Someone posted this on Facebook today, and rather than write a lengthy post reply, I figured I’d take up this topic here.  Plus, if I cut out one more piece of skating dress fabric tonight I might go insane…

Many of you know my skater/daughter has won or placed at nationals more times than I can remember; she even brought home a medal from the World Championships in 2017.  But one of the most satisfying placements she ever earned was a 19th place finish (out of only 23 skaters, mind you) at nationals in 2009.  Let me explain.

Emma is a figure skater now, but when she was little she also competed in dance and freestyle.  She placed at regionals in freestyle (and in our region in 2009, that was a pretty significant accomplishment in itself), and competed at nationals in freestyle a couple years.  One year she decided to try dance, which, if you know Emma, is hilarious, but I figured what the heck — and to everyone’s surprise, she placed at regionals.  In our club, if you place at regionals, you must compete at nationals, because you took a spot away from someone else who is staying at home.  But considering the fact that I’d been to nationals many times, and I knew Emma basically sucked at dance, I decided to help her set a few goals specifically for dance, one of which was beating just three other skaters…just three, no more.  And off to nationals we went.

So Emma skated her very best in that dance event (one goal met), she didn’t get run off the floor or intimidated in the least by the much bigger and stronger skaters (two goals met), and she made some people smile while doing it (three goals met — by the way, please ask her to show you her opening steps sometime…it’s worth a giggle or two).  Finally the results were posted; we scanned the list, and believe it or not she DID beat three people!  We were ecstatic — hugging, screeching, high-fiving, generally acting like idiots.  Then a well-meaning but rather nosy woman turned to me and said softly, “Ummm, you know, she only got 19th, right?” as though I had read the score sheet incorrectly, as though I thought she made finals or something.  I turned to her as Emma yelled…and I mean, really, really YELLED…across the lobby to her brother, “I GOT 19TH!” and jumped in the air a couple of times.  I responded to the woman with a simple, “Yep, we know!  Isn’t that great?!” and left her dumbfounded as to why anyone would celebrate such a crappy placement.

Later that week Emma won two national titles in figures and loops.  But our best memories of that year are all definitely focused on that silly 19th place dance finish.

Why is this important today?  Because as we get ready to go to the World Championships again, I am reminded of a rather ridiculous attempted shaming we received last year when we expressed our dismay at her 4th place finish at worlds.  Some people, people who really had no idea what else went on and why exactly that 4th place was such a disappointment, people who had no business expressing an opinion and who really mean nothing to us, people who weren’t even at worlds and to this day have no clue about what really happened that day, in that auditorium, on that floor, and why that disappointment was wholly justified, decided that it would be fun to attempt a public scolding.  It didn’t work, and actually backfired because it exposed a degree of ignorance others had as yet not seen, but the act itself reiterated to me and to the rest of the figure skaters and coaches involved in that entire situation at worlds that perspective is more important than outcome in victory and defeat.

To a very tiny and really lousy dance skater, that 19th place finish was a huge accomplishment.  But to someone in Emma’s position last year, with all the dynamics and persons involved that I won’t go into here, yes, you haters, 4th place really was a defeat, in more ways than you will ever comprehend, because that’s our perspective.  The only perspective that matters is the perspective of those involved; your perspective is irrelevant.  Just like the only perspective that mattered in 2009 was Emma’s and mine, not the lady whose perspective led her to believe I should have lectured her for such a low placement.

We’ve dealt with our share of haters over the years, and dealing with them has been a very powerful, maturing experience for Emma.  Some of her most fervent haters became friends; some have slipped away in sheepish silence, and some are forefront and quite vocal even today.  But their perspectives will never matter to that 8-year old dancer in the purple sparkly dress, regardless of how hard they may continue to try.

Duct Tape Mannequin, Check!

It’s been a while — thanks for sticking around…

(BTW, if you’re only interested in the mannequin tutorial, scroll down to where the photos begin!)

The skating world is so weird sometimes; I know people who protect their costume ideas for each season more carefully than they protect their passwords, bank PIN’s, and in some cases, their true ages. I’m always very secretive about costumes I’m working on whenever it’s requested by a client — this is why you won’t see photos of most costumes in progress, or photos of finished costumes until after they’ve been worn.  If I’m secretive about the dress I make my own daughter, it’s usually just because I’m not sure if I can actually do what I set out to do in the first place, so sharing details about her dress really doesn’t matter because what she ends up with is generally pretty far from what I originally planned anyway.

This year I’m going to try something totally different: I’ll document the entire process, beginning to end, because honestly this idea is so ridiculous that if someone else is crazy enough to want to copy it, more power to him or her.

The basic dress is black, because she’s “earned” the right to wear it (many skating folks have some odd theories about certain things, and wearing black is one of them). I’ll use mesh dyed to match her exact skin tone so that it completely fades away on the floor.  But between the black bodice and the nude neckline, there will be loads and loads and loads of ribbon embroidery. Embroidery done 100% by hand. By my hand. With non-stretchy silk ribbon. 261 yards of silk ribbon. 261 yards of hand-dyed silk ribbon. 261 yards of hand-dyed silk ribbon in 42 colors.

Yep. This is why I’m not worried about this insane idea being copied.

The first step in the process was to figure out how to embroider non-stretchy ribbon onto a stretchy base fabric. Usually embroidery is done with a hoop that holds the fabric taught, so that the ribbons and thread don’t create bunching, pulling, and puffing. The problem with doing this on stretchy fabric is that the hoop would over-stretch the fabric in some parts, under-stretch it in others; this would leave bumps and gathers everywhere  when it’s worn, rendering the whole mess totally unwearable. I needed to figure out how to replicate the exact stretch of each part of the dress while it’s being embroidered, so that everything lays flat and nice when it’s being worn.

Since I couldn’t really ask Emma to wear the dress for what I’m estimating will be 200 hours while I embroider it on her actual body, I opted to recreate her so that I’d have a perfect form, a makeshift “hoop” if you will, on which to embroider these hundreds of flowers.

I’ve seen so many different methods of doing this, so after much research I decided my best bet was to use paper tape — the kind used for packaging, with a pre-gummed backing that is activated by water. Supposedly this method dried harder and stronger than using duct tape, so that’s how we began. Over the course of the next several hours, we learned many ways how not to create a personal mannequin, which I’ll go over below.



Emma, my model, with Ditty (this stands for DTE, or Duct Tape Emma)


You’ll need the following:

*Tape (more on this below)

*Sponge/water if you use water-activated packaging tape

*Tight fitting clothing that covers everywhere you want the tape to go;  clothing you don’t mind sacrificing, since it will be forever attached to the inside of your mannequin (as you can see in the photos below, I made her little spandex arm sleeves because the sleeves of her t-shirt weren’t long enough to cover her to the elbow)


*Hair dryer (if you’re using paper tape, you’ll need this to speed up the drying of each layer before adding a new one)

*Lots of stuffing materials (we used last year’s AP World History papers; you can use newspaper, scraps of fabric, really anything you have laying around)

Tape is easy to cut when your model holds the roll.

Tape is easy to cut when your model holds the roll.

Sponge with water, for activating the paper tape glue.

Sponge with water, for activating the paper tape glue.

A word about tape: in my photos, you’ll notice that I started with paper tape, but ended with duct tape. The edges and ends of the paper tape just didn’t seem to be laying flat enough for me. I wanted a smooth finish, but it looked like feathers on a bird, with all the ends sticking up a little bit. Maybe it was the quality of the tape I used, maybe it’s just the characteristic of paper tape, maybe it was just me…but in the end, I preferred duct tape. Nashua brand seemed to be just perfect for this; it didn’t fray, and it was easy to pull off the roll in one piece rather than having it split (which was the case when I moved onto my second half-roll of tape, which was a different brand).

FYI: Emma is a fairly small person, and we used 1/2 roll of paper tape (with a full roll being 114 meters) and a full roll of duct tape (well, two half-rolls). Had we done the entire thing in duct tape, I would have used 2 full rolls, so plan accordingly.


Have your model use the restroom. Be sure he or she is wearing underwear that you don’t mind ruining, just in case you accidentally cut through it. I was able to pretty easily slide the scissors between the clothing and the undies, but this might not be possible with every model, so it’s better to assume the underwear will be ruined and then be happy when it isn’t. Also, soft shoes (or flip flops) would have been nice. My model was barefoot, which grew sort of annoying after standing on the hard wood floor for a couple hours.

Cut pieces of tape ahead of time! I found that I liked shorter pieces of paper tape, if you choose to go that route.  I also found that cutting slits in the edges of a lot of pieces made them lay flatter (cut slits like you would on a curved sewing edge).

Shorter pieces work best, with slits cut in the edges to form to your model's curves.

Shorter pieces work best, with slits cut in the edges to form to your model’s curves.

Step 3: THE WRAP

X marks the spot...

X marks the spot…


Base starting to form.

With your model in his/her tight-fitting clothing, start by wrapping a large X across the chest. If your mannequin will have a crotch and thighs (great for leotards and pinning on skating skirts, since most dressforms don’t have a crotch and instead stop just above the hip!), one long piece between the legs is a great way to start as well. I found that my model’s t-shirt was just way too big (but it was the only one she was willing to destroy), so it took quite a few foundation pieces of tape to get it to fit snugly. You want those clothes tight against the body, so be sure to wrap the tape so that there is no gap between the tape and the model.

Start adding pieces horizontally at first, and then vertically. Use those shorter pieces with the slits on the edges to fit curves (like bustline and shoulders, especially). If you´re using paper tape, be sure to let each layer dry before adding another (this is where the hair dryer comes in handy).
















BIG MISTAKE. Don't use clear tape. Ever.

BIG MISTAKE. Don’t use clear tape. Ever.

So I was having a hard time getting the paper tape to lay snug against her body — there seemed to be a bit of a gap, so I really wanted to cinch it in. Sitting on the table happened to be a roll of clear packing tape I’d just used to mail some things, so I figured it would work well to really gather in that excess tape and make the base of the mannequin really fit. Well, it DID do that…as you can see from the photos, it really drew the excess tape together and created a very nice silhouette that matched my model to a T. Great, right?

Wrong. DO NOT USE CLEAR PACKING TAPE. EVER. Paper tape won’t stick to clear packing tape, so everything started sliding around after that. What a mess! Skip the clear tape and go straight to…





Duct tape for the win!

Duct tape for the win!

20170221_163408I was about to just give up on the whole damn thing when I decided to try to raid my husband´s work bench to see if he had any duct tape laying around. Of course he did, so I tried to salvage the mess of wet paper tape and packing tape by just wrapping her up in a few pieces of duct tape. It worked perfectly! So we finished by covering the entire paper tape base in duct tape.


I hate mannequins without legs and a crotch, since most of what I do involves a leotard of some kind. This is where things get dicey, and it’s really important that you’re *ahem* close to the person you’re wrapping. I’ve seen a lot of duct tape mannequin tutorials, but only one bothered to go below the hip. If you’re going to go through the trouble of making this thing, go ahead and do it right — give yourself some legs!


When you’re convinced that your model is sufficiently wrapped (no clothing showing through, at least two layers of tape absolutely everywhere (three or four is better), it’s time to cut. You want to cut through BOTH the clothing and the duct tape — the clothing becomes part of the mannequin.  Take care around the underwear/bra areas, as it’s tricky to differentiate clothing you want to leave in the mannequin and clothing you want to leave on the model! I started at the back of one leg and sliced all the way up through the center of the back to the neckline. We also cut slits in each arm, about half-way up to the shoulder.

Have your model carefully wriggle his/her way out of the form, moving slowly so that the form doesn’t become misshapen.


Taking care to line up your seam precisely, tape the escape slices shut again.


Tape closed the leg and arm holes.

Crumple up your paper and slowly start stuffing your mannequin, being sure to really fill it…if you leave large air holes or gaps, your mannequin will eventually cave in. We stuffed it pretty tightly so that when pressed, it barely gives beneath your hand.



In the end, I think we accidentally did this the perfect way: start with paper tape to give a strong, sturdy base, and then end with duct tape, to really make sure the fit is exact. Our mannequin’s measurements are EXACTLY my model’s measurements, except for a 1/8″ difference in the bustline (because my mannequin’s boobs turned out a little uneven…I don’t know why, but with only 1/8″ difference, I really don’t care. That’s close enough for me…I mean, 1/8″ can be the difference between Bra A padding and Bra B padding, so it’ll be fine). So I now have a mannequin I can stick pins into, leave around the house to spook the dog, or hey — use as a ribbon embroidery form.

To Be Continued…

We’re Baaaack!!

It’s been absolutely forever since I posted here, but this is why:


SHE MADE IT TO WORLDS!  Of course it had nothing at all to do with how she skated — it’s all about the dress, you know…


8th in the WORLD! Awesome finish for her first World Championships appearance.


Love this shot. Really great loop for her, too!

Anyway, we’re home from two weeks in Italy and Paris (ok, 9 days in Italy for the World Championships, 5 days in Paris for…well, for me, really.  We sent her home with grandma so my husband and I could go fabric shopping in Paris alone…uh, I mean, go sightseeing in Paris alone…), and the shop is undergoing HUGE changes!  I have new fabric stocked (ombre lycra and mesh in lots of colors!), and we’re working on moving the entire thing into a mobile pop-up shop by the spring!  This will allow me to travel to many, many more competitions and venues throughout the year, and best of all…I can turn this great shop/sewing/storage space into a dedicated design studio, with a changing room, mannequin display, work stations, everything!  As a result, the place is a complete pig sty, which thrills me to no end, of course.

So because there wasn’t enough chaos in our lives, I decided to take on another task as a pattern tester again for 5 out of 4 Patterns. This time we tested the new Ninja Leggings, and they are amazing!  The pattern has been released at NO COST if you join the 5 out of 4 Facebook group.  It’s a downloadable PDF pattern, very well written, with excellent, clear instructions for all sewing ability levels.


5 out of 4 Patterns NINJA leggings. So comfortable!


Go get this pattern NOW.

Best of all, there is NO ELASTIC necessary in the waistband.  There are four different waistband versions (low rise, mid rise, high rise, and extra low-maternity rise), and virtually unlimited length options (shorts, capris, long, extra long, or anything in-between).  Emma is wearing the low rise, extra long version above.

So because my shop is a terror pit right now, and because there is a mountain of scraps honestly four feet high out there, I decided to whip up a few more pairs of these Ninjas.  Each pair takes only one yard and about thirty minutes start to finish.  They’re going to be perfect for chilly rink mornings this winter!


While you’re at it, check out their other patterns too — if I can find my cutting table, I plan on making a few “knot your average” shirts this week…

Hand-Dyed Lace and Where Crazy Ideas Begin

**If you’re only interested in the hand-dyed lace tutorial and not all my babbling, scroll to where the photos begin!**

The process for most of the custom roller skating outfits I make is fairly simple: coach has an idea in March, we settle on a plan in early April, dress is finished by early to mid May.  Boom.  Done.

However, the process for my daughter’s annual dress is usually a long, drawn out ordeal: idea in September, dream about the mechanics and engineering of it for months, keep an eye open for fabrics and embellishments all year, settle on a plan in February, put off making it until everyone else’s is finished, then work like hell to hurry up and get it done by late June, usually stoning it in the hotel room the night before she has to skate.

This year started out in exactly the same manner — idea in the fall, long thought process, and I even cut it out and put the most technically challenging part together in April.  But it wasn’t special; it was great, and the pieces I did finish are cool, but it was predictable, a little boring, and something practically anyone else could have imagined and made.  Nothing unique, nothing striking.

Then one day in April (because goodness knows this couldn’t have happened last September, because that would have been too easy) I ran across an old photo I’d saved years earlier of a dress neckline I liked.  That’s the only reason I saved the picture, and I discovered it quite by accident while searching my photo database for inspiration for someone else’s dress.  That’s how this whole thing started, and it organically snowballed into something super cool, super memorable, and so damn simple that it’s embarrassing to admit to people just how easy it was.

The dress is made entirely of nude mesh (gratuitous plug here: my company hand dyes 17 different shades of skintone mesh to match any skin color, so the dress really disappears on her.  She’s a “chai,” by the way; I think she was hoping to be “cupcake” or “graham cracker,” but then Disneyland happened and that slight tan pushed her into “chai” territory), with a double layer of nude mesh on the skirt. Underneath the mesh (because this isn’t THAT kind of sport) is a strapless bra and underlayer of nude spandex, which covers just the parts that need to be covered to stay tasteful and costuming-rules-legal.  I made the dress in its entirety, including sewing on the skirt, before I started adding anything else.  So basically for a few days she had a nudie dress, which totally freaked out my husband one day as he came around the corner and there she was in her perfectly matched skintone dress, looking pretty much buck naked with a skirt…

Anyway, then came the fun (?) part: the lace.  I’ll add the tutorial to the end of this post; I wasn’t going to take the time to do it, but so far no one believes me when I tell them how easy it was to actually make this dress, so I feel the need to prove I’m not a liar…

This process and the results taught me a couple of things.  First, it’s ok to start over if something better pops into your head, even if you’ve had your heart set on something for nearly a year.  It takes a good designer to know when it’s time to change course or just throw something out the window entirely.  Second, don’t dismiss the value of revisiting things you once found intriguing. Had I not glanced at that old neckline photo, the rest of this never would have entered my brain, ever.  Third, sometimes all it takes to create something spectacular (and honestly, this is the first piece I’ve ever made, after 20+ years, that I would call “spectacular”) is one tiny kernel of an idea…then the rest just falls into place.  And finally, don’t assume you can’t do something until you mess it up for yourself.  Initially I was extremely skeptical that what was in my head would ever end up on her body.  It took hours and hours of research to figure out how to accomplish exactly what I wanted the end product to be, and honestly, the only reason I even attempted it was because I had that other dress nearly finished already, just in case.  I could afford to screw this one up, and that’s what gave me the courage to follow that hare-brained idea in the first place.


Ok.  Now for the tutorial.  If you skipped all that musing and are just now joining us, welcome.

1. Finding the lace and dye materials

This part was easy.  I decided right away that I didn’t want to use paint. How did I know this?  Because I once made an absolutely hideous dress with painted poppies. I mean, the idea was terrific, and the poppies weren’t all that bad, but I hated (and still hate) the textured, 3-D effect that paint gives you; I wanted to be able to see the actual fibers of the lace because I wanted more of an embroidered look.  The only way to achieve this is with dye, not paint.  Paint sits on top of fibers, dye adheres directly to fibers.  And the best place EVER to purchase dye is from Dharma Trading.  I loved their acid dyes already, so this was a no-brainer.

But before I could order the dye, I needed to know the fiber content of the lace I’d be using.  After much research, I figure out that rayon lace was the way to go.  Coincidentally, my favorite lace supplier, Mary Not Martha (sold on Etsy), carries TONS of rayon lace, so the hardest part was figuring out which pieces I liked best.

After ordering my lace, I researched rayon dyeing techniques.  Dharma already has a fabulous tutorial here, so I won’t go into everything needed before you even begin dye painting; but I ended up needing several different chemicals on top of the eight colors of dye I ordered.  Be sure to read their tutorials FIRST so that you order everything you need at once to save on shipping!

2. Prepping the lace

Before doing anything, I washed the pieces in textile detergent (synthropol, also available on the Dharma website).  This gets rid of not only dirt, but invisible acids and grease from your fingers and anything else the lace may have touched, which inevitably would affect how the dye adheres to the lace fibers.  Then I cut the lace appliques into small, individual pieces, since I didn’t want the dress to look like I’d slapped a few big appliques on it and called it a day.


Soaking the lace in Earl Grey

As I learned two years prior (revisit that post here), all white lace is not created equal.  Before the lace even arrived, I knew I’d have to figure out some way to fix the variations of “white,” or eliminate them altogether.  Since the dress was nude, I decided I wanted the edges of the lace to blend into the dress — so I decided to tea stain the lace.  In the past I’ve tea stained lace for an hour, but since I only wanted a slight tanning, I opted for a 15-minute soak. If you’ve never done this before, it’s embarrassingly easy; place five or six black tea bags (ok, all I had was loose leaf Early Grey with Lavender tea…so my lace smells slightly of lavender) in a bowl.  Cover with hot water.  Let sit for a few minutes, then add the lace or fabric or whatever.  When it’s a little darker than desired, remove it and rinse in cold water.  Done.  Don’t drink the tea in the bowl, because that would be gross.

3. Prepping the dyes


Sodium alginate, urea, soda ash. Not the lime.

Again, Dharma covers this on their website. I mixed the urea and sodium alginate together, put them in a tupperware container in the fridge, and slapped a “don’t throw me away and don’t drink me!” sign to the top — because hey, I live with teenage boys…

Two days later, I mixed six shades of burgundy/pink and six shades of green by mixing various combinations of the eight procion dyes I’d ordered.  I found a terrific little bead organizer in a little acrylic box, which worked perfectly for dyes — the lids screwed tightly onto the little jars, which kept them from spilling/getting lost on my work table.  Plus, I could put the entire box into the refrigerator (which extends the life of the dye, I’ve learned) and I didn’t have to worry about twelve little jars ending up in twelve separate places in my bottomless pit of a fridge.

By the way, I initiated a discussion in some dyeing communities on Facebook because I was mixing techniques (procion dyeing and tea staining) and I wasn’t sure how to proceed, and together we decided that the best way to proceed was to tea stain the stuff FIRST, and keep the soda ash (a necessary compound in hand dyeing with procion dyes — it helps the dye to adhere to the fibers of the lace.  Keep reading to find out what happens when you skip this step) out of the dyes and to soak the lace in the soda ash separately.  This is why I only mixed up the urea, sodium alginate, and dye.

4. Prepping the lace, part 2


Soaking in soda ash. Notice that I only placed about a dozen pieces in the soda ash at a time; you don’t want soda ash sitting on your lace fibers longer than necessary.

I couldn’t help but think about the old saying about painting — how 70% is prep, 25% is clean up, and only 5% is actually painting.  Same holds true for this process — I needed to prep the lace yet again, and prep the painting surfaces as well.  The tea stained lace soaked for about 10 minutes in a soda ash solution (and believe me, I was very relieved that the soda ash didn’t change the color of the tea staining, though the soda ash did turn slightly beige…so obviously I hadn’t rinsed the lace enough).  I pinned pieces to a plastic wrap covered piece of cardboard, small enough to fit into a 2-gallon size ziploc bag (more on why this is important later), and then, FINALLY, I was ready to start painting.  Word of warning here: I tried using leftover dye on another dress, but I forgot to pre-soak it in soda ash. I figured what the heck, it’s just a practice dress…uh, no.  An hour later all my carefully painted flowers and leaves had turned to one giant, mushy mess, and two hours later every color had bled into every other color, so now it looked like I spilled burgundy dye on the fabric had tried to rub it off here and there.  HIDEOUS.  So don’t skip the soda ash step.  Of course, this may have happened because of the fiber content of the fabric, but still, why risk it?).

Now, by this time I was completely freaked out, because I’d already spent sooo much time prepping everything and I was positive it would be for nothing since I wasn’t very optimistic that I could actually paint very well.  If there’s one thing I hate, it’s wasting time or investing a lot of useless effort into something for nothing.  So after I cried from worrying that I would totally suck at this (yes, I cried over something this stupid), it was finally time to take the pieces out of the soda ash and get busy.

5. Finally, painting!


Finished pieces, sitting in plastic.

And what do you know?  This was the easiest part of all!  It was FAST, too…the dye, when applied with a watercolor brush, actually behaves like watercolors…touch the brush to the fibers, and the fibers drink in the dye.  I mixed up my dyes with very, very little actual dye itself, so they were rather transparent.  This worked perfectly, because unlike regular fabric paint, you can control the actual hue of the dye simply by layering it; one layer is lighter, but each additional layer darkens the color.  I started with my lightest colors and added darker colors gradually.  It was quick, it was fun, and it pissed me off because I’d worried so much about it not working.

6. Resting/rinsing

After painting the pinned lace pieces, I placed the cardboard inside 2-gallon ziploc bags and sealed them.  This is necessary because you want to slow the drying process for about 12 hours, which allows the dye molecules to really bond with the lace fibers (I’ll spare you the chemical explanation here, because frankly I’ve forgotten it by now anyway). 12 hours later, I removed the cardboard and washed the lace in cold water for what seemed like days.  Really, it took a good hour for the lace to stop bleeding excess dye.


Rinsing, and rinsing, and rinsing.

One important thought here — as the lace dries, it gets darker.  Like, really darker.  I hadn’t read anything about this, so it really worried me, because all my carefully designed, color graduated painting basically disappeared and my flowers just looked like one shade of dark burgundy and my leaves looked like Hefty garbage bag green.  But when you start rinsing, all these color variations magically reappear.


Lace getting darker as it sits. Freaked me out.

7. Drying

OMG I still had more to do before I could even begin using these things…


Drying lace, day 2. I stopped pinning it by this point.

The drying process took several days, to be honest.  This was also something I hadn’t anticipated.  I wrapped cardboard fabric bolt inserts with thick bath towels and carefully pinned each lace piece flat (because I didn’t want curly edges, which is what happens when you wash lace — see below).  But after 24 hours, they were still damp…so I blotted, flipped them over, and waited.  And waited.  Multiple blottings later, they were finally dry and ready to use.


The reason I pinned the lace to paint it and dry it — curly edges, yuck.

One additional word of caution here — don’t use towels you care about.  Even after an hour of rinsing, my lace pieces still bled a little bit onto the towels.

8. Placing

Close up of lace pieces

Close up of lace pieces

I sprayed the back of each piece with quilt basting spray, and with her in the dress, I slapped these pieces onto her fairly quickly, Tetris-style.  I did pin them as well, but using basting spray helps the edges stay perfectly in place so I only needed one pin per piece rather than several.  This saved her lots of standing-perfectly-still time, and saved me lots of pin-pricked fingers.  Plus, the last time I pinned so much lace to a dress I had to cover up several little blood spots with stones…but not this time.


Pieces being glued down. Note the awesome stretcher frame? Available at Firefly Fabrics!

9. Adhering

Notice I didn’t say “sewing?”  Nope…I didn’t sew these on this time.  E6000 to the rescue, and it worked beautifully.  I used to sew lace onto dresses, but I learned my lesson (read about it here).  Of course, my work table looked super creepy for a while, but it was worth it.


Mannequin arm to the rescue!

Notice the waxed paper?  This dress was made entirely of mesh, and I didn’t want the glue to seep through and accidentally glue arm holes shut, or glue the front to the back.  I lined the entire dress in waxed paper, which then pulled off pretty easily once the glue was nearly dry.

10. Stoning

Most fun part of all.  I used seven different sizes of crystal AB’s to give a graduated look, as well as every random green and purple/burgundy/pink stone I had laying around the studio.  You know — when a dress doesn’t use up a full gross of stones so I had 4 leftover here, maybe 15 leftover there, etc. — but you can’t ever throw stones away, yet how do you use fewer than a dozen of any one color?  I had saved up stones in weird sizes and weird colors, which was perfect for this dress.  I also used about a gross each of burgundy, light burgundy, and light burgundy AB stones.  I scattered 12ss, 16ss, and 20ss crystal AB stones all around the bottom of the skirt and around the neck and back openings, too — initially we were going to leave these openings without elastic and without stones, but this fabric matched her skin (at the time) waaaaay too closely, and she really did look naked with some flowers carefully clinging to her boobs and butt.  A little too Adam-And-Eve for me, so the finished edges and scattered stones really helped it look more like a dress and less like a naked forest nymph getup.

And this is it — the finished product.  Totally different than anything at all on the floor this year, which is exactly what we wanted.



And this was the finished result!  Heading to the US National Championships in two weeks, where hopefully hopefully hopefully this dress (and the kid inside it) will qualify for a trip to Italy for the World Championships in September.  Stay tuned!



PS: Added August 15, 2016: THE DRESS MADE IT TO ITALY! Emma placed 8th in the world…to read more about that experience, visit



Scary Season

Scary season is upon me, which isn’t exactly as it sounds…it’s not scary because of the workload; it’s scary because the workload means my shop has become an utter hellhole.

There are scraps everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I even devised a new scrap storage system, but it doesn’t matter — just when I get them under control, I find I need 1/8 yard of this or that, and everything ends up on the floor of the studio once again.

Just when I find enough horizontal space on my gigantic work table to cut out pieces, it quickly becomes engulfed in yards and yards of swatches, bolt ends, and yes, more scraps.  Piles of scraps behind my machines = I can’t push them back to use the table space in front of them; piles of scraps around my chair = I have to climb over the back just to sit in it; piles of scraps around my thread spools = every few hours my cones stop feeding and I have to perform a sort of archaeological dig just to find them again.

I clean up my scraps every night, believe it or not; but right now the volume of merchandise coming out of this studio is at a point where the scrap count reaches critical mass about two hours after the start of each work day. The chaos makes it difficult to work, though oddly enough, it makes me work faster because I’m not in the calm, relaxed, lovely little space that is my studio when it’s clean.  No, the workshop is a hazardous place to be during the month of May, so the faster I can get my work done and escape, the more likely it is I’ll be able to find my way out anyway.  So I let it continue.

I didn’t come up here to write about my mess; I actually came up here to look for a chalk marker that is, no doubt, buried in a corner under a pile of scraps.  But while I’m here, I’ll share a photo of a simpler, less-scrappy time, when these girls were tiny.  Here they are, holding their first club dresses, circa 2003.  Allison already has the best club dress of all — a Team USA dress — from her 2015 World Championships trip.  Hopefully Emma will earn that dress this summer.



What Are They Wearing Wednesday: Long Time No Post

It’s been months, I know…between getting this business going, traveling to meets with the pop-up shop, and trying to get new PDF patterns online, I haven’t had time to breathe.

Anyway, here’s a quickie — just finished last week, a derby half-time show dress for a former (not “old!”) artistic skater and her husband.  Though they never skated together competitively, they’re now doing a ton of touring and showing.  She provided the inspiration, I provided the dress, and it worked out perfectly!13012684_10209146334406377_7935865105215429282_n 13006570_10209146330966291_7980582120146414941_n 13001306_10209146337726460_3011998439975147128_n 12987072_10209146329846263_368874875983559320_n 12974537_10209146331646308_1349025510355417653_n 12931081_10209146332126320_8350457954872323954_n 12472713_10209146330366276_8024765418736258938_n

Trademark — Check!

Not exactly sewing related, but I’ve had so many requests for this information, and this is really the only place I have to put it.

Last March, after spending too many hours working on SEO (search engine optimization) for my company website, I realized there are just too many damn companies that use the name Firefly.  I knew the domain owner of “” has never, ever published a site with that name, but he wants $10,000 for the rights to the name.  Whatever.  Then in a few of my Facebook groups, too many very good, very innocent people were running into huge headaches because others were using their chosen company names or designs, yet they really had no recourse because they didn’t have enough official documentation to prove it was theirs in the first place. So I decided it was time to look into a trademark filing.

When I started this company, I filed for various things before doing anything else — business license, resale license, DBA paperwork, tax stuff, blah blah blah.  I bought domains, and set up an account so that my entire online presence would be automatically saved and marked in case I ever ran into a copyright issue.  But I never approached the trademark issue because, let’s face it, it isn’t cheap…everyone told me that I needed an attorney to do it for me, and even without an attorney, the filing fees for my two classes would be $450 alone — including a $200 discount.  Yikes.

Being the cheapskate that I am, and considering the fact that I usually stupidly assume I can do something — anything — until proven wrong (which is often, believe me), I decided to just file on my own.  It was tedious and a royal pain the rear, but really, not so bad — and definitely not difficult. Everything worked perfectly, until a little issue with J&P Coats (as in Coats & Clark, thread folks for those of you who sew), which I’ll get into later.  But first, mostly for my FB small business group friends, I wanted to give a quick outline on how to file on your own:

  1. Set aside (or acquire) the funds. Normal filing online for one class is $225 to $325, depending on how you file.  Most WAHM (Work At Home Moms) who run a small business will only need to file in one class.  I filed in two, because my business includes selling supplies and selling finished garments.  Of course the USPTO (US Patent & Trademark Office) separated these…so my cost was $450.  More on cost later.
  2. Watch the videos on searching existing trademarks HERE.
  3. Do an exhaustive TESS search.  TESS stands for Trademark Electronic Search System, and you can access it HERE.  Before conducting a search, you may want to check out their helpful how-to page.  Start with a basic wordmark search, but don’t stop there.  For example, if you type in “Firefly,” you’ll get 1056 results.  Go through each one.  But don’t stop there…after searching with the basic wordmark search, go back and use the structured search and the free form search.  The links are all on the main TESS search page.  I realize this is going to take hours…but it’s worth it — unless you don’t care about throwing $225 per class down the toilet.  Once you pay, that’s it…no refunds, whether or not your trademark is approved.  It’s like the most stressful gamble EVER because you’re betting on a US government agency.  Do the search, then do it again.
  4. Now it’s time to start thinking about filing.  Go to the info page at TEAS (Trademark Electronic Application System) here.  Click the links for any parts of the process that are still a little fuzzy for you.  I suggest trying to go the TEAS Plus route, because a) it’s the cheapest, and b) if you’re computer savvy enough to file online, there’s no reason for you to not get your correspondence via email (the other two filing processes mail stuff to you…but hey, for a $100 discount per class, I’ll take everything by email, thankyouverymuch).  All three options are laid out clearly on the TEAS application page.  There’s a great set of videos HERE, which really walks you through the entire application process.
  5. Before you start to file, get your proof and photos ready.  Like many online application systems, this one can time out — so if you don’t have enough time at one sitting and if you don’t have your files in order, don’t start the process until you’ve got about 90 minutes to spare all at once.  If you’re creating a brand spanking new trademark, then you don’t need these additional files — but generally, most people file after they’ve already designed and used some sort of business mark because that’s when they realize they have so much time/effort/energy/dollars invested in the mark and its use.  You’re going to need photos as proof of this — hang tags, garment tags, business cards (though a business card isn’t going to be enough proof), signage in your store, brochures, flyers, etc.  You can submit multiple forms of proof, and I suggest you do this.  After my initial filing, they wanted more specific proof because my business card wasn’t specific enough…so I took photos of every single thing I could think of, and submitted them.  Nothing fancy — I used my cell phone and didn’t clean up the photos or anything.  If you use a business card, you just need to be sure that your business type is very clearly stated on the card, and it matches the class in which you’re filing.  If it’s vague, submit other proof as well.  A business card is sort of generic, but a tag sewn into a garment is very powerful.  If you do use a business card, be sure to take a photo of it — don’t just submit your original artwork file.  You need to prove you’re using this mark…and just having the digital file isn’t good enough.

    Some of the random proof I submitted.

    Some of the random proof I submitted…packaging, tags, etc.

  6. Stay in contact. You’ll get a few emails from the USPTO, but you’ll get lots of emails from various people and law groups telling you that you need their help.  You probably don’t.  In fact, the USPTO even warns you at the end of the application process that you’re going to receive unsolicited emails, so you need to be very careful about what you keep and what you trash — because sometimes these unsolicited emails (and even snail mail…more on that later) look official, and the USPTO emails blend right in.  Don’t accidentally trash something from the USPTO!
  7. If you need to add something later or amend your application, there are links here to do it. I did add additional proof about two weeks after my initial filing, and it was easy.  HOWEVER, a few months later the USPTO asked for the exact proof I’d already filed, so I am not sure just how connected these amendments and additions are to your actual initial application.  As soon as I sent these same .jpg’s again, the application was approved.  So just be diligent, and don’t be afraid to submit more than you think you need.  One additional hint: when I was asked to send additional proof, I noticed that some of my original photos were no longer attached to my application…so I resubmitted them, too (this is part of the “online application process that doesn’t save attachments after you close your browser” thing, and it’s totally normal.  Just submit them again).  Just something to check on, should this happen to you.  I was also asked to “exclude” claim to the word “fabric” unless it’s attached to the word “Firefly” or to my logo.  At first I freaked because I figured that was obvious (I mean, how can you trademark the word “fabric?”), and because I had no idea how to do this because it wasn’t part of the original application — but, of course, they actually give you suggested wording in the email; so all you have to do is follow their very clear directions, cut and paste the exact wording they give you, and you’re good to go.  If there are any issues, they give you the opportunity to amend your application, and if you take their exact suggestions, your application could be approved in a matter of a couple weeks.  As difficult as they make it sound in the beginning, once you actually apply, they really seem to go to great lengths to help you along.
  8. Follow up.  This is a slow process, but you can track the progress of your application online easily.  You’ll receive a US Serial number quickly, and you’ll need that HERE to track your application.
  9. Publication.  You’ll get an email, usually about 4-6 months after your initial filing, telling you that your application has been approved for publication (because you did such an exhaustive search first, right?).  But you’re not finished…as I unfortunately learned.  Anyone can file an opposition to your trademark, or they can file for an extension (companies and individuals have 30 days to file this sort of thing after the publication date).  As exciting as it was to see my mark in the USPTO Gazette, two days before the end of the 30-day window I received several postcards from random law firms telling me I needed their services to defend my trademark.  What??  I was confused, so I checked online…and sure enough, J&P Coats filed for an extension so that they could investigate how my mark was going to confuse and befuddle their customers.  Now, I could go off here about how stupid this is, how their “Firefly” thread isn’t even sold retail in the US (it’s thread treated with fire retardant for things like bullet-proof vests and fire fighter jackets, and obviously big manufacturing companies looking for fire retardant thread are going to be very confused and attempt to purchase it using their Paypal account from a garage roller skating dress sewing business with purple rhinestones all over the website, because yeah, it’s so similar and confusing), how their marks are registered in totally different classes, how they only registered the name “Firefly” with no logo or anything else, how stupid it is that a huge European company who used to have the total corner on the thread market would be so pathetically worried about a tiny little silly skating fabric company in the middle of nowhere, but I’ll refrain…

So anyway, I did a lot of research, and apparently there are attorneys who do nothing but file these sorts of things, and then they go back to these big companies to present their case to see if they’re willing to pay them to pursue it.  The man who filed against me has filed hundreds of these things (you can search for almost anything in the USPTO web pages!)  As of this morning, two days past their additional filing deadline, J&P Coats hasn’t given this guy the go-ahead bucks to come after me, so right now it looks like I’m in the clear!  Officially I have to wait eleven weeks for my final final final letter, but a quick email from the USPTO tells me I’m ok.

So that’s it — how to file in a long-winded nutshell.  To anyone who has made it this far in this very long post, if you’re thinking about a trademark filing, you can do it!  I found that the stress wasn’t in the application at all — it was in the waiting and wondering, which I still would have had to do anyway had I paid an attorney a few thousand dollars to do it for me.

Good luck, and happy filing!

ADDENDUM 5/12/2016: BTW, I received my official and very cool looking US Patent & Trademark Office certificate on December 8, 2015 — less than 9 months after my initial filing.  That may seem like a long time, but I don’t care…I’ve got the cert in my hot little hands, so I’m happy!  In fact, I learned today that the USPTO actually does a bang up job of defending trademarks they’ve approved without you having to lift one tiny finger…so if a trademark application comes in that seems to infringe a bit on one they’ve already approved, they reject it.  The applicant can always appeal, but the point is that there’s a reason these applications take so long…and if it’s because they’re doing all this work for me, I don’t mind one bit.  I thought I’d have to scour the Gazette every month, but nope — they’ve got my back, so I can get on with doing the stuff that made me file in the first place.

Recent Projects

Wow…I’ve been gone forever…

So much has happened recently…our trademarks were approved and registered (yay!), I finished dozens of pieces for regional and national skating championships, we sunk more money than I care to think about into our fabric business…it’s obviously been a crazy summer! And there are lots of changes coming for us this fall — I’ve retired from my camp job to devote 100% of my time to our fabric and costuming company, I’ve started several new product lines, I’m teaching several new classes, and we’ve started a tutorial channel on YouTube and Vimeo!

For now, however, I just want to share a few photos of one recent creation.  This is definitely just a tiny taste of what came out of the studio this season…more photos to come.

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Latest Project — Swim Shorts

So because I’m not busy enough, and because I think I was in sort of a spandex withdrawal after finishing 40 pieces last month, I took on a new project — pattern tester for 5 out of 4 Patterns.

I’ve never used PDF patterns before (weird, I know), so that was really the only part of the project that worried me a bit. This first pattern test was for a pair of ruched, reversible swim shorts, but honestly the most time consuming part of the project was finding space in the studio in which to work — there are still scraps of this fabric, a few inches of that strapping, tiny bags of random stones, and miscellaneous pattern clippings everywhere. EVERYWHERE.  But I found about a yard’s worth of space, which was all I really needed anyway.

I made two versions of these shorts, and my “model” loved them both.  Despite the fact that I’ve probably sewn 400+ leotard crotches in my life, I’ve never done one with a gusset — and I think I might actually incorporate it into some future skating projects, surprisingly enough.  The part that seemed to be most difficult for the majority of the testers — topstitching the spandex waistband so that the shorts are reversible — wasn’t a big deal for me, having just finished oh, maybe, 100 yards of spandex topstitching in the past two months alone (that’s a hell of a lot of appliques and straight lines!)…but I did have a bit of a hard time with the elastic arrangements.  For the first pair, I did my usual skating dress elastic thing…but I really needed to follow the instructions exactly in order to be a viable tester, so for the second pair I used clear swim elastic, inserted into the seam allowance.  Worked great, and I learned something in the process!  I doubt I’ll use this technique on any skating or dance garments, but I feel like I have a new “tool” in my shed that I can pull out when needed.

If you’re looking for a good PDF pattern company (and I’ve also learned through this project that all PDF pattern companies are NOT created equal!) that specializes in activewear, this is the one.  She creates her PDF’s in layers, so that you don’t have ten different sizes on one sheet, which is a serious challenge to decipher — instead, you can click on just the size(s) you want, and the rest disappear, making it so easy to find your correct cutting line…which is so important when making form-fitting clothing.  I can attest to the fact that the sizing is perfect, and this pattern went through many, many revisions and testing before being finalized and released today.

Here they are — pardon the sailboat on land, by the way…sick kid meant no early trip to camp to take better sailboat pictures on the lake!  Still, you get the idea.

XS side

Side view. Skater butt, of course.

XS blur

Back view

Pattern is on sale for a week, starting today!

You can also join the 5 out of 4 FB group: Facebook Group

*I did not pay for this pattern, but I’m also not being paid to review it, so there you go… 🙂

The Explosion of Home Sewing Enthusiasts

A little off topic today, but here’s a Buzzfeed article I recently wrote…

Goodbye cyber cafes; hello sewing studios.

In Paris, you can rent a sewing machine by the hour to go along with your coffee and croissant. From Redondo Beach, CA to Manchester, England, sewing studios are providing opportunities for people to connect, share, learn, and experience a skill that, until recently, appeared to be disappearing.

But the art of sewing isn’t limited to these corner cafes. In places like Sacramento, CA, not only can you check out a book on sewing, you can also borrow a machine to go with it.  The Sacramento Public Library’s Library of Things program includes six BabyLock portable sewing machines, and based on the number of people currently in line waiting to borrow one, they could easily use about ten more.

According to a December 2014 report by IBIS World, fabric and sewing stores have rebounded from recessionary lows and revenue is projected to continually increase over the next five years thanks in part to the popularity of do-it-yourself fashion trends. Websites like Etsy, Craftsy, All Free Sewing, and are helping to spread the sewing love to both new and seasoned sewing enthusiasts.

Why the seemingly sudden surge in home sewing interest? Many sewists (the preferred term for someone who sews) began sewing as children, taught mostly by their mothers or grandmothers. Denise Golden of Arkansas states that in 1960 her “Nana gave (her) a Barbie doll, fabric and threaded needle and said make her a dress.”

Misty Littlejohn of New Mexico also learned from her grandmother.  “She was my mentor” says Littlejohn.  “Her funeral card sits with me now whenever I sew as a reminder of who she helped me become.”

Sandy MacMaster of Maryland was taught by her aunt. “She didn’t know what to do with a 13-year-old for the summer, so she sat me down at a sewing machine and taught me how to sew!” MacMaster’s further sentiments echoed among the more than 300 home sewists interviewed for this article: “She gave me the best gift I had ever been given and I blame her today for my sewing addiction. It was a true blessing from the heart, and she had no idea the positive seed she planted that year would blossom as it has!”

Casey Lee Snyder’s story helps show what keeps these young learners interested in sewing, while many other childhood pastimes fade with age.  “I learned how to sew by hand in Girl Scouts and was hooked” says Snyder, of North Carolina.  “Later in high school it was super cool to sew my own unique punk clothes. Now I make the cutest personalized clothes for my son and it’s the best!”

But not everyone learned to sew as a young child. According to Amber Balek-Lenius of Iowa , “I taught myself to sew because I couldn’t find clothes in my rural hometown that inspired me, so I made my own. This is the reason I continue to sew for myself and my family! I’m just too picky to shop at the mall.”

Her story is not unique.  Says Sara Girtz Brull of Texas: “My third child was born, finally a girl, and I could not afford the cute boutique clothes.  So, I started sewing.”

18-year-old Julia Michala Johnson of New Jersey “got really inspired to dress modestly and started sewing  (her) own clothes.”

Nicci Schroeter of Kansas says, “Home Economics wasn’t offered in the parochial school I went to…but I always wanted to be able to sew. So at the age of 46, I got a machine and am teaching myself.”

Amber Dalrymple of Indiana decided that rather than paying someone else, she would teach herself to sew her daughter special outfits. “Now I can design from my own ideas” states Dalrymple, “Instead of endlessly searching for something someone else has made.”

Still others have turned what was once a hobby into a full-time, often very lucrative business.  Donna Jordan of North Carolina says, “Although I had the desire as a child watching my mother sew, I started sewing later in life as a way to relieve stress. I got lost for hours. It’s meditation, and I come out with beautiful garments to wear to work. Now my garments are a part of the brand DonNaturaL.”

Candace Diane Bonilla of Oklahoma has a similar story. “My Mema taught me to sew when I was around 8 or 9” she says.  “I always looked up to her and knew one day I wanted be just like her. Now 16 years later I own my own business and sew everyday.” You can find her cloth diaper business, Teensy Trousers, on Facebook.

Mandi Budvarson of California started sewing full-time so she could be a stay-at-home mom. “My youngest is disabled” she says, “So trusting someone with my boys, especially him, was hard for me. It has now become a fun thing and my two boys like to help me and model for me.” Her store, Duo Jumping Bean Style, specializes in children’s clothing items and custom orders.

Tiara Cameron of Georgia started sewing when she wanted to use cloth diapers for her newborn son. Now she makes his clothing, her own clothing, and has a high demand for custom pieces for clients. Her store, Mommy and Mason, sells boutique children’s clothing “without boutique prices.”

Finally, Brenda Haas of Michigan started her home sewing business out of necessity. “My daughter Lucy dances…a lot. When I looked at the available leotards and dancewear I was very disappointed with what I found” she says. “One thing led to another, I opened an Etsy store…and I do a lot on Facebook.” Haas used to consider herself an “engineer by day, booty short maker by night,” but now works full-time creating pieces for her LucyLu Dancwear shop.

Inspired?  Interested in connecting with other sewing enthusiasts and aspiring newbies?  Check out these Facebook pages:

1. Sewing Inspiration and Tutorials. With nearly 39,000 members, this page caters to sewists of all levels. Administrator Daria Ross believes her group “gives home sewers and professionals a place to share and ask advice. We encourage and cheer one another on. The members share projects, tutorials, reviews, and so much more!” But in an effort to not scare away beginners, she emphasizes that “we laugh together and celebrate together, but I think the biggest thing we do together is learn. There is always something to learn when it comes to sewing, and with almost 40,000 members, it’s safe to say there is a new lesson almost every day.”

2. No Drama Mama Sewing.  There’s a  great mix of both advanced and beginner creators here. Get questions answered, seek advice, and get sewing machine assistance. For hobbyists and professionals alike, and a great place to vent when you just can’t get a sewing project to work right or when life prevents you from sitting at your sewing machine.

3. Sew and Tell.  A terrific community for sharing fabric store coupons, project ideas, and photos of your latest sewing project. This is a great place for newbies to get help, and to show off their creations in a kind, supportive environment.

4. Spandex Doesn’t Scare Me!  A small group compared to the others listed here. This group is focused on sharing ideas, buying/selling/trading spandex and other stretchy fabric, and asking for advice about sewing things like bathing suits, skating dresses, dance outfits, and leotards. A fun community of both beginners and professionals, and a perfect place to connect right before bathing suit season!