Painting The Ceilidh Dress, And Countdown

After an oh-my-god, I so want this dress to happen last-ditch prayer, J has been helping me to paint the panels. He’s a good ‘un:




The Ceilidh Dress – Puckering Hell

, if you’ll excuse my language.

I am having a nightmare of a time trying to sew uninterfaced silk taffeta without it puckering like crazy. Yes, my top tension’s reduced. Yes, I’m using a size 1.5 stitch length, yes, I’m sewing slowly, and yes, I’m down to a size 10 needle. I still get this:

That inside seam is now unpicked (again) and frayed beyond repair. I’m going to have to insert a 2 inch wide vertical strip in the back of the bodice because I don’t have enough fabric to recut the pieces. It’s a design feature, don’t you know? (Actually I think it will look quite cool like that anyway.)

But the question remains as to how to stop the fabric puckering quite so atrociously. Option one is to interface, either the whole of the back bodice or just the seams. Option two is to try and procure a size 8 microtex needle and keep my fingers crossed.

I’m leaning towards option two, but of course that means getting to a sewing shop and I can’t because I’m at work (doing nothing) all day. I’ll be going within a mile of my favourite sewing shop tomorrow actually, when I head out for psychotherapy, but it’s not open on a Wednesday because it’s That Sort Of Shop. So I’m looking at Thursday at the earliest before I can start sewing on this dress again.


What I really need is a day off in business hours to gather supplies and put some serious time in, but I’m not going to pull a sickie. This trying-to-be-honest thing is a pain in the backside sometimes.

The Ceilidh Dress – Princess Victory

Remember that I ended up with two pieces like this for the top of the ceilidh dress bodice? And that the aim was to stitch the red lines together in a single smooth seam?

I appreciate that it’s not entirely clear from the rather cack-handed Inkscape illustration, but essentially the point is that I have been trying to insert an angular seam with a sharp point in the middle into a nice smooth curvy seam, and do so right-sides together so that they curve the same way, completely counter-intuitive to one of the fabric pieces (as for a standard princess seam). Plus it’s in silk taffeta which marks permanently any time a pin so much as goes near it.

Clear as mud, I appreciate, but any sewist reading this will currently be wincing and going “You’re trying to do what???”

So it is with great pride and enormous pleasure that I show you the right-hand side complete. I used every trick in the book – I cut my seam allowances down to 1/4″; I thread-basted by hand; I notched and clipped; I sewed reeeally slowly and pressed it on my tailor’s ham. In the picture I’ve got it sat on my knee to demostrate the 3D curving effect (as this part of the bodice will be covering a, erm, 3D curve). It isn’t nearly as puckered in reality either.

Oh yes! Now to do the other side the same…

The Ceilidh Dress – Tracing

This is what I spent an hour or two doing this afternoon/ evening in Inkscape: tracing monarch butterfly patterns from Googled images onto measured out petal shapes.

Once I have added seam allowances, I will print this out with the aid of this tiling tool and use it as a pattern for cutting my silk habutai (and the cotton batiste backing). I will be able to trace the shapes through onto the habutai (using a 6B pencil, probably) and then go over the lines in gutta resist. Drawing by hand has never been my strong point, and I decided that this was the easiest way to get a result that I was happy with!

Please work, please work, please work…

The Ceilidh Dress – Lining Constructed

Well, almost.

As documented in rather more detail over at The Sewing Forum, the lining has taken a few hiccups to get there, but get there it finally has! I started with the bodice and despite my success with the muslins, the sewed-up version didn’t fit:


Something really basic: I have hips. And a tummy. And despite having a size 12 upper torso and waist, I’d wilfully forgotten that the said hips and tummy are more like a size 16. So I got brutal with the tape measure, and ‘slashed and spread’ the pattern pieces from the under-bustline downwards, adding in a total of 3 inches at the lower circumference by the time that the adjustments had been duplicated through symmetry.

This time it worked, and the lesson to be learned from this story, children, is that vanity sizing gets you nowhere. This time I managed to get the bustline ‘V insertion’ a lot neater, thanks to a timely piece of advice from here. (I also took off half an inch from the bottom of the outside of the outer bust pieces, grading up to nothing at the top, to correct the sagginess that you can see under my left elbow in the pictures above.)


So much better. Obviously the fabric will be the other way out when it is acting as a lining to the dress – and yes, I have remembered to leave the right side seam open for zip insertion! Onto the skirt portion, and despite careful measuring and calculating, my value of θ didn’t *quite* come out at 180°. Too bad.

My achievement today has been to attach the skirt to the bodice at the waistline. I’d already stay-stitched the inner circle for stability, and after a bit of experimentation realised that I was going to have to do a lot of clipping of seam allowances and a lot of pinning to get such different curves to match up properly. I managed it, though – less than a quarter of an inch’s difference on a thirty-three inch seam!

So many pins, though – 41! Still, it was worth it, as the seam sewed perfectly and effortlessly first time.

I would love to show you the lining tried on me, and indeed I am going to have to do that at some point in order to determine a hem length (having hung it for 24 hours in order to allow the bias to settle). But that shall have to wait until I have a willing volunteer to help.

I think the next step will be to cut out and sew the bodice in the taffeta, of which I am mildly terrified because those are some pretty awkward princess seams and rumour has it that taffeta and repeated pinning do not go well together. But hey, there’s nothing like a challenge… 

The Ceilidh Dress – Bodice Lining 1

First baby step: I’ve cut the pieces out for the bodice lining.

For those interested, it’s a charcoal and white acetate lining from The Lining Company, and cost 99p/metre in a sale – can’t get better than that. Now I need to mark the seamlines on using tailor’s chalk so that I can sew using the correct allowances really accurately.

I don’t know why I’m so terrified of actually sitting down and sewing this dress?!

The Ceilidh Dress – Half Circle Skirt

Circle skirts do what they claim to on the tin – they are circles of fabric with a smaller circle cut out in the middle for the person to get into. Here’s a really basic example in teal, and an actual circle skirt from t’net so you can compare the 2D and 3D shapes:


The waistband of the skirt is the inner circle, and the hem is the outer circle – so moving down the skirt is equivalent to moving radially out on the circle. There is clearly a lot more fabric as you do this, which gives the skirt its sticky-out shape and fantastic movement as it twirls!

Circle skirts are really easy to draft. Assuming that you’re basing your design on a true circle, there are three variables: the waistband circumference (red), the length of the skirt (yellow), and the proportion of a circle you use (measured as an angle, blue). The rest follows with maths!

For the ceilidh dress, I am going for a half circle skirt – that is, θ = 180º. The waistband measurement will be determined by measuring the bodice at the relevant height; likely about an inch or an inch and a half below my natural waist. The length of the skirt will be 24″ – based upon the muslin I made, that will result in a segment of a circle with a full radius of about 34.5″, although I will reperform that calculation when I have acquired the exact measurement from the bodice.

To allow for the width of a standard bolt of fabric, I will be cutting the skirt out in two pieces – a front piece and a back piece. Each will be a 90º quadrant with the grain line running down the middle in order that the grain of the fabric hangs symmetrically, although if I can only acquire the relevant taffeta in a 45″ width, I will have to do four segments of 45º. Plus seam allowances, of course.

To trace out the shape, I pivoted my marker pen on the end of a piece of string:

The resulting skirt was too long (total radius 40.5″) and in fact the waistband was a bit too big, but twirled it nicely and I do have to allow for the much stiffer hand of the taffeta that I will actually be using.


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