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Choosing the right stretch fabrics for a ballroom, Country or skate dress can be nerve wracking.  Fabrics can make or break your costume – and your confidence. 

I learned that painful lesson when I nineteen, competing at my first U.S. Ballroom Championships in 1989.

After only one year, I left my Architecture and Visual Design studies at N.C. State University (much to my father’s chagrin) to move to the other side of America so I could I teach and compete professionally in ballroom dancing.  As soon as I arrived in Arizona, I was told that I was too heavy by ballroom standards.  I had to lose ten pounds in a hurry.  Like many professional dancers, I lived off protein and reduced carbohydrates.  I also ran each night after teaching dance and rehearsing with my professional partner.


Teresa Sigmon ballroom dance dress sketch fortuny pleating


At the same time, I was preparing for my first U.S. Ballroom Championships.  I spent several hours every night after my marathon day of teaching-rehearsing-running  sewing my first “official” Rhythm dance dress for the event.

I had been designing dresses since I was a teen and I loved haute couture.  For my first U.S. Ballroom Championships, I designed a black and white, asymmetrical, Fortuny pleated Rhythm dance dress.

It was a striking dress with gathers and pleats and two large black fans.   I had splurged and spent a lot of money to have white silk custom pleated.  I was really proud of that dress because it was so fashionable and complex to make.

So what’s the problem?

1)  There was no internet back in 1989 to tell me haute couture was not acceptable in ballroom at that time.

2)  Worse though,  I had no idea white and all the pleating would make me look like I put on all the weight I had worked so hard to lose!


After the first round of dancing at the U.S. Ballroom Championships, one of the judges walked up to me, scowling and flipping his hands about gesturing at my pleated dress.  He exclaimed, “Why are you wearing white? It makes you look fat, and you just lost a bunch of weight.”

I was so devastated I threw the dress away as soon as I got home.  All that time and money and pin pricks on my fingers for nothing.  Worse than nothing.  The dress was hated and then trashed.

two fortuny pleating evening gowns, FIDM Museum & Library, Inc, Grimilide Malatesta


Until that point, I had never considered how the color and texture of a fabric could make me look larger than I really was.

White is the worst color to wear if you want to look thinner.  On top of that, the Fortuny pleating and fans added a lot of 3-D texture.

I could not have chosen worse fabrics for my body shape and size.


I tell you this ballroom horror story so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.



Fabric choices matter.

When making ballroom dancing and ice skating costumes, it is important to know the DOs and DON’Ts of stretch fabrics.



Today's video is an excerpt from one of my 2020 design masterclasses. 

I discuss how to choose fabrics and textures that enhance your design, helping you achieve the look you want.   You can join my upcoming dress design masterclass for more free design training!

Read on below the video for Sew Like A Pro™ dressmaker details about many types of stretch fabrics.






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 Light vs. Dark Colors 

Fabric color has a huge impact on how you look in your dance dress.

If you wish to look thinner, avoid light colors.  Instead, wear medium tone to darker colors.

On the other hand, if you are lean or small boned and wish to look larger, wear medium or light colors.

To go deeper, read my blog on how to discover your best colors and styles.   It has tips and resources for color typing to learn which colors suit you best!




 Shiny vs. Matte Stretch Fabrics 

In addition to colors, the choice of either shiny or matte is another important detail you must consider when buying or sewing your dance and skate costumes.

Anyone can wear matte stretch fabrics.  Matte fabrics are "neutral".  They can help a woman look taller and slimmer when paired with accent fabrics.  However, matte stretch fabrics do not necessarily make a thin person look smaller.

long line Latin dress, chainette fringe, Maria Arthur Murray Temecula

Since matte stretch fabrics are neutral, they look great on most women's bodies.  Also, because matte fabrics have no shine, rhinestones and other shiny decorations show up beautifully against the fabric.

You may want to watch this blog featuring Maria who uses a matte stretch crepe with high contrast lace appliqués to help her look taller.



Shiny fabrics, however, tend to make a person look larger. Some examples of shiny stretch fabrics include metallic foil, sequins, hologram fabrics, and crushed velvet.


liquid foil and holographic sequin fabric examples of shiny fabrics
Examples of shiny fabrics.





If you love bling and shiny fabrics but want to avoid looking larger, I suggest using shiny fabrics as accents instead of your primary dress fabric.

For example on one of my clients' costumes,  I used a matte stretch velvet as the primary fabric, but accented the short, flippy skirt by using a shiny crepe back satin fabric.

You can watch the vlog featuring this velvet dress.




shiny metallic fringe
Example of shiny metallic fringe.


Some fabrics can be either matte or shiny, such as fringe.  Regular chainette fringe is matte, while metallic fringe is shiny.  You can also use handmade rhinestoned fringe.

Adding rhinestones also changes the look of stretch fabrics.  If you want to look slim and still have sparkle, use matte fabrics and a slimming rhinestone pattern.

Check out my Sew Like A Pro™ Rhinestone Inspiration board on Pinterest for more bling ideas.




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 Stretch Velvet DOs and DON'Ts 

Generally, I count stretch velvet as a matte fabric, unless it is crushed velvet, then it counts as a shiny fabric.

Most dancers and skaters can wear stretch velvet.  Note that velvet comes in different thicknesses.  It is a good idea to get samples and test the thickness.  Someone who wishes to look smaller (or stay cooler on the dance floor) may want to use a lightweight velvet with a short nap.  Conversely, a thin person (or a skater who wishes to stay warm in the rink) may want to use a thicker velvet with a long nap.

julie vincent wearing a purple velvet Latin dress


For example, I made the dress on the left using a lightweight matte glitter stretch fabrics from Chrisanne Clover.

Julie, the dancer shown here, is a curvy plus size woman.  We wanted to accentuate the "right" curves and showcase her fabulous dancing with a skirt that moved a lot without showing much of her thighs.

Julie and I decided on dark, matte color for the stretch velvet which we used for most of the dress.  The velvet has glitter in a complimentary color.  Since the glitter on the velvet creates a tone-on-tone look, the shine is minimal and mimics that of tiny rhinestones, creating depth instead of all over sign.

I also used a shiny glitter mesh on fun, asymmetrical accent areas like vertical stripes, the underskirt and one sleeve.  Julie got her shiny bling while still having a smooth figure with curves in the right places.

More more velvet details and dressmaker tips, check out my blog post featuring a velvet dress made by Sew Like A Pro™, Tammy Arriola.




 Dealing With Stretch Fabrics 

Sewing any sort of stretch fabric can be difficult, because no two fabrics have the same stretch.  The amount of stretch varies by the type of fabric and from which companies you buy.  Even the exact same stretch fabric will vary depending on what color you buy, because the dye changes the amount of stretch.


general stretch fabrics for dance and skate costumes


The bottom line?  Always get fabric samples if you can.

And if you are wondering where to buy stretch fabrics, the perfect accompaniment for this blog is my free downloadable PDF of 55 fabric stores in 11 countries!

Because every fabric is different, you need to know how to fit different stretch fabrics and adjust your patterns depending on the amount of fabric stretch. And, in case you are wondering...sewing with stretch fabrics is one of the main topics of my online sewing school.


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