Sunday, March 13, 2016

An Irish Step Dancer for St. Patrick's Day

Thursday is St. Patrick's Day. The day for the wearin' o' the green. And maybe dancing with the leprechauns. Except you won't see a wee leprechaun in this post because it's too late to outfit a Realpuki and take new photos. Wish I had thought of it sooner.

Casting about for a way to celebrate the holiday, it occurred to me to dress a doll as an Irish step dancer. Riverdance and all that. (Remember Riverdance? Big hit of the 90's. In fact, 2016 is its 20th Anniversary and the show is on tour to celebrate.) I don't have any Irish dance patterns, but I do have a skirt pattern for MiniFee that has the traditional box pleats (Flirty MiniFee). Now that I think of it, I probably should have combined it with the blouse pattern from Steampunk MiniFee. Simply replacing the short puffed sleeves with long straight sleeves would have given me a better overall shape (and fewer problems) than the crop top from All Dolled Up MiniFee that I ended up using. (All patterns from Adams-Harris.) I could still do it, even if it means redoing my embroidery. It wasn't all that great the first time.

I pulled The Costume Book by Mary Burke Morris for inspiration. It has several full-color photos of  traditional style Irish step-dancing costumes. Although the chapter on costume-making techniques contains valuable information, I wish this book included patterns. Maybe one in each category? If it did it would earn my unqualified vote for Best Costume Book Ever! (The book is subtitled: The Non-Professional's Guide to Professional Results. It's geared to dressing performers.)
My fabric stash turned up a Kelly green cotton that I had completely forgotten about. I sifted through my yellows and came up with a small floral print to serve as a flash of color for the underside of the inverted pleats. Some dance costumes contain a riot of embroidered motifs. (Check out the one in the center of the cover of The Costume Book, above.) I wasn't about to attempt anything like that on a small scale, but I did want some decoration. Appliques on this size garment were out of the question. Even simple Celtic knot patterns would be a huge challenge at this scale.
As an experiment I printed a set of Celtic rubber stamps onto paper. I then traced the simplest design among them onto scrap fabric using tracing paper. After a few stitches with embroidery floss the pattern rubbed off and I couldn't see what I was doing. I needed a simpler design. Off I went to my jewelry box. Most of the stuff I have collected over the years is Scottish rather than Irish, but beggars can't be choosers. I selected a blue and silver kilt pin and reworked the design slightly. My drawing is a bit crude, but the embroidery would cover it so it didn't matter.
I didn't take any in-process photos of the actual sewing. Frankly, once I get going it's hard to stop. I did make some alterations to the patterns to get the proportions I needed. That meant lengthening the crop top, omitting the flounce at the end of the three-quarter sleeve and lengthening the sleeve to wrist length. The skirt has a high waist, so I had to shorten it to fit closer to the doll's waist. The top was designed to be sewn in a stretch fabric. I've made it before and it fits loosely, so I figured it would work as well in a non-stretch fabric. I figured wrong. I had to add a one-inch placket to the back so that I could snap the garment shut without pulling on the fabric. Even with the extra width the fabric still pulls. From the way it's pulling, I'd say it wants darts. All the more reason to make a new top for this dress from the other pattern.
I had to create a pattern piece for the cape that fastens to the left shoulder and hangs down the dancer's back. It's a simple design cut from two pieces of fabric: green in front and yellow in back, with the yellow folded over the front to form the trim. Because I put it together before deciding what I would do for decoration, I had to be extra careful when stitching not to let my needle poke through to the back layer. I managed it, but you can bet I won't make that mistake again!
Although I sewed the costume with MiniFee Mirwen in mind, after she tried it on I decided it might look better on Resin Ellowyne Wilde. What sealed the deal was the black stockings. Mirwen didn't fit into them; Ellowyne did. Mirwen had more appropriate black dance shoes, but I simply didn't want to go with a naked leg. I'll post an update on Thursday with Mirwen wearing the costume with the revised top.
Erin go bragh! Ireland Forever!


  1. This is lovely! I'm amazed at how many pattern books you have!
    And your girk looks so cute :3 I loved the embroidered detail.

    1. Thank you. The Costume Book has no patterns, unfortunately. Just lots of lovely inspiration photos. I am working on a new bodice for the dress. I hope I will be able to use the existing sleeves.