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Tinley Park woman costumes a figure skating champ

BarbarGerritsen Tinley Park holds dress she made last year for figure skater Paige Rydberg.  |  DonnVickroy~Sun-Times Medi

Barbara Gerritsen, of Tinley Park, holds a dress she made last year for figure skater Paige Rydberg. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media

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Paige rydberg’s blue dress

11/2 yards of fabric

2 yards of lace trim

6 weeks from start to finish

3,000-plus

Swarovski crystals, of varying sizes

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Updated: October 9, 2013 7:54PM



How to make a triple toe loop even more spectacular?

Do it while wearing 3,000 or so Swarovski crystals.

When 13-year-old Paige Rydberg takes to the ice in Salt Lake City this week for U.S. Figure Skating’s Challenge Skate competition, she’ll be wearing dresses hand-sewn in the basement shop of Barbara Gerritsen’s Tinley Park home.

Through her home business, The Wooley Caterpillar, Gerritsen has been making skating and dance outfits for 35 years. Her clients come from Chicago, Burr Ridge, Darien, Lemont and Mokena.

Paige, who hails from Plainfield, met Gerritsen years ago. They’ve become close over the years.

“My husband and I go to her competitions,” Gerritsen said. “We’re honorary grandparents.”

As Paige has moved up through the ranks, her competition costumes have become more elaborate, something that is expected in the skating world, Gerritsen said.

Both of the outfits Paige will wear this week — the orange and brown for her short program, the blue for her long program — are made of a Lycra-enhanced rayon and boast between 20 and 25 gross of Swarovski crystals, as well as lace trim and assorted hand-sewn appliques.

Gerritsen said once a dress design is approved by a skater’s coach, it takes about six weeks, and countless fittings, to bring it to fruition.

Jerry Svec, professor of design at Columbia College, designs women’s wear for the XOXO brand. He also designs Paige’s costumes.

The skating designs are a collaborative effort, he said. They have to, of course, fit well, but also must mesh with the music.

“We take into consideration what will work best on Paige’s body, what colors will work best on the ice and how dramatic or dynamic an outfit needs to be,” said Svec, who lives in Tinley Park.

Depending on the mood the music strives to convey, Svec envisions a design, complete with fabrics, colors and embellishments.

If the music is light and airy, he said, he’ll mix in chiffon. If it’s romantic, he’ll add laces. If it’s really dramatic, he’ll suggest solids that are highly embellished.

“It has to look good on the ice,” he said. “The costume has to reflect the music and the program.”

It also has to be age-appropriate.

Older, more mature skaters usually perform in more revealing outfits, perhaps with plunging necklines and backlines. But because Paige is so young, her dresses are more conservative.

Paige’s blue dress features a silk chiffon skirt and sleeves that have been hand-dyed to match the bodice. It also features between 20 and 25 gross of crystals, each one hand-sewn onto the outfit.

Svec said the more advanced a skater, the greater the expectation regarding the costume.

Much like the skating, the dress has to be perfect, Gerritsen said.

And as the intricacies go up, so does the price. Basic figure skating dresses start at about $250, she said.

The more extras, the more work. Costs can run well into the thousands for top-of-the-line dresses, Gerritsen said.

Gerritsen, a mother of three, learned to sew from her grandmother.

“It seems like I’ve always sewed,” she said. She’s even taken classes in French hand-sewing and smocking, also known as shirring.

She began making figure skating outfits and practice wear,when her son, Hayes, took up the sport.

“Other people saw his costumes and wanted them, too,” she said. “It turned into a business that just grew and grew.”

Hayes competed until he was 19. Today, he is 49 and a set designer for theaters.

Meanwhile, Gerritsen has more clients than ever. She also has a line of children’s clothing that she makes and sells.

While she wishes the best for all the young competitors, she says there is a special place in her heart for Paige.

“She’s amazing, really special,” she said.

For more information on
The Wooley Caterpillar,
call (708) 532-8660.



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