Thursday, May 23, 2013

Skating Dress Tutorial Part III: Preparing the Pattern and Cutting Fabric

Before I go on with the rest of my tutorial I feel I may need to have a bit of preface or disclaimer.  First of all, I realize that there are a lot of "body issues" in skating.  Anytime you have girls (or boys) wearing spandex and comparing themselves to each other there will be body issues.  During my tutorial I do talk about how a costume can help a skater or not help a skater to look "lean."  I want to emphasize that I am NOT discriminating against body types in skating.  I believe that skating is a great sport and fun activity, and that is should be enjoyed by everyone.  However, if you are going to put yourself in a competitive environment in a tight-fitting costume, then you should give yourself every advantage by making yourself look as fit as possible.  Skating is about creating elegant forms with the body, so, by its very nature, competitive skating means the body will be scrutinized to look at line and extension.  I am well aware that everyone is built differently and that body shapes can vary widely, but I also believe that having a properly fitted costume can enhance the overall perception of the skating performance, as well as increase a skater's confidence.  So, when I refer to making a skater look slender or lean, I am trying to enhance the skater's natural shape to help them look the best they can.  Because, really, isn't that why we all started sewing in the first place?  To produce something of quality, and look as good as we can doing it?  So while I realize that my choice of wording leaves me open to scathing comments and hate mail, I am going to state up front that I don't intend offense and I won't alter what I am going to say if it best expresses my intent.

Ok, getting back to the actual tutorial - by this point we should be able to gather all of the materials we will need for sewing skating costumes.  Once you have your machines, fabric, and patterns ready to go, it is time to trace the pattern, adjust it for fit, and cut out the fabric.  For this part of the tutorial you will need: measuring tape, your pattern, tracing paper and tools, scissors, and your fabric cutting supplies.

Gather your supplies.

Step 1: Measure your skater

This should be pretty obvious, but first you will need to measure your skater to determine what envelop size you will need to trace.  Follow the instructions on the pattern, but typically you measure bust, waist, hips, back length, and crotch depth (from the belly button around the bottom to the indentation of the lower back).  I also like to measure arm length (shoulder to wrist) if you are going to be making sleeves.  I would add some length to the arm pattern pieces anyway - they always seem to be a bit short, and you can always hem them shorter if need be.

Read the envelop or instructions to determine the proper size for tracing.

Step 2: Trace your pattern

You may have to use multiple sizes (I know that I have to use a mix of medium and large for myself) so just try to have a smooth transition going from one size to the next.  Make sure that you also trace important markings and the lengthen/shorten lines.

Note how I used the medium and large sizes in one tracing.
Also make sure to copy important markings, such as lengthen lines.

Step 3: Cut out your pattern and adjust for length

Cut out your pattern (do NOT use your good fabric scissors - you should use your paper cutting scissors for this and keep fabric scissors for fabric only).  Follow the instructions in the envelop to appropriately adjust the length - some patterns have only one lengthen line, but most have 2.  Often, back length determines added length in the top of the leotard, and the crotch depth will determine how much should be added or removed at the lower lengthen line.  Carefully read this part of the instructions!  Usually you have to divide the number in half and then take a difference to figure out your adjustments.  The Kwik Sew instructions are especially good at describing this.  Make sure you adjust the same on the front and back pattern pieces.  Adjusting the length is critical for fitting a leotard - the fabric stretch should go around the body more than up and down, so having the length correct is critical.

You can see where I added length to the top half of the pattern.
I did not need to use the bottom adjustment line for myself.

Here is a look at my TNT pattern - this had only one lengthen line in the middle,
and I had to lengthen it by two inches.  This was the first pattern I ever used,
so I cut it out of the original pattern.  Not recommended.

Step 4: Preparing the skirt pattern

Ok, so I have to admit that I am a bit of a skating costume snob, and one of my fundamental beliefs is that a skirt can make or break a costume.  If it is cut wrong, or placed wrong it can make a skater look wide, stocky, or show off more than everyone else wants to see.  Also, I typically find that the curvier your skater, the less frilly you want your skirt.  The goal is to make the hips look as slender as possible while making the skater's leg look long, lean, and elegant.  For this reason I am NOT a fan of (1) having a skirt where the seam makes a circle around the hip-bone and (2) stitching the skirt in between the top and bottom sections of the leotard.  I know sewing people will disagree with me, because sewing people hate exposed stitches, BUT (especially on curvy people) it is much more flattering to have (1) a V-shape to the waist seam of the skirt and (2) topstitch the skirt onto the costume.  The V-shaped seam should be obvious - by creating a V-point it emphasizes the length of the torso, it creates a seam that de-emphasizes the width of the hips, and it emphasizes the narrowness of the waist.  Look at every Disney princess - the cut on the bodice of their ball gowns has this V-shape to it.  It creates an elegant look and we are going to use it for our skating costumes.  As far as the topstitching goes - it helps the skirt to lie flat.  Stretch fabric has this annoying tendency to roll.  And if you insert it into a seam it is going to poof out.  We want to avoid poof, especially on the midsection.  So, topstitching.  Honestly, the top-stitching is not noticeable, especially at the distance the skaters are on the floor.  Even in close-up figure dresses the top stitching isn't distracting.  The cut of the dress and slim fit of the skirt will be noticeable.  The topstitching is not.  Trust me.

So, although there really are a multitude of skirt options available, I am going to show you how I do "my" skirts - the flat symmetric skirt, and the flat asymmetric skirt.  Since these are self-drafted patterns I can't point to you a pattern, but you can look at my pattern pieces and probably make up something yourself without too much difficulty.  Because, really they are very basic pattern pieces:

Symmetric skirt.
Left is the front piece, right is the back piece.
Each square on the grid is 1", so you can use that to estimate/draft your own.
Each piece is cut on a fold, so the straight edge is the grain, and the greatest
degree of stretch should run perpendicular to the grain line.
You don't have to get the curvature of the pieces exactly right -
we will adjust the skirt shape during construction.

Asymmetric skirt front.
This is cut in a single later, no fold.
I used the symmetric pattern as a starting point, then added a long point going off to the side.
Depending on how you cut the skirt the skirt will hang to the left or the right.  I usually like the skirt to hang right, because that is the outside in dance, so the skirt will have more movement during the skating.

Asymmetric skirt back.
Again, cut on a single layer.
I again used the symmetric skirt back as a starting point and
adjust then length and shape to get an asymmetric point.
I suggest making the flaps a bit longer than you think you will need them.
We are basically folding this around a curved form, so it is easy to make it smaller, very hard to add fabric.

Step 5: Cut your fabric

Ok, so now that we have our pattern pieces all ready to go, it is time to get to the fabric cutting.  This will probably make people cringe, but I am not the most precise fabric cutter.  I pretty much fold my fabric in half, put the pattern on top with some weights (cans of soup/olives/etc. work well), and cut around it with the rotary cutter.  I cut out the fashion fabric and the lining fabric separately though.  I don't really have a lot of tips, except to be careful with the rotary cutter - it is sharp!

Ruler makes a good pattern weight.
I just fold over the fabric and cut double.
I loves me my Olfa!

Also, sometimes I change the pattern while I am cutting (yeah... I freehand a bit... not recommended for beginners, but after a while you start to "see" how to adjust things on the fly), so in that case I use the cut fabric as the "pattern" when cutting out the lining, just to make sure it is the same:

I am using my freehand pieces to cut out lining for the straps.
My lining fabric is thick lycra because my fashion fabrics are both quite thin.
If I have a thicker lycra, I use a thinner lining fabric.
Structure is still importnat, even in spandex.

Step 6: Prepare to start sewing!

That's it for today!  Next time we will start sewing the bodysuit, so make sure your have your ball-point needles handy!

Two costumes, cut out and ready to sew!


  1. Do you wash your fabric before cutting? In my experience, spandex doesn't really shrink, but I am curious what you do.

    Great explanations and I look forward to drafting a similar skirt for ice dancing ... I'm hippy and have never liked circle skirts or full dance skirts on me. Too much fabric and I look very bottom heavy.

    1. Honestly, I don't usually pre-wash skating fabric unless it is dirty when I buy it. Probably not best practice, but, well, to be honest you are mostly dealing with synthetics like nylon, lycra, and acetate, so shrinkage really isn't too much of an issue. Sometimes I have noticed that the fabric dyes will wipe off on my hands when I get the fabric (not often, but sometimes) and those I do tend to pre-wash. There are still times when I have ended practice with bright blue of green stripes on my back because of my sweat causing transfer of color from the straps though.

      And, yes, I totally understand what you mean about too much fabric in most of the pre-drafted skating skirts. A lot of people tend to think that more fabric = more coverage = better, but in reality the more hippy you are, the less fabric you want to try to use. It is an optical illusion, but an effective one. Other people who have narrow hips look better with a frilly skirt because it gives illusion of a waist. It is all about playing tricks to make the body look proportional. It is just harder than with regular clothes because the fit is so close to the body, so even small adjustments can have large effects on the appearance.

  2. I am REALLY trying to figure out how I make my skirt - how long - blah blah blah - any recommendations
    My skater is 8.

    1. My advice is to have the skirt be 1-2cm longer than the top of the leg opening on the sides of the skirt. The center front I would have be just a bit shorter than halfway between the bottom of the torso and the knees. The back I would have be 1-2 inches longer than the front. If your kid is going through a growth spurt then perhaps leave everything a smidgen longer than that, so when they grow their bottoms are still covered.

  3. I totally agree with you regarding the skirt sewn on the leotard instead of making all separate pieces.
    Also, many girls complain that so much fabrics cut and sewn in that area is uncomfortable for them and even itches sometimes.

  4. I totally agree with you regarding the skirt sewn on the leotard instead of making all separate pieces.
    Also, many girls complain that so much fabrics cut and sewn in that area is uncomfortable for them and even itches sometimes.