Category: General (Irish Dance)

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.

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Choosing the Right Fabric

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

Satin
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
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
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 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).

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!