Introduction: How to Make an Irish Dancing Dress With Princess Seams and Kick Pleats.

I've been performing in an Irish Dance troupe for a few years and wanted my own twirly dress with sparkles and pleats.  This is the solo dress I made for myself.  The designs are based on the Turoe Stone in County Galway, Ireland.  The dress can be seen in performance here:

This is one of the first garments I made so there are lots of fixed mistakes, but it's ok, you can't see them from the audience.  I dismantled a long skirt and a sheath dress for the body of the dress, keeping the neckline and zipper.  I used a pattern to get the seams right over the bust.  I wear this with a long sleeved shirt underneath.

I didn't make a dress diary, so instead I'm posting instructions and a model, which I hope will help you understand the construction. 

Step 1: Make a Mock-up.

I started from a pattern and adjusted the width of the skirt, knowing that I wanted something that would swing out when I twirled.  I also shortened it.  You have to get the length right from the beginning.  It's too hard to fix once the lining and pleats are attached.  I learned the hard way that the side hem has to be curved because of the hip, though the front can be straight.   Making a mock up helps you see how to mesh the pattern with the existing dress and how high and wide the pleats should be.  The pleats start high to allow for big kicks.

Step 2: Appliques

When you have the dress cut, layout the applique designs.  Draw them on parchment paper and label them with the right color.  Appliques sit better on fabric if they have the same grainline, so mark that on the template.  Perforate them using a large needle on the sewing machine.

Step 3: Transfer the Designs to Fabric.

I used crepe backed satin overlayed with matching organza to get just the right shine. Lay the satin on a non-slip surface like a cutting mat so it doesn't move. Lay the organza over that and pin it all over. Put the parchment paper pattern on top, align with the grain, and weight it or pin it down. I used a quilter's chalk pouncer originally, but this makeup powder almost works, too. Work it over the perforations you made in the last step. This technique keeps the satin from shifting while marking it. Do all the appliques of a color at the same time.

Step 4: Attach the Two Layers.

If you just cut out the shapes like this, you'll fight to keep the edges together.  I used matching fabric paint (not matching here) to trace the lines.  This basically glued the two layers together and gave me an easy line to follow when cutting out the shapes.  You could probably use glue, or a hot knife if you're using fabric that melts, but I haven't tested it.

Step 5: Apply the Appliques.

Pin the appliques where they belong.  Sew them in place with a running stitch.  Cover the edges with sequins.  I used pre-strung sequins.  They are attached with a whip stitch around each sequin.  This took a while but gave me the neat, smooth results I was looking for.  Put the needle in on one side of the sequin, and bring it up diagonally on the other side.  Then pull the loop tight, guiding it into place.

Since these appliques go right to the edge of the dress, they had to be in place before attaching the lining and the pleats.  I'll cover those steps next using a small mock-up.

Step 6: Assemble the Dress.

This part is demonstrated with a model.  I used different colors to distinguish the parts.  Because I cut the front and back pieces from an existing dress, they were still attached at the shoulder.  The slit on the yellow piece represents the zipper.  The sides are shown already sewn to the back for both the dress and the lining.

Green:  Dress front.
Yellow:  Dress back and sides.
Fuschia:  Lining front, back and sides.
Pink:  Pleat front.
Purple:  Pleat lining.

Step 7: Build the Pleats.

The pleats are built before they are attached to the dress.  Join the front and lining at the hem, right sides together.  Add a strip of plastic horsehair braid along the hem, fold the front and lining together right side out, and top stitch to hold the horsehair braid in place.  Fold in the sides, closing the pleat, and edge stich.  Be sure to stitch the fold through the horsehair braid. 

All this will help the pleat keep its shape and fold back into the skirt after a kick.  It also gives it a finished look and lets the front and lining act as a single piece.  A stiffer dress would use a different strategy here.

There is also a picture of the real dress here.  Note that the hem line of the closed pleat has to match the curve of the dress hem, otherwise the corners will stick out below the dress hem.  That's why there's a ruffle at the bottom of this dress.  It just happens to also look good.

Step 8: Attach Pleats to Dress Front.

Sew dress front and lining front right sides together at the hem.  Add a strip of plastic hoarshair braid to the lining at the hem.  Make a sandwich of the dress front and pleat front right sides together, and the dress lining front and pleat lining right sides together.  Sew this seam up to the top of the pleat.  Repeat with the other pleat.  It will look like an inside-out pocket with the pleats stuffed inside.  The horsehair braid keeps the front of the dress open so you can see the designs.

Step 9: Attach Pleats to Dress Sides.

Repeat the last step to attach the pleats to the dress sides.  Turn the dress so you can make the sandwich from the dress sides and pleat front right sides together, and the dress side lining and pleat lining right sides together.  Sew this seam up to the top of the pleat.

This time, I didn't use the horsehair braid because the appliques provide enough stiffness for the back of the dress. 

Step 10: Sew Front and Back Together.

Turn the dress so it's inside out.  Sew the dress front and dress side right sides together.  Continue this seam down past the pleat.  I had to do this part by hand; I couldn't get the machine in there.  You want the pleat to come from the inside of the dress.  If you start it right at the top of the opening, it doesn't lay right. 

Step 11: Sew Lining Together.

Now turn the whole thing the other way so you can sew the lining front to the lining sides right sides together.

Step 12: Attach the Lining to the Dress.

While the dress is inside out, attach the lining to the dress.  I stitched the lining to the collar and sleeve facings and under the edges of the zipper.  The sides of the pleat are anchored to the lining for the top couple of inches, about halfway down to the top of the pleat opening. 

This is the main reason why I would do a two piece next time.  That way, the pleat can be anchored to the waistband.

Step 13: Finish Up.

Turn it all right side out and you're done with the dress.  Then you can do the head piece and the cape.  You can see the cape in the first picture.  Put the appliques on the front, sew to the back right sides together leaving an opening, then turn and press.  The head piece was made on a bridal buckram frame.  The wire was covered with an elastic headband that matches my hair.

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