.
  7. So we’ve created our shape, and now it’s time to simplify it a bit.  It will likely be easier to look at if you trace it onto a fresh piece of paper (or not, hey it’s up to you).  Each yellow-red-yellow section represents the complete wedge.  If you wanted to make the wedges in a contrasting color, that would be where you’d seam the two fabrics.  Go ahead and outline the wedges, as shown below.  I also like to trace the interior lines for a short bit near the top (lines between yellow and red).  That just helps remind me how this is going to get tucked into the dropped waist seam.
  8. Now let me draw your attention back to the original image.  See how the hem is higher in the middle of the wedge?  We need to do that.  Decide how much higher you want it to be, and draw a line up from the hem that distance.  Then we’ll redraw our hemline, so that it curves up at the center of each wedge.  Don’t alter the hemline outside of the wedge.

  9. And that’s our piece drafted really!  The back will work the same way.

One thing to note on the fronts, is that we’d normally cut it on the fold, but can’t because it curves so much.  That means we need to be a bit creative with our cutting.  I suggest cutting it out in 2-3 pieces and seaming together.  Do it at a different spot for each layer of material, so that  you don’t end up wit a real bulky seam anywhere.  Here are a few suggestions:

Sewing the Skirt

Like I said before, the “wedges” are indicated as a pie-shaped piece between solid lines. When completed, the solid lines should meet behind the bubble. I would start by assembling the skirt panel as usual, with the outer, base, and lining layers.

Once each panel is complete, fold with lining sides together so that the solid lines are lined up (like you’re sewing a dart). Stitch along the lines, from the top edge, just a little past the dropped waist seam (1.5 inches total?), to create the wedge.

Center the bubble on short “seam” you just sewed. The little lines on the pattern inside each wedge show where the bubble will get folded as it’s pressed down at the top of the skirt. They don’t need to be marked, I just thought they may help to visualize it.


If you have any questions, please drop them in the comments.  This is a funky skirt to draft, but so much fun!  Happy sewing!


*All dress photos in this post are copyright of Eire Designs/Gavin Doherty.

Introducing the 4th Edition Solo Dress Pattern!

We’re so excited to share this pattern with you.  With improved sizing and new features, we believe it’s our best yet!  Read more about it below, or click here to purchase.

4th Ed. in green. 3rd Ed. in purple.

Built on entirely new blocks, this pattern offers great fit while creating a garment that moves and sits well on the dancer.  New blocks don’t sound fancy or exciting, but we’re really pleased with the fit on these, and hope you will be too.  The shoulder, armhole, and chest fit better on most dancers, and new shaping in the back bodice gives improved fit to the lower-back and bum, lessening the need for ‘sway-back’ adjustments. This pattern also features a higher skirt angle than previous versions.

Our Ladies sizes have been greatly expanded (30-52 bust), and we’re especially excited to be offering bust-cup adjustments as an add-on for our Ladies sizes.  These options give the user much more customization when it comes to overall fit.  Check out our blog post on why Bust Cup Adjustments are so beneficial.  Girls sizes have stayed within the same general range, but with the addition of one smaller size for your tiniest dancers!  You can find our new size charts here.
This pattern offers all your favorite bodice and skirt styles from previous versions, with the addition of the Slim Sleeve (previously an add-on) and a new single-panel skirt with small tucks at the side-front and side-back. Our instructions are more comprehensive than ever, covering construction, embellishment, pattern modification, common fit issues, and more.
Video Masterclass
Sew along with Earnest Threads owner and dressmaker Mattie Ernst through each step of creating a solo dress; from the first design sketches to the final stitches!  Featuring 27 video sections (6 hours of content) that users can work through in their own time.
The class starts by talking about the shape and features of a solo dress, as well as some factors to consider when creating a design.  We discuss different types of fabric, options for embroidery or other embellishment, and look at the necessary notions and tools.  The rest will follow along with dressmaker Mattie as she builds a dress from start to finish; touching on all the features in the sewing pattern, as well as some extra tips and tricks.
We’ve wanted to create this for a long time, and we’re glad it could finally happen.  For the best experience we recommend purchasing the 4th Ed. pattern for use with this class, and offer a $5 discount when they’re purchased together.  Click here for more info.
PDF Patterns
New features for our digital patterns include Copyshop (A0) documents (no need to tape printer pages together) and Adobe Layers (so you can print off only the sizes you want)!  We’ve also re-formatted our Letter/A4 documents, making them easier than ever to assemble.
Three ‘add-on’ patterns are sold separately:
Bust-Cup Adjustments: A-, C-, and D-cup versions of our standard and princess-seam bodices.  These will give a more tailored fit for busty or flat-chested dancers.
The Embroidery Bodice: An alternative bodice with strategic dart placement ideal for all-over embroidery
The Soft Capes: Three soft, unstructured capes.
Upgrade Discount
We are happy to offer a 40% discount to customers who have bought a previous version of the pattern.  As always, the discount is for sizes you have previously purchased, so since our sizes have changed we’ve included a little key for “equivalent sizes”.  Please email us after ordering to let us know you are looking for the discount.
1ST-3RD ED.  = 4TH ED.
Girls 5-8         = Girls 4-14
Girls 10-16      = Girls 4-14
Ladies 6-12    = Ladies 0-12
Ladies 14-20 = Ladies 0-12 or 10-22 (either, not both)

An Ode to Bust Cup Adjustments

Our new 4th Ed. Irish dance solo dress pattern is coming out soon with a Bust Cup Adjustment add-on!  Our fashion line also includes these options, but we’re thrilled to be able to offer this feature in our Irish dance patterns too!  I thought this was a great time to talk about why cup adjustments are amazing, how different cup sizes influence the fit of the pattern, and how to determine your own bust cup size.


What are Pattern Bust Cups?

While pattern cup sizes use the same A, B, C, D, DD, etc classifications as bras, they are based upon different measurements.  Bra cups are measured as the difference between the circumference of the full bust and the circumference of the ribcage right below the breasts.  This makes sense, because we want a good-fitting anchor around our ribcage, and cups that will extend the proper distance out from that to perfectly hug our boobs.  Pattern cup sizes on the other hand, are based on the difference between the full bust and the ribcage ABOVE it.  It’s common for your bra cup and pattern cup to be different.


How do they influence the fit of the garment?

Most commercial patterns are drafted with a pattern B-cup, which assumes a 2-inch difference between those measurements.  If the company doesn’t give any information on this in their sizing, you can usually assume it’s a B.  When using a pattern, we choose our size based on our full bust measurement, but flat- or full-chested folks will tell you that this doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a good fit.

Imagine you get a breast-reduction or -addition procedure.  Your full bust measurement will change, but your ribcage and skeleton will remain the same.  This is what we are changing when we adjust the bust cup size of our pattern.  In the image to the left, we see four patterns, all size 6, with A- (pink), B- (orange), C- (green), and D- (blue) cups.  As the cup increases, we see the bust widen, but the shoulders and waist remain the same width.  We also see the pattern lengthen, since it will be a slightly longer distance over a large bust than a small one.

Let’s compare that to two patterns that have the same full bust measurement.  To the right, we have a size 6 with a D cup (blue, 37 inch bust), and a size 10 with an A cup (pink, also 37 inch bust).  In the A-cup (pink), the bust width is pretty evenly split between the back and front, but in the D-cup (blue), more if it has been shifted towards the front.  The D-cup also has a smaller shoulder.  If we picture the wearers of these two patterns, the A-cup wearer will have a bigger frame (skeleton, shoulders, ribcage, etc) than the D-cup wearer.  If both were to wear regular B-cup garments based off their bust measurement, the A-cup’s dress would be tight in the shoulders and armhole.  The D-cup’s dress on the other hand would have a lot of excess in the shoulder with gaping armholes.


How to determine your own cup size

Wear thin clothing, and a normal, lightly padded bra (or the type of bra you expect to wear with the garment you’re measuring for). Stand up straight with ears, shoulders, hips, and feet in alignment. Always have a second person do the measuring, as this will yield much more accurate results than attempting to take your own measurements.

Full Bust: wrap the tape measure around the largest part of the bust, level with the floor. Don’t pull the tape measure too snugly, or you will underestimate the measurement.

High Chest: wrap the tape measure around the upper chest; under the arms but above the main part of the breast. Pull the tape measure snugly. It may not be parallel with the floor.

A 2-inch difference in the High Chest and Full Bust measurements is considered a “pattern B-cup” (a difference of 1″ = A-cup, 3″ = C-cup, 4″ = D-cup, 5”=DD-cup, etc). Round to the closest whole number, or round up if exactly half-way in-between.

Choose your bust size based on the High Chest measurement, and your cup based off your Full Bust measurement.


Adjust existing patterns using a Full Bust or Small Bust Adjustment

Using a pattern with cup adjustments is all fine and good, but what about if you need to change the cup size of an existing pattern?  The Full Bust Adjustment (to increase the cup size) is fairly well known, but as a flat-chested person I’d like to give a shout-out to the Small Bust Adjustment (to decrease cup size) too!  Both alterations change the width of the bust without changing the shoulders, armhole, or waist.  We offer guidance on these alterations and much more in our guide “Pattern Alterations for Better Fit”, which can be found here.

Welcome to Earnest Threads!

Hello!  We’re so glad you’re here.

We’re currently working on a pattern sloper and will soon be looking for testers for our first two women’s fashion patterns.  We’re excited to begin offering a variety of sewing patterns including wardrobe staples, artful accents, and practical accessories.

We began developing patterns for Irish dancing costumes under the name Gúna Rince in 2016.  We will be continuing those patterns in what will be known as our Gúna Rince line (they’ll move from our old website this spring).  We’ve also moved all those old blog posts here so everything stays together.

Apart from sewing patterns, we also make and sell a variety of eco-printed textile goods and accessories.  Check our Etsy store to see what we’ve been working on.

Stay tuned for further updates by subscribing to our email list at the bottom of the website.

Constructing Skirt Pieces

Hello! I’ve got a photo tutorial for you today. I’ll go through the steps to construct lined skirt pieces, such as those used in Skirts II, IV, V, VI, and VII in the 3rd Edition of the pattern.

Each piece of the skirt is made of 3 layers:
1. Fashion fabric – Our top layer, the main visible fabric of the dress.
2. Skirt base or stiffener – Stiff panels would have a layer of stiffener such as (Pellon 70 or Vilene S80). Soft panels still need some support; I like Pellon 40 Mid-weight Sew-in (Vilene M12/312 is supposed to be similar).
3. Lining fabric – Usually satin, often in a contrasting color.





1.  The first photo (left) is my fashion fabric.  It’s a black microvelvet, and it was very flimsy, so I fused it with Pellon Shape-Flex.  This isn’t necessary for most fabrics, so you’d just have the fabric.  For all intents and purposes, this Velvet/Shapeflex combo is 1 layer.

2.  In the second photo (right), I’ve added the Base layer, which in this case is Pellon 70.  The piece I am photographing is skirt front piece C from the 3-panel skirt.  If you are creating a soft skirt panel, you’d use a softer base material, as I stated above.  I’ll note that the 3 dots near the center of the base layer are only references for embroidery placement.  Baste the two layers (fabric and base) together around the edges.  You can see this done in the next photo.





3.  The next step is to do your decoration, whether it be embroidery, topstitching on appliqués, pre-made trim, or any number of things.  You can see I’ve added some machine embroidery here (left photo).

4. Trim the seam allowance off of the bottom edge of the Base layer. As you can see from the photo (right), I’m doing a shaped hemline so I trimmed to that shape. If you’re keeping it straight, you would just trim straight across. For soft panels, this isn’t necessary. You can leave it in, as you’ll see in the next photos.

***This tutorial will use a seamed edge sewn with right sides together. Another option, as stated in the Pattern Instructions, is to stack fabric, base, and lining, trim away bottom seam allowance from all, and satin stitch the edge. If you do that, you can skip to step 7***





5. Pin the lining fabric to the fashion fabric with right sides together. Stitch together along the hemline.

The left photo shows the piece I have been working with in the previous steps. The right photo is a soft panel from the back of the skirt. You can see that on that one, I didn’t trim the base layer out of the seam first.

6. If you have a shaped edge like me, trim the seam allowance to 1/4″ and clip curves as necessary. If your hem is straight/normal, this is not necessary.


7. For a straight hemline, you want to under-stitch by pressing the seam allowance towards the lining, and stitching it down 1/16″ from the seam (top photo). To clarify, the stitching will go through the lining fabric plus the seam allowance of all 3 layers, but not the base or fashion fabric. This does two things. It keeps the shape of the hem edge smooth by reinforcing it with a second line of stitching. Secondly and most importantly, it keeps the lining fabric from scootching around to the outside of the dress, which would look horrible.

Now for a shaped hemline like mine (middle photo), it’s difficult to under-stitch because of the angles and corners (OK mine’s pretty mild so I probably could have, but I wanted to show you this other option). Instead, turn the skirt piece right side out and pin the hem edge flat, as I’ve done in the right-hand photo. Be sure the fashion fabric is showing just a tad on the edge, as my black velvet is doing. You don’t want that lining making an appearance! Finish the edge with a line of top-stitching 1/4″ away from the hem (bottom photo). It doesn’t have to be exactly 1/4″, and if you have embroidery right near the edge, it’s best to run it along the edge of the embroidery, which will disguise it. Now this velvet of mine pretty much hides anything (evidence by how much I had to over-expose this photo to even show it), but if you’re worried about how it looks you can always use clear quilting thread.

8. Whichever method you used, give your hem edge (now turned right-side out) a nice press! If you used the under-stitching method, make sure your fashion fabric is rolling around the edge, like in the middle photo. You don’t want the lining peaking around to the outside.








9. Get your lining fabric laying all flat and nice, and baste around the side and top edges of the piece (left photo).

10. Usually my lining ends up with some extra at the edges. If this happened to you, trim it off now, so the edges are clean and even.

That’s it! After constructing all your panels, consider checking out this post on stitching them to the under-skirts and sewing the side-pleat. Coming soon, a tutorial for constructing the 3-panel skirt.

Happy sewing!

Modifying the Skirt Shape (changing the angle or hem)

In this post I’ll go over some pattern drafting techniques you can use to modify the shape of the skirt.  These all involve cutting, splicing, or trimming the pattern piece.  I’d recommend tracing a copy to use, so you don’t destroy the original.


1.  Changing the hemline



2.  Changing the angle of the sides.


1 – Changing the Hemline

1 – Start with the Skirt Block Front (10) and Back (11).  Draw the desired new hemline on the bottom of the skirt blocks.  If you’re going for a longer hemline, you’ll have to tape some excess paper to the bottom, so you have somewhere to draw.

2 – Fold the side pleat over to check the hem length on it.  It should be about 1/2″ or more above the skirt hemline.  You don’t want to risk it sticking out.  Redraw the hemline on the side pleat as I have done, if needed to maintain that 1/2″ difference.  Since you just drew on the back of the pattern, be sure to transfer it to the front so you don’t forget about it : )

3 – I just showed the front, but don’t forget the back too!  If you are making Skirt View VI or VII (single-panel), you’re now done.  Enjoy!

For Skirt Views I, II, III, and IV:

4 – Divide the hem edge into 4.  Ignore the side pleat, so you’re just dividing between the center-front (or -back) and the side pleat fold line.  If you want to be more precise, you can divide into 6 or 8 instead.  I’ve shown it with 4 here just to make a simpler visual.

5 – Measure the distance from the old hem to the new hem at each of the divisions.  I’ve written my distances on my pattern piece below.

6 – On your skirt front and back (16-17, or 18-19), divide the hem edge into 4 (or 6 or 8), the same way you did in step 4.  Mark your distances up or down from the hem and connect the dots with a smooth line.  The new line should make a 90º angle with the center-front and center-back.

For Skirt V or Seven Panel Skirts Add-on:

7 – Fold Pieces (20) and (22) along the fold lines and match up notches with piece (21) to simulate how the pieces will fit when assembled.  They will be the same shape as the Skirt Block Front.  Lay the Skirt Block Front overtop and trace the new hemline onto pieces 20-22.  Do the same thing with pieces 23-24 and the Skirt Block Back.

8.  Previously in step 2 we adjusted the side pleat so that it was 1/2″ above the new hemline.  We’ll need to do the same thing to the pleats in the 3-panel skirt.  To clarify, these are the pleats where the edges of 20 and 21 meet, 21 and 22 meet, and 23 and 24 meet.  Measure up that 1/2″ to see if you need to shave a little off the inside of the pleats.

2 – Changing the Angle of the Sides

1 – Draw the new desired angle on the Skirt Block Front (10) first.  Trace it onto the Skirt Block Back (11), Under-skirt Back (15), and Under-skirt Front (14) if using. On the Skirt Back (11), the angle will start from the top edge.  From all other pieces, it will start from the Dropped Waist Seam Line.

**Make sure they are all the same angle, this is very important!**


Decreasing Angle


Increasing Angle


2 – Cut the pattern piece along the side-pleat line.  Angle it in or out so that the cut edge lines up with the new drawn line.  See the graphics below.  Redraw the edge of the pieces along the joins as needed to create a smooth shape.


Decreasing Angle


Increasing Angle


3 – Depending on how much the angle was changed, it’s possible the side pleat may now poke out the bottom, which is not desirable!  Scroll up to step 2 of the 1st tutorial (way at the top) for directions on how to modify the hemline of the side pleat if necessary.

Lining and the Center-Back Skirt Seam

The center-back seam allowance of the skirt is never pretty.  The skirt gets lined, usually in beautiful contrasting fabric that flashes when the dancer kicks, but the bulky seam allowance always stands out, looking gross and un-finished.  Due to the way the skirt is constructed, and the fact that the center-back is an alteration point, there is really no way to hide the seam allowance completely, so I like to bind the center-back seam allowance in lining fabric.  You can do it two ways:

1. Leave extra seam allowance on that edge when cutting the lining fabric.  To figure out how much lining seam allowance to cut, double the seam allowance of your other fabrics on that edge and add 1/8″.  So instead of 1″ you’d cut 2 1/8″, or instead of 1 1/2″ you’d cut 3 1/8″.

Press over 1/4″ of the lining and fold it up and around the edge of the skirt panel to the top.  It should end up about 1/4″ away from the center-back seam line.  Don’t let it sit closer than 1/4″, as you don’t want it to interfere with the seam.  Pin the edge down as shown below and stitch along the edge.

2.  If you’ve already cut out the lining and weren’t able to add an extra inch or two, you can also just cut a strip of lining fabric and bind the edge in the standard way, like you would with bias tape…really really wide bias tape!  Except it doesn’t need to be cut on the bias, since you’re binding a straight edge.  Just like in the previous description, don’t let it sit within 1/4″ of the seam line.

If you ever need to let the center-back seam out, the wrapped fabric can just be folded back or removed completely.

Here are a few photos of a dress from a couple years ago.  This one was done with the second method of using a separate piece.

Choosing the Right Fabric

[two_third]There are many types of fabrics commonly used for Irish Dance costumes.  These are a few of the most popular.

Satin is probably the most common fabric used currently, and also can be the easiest to work with.  Satin is the glossiest option, though you’ll find quite a bit of variety in the amount of shine between different types. Use a thicker “duchess satin” that has some structure, rather than a thin “satin charmeuse”, which is widgy and frustrating to work with.  Charmeuse can work as a skirt lining, but not for anything structural.

Dupioni Silk
Dupioni silk used to be very popular, and still is for some dressmakers.  It has a beautiful sheen, which is different from glossy satin, and is easy to use.  Some varieties are more textured than others, so pick according to what fits your design.  That being said, silk doesn’t always hold up as well over a long period of time, and tends to show scarring from alterations.

Gabardine is also a popular option, but it has more of a matte look.  Most gabardines are fairly sturdy, making it a great option for team costumes as well as solo dresses.  It doesn’t scar as easy as other dress fabrics, so it will last longer and look better after multiple alterations.  Gabardine doesn’t have as “fancy” of a look, which may be a pro or con depending on the dancer and the dress design.

Velvet is another popular choice.  It has a great richness and depth of color under stage lights.  Velvet will give you the deepest stage black (I never use anything else for black).  That being said, velvet is going to be a bit trickier to work with.  Its bulk can quickly add up, so I’d look for a micro-velvet that is more lightweight.  Velvet can be found made from a variety of fibers.  In my experience, cotton velvet is easiest to work with, but polyester velvet has the best sheen.  Unfortunately, velvet does show alterations annoyingly well, as the pile gets crushed where seams have previously been.  Apply some heavy steam and ‘brush’ the fabric along the grain with a scrap of velvet to help smooth the pile and reduce the visual evidence of scarring.

Sheer Sleeves
The new trend towards slimmer and sheer sleeves brings new fabrics into the ID world.  Organza is sometimes used, though depending on the slimness of the sleeve, a gusset may need to be added so that arm movement isn’t impeded.  Organza is a delicate fabric that scars easily and won’t hold up well to heavy embroidery.
Many dressmakers are opting for stretchy fabrics such as laces or power nets.  These allow for more movement in a tight-fitting sleeve.  Every fabric will have a different amount of stretch, so do your research and leave extra seam allowance until you know the sleeve fits well.

Bodice Base (and Skirt Base)
It is important to pick a good base fabric for your dress.  This is a fabric that sits underneath the dress fabric to provide structure and stability.  Together, the two layers are treated as one as the dress is constructed.  For most thin fabrics like satin or silk, you’ll want something fairly sturdy like a light-weight twill.  For bulkier fabrics like velvet, you may be fine with a Kona cotton or similar.  Mid-weight non-fusible interfacings work great as a skirt base fabric, but I would not recommend them for the bodice.  Twill/thick cotton/etc also work in the skirt.

You may also enjoy my post on skirt stiffeners. [/two_third][one_third_last]

Two satins (plus sequin appliqué). Notice that the gold satin has a slightly higher sheen than the white.

Cotton velvet (black) and dupioni silk (green). Note that this velvet has less gloss than the next two photos, which are polyester.

Polyester micro-velvet (black), polyester gabardine (red), and gold satin at bottom of sleeves.

Polyester velvet (blue) and satin (turquoise).


Drafting a Slimmer Sleeve

*Update!*  Try our Slim Sleeve Add-on!

Styles change quickly and many people have asked me about drafting a slimmer sleeve as sheer and even skin-tight sleeves come into greater popularity (first photo below).  The sleeve in the Gúna Rince pattern has a slight puff at the shoulder, as you can see in the second photo.

©2018 Rising Star Designs

This post will show how to cut down the sleeve pattern to get a standard dressmaking sleeve fit.

This isn’t meant to be a definitive formula, but merely a starting point.  You will want to mock up your new sleeve to make sure it fits well and make changes if necessary.  For drafting purposes, trace a copy of the sleeve so you are not cutting the original.

1. You’ll need a flexible ruler or tape measure to measure the armscye edges of the front and back bodice. (I’ll do the Ladies 10.  Back=8.8″ Front=8.5″ so 17.3″ total).

Your end goal is to make the armscye edge of the sleeve about 1.5″ bigger than the bodice (you can go as low as 1″ for small child sizes).  This 1.5″ is not extra to be gathered, it’s simply how sleeves are drafted; they need a little ease to perform properly.

2. Draw a vertical line downwards from the top notch and cut along that line so your pattern piece is now in two halves.

3. Shift the left piece to the right 1/4″ and the right piece to the left 1/4″.  They are now overlapping by 1/2″ total.
•For small sizes you can overlap less… 1/4″ or 3/8″ total.
••If the circumference of the sleeve at the bicep/armpit is already fairly tight on the dancer, you may want to skip this step.

4. From the center-top, mark 1/2″ and redraw your sleeve cap so that it hits that 1/2″ mark.
•Small sizes can start with moving only 3/8″ down.
••If you skipped step 3, move 5/8″ down instead. 

Re-mark the top notch by centering it on the overlap at the top of the sleeve.

5. Measure your armscye edge.  Mine was 18.9″
18.9 – 17.3 = 1.6 inch difference
That’s pretty close to 1.5 so I’m going to call it good.  If yours is not as close, repeat step 4, going up or down by 1/8″, rather than 1/2″, as needed until you have that 1.5″ difference.

At this point you should cut one sleeve out of a spare fabric and fit it to make adjustments if necessary.

If you are making a sleeve that is almost skin-tight, you may want to add a gusset under the arm to add to the dancer’s range of motion.  Drafting a gusset is simple.

1. Measure the armscye edge of the sleeve from bottom to notch on each side.  Mine were 3.1″ in the back and 2.9″ in the front.

2.  Draw a horizontal line (6-8″ long).  Bisect that with a line that is the width of your gusset.  Gussets can be anywhere from 1.5-3″ wide, depending on the range of motion you need to add, and the size of the dress.

I’m going to make mine 2″ wide, so that line is 1″ long on each side, making for 2″ total.

3.  With a curved ruler or tape measure, draw a curved line from the top point arcing left and down to the horizontal line.  This curve is the length of our back sleeve measurement (mine was 3.1″).  Draw a second curve to the right of the top point that is the length of your front measurement (mine was 2.9).  Remember to measure the curve, and not the horizontal line.

4.  Mirror the curves underneath the horizontal line.

5.  Mark the vertical line with two notches as shown.  These notches will line up with the underarm seam of the sleeve and the side seam of the bodice.

Add a grainline on a 45º angle.  This gusset is cut on the bias.  I also like to add a reminder of which side is the front and back…let’s be honest they look about the same!

Cut the gusset with the same amount of seam allowance as you are using in the armscye seam.  If your sleeve and bodice are of different fabric, make the gusset from the sleeve fabric.

After sewing the sleeve underarm seam, sew gusset to underarm of sleeve with right sides together.  Corners of gusset will match sleeve notches and the notch of the gusset lines up with the under-arm seam.  From here you can put the sleeve in pretty much like normal.