Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Irish Dance Dress, Part One: Color and Inspiration

Back in October 2014, Maeve placed 1st in her Beginner 2 Reel and 2nd in her Beginner 2 Slip Jig, meaning that she could move up to the Novice level in those dances and that I could start planning out her Novice or 'solo' dress. If you're not familiar with Irish Dance, most schools require dancers to wear a school outfit, or a black skirt and white blouse at the lower levels. At a certain point as she progresses, a dancer may be allowed to wear a 'solo' dress - something that is usually made specifically for the dancer and which is an original design. It's bad form to copy others' dresses, though it's understood that there are only so many original ideas under the sun and that there are only so many color combinations that can be made. Styles can vary, particularly with the skirt, and dresses are often highly jeweled with Swarovski crystals. A non-jeweled new dress would be considered okay at the Novice level but probably not at a higher level. Such a dress would run in the neighborhood of $500 at a minimum. I saw a name-brand used dress at a feis in January that was priced at $500. Most newer dresses with a small amount of crystals will run you around $1000, off the rack. Custom-made dresses will cost considerably more, with $1,200 to $1,500 not considered unusual.

Maeve's ideal dress, as I mentioned in a previous post, was a lovely $1,200 dress made by Prime Dress Designs - cobalt blue velvet and satin with an orange-red embroidery. She loves this dress, so I decided to use it as an inspiration and jumping-off point.

Inspiration dress by Prime Dress Designs

The first thing was to find the correct color. I managed to find a beautiful blue dull satin at Mood Fabrics at quite a reasonable price. Then I started a long and exhausting search for the proper color blue velvet. This took a while but I was able to find some on the Fabric Depot website and purchased it while in Portland at a Feis in January. The orange was something I came across by accident  - a stretch satin in a color called "Neon Tangerine" from The embroidery thread is Sulky in Orange Flame. For this dress I also needed an underlining and a lining; the underlining is a pale blue poly-cotton and the lining is red-orange poly-cotton broadcloth that I got on sale for $1.99. Both are from JoAnn's. For sparkle I also got some Swarovski crystals in cobalt blue and in fire opal (a red-orange blend). You'll see those at a later stage.

The thing that was hardest was figuring out what kind of motifs I wanted to use. Maeve prefers the more traditional-style dresses with Celtic knot work, and I was able to find 2 that we particularly liked in a book that we have - they are adaptations of actual knots from museum pieces. The chest piece is an adaptation of an interlaced pattern from the Lindisfarne Gospels, which date from the late 7th century. You can see that in the British Library in London, England. The original design was more complex and I wasn't sure that I'd be able to execute it well, as it's my first time doing this type of thing. Scott pointed out to me that instead of the double line I could simply make it into 1 thicker line and it still works. This motif will be an appliqué of the orange satin on the bodice, which will be a combination of the blue velvet and blue satin.

Bodice appliqué design

The second motif will appear in small size on the sleeves and in a larger size as the shaped cape. This is an Anglo-Saxon design, taken from a bronze-gilt bookmount that dates from the 8th or 9th century. The original piece can be found in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. I have chosen to use this motif in an inverted orientation in order to emphasize the bell-like shape of the sleeve, but also to give it the appropriate weight so that it doesn't look top-heavy.

Sleeve embroidery design.

I know I've talked a great deal about the bodice and its embellishment, but that's because I'm waiting for the pattern for the skirt support structure. The dress pattern is from Feis Dress and I'm using the princess seamed bodice. The skirt will be a skater skirt but it will still need to have support. Luckily for me I came upon a wonderful Yahoo group of people who make Irish dance dresses and everyone recommends the 'skirt frame' pattern that one of the members has created. I've ordered it and am now just waiting for it to come from Ireland. Meanwhile, I'll try to document the steps of making this dress as I go.

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