(Changing the date of this post from its original 1/22/2009 to today so that it moves up in my list since folks have been asking for this info rather a lot lately!
Part 1: Prepping the fabric
Irish Dance dress embroidery…nowadays there is no clear cut definition of what this should look like. It used to consist mainly of recognizably Celtic designs, but now anything can serve as inspiration for embellishing a solo dress. The only consistent factor is its inconsistency!
But the one thing we embroiderers want is to have a clear, smooth product. One definite challenge in achieving this is the Celtic knot in all its forms. The complicated series of overs and unders presents unique considerations because the stitch out does not happen in a smooth, unbroken fashion. To accommodate the changing overlaps, a digitizer, and hence the embroidery machine, must move from place to place to establish the unders before going back to form the overs. This disjointed stitching creates uneven pulling on the fabric which can create puckering and warping of the fabric which then contributes to joins that do not match. Below is an example.
Very often a factor in this issue is fabric that is not hooped tightly enough so that the fabric cannot be moved. Are some hoops better than others? Most likely…I know that the hoops I use for my commercial machine are better than the hoops for my home embroidery machine at holding the fabric. But because I was tired of seeing my Celtic knot designs out of alignment, I found a way around this. (This is also a way to deal with fabric that cannot be hooped without damaging it like velvet.)
First, the fabric must be interfaced and then stabilized with fusibles. For those of you thinking this does not seem conducive to creating a comfortable costume for dancing, well, you are correct! Most Irish Dance dressmakers do their best to make these dresses as comfortable as possible, but in some instances the amount of embroidery dictates a certain stiffness that the dancer is more than happy to deal with in the name of Irish Dance fashion. And, because so many skirts are actually very stiff or have stiff parts, this heavy stabilizing actually helps achieve the desired crisp look.
Most importantly, though, this interfacing and stabilizing helps the fabric stand up to what can be very dense stitching. Whether or not your base fabric is stabilized with a fusible interfacing (tricot or woven) is totally up to you. I personally feel that all fabric, including the heavy velvet, will support embroidery better if it is first interfaced with a fusible. I do remove as much stabilizer as I can from the bodice and sleeves and soft skirts when the embroidery is done, but the interfacing remains to give the base fabric the body and support it needs both as clothing and as the base for the embroidery.
After the fabric is interfaced, I fuse Pellon Decorbond to the areas to be embroidered. This is fairly stiff interfacing which helps support the stitches. Yes, there is softer, cheaper stuff, but I have found it does not work as well as I want it to. The excess Decorbond can be cut away, which is what I do, or it can be left to help achieve the level of stiffness desired.
Your fabric can be embroidered two different ways: uncut and cut to size. When doing the embroidery for clients who will be making the dress themselves, I ask that they send me rectangles with the pattern piece traced on the stabilizer so that I can make sure the design is sized correctly. For myself, however, I cut the pieces out to size before embroidering because I use my patterns in my digitizing software to ensure correct sizing and placement; some of the professional dressmakers that I have worked extensively with also send cut pieces to me since by now we have individual sizing systems in place.
To illustrate, I am using the center front panel of a three panel dress. This has been cut out and the silver pleats already sewn and fused in place.
Below is the wrong side, interfaced with a fusible tricot fusible.
This next pic shows the piece stabilized with Decorbond. The center of the area to be embroidered is marked by the vertical line.
Next to be marked in this case is the lower edge of the design. I mark this place for this design because I want all of the skirt designs to be 1 inch from the finished hem.
Part 2: The Sticky Stuff
I use a LOT of this stuff when I am using my Bernina -
For my bigger commercial hoops, I use the same type of material from a very large roll.
If you look online for tutorials involving sticky stabilizer, you are told to cut your length of the stabilizer and then put it, paper back and all, into the outside hoop. You are then told to score an area and pull off the paper to expose an area that you can adhere your fabric to.
I dislike this method because ultimately the hoop loses tension on the stabilizer (the paper is slippery!), and the fabric being embroidered can, and usually does, start to pucker and shift, especially when doing the complicated overs and unders of a Celtic knot.
I will illustrate what I do using one of my large hoops for my commercial machine.
As you can see above, having come off of a roll, the stabilizer is curled. To get started, I lay the inner hoop ring right side up on the paper side of the sticky back to flatten the curl as shown below.
Then, I begin to pull the paper backing off the piece of sticky stabilizer.
With the hoop still weighing the stabilizer down, I pull the paper off one end.
Then I move the hoop end onto the exposed sticky stabilizer.
I rub the stabilizer onto the bottom and a bit of the side of the hoop. Then, holding the hoop, I pull the rest of the paper off so that the hoop “catches” the stabilizer.
Attaching the stabilizer evenly around the hoop can take some patience.
This next pic shows the sticky back attached tightly…when I thwack it with my finger it sounds like a drum.
Next, I cut a piece of tear away stabilizer…
…and then hoop the whole shebang.
Part 3: Getting that fabric placed correctly!
Now I am ready to place the fabric. I am going to line up the reference lines drawn on the fabric with corresponding lines that I stitch out onto the sticky stabilizer.
These are the placement lines stitched out onto the sticky back.
To refresh, here are the reference lines on stabilized piece.
I begin by folding back the fabric at the junction that the two lines cross, and then I attempt to line up that fold with the the corresponding place on the stabilizer.
It does take a bit of jockeying back and forth from end to end to get it lined up on both the x & y axes. The pic below shows I am on track here…
…but not at the other end.
So, I shift until I get this straight…
…then check the other end again…
…press it down to check the horizontal alignment…
… and I am done!
Before I begin embroidering the actual design, there will be a basting box sewn around the embroidery area. This anchors the fabric securely in place to further reduce any shifting or puckering. You can read a bit more about that here: Basting Boxes . Also, to help alleviate the sticky build up and reduce thread breaks, I hoop a length of waxed paper under the sticky back…you can read about that here: Waxed Paper