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I had the pleasure of meeting synchro skate dress designer and coach, Jannika Lilja, in 2018 at her home sewing studio in Durham, North Carolina.

I really enjoyed interviewing one of the top dress designers in the synchronized skating world. Jannika and I talked about synchro skating and how she and other synchro skaters hope it will be in the Olympics some day.

Mostly though, we talked about the challenges of creating synchro skate dresses for a team of 8-20 unique female figures who all want to look her best while doing a variety of difficult skate steps from ice dance moves to team lifts. I talk more about the difficulties of making a properly-fitting ice dance dress in my interview with June, another figure skater.

Meet Jannika Lilja!

Jannika Lilja, synchro skate dress designer, head coach of Triangle Formation team, Durham NC, synchro skate dress designer
Jannika Lilja, synchro skate dress designer and head coach/choreographer of Triangle Formation team in Durham, N.C.
  • Jannika was born in Finland and began synchronized skating at the age of four.
  • Her team, Marigold IceUnity, won three consecutive National titles and the gold medal at the 2006 World Championships.
  • Jannika moved to the U.S.A. to pursue a career in the high fashion industry. After her degree, she worked on collections for Donna Karen and many others, plus a special NYC exhibit for the Guggenheim Museum’s 30th anniversary.
  • While working fashion, synchro skating always tugged at her heart. In 2015, Jannika and her wife (also a skater) moved to Durham, N.C. to begin a non-profit skate program, Triangle Formation.
  • Jannika travels extensively doing coaching and choreographing for synchro skate teams and skate camps around the world .
  • She is a volunteer with One Team Mvmt, a grassroots effort to get synchronized skating into the Olympics.
  • She designs and makes competition dresses for her own synchro team, plus creates custom dress designs for other synchro teams around the world as well as for other styles of figure skating.
Jannika Lilja, synchro skate dress designer, Triangle Formation skate team
Jannika designed and made these adorable dresses for her own synchro team in Durham, N.C. Music was from “Hairspray”. To get the stripe pattern and colors just right, each stripe was cut and sewn on individually.⁣
synchro skating dress design by Jannika Lilja
Jannika’s synchro dress design for Marigold IceUnity in Finland.

Interview Qs and As

(Not word for word, just paraphrasing to take up less space.)

Q: How did you end up in the Raleigh-Durham area after being born in Finland then spending years in San Francisco and New York City?

A: I missed skating. There wasn’t much time to visit the rink when I was working in the fashion industry. I started coaching synchronized skating in Philadelphia. Eventually, I moved to the Raleigh-Durham area to start coaching my own synchronized skating program. This is my third season as head coach for my nonprofit organization, Triangle Formation. We’re growing really quickly. Our goal is to be a nationally competitive program in under ten years.

Q: When looking into Raleigh-Durham, I was surprised by how many ice skating rinks I found.  

A: I think we have 6 rinks, with more on the way. Ice sports are growing faster in North Carolina than in most other states.

Q: As a synchro skate coach, do you travel a lot?

synchro skating dress design by Jannika Lilja,

A: Yes, our team travels around the local rinks a lot for competitions. I also travel to coach and choreograph with teams from other states. Last year I got to work with teams from Maryland and New York. This year I’ll be traveling to Wisconsin, Indiana, North Dakota, and Australia. 

Q: Wow, it sounds like you’re really busy! Does your Triangle Formation team get much publicity?

A: Last year we attended to the International Camp for synchronized skating, and had our team featured on ABC News on TV. In 2017, I also had an interview with Indy Week Magazine talking about progress of our new Triangle Formation synchro team.

The International Camp is hosted by One Team Movement, another nonprofit organization promoting synchronized skating as an Olympic sport.

synchro skating dress design by Jannika Lilja

Q: On top of all the coaching, you still have time to design and make your own teams dresses plus design dresses for teams around the world?

A: Well, I have about 90 outfits to make right now. I make the costumes for my teams, but I also design synchro dresses for clients. Designs for other teams are a lot of my dress-related work. Most of my designs are for teenage girls and women, but I also design skating attire for children.

Note: When supplying a figure skating dress design, Jannika does not provide a pattern nor does she teach sewing skills needed to produce a competition-quality dress.

Do you want to know how to create custom leotard and skirt patterns for teen and adult figure skaters plus how to do the sewing for stretch fabrics and complex designs?

I suggest you learn more about my Sew Like A Pro™ online sewing school – which includes comprehensive pattern making and sewing techniques specifically for competition figure skating dresses. Then you can take one of Jannika’s gorgeous designs and bring it to life!

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Q: As a dressmaker myself, I know it is much more difficult to create a flattering design and to fit curvy teenagers and adult women. Designs and fittings are much easier with children because they are straight. When making figure skating dresses for a synchro team that has a wide variety of shapes and ages, what are the biggest challenges you face?

A: It’s really difficult when you have kids from ages 8-13 on one team. You get a big contrast in body shape and height. It can be tough to find something that looks good on everybody.

Like you said, curves are hard to work with, so it’s very challenging to make synchro skate dresses for an adult team. Additionally, there are a lot of lifts and fast spins in synchronized skating, so we have to make sure the dress won’t slip or get in the way of the moves.

Check out the video for more Q&A!

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