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When I began serious blogging about figure skating costumes, I was at the 2019 U.S. Adult Nationals in Salt Lake City. I noticed a lot of competition dresses have the same problem: the women’s ice skating leotard did not fit well.

It was easy to see that more often than not, the women’s leotard pattern was made from an extra-large child’s pattern.  Children have straight bodies.  Women have curves like the 3Bs: breasts, belly and bum. 

Today’s post is a perfect example of how the leotard fits very poorly, especially in the armpits and bust.  

woman's ice skating leotard, bust support, mesh sleeves, Melissa Pepling

However, overall it is a lovely dress on Melissa.  Does that single factor make it work doing a lot of sewing alterations?  Probably not.

What makes it really worth saving is that she paid only $110 for this dress.  You cannot even buy new rhinestones for that low price!  

Therefore, her figure skating dress is worth saving — especially since she has a friend who can do the sewing alterations needed to make the ice skating leotard fit better.

In this post, I walk you (and Melissa’s sewing friend) through the bust, sleeve and armpit alterations that need to be done so Melissa looks and feels better in her costume.

She and I had a great time filming today’s video!  I hope you enjoy reading and watching about the sewing details.

Remember: I try to include more details in the written blog than in the video.  Why? Because I can’t think of everything while I’m filming with one take and trying not to choke myself with a scarf or a microphone! 🙂

What’s wrong with Melissa’s ice skating leotard?

  1. There are no princess seams or bust darts to make the leotard hug the breast curves.  Therefore, there is no bust support and the area looks saggy instead of tailored.
    • I repeat, many women’s ice skating leotards are made using children’s patterns that do not allow for a mature woman’s body curves.  As a dressmaker and a female, this greatly annoys me. 
    • Check out my interview an ice dancer who makes her own properly fitting skate dress with princess seams.
  2. The shoulders need to be taken in so there is more support through the vertical length of the leotard. 
    • Melissa is average female height, maybe even a little taller.  Yet the length of the bodice is cut for someone 2”-3” or 5-7 cm taller.  That’s a big difference and explains much about why this skating dress needs a lot of fitting and sewing alterations.
  3. The sleeves were made using a street pattern.  They are not cut properly to allow a skater to raise her arms.
    • When Melissa raises her arm, the entire leotard wants to pull up.  This also contributes to how badly the armpit and bust area fit.
  4.  Melissa doesn’t like that the skirt curls up where it is stitched to the body suit.
    • The skirt was attached at a bad angle for Melissa’s body.  My personal opinion is that few women look good when the slightly-rounded V skirt attachment that is so common in women’s ice skating leotard pattern.  As a general rule, it makes most women’s belly curves look more rounder and larger. 
  • Cindy Rhea, Sew Like A Pro member, first figure skating dress, woman's ice skating leotard

Unfortunately, these four problems are common in women’s ice skating leotards.


In my online sewing school, I teach my students how to make a proper women’s leotard pattern with princess seams to accommodate for womanly curves. 

Yes, these extra seams and measurements mean a woman’s ice skating leotard is more complicated to sew and fit. 

Is it worth the extra effort?

You bet! 

Cindy had never made a costume before enrolling in my Sew Like A Pro™ online sewing school.  However, she now has the skills:

  • to make her own custom leotard, sleeve and skirt patterns
  • cut everything out with accuracy,
  • fit properly to adjust the fabric to all her curves.

Cindy’s skills continue improving with every dress.  The gray and navy dresses below are her most recent handmade creations worn at the 2022 Adult Nationals.  I think you will agree they are amazing, and fit her perfectly!

Cindy Rhea models two handmade figure skating dresses she sewed.

Do you want to be able to make perfectly fitted skate dresses like Cindy's dresses above?

Join the 9-week Fabulous Fitting Techniques course!
Get details & enroll today!


Learn how to work with stretch fabrics like mesh and lycra to create wrinkle free dance and skate dresses for all shapes and sizes of women and children.


How do you fix the four problems on Melissa’s costume?

(Do the steps in this order.)

Sewing alterations #1:  sleeves and armpit
Sew Like A Pro™ Dressmaker Tip  

This is an addendum to the video.

option 1: If your shoulder seam does not need to be tighter, rip open both armpit seams where the mesh attaches to the leotard, nearly all the way around. 

option 2: If your shoulder area needs to be tightened as I mentioned on Melissa’s dress, remove the entire sleeve and set it back in after you complete alteration #3.

woman's ice skating leotard, sweetheart neckline, mesh sleeves, Melissa Pepling

Tighten along the entire length of the sleeve so it fits the arm snugly.   Cut out gussets (oval-shaped pieces of fabric cut out of the same fabric as the sleeves).  NOTE: How wide the gussets are is determined by how much fabric you need to raise your arm without pulling the leotard up.  Baste the gussets to the sleeve, centering the gusset along the underarm seam.

Why do the armpit areas not fit well? 

The sleeves on Melissa’s skate leotard are not made from a proper woman’s leotard pattern.  They were made using a street pattern.  Therefore, they do not hug Melissa’s armpits like they are supposed.  The poor cut of the fabric prevents her from being able to raise her arm without pulling the entire leotard out of place.

As you see in the image below, the pink line indicates how much needs to be taken out of the shoulder area.  This is a lot to adjust for, and may make these sewing alterations too much trouble to do. 

woman's ice skating leotard, mesh_sleeve_sewing_alterations, Melissa Pepling


Sewing alteration #2. Take in larger seams at the shoulders.

Why? The vertical length of the leotard is too long for Melissa. 

Leotards that are too long also prevent the woman’s ice skating leotard from being supportive.



woman's ice skating leotard, mesh sleeve alterations, princess seam, gussetAlteration #3: Create bust darts.

Before basting the altered sleeve back into the armhole, it is a good idea to add a bust dart to help that area look and fit better. 

Peel off rhinestones at the front of the armpit so that a bust dart can be added.  Baste the dart all the way from the armpit to the tip of the bust. Try the leotard on again.

Fit the newly altered sleeves to the armpit area to determine a new stitch line that merges the new gusset with the existing shoulder area.

Why does this woman’s ice skating leotard need a bust dart? 

This leotard is too large and loose to offer bust any bust support.  Plus, it looks sloppy.  Instead of taking in the fabric at the side seams, a bust dart will help the leotard to accommodate Melissa’s breast curves. 

In my sewing school, I teach my Sew Like A Pro™ members to make women’s leotard pattern with full princess seams, not just a bust dart.  With Melissa’s dress, a bust dart is better than nothing and will suffice given that the dress is completely finished and the seamstress doing the alterations must remove a lot of stones and rip many stitches to do the work.


Sweetheart neckline is lovely, but too high.

Melissa's rhinestoned sweetheart neckline has the potential to be both sexy and sophisticated.  However, to flatter her body shape, it should be cut lower so it sits along her natural bust curve.

Even though this figure skating dress was a bargain at only $110, it is possibly not a wise investment to spend the time or money making this intensive alteration.  Then again, since she paid so little for it, why not put the time and money into making it as fabulous as possible?  Especially since the sleeves will be mostly removed to set in the gusset.

Would you do the extensive sewing alterations to lower Melissa's sweetheart neckline?   Your answer depends on how much you like the dress and what your time and/or money investment will be.

woman's ice skating leotard, sweetheart necklines, Melissa Pepling, Andrea Nero-Jones

The neckline position is a very important detail to consider when designing your own ice skating leotard.


If you are making a dress or having a dress custom-made with a sweetheart neckline, adjust the neckline height during the leotard fittings.  I explain how to do this in my blog on how to make a sweetheart neckline leotard fit better.


Choose a skirt attachment line that compliments your figure.

The last thing Melissa said she does not like about the fit of her costume is that the skirt curls up where it is stitched to the leotard.

Why does this happen?

There are several common reasons, but on Melissa, the primary reasons are that:

1. Because this is not a curvy woman’s ice skating leotard. (Sadly, it is an over-sized child’s pattern that does not have proper seaming to allow for a woman's body curves.) 

2. The cut of the skirt is not figure-flattering on Melissa so the skirt wants to curl around her tummy curve.

As I mentioned earlier, in my online sewing school, Sew Like A Pro™, I teach all the members how to make proper custom-made leotard, sleeve and skirt patterns -- and to choose figure-flattering skirt attachments lines.

What about Melissa's solution?  Change where the skirt is attached is probably not an easy fix.  However, when done properly, the change makes a world of difference.  Melissa’s friend must pull up the skirt so it attaches higher to the skate leotard, then reshape the cut of the skirt to flatter Melissa’s figure better.

woman's ice skating leotard, skating skirt, Melissa Pepling, Jaclyn CartwrightWould I do this extra work on the skirt attachment line?  Probably not. 

Why not?

On figure skating dresses, the skirt is often set in-between two leotard pieces, not stitched on top of a whole leotard.  If Melissa’s skirt is set into the leotard (and I don’t know because I did not peek at the inside of the dress), it will be almost impossible to adjust the skirt without some serious sewing alterations.

One thing Melissa can do quickly is camouflage the curling that happens where the skirt is stitched by continuing the rhinestones on the leotard all the way into the skirt.  Since bling and rhinestones cover a multitude of sins, it would help camouflage the skirt attachment line.

Check out this blog featuring Jaclyn’s black crisscross skating dress with rhinestones that really compliment the dress and hide the skirt attachment.

Do you have a Ballroom, Country or figure skating costume that needs major surgery in the bust or sleeve area?  If you corrected the problems, what sewing alterations you do?

Leave a comment below after you watch the video.


Is it time you get the dressmaker training you need so you can make your competition dresses fit beautifully?
Are you ready to stop wasting time searching (in vain) on YouTube? 
Would you love to stop making, and then re-making, your skate costumes because you are figuring it out as you go?
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Fabulous Fitting Techniques: an intensive 6-week course for those who sew ballroom dance and figure skating dresses for women and teenagers.




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