Skating Dress Tutorial Part I: The Info Dump

Ok, so today’s post is about what we are going to need to make our skating costumes.  Since we are sewing something of a specialty item, there are a lot of particulars, but I expect you will probably already have a lot of them about your sewing space if you already sew.  If you don’t sew, but want to make skating costumes, then this should give you a good idea of what it is going to take to get started.  I am going to try and point out what is the bare minimum in terms of necessity, but also what I recommend as having for better or easier results.

(1) Sewing Machine(s)

Ok, since this is a sewing blog I expect most of my readers probably already have a sewing machine, but if you don’t there are a few things to look for when you get one.  For making skating costumes the most important thing is that your sewing machine have a zig-zag stitch:

I typically use the regular zig-zag (#04) for elastic and topstitching.
I used to use the 3-step zig-zag (#05) to construct major seams.
3-step zig-zag stitch.
Zig-zags provide a lot of stretch but don’t give the smoothest seams though.

The zig-zag allows the fabric to stretch without placing too much stress on the threads or fabric prevent the seams from ripping.  I would say the bare minimum for sewing skating costumes is to make sure you have a single step zig-zag stitch on your machine.

Most modern machines have several types of zig-zag stitches, most often a single strep and 3-step, though some have even more options.  If you are looking at more modern computerized machines, I also highly recommend that they have the “stretch overlock” stitch:

The Stretch Overlock stitch is one of my favorites – stretchy and a smooth seam.
A sample of the stretch overlock stitch before cutting off the extra seam allowance.
I think this gives a much smoother seam.

This will give a better, smoother appearance to the side-seams than a regular zig-zag will.  Also helpful for improving your seams – a walking foot.  I find that this works well in making sure that stretch fabrics are fed through the sewing machine evenly.  It isn’t necessary, but it is helpful.

If you are planning to regularly sew skating costumes (or knits in general), then I also highly recommend buying a serger:

My serger – the Brother 1034D

A serger or overlock machine is a special type of sewing machine that cuts the fabric seam allowance as you sew, and uses four threads to stitch and cover the seam.  It often provides the smoothest seams while still allowing the fabric to stretch.  It can also be used to help with elastic insertion, and most have other features like rolled hems that can also be helpful for costume construction.  It is not a necessary item (I sewed for many years before I got one), but I find that I use it on almost all of my sewing projects now in one capacity or another, so it could be a good investment.

Serger cuts away the extra seam allowances, and neatens the edges with thread.

Finally, if you are really getting into this, you might consider a coverstitch machine:

A Brother Coverstitch Machine

The coverstitch is a very specific machine used for hemming knit fabrics.  You won’t really need it to hem, but it can also be useful in elastic insertion.  If you want your skating costumes to look like you “bought it off the rack” then this machine will give that appearance to the elastic parts of your garments.  (On a side rant – you probably DON’T want your costume to look like you bought it off the rack – they are usually poorly fitting and the skirts are often fairly ugly or ill fitting.  Am I a skating costume snob?  Yeah, I kinda am…).  I don’t have a coverstitch machine (yet… but I want one!), so I won’t be using one for this tutorial, but if you have one you can use it to get a very professional finished edge to your skating costume.

Buying a sewing machine is a big purchase, so you will want to do a little research.  There are entire websites dedicated to people discussing the intricacies of various brands and models.  Older vintage machines are often most robust, but least equipped to deal with stretch fabrics.  Modern machines have more options, but can often be more flimsy.  I have used three machines (my first was a Brother CS6000i, then a Brother 9050SQ, and now my new Janome 3160QDC) and all have been fine for sewing skating costumes, though I will admit my upgrade to the Janome has been a bit of a revelation   The first machine I bought from Amazon and the second from WalMart (long story).  You don’t need the biggest fanciest machine, but if your main goal is to sew skating costumes, it might be worth upgrading a little bit to make sure it has some of the additional stitch functions you might find yourself wanting to use.

So, to summarize:
Necessary: Sewing Machine with zig-zag
Better: Sewing Machine with multiple zig-zag options and stretch overlock stitch and a walking foot
Best: Sewing machine with zig-zag and a serger
Ultimate: Sewing machine, serger, and coverstitch machines

(2) Needles

Ok, so now that we have a sewing machine, we need to make sure we use the right type of needle on our skating costume fabric.  Most fabrics do well with a regular sharp needle, but knit and stretch fabrics need a special type of needle so as to not get runs or snags while you are sewing them.  The cheeper or more common stretch needle is called a ball-point needle, because the tip is more rounded than a regular needle.  The shape on some have been refined even more, and are called stretch needles. You can find sewing machine needles at your local sewing/craft store, but I do have a few recommendations on brands and sources.  For many years I used the Dritz brand of needle, but I wasn’t entirely happy with the performance (I found they would dull quickly and break easily).  Schmetz stretch needles are a much better quality, but are far more expensive.  Then I got a comment on Pattern Review and someone recommended the Organ Needles from CTS to me.  Awesome!  You have to buy in bulk, but they are so much cheeper on a per-needle basis it is worth it (not to mention you won’t have to buy needles for years, and you won’t have to worry about breaking one… or four).  I think Schmetz is still the best brand, but in a quality vs. price comparison, Organ wins out (they are still very good needles).  As far as size is concerned, I prefer to use the 90/14 size, because I think it lasts better when sewing through the elastic.  If you have a very delicate fabric though, you might want to use the size 75/11 instead, at least for the major seams.

Necessary: Ball Point Needles
Better: Stretch Ball Point Needles
Best: Schmetz Ball Point Needles

(3) Patterns

Unless you know how to draft your own patterns, it is probably best to buy one of the patterns commercially available.  The two companies that offer the most selection right now are Kwik Sew and Jalie.  Another option is Specialty Sportswear, though I haven’t ever ordered or used any of their patterns, so I cannot offer any advice on their product.  The do seem to have a wide assortment of options, and many possibilities for boys as well, so I did want to include the link just in case you want to take a chance on them and try their patterns (also, if you have ever used them please leave a comment and tell me how it was!).  Both Jalie and Kwik Sew have multi-sized patterns, so I think they are better investments (you can sew for many people or growing people or shrinking people with just one pattern), but really you just need to find a pattern that appeals to you.  Kwik Sew has separate children and adult patterns, but Jalie has them all in one envelope, so that is something to consider as well.  Personally, I prefer Kwik Sew at the moment, because I have had a great fit with everyone I have sewn for, though I have had decent results with Jalie as well.  Since I use my self-drafted skirts, I will often use leotard or swim suit patterns instead of actual skating costume patterns, but you should get whatever appeals to you.  My TNT (tried-and-true) pattern is Kwik Sew 2601,

but when I sew for others I most often use Kwik Sew 3502 as a starting point.

My plan for this tutorial is to use my TNT for one dress and try out an new pattern, Kwik Sew 2962 for a second dress.  (Spoiler Alert: The new pattern doesn’t turn out well…)

I will use the top from view A and the bottom from view B.

Necessary: Any leotard-style pattern you want to use.

(4) Fabric

The fun part – fabric shopping!  You are going to need some sort of stretchy fabric to make a skating costume, but you also need to remember that since it will be active wear you want the fabric to have good recovery and decent ability to deal with moisture and perspiration.  If you are starting out I recommend sticking to the spandex or nylon/lycra swimwear materials.  These often come in the most colors and prints, and will work out well.  There are different qualities and weights, but in general these will yield the best results.  If you are feeling more adventurous, you can try stretch velvet or “slinky” materials – these can work well, but often have a greater range of quality available, so I would say you should use your best judgement on these.  I am a big fan of lace skating costumes, but if you are just starting make sure to use stretch lace that has at least 8% lycra content.  Fabrics to avoid: cotton knits, rayon knits, panne stretch velvets.  These will either provide too little stretch, too little recovery, or will roll like crazy and drive you batty.  They can be great for other things, but not for skating costumes.  Of course, I recommend going to your local fabric store to look for skating costume fabric, since feeling the stretch, weight, and drape will help you choose the best option, but if that is not possible then my favorite source of online skating fabric is Spandex World.  They have a swatch service (which used to be free but now costs $0.75 per sample.  But if you are looking for something specific or color matching it is fabulous, I must say), and they are very efficient in filling their orders.  They have a huge assortment of fabrics and I would say that their prices are fair (you won’t be getting a deal, but you won’t be overpaying either).  Most skating fabrics are in the 60″ wide range, but a few are 45″ or less, so you should check that before you order.  In general, I buy about 2 yards of a fabric, or 3 yards if I am going to be having full sleeves.  You should check your pattern for fabric requirements, but always buy a little bit extra (especially if you are going to change the skirt pattern).  The flat skirts (that I like to use) take up less fabric, but the cutting layout can be a bit more awkward than the round fluffy skirts. I also recommend getting 1 yard of a lining fabric.  This isn’t always necessary, but I like to line all of my skating costumes, except for velvet.  I think having an extra layer provides more structure and support, and helps to keep everything in place.

Necessary: 2-3 yards of stretch fabric
Optional: 1 yard of lining fabric

(5) Other Supplies

Now that we have the main parts of our costume we need to get a few extra notions to help make it.

(a) Elastic – Elastic is used at all of the openings of the skating costume to help keep things in place.  The elastic should have good recovery so that it won’t stretch out and the outfit won’t become baggy.  I tend to disregard pattern instructions and use elastic one width size larger than instructed. The smaller elastic will give you a prettier result, but the larger elastic will keep your tights in place.  I generally use braid elastic, as I find knit elastic to be too stiff and uncomfortable, especially when around the leg area.  Also, whatever else you do, do NOT use clear elastic – it will stretch out and not maintain its shape well at all.  My recommendations for sizes:

1/4″ – occasionally useful, especially if you need to make boot covers
3/8″ – this is the size I use around all of the openings, except the leg holes.  Buy several yards of this, especially if you have an open back and no sleeves.  Less fabric = more elastic.
1/2″ – the size I use for the leg openings.  I always use less than the pattern recommends, but I still need a little over a yard for each costume
3/4″ – 1 1/2″ – I use these large sizes to make straps, so I always have some around, but not as much as in the smaller sizes

Necessary: 3-5 yards 3/8″ elastic, 2 yards 1/2″ elastic
Optional: Other sizes of elastic

(b) Thread – Obviously we need thread for our sewing machines.  My favorite brand is Guttermann, though I have used Coats & Clark, and I have heard good things about Mettler as well.  Skating costumes take up a LOT of thread because you are using so many zig-zag stitches.  You should use polyester sew-all thread because it is stronger than cotton, and will be more resistant to decay from contact with perspiration.  If you are using only a sewing machine I recommend getting at least 200m (but probably better to get 300-500m) per costume.  If you are using a serger, then I have really liked the Maxi-Lock serger thread, but I have also used Guttermann thread as well.  For the serger, I use regular sewing machine thread in the needles, and serger thread through the loopers.  I do this because the loopers use more threads but have less stress on them, so I can get away with using a cheaper thread.  I use regular thread in the needles because those threads will have more force on them, and I want them to be stronger.  I know that if you are using a serger, it is supposed to be better to use wooly nylon threads in the loopers, but it is so expensive that I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to use it.  In my experience, using the regular thread in the loopers works just as well, and I don’t notice any irritation or rubbing.  If you have sensitive skin, wooly nylon is probably a better option.

Necessary: 200-300m sew-all polyester thread
Better (for use with a serger): 3 spools polyester sew-all thread, 2 spools serger thread
Best (for a serger): 3 spools polyester sew-all thread, 2 spools (or more) wooly nylon thread

(c) Rotary Cutter and Mat – This is an optional tool that will make cutting out the skating costume MUCH easier.  You can cut it out with traditional scissors, but the rotary cutter is faster, easier, and gives a cleaner cut on knits.  I use the Olfa brand, but there are others that will work just as well.  If you use this, you should also get a self-healing mat, in the largest size you can afford.  I have a 24″ x 36″ mat and it is the perfect size for skating costumes, though I do often wish it were larger for other projects.  Maybe when I have a real cutting table and not just the floor…  I also recommend a clear straightedge ruler – very helpful for cutting strips of fabric for straps.  Along with this you can also look for pattern weights to help keep your pattern in place as you are cutting it out.  I don’t have any, and use other objects instead (like scissors, tape dispensers, etc.), but I think they could be quite useful and might consider getting some myself in the future.  If you don’t have a rotary cutter, you should at least have good scissors that are for fabric cutting only.

Necessary: Fabric scissors
Better: Rotary cutter and mat
Optional: Clear straightedge and pattern weights

(d) Tape Measure and Sewing Gauges – Being able to measure is important in sewing.  You should have an accurate tape measure so you can measure yourself or your skater to figure out what sizes you will need from your pattern.  You can use this to measure other things, but I have found that I am now addicted to having a sewing gauge by my machine, and so I recommend that as well.

Necessary: Tape Measure
Optional: Sewing Gauge

(e) Tracing Paper – Since most of the skating costume patterns are multi-sized, and since they are also fairly expensive ($10 and up), I don’t recommend cutting directly into the original pattern (though I did do this when I first started).  This also means if you screw up any fit alterations, the original is still intact.  So I recommend tracing the patterns, then doing alterations to the trace and keeping the original clean.  Since I also trace magazine patterns, I go through a lot of tracing paper, and so I use medical exam paper to trace all my patterns.  It is not always the easiest to see through to trace, but it is a nice compromise on price, durability, and traceability.  I have never splurged on “real” tracing paper – the kind with the grids – but I expect it might be better.  I have seen a lot of different tracing methods online, and if you have a favorite method you can share it in the comments.  I usually just trace with my medical paper and a regular old ball point pen.  Of course, if you want you can just cut out your pattern, but, again, I don’t really recommend it.

Optional: Tracing paper

And that’s it!  Ok, it seems like a lot, but most of you probably either have many of these items, or, if not at least once you have them you can reuse them.  I am going to do a separate post about rhinestones, sequins, embellishment, and general bling since there is a lot of stuff there to cover.  After that we can get to work making our skating costumes!

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10 thoughts on “Skating Dress Tutorial Part I: The Info Dump

  1. I''m that rarity. I can do my own patterns, but I stopped sewing after 1973 so I've never sewn with modern fabrics. The needle and machine comments are very helpful (1940s Pfaff and 70s Kenmore is all I have). I can turn out a nice cotton dress thought.

    PS. I'd like to try making some skating jackets out of slightly heavier material . Any suggestions for material?

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  2. With older machines you can do a combination of zig-zag and straight stitch on the seams, or you can do several rows of straight stitch (if that is your only option) but set to a longer stitch length and slightly stretch the fabric as you sew it.

    As far as the material for the jackets, I might suggest high performance spandex:

    http://spandexworld.com/c3/catalog/browse/90

    or jumbo spandex:

    http://spandexworld.com/c3/catalog/browse/35

    The second one has a bit more weight to it that regular nylon/lycra spandex. I am not sure how thick the performance weight spandex is, but it looks like it is beefier than the regular spandex and good for general active wear. You might need to double layer things depending on how thick you want it to be. Those would be my suggestions – you will get the stretch of skating costume fabric, but with more weight to the fabric.

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  3. For tracing patterns I use plastic tablecloths that come in rolls. I get them at the dollar store and they last forever. If you were really anal you could use a different colour for different sizes or garments or whatever. I am currently using pink and it makes me happy whenever I trace onto it. My next roll will be yellow.

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  4. That sounds awesome! Much easier to see through for tracing, I'm sure. I have had other people recommend see-through plastic, but they usually buy it at the craft store and it is expensive, so I haven't ever used it. I have so much tracing paper left right now it is crazy, but I might consider trying tablecloths in the future. Thanks for the tip!

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  5. I know this is an older blog post, but I am so glad I found it! I just started (at almost 40, would you believe it?!) learning figures and dance. Haven’t competed yet, but I may in June. I was stunned to learn how expensive even the simplest dresses were and perplexed at how impossible it is to find an actual dress for roller skating with the pointed skirt rather than ice. I wanted to mention that in my search for the Kwik Sew 2601 pattern I found, 3 years later, that it is also almost impossible to find as it is apparently out of print. I DID find it in downloadable format at http://www.sewingpatterns.com for a really great price! In case anyone in the future is looking for it…

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    1. I think you can also order 3502 at the cosplay by McCall’s website under the bodysuit section – I use that when I make costumes for other skaters, and it works great! Also, welcome! You’ll have a lot of fun as you develop your skating skills.

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  6. I know that this post is older but, I want to thank you for it. I found the information very useful. I have used Specialty Sportswear this was the first pattern that I had used for figure skating dress. Specialty Sportswear is not for someone that is just starting out. The instructions are not easy to follow. I had some sewing experience before I started on the dresses and I had a hard time following the instructions. I am making a dress right now using Jalie pattern and it is much easier to follow.

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  7. Good article. I believe many time the reason why we need this kind of information is due to the outrageous cost involve in ice skating. My sister began making the dresses herself for her daughter in order to save some cost. I know some of the fabric at first were challenging because she only had started sewing but she quickly learned. I’ve helped her into that business venture until now that she began having more demand and it quickly grew to something that we didn’t expect at all. ice skating dress

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