January 12, 2013

Which Sewing Tools For Skating Dresses & Outfits?

Following on from my recent post regarding the choice of sewing machines for the manufacture of skating apparel, today I want to expand on a small note that I wrote at the bottom of the aforementioned post: the matter of the tools that will greatly enhance your dress making experience.

I know it might seem like a tall order: you've already invested in a sewing machine, which, let's face it, is quite a significant financial investment. And now what, you need to buy more stuff to get on your way to becoming a self-sufficient skating costume creator? It might seem like you're haemorrhaging money, but a few key tools will make you a more efficient sewer, which will ultimately avoid wasting materials.

It took me a while to realise what I needed, so I'm in a good place to tell you that the sooner you buy your tools, the sooner you'll be producing professional garments. Read on for the low-down on all the things that will have you stitching faster than a haute couture elf on Christmas eve!

The Cutting Mat ♥ 
This is a mat which can be purchased in a variety of sizes, and which is self-healing. This simply means that when you cut into it, the cut will heal together again, and the mat retains its original smooth surface no matter how many times you cut it while cutting into your fabric.

I bought an A2 size, and in all honestly a little bigger would be more useful. So if you can afford it, splurge on a larger size. I paid $30 for the A2 size, and bought it on eBay (you may have noticed by now, I'm a bit of an eBay addict!).

They are usually green in colour and have lines on the surface, which come in handy when lining up straight lines. It's worth noting that the mat is flexible and soft, and if you don't store it flat, then it will bend over and adopt a curved shape (e.g.: if you store it on its side). This isn't important, the mat will adopt a flat shape a new if you lay it flat for an hour before use.

♥ The Rotary Cutter ♥ 
This goes hand-in-hand with the cutting mat. Before I bought this combo, I was using scissors to cut my fabric, and had to lift the fabric ever so slightly in order to slip my scissors' bottom most blade under the fabric for cutting. This causes cutting perfectly straight lines, and cutting along chalk lines or pattern edges really difficult: you have to adjust for the distortion in the fabric that the bottom scissor blade is causing.

This problem is no more, with a rotary cutter. You lay your fabric out flat, with the pattern pinned on top of it so you know what and where you're cutting, and then just cut away. The rotary cutter has a sturdy handle, and a circular blade, much like a pizza wheel. You roll along your fabric like you would a pizza, and cut your fabric from a top, which means there's no picking up and distorting your fabric with a rotary cutter, as you must with scissors. This makes the job of clean edges and perfect pattern cutting a breeze.

♥ Pattern Paper / Clear Plastic ♥ 
Before I started using these products, I was buying expensive patterns (e.g.: Jalie patterns come it at ~$15 a piece!) and cutting into them to obtain the pieces I needed to construct a dress for myself. This meant that I could never use that pattern again for another size, because I'd cut into the size I needed for myself. Patterns are also made out of thin, fragile, tissue-paper-like paper, and are easily crinkled and ripped.

I bought clear plastic for copying patterns, which came in a pack with a marker pen. You can also buy semi-transparent pattern paper and use it to the same effect.

Lay your actual bought pattern out, and figure out which pieces you'll be using to make your garment. Now lay your plastic / paper over the pattern, and use a marker pen (for plastic) or a pencil (for paper) to trace the edge of the pieces you need, in the size you need them (multiple sizes are printed on patterns, and are usually shown with a different type of line for each size, i.e.: solid black line, dashed line, etc..). Now detach the copy from the original pattern, and put your pattern away. Cut out the pieces of the copy you need, and make sure to note on each piece what they are (trust me, after a while it can be hard to figure out the difference between a front and back panel once you've been staring at them for long enough!).

Et voilĂ , perfectly preserved patterns, and good copies you can play with and damage, without money being thrown down the drain.

♥ The Ballpoint Needle ♥ 
This is an absolute must when it comes to sewing stretch fabrics.
The point of the needle is a tiny ball, rather than being a sharp needle point as per usual sewing needles. This causes the fabric to not be bunched and ruched as the fabric passes through the sewing machine's foot, as would happen when working with stretch materials and regular pointed needles.

You can pick these up from any self-respecting haberdashers, fabric store, or department store which has a crafting range.
If you only buy one tool, this must be it!

Well those are the tools that truly revolutionised my dress making. There are of course a ton of other things that I'm sure would make your sewing life easier, but I contented myself here to simply write of those which were true revelations for me, when I first started to design and make my own skating apparel.

I would also like to, at this point, mention fabrics. It's pretty obvious that with fabrics, as with many things in life, you get what you pay for. If you go for a more expensive velvet, it's likely to have a higher elastic percentage, making it more stretchy and fitting. If you buy cheaper Lycra, chances are they will be thinner than your high quality versions. But guess what? It doesn't matter when you're starting out!!

I bought myself a few meters of cheap fabric (I bought black spandex which was covered in pink and orange flowers in glitter, it was gorgeous!) for approx. £2/meter from Fabricland.co.uk (I highly recommend this website for those of you based in the UK looking for cheap fabrics to practice with!) for my very first dress attempt. It worked out just great, and I even wore it for training. Even though it was super cheap, it worked a charm. The bottom line is: sure, once you know what you're doing, and you want your skater to have maximal comfort, fit, and stretch for that big event, go ahead and buy your $40/meter fabric. But until then, experiment with fun cheap materials!

If you've a tool that you couldn't live without, please tell us all about it via one of the means of contact seen below! We'd all love to hear extra tips and tricks for perfecting our skating outfits, I am sure!

Until next time, sew on!
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1 comment

  1. With different projects comes the need to switch to different needles depending on the type of fabric being sewn, and sometimes it's hard to keep track of which needle is which, which one has been used, etc. best sewing machine for beginners

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