Monday, January 4, 2010

Ice Mom’s Sewing Guide: All about Patterns

Note from Ice Mom: I’m going to write a series of posts about sewing. I figure that I write a lot about sewing and that many of you would like to try it, but don’t know where to begin. So, I’ll be posting about how the process works. As I build this fountain of knowledge, I’ll put all posts under the Sewing Guide category. Of course, if you sew, please write about your process in the comments!

This post is part of Ice Mom's Sewing Guide.
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.

Sewing patterns are a bit more involved than finding a pattern and buying it. Pattern prep begins with measurements and ends with alterations. It can be intimidating, but I think you can handle it.

My advice would be to start small and easy. If you've never sewn anything before, start with a practice skirt. My favorite practice skirt is Jalie #2215. Its waistband is like poetry - very smart, very easy, very neat. You can read my two reviews of this pattern: pants and skirt. Even easier than the skirt is Jalie's shrug pattern #2558. I reviewed the shrug pattern, too.

Measuring. Before you shop for patterns, measure your skater. This is an awkward process because you have to measure in spots that are pretty private. Your skater should be dressed in tight-fitting clothes, preferably a leotard and tights or skate pants and a tank top.

Before you begin, it’s a great idea to have a small spiral notebook or a few file cards handy. Use one page or file card per skater. Write these letters down the side of the card, like a column: B, W, H, Dia., In. Those stand for Bust, Waist, Hip, Diagonal, and Inseam. Across the top you’ll put the measurement dates.

  • Bust. Have your skater lift her arms in the air and wrap a flexible tape measure around the widest point of your skater’s chest. Have your skater put her arms down to her sides and stand up straight. Take the measurement and write it down next to B under today’s date.
  • Waist. This is the natural waist, not where your skater wears her jeans. Find the point where the body cinches in. That’s the waist. Measure it and write it down next to W.
  • Hip. This is the widest part of your skater’s body below the belly button. If you’re measuring across the butt cheeks, that’s just fine.
  • Diagonal. This awkward measurement is something that Jalie requires and it’s a good idea, anyway. The measurement figures out how long your skater’s torso is. With feet apart, start the measuring tape at the skater’s left shoulder. Bring it down to the crotch and back up to the shoulder. It makes a big circle around your skater’s torso. Write this measurement next to Dia.
  • Inseam. You don’t have to take this measurement unless you’re sewing pants. Again, this one’s awkward. Ask your skater to stand with her feet apart. Measure from the crotch to the knobby bone at her ankle. That’s the inseam.
Pattern selection. I look for patterns that are multi-sized for easier fitting, on sturdy paper for easier drafting, and have good instructions. Patterns aren’t cheap. Expect to pay $10 – 20 for each one. That’s another fabulous reason to buy multi-sized patterns: more uses.

I recommend Jalie or Kwik Sew for figure skating patterns, but Specialty Sportswear has very nice designs. Jalie includes 22 sizes in the envelope and prints on sturdy paper. Pattern backs and instructions are downloadable in .pdf form on their site. Kwik Sew is a multi-sized pattern on sturdy paper, too. Its instructions are well done, the diagrams are clear, and novice sewers should have plenty of success. Specialty Sportswear has many nice designs, but only one size in the pattern envelope and the instructions and diagrams are for advanced sewers. I don’t touch them, myself, but I know people who have great success with them. You can read my review of Specialty Sportswear patterns here. All patterns are available online. Kwik Sew and Jalie are available in some fabric stores.

I do not recommend Green Pepper patterns. The one I made didn’t fit at all, which is a huge waste of my time and money.

Consider, too, your skater's body type. I once sewed a dress for a skater who had a generous bust measurement. The dress had a halter top. Very cute, but the girls kept getting loose when the skater moved. I added addtional straps to keep the girls inside the dress and the skater comfortable.

Fitting. When choosing a size, it’s always easiest to work off the bust size measurement than any other measurement. Why? Because reshaping arm holes is a real pain. If you make adjustments to the bust, you’ll mess up the arm hole and maybe make it too tight or too loose. Neither is great and both are hard to fix for a novice sewer.

Your skater might be a size small horizontally, but a size medium vertically. My advice is to trace the pattern for the horizontal size and the vertical size. So for that example, I'd use the small measurement for the horizontal and the medium measurements for the vertical. Match up the intersections at logical points.

If this is your first dress you’ve sewn for the skater or the first time you’ve sewn patterns from a pattern company, you might consider combining the panty and bodice (top) pieces. I have instructions to combine pattern pieces below (Combining two pieces into one piece). The idea is that you’ll have a leotard to work with instead of a top and panties. It’s much easier to baste the leotard back and front together using a long, long machine stitch and have the skater try it on than to try to add fabric to the panty after the dress is sewn together.

Fitting the leotard: Even though this post is about patterns, here’s the explanation about how the leotard fitting method works, but first you'll have to follow the instructions in Combining two pieces into one piece. Baste the leotard together (right sides together) at the shoulder, crotch, and side seams. Don’t do any finishing work and make sure you can pull those stitches out. Have the skater try on the leotard, wrong side out. Use a water-soluble fabric pen to indicate where the leo needs to be taken in or let out. Sew the final leo along your markings, rip out the basting, and ask the skater to try it on, right side out. Gently pin the skirt along the markings you made in the Combining two pieces into one piece instructions below. Does the skirt cover the panties? If not, adjust. When you have the dress at your machine, repin the skirt so the right side of the skirt and the right side of the leo bodice are together. The skirt’s hem will be towards the neckline. Zig zag stitch the skirt to the leo at the skirt’s top edge. The skirt will hang down over the stitching and no one will ever see it.

Pattern tracing. You don’t have to trace your patterns, but it’s a pretty good idea. Many patterns will set you back $10 – 20. The patterns are multi-sized and you might have to make adjustments to make the dress fit. If you’re going to make adjustments anyway, you might as well give in and trace the pattern. It takes me about 30 minutes to trace a pattern and watch half an episode of Dexter. Be sure to iron the pattern flat and have a big, flat surface to work on. Some folks use their floor, but I use my kitchen table, which is a good excuse to clean it off.

I recommend that you purchase pattern tracing paper from a fabric store. You can purchase a yard of this thin stuff for about $1.99. I buy in 10-yard batches and try hard to use a 50% off coupon. Ask the gal at the cutting counter to give you an empty bolt for storing the paper. Pattern tracing paper comes in plain and gridded models. Either works fine, but I use plain. I find all the extra grid lines confusing, but that’s just me. You can also use lightweight sew-in interfacing if the fabric store doesn’t have any tracing paper in stock (do not use iron-in interfacing). Another option is plain ol’ white tissue paper, like you’d use for gift wrapping. Tissue paper is thin, though, so it won’t stand up to heavy use.

Sharpie, ruler, soup cans. I use all three to trace my patterns. I lay down the pattern, cover it with tracing paper, and weight it all down with soup cans. I trace the pattern using a Sharpie and a ruler. Sometimes it’s tough to see which line to follow. Give yourself permission to lift up the tracing paper (try to keep the lines in place) every once in a while. It helps to approach a jumble of similar lines from two different directions to help you find the correct line.

Be sure to transfer the grain line (the arrow and line down the middle of the pattern piece) or the place-on-the-fold line, the letter or number of the piece, the make and style number of the pattern (so you can pick it out from a potential mess of pattern pieces), the size, the skater’s name, and the number of pieces to cut.

I also keep a roll of medical paper tape with me when I copy patterns. Sometimes tracing paper rips or I cut through it. Repairing the pattern with paper tape allows me to iron over the tape without it sticking to my iron plate and shriveling on the pattern. I also use it to reinforce any guides that the pattern might have. Sometimes patterns have circles where a zipper stops or starts or where a sleeve meets the arm hole. I use the paper tape on both sides of the pattern piece, cut out the hole, and then use my chalk or fabric marker to mark over the hole. The paper tape prevents the marking hole from ripping.

Combining two pieces into one piece. This is a very, very useful technique, especially if you’ve never sewn for a particular skater or never used a pattern company’s materials. The idea is that you’ll combine the bodice (top) and panty pieces into one leotard and fit the leo to the skater. Using the leotard method eliminates the headaches associated with adding fabric for length.

Trace the bodice pieces, both front and back. At the bottom of each piece, measure up for the seam allowance and mark the seam line (where you’ll be sewing). Most seam allowances are either 1/4” or 5/8”. Check the pattern instructions. I use a dashed line to indicate the seam line.

Trace the panty piece, both front and back. Measure the seam allowance down from the top of the panty and mark the seam line with dashes.

Cut out all pieces. Using paper tape, tape the front seam lines on top of one another to create the leotard front. Repeat for the back. I usually retrace the whole pattern piece, but using the taped pieces will work just fine. Transfer the original seamline onto the fabric where the original panty met the original bodice using chalk or a water-soluable fabric marker. That's the skirt line. You'll try hard to match the skirt to that line in the instructions above, Fitting the leotard.

Separating one piece into several. Just as you can combine two pieces, you can also separate them. I’ve separated bodice fronts and backs to create color blocking on dresses. In other words, instead of having a bodice that’s all one color, I can sew a bodice that’s made up of pieces from different fabrics and different colors.

Trace the bodice piece. Draw lines or curves in the position where you'd like a different piece of fabric. Cut out the marked-up bodice piece, which is now your guide bodice piece. Place your guide under the pattern tracing paper and weight it down with soup cans. Trace the bodice piece for the first color of fabric. Where the first color meets the next color, draw a dashed line. Remove the guide. Increase the size of the piece by measuring out from the dashed lines 1/2” for a seam allowance. Draw in the new cutting line 1/2” from the dashed line. Label the pattern piece with the color and move on to the next color. When you're finished, you should have a collection of smaller pieces, that, once you match seamlines, will have the same shape and size as the guide piece.

When you sew the fabric pieces together, it’s a good idea to sew a line of straight stitches (stay stitches) 3/8” from the edge of the fabric first. These stitches should be in the seam allowance. Clip to the straight stitches and pin the pieces right sides together. Clipping the fabric will allow the fabric to lie flat along curves so that the two pieces of fabric easily fit together.

Another way to achieve this color blocking effect is to use appliqué. That’s another post, though.

Do you have any sewing techniques related to patterns? Add them to the comments!

As always, if you have a question or an idea for a blog post, e-mail Ice Mom.


bethalice said...

I happen to be working on a pattern today, and have soup cans on the table. They are much cheaper than pattern weights, and I can fix myself a hot bowl of soup when I am done (-14 this morning).

I do not care for the gridded pattern paper - it tends to stretch in one direction. I like the plain better as it is a bit stiffer, holding its shape well. I do not use a sharpie as it can soak through the pattern paper and get on your master pattern. Usually I use a pencil, alter my pattern, then go over the final design with a sharpie with something under the pattern paper to protect whatever surface I am doing it on.

I would like to add that I altered the panties on the Kwik Sew I am using as my master pattern, as the original was cut rather high in the leg. We prefer a more modest cut. I am curious how the Jalie panties are cut???

Question - re: pattern blocking-
You mentioned sewing a line if straight stitching. Won't those stitches break when the fabric is stretched?

Ice Mom said...

Hi, bethalice!

The straight stitching that I mentioned is just in the seam allowance. In traditional garment sewing, it's called stay stitching. Cutting to that line will prevent the cuts from extending into the seam line, but the cuts will make the fabric easier to move around curves. Since the straight line stitches are in the seam allowance, they won't interfere with the stretchiness of the seam.

Glad to hear you use soup cans, too! I grabbed some cans this morning and was tracing patterns with beet, olive, and diced tomato cans.

I use Sharpies, but I know what you mean: new ones can leak through to the pattern or the table. I have old, nubby ones, so it's not a problem for me! :)

Best wishes for success,

Ice Mom

Ice Mom said...

I forgot about your question about the Jalie panties. I really can't describe how they are cut. I do know that they fit Ice Girl well, but she's very, very skinny.

You might consider plunking your preferred panty down on the Jalie pattern and match the crotch lines. That should work.

Ice Mom

bethalice said...

Ah, in the seam allowance! I read the post too quickly. I knew why you did the stay stitching, but was confused about the rest for a bit.

Looking forward to your post on appliqueing! I have done a lot of it, but not with lycra.


Becky said...

To answer Janices question, the Jalie panties are better on the thinner skaters. My Daughter has a little bit of a bubble booty so I use kwik sew panties for her otherwise it looks like she has a monster wedgie! LOL

Becky said...

Oops! I meant bethalice not Janice! My mistake.

Anonymous said...

hi ice mom! I hoping to start sewing some dresses myself... and I was just wondering if you could just sew a leatard and a skate skirt together. very nicely of course.

bethalice said...

Thank you Becky! Just what I needed to know. My dd also has a bubble bum - I call it her "J Lo" bum (as in Jennifer Lopez). She hates it when I say it. LOL! She is very thin everywhere else.

CaraSkates said...

Love your blog, especially the sewing posts! I've been sewing for 10years and making skating dresses for 4.5 of those years, the skating dress skills are completely self taught from practice and reading others tips. You have the best information I've come across - if only I'd read this 4 years ago! I would have wrecked less practice dresses!

I use freezer paper to trace my patterns onto - the coating prevents the Sharpie from bleeding through, you can see Kwik Sew and Jalie pattern lines through it and it's cheap so when I need to trace and redraft 4 times to get the final pattern I don't feel bad! Then I store in gallon ziplocs labeled with the skater's name, my name for the dress (usually the program name or theme), approx size and date (ie: Jane Smith, Batman No Test Skating Dress, Girls 10, July 2008).

Re: Jalie vs. Kwik Sew panties - I have made both, I prefer Kwik Sew but some Jalie are full cut, I think 2792? That number might be wrong but it's the Princess dress, that panty is more like booty shorts.

Can't wait for the applique post, it's my current favorite technique!

Ice Mom said...

Jalie panties:

You know, I've sewn Jalie 2790 (crossed bodice halter) and 2571 (halter) for the chesty skater. She has a, um, generous rear end. Not huge, but not the stick figure that Ice Girl is. She has curves. Anyway, I didn't alter the panty at all on those two and they fit Ice Friend, bu she just told me they are a little tight. Not uncomfortable, but a little tight. Must make bigger next time.

Ice Mom

Ice Mom said...

Hi, Anonymous!

You asked about sewing a skirt to a leotard. Yep. You can certainly do this. My advice would be to use a straight skirt, like Kwik Sew 3051, to do it. You can also sew a skirt to a one-piece swim suit, so watch for those to go on sale next September!

The method for sewing the skirt to the leotard or swimsuit is the same: 1. Mark the approximate skirt placement. 2. Have the skater try on the suit/leo. 3. Gently pin the skirt to the leo/swimsuit. 4. Once the suit/leo is off the skater, mark the placement line. 5. Sew the skirt to the suit/leo, right sides together and the skirt hem towards the suit/leo neckline. Sew with a zig-zag stitch.

The skirt will hang down over the stitching.

Great for practice dresses!

Ice Mom

bethalice said...

I think it all comes down to preference. My daughter prefers a very modest cut. Makes shopping for swimsuits fun (not). I think this year I will make her suit.

Ice Mom said...

Hi, CaraSkates!

You're right: freezer paper works great for tracing.

I use 2.5 gallon ziplocks for my pattern/notions/fabric storage. I toss everything into the monster ziplock: pattern, tracings, instructions, fabric, notions. I pierce the bag about an inch-and-a-half down from the zipper with a plastic hanger and use the hanger to store the pattern on my sewing room's closet rod.

I don't start a new ziplock for each skater, though. I just trace the pattern in different colors and label it with the skater's name.

Glad you like the sewing posts, Cara. I was worried that people rolled their eyes every time I posted one.


Ice Mom

Beth said...

I sew for 2 skating daughters. First, take all measurements indicated on the pattern. If the bust is a 10, the hip is a 12 and the height is a 14 use 3 different colors and trace the pattern lines for all 3 sizes. Take a pencil and "customize" your pattern so that it fits in the proper places. I also like to create separate pieces for the front and back skirt. The back skirt needs to be longer than the front to cover their rear. Cut on the pencil lines. I find this method works for me. I have lots to learn and will be following your sewing posts.

bethalice said...

Here's a tip I remembered while cutting out a new dress today. Tape - medical tape is best but all I had today was masking tape. Label each piece of fabric with a piece of tape with the name of the piece - like "skirt back". I also place tape where I need the fabric marked, and mark the tape. I have never had luck marking lycra without it rubbing off before I need it.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering something about skating outfits... leotards over tights are a nightmare if you have to use the bathroom after putting them on, so I was wondering if it's possible to have a separatable "top" and "pants" leotard?

Xan said...

Glad to see that people sew a skirt onto a full leotard, rather than stitching into into a horizontal seam as many patterns will show (i.e. bodice and panties as separate pieces). Sewing the skirt onto a full leotard allows you to place it exactly where it looks best on the skater, reduces bulk and stress, and allows for easy adjustment as the skater grows.

Any design elements should also be sewn onto an underleotard, rather than piecing together seams with odd corners and shapes. Your dress will lay better, and will suffer fewer stress tears, as well as being sturdier and more comfortable.

Renee said... the "old days" (up through the 60s and early 70s, before spandex was commonplace in skating dresses) the panty was separate from the dress. Unfortunately, whenever the skater would spin or jump, the skirt would fly up and you could always see a few inches of torso flesh-not attractive!

If you wanted to, you could attach two or three snaps in the crotch to make a bodysuit style of leotard or skating dress, but this does not always look nice, and is usually only done if the leotard is being worn under pants.

Anonymous said...

Dear Icemom,

I am attempting to sew a skirt onto a leotard. I would like to use stretch velvet for the skirt. What would I ask the lady at the fabric store? Also, what exactly is a Pattern and what does it include? Do I need a pattern to sew a skirt onto a leotard?

Thank you!

Ice Mom said...

Hey, Anony!

I got your e-mail. Glad the instructions helped. Good luck with the skirt!

Ice Mom

Tina said...

What are your thoughts on sewing with a sewing machine vs. a serger. I was told I had to have a serger to make the dresses because of the fabric used. Have you had any problems or preferences?
Thanks!!! Tina

Ice Mom said...

Hi, Tina.

You can use a sewing machine just fine. Sew the seam together at the raw edges with a zig-zag stitch. Then, 1/4 inch from the raw edge, sew with a longer straight stitch, stretching as you sew.

Ice Mom.

Ice Mom said...

Hi, Tina.

You can use a sewing machine just fine. Sew the seam together at the raw edges with a zig-zag stitch. Then, 1/4 inch from the raw edge, sew with a longer straight stitch, stretching as you sew.

Ice Mom.