Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sewing review: stretch velvet vs. stretch panne

This is going to be quick because I'm not feeling too well. However, I think folks who sew ought to know what they're getting into.
The blue fabric is stretch velvet, the pink is crushed panne. You can see the depth of color in the blue picture, but the crush effect on the panne gives that fabric some depth, too.

Important notice for first-time or new sewers: Iron fabrics with a pile or a nappe (pile is the velvet fibers that stick out like a crew-cut and nappe is the way the fabric has a different look from different angles) on the wrong side of the fabric. Ironing on the wrong side ensures that you won't crush the pile or leave a permanent mark on the fabric that looks just like your iron plate.


  • Stretch velvet looks just like velvet. It has the same plush pile and is deep in color and contrast.

  • Panne looks very much like velvet, but it's cotton-based. It has a fabulous crush to the nappe of the fabric that gives the short pile more depth.

Advantage: Both are good. I like the look of either fabric. For a practice outfit, I'd use panne. For a program outfit, I'd use stretch velvet.


  • Many bolts of stretch velvet say Dry Clean Only; however, some say handwash and line dry. I chose the latter route and had good results.

  • Panne is machine washable and dryable.

Advantage: Panne. Who wants to visit the dry cleaner? Dry Cleaner Todd: don't get me wrong, I love you man. But I don't want to see very much of you.


  • Stretch velvet is fabulous to sew. The cut edges don't curl up as you stretch it to insert elastic around the leg openings.

  • Panne feels like cotton when you sew it, with the exception of stretching the leg openings. The fabric curls maddeningly and I want to throw it in the garbage.

Advantage: Stretch velvet. I want sewing to be fun and curling fabric is not fun.


  • I've found stretch velvet for $9.99 - $19.99/yard. Ouch.

  • Panne is generally $5/yard.

Advantage: Panne. Yeah. $5/yard for 60"-wide fabric is a deal.

Selection (at local fabric shops).

  • Stretch velvet has maybe five bolts to choose from. Not a great selection.

  • A rainbow of color exists for panne and fabric shops stock the rainbow.

Advantage: Panne. All those pretty colors. Oooh.

Overall pick: stretch velvet, if you can afford it. I know. That came from nowhere, right? Well, I'm of the opinion that how the material behaves in the machine affects my happiness, the look of the garment, the chances of my family having dinner that night, and the possibility of me ever sewing another stupid skating outfit again. I'd scour every fabric store, order online, and cut newspaper coupons to find and afford stretch velvet. Then I'd stick it in my washer on gentle and throw it on the drying rack. Which, of course, is what I have done.

Secondary pick: panne. No surprise here because I'm only reviewing two fabrics! Cost and selection make this fabric great for practice skirts where no one can see the leg opening elastic and you can just toss the buggers in the washer and dryer. :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sewing review: Green Pepper pattern

Holy buckets! This pattern was a disaster. I am an experienced sewer. I've been sewing for 20+ years. This pattern did not work for me.

I measured Ice Girl, but the top of the leotard was way too tight and the length was too short. I even went up one size to figure in a little growth.

The pattern and instructions for the scrunchie worked well, though. But Ice Girl, that smart aleck, now claims that we made 40-dollar scrunchies. With the mood I was in after sewing that awful pattern, Ice Girl's lucky that I didn't wrap one of those scrunchies around her neck.

Luckily, I found some Kwik Sew patterns locally. I'll keep you posted about how these patterns work out.

Overall rating: 1/2 out of 4 stars. Don't buy the Green Pepper pattern for skating outfits. The pattern makes a good scrunchie, though.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sewing: practice dress fabric

We were going to buy the skate dress on the left; however, it's $60. I sew and I thought that I could probably beat that $60 price.

The pattern. The pattern we found at our local JoAnn Fabrics is the Green Pepper pattern above. I'll list more pattern resources at the bottom of the page. The selection at the store was very disappointing. Ice Girl and I flipped through all the pattern catalogs, but the only patterns we could find were for little girls. So, moms with little kids: you're in luck. The Green Pepper pattern is stylish, but basic. I thought it would be perfect for a practice dress.

Green Pepper pattern #F813: *revision* see Green Pepper pattern sewing review for why I will never buy another Green Pepper pattern again.

  • Cost = $8.
  • Skill - medium sewing skill (Looks pretty easy to me, though. No buttons, no zippers.)

The fabric. Fabric choices at JoAnn Fabrics were pretty good. The swimsuit/dance wear stuff was pretty slinky and fish-like, but they had a fair selection of stretch velvets and plenty of crushed stretch velour. We found some black stretch velvet (dry-clean only) for $19/yard. We passed it up in favor of washable stretch velour (pictured at far right) for only $4.99/yard. I also popped for some more expensive stretch velvet for the skirt, $12.99/yard. The pattern calls for 1 1/2 yards of fabric total for the skate dress with sleeves. It doesn't break out yardage for a contrasting skirt. I decided to buy 1 1/2 yards of both fabrics and try to make some practice skirts out of the leftovers. The scrunchie yardage is included for all views.

Fabric costs:

  • 1 1/2 yards of black crushed panne stretch velour at $4.99/yard = $7.49
  • 1 1/2 yards of black panne with silver sparkles at $12.99/yard = $19.49

The notions. The notions for this project are minimal. The only thing I needed was 3/8-inch elastic. But, I don't feel comfortable sewing stretch fabric without a fresh ball-point needle, so I bought a pack of those, too. It's black fabric and I think I have thread at home for black, but I bought a spool anyway.

Notions costs:

  • 2 yards of black 3/8-inch elastic at $.49/yard = $.98
  • Schmetz Ball point needles = $3.29
  • 1 spool black thread = $2.59

Total cost: $41.84

I'm pretty sure I'll be able to get at least one practice skirt and two scrunchies out of the yardage, too. I think that's a pretty good deal.

More pattern resources:

  • Kwik*Sew patterns. They have several skating dress/leotard patterns and a couple of these patterns have blade soaker patterns. I couldn't find these at JoAnn Fabrics, so I'm going to have to mail-order them. *revision* I found these patterns at Hancock Fabrics.
  • Jailie Patterns. Many, many skating patterns. I think Ice Girl's new performance dress will come from here.
  • Speciaty Sportswear. O.K. Confession time. I've been all over this website and what I've seen is good, but I just don't understand what the system is.

Rant: Bolero won't leave my brain!

Ah. Torvill and Dean's 1984 Gold Medal Olympic free dance performance earned the pair a perfect 6.0 from all the judges.
Everyone who sees them feels a romantic swoon.
However. Ravel's Bolero has been stuck in my head for three days in a row. It's making me nuts.
I should be greateful to Jayne and Christopher, though. The original piece is a whopping 17 minutes. Their cut of it is just 4:28.
It's just annoying when that 4:28 keeps running through my brain 24/7...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Accessory review: Silipos gel ankle sleeve

This Silipos gel sleeve isn't cheap. Rainbo Sports sells them for about $15. Why did I buy two of them? That's $30, Ice Mom!

I know, I know. I just dropped about $200 in the pro shop and then I went back for more. If you don't know already, breaking in new figure skates is often a painful process. Ice Girl's coach has scars from breaking in skates. Ice Girl is a notorius wuss. She thinks a paper cut is fatal. Ice Girl wouldn't last long enough to make scars.

After about 45 minutes of skating with the new figure skates, Ice Girl was crying for her old ones. I hardened my heart and took her back to the pro shop. The man in the shop suggested either a blister pad (cheap foam: 50 cents) or this gel sleeve ($15).

I know you think I'm nuts, but I went with the sleeve. I didn't just pay $150 for new skates so my daughter would put them in her new Zuca bag and hide them in the basement. No, no. She was going to sleep in those damn skates, I tell you.

I bought one sleeve, put a Band-aid on her popped blister, and had Ice Girl put on the sleeve. She laced up her skates and didn't want to leave the ice for hours. I am not kidding you. She was very, very comfortable in the new skates with the gel sleeve.

I thought I could get away with just buying one sleeve, but her other foot became red and painful. Two sleeves, happy kid, skates breaking in nicely.

Overall rating: four out of four stars. In other words, I don't regret my purchase (expensive, yes) one bit. Expensive, yes, but very practical. My $150 investment in new skates hasn't been wasted and Ice Girl still loves to skate instead of dreading it.

Accessory review: Zuca bags

Ice Girl is the luckiest girl in Madison, Wis. Last weekend we made the 90-mile trip east to the Pettit National Ice Arena and visited Rainbo Sports, inside the Pettit. Ice Girl got new skates and, just as we were about to leave the pro shop, Grandma showed up. Bless her.

Grandma popped for this fabulous Zuca bag for Ice Girl. The frame cost $100, the bag $45. Not cheap. However, this puppy is nearly indestructible. It weighs less than nine pounds (empty), but a 300-pound person can sit on the brown top. As a seat, it's sturdy and pretty comfy.

The front opens up like a miniature locker with pockets in the locker door (one big one that's the shape of the door, two smaller ones). The top of the locker has a mesh pocket, which is ideal for keeping small bits of clothing--gloves maybe? Also inside the locker is a long lanyard with a hook. I can see this as a useful place to hang a bit of clothes or keep a key safe.

On each side of the bag are the mesh pocket that you see in the photo, a large zippered pocket, and a small zippered pocket. Zuca says that the small pocket is perfect for a cell phone.

The frame is sturdy aluminum with a telescoping handle for pulling. It has four wheels on the rear of the frame, which I thought was kind of weird. Here's how it makes sense: that extra set of wheels is for lugging the Zuca upstairs. Clever. The bottom wheels have flashing multi-colored lights. According to the Zuca FAQ page, these lights never need new batteries. Something about generating electricity as the bag rolls.

Overall rating: four out of four stars. This bag is roomy and perfect for housing ice skates. It's lightweight, so Ice Girl can lift it in and out of the car herself. The wheels roll easily and the second set of wheels really helps to move the bag upstairs. I like that the bag is replaceable. I can picture the bag wearing out way before the frame does. The whimsical lights in the wheels make other kids' eyes glow green with envy. Very cool, very useful. Expensive, though.

Update. I forgot to mention the cool flashing wheels. They do not need batteries, these smart things. Just roll the bag and the internal wizardry creates the electricity to power the flashing lights. How cool is that?

DVD Review: Olympic Figure Skating, Volume 1

This 60-minute Olympic Figure Skating, Volume 1 DVD contains Olympic performances from:

  • Brian Boitano
  • Dick Button
  • Katarina Witt
  • Dorothy Hamill
  • Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov
  • Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean
  • Oksana Baiul (what's up with that hat?)
  • John Curry (OMG--what long, long legs!)
  • Barbara Scott
  • Midori Ito (great costume)

The performances, of course, are fabulous. What's not terrific is that this DVD has no menu and no way to skip from one performance to the next. Really, it's like having a video tape in your DVD player.

Some of the performances are just snippets: Debi Thomas appears briefly, but not long enough to compare her Carmen to Katerina Witt's Carmen. That left me pretty grumpy, especially since the announcer built up the two Carmens business. Nancy Kerrigan appears briefly.

Overall rating: 2 stars out of four. If you're looking for a great DVD, this isn't it. However, if you're looking for a collection of Olympic performances, it's good. I know I'm a hypocrite, but I've already ordered volume 2 from Amazon. It's for the DVD library I'm starting. Really.

How-to: Buy figure skates

While Ice Girl was in the early Basic levels of Learn to Skate classes, I bought her skates from the local Play it Again Sports Shop. I had read somewhere that breaking in new skates is painful and we all know that kids' feet grow. So, all of Ice Kid's skates had been used and cost about $10, plus $4 for sharpening. Each time I bought a new pair, I'd bring in the old pair; the guy behind the counter gave me $4 for the old pair. Not a bad deal.

Ice Girl now has a private coach who told me that I.G. really needs better skates. I'd been avoiding it because they run about $150. I looked online, I read about skates in articles, but I still felt at sea.

We live near Madison, Wis. and it's a hockey town. We have many rinks, but the pro shops have hockey equipment. I took I.G. to the Pettit National Ice Arena last Saturday for their ginormous open skate (1 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.) and to visit their fabulous pro shop, Rainbo Sports.

I'm telling you: going to the shop was so worth it. Kevin, the guy who runs the Milwaukee Rainbo Sports shop, was very helpful. Let's face it: I'm pretty clueless about the whole skating thing. I didn't know that the skates don't run in traditional shoe sizes. Not only do they require special measurements, but also each skate company has its own sizing system.

Why a professional fitting is fabulous, part one: foot evaluation. Kevin had I.G. stand and he assessed her arches and how her feet bent slightly inward. He measured around the foot at the instep. He explained how the skate should fit on her toes and showed her where it shouldn't pinch.

I.G. tried on the Riedell Blue Ribbon skate, but I.G. has wide feet, so the fit was pretty tight. The Jackson Classique fit so much better. Kevin showed I.G. how to lace the skates, tighten the laces, and explained about breaking in skates.

Why professional fitting is fabulous, part two: heat setting. As a newbie Ice Mom, I had no idea that good figure skates can be heat set to a skater's feet. You need a convection oven, not a plain ol' kitchen oven, or a hairdryer and patience. Kevin had the convection oven, so he popped I.G.'s new skates in the oven, warmed them up for six minutes, then put them on I.G.'s feet. Ice Girl sat with her feet in the toasty boots and the boots molded to her feet. Heat setting decreases the pain and time involved in the breaking-in process. Kevin also encouraged Ice Kid to break in the skates at home with the blade guards on.

Oh! And socks! My goofy kid is sock challenged. I bet no one else has sock management problems, but my family does. We lose socks very efficiently when left to our own devices, but our wicked cat loves to swipe them and hide them under the couch, under beds, in a heap near the sunny window, on the stairs. What is up with that cat? Often I find that I.G. has on two different socks, but I make the discovery when she's shutting the van door in the school parking lot or when we're an hour from home and about to buy new skates. I stopped at Target to pick up some white cotton socks and made her put on two of the same ones. I bet the mismatched pair is under one of my van seats.

Here's what I've learned about socks: I was so proud that I.G. took off her shoes in the pro shop and she had clean, white, matching socks on both feet. Kevin wasn't impressed. Cotton socks are not the way to go. Seriously. The cotton absorbs foot sweat and keeps the water close to the foot, chilling the foot as the kid skates. The cotton also stretches and bunches in the boot, which makes the kid's foot uncomfortable and causes blisters. Trouser socks, or tight-fitting nylon socks, are the way to go.

Why professional fitting is fabulous, part three: tweaking. My daughter, bless her, thinks she's dying every time she has a paper cut. Imagine I.G. with stiff, new skates that rub her feet. After 45 minutes of ice time, she wanted her old skates back. I took her back into the shop and consulted Kevin. He told me that he can punch out the leather in some spots to accomodate her foot, but he'd rather try a blister pad first. He gave me a soft foam circle that I remember from my '80s roller skating days. He also had this nifty gel sleeve that wraps around a skater's heel and ankle. The sleeve protects the foot from rubbing against the leather. But it's $15. Yeah. Pricey. I dithered a little, but I ended up popping for the gel sleeve. I'd just spent $150 on skates. My reasoning was that the cheap option wouldn't be cheap if Ice Girl never put the skates on again because they hurt too much. The gel sleeve worked like a charm: she had her skates back on and a big smile.

Jackson Classique skates: $145-ish
4 pairs of skating socks ($5/pair): $20
purple soakers: $13
Gel sleeve: $15
Olympic Video: $22

Total damage: $215

Useful Internet resources:

New blog, new to figure skating

I thought it would be useful to keep a journal of interesting, useful, and possibly funny things that I learn about figure skating.

My 12-year-old daughter, Ice Girl, loves, loves, loves to skate. This is a kid who has been in all kinds of sports and hasn't had too much success. Well, to be fair, I'm talking about success as in Wow! Look at my kid score! Yeah, not so much.

She started in gymnastics just after potty training, just shy of her third birthday. She liked gymnastics and took classes for nine years. She can tumble and do a respectable handstand off the balance beam, but she's not fabulous and she's not inspired. That's O.K. She tried and enjoyed it. Me, I like staying inside during lessons, especially when it's snowing or raining.

I know enough to stay out of the rain and snow because Ice Girl tried soccer, too. In kindergarten soccer, the team was co-ed. That's great. Co-ed teams encourage the girls to run like heck and compete with the boys. Except that Ice Girl's team had Pele on it and some six-foot kindergartener who was already shaving. My kid picked dandelions in the goal box and was completely stunned when the ball came her way. As the herd of kicking kindergarteners approached, Ice Girl dropped her flowers and froze in place. We stuck it out for three years in soccer. Lots of dandelion chains, not much else. I still resent sitting on a lawn chair, wrapped in an old Packers blanket, and freezing my butt off. However, the momma gossip was fabulous. I'm not sure I watched too many games. Ice Girl didn't watch many, either.

Ice Girl tried guitar, too. It's not really a sport, but she wasn't passionate about it, either. It's indoors, though, so Ice Mom liked guitar quite a bit.

Basketball. Ice Girl tried that one season. She's short, Ice Girl is. Poor shrimpy thing. All of her friends, with two exceptions, are like trees next to her. The other two were wise enough to never try basketball. Ice Girl tried, but was bored: no dandelions to pick.

Swimming. Geez. I thought this was a stroke of genius, pardon the pun. After school, Ice Kid could walk with her flippers and suit to the high school pool, spend 45 minutes on homework, and then swim laps with other kids. I picked her up after work and took her home. Smart, hey? You'll notice that swimming is indoors. However, the indoors is like a freaking hot house. Nothing but sweat. And Ice Girl? She's not really into racing. The first and only time trial I attended was a disaster. Ice Girl swam against kids four years younger than she is. That's fine, but those mean 8-year-olds left her in their wake. I'm not kidding. Ice Girl was a lap and a half behind the slowest swimmer and Ice Girl was taking her time. She was moving her arms and legs, but she was also looking around, enjoying the scenery. She finished and was thrilled to have done so.

That's what I admire about Ice Girl. She's sweet and sincere. I don't think she realized that finishing two minutes behind everyone else was, um, embarrassing. All of her swimming friends cheered her. I didn't let her know that her finish was anything out of the ordinary.

Ice Girl doesn't have that take-the-ball-at-all-costs attitude. She'd rather take her time than race. I think that's part of the reason that she loves figure skating. Well, that and the costumes.