Friday, August 12, 2011

Making a Child's Cheerleading Uniform - Free Pattern!

SURPRISE!  Puck's not dead (sorry?) just neglectful--as far as blogging goes--and busy.

Lemme preface this by saying I'm not one of those wacked out cheerleader moms.  I was a college cheerleader (shock!) and I see these tiny girls doing shit that I wasn't allowed to do under college rules!  I mashed my spine and broke my tailbone at least three times during my cheerleading career.  Today, I have a bunch of blown out discs in my back, severe sciatica, lordosis, and a tailbone that curves to the left.  My back problems aren't solely due to cheerleading, but being dropped on your ass onto a concrete floor sure as hell didn't help.  It's like 15% cheerleading/sports injuries, 45% pregnancy with gigantic babies that stayed high up in a retroverted uterus, and 40% rheumatic fever that's disintegrating all the cartilage in my body.  (double checks math)

What's the point of club cheerleading anyway?  Ultimately, you're supposed to be cheering for a team, right?  If they're going to compete and have little tiny anorexic girls in glitter and skimpy outfits out there shaking their asses, call it something else.  Cheerleading has been sullied, IMO, by this dance/gymnastics mash up.  Who are you cheering for?  Yourself?

Now, having said that, I don't have a problem with pee-wee cheerleading for the local football team.  That's fine.  They're not out there trying to outshine the team they're cheering for (I hope).  My kid probably will do that.  She does gymnastics now, and for all the haters...gymnastics and dance =/= club cheerleading.  There's a hell of a lot more rules and the coaches generally have a lot more training.  Extreme club cheering is a relatively new sport; there is no way in hell that their rules and experience is on par with gymnastics and most forms of traditional dance.  Hell, when I took ballet as a kid, they were crazy no about letting you go en pointe.  You weren't allowed until you were a certain age otherwise you'd screw up the bones in your feet.  Same thing.  So to compare gymnastics and most forms of dance to extreme insane club cheerleading?  Apples and oranges.  Like comparing driving to monster trucks mashing cars.  And the club cheer has zero appeal to me, I'd be appalled to see my kid up there nearly naked except for glitter and korker ribbon, shudders. 

Anyway, being a cheerleader was fun.  I cheered for basketball, which was easy because you didn't have to know the rules.  I briefly cheered football and would do a few stunts every time the ref threw his hands in the air...which is, um, the wrong time to cheer for your team.   The basketball team didn't particularly respect us and instead of slamming the backboard, they'd finish it off by slamming one of us into the wall.  Usually me, because I was the captain and in the center on the sidelines.  (Yes, I was a co-captain...continue your jaw drop.)  I was nearly knocked out a few times by one particularly zealous dickhead who seemed to enjoy watching my head bounce off a concrete block wall.  They wouldn't let us cheer along the side where the audience was because there was no room or something.  Stupid.

The worst part was our coach.  She haaaaaaated me, to this day I don't know why.  I thought I was a pretty good captain!  One day she had us all sit down for a talk before practice, and said, "we have a problem here, girls.... YOU [points to a flabbergasted me] HAVE A REAL ATTITUDE PROBLEM!"

I was like...WTF? (This is before "WTF" became nomenclature.)  I sat there for 5 minutes as she tore into me telling me what a shit I was, but didn't demote me or anything.  I'm still scratching my head over this one.  I sort of half assed apologized to my team mates for...what she said.  If she had any tact, she would have said what she said privately.  I'll rank her as one of the top assholes I've ever known.  Besides, my "bad attitude" didn't impede me from breaking through the glass ceiling when I worked professionally, so fuck her and her "attitude" shit.  Yeah, that's me having an attitude, natch.

Call me a bad team player, apparently.  But other than the complete bitch coach, it was fun.  One time the coach of the basketball team locked us out and left us stranded in a hallway.   Probably on purpose.  I was pissed.  The other co-captain and I tried to get his attention or find our way out of this locked up hallway to no avail.

I stood there in my too tight uniform (it was a one piece, which I hated because whenever I raised my arms, up came the hem!  Hi!  See my bloomers, perverts?) tapping my extremely uncomfortable Reebok cheerleading shoes (which gave me plantar faciitis and I'd have to change shoes at half time; why didn't they buy us Kaepa shoes??).  I was stewing.  And bored.  And hot in my polyester ponte knit uniform with twill trim and too tight bloomers crawling up my ass.  I don't get my kicks watching a half assed basketball team play through a small wire window.

There was one of those corrugated felt letter boards behind a glass case, in which you insert little plastic letters with prongs on the back of them for announcements.  I looked around for a minute, then went up to it, flicked it open and surveyed the material for my latest prank.  It was obvious no one was going to come into this locked hallway to rescue us anytime soon. seemed we were playing Essex quite a bit, which gave me some delish material.

I rearranged the entire board, which was the basketball schedule for the season.  I managed to come up with every dirty sentence I could think of.  The only sentence I remember now is "no sex for me!" which was a dig at my pencil-dicked ex-boyfriend who'd just dumped me and was attending Essex that semester.  Thank you, Essex, for the plethora of "sex"s.

One of my lookouts, who was doubled over in laughter, saw the coach FINALLY approaching the door.  I quickly finished up by mashing the letters I had left into the board, and slamming the cabinet shut.  I gave it a twist to lock it, and hopped off the bench just as the coach unlocked the door.  Then we all ran onto the floor for our halftime performance as if nothing had just taken place.

I passed that board several times in the next month...or two.  All my "edits" were still there.  It seems, no one had a key to unlock that board, and that's why it was unlocked.  Therefore, for the rest of the season, all the players (and audience who passed through that door and anyone else) got to enjoy a laugh of disgust at my handiwork.  I can't help it, I'm still a prankster!  Lesson learned - NEVER leave one of those boards unlocked!

That was 18 years ago, and I still laugh at that.  And groan whenever I hear "Unbelievable" by EMF, because for one team I cheered on, we had to do a toe-touch every time the Andrew Dice Clay sample went "whoa."  Ow.   (Check out the linked EMF video for an abundance of early 90s bad fashion, like the hats to the side, jorts, and Vision Street Wear skater t-shirts, sigh)

ANYWAY.  You came here looking to read about making a cheer uniform, not pointless anecdotes about the early 90s, right?  I'm going to lay it all out for one simple reason...there's no way in hell I'm going to sell these.  If I did, they'd be like $1000 for all the time I put into this.  Yeah, first article and alla that, but still.  So, enjoy my trade secrets!

(Pardon the blur, getting her to stand still is impossible these days!  And the markings.  This was pre-wash, she was too excited.)

Let's start with the material: ponte knit polyester.  The material from hell.  It snags, it tears, it's awful.  But if I'm going out of my way to make this, I'm going for authenticity.  And somewhere in hell is a seamstress ripping a stretch stitch out of ponte knit poly without snagging it.  This is how I envision hell.  Man, I'm really gonna piss off the good christian club cheer moms today, eh?

I use a jersey needle in this material, which is distinguished by a slot in the face of the needle.  Jersey needles (which have nothing to do with New Joysey) have a ball point at the edge, which means it doesn't rip through the material as it penetrates it.

I measured the girl's waist, and multiplied that by 3, add 3" for seam allowances/fuckups, and then add whatever it takes to round it up to a number divisible by 6 + 1/2" for a 1/4" seam allowance.  Does that make sense?  This is how I do all my patterns: they're ALL math equations instead of regular patterns.  I'm weird. 

So what's so magic about 6?  Six is the length of the pleat.  I like pleated cheer skirts, they're a throwback to a simpler time.  I'm not down with the skimpy uniforms of today that are just straight skirts with a split to the hip (hikes up pants to ribcage, throws kids off my lawn).

If you really wanna go old skool to the 80s with the bi-colored pleated cheering uniforms:

And repeat.

I had experimented with different sized pleats with displeasing results.  I found that this combo resulted in a great look.

After figuring everything out, and measuring everything to get as close as I could to 3" pleats, I basted it together.  When you're basting, always use a contrasting thread and a basting stitch unless you like living difficultly!  The added length you need to get the sides joined together is to enable you to get the right sized pleat; it's easier to cut than add!!

I pinned both sides of the material.

Starting to look like a skirt!  Now, with the basting stitches in place, you can remove and fix a pleat here and there that doesn't quite measure up.

I wasn't happy with this pleat, so removed the basting stitches and fixed it.  Then basted again. 

Once I was happy with all the pleats (almost...) I put in a stretch stitch about where the basting stitches were, then pulled out the basting thread.  It looks like a lightening bolt.  It's my favorite utility stitch, especially since the width of the stitch fits in my 1/4" quilting foot

Aren't you grateful for contrasting color?

I then added an overcasting stitch suited for stretch items to join the actual pleats. 

This is the reverse, "wrong" side of the stitch, which is just as appealing as the right side.

And the right side.

When you start this stitch, ensure that the first drop of the needle is to the left side of the seam you're joining.

And a whole line of them!

Next comes the waistband.  I chose to make mine in a contrasting color.

Funny thing about the colors here: I had a really hard time finding this material, let alone in good colors.  Of course The Huz wanted it to be the Tampa Bay Buc's colors, but really, blue and gold were the only colors I could find that met my satisfaction.  Ironically, these were (almost) our school colors from our high school.  Well, close enough...our colors were navy blue and gold.   Whatever!

I used 1 1/4" sports elastic, which is the same elastic I use in my chef hats.  I made a casing, again, contrasting thread to baste (and blue happened to be in my machine, left over from earlier).  I made the casing about 4", folded over to 2" wide. 

I serged the ends of the casing together, but this turned out to be a temporary measure.  Then I basted the seam side of the casing to the top seam on the skirt, making sure I matched the rear seams.  

Once I was satisfied with how it looked basted, I serged it.  I even swapped out the looper threads on the serger with blue and yellow thread, not like it really matters.  I oversewed the joins, so there was no finishing needed on the ends of the threads, just snip them off.  Obviously, the basting was cut off or integrating into the overlock, so no need to remove that.

Now it was time to get the elastic inside the waistband.

I used a safety pin to push/pull it through the casing.  I measured my girl wearing it, and cut and sewed the elastic to the right length.  But, there's a lot of stretch in the elastic, and a lot of slack in the waistband.  So this will fit her for years!

I carefully removed the serged edge of the waistband. 

There was no way to neatly machine sew the seam, so I hand sewed it using a whip stitch.

The final result of the waistband!  I think I sewed it with too much tension, but, meh.

Now, moving on to the bottom hem.  I wanted to be able to lengthen the skirt, if needed, since this will grow with her (with all that elastic and slack in the waistband!!)

I put it on her, noted where the lower edge should be with chalk, then rolled it into a .75" hem.

Then I used the stretch stitch to sew it into place.  Rather than paying attention to the edge of the material, I was more concentrated on the seam allowance.

I use my purple disappearing ink pen to draw on the lines on the plate to remind me of where I should be, since I stop and start to wipe asses, noses, floors, etc..  I'm easily distracted!

Resulting in a nice even hem!  That can be lengthened by 3"!  Also gives the hem a little weight, which gives it a little swing when she walks.   Cute!

I had a piece of paper with "R" for right pinned to the right side, because they looked identical until the waistband was sewn on!

One authentic thing I couldn't pull off was the edge.  Since I wasn't doing a bi-colored skirt, I wanted to add some stripes to the edge.  Except, on real cheer uniforms, this is usually multi-colored twill.  Which, I couldn't find, except in massive quantities.  Oh well, wasn't that important.

I sniffed around to see how other sellers are doing it.  Many of them are using grosgrain ribbon.  This is less than ideal because the materials are so uniquely different: grosgrain has no stretch whatsoever, and isn't meant to be, um, "load bearing" to use an engineering term.

But I thought I'd give it a shot anyway.  Sigh....

I sewed on one side, so that the seam from the lower hem would be covered.  I used the stretch stitch.  (Ominous BOMP BOMP BOMP BOOOOOOOMP.... sounds.)

I stared at it for a while, thinking, these textiles don't match and this looks like shit.

Then I realized...BIAS TAPE!!  I have tons of bias tape on hand.  All double wide fold though.  What I really needed was single fold bias tape. 

I had considered making the stripes out of the gold material with my bias tape machine, but that takes a lot of fabric because you have to sew a tunnel and spiral cut it.  Even with the stretch in the ponte knit; it only really stretches on one grain.  And I didn't need that much.

This is the wrong color (I needed gold, this is yellow) but the difference is obvious!!  Much better suited!  The textures of the fabric are much closer.

Sigh.  Now...removing more stretch stitches in closely matched thread without snagging the material.  

I got a pack of marigold single fold bias tape (I only used one pack, with a bit left over, for two stripes) and sewed it on.  This time, I used a straight stitch because the stretch stitch was making me ragey. After yanking it out so many times of this horrible material, I was DONE!

One stripe, one to go.

The bias tape was 1/2", I was careful (well, as I could be) to make them 1/2" apart.  The drag was inserting the pins parallel to the bias tape.  When I did it the "proper" way--perpendicular--it distorted the tape.  So rather than sewing over the pins ( really shouldn't do, but let's face it, we all do) I had to yank them out and hold them in place as I sewed. 

I kept the seam gauge on the machine as I sewed.  

And now, moving on.

Now for the shirt.

I had considered a couple different designs.  In the end, I decided to keep it simple, and put an upside down triangle of contrasting material on the bottom.  I made the shirt larger than my girl is now, because she's growing like a weed...especially her head circumference!  She's a lollipop!

I made several practice tops out of muslin first.

Folded in half for symmetry.  I just drew onto the muslin, didn't trace anything.  This is cutting 2 sides, so 4 layers.  I had to change out my rotary cutter, which couldn't cut butter at that point.  The new one promptly made a giant gash where my index finger meets my palm.  See how I suffer for my aaaaaart???

Pinned together.

Note the spectacular genius of basting the armholes closed.  Duh!

I purchased a design from The Embroidery Library, and added her name above it with my embroidery software, in Bella Donna script, which is close enough to what I always had on my own stuff.  I even attempted to dig out The Huz's letterman jacket (lettered in football, yo!) to see what font was used to embroider his name.  Can't find it, it's around here somewhere.  Anyway, my test sewout of the design sucks because instead of using darker thread, as the design specified, I used lighter, thinking it would make a neato reflecting effect.  No, it just looked weird doing that.  I fooled around to see where it would look best placed on the shirt.

Embroidering on this ponte knit is almost as bad as sewing it.  I used two layers of stabilizer: first a layer of tearaway sticky to keep it from shifting, then cut away permanent stabilizer.   Plus, you'll need iron-on tender touch mesh to finish it off.

At first, I was going to add a zipper to the back, or, to the side, like my wedding dress had.  (I had a tank similar to this shape).  I even acquired an invisible zipper.  

Remove the armhole basting, genius!

After some redesigns, I decided to nix the zipper.  I needed something she can pull on easily.  Bear in mind that this is just for play, she's not on a team or anything.  Just play.

I decided on a much wider neckhole to accommodate her growing noggin, and added length.  It's a little big now, but she'll grow into it, and I'm not spending all this time on something she'll outgrow in 6 months.  Plus, I can zip up the sides with a straight stitch to make it a little tighter if necessary, and remove it later.

Fitting time!  (Sorry for the non-canonical pics!)  "To be, or not to be.  That is the question...."

Or not....

I briefly considered an asymmetrical triangle out of the side, but decided that looked too 80s.  

I ended up doing trapezoid.   I fooled around with different angles.  

Once I figured out where I wanted to cut, I busted out the tracing paper.  First, I cut out the shirt in its entirety.  THEN, cut out the, uh, cutout.

Don't forget to leave a seam allowance!!  I used tracing paper to trace what I'd settled upon, and placed it atop the shirt, folded in half lengthwise.

I traced it, cleaned up the lines with a ruler, then added a 1/4" seam allowance, which would be serged. 

Then, I cut out the cut out, folding down 1/4" for a seam allowance.  I only did this on the front.

I serged the trapezoid to the front.   I admit, the top corner of the trapezoid was difficult.  Sergers aren't so good at angles.  I hand cranked around that corner, hardly taking off any material on the entire seam.

Next, I embroidered the design onto the front.  I drew crosshairs to center it, first folding it in half, marking that center line, drawing straight down, then drawing a line perpendicular to that line, with the center, eh, about where it outta be.

The bottom looks okay.

Serged the front to the back, avoiding the armholes this time, ha.  Here it is inside out.  Gotta cover the embroidery with tender touch mesh so it's not scratchy.

And the front.

Trying it on for a final fitting.  I always fit with the garment inside out, so you can just pinch and pin and roll your alterations.

Needed to be shortened 2.5".  I left that length in the hem so it can be let out later.

Rolled into a 1" hem.  Sewn with the stretch stitch.

1" it is. 

Next, came the neckline.  I trimmed it with double fold bias tape.  It fit when she tried it on without the tape, but then after I sewed lost some stretch and I couldn't get it over her head!!

I pulled out the bias tape intended initially to reuse it.  Ended up discarding it, and hacked 1" off the hem, which is actually a lot more than 1"....

Then I redid the neckline with the double fold bias tape, same with the arms.  Then applied tender touch mesh to the back side of the embroidery.

We're not quite done yet.

There's a lot of perverts out there.  She needs bloomers, as we called them back in the day.

I took a pair of short shorts she uses in gymnastics, and copied them.   Essentially, turned it inside out and traced it onto paper.   You can measure your kid's waist, widest point on their hips (well, butt, really) and leg circumference to figure out your needed measurements.

I should add that straight edge of the pattern piece is a center.  You fold the material in half, put that side on the fold, and cut out two sides (I did four layers at once).

This is an appropriate time to introduce you to my BASS (Big Ass Sewing Scissors).  Stay back, y'all!  They're Gingher, and they're spring loaded for easy cutting.  And have a safety catch to keep 'em closed, which is important when you have curious shorties.  And they're lethal!

Anyway, so you have two pieces: two sides, not a front and a back.

Sew the longer seam with a basting stitch.  DO NOT SEW THE LOWER, SMALLER SEAM!!  Otherwise, you get a skirt.  Hear me?

Next, turn it so the sewn seams are on top of each other, and match up the lower seams.  These form the legs.  The seam goes along the buttcrack, LOL.

When I basted,  I pushed the seams from the longer seam to the sides, to avoid too much bulk in the crotch.  These are already skin tight!

When I had everything the way it needed to be, I serged it all, hardly taking off anything off the edge.  I don't have all blue thread, so I used blending colors: dark gray, black, blue, purple.  You don't need to use the same color of thread in all the cones; it's best to have a "dark" selection and a "light" selection.  You can switch out the loopers if they're decorative seams.  These aren't; they're internal, so who cares what color they are? I almost used what I had in there, which was cream in all 4 lines.  But then I decided to switch out to darks.

I serged the seam that went waist to waist first, then the seam that went from leg to leg last. 

Then I serged all the raw edges along the waist and legs.

Then comes the hem.  I had .75" non roll black elastic, and just the right amount too.  SCORE!  I made a 1" casing

I used the good ole' stretch stitch, but left a small opening for the elastic.   I (again) fitted it on her, and cut and sewed the elastic together.  Not too tight, but snug.


Next, I hemmed the legs.  These are basically butthugger shorts.  I should have allowed a bit more fabric in the butt (by curving the seam slightly on one side, ensuring the lengths are the same) but, meh.

I made sure the seams were even and everything was balanced.

And we have bloomers.  Very tiny bloomers.  Not sewn the greatest, but eh, they're under the skirt to keep the pervs away.

That's it!

So, here's a recommended supply list:  (I'll use my colors here to make it easier to explain!)

1 yard of gold ponte knit  (I used Sew Classics made by JoAnn Fabrics and Crafts)
2 yards of blue ponte knit.   Make sure the weights are the same.
1.25" sports elastic, enough for the waistband
.75" non roll elastic for the bloomers waistband
1 pack of Wright's single fold bias tape in Marigold
1 pack of Wright's double fold bias tape in Blue (for trimming neck and arms)

You'll have plenty of fabric left over.  I'm a fabric hoarder, and I screw up a lot.  In reality, you probably only need 1/2 a yard of each, but...whatever.

This is the embroidery design I purchased (they also have it in a larger size), I added the letters in the Bella Donna font. I use a Brother PE-770 for most of my embroidery.  I used a 4"x4" hoop to do this particular design. 

You don't need a serger to do this, but working with knits sucks without one.  I have a Brother 1034D, and I love it.  No serger?  You can do an overcasting stitch on the edges prior to sewing anything together, or a zig zag stitch.  This material tends to roll over time.

And hell no, I'm not making another one of these.  That's why I'm posting my SUPER SECRET FREE PATTERN for a child's cheerleading uniform.  Make your own damn cheerleading uniform, man.  I'm over it!

(yawns)  That's all for now.  Enjoy!


  1. OH MY GOD...Let's hope that when she gets older that she gets featured on MY blog as "Cheerleader of the Week", now THAT'S parenting GOLD!

  2. Thank you SOOOOOOO much for this blog. I googled free cheerleader skirt pattern and yours was exactly what I was looking for. Our small Catholic school puts on a musical comedy every year and it is that time. I helped a few years ago making Muse gowns when my other granddaughter was in the play "When in Rome." Now, "Peter Panic" debuts the younger granddaughter. They needed 10 cheerleader outfits. A white T with computer transfers made the tops great. I found a bolt of 60" wide taffeta looking, "sort of," polyester I think in my closet stash. No wrinkle. I had to make a waistband and leave a small seam opening to get them on since my version didn't stretch - isn't velcro wonderful for mass production!!?? The skirts were so bright - red - on stage and they swished with every movement. And when 10 cheerleaders moved you noticed!!!! Just having waist measurements and making the waistband fit was a miracle. I cannot believe I did it. Now, I am no mathematical genius, but your instructions were so helpful. I confess I multiplied one girls' wrong and I couldn't make it fit no matter what I did - until the light bulb went off, I checked my math and then got the proper length of material. With 3 yards in some skirts they truly were amazing to watch. For an elementary school, only grades 5-8 participating they do as well as bigger high schools. The talent pool is amazing if I don't say so myself. I am so proud of how they looked and just had to return to your site and thank you!!!!!! Pat (Proud Grandma) I have no idea what those profiles are!!!!!!!!

  3. with football season here, I have my day with my granddaughter planned tomorrow. I think we will have a little cheerleader by tomorrow night. This is exactly what I was looking for,especially the pleat measurments. I have material for my daughter's scrubs to be made but I think my granddaughter will come first. Thank you again for the post.

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. It came up first on a google search. I was running low on $ and needed a pattern. Good sewing karma your way!

  5. I am sorry to see you don't blog anymore because not only did this pattern save my ass when my girl needed a cheer outfit for a last-minute "career day" (?)--you are also funny as hell! I laughed and chortled! Come back to the blogosphere soon! Thank you!

    1. The Puckleberry Cometh! Stay tuned....

  6. you are a hoot and nifty to boot!..... didn't really mean for that to rhyme but... w/e! lol. thanks for your 1,000 dollar sewing tutorial! super helpful!!! :)


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