Spandex 101: Basic Techniques and Finishing

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Photo by Aperture Ashley.

 

Welcome back to the Spandex 101 series! If you need a refresher, check out Part 1 on supplies and Part 2 on prep. Today, we’re getting into the meat of spandex construction, and I’ll also mention a few ways that you can finish off spandex projects.

Stitches Galore

First off, let’s talk stitches on a regular sewing machine. Anytime you work with spandex, you’ll want to use a stretch stitch or a zigzag stitch. A regular old straight stitch just can’t stand handle the pull of spandex and will most likely pop (Note: there’s some disagreement on this. If you stretch fabric while sewing, it should theoretically hold, but I’ve never been a fan of that method). For standard stitching, go with a narrow zigzag (I normally set my machine to 2.5).

I also like to use a chain stitch with spandex, which is basically a stretch version of a straight stitch. Most of the time I use them with top-stitched appliques or with zippers. Your machine may or may not have this stitch. Make sure to check your manual!

You can also baste with a zigzag stitch within your seam allowance. I use basting stitches quite a bit with spandex. It’s great to match up pieces like side seams or neck bands and see how they look before committing to your final stitch.

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Stitches from left to right: chain stitch, zigzag stitch (width 2.5) and a basting stitch (width 5.0).

 

A friendly reminder: make sure you’re using stretch needles! Ever tried sewing something even remotely stretchy and get skipped stitches? You’ve probably been using the wrong needle. Knit fabrics are structurally different from wovens in that they’re made from lots of loops, which helps give them their marvelous stretchiness. Stretch needles slide through those loops instead of slicing them like a regular needle. You can read more about all that good stuff here.

If you’re serging spandex, I’d recommend a basic 4-thread overlock. It’s super fast, secure, and stretches with your fabric. Make sure to check your manual for the type of thread and needles to use.

4 thread overlock

 

One thing to keep in mind with sergers is that you don’t want to use pins. Between the blade and the needles, they can really screw up your machine and/or potentially injure you. If you’re new to serging, I’d highly recommend basting your seams and using short zigzag stitches anywhere that your seams meet. Stretchy fabric can move around on you while sewing, so basting together those seams helps you get used to the machine instead of worrying about the fabric moving around.

Finishing hems

Pro-tip: Most knit/stretchy patterns have a seam allowance of 3/8" as opposed to 5/8" commonly found on woven patterns. Be aware of this! It feels hella funky the first couple of times you sew a stretchy thing. Because of this, I normally mark my notches with a water soluble pin instead of clipping them.
Pro-tip: Most knit/stretchy patterns have a seam allowance of 3/8″ as opposed to 5/8″ commonly found on woven patterns. Be aware of this! It feels hella funky the first couple of times you sew a stretchy thing. Because of this, I normally mark my notches with a water soluble pin instead of clipping them.

Spandex is one of those marvelous fabrics that you don’t technically need to finish. The edges won’t fray (but they may curl up, just FYI!), so once you’ve sewn your seam together, you can call it a day. Of course, if you want to do something more to give the seam a little extra strength, you can add an extra row of zigzag stitching in the seam allowance.

Sergers are awesome for finishing spandex, because you can sew your seam and finish it all in one move. You can also zigzag a seam and serge the edge, but I prefer to just serge. Try it out and see what works best for you!

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Pro-tip: Got a seam that needs a little extra stability? Try adding clear elastic! This is useful for shoulder seams or waist seams where you need a little extra support but don’t want to sacrifice stretchiness.

Hems, Holes, and Everything Inbetween

So you’ve got a garment that’s sewn together, but how do you finish those pesky arm and leg holes? Well, there’s a couple of things you can do:

  • As I mentioned earlier, spandex doesn’t fray, so if you’re going to be wearing boots or gloves that cover arm or leg holes, you can technically leave it unfinished and be fine. If you want a cleaner finish, a zigzag stitch is a good option. I did this with my polka dot Lady Skater hem.
  • For a more RTW finish, try using a twin needle. This is a double pronged needle that stitches straight on the right side of a garment but has a zigzag-like stitch on the wrong side, which gives it a bit of flexibility. This isn’t quite as flexible as a regular zigzag stitch, so use it on areas like wrist and ankle openings or skirt hems.
  • Bands are a great finish for stretch materials, especially if you’re new to sewing them. I used this approach for Supergirl when I realized that I didn’t have quite enough length for the arm. This gave me an extra few inches to work with and was a clean finish. I use my Renfrew and Lady Skater bands a lot, but you can easily make your own!
The top two images are the front and back sides of a stitch with a twin needle. The top side is straight and the back has a zigzag to it, which allows the stretch. Bottom left is a basic zigzag, which I used on my Lady Skater. Bottom right is Supergirl. I used bands from my Renfrew to finish the sleeves.
The top two images are the front and back sides of a stitch with a twin needle. The top side is straight and the back has a zigzag to it, which allows the stretch. Bottom left is a basic zigzag, which I used on my Lady Skater. Bottom right is Supergirl. I used bands from my Renfrew to finish the sleeves.

One final technique I want to discuss is elastic. Let’s say that you’ve got an sleeveless opening or have a leotard leg hole to finish. My preferred approach is to use 3/8″ elastic. To apply it, pin the elastic to the wrong side of your fabric and baste in place. You may have to stretch the elastic as you stitch (especially around curved areas like the bum), so take your time and use as many pins as you need.

Once the elastic is basted in place, fold it over and use your regular zigzag stitch to secure the elastic. This hides your basting stitch and secures everything in place. I love this approach because it’s clean and gives you a little extra security, especially for those high hip leos! Many leotard patterns have guides for how much elastic you need. I always find that they’re a little loose for my liking, so I typically take them in a bit. Make sure to hold the elastic around yourself and see what works for you!

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Top left: Basting elastic in place. This doesn’t have to be perfect, just try to get as wide as you can. This elastic is 3/8″. Top right: Fold over the elastic and basted spandex and use a regular zigzag stitch to catch the very edge of the two. Bottom left: Your final seam from the right side of the fabric. Bottom right: How this looks on my Ms. Marvel using black thread and black fabric. Your fabric may be puckered on areas that require you to stretch while sewing (e.g., the bum), but it shouldn’t be noticeable when your garment is on.

 

That’s it for this week’s post! Next week, I’ll talk about extra things that you can do with spandex, including dyeing, applying appliques, and more! It will probably be the last post in my spandex series, so if you have any questions or requests, let me know!

Fandom Friday: Characters I Would Invite To My Thanksgiving Feast

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Ahhh! Thanksgiving is in less than a week! Are you ready? I keep forgetting it’s so close. But on the plus side: I’m super ready for some online Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday deals ;)

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This week’s Fandom Five theme is Thanksgiving guests. Here are my picks:

  1. Makoto Kino/Sailor Jupiter: I know, I know. Duh. She’s amazing. Plus, I think she’d kick ass at making an epic Thanksgiving feast.
  2. Carol Danvers: Another “Duh, Mindy,” guest. One of the reasons I love Carol is because she just seems like an overall amazing person to hang out with. I think she’d be awesome at keeping conversation lively and fun.
  3. Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk: Again, pretty much for the same reasons as Carol. She’s witty and sharp. I totally love Shulkie humor, which is always nice to have during these type of get-togethers. Also: karaoke.
  4. Spiderman: Who doesn’t love a bad Spidey quip from time to time? I really enjoyed the interactions Spidey had with Carol in some of the Captain Marvel and Avengers comics. He just seems like a fun guy to have around over the holidays.
  5. Molly Weasley: The Wesleys overall seem like the best family to hang out with over the holidays. They’re super warm, inviting, and friendly. Plus, Molly throws together a mean holiday meal. Throw in some magical clean up and she seems like the perfect Thanksgiving guest!

Bonus: The Flash. Who doesn’t forget something vital from the store on Thanksgiving? The Flash would be fantastic for super speedy trips to the grocery store.

No matter what you do next week, have a safe and happy holiday (or break of you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving).

Who would you invite to a Thanksgiving feast?

Costume Notes: Princess Jupiter

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Pretty, pretty princess time! My necklace is from DolceAmore.

Completed: November 2014

Hours Spent: App. 20 hours

Debuted: Anime North Texas 2014

Why This Costume: I covered my love of Jupiter in my Sailor Jupiter post. I adore the princess versions of the scouts in the manga and artbook, so when my friend Ohheyabear Cosplay said she wanted to cosplay princesses together, I jumped at the opportunity!

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We got to meet the fantastic SparklePipsi! Her Creamy Mami is too cute.

How I Made It: Construction wise, this costume isn’t too hard. It’s just a lot of layers! I blended Kwik Sew 3400 with the bust pieces of a McCall’s pattern that I can’t seem to find at the moment. Derp. I’ll post the number when I find it. There are three layers total: the outer layer made from a somewhat transparent green satin, the underlining in poly satin (the same that I used for Sailor Jupiter’s fuku!), and a lining in poly satin and chiffon.

The top layer and underlining are both made with the Kwik Sew View A train and the lining is the View B hem. To get the flower-petal look that Jupiter has, I did a rolled hem on my serger. Before I wear this costume again, I’ll add fishing wire to get a more pronounced wavy look.

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A little behind the scenes of my WIP. Bottom left is my lining layer. I used green satin until the pattern started flaring out at the hips, then I used chiffon for the skirt portion.

The top layer also gave me some issues with the zipper. I initially tried this method of letting it hang loose in the back, but that soooo did not work with the length of my zipper. Instead, I basted the outer layer and the underlining together, but now there’s a baby pucker at the edge of the zipper. When I have time, I plan to re-do that entire zipper and seam.

To create the scoop on the front panel of the dress, I gathered both sides by about 5″.

My main trouble with fitting this dress was the outer layer. Since this layer is kind of see through, I opted to use French seams on ALL the seams. This worked well for the sides, but fitting over the bust was obnoxious. I’m still not happy with it, so I may seam rip them and just do a double-line of straight stitching instead.

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Another behind the scenes shot of my WIP. On the left is one of the French seams on the side of the outer layer. The right photo is an image of the boning I inserted into the lining layer. I used German plastic boning for this dress.

My favorite part of this costume is the roses. I made several roses out of satin ribbon using this tutorial for the hips, ankles, and ponytail. I attached them to my dress and ankle ribbons with pins.

For the shoes, I took an old pair of scuffed work pumps and painted them. My original intent was to cover them in scrap fabric, but my Modge Podge dried super streaky. Since I was short on time, I used Colortool spray paint from Michaels. With my Angelus deglazer and finisher (leftover from Bombshell Wondie), it held up well. There are only a few minor stress marks. I’d like to repaint these with Angelus paint when I have a bit more time and hopefully match the shell of the dress a bit more.

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Helllooooo leg! Ha, I seriously forgot how high that slit was. Thank you, dance tights!

Thoughts: Even with the setbacks and short time frame (around 2 weeks), I’m fairly pleased with this costume. It’s one of my cheapest cosplays this year, partly because most of the materials I used are reject Sailor Jupiter fabrics. The green satin for the shell was intended as the skirt/collar for Sailor Jupter, but it was more transparent than I anticipated and the store I bought it from didn’t accept returns. Might as well use it for another cosplay! I’d love to make some improvements to this costume over the holidays and do a proper photoshoot in a garden when the weather warms up. Ohheyabear and I braved the elements for a few outdoor shots, and I’ll be sure to share those when I get them!

That brings me to the end of my con “season” (can you really call it a season when it lasts all year?) for 2014. I’m taking a short break from personal costumes to finish up some commission work, but I’ll be back to making more early 2015. First up: MOAR CAROL! ;)

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Pretty, pretty princesses. Ohheyabear won Best in Show for gorgeous Serenity!

Have you started planning out or working on your 2015 costumes?

Fandom 5 Friday: Smart Phone Apps (+ Con Update)

fandom-5-fridayHappy Friday, everyone! I’m back on the Fandom 5 bandwagon this week with my vital smart phone apps. In no specific order:

  • Social Media Apps: I know, I’m such a millennial. I’m almost never on most of my social media outlets on my computer. It’s always on my phone. Instagram (@thegeekyseamstress), Twitter (@geekyseamstress), and Facebook are my main poisons.
  • Fotor: I love making collages for Instagram, and I use Fotor to set those up! This is one of those situations where I prefer the app version to the desktop. The app version is very simple to use and not too obnoxious in terms of advertisements.
  • Spotify: I love, love, love listening to music throughout the day (especially at work), and Spotify is my go-to music app. The BF is a huge music buff and has made me several fantastic mixes that I listen to on rotation. Also, I totally love the Disney playlist.
  • Google Apps: Cheating a little bit here, but I use so many of these. I use Hangouts for chats, Gmail for all of my e-mail needs, Drive to organize my documents, and Maps as my GPS.
  • Podcasts: I really enjoy listening to podcasts when I’m at work, sewing, or just running errands. Some of my favorites are NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, Slate’s Culture Gabfest, Judge John Hodgman, The Broad Experience, Stuff You Missed in History Class, and The Sewing Affair. Do you listen to podcasts? What are some of your favorites?

Bonus:

  • Trello: I love this app for planning my cosplays! It’s so easy to create a project and make smaller to-do lists. Also, I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve heard great things about the CosPlanner app.
  • Lose It: With the holidays coming up, I’m trying to keep an eye out on my food intake and exercise. Lose It! is my preferred free app.

Those are a few of my must-have apps! What are some of your favorites?

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Much happier with how the bangs came out this time. I’ll share more info on my costume write-up!

Also, I’m attending Anime North Texas on Saturday only! I’ll be there as Princess Jupiter with my friend Ohheyabear Cosplay as Princess Serenity. Hope to see some of you there!

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A few dress details. More photos soon!

Mabel #2: All About that Bass

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Man, I am rocking the resting bitch face.
Say hello to Mabel #2!

The Basics: 

Pattern: Colette Mabel, version 3.

Fabric: Approximately 1 yd. of navy ponte de roma leftover from my first Lady Skater.

Alterations: Added 1″ length

Notions: Thread and Wundertape.

Make it again?: Definitely. I’d like to make 1-2 more of these for work and the mini version for fun at some point. Maybe out of mermaid spandex?

Favorite parts: Same as last time. Comfort and how quickly I was able to finish it.

mabel side

Other thoughts: I completed this project during a mini-stay/sewcation I took last week. It was a palate cleanser of sorts. I’ve been in a massive funk over the last few weeks, so I wanted something quick and easy to recalibrate myself. This project definitely fits the bill. Since I’d already cut the pattern for Mabel #1, it didn’t take much time at all to cut the pieces for this version. I think it took 3 episodes of Archer from cutting to hemming.

mabel back
Hello ridiculous booty pop. I swear, I thought I had another back view photo, but I could not find it.

There’s really not a lot to say about this. My first Mabel is a regular wardrobe staple, and hopefully this one will be as well. The ponte de roma is a little lighter than my first one, so I do have to be careful about undergarment lumps and bumps. With fall coming on, I think it’ll be perfect with thick tights and cardigans. It’s nice to have another Mabel in rotation!

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I will take what is mine with fire and blood.

Since November is also Nerdvember, I decided to style this ensemble with one of my favorite nerdy pieces: my House Targeryan cardigan! Unfortunately, I can’t find it on the HBO site anymore. I swear, I wear this thing at least once a week. It pretty much goes with my entire wardrobe.

Do  you watch Game of Thrones? Which house is your favorite? 

Spandex 101: Fabric Prep, Patterns and Basic Modifications

Marvel Now! Rogue, made with moleskin and milliskin spandex. Photo by Superhero Photos.
Marvel Now! Rogue, made with moleskin and milliskin spandex. Photo by Superhero Photos.

Hello and welcome to part 2 of my Spandex 101 series! If you need a refresher on part 1, you can view that here.

Thank you so much for your feedback on the last post! I knew a lot of you wanted to know more about spandex, but the collective response totally blew me away. Again, if you have specific requests for topics, feel free to ask!

Today, I’m going to talk a little bit a bout pretreating your fabric, my go-to patterns, and  basic modifications. I had hoped to include basic techniques as well, but this post is hefty enough as is. Next week!

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Sailor Jupiter. The base of the fuku is made from white moleskin and attached directly to the skirt base. Photo by Aperture Ashley.

Pretreating Spandex and You: A Love-Hate Relationship

Prepare your eyeballs, because I am going to confess to something scandalous: I rarely wash/pre-treat my spandex. The horror! But… not really. See, spandex is one of those magical fabrics that doesn’t really shrink. The only time that I might pre-treat my fabric is if I think colors might bleed into each other, but that’s pretty rare for me.

With costumes, I find that you have to think outside of the pre-wash “rule”. The idea is actually to treat your fabric as you intend to wash it later. I don’t know about you guys, but my full costumes never go directly in the wash. Since they’re only worn a handful of times (5-7 wears for a well-loved costume), most of the time I’ll spot clean stains and high funk areas and also Febreeze them. As soon as I get out of costume, it goes on a hanger to air dry, which also helps with odor and cleanliness. Since I wear a ton of layers with spandex, this also keeps the fabric from directly touching my skin.

Another benefit to not pre-washing spandex: it helps your fabric lay flat when cutting. When spandex gets thrown in the wash and dries, it tends to curl at the edges, sometimes by several inches. That is SUPER annoying to deal with when you’re cutting fabric.

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Cutting the leotard pieces for Sailor Jupiter. I prefer pattern weights and a rotary cutter to pins and scissors to prevent from slipping around.

Speaking of cutting, I mentioned last time that a rotary cutter and mat is my preferred cutting method. This is true for almost all of my sewing creations, but especially spandex. Spandex likes to slide around on itself when cutting, so being able to lay it flat on my cutting table and just go to town really alleviates some frustration. As I mentioned last time, this can be somewhat costly, but the cost is totally worth it, especially if you think you’ll make a lot of spandex costumes.

Pro-tip: if you have any resistance whatsoever when cutting, either sharpen or get a new rotary blade. Seriously, it is not worth the wrist pain to tough it out. Your lines will be cleaner and your wrists will thank you.

One more pro-tip: When cutting, point the rotary AWAY from you and always be mindful of retracting the blade. Those mofos are sharp and no one needs a trip to the ER or to get blood in spandex.

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Fun fact: All three of these costumes were made using Kwik Sew 3154. Cammy is Jade Cosplay, photo by Tobias Photography. Ms. Marvel photo by Aperture Ashley.

Go-To Patterns

Superhero costumes often have all sorts of crazy design elements to them, and unless you’ve stumbled across a magical resource of superhero specific patterns (please share. I will give you Internet hugs and cupcakes), you’re going to have to make your own patterns for designs. Fortunately, there are lots of awesome basic designs that you can use as templates. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Kwik Sew has tons of fantastic spandex friendly patterns for both men and women. Some of my favorites are 3154 (sadly OOP, but check eBay and Etsy!), 3052, 3636 and 3029 . Their instructions are also great. P.S., Check out WindoftheStars video on patterns.
  • Jalie is a name that comes up often with skating/dance patterns. They have a huge selection, but I haven’t purchased any of their patterns yet. If anyone’s tried them, let me know what you think!
  • Green Pepper’s Crystal Lake pattern (a.k.a. the sailor fuku pattern) is a good basic skater pattern. It only has one seam up the back, so there’s not a lot of places to muck up if you’re new to spandex. The only real down side is that it’s fairly limited in size, so proceed with caution. I used this pattern for my mom’s Supergirl.
  • If you’re feeling brave, you can draft your own bodysuit. This page also includes instructions on how to draft a spandex hood.
To create the bolt for Ms. Marvel, I laid my front leotard piece on the reverse side of my gold fabric then sketched the design out (in reverse).
To create the bolt for Ms. Marvel, I made a duplicate of my pattern piece and sketched out the design.

To draft some of those crazy designs, I typically create a muslin (mock-up) out of cheap spandex. Do be mindful of stretchiness, because you don’t want to make a mock-up of 4-way stretch then do a final version in 2-way stretch. It’ll look all kinds of wonky.

Once my mock-up is created, I’ll draw out the lines of the design that I need and add seam allowances if necessary. I’ll then cut up the design, make it pretty on paper, and use that paper design as my final pattern. This can take some trial and error, but it’s my favorite way of creating design elements. It works great for both inlays and appliques!

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Adding length is a normal adjustment for me. If I think I’ll use a pattern more than once, I’ll tape extra tissue paper in the length I need between the split pieces.

Basic Modifications

Just like other sewing projects, you have a ton of options with spandex to make a project fit you better. The most basic modifications are for height. This is where I find it helpful to look at drafting information on patterns. Kwik Sew women’s patterns are drafted for 5’6″ and accommodate for various cups based on size (a fun bit of information ONLY found on their fitting guide. Ugh). So for example, I’m typically a L in Kwik Sew patterns, and L-XL sizes are drafted for D cups, which works perfectly for me. Fortunately, you don’t really need to do FBAs for stretchy fabrics, since the stretch takes care of that for you. But it might be something to look at if you need more (or less) room with the bust or hips.

To add or reduce length for height, simply cut at the appropriate cut lines and add or reduce your length, blending between your cut pattern pieces as needed. I’m 5’10″, so I typically add 3-4″ to most of my Kwik Sew patterns. A large bust might also mean that you need more length to accommodate everything. If you make a muslin and notice the fabric uh… riding up your lady bits, that’s a good indicator to add a bit of length.

A note for choosing sizes: Wear your intended shapewear when taking measurements and choosing sizes. This is applicable to all patterns, but it’s still worth mentioning. I’ve mentioned before that I wear shapewear with spandex, which means that I often have to grade between several sizes.

An alteration I made to the Crystal Lake pattern for Supergirl. The pattern has a scoop back, so I extended the back piece up.
An alteration I made to the Crystal Lake pattern for Supergirl. The pattern has a scoop back, so I extended the back piece up.

Here are a few other basic modifications:

  • Shifting zippers: If you’ve got a leo or a catsuit and want to move a back zip to the front (or front to back), simply subtract the seam allowance from the pattern piece for the zipper, cut the altered piece on the fabric fold, and add the zipper seam allowance to your intended pattern piece.
  • Adding a zipper: Many stretchy patterns have a large hole in the back or a scoop neckline to allow the wearer to put on the garment without zips. To get past this, I just take my ruler and draw a line up the fabric using the pattern piece as a guide. If the pattern piece is supposed to be cut on the fold, add in a seam allowance (I usually use 1/2″)
  • Going sleeveless: My go-to leo pattern is Kwik Sew 3154. I’ve used it for several turtleneck leotards, but many of the designs are sleeveless. For that alteration, I ditch the sleeve and finish the arm hole with 3/8″ elastic. I’ll describe this process more in my next post.

That’s it for this week’s post! I hope it helps. I covered a lot of information today, so if you need any clarifications, please feel free to ask in the comments or shoot me an e-mail. Next week, I’ll talk about construction techniques and how to finish projects. Again, if you have any suggestions for topics I’d love to hear them!

November Challenge: Lady Skater-frew

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Say hello to my latest skater baby: the Lady Skater-frew!

The Basics: 

Pattern: Lady Skater and Sewaholic Renfrew

Fabric: 3 yds of ponte de roma from Girl Charlee

Alterations: Blended bodice patterns together and added 3″ length to skirt.

Notions: Elastic and Wundertape.

Make it again?: I’ll definitely make another Lady Skater, though I’m not sure about another Lady Skater-frew. I love it, but I think one is enough (for now).

Favorite parts: Same as the last two skaters. I really adore the cowl on this top. It feels like wearing a giant (but very pretty) sweater!

skaterfrew side

Other thoughts: I really don’t have anything new to say that I haven’t mentioned with my navy and black and white Lady Skaters. It’s super comfortable and very quick to put together. Honestly, the longest part of construction was my pattern alterations. I paid careful mind to alterations, since the Renfew top uses a 5/8″ seam allowance and the Lady Skater uses 3/8″.

Basically, I laid the Lady Skater bodice over the Renfew pattern and blended the two together. I left the neckline and arm scythe of the Renfew alone so that I wouldn’t mess up the neckline or the sleeves. I thought about adding length to the sleeves, but I’m glad I didn’t, since they’re a little too long as is. The sleeve length doesn’t bother me too much, since I like slightly longer sleeves on my sweaters.

skaterfrew back

To make sure the dress would fit okay, I basted the sides together down to the waist before I serged it. I did have to take in the sleeves and the upper part of the bodice a bit (still could probably take them in more), but again, that’s primarily because I was dealing with two different seam allowances.

As I mentioned, I really like the giant cowl on this dress. I think I’ll make a cowl neck Renfrew top soon. I took Tasia’s advice and stitched down the seam allowance to the neckline, which makes a nice finish. I used a zig-zag stitch, but I think I’ll use my twin needle in the future.

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Overall, I love this dress! My only complaint about it is the material is prone to pilling. I’m having this problem with my other skaters too. I need to de-pill them and probably start hand washing them. Boo. Still, they’re pretty and fun to wear!

Have you made a Lady Skater hack? How did it turn out?

Spandex 101: The Basics

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Spandex: Fabric of choice for ridiculous (but awesome) comic book costumes. Photo by Black Vest Photography.

Pull up a chair, grab some coffee, and let’s chat about spandex. Spandex is an amazing fabric for both cosplay and everyday wear. It’s amazing for any project that needs a bit of stretch, whether you’re looking to turn yourself into a superhero or make a pair of sexy yoga pants.

Just to be upfront, I don’t feel particularly skilled at working with spandex. However, I have been dabbling with it for about a year now, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned along the way.

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My Kotobukiya Rogue bodysuit consists of both moleskin and milliskin fabric. Bodysuit made by Meredith Placko. Photo by Aperture Ashley.

Terminology

First up, let’s talk terminology. Spandex (or elastine outside of North America) is a synthetic fabric known for its exceptional stretchiness. Many knit fabrics and even some wovens contain a small amount of spandex (around 3-5%) to allow for stretchiness in daily wear. I’m focusing today on the spandex you find in dance and swimwear, which contains significantly higher amounts of spandex (typically 10-20% or so).

Lycra is one of the more common brand names of spandex. Think of it as the difference between Kleenex and facial tissue.

There are many types of spandex that you can choose from when designing costumes. One of the biggest things to take into consideration when selecting a spandex is whether it is 2-way or 4-way stretch. 2-way stretch fabric will only stretch one direction: horizontally or vertically. 4-way stretch fabric will stretch in both directions. This is especially important for finding a fabric that will work for your pattern. If a pattern calls for 2-way stretch, you can use 4-way stretch fabric. However, if your pattern calls for 4-way stretch, you can’t use 2-way stretch without altering the pattern.

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Deadpool, made by me. The red is a dyed moleskin fabric and the black is stretch vinyl. Both fabrics are from Spandex World.

Here’s a quick overview of a few specialty types of spandex, courtesy of Spandex World:

  • Nylon spandex such as milliskin. This is a bit thinner than heavy-weight spandex such as moleskin. Moleskin is thick enough that you typically don’t need a lining, but milliskin might. For reference, the yellow on my Kotobukiya Rogue is moleskin and the green is milliskin.
  • Cotton and Rayon Lycra is most often found in things like t-shirts and yoga wear.
  • Performance lycra is used for athletic clothing. It is specifically designed to wick moisture away from the body, so it’s a better bet for active wear than cotton lycra, which retains moisture.
  • Specialty prints, like all those fun galaxy and mermaid prints. These are ridiculously fun.
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Bombshell swimsuit, made with spandex from my go-to shop: Dallas Spandex Wherehouse!

Where to Buy Spandex

So where can you get spandex? Most of the time, anywhere that sells fabric will have some type of spandex available for sale. Here are a few of my go-to resources:

  • Spandex World
  • Spandex House
  • Girl Charlee
  • Michael Levine
  • Local spandex warehouse. I’m fortunately to live in an area that has a fabric district, so Dallas Spandex is one of my go-to spots. In fact, I often check there first since I hate paying $15-20 for shipping. I’d rather have the extra yardage! Check Google to see if there’s a good spandex outlet near you.

A note: I would not use the spandex that’s available at Hancock’s and Jo-Ann’s. Most of the time, that fabric is insanely sheer and ridiculously overpriced. Use only in case of emergency!

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Tools of the Trade

The last topic I want to mention briefly is commonly used tools. There’s a misconception that you absolutely have to have a serger (also known as an overlocker) in order to use spandex. This is completely false! Having a serger will make life easier, but it’s not an absolute must. I’ll talk about techniques you can use sans serger next time, but if you want to learn more right now, check out check out this post from Craftsy.

Here are a few tools I always use when working with spandex:

  • Stretch needle: This is an absolute must. Have you ever tried to sew a knit or with spandex and gotten skipped stitches? Most likely, it’s because you’re using the wrong needle. Stretch needles are specifically designed for those super stretchy fabrics and will help you get consistent, even stitches.
  • A machine with a stretch stitch: Non-negotiable. Most of the time, I just use a basic zig-zag stitch, but sometimes, you might need a specialty stretch stitch, like a chain stitch. Check your sewing machine manual for specific stitches.
  • Rotary and board: Obviously, you can use scissors instead, but I find a rotary cutter super helpful with most of my fabric cutting and spandex in particular. Spandex can get slinky and move around, so I like to just lay it flat and use pattern weights to hold everything down. This can be expensive at about $80 full price, so if you’re on a budget, keep an eye out for 40-50% off coupons from Jo-Ann’s and Hancock’s.
  • Fabric weights: Same reason here as the rotary and board. You can buy fabric weights if you want, but they’re pretty hefty in price. Washers are an inexpensive alternative, and you can make ‘em super cute.

That’s it for today! Next week, I’ll talk about pretreating and prepping your fabric, some of my go-to superhero patterns and modifications, and sewing construction. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future post, please mention it in the comments!

Have you worked with spandex before? What are some of your favorite tips and tricks?

Fandom Friday: The Halloween Candy I Always Hope For When Trick-Or-Treating

Happy Halloween! Are you going trick or treating tonight (either with little ones or as grown-ups)? Since we just moved into a house, I’m curious to see if we get any trick-or-treaters. We live close to several schools, so it’s a possibility! I’m kind of excited to see what costumes swing by. My bet is on several Elsas and other Frozen characters.

Candy-CornSpeaking of candy, here’s a list of my top Halloween candy picks:

1. Candy Corn: The great debate of the candy world. Some people love it, some people hate it. I can’t lie; I love it. That sugar hits the spot!

2. Reese’s Pieces: I have an unhealthy obsession with Reese’s. My boyfriend prefers the peanut butter cups, but I love the Pieces!

3. Twix: Another chocolate love. I really like caramel and chocolate, so combining the two makes me absurdly happy.

4. Whoppers: Another divisive candy. I can literally eat a whole box of these in one sitting (though I definitely regret it later). I really like the malt ball taste. These are also my favorite movie candy!

5. Milk Duds: Again, caramel and chocolate. Good stuff.

What are some of your favorite Halloween candies? Also, if you’re nerdy about quirky history, check out this week’s Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast. They talk about the history of Halloween candy and how manufacturers got involved in the holiday. Very interesting stuff!

And since this is primarily a sewing/cosplay blog, I’m curious: what are you wearing tonight if you’re wearing a costume? Our Archer plans fell through (some of our pieces are still in moving limbo), so we’re going as casual Superman and Wonder Woman.

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Have a safe and happy Halloween!