January 27, 2008

Measuring the Upper Chest & Troubleshooting Sleeve Issues

(Author: Susan; Models: the reluctant Divas)

It is easy to mis-measure the upper chest and shoulders. These measurements are used to determine your pattern size, so it is important that you get them right.

Start by marking the body landmarks. Yes, I mean MARKING. You have to consistently measure to the exact same points, otherwise your measurements are guesses and your pattern alterations won’t line up and make sense. If you don’t want to actually put marks on skin, put a little piece of adhesive tape on the area and put a measurement dot point on it.

You want to mark the upper chest points and back shoulder blade points (RED), the neck center front and back (PINK), and the outside and inside shoulder points (YELLOW). I’m going to be using photographs here, and these points are difficult to determine without a real body in front of me.

Here is our first example:

To mark the upper chest points, I’m looking at the creases that come up from the armpit. Often they angle inward, around the line that would be the armhole. Here, they point outward, so I’m going to come in from them slightly. Look at the second photo, you can see a the slight dent between her chest and shoulder muscles. You want your point to be in that divide. Too far over on the arm and movement will be restricted. Too far into the chest and it is too constricting. Our little gal here is fairly wide-chested. The upper chest is the measurement between these marks.

The pink dot is placed at the base of the neck. Technically it falls at the base of the clavicles, but go ahead and mark your finished neckline point.

Mark the outside shoulder points. To find these, you’ll have to ask the dancer to let her arm go limp and allow you to manipulate it. Place a finger at the shoulder point and move the arm up/down/around. Move your finger until you find the point where you don’t feel the shoulder movement. You want to be completely on the body side of the shoulder joint, not on the arm side. For team dresses, where there will be overhead arm movement, it is better to come a little further away from the arm. This will give you more arm freedom. Measure from the outside shoulder points to the neck center front point. Yes, it angles, but you have your “landmarks” for pattern alteration, so you can handle it.

Mark the inside shoulder points. Ideally, you would like this point to fall straight below her ear. You will probably need to move it towards the back so the seam won’t show from the front – especially if you will be using different colors in the bodice front and back around the neck. The point you mark will be the spot the shoulder seam ends at the neck line. Measure form this point to your outside shoulder point. This will be the length of your shoulder seam line.

Mark the neck center back. This will be the neckline point. Measure from the outside shoulder points to back neckline point.

Mark the shoulder blade points. This determines how wide the back of the dress will be from armhole to armhole. She is standing in “dance” posture and very straight, you’ll need to add more ease than if she’s standing casually, or rounded, so note her posture when you measure. This gal is wide across the back and not forcing her shoulders back and blades together. She won’t need much ease added in for movement.

Second example:


Note that her creases point inward, and I’m able to just follow them around to mark the upper chest points. She is standing without her head jutting forward, so her inside shoulder point is pretty much straight down from her ear.

Third example:


Although she isn’t standing with her head jutting forward, because of the slope of her chest/shoulders, the inside shoulder point has been moved back so the seam falls on the top of her shoulder and won’t be seen from the front. (I think she may have her head turned away from us rather than facing forward in the photo).

So you can’t move your arms…things to try:

1) Arm movement can be impaired if the bodice is too big. Check to make sure it is not too wide across the upper chest, that the shoulders aren’t dropping and/or that the armhole is too low or too big. You want the sleeve/armscye seam to fall at the pivot point of the shoulder joint. If it falls on the sleeve side, movement will be restricted. If it falls on the bodice side, it may feel uncomfortably small.

2) Is the armhole cut high enough? You want a high armhole – an inch at most below the armpit. Make it as high as you can without feeling like it is cutting into you. Depending upon the shape of the dancer, you may have to pivot the whole armhole more towards the front. (The FeisDress Designs™ pattern already has done this for you, but you may have to adjust the pivot or scoop out some more in the front if the dancer has muscle build up – tennis player or swimmer for instance. Remember, any changes you make to the armhole REQUIRES changes to the sleeve cap. There is no extra ease in the sleeve cap to accommodate any alterations in the size of the armscye.)

3) Shoulder seam length – make sure it doesn’t extend beyond the joint. Dropped shoulders decrease movement. You may even have to make the shoulder seam slightly shorter than actual body length. (If you are accustomed to only seeing your dancer in loose/casual clothing, a fitted shoulder might look “too short” to your eye.)

4) Widen the sleeve. If you are using a FeisDress Designs™ pattern, the sleeve cap is already rather low. Just add on to the width of the sleeve at the underarm sleeve line. If you are using a standard pattern, try lowering the sleeve cap and widening the sleeve keeping the cap seam the same length as before. (Pivot at the center point of the seam.) If you widen the sleeve and lengthen the cap seam, your resulting sleeve will be puffier. This may or may not be acceptable – just bear it in mind.

5) A gusset. No matter what you do, sometimes on some girls your only option will be to add a gusset. You can add a gusset to the normal sleeve bodice or you can experiment with cutting the gusset as part of the sleeve. Usually, it should be off-center, with more of the gusset in the front bodice than in the back. An oval is the best shape. Start small and gradually increase the size until you achieve the desired results.

If you are adding a gusset to an existing dress, open up the under arm sleeves –the sleeve cap, sleeve and bodice side (4 open seams). Do it a little bit at a time and them will all probably have to be opened different amounts. Have the dancer try to raise her arm. Open it up some more if you need to. Keep going until she can comfortably lift her arm. Look at the size and shape of the resulting hole that gaps when the arm is up. That will tell you the length, width and placement of the gusset for that dancer.

Ann's Gallery Updated

Two new tunic style dresses have been added to Ann's FeisDress gallery.

Be sure to visit and take a look.

August 21, 2007

"Brainstorm alert - The Unified Quantum Theory of the Skirt Hang"

Susan and I had an interesting conversation this morning after she sent a very interesting email that was inspired by this paragraph from the end of the fitting post:

2)If your dancer likes to yank her shoulders back, your dress may very well start to bell and the hem will protrude forward. There may be as many ways of fixing this as there are dressmakers, but my approach so far has been to take the skirt a bit higher into the side bodice seam. This has alleviated the problem.

Susan wrote:

Reading the last paragraph of the fitting post just threw the light switch—

The Unified Quantum Theory of the Skirt Hang

1) I have never seen a top-rated dancer stand with that misaligned posture on the podium. Maybe, when they’re holding the trophy, jumping with excitement, they forget to stand that way. Or, more likely, Gavin’s dancers and other top winners have learned to NOT stand that way because it adversely affects their dancing...good alignment equals good dancing.

2) Dancers, moms and TCRGs judge the dresses and dress hang from podium pictures, and those dresses hang beautifully.

3) Because some dancers still persist with the misaligned posture, dressmakers have discovered that causing the skirt to hang inward (toward the knees) when the dress is worn with straight posture counterbalances the misaligned posture when it occurs – so the dress still bells, but since it was leaning inward before, when the dancer sticks out her stomach in front and her butt in back, it looks straight. Dressmakers working for long distance clients don’t have a chance to evaluate how the dancer stands, so they opt for making this “correction” for all dresses – now it is prevalent. Dancers and DMs both assume it is mandatory for all ID dresses without considering the dancer inside them. The most common form of this “fix” is the straight waist seam.

What does this mean?

Most likely, your DD will never have a dress made and fitted by a BN dressmaker. You acquire a dress made for you by a small dressmaker. What does your DD hear soon after zipping up? “Come on, Honey, stand like you’re in front of a judge.” Then what happens? She yanks her shoulders backwards, her stomach bulges out (even if she is stick-thin), and her butt jumps up toward those shoulder blades. The front of the skirt pops out, the back pops out and the dreaded “LAMPSHADE” curse is bestowed. Verdict? The local dressmaker is just not as good as the big name DM who makes those dresses in your podium pictures.

This brings us to corollary 4:

4) The quick fix for the lampshade, bell-shaped skirt is to have the dancer stand up straight and in proper alignment.

Could not have said it any better myself!

Click here more info on the Physics of the Skirt Hang.

August 20, 2007

Fitting Issues: Dancer Mis-alignment

Authors: Susan Gowin and Ann

Reading chapters 1 & 2 of "Body Alignment & Posture" will help you understand what is happening here.

(Susan received these photos from a mom making her first dress. She emailed them so we could see her problems and offer some help. We are using these pics with her permission. I want to be clear that I am in no way maligning this dancer...all my comments are factual observations based on what I see in the pics. Her alignment issues are NOT her fault.)

Every dress that we make at Feisdress, be it a custom solo or a school dress, is made to fit each client. (For one school account, I do make the dresses to fit looser than a solo dress because the parents are concerned that the dresses have plenty of room to grow…there is plenty of room to let them out, but it made the parents of the first few that I made for the school nervous that they fit so well to begin with. They wanted to SEE that there was room to grow into before any alterations had to be done. Have to admit that giving the dancers dresses that are a tad too big goes against my grain, but it is what they want.)

Back to the point…since I make the dresses to fit, I alter the Feisdress pattern accordingly. I take my initial measurements with the dancer in a relaxed, though straight, stance. Every once in awhile it is obvious that the dancer has a completely different way of standing when in front of the judge waiting to dance, so I will ask to see the “dancer posture” that they use. When it is drastically different than their normal posture, MOM and I have a discussion about that and how it will affect the fit of the dress, so which body does she want me to make the dress for? We do discuss the fact that most dancers cannot maintain an exaggerated posture while dancing to the same degree as when they are standing still. However, it is surprising what dancers can accomplish when they set their minds to it. So, which body to fit? And if we decide to fit the more exaggerated posture, how do we fix the issues that WILL pop up when fitting a pattern to the body?

Here we have a dancer in her dancing pose. Extremely exaggerated posture, very misaligned as indicated by the space between the back of her body and the door behind her.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Side view.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Notice the creases and pulls...
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

When dancer raises her arm, it gets worse. The teacher in me is screaming bloody murder, right now!
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Ideally, the body should align straight down from the ear. Obviously not happening here. So, what IS happening? Considering the relatively balanced look of the dancer's head (her chin is not jutting or lifting, which I have to say is extremely unusual with a posture like this), I am going to hazard a guess that this young lady has been told to lift her chest, pull her arms back and press her shoulders down which throws her entire upper torso back and down. The rest of her body has responded by counter-balancing so she can stand up: her lower ribs are jutting forward while her sacrum juts back putting her pelvis into a major tilt which causes her to sway her lower back tremendously. The front of her body is over-extended while her back is shortening to a huge degree. The side seam of her bodice should be on the blue line in the pic below...notice how far off it is.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
In terms of the bodice pattern, we must first understand that the side seam on the bodice does not divide the body into even sections front and back. There is more on the front side than the back side, but it should be a straight line. It is not straight here because of the dancer's posture. We must address this. But this is only the beginning.

This pic of the mock bodice was the initial pic sent...sleeves are in. The commentary that follows was the process with which the fitting problems were assessed.

Pic 1: The dancer is in her "standing before the judge" pose.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
A: This should lay flat with no bubble here. Cutting the neck lower may eliminate this. There is too much fabric between the base of the neck and the bustline.

B: The shoulder/neck seam is too far back. Notice it is curving. You might consider moving it forward – this may help that bubble at the throat. You don’t want the seam to show from the front so having it back a bit is ok. Play with it.

C: There is something wrong with the sleeve cap. The sleeve shouldn’t be pulling back like that. The way the line starts straight and then angles…could the shoulder seam be too short? Actually, it looks like the sleeve cap does not have enough room...too short and/or not wide enough.

D: Side seam is angling towards the front – you need more room in the Front bust.

Pic 2: (Line A was originally a reference line on the crooked picture. I have straightened the pic and am using A to indicate the neckline problems.)
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
A: The shoulders are too angled so the bodice is coming up too high on her neck. Caused by the pulling of the sleeves.

B: These wrinkles indicate pulling – something is too tight. But just looking at the picture, the upper chest is plenty wide, even too wide. The pulling is coming from the sleeves…the cap is not high enough, maybe not wide enough. Take the sleeves off .

C: I think this extra here at the sides is coming from the back because it is all hiked up. You need to fix the back before you try to address this.

Pic 3: Now sleeves are off...some things solved so the sleeve cap is one culprit in the fitting issues.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
A: (This is a vertical line for reference.)

B: neck is being dragged down by shoulder. See C.

C: Her left shoulder is lower than the right. Is this real or a momentary thing? If real, get a shoulder pad for that side. This will help the line and fitting the bodice. You can see it is even affecting the fit of the neck.

D: (This is a vertical line for reference.)

Pic 4: Sleeves still on.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
A: The back shoulder width is too wide in this pic. This is because of her exaggerated dance posture. Notice in Pic 5 (which was taken after the sleeves were removed and there must have been a conversation about her posture) that this extra fabric has been filled up with wider shoulders.

B: In this pic, this should be the actual blade width.

C: If the basted line is supposed to be her natural waistline, the back is way too long. Probably by 2”. This is the waist as marked on the mock bodice which should actually be marked...

D: ...here on this line.

Pic 5: Sleeves off. Notice how the bodice fits better now, but there are still issues.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
A: See how the neck doesn’t fit the same in the back? Is that a sewing mistake? If not, she may be throwing one shoulder farther back.

B: (This is a vertical line for reference.)

C: You can see here again that her left shoulder is lower. Why?

What this all means to a dressmaker: since you have a dancer with posture issues, you have to mentally start looking at the dress in segments and fit it that way. The front of the dress is totally separate from the back – you are no longer trying to fit her all the way around. You make the front fit, then you make the back fit and THEN you put the sides together. That is why taking separate measurements front and back is so important. You cannot measure around the waist and figure half goes to the front and half to the back. It does not work that way. And the more exaggerated the posture, the worse it works. You are essentially trying to fit one dress on two totally different people. There is no way it is going to look good on both. This is a difficult situation.

This posture also causes a couple of other problems:

1) This posture causes the dresses to either be too short in back or the dreaded skirt problem called the "Duck BUTT!" The simple fact that the dancer tips her pelvis as much as she does will mean that the skirt back, if cut to the same length in the back, will look shorter. As the dancer become vested in moving in this mis-aligned place, her rear-end WILL GET BIGGER. Now add in overdeveloped gluteal muscles and that skirt will be even shorter AND it will flare out at the back, hence the "Duck butt" appellation for the dress. Take this into consideration when dealing with misaligned postures and obviously overdeveloped bottoms: make the dresses longer in back for the tipped pelvis (or don't worry about it if your TC wants them to be shorter in back), and change the pleat fold lines to be closer to the back center seam to get rid of the duck butt.

2)If your dancer likes to yank her shoulders back, your dress may very well start to bell and the hem will protrude forward. There may be as many ways of fixing this as there are dressmakers, but my approach so far has been to take the skirt a bit higher into the side bodice seam. This has alleviated the problem.

June 17, 2007

Distribution of FeisDress Design CD in Australia

FeisDress Designs Catalogue CDs are available once again in Australia through Tess Gleave and Glitterbugs.net. Please visit http://www.glitterbugs.net/feisdress-designs.htm for information on ordering the catalogue in Australia.

For North American and European orders, please visit the FeisDress website.