Adding a Bodice Lining

I mention briefly in the intro to the pattern instructions about adding a lining and here’s how to do it.  You can use any thin material; I like cotton because of its breathability.  If you did a mock-up of your dress (and you should), you can even use the same pieces, providing you did not have to alter them beyond use.
I usually do the neck and sleeves after the bodice is built, as they are a bit easier before the skirt and zipper are added, but you can also put the whole thing in at the end.
1.  Preparing your pieces
To start, check that your lining pieces have the same seam allowance as your dress pieces.  Sew the bodice front and backs together shoulder and side seams, and attach the sleeves but do not hem them.
2.  The Neck Edge

How your lining attaches depends on how your neck edge is being finished off.
Finishing the edge with a satin stitch?
(You can do this step now, or at the end)  Press over the seam allowance at the neck edge of your lining, but press over a 1/4″ in from the neckline (so if you have 1/2″ of seam allowance at the neck, you’ll press over 3/4″).  Pin the lining to the inside of the dress, so the lining sits 1/4″ in from the edge.  Slip-stitch the lining to the dress.  You can stitch it to the fabric if it is textured, like velvet.  Otherwise, carefully attach it to the satin stitching (see picture below).  Stop stitching 1.5″ away from the center-back seam line.
Finishing the neck edge with a collar?
(You can do this step now, or at the end)  Follow the instructions above for finishing with a satin stitch, except that you can press the lining seam allowance right on the neck line, rather than 1/4″ in.  When pinned and stitched, the lining should line up with the neck edge line instead of being 1/4″ below, as directed above.  I don’t have a picture of this, but it’s fairly similar to the instructions above.
Finishing the edge by turning the seam allowance under?
Pin the lining to the dress at the neck edge with right sides together.  Stitch along the neckline.  Clip seam allowance and turn lining towards the inside.  Press the seam.  If desired, stitch 1/4″ away from the edge (see picture below).  Stop stitching 1.5″ away from the center-back seam line.  For the dress below, I topstitched a small facing to the neck edge of my lining first, so the white wouldn’t peak out the top.
Adding a lining after construction?
Follow the steps above for finishing with a satin stitch or with a collar, whichever is applicable.  If you don’t have a collar, use the satin-stitching method, so the facing stays away from the edge.  See step 5 (center back) before stitching all the way to the zipper.
3.  Sleeves
If your sleeves aren’t sewn into their respective bodices, do that now.  Hem your dress sleeves (but not the linings).  Press the hem of the sleeve linings up 1/2″ shorter than the original hem, and slip-stitch the lining down 1/2″ away from the hem edge.
4.  You’ll now continue on with the regular instructions, making your skirt, sewing the dropped waist seam, putting in your zipper, and everything else until the dress is finished.  I would even sew on any cape velcro you have to add to the dress now.  Make sure your lining stays out of the zipper and dropped-waist seam.
5.  The Dropped Waist Seam
Press the seam allowance up along the bottom edge of your bodice lining.  Pin the folded edge right along the dropped waist stitching line (you can see the stitching line in the picture, where I’ve pulled the lining up a bit).  To ensure your lining isn’t too tight up and down, have your dancer try it on quick, or put it on a dress form.  If your dress fabric is loose and bubbling, the lining might be too short and tight.  Re-press the lining 1/4″ down to loosen it up.  Slip-stitch the lining to the inside of the dropped waist seam, stopping your stitching 1.5″ away from the center back.
6.  The Center Back
Press over the center-back seam allowance 1/4″ away from the seam line.  Pin the folded edge to the inside of the zipper, 1/4″ away from the edge.  If you stitched the zipper on 1/4″ away from the edge, you can use the stitching as a handy guide.  Slip-stitch the lining to the inside of the zipper, and finish off the small gaps in stitching at the back of the neck and dropped-waist seam.
Your dress is now beautifully lined.  Linings not only catch sweat, but they also make the dress more comfortable.  Enjoy!

 

A Review of Dress Stiffeners

A lot of people ask what kind of dress stiffener they should use when making a solo dress and it’s a fair question when there are so many products on the market.  There used to be a nice vilene product out there made specifically for Irish dance, but I can’t find anyone who still sells it.  I’ve been trying many others in the meantime and here are my reviews of several different stiffeners.  They are listed in order of stiffness, starting with the least stiff.
 
Pellon 926
Price: $4.29/yard
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 1 mm
Distributor: Joann Fabrics (US) (and most fabric/craft stores)
This is the softest stabilizer, and I would not recommend it for the average Irish dance dress.  It is very flexible, yet still stiff enough to hold its shape and not collapse in on itself.  I would recommend it for very small dresses when you are afraid of too much bulk.  I have tried using it for a stiff-panel skirt, and would not recommend it for that, but it could be a softer under-skirt option for a small-sized dress.
 
Stiffy
Price: $1.75/yard
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 1 1/4 mm
Distributor: Long Creek Mills (US)
I was initially skeptical of this one due to how cheap it is, however it is definitely stiffer than the Pellon 926 for about the same thickness.  It is still a little bendy for my preference, but would work all right for a small dress, or if you don’t want the most rigid stiffener.  Because it’s pretty thin, you could also fuse two layers together for a sturdier option (trim one layer out of seam allowance).  You’d definitely want to add an extra layer in most places.
 
Flexi Firm
Price: $6.87/yard
Width: 30″ wide
Thickness: 1 2/3 mm
Distributor: Fabric Depot (US)
Flexi Firm is about as stiff as the Stiffy, but a little bulkier.  It would work okay, but definitely isn’t my favorite.  It’s almost as bulky as the Pellon 70 and Timtex, but you’re not getting as much structure for it.
 
 
Pellon 70
Price: $5.99/yard
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 1 2/3 mm
Distributor: Joann Fabrics (US) (and most fabric/craft stores)
This one (along with the 926) is definitely the easiest to acquire, being widely available at local fabric stores.  It’s one of the thicker stiffeners but it holds its structure well and is easy to find.  Being on the thicker end of the spectrum, I find it to be pretty bulky for multi-panel skirts.  I’ve done it before, but be prepared to have trouble sewing over 2-3 layers of it as you sew your dropped waist seam.  It works just fine in the under-skirt of a soft skirt style though.  Depending on the fit of your dress, you may find that 1 layer is enough. 
It also comes in 1- and 2-side fusible (Pellon 71 and 72).  I don’t like using fusible stiffener on skirt panels because they tend to show if the panel has gotten folded or wrinkled accidentally.  The fusible is nice on the underskirt however, where you have to cover both sides with fabric but it’s not a main feature of the dress.
 
S80 Vilene
Price: £8.20/meter or £20.50/3 meters
Width: 36 inches
Thickness: a bit under 1 mm
Distributor: Empress Mills (UK)
This might be my favorite, which is unfortunate as it’s the priciest (not to mention the cost of shipping to the US).  It’s almost as sturdy as the Pellon 70, but half as thick.  This makes it great for stiff panel skirts and sewers whose machine doesn’t handle bulk well.  Because it’s so thin, you can easily fuse two layers together for extra structure as needed.  If you don’t want to ship from the UK, it can sometimes be found on Etsy.
 
Timtex
Price: £8.00/meter
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 2 mm
Distributor: Quilt Direct (UK)
Also available in 10 yard bolts (around $64) or smaller ‘craft packs’ from Amazon, Walmart, Joann’s.
Timtex is probably the stiffest product I’ve found.  It’s also the thickest, at over 2 mm.  I would not recommend doubling this stiffener; it is plenty effective in a single layer (but if you do, trimming one layer out of the seam allowance makes sewing much easier).  It is very sturdy and holds up extremely well.  Like the Pellon 70, be aware of how bulky it can get in multiple layers.  If you have a wimpy sewing machine, you may want to try something thinner as your dress will become bulky very quickly.
 
 
What stiffeners have you tried?  How did they work?  Is there another that should be on this list?  Share your experiences in the comment section below.

Customer Feedback

Do you think the solo dress pattern is missing something?  Is there a bit you find troublesome?  Is it perfect except for ‘this one little thing’?  Gúna Rince is always looking to improve and update the pattern.  Customers are encouraged to share their opinions in the short survey below.  Customer feedback is one of the most important factors in helping us keep the pattern up to date.  All questions are optional, (and anonymous if you wish).
Thank you!
 
 

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Little Things Make All The Difference

Making a solo dress is a hefty project and should not be taken on lightly.  There are many little things that will positively affect your end product and overall dressmaking experience.  Invest time in preparing your pieces and you will not only get better results, but you will find the process much more enjoyable.  These points are generally, but not necessarily, listed in the order in which you would do them.
 

Make a Mock-Up

Making a mock-up is always a good idea.  Everybody is shaped differently, so while you know the dress will be the right size around the chest and waist, you don’t know how it will fit in other places; the armhole, shoulders, neckline, etc.  Use a muslin or similar cotton to cut out the bodice front and backs, and at least one sleeve and sew them together with a machine baste.  Pin the Skirt Block front and back pattern pieces together at the side and fold both pieces along the side pleat fold line.  Pin the Skirt Block patterns to the waist seam on the right side of the mock-up (or trace them onto another piece of paper to have two of each, thus creating the whole skirt instead of just half).  Try the mock-up on your dancer, and adjust to fit.  Check out THIS POST for more details on adjusting your mockup.  BONUS:  You can recycle your mock-up by using it as a sewn-in lining later!
 

The Bodice Base

Constructing the bodice with only one layer of fabric can have a few negative effects.  There will be puckering as the weight of the dress pulls differently on the stiff embroidered areas and the softer plain fabric areas.  Also, the number of holes we put in fabrics when we embroider can cause weak points in the fabric.  Both of these are more apparent when the dress is built with thin fabrics like satins.  The bodice base is a layer of sturdy fabric that is flat-lined to the underside of each bodice piece.  Cut each pattern piece out of both fabrics, then lay the dress fabric piece over the bodice base piece.  Machine baste around the edges (in the seam allowance), then treat them as one piece, serging or zig-zagging the edges.  For thinner dress fabrics, I like using a light-weight twill for my bodice base. For small dresses, or when using thick fabrics like velvet, I’ll use a ‘quilting’ cotton for a lighter, thinner option.
 

Mark Important Lines

Taking time to mark seam lines is one of the best things you can do to improve the quality of your dress.  I prefer to draw all seam lines for the bodice on the bodice base fabric, and don’t mark them on the dress fabric since the two will get basted together and treated as one.  Depending on the color of the base fabric, I’ll use a fabric pencil or marker that won’t disappear in a few days.  Tailor’s chalk is a good option for temporary use, but will disappear with enough handling.
A thread baste is good for anywhere that I know I’ll want to see a certain line from the right side of the fabric too.  You can use white thread, or a similar color to the dress if you’re afraid the thread will get caught in a seam.  Places I’ll thread-baste include: Center front, dropped waist seam, sleeve hem, the fold-line of any skirt pleats, and any seam line that important for mapping embroidery.
 
 

Seam Allowance

This pattern does not have seam allowance built in.  That may be new to some people.  I did the pattern this way for a few reasons.  1) It is much easier for the dressmaker to mark seam lines (see above).  2) It is easier to change the amount of seam allowance being used.  3) It is easier to map out embroidery designs on the pattern when you can see exactly where the edge of the pieces are.  Some patterns with built in seam-allowance will have the stitching line drawn in as well, but that doesn’t work when the pattern includes more than one size.
The amounts of seam allowance suggested for each pattern piece were carefully thought out.  I like 1/2″ seam allowance for most seams.  It is narrow enough that construction is easy and seams are not bulky, but wide enough to be away from fraying fabric edges (plus wide enough that a slight alteration can be made if necessary).  I like to have 1″ of seam allowance in some seams, and these are generally the places where the dress is likely to be altered.  In the bodice it’s the side seams, center back, and the dropped-waist seam (bottom edge).  In the skirt it’s the center back and dropped waist seam (top edge).  No one will stop you from using whatever width of seam allowance you choose.  But if you do stray from the suggested widths, think about how extra bulk will look in certain seams, and whether you are giving yourself enough room to alter the dress when your dancer grows.
 

Embroidery

Solo dresses are all about the embroidery.  Whether you’re using an embroidery machine or free-hand satin stitch on your sewing machine, it’s important to test out at least part of your design before trying it on the real thing.  You don’t want to come out of 4 hours of embroidery with a front bodice that’s ripply, puckering, or lop-sided!  Get to know both the shapes you’re making, and the supplies you’re using.  Invest in quality stabilizers and always do your sample with the real fabric and stabilizers!  If you are new to satin stitching on your sewing machine, there are many great tutorials available online.  Most importantly, go slow and be patient!

 

A Handy Guide to Bodice Alterations

Not all bodies are the same shape, so it’s natural to need to do a small adjustment or two to get the bodice sitting nicely.  It is easy to alter a pattern if the place that is too big or small is the side-seam or center back, but here are a few ways to correct ill-fitting bodices focusing on the shoulder, armhole, and neck (with a quick mention of lengthening and shortening).  I prefer to fit the bodice front and back without a sleeve first, as some adjustments can affect the armhole (which affect the sleeve).  Once I’ve taken care of those adjustments, I’ll add the sleeve and try it on again.  Be sure to clip into neck and armhole curves, or they will seem too tight, even if they really fit fine.
 
**Update!** Further alterations pertaining to the Embroidery Bodice add-on can be found here.
 
(Most pictures expand when clicked on.)
 
 

SHOULDER HEIGHT – Sloping Shoulders

Effect: Loose rippling at top of shoulder.
-Pin the excess into a ‘dart’ at the shoulder seam.
-On the pattern: angle the shoulder down the width of the ‘dart’ on both the bodice front and back. (Ex: If the dart is 1/2″ wide, that means 1″ of fabric total is being taken out.  So take out 1/2″ each on the front and back)
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.
 

SHOULDER HEIGHT – Square Shoulders

Effect: Strain at the top of shoulder and puckering towards the neck.
-Release the shoulder seam starting at the armhole and continuing almost until the neck edge.  Measure the width of the gap at the armhole edge.
-On the pattern: angle the shoulder up half the width of the gap on both the bodice front and back. (Ex: If the gap is 1″ wide, add 1/2″ each to the front and back)  Smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.
 

SHOULDER WIDTH – Width across chest or back is too narrow(A) or too wide(B).

Effect: May create puckering.  Sleeve may be stretched tight(A) or appear loose and saggy(B).
-Re-draw the armhole so that it sits along the crease of the shoulder joint.
-If the armhole curve increases or decreases in length by more than 1/4″, alter the sleeve pattern as described below.
A – Bodice too narrow
B – Bodice too wide

 

PROMINENT BUST (FRONT)

Effect: Front armhole ripples at the side of the bust.
-Pin a dart from the bust to the armhole.  Measure the width of the dart.
-On the pattern: Draw the newly created side dart on the bodice front pattern piece.  Slice the pattern piece vertically up the side of the main bust dart and across the bottom of the new side dart.  Rotate the side piece on the bust point and match up the two lines of the side dart so that it disappears.  The main bust dart should have increased in width.  Smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.
 

HUNCHED SHOULDERS (BACK)

Effect: Back armhole ripples to the side of the shoulder blades.
-Pin the excess fabric at the armhole into a dart.  Measure the width of the dart.
-On the pattern: Transfer the new side dart to the bodice back pattern.  Its point should extend to directly above the back waist dart.  Draw a line from the new dart’s point up to the center of the shoulder.  Cut along the shoulder line and the top of the new side dart.  Rotate the side piece on the dart’s point and match up the two lines of the dart so that it disappears.  You now have a dart in the shoulder.  Draw a dart reaching no more than 3 1/2″ for teens and adults (2 1/2″ for small girls) and smooth the armhole.
-Alter the sleeve pattern as described below.
 

NECKLINE – Neckline is too low(A) or high(B).

Effect: May create gaping or puckering.
-Redraw neckline so that it sits nicely at the base of the neck.  If using the collar, draw a new collar line parallel to the old one coming off your new neckline.
-If using the optional collar, pin the collar pattern piece to the neck edge.  If the circumference of the neck edge has changed substantially, the collar may have to be lengthened or shortened(C).
 

SLEEVE MODIFICATION

You should not have to modify the sleeve unless you have modified the armhole.  If your alterations have made the circumference of the armhole more than a 1/4″ larger or smaller, you may need to alter the sleeve to ensure that it sits as intended.
-On the pattern: Cut horizontally across the sleeve cap approximately 1″ above the darts.  Move the top piece up or down as needed and smooth the lines of the sleeve cap.  A good rule of thumb is: for every 1/2″ increase or decrease in the armhole, move the top piece of the cap up or down 1/4″.

 

LENGTHENING AND SHORTENING

To lengthen the bodice, cut the bodice front and back pattern pieces horizontally within the range marked.  Spread the pieces apart the desired length and smooth the side seams and darts.
 
To shorten the bodice, cut the bodice front and back pattern pieces horizontally along the bottom of the range marked.  Overlap the pieces the desired amount, with the bottom of the bodice laying on top, and smooth the side seams and darts.
 
The skirt can also be lengthened or shortened (at the hem), but it is unadvisable to do more than 1″ of lengthening or shortening in the skirt hem, as the width of the skirt will be affected as well as the length.  Too much removed in the hem will end up with a skirt that does not stick out at all, and too much length added can cause the skirt to become comically wide!

Adding Fullness in Skirt View III

I’ve had a couple questions about modifying the pattern pieces for skirt view III (soft-pleated skirt).  The two patterns (front and back) are drafted to have approximately 3x fullness at the top, and 2x fullness at the bottom.  This makes for a really nice ratio for a gathered skirt, and is also similar to the ratio used by many dressmakers for soft, pleated skirts.  What it also means is that you are not quite getting ‘full’ pleats at the hem edge, because you need 3x fullness for there to be no gaps).

 So if you are looking to modify the pattern to get that 3x fullness, here is a quick tutorial on how to do it.  It is pretty simple, all you’ll need is a ruler, tape, scissors, some large pieces of paper, and the patterns of course!  (If you don’t have large paper at hand, you can tape together some printer paper, or use an old newspaper, just draw with a thin marker or something that will be easy to see over the printing.)
 
This general method can also work to add fullness to Skirt View IV.
 
For simplicity’s sake, I’ll walk you through modifying just the skirt front, but you will do the exact same thing with the back.
1.  First let’s get our numbers and math out of the way.  Measure the hem edge of the Skirt Block Front (5) and Skirt II Front (10) from center front to side pleat (dashed line).   For the size I am using, my measurements are:
Skirt Block hem: 15.0 inches
Skirt III hem: 30.55 inches
Multiply the block hem by 3. (I got 15.0 x 3 = 45.0 inches)
Subtract the skirt III hem from this new number. (I got 45.0 – 30.55 = 14.45)
Finally, divide this by 8.  (I got 1.81 inches)
Call this number M and keep it for step 5.
 
2.  Start by tracing the pattern onto a different sheet of paper.  We’re going to be cutting it into pieces, so best to leave the original intact.

3.  Divide the skirt front into 8 equal sections.  When dividing, ignore the side pleat, measuring only from the center front to the dashed line.

4.  Cut up the center of each section.  Starting at the bottom and stopping 1/8″ from the top; just far enough away to keep the pieces connected.

5.  With a new sheet of paper underneath, spread the flaps apart one by one so the measurement between them at the hem is equal to the measurement M you figured out in step one.  (Mine was 1.81 inches)

6.  Smooth the lines of the pattern along the top and bottom edges.

7.  You now have a pattern with 3x fullness at top and bottom.  Repeat steps 1-6 with the backs.

Sewing the Dropped Waist Seam (Alternate Method)

That’s it, you’re almost there! Skirt is done, bodice is done.  They just need to come together and you’ll have a dress!  For being a fairly simple step, sewing the dropped waist seam can be one of the trickier parts of your dress, depending on your machine and the thickness of your dress stiffener.  The bulky side pleat is often a bit too much for some sewing machines, especially slant-shank machines like Singers, which don’t perform well with too much bulk.  If your machine just isn’t having it, here’s a simply way to sew the seam without having to stitch over a mountain.
Start by pinning the bodice to the skirt the same way you would normally.  The side-pleats should be folded towards the front of the dress.  Edge stitch from center-back to the side-pleat.  Stop and backstitch, but make sure to keep the backstitching small and neat.
 Move the side-pleats to point towards center back.  Now that it’s out of your way, start stitching again where you left off and continue to the other side pleat.  Stop and backstitch again.  Fold the pleat back towards center-front, and sew the last section of your waist.
You have just sewn the seam in three parts, avoiding the bulk of the side pleat.  The under side of your dress should look like this.
 Fold the side-pleats towards the center-front, and tack by hand at the seamline.
 Aaand you’re done.  Same result without the bulk (and without the cursing!).  Stay tuned for more tips or ask a question yourself!