Monthly Stitch Challenge: Sewing Double

So this really great collective called The Monthly Stitch puts out challenges meant to keep sewists (a new word I learned…maybe it’s just an Australian thing, but it sounds better than “sewer,” which brings to mind nasty, disgusting things) on their toes and actively learning new things.  This month’s challenge was “Sewing Double,” and, as usual, I totally overdid it.

This month I made thirteen new club dresses, a record for me.  Rather than copy the entire post, you can read about it here, where it’s posted on the Monthly Stitch blog.

The thirteen dresses is a lame attempt at an excuse for not posting anything else this month.  The fourteen dress orders sitting in my shop right now won’t help things, either.  Hopefully I can write more when the sewing is done…


Tips & Tricks Tuesday: Ode to E6000

I recently read a friend’s Facebook post where she was unhappily (and slightly unsuccessfully) sewing her daughter’s Girl Scout badges to her vest, and various other friends were chiming in and debating the virtues of glue vs. needle and thread.  It made me realize that 99% of the world’s population is blissfully clueless about the wonder creation E6000, so here’s a brief overview and manifesto on “Why E6000 is the Greatest Invention on the Planet.”

1. STONES: Nothing, and I mean nothing, works on stones and other beadwork like E6000.  Don’t even bother with “bead glue” or other expensive garbage, including E6000 Jewelry and Bead glue.  Stones (aka “A Performer’s Portfolio” because goodness knows we invest more money in them than any decent person will publicly admit) won’t fall off until you want them to come off — see #2.

2. REMOVAL: When it’s time to retire the garment but reuse the stones, all you have to do is sew the garment into a pillowcase, take it to most any dry cleaner, and tell them you used E6000.  They’ll know exactly which chemical to use to dissolve the glue, and if they don’t, take it somewhere else.  When you pick up your garment and open the pillowcase, you’ll find all the stones safely at the bottom, silver backs intact, and no residue left on the fabric at all.  Purely miraculous. Just make sure your pillowcase isn’t sporting a hole, or you’ll lose all your stones and the dry cleaning lady will yell at you (no, it didn’t happen to me personally, but the friend who experienced this expensive humiliation swears she still has flashbacks).

3. FABRIC: Not to give away trade secrets or anything, but we use E6000 for more applique work than we’d like to admit.  In the photos below, all the piecework was done with E6000 and not a sewing machine.


49 separate tiny appliques here. 49. I’ll say it again. 49.


Super fast and easy dress, thanks to the wonders of E6000, two glasses of wine, and a poolside workspace in Florida…

See?  I was serious.

See? I was serious.

pink dress pinkdressback

In fact, Pink Dress above was started in the hotel room 36 hours before the wearer had to compete, and yes, it was fully stoned and finished with about 6 hours to spare. Every single appliqué on that dress was glued on, not sewn, so there were no buckles, bulges, pulls, stretches, or anything that otherwise would have occurred had I tried to wrestle the bulky thing in circles on my machine.  E6000 stretches with the fabric, so when the leotard/main bodice fabric stretches, so do the appliqués. Plus, no seamlines. I would have had to stock (and remember to pack, and then carry up two flights of stairs while carrying the machine, Peg the Mannequin, and my then-4-year-old sleeping child, and then keep away from the other three kids who wanted to use them as prisoners on their Fisher Price pirate ship that somehow made its way into the car even after I told them they had to leave it at home) seven different shades of pink for this dress alone, but by using E6000, I could layer and move from one color to the next without any lost or wasted time. Try THAT with a machine.

Purists might condescendingly say this is cheating; but these are the same folks who refuse to rely on the magic of a single safety pin too, so they’ve obviously never been in the Ready Area with a 12-year old boy whose outfit fit perfectly 9 days ago but who, through the wonders of biology, now is taller and skinnier than he was a week and a half ago (don’t believe me? Raise three boys and see for yourself); so frankly their opinions don’t count. At all. Get over yourselves and admit that just because you’re skilled enough to sew it doesn’t mean that’s always the best option.

Anyway, just when I had everything figured out, the heavens opened and Eclectic Products sent us E6000 spray. I’ll save that hint for later, as I’ll be using it for a particularly intricate design I’m working on this month, and I’ll photo the whole process.

Eclectic Products also released a .18oz tube of E6000, and I have 40 on their way to my shop as I type this. They fit perfectly into these little emergency fix-it travel kits, which also contain a stone setting stick, safety pins, tiny scissors, a sewing kit, Hollywood Tape, and several small compartments for various replacement stones. I actually have one for each dress that goes with us on our travels, and I had no problem going through TSA security with the tiny tube of E6000. You can buy the travel kits here or with the one-click button in the footer.

Next Tuesday we’ll go over several ways to set stones…so you have a week to stock up on E6000…

Saturday Sayings: Burning Out the Pain

“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” — Joseph Campbell

Except that Joseph wasn’t talking about literal burning; painful, blister-inducing burning.  But I promised this story, so here it is.

Once upon a time there was a skater.  A very sweet, very earnest skater, who wanted so badly to do well; so, so badly, that her coach, with all good intentions (very very good intentions, I might add), sewed her the most beautiful dress she possible could at the time, and worked for hours and hours to get it to fit just right.  In fact, she even lowered the skirt just a couple days before the state meet, just to make that dress “perfect.”  Did I mention that Coach’s intentions were super duper good and honorable and not malicious, not one tiny bit?

Ah, but every fairy tale has its sinister side, and this time it comes in the form of a dress lining that was accidentally caught up in that last-minute skirt re-do, so that when Sweet Skater put on the dress again right before she needed to compete, the dress that fit ever-so-perfectly, the dress that she didn’t try on earlier because she wanted it to stay super clean and nice and perfect, it now created the hugest, most indecent wedgie known to man.

So Sweet Skater put on the dress and, like a very good competitor, kept it covered until just a moment before it was time to take the floor for her very brief 4:30 min. warmup period.  One camel and one double salchow later, it was apparent that something — anything — had to be done to fix the gigantic wedgie (ok, for those of you who aren’t my age and don’t know what a “wedgie” is, try out these synonyms: butt floss, thong action, ride up inside…get it?).  We were desperate, and time was ticking away.  Coach didn’t want Sweet Skater to worry or be distracted, but holy moly, this was some serious TMI on the floor.

Coach scanned her not-working-very-well-at-the-moment brain for some sort of solution, and remembered that once she accidentally glued her own nylons to her leg with a hot glue gun.  Coach immediately thought, “Aha!  Glue the trunks of the dress to the tights with E6000, the world’s miracle glue!”  So she quickly sent another parent in search of the only vendor selling E6000 in the arena, and $7.00 later (rip off, totally) they had their solution.  Coach squeezed a glob of glue to Sweet Skater’s butt, pressed the Beautiful Blue Dress into the glob, and squeezed her butt cheek until it started to set.


Voila!  Success!  Beautiful Blue Dress stuck to Sweet Skater’s tights, and with about 15 seconds left in her warmup, it was apparent that she wouldn’t be putting on an extra burlesque-style show during her routine.  Warmup was over, and it was time to rest for about 15 minutes before it was her turn to compete.

After about two skaters had finished their routines but before Coach could finish her pre-performance pep talk, Sweet Skater started to squirm in her chair.  She claimed her butt was burning, but Coach didn’t have time or brainpower for a Plan B.  Besides…Sweet Skater was sort of picky about itchy fabric, so Coach just assumed she was being a little bit whiny.  And Coach, with her BA in psychology, also assumed that maybe there was some transference going on here…Sweet Skater tended to get nervous before a routine, so maybe the “burning” was just a physical manifestation of these nerves, the same way some athletes feel like throwing up before they skate.  Plus Sweet Skater’s mom came to check on her and her now-public buttcheeks, and told Sweet Skater it was in her head, too.  No worries!  Coach pressed Beautiful Blue Dress against Sweet Skater’s tights one more time, for luck I suppose, like football players smack each other on the butt before a play, and it was her turn to skate.

Sweet Skater did great, and no one filed any sort of indecency complaint.  Sweet Skater came off the floor and took off her skates, determined to get out of Beautiful Blue Dress a bit faster than usual.  Still, no worries; everything had turned out great.  Right?

Ten minutes later Sweet Skater returned to the Ready Area in her very nice little sundress, ready to head back to the hotel for a much-anticipated swim.  Sweet Skater sat down, but quickly got up again, announcing that her butt was burning…a lot…and it hurt to sit.  Coach, calm at this point, since all World’s Greatest Wedgie adrenaline had subsided, took Sweet Skater into the restroom to check out her complaint.  There, plain as day, was a red, angry blister — the exact size and in the exact spot where the E6000 glob had been.  The biggest, meanest looking spot of skin ever, just mocking them.  Fortunately Sweet Skater couldn’t see that part of her rear end, so Coach was able to lie to her and say it didn’t look so bad.

Of course, Coach was me.  Sweet Skater was my Stephanie, who you can read about HERE.

The moral of this story changes every time I tell it.  Sometimes the moral is “Listen to everything a kid tells you.”  Sometimes it’s “Try on every damn dress after every damn alteration.”  Sometimes it’s “E6000 is Satan’s Syrup.”  But this time, the moral is simply, “Steph, I miss you.  No one has ever been as good a sport as you.  Ever.”

The “burn out the pain” in the Campbell quote is obvious.  Stephanie’s attitude was the “joy.”  I felt so, so terrible for years after that incident, but I can honestly attest that her butt is not scarred and no long-term physical damage occurred.  Plus she hit a very lovely double flip that day.  Maybe she just didn’t want to fall on her blistered butt, but I have a feeling she remembers the joy of that day (and the good laughs we’ve had since then over this…and every time I see that dress on someone else I get to relive it, because that dress is still in circulation, being worn by little girls ignorant of its almost X-rated past) more than the pain.  I know I do.



Saturday Sayings: When It’s OK to Stink

“For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer.”  – Ira Glass

Before you read this post, check this out.  It’s short, I promise, and it’s brilliant.

I was thinking about this quote this weekend at a skating meet we attended a couple hours away.  As I sat in the lobby waiting less-than-patiently for my skaters’ turns, I realized that everywhere I looked I saw dresses I’d made…but they were on skaters I didn’t know or had never seen before.  At one point I counted nineteen dresses that I could see just from my perch in the glassed-in fishbowl where coaches and judges can safely escape the competition noise and drama (which is ironic, since there is always more noise and drama inside that room, but I guess it’s like changing your own baby’s diapers as opposed to someone else’s baby’s diapers…it just doesn’t seem so bad when it’s your own).

The number of dresses didn’t leave an impression on me, though; instead, what struck me was how much I still hated the oldest ones, which were now cherished by some new skater who doesn’t have a clue that what she sees as beautiful really falls in about the neanderthal stage of my costuming evolution (australopithecus, actually, but I’m trying to be kind).  I saw the dress I made when I first experimented with paint because the client didn’t want to buy as many stones as the dress actually needed, and it made me cringe; yet, this is the fourth skater I can recall wearing it, so to her, it must not be as bad as I think it is.  However, I also saw one of my favorite dresses on one of her teammates, shown below, and I love it today as much as I did back then.


Beautiful Blue Dress. The photo doesn’t do the 15gr. of tiny, tiny stones or the very intricate stonework justice, and the mesh actually DID match the original skater’s skin; but my favorite skating story involves this dress, a wedgie, a tube of E6000 glue, and a frantic 3 min warmup at the state meet…maybe I’ll tell it sometime.

Beautiful Blue Dress is about ten years more evolved than Ugly Purple Dress (which I refuse to post, because seriously, it’s hideous), and I immediately assumed everyone around would obviously agree with me.  I was highly, though privately, embarrassed; thank goodness that dress has passed through so many hands that no one could possibly know I’m the one who made it.  As I was deep in my own self-flagellation, I realized the little group of girls with Beautiful Blue Dress and Ugly Purple Dress were fawning over and admiring Ugly Purple Dress, and she was beaming.  Weird, I thought, with Beautiful Blue Dress standing right next to her, but still, Ugly Purple Dress was visibly quite pleased.  Strange to me, but sweet.

I also recall one particular dress from about fifteen years ago that I was so, so excited about — until the skater put it on and we realized it looked more like Las Vegas lingerie than a skating dress (sorry Katey…you always ended up as the target of my failed visions, it seems).  It was disgusting, and it immediately went into my kids’ dress-up box, where it was (not surprisingly) never worn, even as a joke when my then-6-year-old son wanted to crack up his little brothers.  But the idea in my head was amazing, and it’s still there.  In fact, I think I’m going to recreate it this year, because I think (hope) I am finally skilled enough to pull it off, or at least to make it worthy of staying out of my kids’ Halloween Options stash.

After listening to Ira’s brief message for about the tenth time today, I understand that I did have a much different vision back then for Ugly Purple Dress, so it’s not ugly because I had no taste; it’s ugly because I had no skill.  If I redid that dress today, with the same drawings and the same picture in my head, it would turn out much, much different (at least it sure as hell better).

As Ira said, I do wish someone had told me twenty years ago that I would suck, and that it’s ok, because at least I had the good ideas in my head — better there than nowhere, I guess.  I never understood why I hated so many of the dresses I’ve made over the years, while clients were thrilled with the results.  I was told I was too much of a pessimist, a perfectionist, a whiny bitch (no, not joking), etc.  But really, I was just frustrated that, for some reason, what left my workshop didn’t match what was still in my head, and I didn’t understand why.  Now I do, and I guess I’m ok with it.

These days, more stuff leaves my workshop looking as I intended rather than just coming as close to what I want as I’m capable of producing, but that’s only because I didn’t give up and I kept churning out as many pieces as possible over the years…even when I swore I wasn’t going to make another one.  Each time, I think they come a little closer to what I have in my head, and today, garments sometimes even leave better than I envisioned.  I’m trying to forgive myself for things like Ugly Purple Dress, and remember that at least I had the idea and the taste to create it in my head — putting me way ahead of many others in this line of work, I hope.  At the very least, I’m trying to remind myself that this is the case; because as I learned watching the girls on Sunday, true beauty is in the eye of the wearer, not in whether or not it matches what was in the producer’s head, and that’s a good thing.


Saturday Sayings: It Must Be Show Season

“You have brought forth something ordered and beautiful out of nothing.” — Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

Skating people know this quote means it’s show season.

Show season for us is a strange thing; all our energies and focus are on competing the entire year, so shows are at the same time a distraction, a relief, and a giant pain in the rear.

Show costumes are one of the worst parts of show season.  Shows are not serious business for us as they are for many other teams; they’re just for fun, a chance for last year’s national champions to show off a little, and an opportunity for the kids who don’t compete yet to do something interesting for grandma and grandpa to brag about.  As a result, costumes are not a huge priority, but they have to come into existence somehow.

We use scraps of this, pieces of that, leftovers from this box, stuff we’d otherwise throw away or never use for a real competition outfit, and it’s always the goal to go to Herculean lengths to spend as little money as possible.  So this morning I was handed less than a yard of gorgeous kelly green slinky found in a drawer somewhere.  With a little frugal creativity this would have been great for one outfit; but I am expected to somehow turn this remnant into two complete dresses.  I’ve been staring at it all day, but no matter how I turn it, no matter how I envision it, no matter how I chop up the patterns, it just isn’t going to happen.

So obviously I’ll need to throw in other remnants, additional pieces of (hopefully) coordinating fabric that can be used to somehow complete the puzzle.  And skin…lots of uncovered skin.  Sleeves went out the window immediately, as did a covered back (any back, really), but now I’m thinking that even covered sides are going to bite the dust.  Luckily both young ladies are very fit, very muscular girls, so lack of side fabric won’t bother them much.

Still, I need to constantly remind myself that really, it’s just a show.  I shouldn’t be spending time thinking about this, because I still have those two DeBeers pieces pinned to Peg the Mannequin in the shop that I haven’t made up my mind about; yet here I am, worried that the shade of kelly green spandex I have decided to use under the skirt (where it’s minimally visible) might not perfectly match the slinky (see my post on OCD, Obsessive Color Disorder).  Bringing forth something ordered and beautiful is always the focus, and whether or not that final product came from a vast inventory of fabric choice and unlimited budget, or from nothing (or next to nothing, as is the case today), doesn’t really matter.  No one will really care if all I have leftover after I’m through is a piece of fabric 2″ square and six 3″x1″ strips (yes, that’s happened before, and I was naively amazed that no one else was impressed), because all they want is something ordered and beautiful; the “from” part is completely on the shoulders of the creator.

But maybe that’s the way it should be.  I’ve always told my kids they’re not allowed to be bored, because I can always find something for them to do (and obviously my choices were not nearly as interesting or not-chore-related as anything they invented on their own); maybe this challenge of coming up with something out of nothing is a simple way for me to not get bored, too.  If nothing else, rearranging pattern pieces on this irregular piece of fabric in my head will give my brain something to do during a six hour practice session tomorrow (no, not joking, though two of those hours will be show practice, something I, as a figure coach, am ever so gratefully exempt from having to manage).  Wish me luck, on all accounts; I’m going to need it.

What Are They Wearing Wednesday: Upcycled and Awesome

Today’s What Are They Wearing post is a little different — it’s not what’s on my mannequins, but what’s on my shop floor:

This beauty is the creation of my husband.  It’s huge — 4 feet by 5 feet — but its utility is far outweighed by the sheer awesomeness of the chartreuse green paint we picked out.


What started as an old hand-me-down table, missing its leaf, and obviously a mistake of short-lived 1970’s trendy interior design, is now a cutting table and ironing surface.  Inside a matching chartreuse metal tin is my too-hot applique iron, my too-convenient portable heat shield pad, and my too-fun pair of electric scissors.  The self-healing cutting surface is not quite 4 feet wide, so the remaining tabletop is covered with another mistake — this time mine — a 12″x60″ piece of fabric printed by Spoonflower with my shop logo and website address, which was supposed to be used to make garment tags, but the logos ended up being much, much too large.

In his usual way, he finished it with matching chartreuse molding (see?  I’m not the only perfectionist in the house).  It looks much better than it ever did as a dining room table, a true achievement for any upcycle project.

Why chartreuse, when I could have chosen from thousands of colors (see my post on color obsession here)?  Because in my former life I worked for a huge advertising firm, where I learned quite a bit about branding (between laying off people in waves…1992 in an advertising HR department was one of the worst places to be); so all our marketing/business materials and nearly everything in the shop is natural wood/burlap, shiny metallic black and chartreuse, and what doesn’t already fit into this little box will — as soon as I can afford to convert it.  But in the meantime, my chunky chartreuse cutting table will keep me happy for a very, very long time.

April’s Challenge: Seeing Double, Sewing Double

So I stumbled upon a sewing collective called “The Monthly Stitch.”  Now, not to bash other collectives, but this one seems to be full of completely normal, nice people for a change…yet they approved me, so…

Every month they host a challenge, something of a goal, a way to spur creativity and set a deadline for those of us who really, really need it (for example, I can crank out twenty or more competition dresses in a month; I can really fly, if necessary, and make one start to finish in a day if I had to.  Yet I’m embarrassed to admit that I have outfits for my Ready-to-Wear line that have been cut out for weeks and are still not finished…).


April’s challenge is simply perfect for me: “Sewing Double.”  Folks are asked to recreate an item that has worn out, remake a piece a clothing in a different fabric, or simply make two pieces from the same pattern.  However, since this is a creative activity, I am allowed quite a bit of leeway, which is great — since I just received an order this morning for a new custom piece (and I definitely, definitely need a deadline for this, as it’s not something that makes me wake up and think, “Wow!  I get to work on this today!”)

So my personal “Sewing Double” challenge is going to be team dance outfits (Get it?  Double?).  All I know is that they’ve been commissioned in black, in a fabric I don’t particularly care for, but one that should be easier to use than the velvet upon which I usually rely.  It was either this, or get to work making a dozen or so club dresses now (double times six), the likes of which probably wouldn’t make for G-rated reading after about day two.

The last tux I made

The last tux I made

If you’re interested in joining the collective, check them out by clicking “The Monthly Stitch” icon on the right side of the page.

Saturday Sayings: When OCD Stands for Obsessive Color Disorder

Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment  — Claude Monet

Well, it was yesterday, anyway.

The problem I have doing anything is my tendency to obsess over every tiny detail.  Last week I decided the photos I have of the fabric in my store really stink; the color is completely off, and obviously it looks different on every single device we have in this house (and with a husband who works in technology, that number is pretty substantial).  So I spent all week obsessing over this, and yesterday I finally decided to go out in search of a Pantone color chart, so that I could include the Pantone number in every fabric description for folks who don’t have time to order swatches and wait for them to arrive.  Little did I know that said color charts are actually around $400.  Uh, no thanks.

So then I decided to just use Pantone’s $7.99 app instead, which includes a color picker, allowing the user to point the device’s camera at something and the app gives you the corresponding Pantone color names/codes.  Perfect.  But in researching this, I discovered that without calibrating the color on the computer screen, the app is useless.  I then spent three hours researching this whole calibration thing, just to finally conclude that I simply can’t do it; not because I’m particularly dense, but because, short of “rooting” the tablet (don’t ask), it just can’t be done.  I spent the next few hours trying unsuccessfully to figure out work-arounds, short-cuts, or cheats.  Nothing.  I did, however, learn all about computer stuff I will probably forget by tomorrow.  Thus my torment.

Finally I came to the realization that fabric manufacturers use dye lots.  Each dye lot has slight variations; a bolt of fabric that matches Pantone 188 today might end up a Pantone 186 when I re-order it.  So if the entire world of fabric is ok with slight color variations, why in the world was I obsessing over a minor color variance on my tablet?  If I tell a client that a piece of fabric is a Pantone 280, will they really reject it based on the fact that it is actually a Pantone 281?  Obviously not.  Finally, I achieved “joy,” the third and final portion of Monet’s famous quote.


$400 worth of color chips. No thanks.

I decided to use an excellent and free download from a 21-page Pantone color chart.  I also found this one, which also gives RGB and CMYK translations, but since it’s web-based, I figured I may not always be able to access it.  I looked up the Pantone color that most closely matches each piece of fabric in my shop (and with, oh, 100-ish shades of blue, this was quite an investment of time, energy, and discernment), and included the number in my self-generated SKU’s.  This way, I can call a vendor and ask for fabric not by color name (I found hundreds of ridiculous color names online while in the course of my obsessive research, including “Cal Poly Pomona Green” — too obscure, despite the fact that my husband is an alumnus and kid #1 is currently a sophomore there — and “Sunset” — useless, since last night our sunset included about sixty colors, pinks, blues, purples, and oranges), but by Pantone color.  Plus it makes me sound super intelligent.

Obviously I’d rather reorder fabric by dye lot.  But this isn’t always possible, and if I focus on it too much, I may fall back into the obsession phase of Monet’s quote.  For now, I’ll include the warning to all clients that they may not always be able to come back later for an exact color match, and focus more on the second part of Monet’s quote — just how many different shades of blue mesh I actually have in my shop at the moment.  It’s truly a joyous thing to behold.

What Are They Wearing Wednesday: February 12, 2014

So I missed a Wednesday, because I was exploring the textile district of Los Angeles, the largest in the world.  And to make matters worse, my sewing machine is in the shop for three weeks for a tune-up and lube job.

However, there is a little something on Peg today:

O. M. G.

O. M. G.

This is an extraordinary piece I discovered at a recent textile convention in San Francisco.  They’re designed and imported by DeBeers, the diamond folks, and handmade in India.  The photo doesn’t do it justice — it’s exquisite, it’s huge, and I managed to get my hands on two of them.  The retail price is completely unaffordable, but thankfully I don’t have to worry about that anymore.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do with them (thus their position on Peg at the moment, attempting to inspire the decision making process), but I know I’m using them for kid #4 and I’m not selling them.  They’ll go on white, but I haven’t yet figured out all the design details.  In the meantime, I’m just enjoying gazing at them as often as possible.

Tips & Tricks Tuesday: Buying Fabric

I just returned from my first and definitely not my last (sorry, Bill) trip to the textile district in downtown Los Angeles.  Actually, to be honest it wasn’t my very first trip; while at UCLA I used to buy formalwear fabric there to sew into the multitude of dresses I needed for various sorority functions.  But never before had I ventured into Spandex-Land, the holy block in the textile/garment district populated nearly exclusively by wholesalers carrying stretch fabric.  It was heaven, or hell, depending on how you look at it (heaven’s-worth of fun, but on a budget, the torture of not buying absolutely everything was hell).

I was able to set up three wholesale accounts with two amazingly wonderful vendors and one not-so-wonderful guy who unfortunately is the exclusive importer of some of the best skatewear and dancewear fabric I’ve seen.  In his defense, it had just started raining, and if you’ve ever been to the textile district, you know that a good portion of most wholesalers’ stock is situated outside their actual buildings; so he was more focused on saving his foiled spandex than dealing with me.

I did purchase quite a bit of stock for my store, but the main goal of the trip was to make contacts, set up accounts, and see what’s new in the industry.  Bad news, I bought more than I could carry (of course), but good news, my favorite importer (who, by this time, had become quite friendly with me, because thanks to the ever-so-protective nature of my bank’s automated security system, my out of town fabric purchases were being blocked…so I spent over an hour in his shop on the phone with the bank, working to convince them that yes, it really is me dropping $500 to a Palestinian address for spandex) carried it for me to a special “secret” shipping company that provides ridiculously cheap shipping for retailers just like me who make multiple purchases from all over the textile district — the wholesale importers hand-deliver my purchases to this shipping warehouse, and when they’ve all been collected, they send them to me in one huge, super cheap box.  So awesome, and now I know why there were lots of guys running around wheeling bags and bins of fabric into the depths of this creepy-looking building.

Anyway, while walking as quickly as possible through the rain (going out of my way to avoid skid row between Central and Alameda and through the produce warehouse district, yet another lovely section of downtown LA) back to the bus station (long story), I started thinking about how difficult a trip like this might be to someone who has an idea of what he or she wants but isn’t quite sure.  The selection could have been completely overwhelming and confusing, had I not known exactly what I wanted and had I not been able to very quickly discern the good stuff from the garbage.  I also witnessed more than one vendor quote very different, much higher prices to shoppers who seemed clueless.

One tiny corner of my favorite textile district shop. The "aisle" is about three inches wide, and the only way to get around is to literally climb over bolts of fabric.  Like an awesome seamstress jungle gym.

One tiny corner of my favorite textile district shop. The “aisle” is about three inches wide, and the only way to get around is to literally climb over bolts of fabric. Like an awesome seamstress jungle gym.

So here’s a quick outline you can use when purchasing stretch fabric.  But first, a quick primer on stretch lingo:


You may see “spandex” and “Lycra” used interchangeably; however, if you want to appear knowledgeable (and therefore get the best prices), “Lycra” is actually a brand name created by the DuPont company, later becoming Invista, and finally sold to the ever-infamous Koch Industries.  Sort of like Kleenex or Band-aid…which we all use interchangeably with “tissues” or “adhesive bandage.”  Spandex is simply the fiber used in the fabric, which, just to be confusing, was created and coined by a guy working for DuPont anyway.  Trivia time, “spandex” comes from rearranging the letters in “expands.”  Now you’re an expert.

The difference between 2-way, 4-way and 6-way stretch fabric

    1. Lay your fabric on a flat surface.  Picture a compass, and try stretching the fabric in all directions.
    2. Can you stretch your fabric either the East-West direction or the North-South direction, but not both?  If so, you have 2-way stretch fabric.
    3. Can you stretch in both directions?  If so, you have 4-way stretch fabric.
    4. Can you also stretch it diagonally (NE-SW or NW-SE)?  If so, you have 6-way stretch fabric.

From easiest to hardest to use:

  • Medium weight 6-way spandex.  If you hold up a piece and blow on it, it moves slowly.
  • Medium weight 4-way spandex. Ditto the blowing method above.
  • 6-way stretch velvet
  • 4-way stretch velvet
  • Lightweight 4-way or 6-way spandex.  If you hold up a piece and blow on it, it moves freely and rapidly.
  • Heavyweight 4-way or 6-way spandex.  If you hold up a piece and blow on it, it barely moves at all.
  • 4-way or 6-way illusion or mesh.  This includes “nude” fabrics.  Illusion is actually easy to sew, but to make seams and elastic look best it involves additional steps — French seams, double turned elastic, etc.  Not difficult at all if you know the tricks involved, but for a basic practice outfit where visible elastic and seam allowances don’t matter, illusion falls ahead of lightweight spandex in the “easiest to hardest” list.
  • Rough spandex.  This includes spandex with a texture to it, but not beaded spandex.  Heavily glittered fabrics fall here and not up with regular 4-way or 6-way spandex only because they tend to make a huge mess (glitter, glitter, everywhere!) and can often clog up your machine.  However, the glitter does help the fabric stay together when sewing, and they’re huge timesavers because they don’t need much in the way of stoning or other decoration later.
  • 2-way spandex or velvet. This includes panne-style velvet, or crushed velvet.  Most crushed velvet is only 2-way stretch, but if you find better quality crushed velvet with a 4-way or 6-way stretch, it may be treated just like regular stretch velvet.
  • Slinky. This fabric lays beautifully and flows better than velvet or spandex, but it can be very frustrating to work with unless you know the tricks to dealing with it.  Mistakes can rarely be remedied without tearing holes in the fabric.  If you are a novice sewer, stay away from slinky.
  • Beaded and sequined stretch fabric.  Great to use in smaller quantities, but crazy-making if you don’t have a good sewing machine.  You must first remove beads from seam allowances, though strong machines may sew through sequins just fine.  Beads and sequins still need to be removed from seam allowances at some point or they’ll scratch the wearer.  If you don’t mind breaking a few needles, pre-beaded stretch fabrics are a huge time saver.
  • Pre-stoned fabric.  Yes, we all try to save money by reusing stones at some point or another – and the fabric left can often be turned into a different dress.  However, E6000 residue is impossible for most machine needles to sew through, and inevitably your machine will find the one stone you forgot to remove, breaking the needle and most likely sending shards of stone and needle everywhere.  Fabric with stones is best hand-sewn only.
  • Non-stretch fabric.  This includes decorative satins and anything that would require a zipper to achieve a close fit.  Not impossible to use, but for skating or dancing, really not worth the extra effort and ensuing lack of easy movement on the part of the wearer.  Fine for quick show costumes as it’s usually pretty cheap, but very difficult to get a good fit without significant pattern drafting experience.

Additional stretch information

Look at the spot where you stretched your fabric.  Can you see your stretch marks?  Did it leave a wavy spot on the fabric or did the fabric not return to its normal position?  If so, put it back…it’s lousy fabric and it won’t last. “rebound,” “return,” “recovery” — these are all words used to describe the fabric’s ability to maintain its original shape.  Fabric without recovery will make you nuts.

Make note of which direction has the greatest degree of stretch – the biggest stretch should go around the skater horizontally, not vertically.  Figuring this out at the fabric store is important when buying expensive fabric where every 1/8 yard counts!  If the best stretch runs the length of the fabric rather than the width, you may not need as much fabric as a bolt where the best stretch runs the width of the fabric.

Remember…You get what you pay for.  While it might seem silly to spend $15/yard on really good fabric, the ease of sewing and the final product will more than make up for what you end up spending.  $5/yard spandex from JoAnn’s is fine for a practice dress, but it doesn’t always hold stone glue well, it doesn’t launder well, the color will most likely run, and the fabric “pills” and snags like crazy.

Also, if you did not spend more than $200 on a sewing machine, you will likely become frustrated when sewing on poor quality stretch fabric.  Many times, sewing difficulties and issues lie with the machine and fabric, NOT with your technique!  It’s much more economical to spend an extra few dollars per yard on nice fabric than to trash your cheap machine to purchase one that will handle cheap stretch fabric without causing it to run, get stuck in your bobbin casing, mess up your tension, etc.

But again, if traveling to the Los Angeles garment district isn’t an option, you can always buy your fabric here and have me do it for you…I’d love an excuse to go back!