Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tutorial Tuesday

These are not my tutorials (I cram my advice down your throats enough as it is!) but I've found them to be fun, informative, unendingly useful, or all of the above. :) If there's a topic you would like covered on Tutorial Tuesdays, let me know in the comments section!

How can I....

Build a hat?

For the Mad Hatter
These are the instructions I used to make the hat for our recent production of Alice. If you cut the top of your cardboard (or in my case I used buckram) into a soft wave, you get a nicely lopsided top to your hat! :)

A Cocktail Hat
This is a really nice detailed tutoral that teaches you to make your own cocktail hat base.

A Cute "Newsboy" Type Cap
This is such a sweet hat for boys and could be used in a wide range of stage parts.

Here's a great tutorial to make an elf hat!

And one more,
A really nice set of directions for a floral hair wreath.
They show it with cut flowers, but you can just as easily substitute silk flowers for your next "village girl." Copellia, anyone?

I hope you find these tutorials as useful and fun as I do!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Using Commercial Patterns

It's often said that there is nothing new under the sun. I find that to be especially true in the very traditional world of ballet costumes. Sure, there are pioneers and visionaries out there, taking risks...turning heads...raising eyebrows.

The reality, though, is that most costumes are built around a few very basic shapes. It's just not necessary to reinvent the wheel.

That said, most commercial sewing patterns need a fair bit of "tweeking" to work for dance patterns.


Because they need to stay put, dance costumes are built very close to the body. Street clothes (and most commercial sewing patterns) are made to have about 2 inches of ease through the torso, sometimes more. Generally a ballet costume will only carry about a half an inch of ease.

If you're working with a multi sized pattern, this is an easy fix. I will usually trace off a pattern one size down from what the measurement chart calls for and that gets me pretty close to the correct size.


Look for basic shapes that you can use over and over, and patterns that will "multi-task" well.

This dress can be used short sleeve, long sleeved, sleeveless. The skirt can be made narrow or full, with or without panniers and with or without a sash. The panniers can be made separately to go with other costumes and the lace up belt can be made on is own as well as the bloomers. Lengthened and embellished a little, the 'c' view would make a beautiful party girl dress for the Nutcracker. Made with the lace up belt and an apron, it would make a sweet villager.

I find that vintage patterns are the easiest to costume from as they were designed to fit closer to the body than more current patterns are. I find them at thrift shops, yard sales and online at websites like http://www.cemetarian.com/. (My personal favorite.)

Companies like Jolies and Kwik Sew have some great stretch patterns available for costumes, leotards, unitards, etc. Don't be afraid of stretch fabrics. They aren't as difficult as you think they are, I promise!

If you're just starting your pattern collection, consider watching ebay for boxed lots of vintage patterns and costume patterns. It's a great, inexpensive way to build your library.

Fitting Tricks:
Most commercial patterns fit too far from the body in two key places. The armpit and the crotch. The fabric here will pull away from the body and limit your dancer's range of motion.

There are a couple of easy fixes for this problem.

1. You can redraft the arm hole slightly on the bodice, so that it comes up higher into the armpit. This is generally as simple as tracing a new curve and adding about an inch in length to the top of the side seam.

2. You can add in a gusset at the underarm of the sleeve seam like as shown in this nice tutorial.

The temptation, with a gusset, is to use a stretch fabric here. That's really unnecessary and can end up looking like a sweat stain. It's best to use the same fabric as the rest of your garment.

Tricks and tips:
I'm not a rule follower, so this may make some of you twitch a bit....but here goes. Once you have a general idea of how a garment goes together, stop looking at the instructions. There are a few things you do for street clothes that you really, REALLY don't want to do on a costume.

1. Skip the pretty linings that exsist to hide all of your seams. Costumes get used, reused, altered and then used some more. You need to be able to access the seams for fitting purposes. Instead, line them by sandwiching the pieces together and sewing them as one unit, the way I've done HERE.

2. Skip the zippers on anything remotely snug. Zippers are scary on stage. If one little spot opens up, the whole zipper opens and your dancer is suddenly undressed. For snug fitting costumes use hooks and eyes in a nice hefty size.

3. Add boning. Any bodice will benefit from the addition of boning. It's not just to "hold things in". Boning will help the garment lay flat without bunching horizontally or riding up.

4. Last but definitely not least, don't be afraid to make a "Franken-pattern." This is where it's beneficial to have a good sized library of patterns to pull from. If you have a bodice you like in one pattern, a skirt in another and a sleeve in a third...go for it! Make the patterns work for you.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ballet bodice 101

There are probably one hundred different ways to build a tutu bodice, and everyone has their own preference for how things are done. I know, though, that when I was first starting I had a HORRIBLE time finding any kind of information. I guess you could say I learned through "osmosis." Which is a nice way of saying that I spent a year burried in ballet costumes, looked at them, and guessed.

In hopes of saving someone else the time, here's what I learned. :) *note: This tutorial assumes that you do have some idea of how a ballet bodice should fit...snug snug snug.

Step 1: Fabric and Lining
Cut all of your pieces from both your outer (pretty) fabric and your lining. Pay special attention to the grainline on each pattern piece. Your sides should be cut on the bias. This allows the bodice to expand and contract with the dancer's rib cage. (I tease the girls about it, but oxygen is NOT, in fact, optional.)

The lining fabric I see recommended from most sources is coutil. If you're cheap (like me) or on a small studio budget (like me) a soft cotton twill makes a nice stand in for the spendier coutil.

Step 2. Lining.
When you have all of your pieces cut, match each outer piece with it's lining and serge around all edges, attaching the lining to the outer and making it one solid unit.

Step 3. Assembly.
Once you've attached all lining pieces, sew the bodice units together in order using a 5/8" seam or so. This is just a starting point.

By the end of step 3, you should have something that resembles this:

This is generally where I do an initial fitting on the dancer and make any adjustments to the fit.

Step 4. Adding Boning Channels
There are a lot of ways to insert boning. I prefer a casing hidden in the seam. It's flat, simple, and doesn't show from the outside. I bone every seam except for the two side seams.
Lay the seam, unopened, with right sides together. Fold back one half of the seam allowance, leaving the other flat on your sewing surface.

Lay a piece of narrow, single fold bias tape on top of the seam. Raw edges should be down, and the seam should be centered along the tape. Top stitch the bias tape to only the seam allowance.

Now flip your seam over and repeat the process, sewing the other side of the bias tape to the other side of the seam allowance.

Step 5. Piping the bottom.
This is optional, but it gives a beautiful finish to the bottom of the bodice and helps keep the rounded edge from stretching. You can use a ready made piping, or cover your own to match the fabric.

Lining up all of the raw edges, place your piping on top of your bodice along the bottom edge. Using single fold bias tape, open one side and place the tape on top of the piping so that the crease is snug against the piping edge and the raw edges are lined up. Stitch along the crease, attaching the piping and tape to the bottom of the bodice. (If this feels fussy, you can do this in two steps. Apply the piping first and then go back and apply the bias tape.)

You should now have something similar to this:

Step 6: Insert Boning
There are several types of boning. I'll cover them in a seperate post, but for this tutorial I'm using a mid-heavy weight poly boning.
Cut your boning pieces one inch shorter than your channel. This allows for the finishing seams on either end.
The boning should simply slide into the channel, and now you can apply piping and bias tape to the top edge of your bodice as well. (Your boning is now "trapped" in it's casing.)

Step 7: Finish up! :)
To finish the top and bottom edges, simply fold the bias tape towards the inside of the bodice and slip stitch in place. Be careful to only stitch the tape to the lining of your bodice (it takes a little practice).

Doesn't that look pretty?

TADA! Now you just have to stitch on your elastic straps, and your hook and eye closures.
This bodice is a future Sugar Plum Fairy.

And just for giggles....here's an itty bitty little Sugar Plum Doll (A child's size 4. So tiny!) made to match, from possibly the most adorable commercial pattern ever produced.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Quick and dirty rolled hems. No serger required!

Rolled hems are infinitely useful in costumes. They're light, flexible and quick. They're also a pain in the behind if you don't own a serger or have a serger that requires everything short of standing on your head to change functions.

So lets say that you only have a sewing machine available, or you don't like standing on your head. What's a costumer to do?

Today I'll show you a "quick and dirty" method for creating a rolled hem using the zig-zag stitch on your sewing machine!

Here We Go!

We'll start by setting your sewing machine to the widest zig-zag stitch available, and crank the wheel once around to be sure your needle isn't going to hit the presser foot.

Your stitch length will be very short. A length of 1 or 1.5 gives a nice, lightweight hem. Every machine is different, so once you try this you'll need to play with this setting to find a length that you're happy with.

Rotate your needle into the down position on the RIGHT HAND side of the zig-zag.

Place your fabric on a firm surface, and fold the raw edge in roughly 1/8 of an inch. Crease lightly being careful not to stretch the fabric. If you're more disciplined than I am, you can pre-fold and press these edges...but again, this is the quick and dirty version.

Place the folded edge under the presser foot, with the crease pushed up against the side of the needle, and drop your presser foot. It's best to start on a wide section of fabric. Starting on a narrow little tip will cause your fabric to push down into the needle plate.

Be sure to hold your top and bottom threads out the back as you take your first few stitches. This saves your thread from becoming 'nested' under the needle plate, or making an unsightly tangle in your pretty hem.

Start slowly! As you sew, the needle should fall into the fabric on the left side of the stitch and JUST off of the fabric on the right hand side of the stitch.

If you're in a hurry and didn't press your fold in place (or lazy, like me) you'll need to keep folding the edge as it comes under your foot.

Your finished product is a tidy rolled hem with a lovely uniform edge.
The left side of this photo shows a stitch length of 1.5 and the right side is a length of 1.

A Few Tips
~* Stretching or pulling gently on your fabric as you stitch will produce a gentle wave in your hem.
~* Stretching or pulling HARD on a knit fabric will produce a frilly "lettuce" edge. A very short stitch length is required, and you need to steam the hem when you're finished to make it contract and ruffle.
~* If you are working on the bias (diagonal) and you DON'T want a wavy edge, pre-fold and press your fold into place. Be VERY CAREFUL not to tug, pull or drag on the fabric as it passes under the needle.

What Else Can I Use It For?
~* Table Linens
~* Sashes and Ribbon edges
~* Scarves and Handkerchiefs
~* Pre-finishing raw fabric edges before laundering.
~* A tidy edge for ruffles!

I hope this how-to is useful for you.

Unicorn Headpiece

Our dance school is doing Alice in Wonderland, and as always I am knee deep in costumes. This is hands down the best part of being a dance mom. Costuming is FUN.

Anyway, I just wanted to show you all my unicorn! It's not finish yet (still pinned together) but I'm pretty happy with it. ;-) It's made on a buckram base, with all kinds of yarns, fabrics, ribbons, etc in the mane. I threw everything but the kitchen sink at it. Brainless sewing at it's finest!

There is a distinct possibly that a "how-to" will show up on this blog in the near future...

Teardrop Cocktail Hats


"How Angie made friends with her hot glue gun."

One of the dance teams at our studio needed something fun for their hair. The number is "Who Could Ask For Anything More" (If I recall correctly.) and the costumes are red and black, very kind of 30's jazzy.


The hat forms are made from buckram. Normally, the best way to shape buckram is to steam it, form it over a block (or a styrofoam head...) and then cut out the shape you want. Then the edges are wired, and THEN you can finally cover it.

This method is sticky, messy, and LONG.
Times eight hats.
No thank you.

These ones are made with some shaping created by darts and seams. 30 minutes vs. 3 hours.

Once the forms were made, I stretched the sequined fabric over each form and basted it in place all the way around the sides. The edges were finished off with narrow bias tape binding, and then I glued some black trim underneath the edge. The trim has lots and lots of loops, which leaves as many pinning-in spots as the girls could possibly want.

Then each hat got decorated with a small spot of maribou trim, a tightly gathered "rosette" of black and gold lace, and a button with two feathers crammed through the shank. All applied with gobs and gobs of hot glue. (Not one injury, and only a couple of bad words! Woohoo!!)
The glue gun and I have reached a tentative agreement to be friends.