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.
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.