Thursday, February 25, 2010

Figure Skating Summer Camp Survey

It's nearly spring and time to start looking at figure skating summer camps.

The trouble, as I'm sure you've noticed, is that parents have no idea which figure skating summer camp would be the best fit for their child.

To end the confusion and to lend some order to the chaos I've created a camp survey.

Please consider this an invitation to take the survey and help other ice parents choose a summer camp intelligently. To my skater readers - yes, you can fill out the survey, too!

Thanks in advance for your help! I'll keep the survey open until the end of March and share the results with everyone in April.

Had a good camp experience? Had a lousy one? Please fill out the survey and leave a comment here, too. Let's share our knowledge!

Update: Reader, coach, figure skating parent, and adult skater Xan of Xanboni! makes an excellent point. So excellent, in fact, that I'm going make it big and change the wording on the survey to include her suggestion:

Don't forget to check out the many excellent day camp-style figure skating camps run by many local and municipal ice rinks, as well. Cheaper, closer, less intense.

Update/Note from Ice Mom: A survey taker wrote that she (?) was a skater, not a parent. Awesome! Thanks for filling out the survey!

Have a question for Ice Mom and the Advisory Board? Have a great idea for a post? Are you an expert in something that figure skating parents care about! Fabulous! Please e-mail me at

Ice Mom's Summer Camp Survey

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Accessory Review: Sk8Strong DVDs and Off-Ice Training Manual

Note from Ice Mom: All of my reviews are unpaid. All editorial content on Ice Mom is independent of advertising content.

Another note from Ice Mom: Lauren Downes, MSPT, and creator of Sk8Strong, has written a great response to this post. I've included it at the bottom of this post because I think all readers should see it. Thank you, Lauren.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know I’m cheap. However, if you’ve been involved with skating for any length of time, you’ll also know that cheap people have limited opportunities for that thrifty feel-good experience.

In the spirit of saving money on off-ice training, I purchased both the Sk8Strong Off-Ice Training for Figure Skaters Manual and the Developing the Youth Skater DVD last year. Physical therapist, off-ice trainer, and professional figure skating coach Lauren Downes, MSPT, developed the Sk8Strong program to help figure skaters accomplish off-ice training without having to employ a personal trainer. The Professional Skaters Association (PSA), which is the professional organization that certifies USFSA coaches and offers them professional development, has endorsed the Sk8Strong products. That’s a pretty big endorsement.

I’ve waited to write this review because I am a mom, not a fitness expert. So, to help me with the fitness part, I enlisted my fellow ice mom, physical therapist J.H. (Thank you, J.H.!)

Please note that Sk8Strong offers other products like a video analysis of the skater, individual skater assessments, seminars for clubs, paid membership to an online resource bank, and free databases of local off-ice trainers and nutritionists. This review doesn’t cover any of those additional offerings because I haven’t used any of those services.

Developing the Youth Skater DVD - $39.95

I bought the DVD that’s for low-level skaters, ages seven and up, but preliminary and lower. Sk8Strong also has videos for The Competitive Skater, Adult Training, The Ultimate Dynamic Warmup, and Core Stability Training.

The Developing the Youth Skater DVD comes with an insert that lists the exercises, repetitions and sets, and progression for a young or low-level skater. The video has three circuits of exercises, 25-40 minutes each. Each of the 27 exercise demonstrations lasts about a half minute, more or less.

Physical therapist J.H. said that overall the video had a good variety of exercises and the exercises were some of her own daughters’ favorites.

J.H. had some favorites, too, especially the demonstration of the advanced version of the lunge. She also liked the ITY exercise, the single leg bridge, the reach pull, the diagonal ball reach, the toe taps, the push up, the lateral step down, the single leg dead lift, the plyo off box, and the 2-foot squat jumps. The reach-pull, she said, would be great to work on jump rotation.

“Very good form is demonstrated on the video,” J.H. said. “The demonstrator is spine-neutral with good ab control, good alignment of leg, which means that the knee is in line with the hip or ankle.”

However, J.H. cautions users that some of the exercises like the crab walk, the crab alternating leg, and the crab bridge wouldn’t be for skaters with shoulder laxity or problems. She also said that the hip abduction exercises were very basic and that skaters could skip them, especially if they’re short on time.

She also wants skaters to make sure that they move from the shoulder blade first when they do the ITY and Rowing exercises.

“It’s a good beginner program,” J.H. said. “But I’d like to see more plyometrics. It would probably be helpful to the skater to have a professional watch them complete the program to give feedback on proper form.”

From a mom’s point of view, I have to say I’m disappointed in the video. I mean, I know the exercises and the circuits are helpful and the demonstrator is terrific, but the video isn’t user friendly.

Here’s what I mean: the video demonstrator performs the exercises in each circuit in sequence, but the demonstrations don’t last as long as it takes for a skater to do the number of repetitions and sets.

In other words, it’s not like a regular exercise video where the living room athlete can sweat with the professionals on TV in real time. Instead, skaters need to find the circuit they’re working on, watch the demonstration of the exercise, pause the DVD, and then complete the reps. When skaters are done with that exercise, they grab the remote, push Play again, watch the next demonstration, pause the DVD, and complete the reps.

That’s not 7-year-old, beginner skater friendly. If your skater is that young, you’ll have to sit next to her the entire time and run the remote for her. My 14-year-old doesn’t like the DVD for that reason. The first time we went through it, she and I were really frustrated that we couldn’t do the exercises in the same time as the demonstrator – until we realized that we were supposed to do the watch-and-pause thing. Ice Girl would rather put on some aerobics or dance workout video where she can bop along with the folks in the studio instead of pause the player every 30 seconds.

Bottom line: The DVD is full of very sound information and practice; however, I don’t think I would buy the next video in the series. We just don’t use this one very much.

Sk8Strong Off-Ice Training for Figure Skaters Manual - $28.95 (downloadable version: $24.95)

I’ll tell you right off the bat: this one’s worth the $30 or so. Ice Girl uses the manual all the time.

The 38-page manual contains photos, descriptions, and progressions for each exercise in all of the Sk8Strong DVDs. It has articles about the importance of stretching, functional training vs. gym machines, what a skater needs to be successful, exercise circuits for each skater’s level, blank training logs, and a periodization chart. It also includes the breakdown of an Axel.

The exercise chapters are:
  • Dynamic Warmup Exercises (includes muscle activation, mobility, traveling mobility, dynamic mobility, static stretching, and foam roll warm-ups.)
  • Core Exercises
  • Upper Body Exercises
  • Lower Body Exercises
  • Plyometrics
Physical therapist J.H. likes the binder, too. “The exercises with the foam roller are good and the periodization is very good,” she said. “You have to have different training all year round because you want to peak [in performance] when your competition is coming around.”

J.H. is a stickler for form, though. When we looked over the plank positions, she went to the floor and demonstrated how it’s supposed to look. J.H. is very fit. The top of her body was in a straight line from her toes to her neck.

“The plank position photos [in the manual] show a rounded back,” J.H. said. “But the shoulder blades should be set, not shrugged. They should make a straight line from ankle to shoulders to hips. The butt shouldn’t be up and the arms are way up too high.”

She went on about butt position in the push-up photos, too, with more floor examples. “See?” she said as she demonstrated a push-up. “You have to keep on your toes. If you can’t keep that position on your toes, be on your knees. No butt up; that’s a cheat.”

J.H. did like the exercises that Downes chose for the manual. She thinks that skaters will find them fun and not at all boring. Many of the exercises use affordable gym equipment like the foam roller, medicine ball, phisio ball, and sport cords. At first I was put off about buying the extra equipment, but Ice Girl really likes using it. No idea why equipment makes off-ice more fun, but it does.

The manual includes several reports at the end and are included as examples of what membership Sk8Strong on the Web contains.

You know, I’m a good reader. I read all the time. I taught English and journalism for 10 years and I’m a professional writer. However, the one-page Skill Analysis, “The Breakdown of an Axel,” mystified me. I couldn’t figure out what I was reading, why I was reading it, and what use it would be to Ice Girl (although she did put a star at the top of the page).

The report contains sentences like: The iliopsoas lifts the thigh to achieve a proper ‘step-up,’ and the quadriceps assists with hip flexion and control of the knee.

Um. If you say so.

J.H. read it and said that the report made perfect sense to her, but she’s a physical therapist. She said that her daughters wouldn’t know what to do with the report and most coaches wouldn’t, either.

I did like the Sk8Strong Injury Report sample (again, something you’d receive as a paying member). “Ankle Sprains vs. Tendonitis” describes what each injury is and what to expect during recovery. I also liked “The Importance of Stretching.” The report explains why and where skaters should warm up before skating, what the muscles do, what can happen if skaters don’t warm up, what kind of stretching is the best, and how much a skater needs to stretch. Both reports were readable and useful.

The manual’s material is copyrighted and the photos are made up of very fine dots. I had thought about photocopying the manual for Ice Girl to use and lose so I’d be able to have a master copy. Photocopying doesn’t work well with the photos: they become muddy and hard to view. You shouldn’t photocopy it, anyway, beyond using it as a back-up.

Bottom line: This manual was definitely worth the $28-something. Ice Girl keeps it in the van (most of the time) and refers to it. The photos are small, but the positions are well documented and obvious. I like the text description of each exercise, the recommendations for skating ages/levels, and the periodization.

Recommendation from physical therapist J.H.: “It would be more helpful to the skater to use a professional trainer for an hour and then use the video and manual as a reference during home training. A trainer costs typically $60 – 90 per hour. The trainer will design a program and evaluate the skater so the trainer knows what the skater’s strengths and weaknesses are and can create a program that fits the individual.”


Hello, this is Lauren from Sk8Strong. Thank you icemom and JH for taking the time for the thorough review! I would like to address a few points you have made, as we expected these type of comments when creating the programs.

The DVDs were meant to be instructional, and not a workout video that you could follow along the reps and sets of each exercise. Each skater is different and progresses at a different pace, and may progress one exercise faster than another. Therefore, a 'follow along' video would not do justice to every skater; it would possibly lead a skater to doing exercise progressions that he or she is not ready for. Yes, it is more boring for the skater, yet it is safer. Initially, the skater will follow along and pause each exercise; as time goes on, he or she will become more comfortable with the program and be able to do it by memory to their own music, or whatever keeps their interest!

At the beginning of each DVD, Sk8Strong states that it is highly recommended that a skater meet with a qualified health professional to assure that the exercises are being performed correctly. Not everyone will listen to that advice, yet it is very important. Yes, a DVD cannot take place of a set of trained eyes. They were created as a reference for fitness professionals, parents and coaches to use as a guideline for an appropriate exercise program. We have received many positive and thankful comments from athletic trainers, personal trainers, and physical therapists around the globe. I have seen many coaches without fitness credentials holding off-ice classes that are not appropriate for skaters, and if they are going to hold these classes, my goal was to give them the proper education. Nothing will take place of a physical therapist or certified strength and conditioning specialist, but if everyone becomes more educated, that is my goal :).

Regarding specific exercises such as hip abduction, that is actually one of the most important exercises for a young skater to do! The hip abductors play a large role in single leg stability, which is necessary in the majority of skating moves. In about 75% of skaters I have evaluated, there is a very large weakness of this muscle groups. Weakness can lead to knee problems, and will also affect the forementioned skating moves. A young skater needs to master technique of the basic exercises first, and then move along to more difficult ones. The Compeititive Skater DVD significantly addresses this muscle group with advanced exercises. In the ITY exercise, we do instruct to lead the motion with the shoulder blades. The point made about the crab bridge exercises is right on point. Also, regarding the pictures in the manual of the prone plank; yes, the buttocks is a little too high. I did that to assure that skaters don't dip down too low and cause an arch in the lower back.

Regarding plyometrics, we include a full plyometric progression in the Competitive Skater DVD. We only include the 2 foot squat jumps and beginning plyos in the Youth DVD, because skaters that young don't have the strength and stability to do single leg and more advanced plyos with the correct stability and body mechanics. This is why they are included in the higher level DVD.

Again, thanks for taking the time to write a review. We listen to all criticism, positive or negative, and use that feedback to better our programs. Our goal was to provide the skating community with safe, effective programs to better skaters' ability and performance, prevent injury, and educate everyone involved with a skaters' training.

Lauren Downes MSPT

Sk8Strong Inc.

Have you bought any Sk8Strong materials? What did you think of the program? Please add your experiences in the comments so everyone can benefit.

Update: From reader Anonymous/Sk8rmom who is a trainer and a mom (good, long, informative comment - you should read the whole thing): I have to agree with JH. Thank you for promoting the idea of actually going to a person rather than to learn ONLY from the manual or DVDs. As a Personal Trainer who works with skaters, I can't emphasize enough how much getting expert advice specific to your child's age, maturity, physical and mental needs, and their athletic goals and stage is priceless! Our children are growing and changing daily, it's important to take that into consideration. [...] I have not seen the DVDs, but had considered purchasing them as a resource. I probably will, but as a mom, I would not let the TV be my child's trainer. I could see recreational adults or older teens using them as such. No doubt they are good resources. However, there is no substitute for the personal touch.

Update: From reader Anonymous: I agree 100 % that the hip abductors are one of the MOST important muscle groups for any athlete, and weakness contributes to a variety of overuse injuries of the lower extremity. However, I feel there are more functional ways to get at the hip abductors than the side lying exercise described. This may be a good way in the beginning to isolate the muscle so that the skater knows what the contraction of this muscle feel like, but it does not integrate it into a weight bearing activity and simulate how the muscle is used in skating. I prefer exercises such as step downs and lunges that incorporate the entire LE.

Update: From reader C.D. via e-mail to We ordered Sk8strong because my daughter wanted to start doing some off-ice conditioning, and our rink doesn't offer anything geared towards lower level skaters (and the classes they do offer happen at times when my daughter is in school). I wanted to be sure she got some instruction as to proper form, but wasn't willing to commit to private conditioning training (yet), so Sk8strong (the beginning skater version) seemed to fit the bill. Having reviewed it with my daughter a few times, the exercises are, indeed, appropriate and to my non-expert eye, appear to model good form. But the pacing is not quite right--they jump right from exercise to exercise, and run through them a bit too quickly. Maybe my daughter will be able to keep up after gets used to the exercises and the sequence, but for now, we have been using the pause button on the DVD player to let her watch the example, then do the exercise at her own pace. (IceMom suggested that we should get the book/binder that goes along with the set, which probably would have been helpful, but my husband placed the order and thought that was too expensive, so at least for now the watch/pause system will work for us.) Overall, I am not sorry I spent the money to order this as an educational piece to teach my daughter some new exercises and proper form, but I am not sure how well it will hold my daughter's attention long term.

Do you have a question for Ice Mom and/or the Advisory Board? Do you have an idea for a post? Are you an expert and you want to write a guest post? Great! E-mail Ice Mom at

Monday, February 22, 2010

How-to: Find Professional Figure Skating Boot Fitters

This guest post is courtesy of my friend and master skate technician, R.H.

Question from a reader: I've been searching on the Internet for a certified skate technician or professional to advise us on new boots with little luck. We have a gentleman who visits our rink monthly and is excellent, but seems to bring a very limited supply of skates due to the nature of traveling. Is there a Website or resource that lists professionals by geographic location?

R.H.: This is a very good question! I'm not sure who is coming to your rink for fittings and what brand or brands of skates he carries, but ideally you should work with a skate fitter who represents several brands of skates and is (relatively, at least!) impartial. Skates are like jeans - Levis may fit your waist/hip/thigh ratio perfectly, whereas I can't find a pair of Levis that fit my frame to save my life! Every skate brand fits slightly different and offers features that may work better for certain foot types, so to have a fitter who only sells one brand of skate or who is very partial to one particular brand can be a hindrance to finding the boot that is best for you! An experienced fitter will measure you for several different brands (as each brand runs different in sizing and width) and then steer you in what he or she feels will work best for you, your foot type and your skate needs.

Unfortunately there is not a Website that offers this information. Each and every boot company has a list of retailers in your area that carry their brand of skates, but this is not a guarantee that you'll be fitted properly by someone who has adequate experience. The best method for finding a shop/person who does an excellent job is to first ask your coach. Most coaches do have an opinion as to the skate shop he/she prefers and trusts, and this advice is worth considering. If the coach doesn't have an opinion or you dislike the shop he/she mentions, then my recommendation would be to ask AT LEAST 5-10 people actively involved in the sport WHOSE OPINION YOU RESPECT (if you are willing to travel, even ask around at competitions, skaters who are novice, junior and senior most likely didn't get to that level in consistently poor fitting boots, so their opinion will be worth a shot). The key is to ask a variety of people, and if necessary, you may have to travel a good distance.

How far you may ask? Well, many of my customers come from within an hour's drive of my store, but we do have several customers who drive 4-6 hours each way for fittings and sharpenings. That may seem like a long drive (and to me it is), but considering that the skate is the foundation of everything the skater does, it is important that the equipment be fitted by technicians who are experienced and can give you the benefit of their knowledge.

Question from a reader: Does anyone know of any formal training courses offered for this?

R.H.: Another awesome question! I wish there was...unfortunately there is none. The skate companies do offer some educational support to their retailers, but the training mainly comes from working with a highly experienced boot fitter on a daily basis for at least several years. Best of luck in finding the skates you deserve!

Thanks, R.H.!

Update: From reader Anonymous who thinks driving to a good skate shop is worth it: It is so important to get skates that fit properly! The last time my skater was complaining about the fit of her skates, I assumed that she had just grown - again. We took her to a different skate shop (based on recommendations) and discovered that her feet had not grown. Not only were her boots the wrong size but the boots were just plain wrong for what she was doing (also based on her height and weight). My skater was well on her way to serious foot problems. [...] We are several hours away from our closest skate shop (and the new shop is even further) but the trip is worth it! I like to save money wherever possible and skates are definitely the place to apply those other savings!

Update: From skate coach, skate parent, skate blogger, and Advisory Board member Xan of Xanboni!:  Just another word from a coach--when you buy your first "real" skates, please go to a reputable dealer, not to SportMart, or the bike shop, or that hockey guy, or the used skate store, or grandma's garage. Get the tech or the salesperson to give you a primer in skate technology and don't PLEASE don't lie about the skater's tested level.

So many people quit skating because they think they're incompetent, when really they just have the wrong skates.

Update: From reader Jillybean: Remember that just because someone works at the rink, it doesn't mean that they know how to properly fit a skating boot. I had a bad experience with my first pair of "real"skates. I was fit by the guy at the rink, and I ended up with a pair of boots that were too big, and much too strong for my skating level at the time. I ended up with some serious foot problems. My doctor wanted to operate on my foot to fix one of the problems and told me that after I healed, I would need to get custom made skates. I decided to skip the surgery and go straight to the custom boots, and the problems that I had just went away!

It's worth it to spend a little more to get the right boot.

Update: From reader poorer but wiser, who had a bad fitting experience: [...] sometimes even an experienced pro can screw up. Do as much homework as you can before hand, read reviews from other skaters using various boots and try to be as educated a consumer as you can possibly be. And don't let the fitter strong-arm you into buying something you're not comfortable with ...

Have a question for Ice Mom? Want to write a guest post? E-mail Ice Mom at

Friday, February 19, 2010

Figure Skating Competition Nerves: How Do You Prepare?

It's Winter Olympic season and Evan Lysacek just won the gold medal in mens figure skating. We watch his performance on the ice, but how did he keep it all together? How did he have the mental toughness to skate so flawlessly during the biggest moment of his life?

Lysacek told New York Magazine:
“When I'm getting ready in my room, I drink the same thing, I light the same good-luck candle I have — it's a brand from England called Cire Trudon — I listen to the same playlist, with songs from Jay-Z to the Virgins or the Killers, happy music that will keep my emotions even and not get my heart wildly pumping. I'm engaging all my senses, telling my body, 'Okay, it's time to go to that place.' When I get to the rink, I go through pretty much the same warm-up off the ice every time, so my body is continuing to get into that super-focused mentality. About twenty minutes before I go on, I put my suit and my skates on — that's my alone time — and I talk to myself. Self-talk is very important to me…I try to conjure really difficult days, days when I was sick or jet-lagged and felt horrible, and then think, If I can get through that, I can get through anything."

Aromatherapy is popular among top-level skaters. Instead of an imported candle, though, figure skater Johnny Weir uses Lemon Pledge for his calming ritual.

"I was nervous last night. So I Pledged [as in Lemon Pledge] everything in my room," Weir told People Magazine. "Some people eat, some people drink – but I Pledge everything."
Skater Jeremy Abbott had a disappointing Olympics, but his off-ice mental preparation is positive self-talk. Abbott told The Associated Press:

"Everyone has doubt in themselves, but I used to believe it," Abbott said. "That little nagging voice in the back of my head that told me I couldn't do it, I'd believe it. I'm learning I can quiet that voice and tell it to shut up."
As for Ice Girl, I have no idea how she prepares to skate at a figure skating competition. I tell her I love her, leave her with Ice Coach, and head for the stands. Believe me, my presence would only make her nerves worse.

What preparation tips from the champions can we pass on to our own figure skating sons and daughters?

  1. Aromatherapy. I prefer the Lemon Pledge myself, especially the whole Pledging process.
  2. Nervous energy. Worried about tomorrow? Clean your room, Ice Girl! That's what the champions do.
  3. Happy music
  4. Positive thoughts
  5. Comforting rituals
I've always said that the difference between practice and competition isn't in the crowds, the pressure, or the drama. The difference is in the mind.

This should be fun! How do you prepare yourself or your figure skater for a competition?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ice Mom's Sewing Guide: Altering Your Growing Skater's Figure Skating Dress

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.

Ice Girl eats like a horse. I swear that kid already measures 16 hands. And she’s still growing. She's all arms and legs and skinny, skinny, skinny. Even so, it’s tough to hide the fact that she’s growing when her butt cheeks peek out from behind her figure skate dress panties.

That’s why I found myself frantically sewing the disco ball dress and the Greek goddess dress before a competition in the beginning of February. Ice Girl had grown so much that she was popping out of the pop can dress and the white-panty purple-painted dress was more indecent than ever.

Believe it or not, I sewed two new dresses in two weeks because I’m lazy. Yep. Adjusting a figure skating dress that a skater has outgrown can be done, but it involves ripping out stitches (which I hate) and other surgical procedures. If you're new to sewing, do yourself a favor and take the figure skating dress to a good alterations shop. Bring along whatever fabric you'd like the alterations gal to use. It's much more fun to pay someone else to curse at the dress than to curse at it yourself, I tell you.

However, if you insist upon altering the figure skating dress, here’s how to go about it:


The leotard method. Readers of Ice Mom’s Sewing Guide know that I favor the leotard method for fitting because it eliminates the seam line between the panty and the bodice, which makes alterations for length a walk in the park. For information about the method, you’ll have to click on the link in the previous sentence. I’m going to write assuming you know what the leotard method is.

If you have a dress made with the leotard method, adjusting for the skater’s growing body is pretty easy. Rip out those zig-zag stitches you used to attach the skirt. Set the skirt aside to make scrunchies or as practice material for your serger. You can also add a line of Spandex to the skirt, but if you’re that advanced, you know how to do it. New sewers should cut a new skirt with a generous length. Rip out the crotch seam. Cut a new crotch insert and baste it to the crotch panty back and panty front. Have the skater try it on. Does it fit? Adjust it or sew it in pemanantly and then insert elastic like you normally would do (I’ll be writing more about elastic in a future Sewing Guide). Have the skater try on the leotard and gently pin the skirt in place so it hangs over the panty and is straight. Measure up for the hemline, too, and mark the length. Have the skater take off the leo. Mark the skirt placement line and unpin the skirt. Pin the skirt to the placement line, right sides together, with the hemline pointing in the same direction as the neckline. Attach with a zig-zag stitch. At the hemline mark, machine baste all the way around at whatever measurement you’ve decided on. For example, if the skirt’s an inch-and-a-half too long, I’d run a line of machine basting 1.5 inches from the hem’s cut edge. Cut it with scissors and finish the hem with nothing (spandex, netting), a rolled hem (any fabric), or a small folded hem (any fabric).

The pain-in-the-rear method. Better you than me, people. I just make a new dress and sell the old one in a club resale. However, if you and your skater just love, love, love the small dress and it’s not made with the leotard method, here’s what you do. You'll never catch me doing this: it's a lot like work.

On the inside of the dress, rip out the skirt/panty/bodice seam line. If the dress is lined, this is going to complicate matters. Somehow, you’ve got to get to that skirt/panty/bodice seam line, though.

Once the dress is in pieces, set the old skirt aside for scrunchies or serger scrap. You can also add a line of Spandex to the skirt; attempt it only if you already know how to do it. Cut a new skirt with a generous length instead. There are more worthwhile things to do with your life than mess with the old skirt.

Cut a perfect rectangle of fabric that’s the length you’ll need to make the dress fit, plus 1/2 inch. You can sew it in two ways.

Less bulk, uglier seam: 1) Machine baste along the top raw edge of the insert fabric, 1/4 inch from the raw edge. Lay the insert fabric right side up. Place the raw edge of the panty fabric along the basting line and pin. Sew with a cover stitch (if you have a cover stitch machine), a double needle in a standard machine, or a zig-zag that catches the raw edge of the panty fabric. Baste the new skirt to the top of the insert (I use a wide zig-zag). Attach to the bodice with whatever seam treatment you use for stretch fabrics.

More bulk, prettier seam: 2) Pin insert and panty edges, right sides together. Stitch as you would any Spandex seam with a 1/4-inch seam allowance. Baste the new skirt to the top of the insert (I use a wide zig-zag). Attach to the bodice with whatever seam treatment you use for stretch fabrics.

Have the skater try on the dress and mark the hemline. Have the skater take off the dress. At the hemline mark, machine baste all the way around at whatever measurement you’ve decided on. For example, if the skirt’s an inch-and-a-half too long, I’d run a line of machine basting 1.5 inches from the hem’s cut edge. Cut it with scissors and finish the hem with nothing (spandex, netting), a rolled hem (any fabric), or a small folded hem (any fabric).

The stripe method. An easier way to do this is to add a stripe around the entire bodice. This isn’t as ugly as you might think. Consider how a stripe of athletic mesh or a complementary spandex color might look on the dress. Would it look good? Fabulous. You’re in luck. You don’t have to mess with the panty or the skirt at all. Cut a perfect rectangle of fabric that’s the length you’ll need to make the dress fit, plus 1/2 inch. Machine baste along the top and bottom raw edges of the insert fabric, 1/4 inch from the raw edge. Draw the line where you’ll be inserting your fabric on the bodice and back with chalk or a water soluble marker. Zig zag close to the line on both sides of it, but not on top of it. Sewing very straight is crucial. If you can’t sew straight, don’t use this method. Cut the dress along the chalk/marker line so you have the bodice in two pieces. Lay the insert fabric right side up. Place one raw edge of the bodice fabric, right side up, along the basting line and pin. Sew with a cover stitch (if you have a cover stitch machine), a double needle in a standard machine, or a zig-zag that catches the raw edge of the panty fabric. Do the same with the other side of the insert fabric and the other bodice half. You can continually expand a dress with this stripe method. (Which I might do to Ice Girl’s Disco Ball dress.)


Welcome to the world of the gusset. A gusset is a triangular piece of fabric that you slip into the side seams of any garment. You might be familiar with the gusset from the crotch area of some tights, especially athletic tights or long underwear. You might be familiar with gussets if you’re a knitter. If you have expensive, tall leather boots, you might have an elastic gusset at the top to accommodate your calf. The photo of the slip-on canvas shoe (above) has an elastic gusset at the tongue. If you have a suitcase or a briefcase that has an accordion fold, those folds are gussets, too.

Beware: this is not a universal fix. Slip too much fabric in at the arm hole and you’ll mess up the sleeve. That, readers, is major surgery. I try to leave sleeves alone. However, if you are a master seamstress and are willing to share your sleeve gusset techniques, please consider this your invitation!

Let’s face it, folks: this is down-and-dirty sewing. From the stands, no one’s going to see the gussets. If they’re small, they’ll even be hard to spot up close, but they won’t be invisible. Do not accentuate these gusset seam lines with crystals or sequins.

Too narrow at the hip: About how much wider do you want the area to be? Divide that measurement by two and add 1/2 inch (that’s for the seam allowance). That’s the base of the gusset triangle. You’ve got a decision to make here: How tall do you want the triangle? The taller the triangle, the more it’s going to show. For a big-based gusset, make it tall. For a small-based gusset, make it short .Cut six triangles for a standard construction dress (bodice, panties, skirt) and two diamonds and two triangles for a leotard construction dress. If you’re cutting diamonds, they should be as if you’re putting two triangles together at the bases. Be sure to add a seam allowance at the base, too.

Rip the skirt seams, the dress’s side seams, and the dress’s bodice-waist seams, if any.

Insert the triangles or diamonds into the side seams with the tiny points pointing away from the waistline and the bases along the waistline. Sew in place, right sides together. Yes, it’s a pain, especially at those points. It helps if you think that you’re sewing them like a standard dart. In other words, sew the sides until you can’t sew anymore. Then take it off your machine, fold in half through the point, pull on the point, and sew like a dart. If sewing a standard dart means nothing to you, do not attempt the gusset. You can also hand sew it. Again, this is why I just go ahead and make a new dress. Finish this step for all triangles or diamonds. You should have gussets in the side seams for the panty, bodice, and skirt. Reattach all.

Too narrow at the bust: This is the same procedure as for the waist gussets, so you should read that procedure (above) first. You can open the side seam and slip in a triangle in both the side seam and the arm. The danger is that the sleeve will become so large that it will hang down way past the skater’s armpit. However, you can use gussets in this area in small amounts.

You can also open up the bodice at the bust line, if the skater has had a dramatic development in that area. Have her try on the dress and, yes, mark the pointy part. I know. Ice Girl would hate it, too. Again, you can see the appeal of making a new dress. When your skater takes off the dress, Draw a straight line from your mark to the seam line. Zig zag on both sides of the line you drew and cut straight down the line.

Draw a line on the back bodice, opposite the cut on the front. You want this line to be very short so the triangle insert will be very squatty. I'd go with maybe 1" to 1 1/2" tall. Zig zag on both sides of the line and slice the dress open.

Cut four triangles and add a 1/4-inch seam allowance to all sides. All four triangles will have the same base width, but a different height (the back ones are squatty, remeber?). The triangles for the front and back bodice pieces should match up to the cut line, plus 1/4 inch. Sew the triangles to the bodice pieces following the instructions for inserting triangles in the too narrow at the hip section.

See? I skip this whole nightmare and make a new dress. It’s much more satisfying and I curse a lot less.

Update: From reader, blogger, coach, advisory board member, and skating parent Xan of Xanboni! (visit her comment for links to photos): You can also grow a complex, jeweled dress using the leotard method. If you're making a really elaborate dress like the ones linked below, make a double leotard lining with a flesh toned fabric, and a third leotard to which you affix the design elements. When you want to alter it, simple remake or alter the undertard (as I always called them), and carefully refit the design elements to it.

Update: From reader Anonymous who outwits the growing process in a very clever way: I will add 2 inches extra to the leotard in the hip area and then sew it in a tuck with the fabric to the inside. The seamline is about two inches below where I'm going to put the skirt (leotard method). Once they grow, let out the tuck, and depending on where the skirt then sits, move the skirt. It can sit lower on the hip and still cover the bum and there is enough play in the waist of the skirt if spandex. If it's chiffon, carefully cut the waist a touch bigger, probably only 1/4 inch, or again, plan ahead and make it a front overlap style.

What do you do when your skater outgrows his or her favorite outfit? Please share your rites and rituals in the comments! No need to share your curse words. I've got that part down.

Have a question for Ice Mom? Please consider this an invitation to e-mail me at

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rant: Figure Skating Is a Sport

On the way to 6 a.m. ice, the morning team radio guy said something like this:

Tonight’s the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics. You know what that means, don’t you? Two weeks of figure skating. Figure skating isn’t even a sport.

Hoo boy. Figure skating isn’t a sport? I’m sure this d.j. isn’t the first person to say this, and I bet you all will be hearing similar words during the next few weeks.

Now that I’m calmer and have finished stomping around, I’m ready to tackle this misguided argument.

Myth: Figure skating isn’t a sport because it’s set to music. It’s an art, like ballet.

Reality: Well, it’s both. Yes, there’s an artistic component, but it’s strongly linked to the athletic component. In other words, it’s not enough to jump, swizzle, and spin. Skaters have to make it look easy and beautiful. That, readers, is athleticism. All kinds of people can score goals, run fast, or jump high in a sloppy way. Figure skaters can’t. Jumping takes amazing muscle control and power, especially the quad jumps we’ll be seeing in the men’s division. Height, speed, agility, form, power, and art and beauty. It’s a sport with a bonus: art.

More reality: You think other sports aren’t set to music? Think again. High school basketball teams have the pep band, major league baseball has an organ, and professional football teams have cheerleaders at halftime. Sure, they don’t pass, kick, or bat to a rhythm, but there’s a strong musical component all the same.

Myth: Figure skating isn’t a sport because the judging is subjective.

Reality: It’s pretty hard to name sports without some sort of judging official or referee. Racing sports are pretty cut-and-dried, but team sports all have refs. We’ve all seen a heartbreaking game where the outcome rested on a ref’s bad call. The International Judging System (IJS) isn’t perfect, but the system attempts to quantify a figure skater’s elements and assign them point values. It’s an effort to make subjective scoring more objective. (I’m not going to start an IJS debate here because I’m simply not smart enough. If you’d like to have a debate in the comments, feel free.)

Myth: Figure skating isn’t a sport because figure skaters wear embellished costumes.

Reality: Beach volleyball players wear as little as possible. Professional football has cheerleaders in spangles and tassels. That’s not to say those sports aren’t sports. It’s just that the dress conventions are different for each one. Figure skating is both an art and a sport, so it makes sense for the athletes’ clothing to have an artistic component.

Myth: Figure skating isn’t a sport. It’s just something that appeals to the female viewer and brings TV ratings. It’s entertainment.

Reality: Let’s face it: some sports play better on TV than others. It’s tough to watch hours of sailing. The Winter Games’ biathlon and the Summer Games’ modern pentathlon don’t get much airtime either. I’m not sure if it’s the number of events or the rifles, but I never see those athletes on TV. Figure skating is neat to watch on TV and even neater to watch rink side. Just because it appeals to women doesn’t mean it’s not a sport. Shame on you.

More reality: Ever been to a minor league baseball game? The entire game has a huge side show. Hand clapping, music, crazy mascots, bobble head promotions, spectator games, and sausage races keep the fans entertained while the real attraction – baseball – runs into extra innings. Don’t tell me that a huge part of the Super Bowl’s TV appeal isn’t the clever commercials and the halftime show (with or without wardrobe malfunctions).

Even more reality: Of course it’s entertaining! All sports are entertaining. This is recreation, people. Athletes love to compete in their sport and spectators love to watch. Making it entertaining and fun is recreation. Just because it’s entertaining does not cheapen it as a sport.

Updates: This d.j. riled you guys up, too! Here are some snippets from the comments.

Update: From reader and parent ebingley1973: Hooooo! I'd like to see him do what my daughter did this morning at 7am - and she is SIX!!!! Goof-ball.

Update: From reader Rosalie who has the bumps and bruises that prove figure skating's a sport: Bottom line: Figure skating is a sport, and no one who has actually done it, actually looked at the facts, really believes that. People try saying that it isn't in order to make themselves feel better, like it makes them cool or macho or something.

Update: From reader Andrea who argued with a Brownie Girl Scout (way to go, Andrea): Basically, a sport is anything that is physical activity with rules that can be done competitively. I'd say figure skating most definitely applies. :)

Update: From former show skater, reader, author, and blogger Ice Charades: I have two things to say to that: first, if you don't think skating is sport, then gymnastics, boxing, diving, freestyle skiing, even ski jumping which has a form component as well as distance should not be sports either.
Note from Ice Mom: Ice Charades has a funny book about show skating:
Ice Charades: Penguins Behaving Badly and Other Follies From the Road

Update: From reader, blogger, skating parent, advisory board member, and coach Xan of Xanboni!: If it's not a sport, I'm going to have to get all these kids to stop calling me "coach."

Update: From reader Sarah:  I bet that everyone's skating kids have better developed muscles, more endurance, and are 10 times tougher than the radio DJ.

Update: From reader Anonymous, who is insulted: I have known many a skater, including myself, who has broken bones, torn ligaments and ankles, got bladed in the leg and fell so hard they couldn't walk the next day. To the hours that coaches and parents spend freezing their butts off in a cold rink, this is demeaning. To the girls who have sacrificed it is cruel. Figure skating is among the toughest, hardest and most brutal sports in the world, but for me it is also the most lovable magical thing in the world.

Update: From multi-sport athlete dramaqueen: skating is the hardest thing I've done...and I've tried soccer, softball, t-ball, and ballet.

Update: From reader jumpingbeanmom: Are you kidding? My 9-year-old figure skater blew away her classmates on every aspect of the National Physical Fitness Test, all because she skates.

I’m sure I’ve missed other arguments. I’m also sure you’ve heard them all. Let’s dispel the myths in the comments, readers!

Monday, February 8, 2010

How Much Figure Skating Ice Time Is too Much?

Note from Ice Mom: As always, the readers of this blog have left terrific comments. The Updates below contain snippets from those comments. Check out the full comments section for the readers' generous sharing of experience and wisdom. Please share your own experiences, too! Thank you, readers!

Please see below for a thank-you from Cathy for all of your comments.

Cathy, who is a new ice mom, sent me this question:

My daughter (9 years old) has been taking private lessons for only a few months. We have been informed by our coach that she will need to practice at a minimum 4-5 days per week, 6 being optimum. Since I work fulltime, the only time I can get her to the ice is a 6 a.m. She would then leave to go directly to school - eating breakfast in the car. My daughter seems willing, but I feel as though it is too much to ask of a 9-year-old. What comments do you or your readers have about my concern? Has anyone done this with a young child and has advice?

I want her to advance and become accomplished in the sport, but we have modest ambitions overall - no desire to raise a national champion. However, sometimes it seems that there is no middle ground to be had in figure skating. It's an all or nothing commitment.

Here’s what Ice Mom’s Advisory Board has to say:

C.L.: This is really the dilemma in our sport. Where is the middle ground? If national skating is not the goal, is it necessary to skate six days a week? Maybe if your child wants to be the best at his or her current level, it is. Natural talent does go a long way, too. I've seen a lot of wonderful skaters that skate two times a week for a couple of hours.

Each family and child is different. My daughter would never survive 6:00 a.m. ice on a daily basis (neither would I), but then again I know some of our members whose kids are early birds and probably wouldn't have any issues with that. I do think that's a lot to ask of a nine-year-old if you’re not planning on being serious regional/sectional/national competitors. Some coaches only want the best of the best...those skaters and parents who are willing to sacrifice sleep, money, and time. Other coaches are more flexible...allowing for a slower progression. As with any sport...the more time you spend doing it the better you get, but that doesn't mean someone who spends less time still won't be better than you

Ice Coach: Bottom line: if that’s the coach’s standards and the family isn't ready for that commitment yet, find a different coach with values/goals that match your skater’s. That’s really the only option here in my opinion.

kel: Different coaches have different requirements of ice time. When we started with our coach (my daughter was 7), she skated two hours a week -- one during her private lesson, and one hour during Learn to Skate. Now that she is 9, she skates maybe 3 hours a week. I'm aware of other coaches that require their skaters to skate 10 hours a week (twenty during the summer). Certainly, other skaters have progressed more quickly than she, but she's happy with how she's doing as am I. So, I think this is a matter of different coaches have different requirements -- this of course results in different speed in a skater's progression.

As far as 6am ice goes, I'm a fan. Gets it out of the way early in the day -- as long as your daughter is an early bird. We did 6am skates for a while and I felt that it was better for my daughter than later evening skates, when she was just too tired.

Xan of Xanboni!: Crazy, I literally JUST put up a post about this, in response to a reader request. It's the latest post, but it also refers to this one: about how to judge amount of practice needed.

More specifically, if this girl has been skating "a few months" she cannot possibly be any further along than low freestyle and that's a stretch unless the coach has been "cutting" her up. Nine years old is a little young to handle early morning ice on her own, but not unheard of. If she is planning to go after a high-level competitive career, then sure, 4-6 days a week is not unreasonable. But it's hard to see them having made that judgment this early on.

Really need more information, including skating level, whether the coach is proposing just practice or additional lessons, and whether the girl is also taking classes. If the child is willing to do this and follows through without complaining (much), the family can afford it, and the skater seems happy and progressing, it's not completely out of line.

HOWEVER, my initial reaction was that this family is heading for burnout. They need to build it more slowly.

S.F.: How many private lessons per week is this mom paying for? My daughter's coach prefers an equal amount of practice to lesson time. (ie 30 min lesson 30 minutes practice) At this time with synchro, homework and school activities we aren't doing a lot of practice. Just lessons.

I can say that when my daughter doesn't put in the practice time in to go with the lessons it takes twice as long for her to achieve her goal.

Mom, skater and coach need to reach a happy medium. Mom and skater also need to decide how big a commitment/investment that they want to make.

I think that skating is something that is very individual and the level of commitment is the based on the desires of the skater and the parent willing to put the time and money in to the lessons and practice. If the Mom doesn't want do the high level of commitment that the coach wants then she will need to tell that coach that we are not ready for that type of commitment.

Ice Mom: Ice Girl skates three times a week at 6 a.m. and I won't lie to you: it's hard. She eats breakfast in the van and dresses in the van, too. Ice Girl started this nonsense when she was 12 and it's been almost 2 years that we've been doing it. I, too, have this whole work thing I do during the day and sometimes it's challenging for me to get Ice Girl to the rink, especially during the summer when the only ice is from 8 a.m. - 11 a.m. Really. Do these people work? For us, it takes a lot of networking and car pooling to pull it off.

  • You get practice over with and have your nights free (well, until 8 p.m. when you go to bed)
  • Ice Girl says she's wide awake for school and can concentrate better
  • The ice is usually not as packed as afternoon sessions, which makes it less stressful for a new skater.
  • It fits in a work schedule.

  • It's 6 a.m.!
  • Possible zombie kid and parent
  • Wrestling with bed times

I think your coach is telling you that your daughter needs to practice so often so that the skills she's learning will stick with her and she'll advance. Really, it's a good use of your money to have a fresh lesson every time your daughter sees her coach rather than reviewing the same stuff over and over.

However, kids, especially young kids, have trouble focusing during practice ice and often skate aimlessly around for an hour without much focus. Having more lessons with the coach ensures that your daughter is using that expensive ice time well and improving her skills.

What really struck me when I read your e-mail was that your coach is insisting on this number of hours. Perhaps your coach isn't a good fit for your daughter's goals. Does the coach know that your daughter wants to be more laid back in her training? You might want to have that conversation with her. If she doesn't accept your daughter's goals, you might ask her to recommend a coach that would be a better match. You don't want to pay a lot of money for ice and lessons you don't want, and you don't want your daughter and coach to become frustrated with one another because one's pushing and the other is resisting.

Update: This is from Cathy, the ice mom who posed the question for this post. She e-mailed me this thank-you that I want to share with you:

I'd like to express my appreciation to you, your advisory board and readers.

Thank you all for generously sharing your experiences, what a pleasure it was to read your comments! When we first began figure skating we were presented with a well intentioned but very serious  approach to the sport. It was all so intimidating. Although my daughter loved to skate, the pressure to practice and master new skills was draining the fun out it. Often on the way home from the rink I  ould wonder if we had what it takes to pursue figure skating. I agree with Xan that we were heading for a burnout.

To read about the different ways others have been able to successfully weave figure skating into their lives has been a revelation. I especially enjoyed the perspective from the young skaters. So much of what was said rang true. It¹s not all or nothing ­ there is a middle ground if we choose to stake it out. I now feel confident that we can meet our goals and make a plan for our daughter that is sustainable, and most importantly - more enjoyable!

Thanks again to all your readers for such great advice!

Update: From reader Anonymous: My IG has been skating in a learn to skate program since age 3. [...] At age 9 we now average 4 hours per week. [...] We entered our first competition this past weekend. She can't wait till her next one!! Had I pushed her faster sooner she may not love the sport as much as she does now.

Update: From reader Helicopter Mom: [...] my daughter has been skating for 4 years! I think if they told me I needed to get her there at 6 am when she'd only been in private lessons for a couple of months, I would have lost my mind! I KNOW she wouldn't still be skating now.

Update: From reader Alice in Wonderland: Every session I check in with her (want to skate more/less/same) and she lets me know! We're being supportive, and at times I think I'm crazy, but when I watch her I see the joy she has when she's skating on her own and trying that "stupid axel"

Update: From reader Anonymous: Our coach is a very high level coach. She takes skaters to Jr. Nationals and Nationals just about every year. But when I ask her about amount of time to practice at first. She said" just let her have fun." If your skater is having fun out there, she will ask for more. If she really wants to learn new skills, she will ask for more. Then it's up to you and your checking account to make the finial decision on what's too much.

Update: From reader Anonymous (this whole comment is fabulous): My daughter has been skating the "early shift" for thirteen years. I actually found it was easier to keep to this schedule when we did it every day (but Sunday), because we were able to adapt better when bedtimes were consistent throughout the week. My daughter was/is a competitor and (almost) never complains about the early hours.

Update: From reader Jozet at Halushki:  Here's my advice: talk to your skater and first figure out what her goals are and then start breaking it down - a year goal, a monthly goal, a goal for the week, a goal for each lesson/practice. Then start with the amount of ice time that makes you all the least crazy and see if it's a good match for your daily and weekly goals. Give it a month or so. If your skater is chomping at the bit or hitting a plateau, add an ice session. If your skater is doing well and achieving her daily/weekly goals, stick with what you're doing.

Update: From reader Rosalie: As to the age concern, I think what is and what is not right for a skater has less to do with their actual age and more to do with their maturity level. If a skater can handle so much practice and early ice time, it can give them good life skills in the future, such as sticking to a routine, setting goals, and learning how to manage themselves, which a skater who only has lessons won't learn. However, if it only stresses your skater out, you see a decline in their grades or happiness, or they start to lose sight of their priorities, it might be too much too soon.

Update: Excellent and detailed training information from reader Season. This entire comment is worth a good read. However, here's an exerpt from the very end: I hope this helps explain why a choach asks a skater to skate 4-5 days a week. The coach knows and understands the amount of skills they will be required to teach your skater to compete sucessfully and they what to make sure your skater has enough practice time to help the coach move quickly through the skills being taught and to give your skater confidence when they are competing.

Update: Wise advice from Anonymous who has seen meltdowns: I think schedule-wise you HAVE to do what's best for your kid and not go overboard for where there are with their skating.  Years ago, we also had an "ice friend" that was, at the age of 7 (and skating at Basic 8 moving to low beginner freestyle level), skating every day before school, 3 days a week after school and 2-3 hours each on Sat and Sun. And she had 4 coaches because that was the only way to get that many lessons. That was one very unhappy child and her mom just couldn't figure out why her skater couldn't stay focused on the ice!

Update: Excellent advice from reader Season about coaches, synchro, and dance: I will say again I do highly recommend having all skaters that are working on Basic Skills through Intermediate MIF work with an ID coach and learn ID because it will help your skater progress through their MIF faster and they will have more confidence and be able to present their FS programs with grace and extention.

I also would recommend lower level (Basic Skills through Juvenile FS)skaters to try synchronized skating for at least 1 year because it will make them a stronger skater and a faster skater. They are required as part of being on a team to do their best to skate up to the level of all the skaters on the team. If you have a skater that is a weak skater and you want them to become stronger, faster, and progress faster then have them join a synchronized skating team for at least 1 year. When they progress to Juvenile level (qualifying level) or higher and they want to focus on one skating discipline then you would want to encourage your skater to choose which discipline of skating they want to focus on.
How much figure skating ice do you think is too much? Is there such a thing as too early or too young? Do you have advice for this mom?

Do you have a question for Ice Mom and the Advisory Board? Do you have a guest post you'd like to share? E-mail Ice Mom:

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ice Mom's Sewing Guide: How to Dye Silk for Figure Skating Skirts

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.
This guest post is courtesy of reader C.M. who knows way more than I do about dyeing anything. Please realize that I have zero experience with dying silk or using silk for figure skating skirts. Post any questions about this technique in the comments. Thanks! Ice Mom.

I (guest poster C.M.) use the silk chiffon from the Dharma Trading Company. They have several different weights available. Any of them can be used for skirts: if you want a "fluffy" skirt with lots of layers, the silk gauze works well. For most standard skirts with two layers I use the medium weight chiffon (10 mm). If you want a non-see-through single layer skirt, the double chiffon is best. They also offer this fabric in black because it is very difficult to dye fabrics a true black color. Black is the only color that I would buy ready-made.

The great thing about dyeing silk is that it is very easy to dye on the stovetop (far easier than tie-dyeing). There are several products available for this. I would steer clear of RIT, Dylon, or any other dye available in a craft store. These are general-purpose dyes that do not react with the fibers to form a permanent bond. The colors are not bright and will fade/run over time. My favorite product is the Jacquard acid dye (you can get this from Dharma, or you can go to the manufacturer’s Website to see if any nearby stores stock it). This dye does a great job of giving results that are vibrant, even, and (very) permanent. It is very safe to use as the only other chemical you need is white vinegar. It is very concentrated and a small jar will go a long way.

I have been following the directions posted on the Dharma Website and I have yet to have any problems. When you receive the dye, there will be a swatch on the jar that indicates the color that the fabric will come out if it is fully saturated with dye. It cannot get any brighter/darker than that. The directions tell you how much dye is needed to fully saturate a pound of fiber. In order to determine how much dye you need, you should weigh your fabric (I have an inexpensive gram scale) and calculate how much dye you need from that. If you use more dye than this, some of it will not react with the fabric and will end up getting poured down the drain (these dyes are not all that hazardous, but it is best to be safe). If you want a lighter shade, you can cut the calculated amount of dye by a factor of 2, 4, etc. To get pastels, I cut it by a factor of 10. As long as you don't exceed the saturation point, there should be little to no color left in the dye bath once the simmering is complete.

I don't cut out the pieces of the skirt before dyeing because the edges of the fabric tend to come out a little darker. Once the process is over, you can rinse the fabric in a special detergent called synthrapol in order to remove any unreacted pigment (there is not a lot of excess runoff with this product, but it will soften the fabric). Once it is done, I hang it to dry. It is best to not put this fabric in the dryer because it will shrink and gain a crinkly texture. Once it's dry, it is good to sew. Just remember to cut the skirt a little bit bigger because it does not stretch.

The most nerve-wracking part about this process is getting the dyed fabric to match the Lycra. The best way to do this is to compare a swatch of your Lycra to the different colored dyes available and select closest color match. Some people are advanced enough that they can successfully mix colors; however I feel that the manufacturer offers enough colors (and most skaters select more or less "standard" colors for their dresses anyway). No matter how hard you try, you will not get an exact color match, but nobody is going to notice as long as it’s close. If you are anal about it, you can dye small swatches and take notes about how much dye you use. I just estimate using the swatch on the jar and I always get "in the ballpark" results.

When I first tried this, I had my doubts. However, after my first attempt, I was shocked at how nicely the fabric dyed. If you follow the directions and keep good notes, you cannot fail at this. Dharma as well as the manufacturer have great product support and are happy to answer your questions if you call them. It seems scary, but it is not that hard.

I have read that some designers also dye their own Lycra with this product (i.e. Sasha Cohen's seamstress). However, the same dye recipe will not yield the same color in the Lycra and the silk. This means that you have to use two different recipes to get the same color (not fun to figure out).

The dyeing technique that I described is only useful for solid color dyeing. I only use it when I need to match the silk to a colored lycra bodice. For example, if I were to make a royal blue dress, I would buy the blue lycra and I would dye the white silk to match the lycra as best as I could. I have heard that some people use tub dyeing to achieve an ombre effect, but I have never tried it, so I can't give you any advice on that. When it comes to doing an ombre effect, I use an airbrush with a special paint called dye-na-flo. This is a special paint that can be used with an airbrush on pretty much any fabric you like (not just silk). Just remember to follow the directions.

The link to the acid dyes (and their instructions) can be found here. You might notice that Sasha Cohen's seamstress is featured on this page for using this product (if it's good enough for her, it's good enough for me!).

Dharma offers silk chiffon in a few weights and any of them could be used depending on what type of skirt you like. This fabric is semi-sheer in most cases, so you will usually need to do multiple layers in order to avoid the see-through skirt. I almost always use the medium weight 10 mm. For this, you need to make a double-layer skirt.

If you want to make a single-layer skirt, use the double chiffon. It all depends on what look you are going for. I think having a see-thru skirt defeats the purpose of having a skirt, so I always double up or go with the thicker material. Be warned that the commercial patterns (such as Kwik-Sew) are designed to make skirts with stretch material, so you will need to cut the skirt a little bit bigger. Pin it to the bodice and have the skater try it on so you can make adjustments to the fullness.

I learned all of this from buying the products and trying them out for myself, so you might find something that works better for you. Unfortunately, a lot of dressmakers are very secretive about how they do things (especially when it comes to airbrushing), making trial and error the only way to learn. That being said, if you are interested in improving you need to be willing to be brave and try out things that have no promise of working. If you think things through before you do them, they usually work. It is also helpful if you have a skating friend who gets their dresses professionally made (and that you like the look of). If you ask them (nicely) to bring it with them to the rink, you can take a good look at them in inside and out to see how they are constructed/beaded etc. My sister (the skater in my family) had a friend who splurged for a Tania Bass dress that she let me take a look at.

Being able to study good examples of handmade dresses takes a lot of mystery out of the (often) mysterious world of making figure skating dresses. I think most skating designers started out as some skater's mom or relative that wanted to save money buy making their own, but ended up really enjoying it.

Thank you, C.M., for your excellent post! You’ve given me the courage to try dyeing silk for a skirt – the flowy effect looks stunning. I’m also asking for an airbrush for my birthday, I can tell you that!

Update: From reader Anonymous: The fabric that has worked very well for me is Glissenette. This is a sheer stretch fabric that doesn't roll at the edges when cut. It is easy to sew with and floats beautifully as the skater moves. It is available in limited colors so there is some matching difficulty. I order it from, and Jone's fabric (more expensive, but bigger selection) There is a sheer nude color that I use over nude spandex for nude looking cut-out backs that still provide some warmth.

Update: From post author C.M.: Although this fabric does not contain any elastic fibers (making it a not suitable for bodice material), the fabric does have a little bit of stretch to it, which makes it a little more resilient. However, you still need to cut it slightly bigger and "gather" it around the bodice so the skater can still pull it on and off.

Update: From reader Anonymous: I airbrush with paint as dying on polyester is too much chemical manipulation for my liking, although I could do it if I was dedicated enough. [...] The secrets are in the products, dye vs paint. I've had great success with Jacquard products but they can be expensive.

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