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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Plumber’s Paradox

I only sew (super-crazy-stretchy) knits, so how odd is it that I skipped The Monthly Stitch’s “Sew Stretchy” May?

For newcomers, The Monthly Stitch is an Australian sewing blog, to which I’m a regular contributor. Each month they vote on some new challenge, and finished products are posted on the blog. Being Australia, skating a very big there — and being the only skating dress designer and one of only a handful of US participants makes it even more fun to participate.

So this month was “Amnesty Month,” a chance for folks to re-do a past challenge or submit something they finished too late in the month to post.  While I actually sewed more than a dozen figure skating dresses in May, the business was so crazy-busy that I never posted anything during the PERFECT challenge for me, “Sew Stretchy” May.

The oddest part of that insane month was that none of those outfits were for my own daughter. We often laugh ironically at how the Plumber’s Paradox works in this house (you know…the pipes in a plumber’s house are always leaking, the mechanic’s own car is broken down, the chef’s family eats take-out, etc.). I have probably 60 figure skating dresses being worn in the world at any one given time these days, but my own child had only one dress to wear to practice.  Every. Single. Day.

I figured I needed to remedy this embarrassing (and honestly stinky) situation, so in honor of Amnesty Month, I made her a couple new pieces to wear to practice. These are not competition outfits so no one really cares what they look like, but I’m not going to sell very many dresses if my own child’s stuff is dull and boring, so we spiced it up a little bit.

The dress is made of a nice matte spandex I’ve started carrying here in my shop — super stretchy, but without the cheap-looking sheen that the older girls sometimes detest. It’s very soft and comfortable, which is a huge plus in your third hour of practice without air conditioning. It has a couple of stretch mesh inserts, and about a gross of leftover pink stones that have been hanging around the shop for way too long — the stones are a terrific color, but this specific color isn’t being made anymore so I’ve spent the last couple of years looking for a good excuse to use them up.

 

Really, the seams are super straight…the weirdness at the top is just excess seam allowance that I (oops) haven’t yet trimmed…

 

The white straps which don’t really match the rest of the dress give away the dirty secret…I wanted to surprise her with the dress, so rather than actually measure her, I cut/sewed the whole thing one day while she was at school. I have a set of measurements and a pattern I made for her in May, and I figured she couldn’t have grown that much in four months.  Uh, wrong.  She was surprised — not so much by the dress itself, but by how much skin and underwear and various body parts it showed. So I cut it up, got rid of the white stripes that originally adorned the front, reworked the design, and since it’s just a practice dress, I went ahead and re-used the white straps anyway…no sense in wasting perfectly good elastic and perfectly fitted spandex straps (a rarity), right?

So this is the finished product. Nothing fancy, but extremely comfortable (which she loves) and extremely NOT the one practice dress she’s been wearing daily for a year (which I and everyone else within smelling distance love).

Hoping to post some other designs from our crazy summer soon…

Silence is Golden

Truly golden, as in gold medal.

My blog silence over the past three months is due to a ridiculously heavy sewing load, leading up to both the regional and national championships for roller skating, my largest client base by far.

I’m not complaining…I had fifteen separate outfits in various stages of completion during one particular week in May, plus ten more waiting to be started, which made for a stupidly messy shop.  Then my oldest child came home from college, and since kid #2 had moved into his bedroom, all kid #1’s junk ended up where?  In the shop.  And since kid #4 is also a client of sorts, it meant we traveled to these various meets in the capacity of parent/coach/designer, so where did this triple-load of luggage/gear end up staged?  Yep, in the shop.  It was all I could do to just walk from one end to the other, constantly trying to stay organized, so all my non-sewing time was spent creating pathways and keeping records for the CA sales and use tax return I filed this morning, not on blogging or taking photos or, in all honesty, sleeping.

So that explains the silence.  And the golden part?  Here she is, US National Champion, again:

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Totally due to the dress, of course.

Although we’re headed into the mountains for the next two weeks, I’m really looking forward to getting caught up here and sharing everything that’s been keeping Firefly Fabrics so crazy busy.  In all, our outfits brought home 28 regional (CA, NV, and AZ) medals, and 13 US National medals, including 3 US National titles…and we still have 8 still left to skate over the next week or so.  Not a bad haul.

 

 

Fifty Shades of White

I finished this latest creation just in time to enter it in The Monthly Stitch’s July challenge, “MonoSewn,” where everything had to be black, white, or both.  You can read about it here.

I knew I wanted a completely white dress, but what I didn’t plan on back in November when I decided on this design was a) Venetian lace by the yard is lame and boring or else it’s $400/yard, and b) there must be fifty shades of white clearly discernible to my eye, and probably an additional hundred or so that are probably different but too close for me to care or worry about.

Rather than spend a fortune on a yard of Venetian lace that would then have to be cut and turned and altered so drastically that it made no sense to buy it in the first place, I opted for individual Venetian lace appliques…much cheaper, much more varied, and much, much more interesting.  However, even within the same manufacturer there are incredible color variances not visible under the dull lighting of an old lace shop, but clearly obvious in every other sort of lighting this dress would encounter.

What to do?  At first I didn’t care, but then when placing the appliques on the dress we were shocked to discover that the very yellow ones worked perfectly right in the middle of each boob…like a bright, shining beacon, screaming, “HEY!  LOOK AT ME!” Not exactly a good thing, especially considering how much we built up the boobs in the first place to make her fit in better with the girls she would skate against, many of whom would be up to six years older than she is.  Plus, the dress design screamed for boobage, and she was more than happy to comply.

Anyway, rather than freak out, I tried to figure out some way to lessen or eliminate the color variances.  A mix of four parts water to one part cheap, white acrylic paint did the trick.  I dipped each applique in the solution, wrung it out (all over myself and the garage floor, of course) and let it dry.  Added bonus — it stiffened the lace slightly, making it easier to work with and forcing the tiny detailed edges to stop curling.  Extra added bonus — it got rid of the cheap looking polyester-esque sheen that some pieces had (hey, for $3, what do you expect?), making it all appear matte, in a nice, expensive, silk/linen sort of way.

Each piece was pinned to the dress with her in it, I swear I didn’t stab her once, and I only bled on the thing in one tiny spot, easily hidden by strategic stoning later.

The finished piece was stunning…temporarily.  However, on her 14th birthday, I swear her hips moved and grew overnight because all of a sudden the trunks were too small and there was an ungodly amount of butt cleavage showing.  I know that dress fit her perfectly on Memorial Day; but less than a month later we were using Hollywood Tape to stick it to her rear end to avoid any Atomic Wedgie Action on the figure circles.  It worked fine, until we started looking through the action shots taken of her at Nationals and we had to carefully weed out all the ones where her butt just screamed a successful “I’M FREE!  I’M FREE!”

So here it is, in all its glory:

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It definitely made a statement, and it was definitely memorable… certainly not another spandex creation in a sea of similar dresses.  Will I do it again?  No.  Not because it was particularly difficult or time consuming (although each lace piece was hand sewn in place, and it probably took a total of 30 or more hours to finish just that aspect alone), but because I want to try something different for her next year and I won’t copy this dress for anyone else.  One and done, and happily, I’m pleased with the result.

A Creator’s Evolution

(Title irony intentional, of course)

This week I’m celebrating (and by “celebrating” I mean I briefly thought about it when it popped into my head at the grocery store while choosing bananas) the twenty year anniversary of the creation of my first skating dress.  This slightly unkind reminder of my own personal aging process brought to mind just how much has changed since those first very stressful days, and I realized that documenting my continuing journey, as well as memories of obstacles past, would be a perfect addition to my company’s website (gratuitous plug: http://www.shopfireflyfabrics.com).  So here we go…

Twenty years ago, my skating dress sewing goal was simple: don’t make my kids look like dorks.  It evolved, as did I, through so many phases: the “make my skaters blend in so no one will know I have no clue what I’m doing” phase, the “make my skaters look better than (fill in the name of some coach who seriously bugged us at the time)’s skaters” phase, the “only have to redo the skirt twice” phase, the “how can I make this dress look like they spent $800 when I only have a $40 budget” phase (which, sadly, still lingers in too many clients’ minds), the “I don’t care if I don’t sleep for six days as long as it’s done on time” phase, the “if it only needs one safety pin it’s a success” phase, the “how can I make you look 50 pounds lighter and three inches taller” phase, the “yes, I’m sure I can finish 18 more dresses in two weeks” phase, and the “if you don’t want to pay this (extremely and ridiculously reasonable) price, then I don’t feel the need to sew for you anyway thank you very much” phase.

Thinking about how much has changed really brought to mind the phrase “blood, sweat, and tears” — lots of pricked, bloody fingers (and yes, this one time I did rip the skin off my leg when I tried to peel off some dried E6000, but that’s another story…), sewing in central California July heat so intense that I had to stone over the sweat that dripped onto and stained the fabric, and, of course, many, many tears when what was in my head just didn’t translate into a finished piece (see a future post on the “Las Vegas Underwear” dress).  But since those less than illustrious beginnings, I’ve probably sewn 300 dresses, many of which are still in circulation many years after their creation, and I see them when we travel to meets both in and out of state.  What used to take me several days now takes a couple hours.  What I used to give away because it felt too unprofessional and crappy now is a full-time business.  What used to embarrass me now fills a portfolio.

Aside from sharing lessons learned over the years, I’ll also share tips and tricks I’ve figured out along the way.  I’ll post current projects and share steps of the design and creation process.  As the business grows, I’ll share trends and new fabric finds.  If you’re an old pro we can commiserate; if you’re a novice you can avoid many of the setbacks and sidetracks I encountered.

And just for kicks…this is a photo of that very first dress I made twenty years ago, which took about two weeks:

Tiny Katey, in my very first dress

Tiny Katey, in my very first dress

And a dress I made 19 years later, which, beginning to end, took about six hours:

Emma at the Pan American Championship of Clubs

Emma at the Pan American Championship of Clubs

Let’s continue to evolve together, shall we?