Other posts in this series: All about Patterns, All about Fabrics, How to Dye Silk for Fabric Skating Skirts, Altering Your Growing Skater's Figure Skating Dress, Laying out the Pattern.
I really, really love fabrics. I can spend hours in the fabric store just browsing the aisles and touching all the pretty choices.
The problem is that national fabric chains stock very few fabrics that are suitable for sewing figure skating dresses or other ice wear. Browsing the dance/swimwear section at JoAnn Fabrics takes maybe three minutes. Very unsatisfying.
In this ginormous post, you’ll find basic fabric words, what to look for in figure skating fabric, buying fabric and notions, prewashing fabric, non-stretch fabric, and online vendors who sell two-way stretch fabric. I encourage sewers to contribute their methods to this post in the comments. If you have a great figure skating fabric or stretchy trim source, let us know that, too!
Basic Fabric Terms
- Bias: The bias is the line that runs at a 45-degree angle from one selvage edge to the other. It’s the weakest part of the fabric and also the stretchiest. Sometimes you’ll find bias-cut skirts in ready-to-wear clothing, especially formal wear, because it has a pretty drape. I hate the bias, though, because it’s shifty and can warp once you’ve sewn a hem. If you ever work with a bias-cut skirt, allow the skirt/dress to hang for a couple of days and then even out the hem. That’ll save you some curse words.
I’ve never had to use any bias-cut fabric on a figure skating dress, but you might encounter a call for bias-cut strips. You can find these near the zippers in your fabric store, or, if you’re ambitious, you can make them yourself. I’ve only been ambitious once. Bias strips are stretchy and wrap well around curvy seams. They’re often used in tailored clothing to enclose a seam. Want to see some? Look at the waistband of most men’s trousers. You’ll find bias tape at the bottom. Looks like a lot of work to me.
- Bolts: At the fabric store, you’ll find yards of fabric wrapped around a flat cardboard core. That’s called a bolt of fabric. If I buy a lot of one kind of fabric, I often ask the cutter for an empty bolt. The cutter will wrap my fabric around a bolt, which makes managing and storing my fabric easier. The bolt ends contain useful information like fabric width, fabric content, and laundering instructions. If you can’t figure out what the laundering symbols mean, ask the fabric store’s cutter. Sometimes fabric stores offer a flyer that explains the laundering symbols. I always misplace that flyer.
- Cut edge: The cut edge of the fabric is the second weakest part of the fabric. The cut edge runs perpendicular to the selvage edges and is the part where the person at the fabric store has cut your fabric from the rest of the bolt. If you tug the fabric from selvage edge to selvage edge, you’ll find that the cut edge, even of woven fabric, is stretchy.
- Drape: This is how the fabric moves. Canvas has very little drape to it: it’s stiff. You’d use canvas for sturdy shoes, not a flowy dress, right? Spandex has a nice drape that lends itself well to a skirt.
- Elastic: Elastic is generally the white, stretchy braided stuff that sewers put around the panty legs, neck lines, and arm openings of a figure skating dress. Elastic holds the fabric close to the skater’s body for a good fit. I buy 3/8-inch elastic (for leg, neck, and arm openings) and 1-inch elastic (for waistbands) in packages when it goes on sale. You can also purchase elastic by the yard and have it cut at the fabric counter.
Clear plastic elastic is a pain in the butt. It’s difficult to sew because thread often tears through the elastic. If you choose clear plastic elastic, use a heating tool to melt the two layers of the plastic together. Clear elastic is great for bra straps and hat straps, but it’s too much trouble for anything else.
- Grainline: All fabrics have a grain, or a part of the fabric that’s more stable and not as stretchy as the cut edge or the bias. Take any fabric – woven or knit – in your hands and pull outward in one direction. Now grab the fabric perpendicular to the first direction and pull. You’ll feel that the fabric, even woven fabric, stretches more one way than the other. The grain line runs parallel to the selvage edge and is important when you lay out pattern pieces.
- Nap: Nap is the optical direction of the fabric or the direction of the printed pattern. This is an important concept especially when you deal with velvets or printed spandex. Velvet looks either lighter or darker, depending upon the direction you view the fabric. If you have a print, even what looks like a random print, lay out your pattern pieces in the same direction, tops all pointing the same way.
- Notions: Everything that isn’t fabric, a pattern, a machine, or furniture is a notion. Elastic, trim, zippers, and thread are all notions.
- Right/wrong side: You’d think this would be obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. In cases where it’s difficult to see a difference between a right side and a wrong side of the fabric, check out the selvage edge’s finish. Its finish is neater on the right side of the fabric. However, sometimes even that’s difficult to tell. Sometimes a piece of stretchy fabric’s edges will curl more to one side than another. I usually choose the side with the curl. The main thing is to be consistent. You might not think that consistency matters because you can’t tell which is the right/wrong side while you’re constructing the outfit, but often you can see the difference when your skater wears the figure skating dress. I put a chalk mark on the right sides of fabric pieces so I can be consistent.
- Selvage edge: The selvage edges are the factory-made straight edges of the fabric and are the fabric’s strongest part. If you tug the fabric from cut edge to cut edge, you’ll find that the stretchiness is not as great as along the cut edge, so it holds its shape better.
Selvages often look different from the rest of the fabric – they’re about 1/4 – to 1/2-inch wide and might have a tighter knit or different color. You’ll find the selvage edges at the top and bottom of a bolt, perpendicular to the cut edge. Selvage edges are useful for finding the right side of a piece of fabric as well as for aligning pattern pieces. The right side of the fabric will often have a selvage edge that looks more finished on one side than the other. When you layout patterns, you’ll use the selvage edge to help you align the pattern piece to a grain line.
- Stretch: Stretch fabric literally stretches when you pull on it, but retains its shape when you release it. That’s why it’s well suited for figure skating dresses and ice wear as well as swimwear and other athletic clothing. Athletes move easily in stretch fabric.
- Swatch: A small bit of fabric. Don’t be afraid to ask fabric stores or online fabric retailers to give you a swatch. At fabric stores and some online retailers, it’s free. Other online retailers will sell you a swatch book. It’s very useful to have a few swatches for matching up colors, especially if you’re ordering online.
- Thread: we call the string thread, not string. No idea why. I use all-purpose thread, not cotton quilter’s thread, buttonhole twist, or embroidery thread. When you look at the thread display at the fabric store, you’ll find all four types of thread. Be sure to buy all-purpose thread.
- Trim: Trim is the ribbon or sequin chain that sewers use to embellish a figure skating dress or ice wear. Make sure whatever you buy is stretchy. I don’t care how pretty it is, if it doesn’t stretch, put it back on the shelf.
- Width: Fabric comes in 45- or 60-inch widths. In other words, if I buy a yard of 45-inch fabric, the piece will measure 36 inches by 45 inches. It’s a good idea to look at the bolt end to find out how wide your fabric is.
- Yardage: In the U.S., fabric is sold by the yard and portions thereof in eighths. In other words, you’ll hear people asking for 1/2 yard at the fabric store’s cutting table, not 18 inches.
Two-way stretch. For most purposes, the only fabric you’ll want for figure skating dresses is two-way stretch. You can tell if a fabric has a two-way stretch if you pull it both parallel to the cut edge and parallel to the selvage edge. If both directions are stretchy, you’ve got two-way stretch.
Keep in mind that most of what you use on a figure skating outfit should be two-way stretch, even the trim. There are exceptions, which I’ll get to in Non-stretch Fabrics below.
The names of the different kinds of stretch fabrics are confusing, even for me. If anyone knows what ITY is, please leave it in the comments. I’ve bought it before and it looks like plain ol’ two-way stretch to me. *Update: Thank you reader pdanek! See her explanation way below in the updates.
- Athletic mesh – this is two-way stretch fabric, but it’s not solid, it’s a mesh. You’ll often see sewers use this for details on a dress or over/under skirts. I’ve used flesh-colored athletic mesh near the neckline of dresses to cover the skater, but hide the fact that fabric is on the skin. Look closely at many top-level skaters’ outfits in skating magazines. You’ll find lots of flesh-colored athletic mesh around the neckline. I’ve also used colored athletic mesh, especially for dress sleeves. Athletic mesh is difficult to find in the fabric store chains.
- Cotton spandex – This cotton/spandex blend is a great fabric for practice pants, tops, and shorts. It’s not great for skirts or dresses.
- Glissenette – Very fine, almost sheer spandex, often with a glimmer finish. You can make a dress out of it, but be sure to line the entire leotard or you’ll send your skater out on the ice in a cold, see-through dress.
- Knit – Most two-way stretch fabric is knit fabric. It’s not bulky like a sweater, though, it’s a fine knit that you’ll find in all sorts of garments like T-shirts and underwear. Knits are, by nature, stretchy.
- Lycra/spandex – What’s the difference? None. Lycra is DuPont’s brand name of spandex fabric. Spandex is the name for the stretchy, elastic fibers. You can find pure spandex fabric or spandex combined with other fibers (cotton, nylon, rayon). Popular spandex applications include swim suits and comfy, stretchy denim jeans.
- Nylon spandex – A fabric blend made from both nylon and spandex. I’ve found shiny, moleskin, and other forms of this fabric. It’s a good choice for ice wear.
- Panné - This is a one-way stretch fabric that I’ve used for practice skirts. It’s cheap (maybe $3/yard), plentiful (a rainbow of colors at the national fabric store chains), pretty (kind of a crushed velvet texture), and washes well. It’s stretchy along the cut edge, so line up your pattern pieces so the grain line is parallel to the selvage edge. Like velvet, panné has a nap. Be sure to layout all pattern pieces in the same direction (all top edges should be pointing the same way). You can also use this without fear for figure skating skirts.
- Rayon spandex – Another fabric blend with spandex. Suitable for ice wear, but be sure to check the laundering instructions on the bolt end.
- Slinky – This two-way stretch fabric is often crinkled and has a very pretty drape to it. I wouldn’t sew a figure skating dress leotard with slinky fabric; I’d use it for the skirts where you want a lot of swing.
- Spandex/Lycra – see Lycra/spandex above
- Stretch lace – This is the only kind of lace you’ll want to use to make ice wear. Some of it looks like Grandma’s tablecloth, but you can also find a wide variety of patterns and colors, especially online. I’ve never found the stuff at national fabric chains. Stretch lace is great for creating texture and color variations in ice wear. Many people cover bodice fabric with stretch lace.
- Stretch vinyl – Looking for the fake leather look? Here you go. Ice Girl’s pop can dress was made of silver stretch vinyl. It sews well and is kind of funky. I used the leftover pieces to make panties for a practice skirt – every time she spins or jumps, she flashes a bit of silver – very cool.
- Stretch velvet – I really love the rich look of stretch velvet and I was surprised that the pieces I bought machine washed and dried with no problem. I’d still check the bolt ends to make sure that you can wash them this way. If you’re a new sewer, stretch velvet’s going to give you a problem. The velvety fibers will shift under your machine’s presser foot. I recommend a walking foot, if you have one. Stretch velvet has a nap to the fibers, so be sure to cut out all pattern pieces in the same direction. In other words, the tops of all the pieces should point toward the same cut edge of your fabric. I know a new sewer who created a dress out of stretch velvet successfully, so don’t let its shiftiness deter you. Just be aware that you might have to stop sewing every three to four inches to check or adjust your fabric.
- Tricot – Tricot in French means knit. This fabric is usually smooth and used for lining outfits. I use a flesh-colored tricot to line all of Ice Girl’s figure skating dresses and to make figure skating undergarments. When I buy flesh-colored tricot, I buy it in 5- to 10-yard amounts and just keep it on hand.
- Two-way stretch: Another word for spandex fabric. See Lycra/spandex above.
Double-check the back of your pattern to verify the yards that you’ll need. Patterns will often list yardage for 45-inch wide fabric and 60-inch wide fabric, so take a look at the bolt end for that information. I usually add 1/8 yard to my cut yardage so I’m sure I’ll have enough fabric. Sometimes I add a half yard to squeeze in a practice skirt out of the material.
If you’re a first-time sewer, here’s what my friend and advisory board member C.L. says: “Buy enough fabric to sew another complete dress. It takes the pressure off! For me that was just an extra $10, but well worth the piece of mind.”
Watch the person at the cutting counter as she rolls out, measures, and cuts your fabric. Most cutters do a great job, but people make mistakes. Watch for stained fabric and/or fabric with cuts or flaws. I reject that fabric, but often the cutter will offer it to you at a discount. Make sure that she’s cutting both layers of the fabric evenly and that she’s not cutting on an angle. If you’re worried about something, mention it the cutter while you’re at the cutting counter. If you notice a problem with the fabric once you’re home, take your receipt and the fabric back to the store.
When you’re buying the fabric, you should also buy your all-purpose thread. Don’t buy all-cotton quilter’s thread, expensive and shiny embroidery thread, or way-too-thick buttonhole twist. Walk your fabric cut or swatch over to the thread display and choose a spool that looks very close to your fabric color. Pull a bit of thread off the spool and lay it on your fabric. Does it disappear? Is it really, really close? Great. That’s the one. A small spool of thread should be enough for most figure skating dresses.
While you’re at the store, trot over to the ribbon and trim shelves with your fabric. Can you find stretchy sequins or ribbon that will look nice on the fabric? This is a good time to pick it up. Make sure the trim is stretchy. If it’s not stretchy, your skater will have a very hard time putting on the figure skating dress and the stitching might rip out.
Be sure to ask the cutter or online seller how to wash and dry the fabric before you attempt to launder it. If you have skipped this step, wash and dry a swatch to make sure your method doesn’t ruin the fabric. Whatever laundry method you choose, make sure you prewash with the one you plan to use on the finished figure skating dress or ice wear. It’s terrible to wash a finished garment just to ruin it in the spin cycle.
You’re not prewashing the spandex fabric because of shrinkage issues. Spandex doesn't shrink. Your’re prewashing to remove excess fabric dye, which can bleed on the figure skating dress’s other fabrics as well as your regular clothes. Prewash each piece of fabric separately in its own load.
For finished figure skating dresses, I recommend the vodka method for in-between cleanings, both for embellished and dry-clean only figure skating dresses. Test it in a small spot on the dress, like the upper back panty, where no one will see. Let it dry and see if the vodka damages the dress. If not, spritz away. Remember: no orange juice. (This method is fabulous for anything you send to the dry cleaner: suit coats, fancy trousers, sweaters, etc.)
Dry-clean-only fabric doesn’t need to be dry cleaned before you sew it. Just remember that you can’t run it through your washer when the time to clean the figure skating dress comes. Between cleanings, test a scrap of fabric with the vodka method to see if you can delay a trip to your dry cleaner a bit longer.
Woven fabric is non-stretch fabric and your local fabric store will have many tempting colors and patterns. You can use non-stretch fabric, but only for skirts and men’s shirts. Be sure to look at the fabric’s drape before you use it. You don’t want something stiff that won’t flow with your skater’s movements. I’d choose a rayon or a sheer tulle.
If you’ve fallen in love with a non-stretch trim, you can use it on the non-stretch fabric. You can buy a non-stretch lace medallion to use as an embellishment, but make sure to place the medallion on the dress while your skater is wearing it. Gently pin it and sew.
Online Spandex Vendors
Online spandex vendors have many more fabric choices than your local fabric store. Just search for spandex or Lycra fabric online to find thousands of options. I have experience with just two. If you have a favorite online spandex vendor, please help me add to this list with your experiences, both good and bad! Write about them in the comments.
- Performancewearfabrics.com This source used to be YourDesigns.com or the Lycra Lady. I order most of my fabrics from this vendor, but most of the fabric isn’t available for viewing online. I know the vendor’s working on it, though. What I like is that she has an affordable sample club. Pay the small fee ($25 when I signed up) and receive hundreds of swatches. I like having the samples because it’s easier to show people the fabric, easier to match colors, and I like to feel the fabric before I buy it. Sample club members receive discounts on ordering fabric and occasional e-mails about sales. Her standard two-day shipping is not free and the fabric is more expensive than other vendors. However, the selection and service are outstanding. Once, I bought a piece of fabric that looked like some man had rubbed his beard all over it. In other words, it was fuzzy in spots, not smooth. The owner immediately refunded my money. Another time I didn’t receive my order in two days. She sent it and refunded my shipping costs. I've also called her many, many times to ask about fabrics that might work well together or her opinion about using a certain fabric for a bodice, skirt, or sleeve. She's very, very helpful. There is no minimum purchase using this vendor and you don't have to purchase your fabric in one-yard increments.
- Spandexworld.com I really like this source’s printed spandex and the prices are great. All of their fabrics are available online for viewing, but you need to realize that computer monitors don’t always display colors accurately. Shipping isn’t free, but it’s first-class and much cheaper than two-day shipping. I was disappointed in some of the printed spandex I’d received. On the wrong side of the fabric was some residual dye from the front. Since it didn’t leak through, I didn’t return it to the company. I have no experience with their return policy. If you ask for swatches, they’ll send them to you for free, but the wait time is a good two weeks unless you pay extra. However, they were really good about sending me samples that matched a swatch online. I picked out a swirly orange fabric and wanted a solid that would coordinate with it. They sent 10 samples from which to choose, which was very helpful. You must order at least two yards of fabric, in one-yard increments.
From reader Anonymous: I've had good luck with Spandex House, and the milliskin has great selection of colors and matching sheers.You can order fabric swatches for free.
From reader c.m.: I agree. Spandex House is great!
From reader pdanek: I've been using SpandexWorld for my fabrics. Love the swatches. You can call and ask for all the pink fabrics and they will send them. It does take some planning ahead since they are a bit slow but I'm happy with their service so far.
Update: Reader c.m. offers informtation about non-stretch fabric and an online vendor:
For skirts, a lot of people use stretch mesh and glissenette. However, no other type of fabric can replicate the look and flow of silk chiffon. I get it from http://www.dharmatrading.com/ in white (medium weight) and dye it to match the lycra. From this source, it is quite cheap (2-5 dollars per yard). Colored silk is very expensive, so I don't bother with it. I find that this fabric gives the dress an expensive and professional look and is also great for airbrushing.
Update: From reader Bonnie: Just thought I would give you another source to add for spandex, etc. http://www.maryjos.com/ is online and a fantastic, huge place to shop filled with fabric and trims of all kinds in Gastonia NC. I am new to ice skating dresses but found a rainbow of colors and all types of stretch online at Mary Jo's. They are great to work with and will send swatches.
Update: An answer to my ITY question! Thank you, reader pdanek!
After a little internet hunting I think I found the answer to your question about ITY spandex. I was curious myself. "ITY Jersey Interlock twist jersey is a medium weight jersey knit that is available in a wide variety of prints. This fabric is soft, beautiful, and comfortable to wear! It’s perfect for travel, as well. copied directly from the EmmaOneSock site"
I have only seen "ITY" associated with prints which I find odd since the abbreviation seems to apply only to the weave.
That’s everything I know about fabric. Did I miss something? Do you have an experience to share? Do you love clear plastic elastic and know how to deal with the evil stuff? Have you any idea what ITY spandex is? Know of a good spandex vendor? Add to the comments!
Do you have a question for Ice Mom? E-mail me at email@example.com.