Your costumes have just arrived.
You rip open the package and pull out the fluffy masses of net and sequins and stretch velvet and there’s a mad rush of trying on and…they don’t fit.
Oh no! What to do?
Well, as a professional (smarty-pants) pattern-maker, my advice is: Duh, you should have ordered the correct size.
Ha ha ha!
Ok, you already know that dance costumes are hard to alter. Because they are stretchy and not everyone who sews can handle stretch. Heck, some professional seamstresses can’t even handle stretch. I know, I’ve worked with them, it’s a mess.
So you’re thinking, ‘Allright, smarty-pants, how do I get the correct size? This one was ordered according to measurements!’
This is the most important step in the whole process.
Buy a measuring tape! Study the measurement chart! Live it! Love it! Learn it! Understand it!
Some tips for measuring-
“Waist” means where you bend side-to-side. It is Not the top of your pants!
Dudes are the worst offenders on this one, but the ladies occasionally make this mistake too, and then there I am with a set of measurements thinking to myself, “my goodness! this girl is built exactly like a fire-plug, poor thing.” And then a week later she comes in for a fitting and the waist is six inches too big because whoever measured her Did It Wrong, and measured around the top of her low-rise apple-bottoms.
In the custom-made world we tie a piece of ribbon around the waist as a nice visual reference point for the rest of the measurements, like, say ‘center-back neck to waist’ for a bodice, or ‘waist to floor’ for pants or skirts. Also fun when you forget to remove the ribbon and you send the measure-ee out into the world with a silly new belt.
Another important tip: “Hip” is a euphemism for butt.
Hip does not mean hip-bones, it means your badonka-donk-donk. The Adult Beginner had to go to college to learn that one. After years of ill-fitting catalog order bikini bottoms. And here I am giving it to you for free ’cause that’s just how I roll.
Also, just so you know, an adult woman will almost always be bigger in the hip than in the chest. This is the norm. In fact, when I get a measurement chart where a woman’s chest actually measures larger than her hip, it sends up a red-flag that the lady may not be all-natural, if you know what I mean. Which presents it’s own patterning challenges. But that’s another story.
Ok, let’s say you are allergic to measuring tapes and refuse to take measurements.
Do this: order a fit-package from the costume company. It’s a small, medium, and large basic costume, like maybe just a basic leo, try them on everyone, then make orders accordingly. If the costume company doesn’t offer such a thing, maybe create your own by putting in an early order for three basic leos or sequined hot-pants or whatever.
Hold on to them for next year. Use them again. Have the same person take the measurements again.
Develop a measurement expert.
Do everything you can do to order the correct size in the first place, because once you’ve got the wrong size my best advice is to save yourself the heart-ache and pay a professional for alterations.
But here are some simple things you can do:
Stretch fabrics do not fray, which means you can just cut hems to the length you need. In most cases. Do a little test cut to be sure.
Chiffon will most likely be made of polyester in these mail-order costumes, so if you have to shorten something chiffon, like a skirt, buy a clear glue or clear nail polish, paint a line along the new hem, let it dry completely, and then cut through the glue, so your edge is sealed. Keep away from irons, poly-chiffon melts.
If you have to cut fur, like for the Waltz Of The Spring Wildebeasts or something, only cut through the backing material. Don’t cut through the strands of fur, or you will have fur Everywhere.
If you have to glue feathers, put your dog/cat in another room. They will try to eat the feathers. Might cause problems down the line.
There’s nothing wrong with hot-glue, just test your materials, hot-glue can melt some sequins and chiffons. Try one and find out.
If you need to make things smaller, do what we call a TV Alteration. That means a tuck. Like, say you have a leo with attached skirt that is too long in the girth. Just make a tuck underneath the skirt, no one will ever see it.
If you need to make something larger, give it a good stretch. Often stretchy garments have stay-stitches that help hold the fabric during construction but are meant to be popped afterward, and sometimes they never get popped. So things like leotard leg elastic often improve with a good tug.
Got costume problems or questions for the professional smarty-pants? Ask away! (psst! in the comments)
The multi-talented Adult Beginner has paid us a visit before. AB is …umm… a ballet beginner who began as an adult, hence bypassing the costume chaos that most studio teachers, parents, and students associate with this time of year. In life, she’s a professional costumey smarty-pants. We appreciate she’s shared her super smart costume measuring and altering advice with us! Thanks, AB!