silver project 1: sleek maxi skirt

IMGP0910 IMGP0915So this worked surprisingly well.

Back in June, I made my first project using the silver knit (probably considered a sweater knit) and plain grey knit described here. I bought the silver because I had been thinking about some sparkle for stage and thought this would complement my soft summer colouring. I don’t know that the fabric is a direct hit on soft summer – I’m not sure that it’s sufficiently muted. But then “muted” isn’t necessarily the first choice for stage either ::shrug::

I used rectangular construction: 4 equal gores/panels; seams on the princess lines (rather than at centres and sides). For width measurements: I measured below my waist (where I wanted the waistline to sit) as well as around my stride at the ankles, divided each measurement by 4 (zero ease), added 1/2″ SA to each seam. For the length: I measured waistline to floor plus 4″ for casing, hem allowance and just in case. This results in a trapezoid shape. For efficiency of cutting and minimising waste, I drew 4 nesting trapezoids directly on the fabric. The fabric has a faint horizontal stripe effect but I wanted the stripe to be vertical because I need all the help I can get in the height department, so I cut my fabric on the cross-grain, knowing that I was breaking the rules and that the outside of the skirt would probably grow in length.

Once I had the skirt and lining assembled, I put on the skirt to figure out where I wanted the waistline. I did my new standard adjustment: waist is 1″ lower in the front. I drew the seam line, sewed it, trimmed it, turned the skirt and lining right way out, and ran another line of stitching around the waist to form the bottom of the casing.

Once I had it wearable, I put it on from time to time and just to wear it or to practice my dance piece. This helpfully let out some of the inevitable stretch in length that resulted from cutting it out on the cross-grain. (It also ended up affecting the choreography because some moves looked more interesting in this “frame”.) The idea was to see if I needed to adjust the shaping at all. I’d thought that I would need to shape the seams at the top, but the stretch + zero ease + angles actually worked out just fine. The skirt is a long, narrow A-line, but it stretches around my bottom a little and looks like a slight mermaid cut.

I trimmed the bottom of the skirt and lining to give them a proper curve. I wanted the outside to be a little longer so the lining wouldn’t show. Because the outside and lining were cut exactly the same but the outside stretched in length a little, I was able to trim the same amount off of the bottom of both layers and still have the lining hidden. Slick!

It turned out better looking -and with a lot less effort – than I expected: win! I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the fabric (especially the lining) is more comfortable than I anticipated, though the fact that it’s synthetic makes it a little more sweat-inducing than I like, but it’s a small price to pay. It’s super comfy and allows a surprising range of motion considering how narrow it looks. When I was making it, I thought I’d wear it for 2-3 performances a year. Now I like it so much that I’ll be looking for excuses to wear it as “real clothes”. Quick, someone invite me to a wedding!

Ordinarily, I agonize when making clothes, and yet this project went smoothly and never got stalled. What gives?

  • Knits are so much more forgiving than wovens. It would take a major screw-up before this project was going to feel uncomfortable.
  • It was meant as a costume. It just has to look good in short bursts.
  • Skirts are easier than pants. The only section of this skirt that affects comfort is the top – from waistline to hip (widest part). Below that, comfort isn’t an issue – it’s just drape.
  • Oddly, I have a lot more experience making costumes out of geometric shapes than making real clothes using commercial patterns. My plan was to put this together on the basic lines and then fit the skirt more carefully by taking in the existing seams (the way I made my Viking apron dress). But when I tried it on, it was good enough as is and I didn’t see the need for any tweaks.
  • I started with 4m of fabric, 150 cm wide, for which I paid the princely sum of $10. It’s unknown fibre, and I expect it’s 100% synthetic. I like it enough but I don’t love it. It’s not perfect. It looks like speaker fabric mixed with steel wool. It’s the opposite of precious. When I bought it, I had one project in mind that would take about 1.5m and I had no idea what I was going to do with the rest. This turned off the perfectionism and I allowed myself to just use it.

What I learned about myself:

  • My HSP conscientiousness manifests itself with a preference for natural fibres and worry about proper disposal of waste, or, even better, avoiding it altogether. When it comes to sewing, this tends to paralyse me: it’s impossible to sew and be 100% waste-free, especially when trying something new. Rectangular construction, however, is a very low-waste approach, which allows me to relax.
  • Since I have more experience with rectangular construction than commercial patterns, patterns may also overwhelm me because there’s too much that’s new -I’m starting from scratch.
  • My HSP heightened body awareness and need for comfort coupled with my current skill level re fitting make knits an excellent choice – no matter how much I enjoy feeding crisp linen through the machine.
  • My HSP awareness of subtlety gives me a good eye for proportion and details. It may be that I get overwhelmed with the info that wovens provide in a garment (e.g. I see all these drag lines but what do I do about them all?). An eighth of an inch doesn’t matter in knits so I get to use my eye in an artistic way, rather than a scientific way. Refreshing!

garment bags, round 2: for long, full skirts

I have two very full, ankle-length tiered skirts for dance. In my current group, black is verboten, so my black skirt gets very little use and has been starting literally to collect dust. My red skirt gets used regularly, but that still means a maximum of about once a month. I rarely wash them: I always have an under layer, which keeps the skirt away from skin; they’re linen and washing changes the finish; and they’re rather a bother to dry (definitely not going in the dryer!). Also, packing them in my trunk with my other (cotton) costume skirts would leave me with a wrinkled mess.

A garment bag like the ones I made recently (edges straight down from the ends of the hanger) wouldn’t work because of the fullness at the bottom of the skirt. They’re both 12m around the hem. I wanted the minimum of fabric around the hanger, but I needed more at the bottom so as not to squash the hem. I measured loosely around the hem of the skirt as it hangs on the hanger and came up with a measurement of roughly 45″/115cm. Around the top of the hanger plus a bit of ease worked out to 30″/76cm.

How then should I go about widening from 30″ to 45″? I took inspiration from my own skirts. I did a yoke piece with the smaller measurement and sewed on the bottom piece, controlling the (limited) fullness with pleats. Although I used knife pleats in these skirts, my non-costume skirts use inverted box pleats. I pinned the pieces and found that the fullness was easily controlled by a single set of inverted box pleats.


The length of the bag was again dictated by the width of the fabric. I put one selvage at the hem. Because of the yoke piece, I had a choice of whether to put the other selvage at the top edge or the yoke seam. I chose the latter, then used the selvage to self-bind the yoke seam.


stash -2.3 m

garment bags

I have a few items in my closet that don’t get much use, so I thought I’d make some garment bags to keep the dust off.

I traced a hanger, straightened the lines, and added “ease” and seam allowance. (Note for next time – could have used a bit more ease.) for fabric, I used a white linen-cotton blend from the stash. I had bought quite a quantity of this, thinking that it would be perfect for SCA undertunics; I made 2 and then started working with 100% linen, leaving me with metres of the linen-cotton to get through.


Selvage to selvage makes a good length. Having a selvage at the bottom means no hemming.


stash -2.0 m

purple floral skirt

This is version 4 of my pleated skirt design. Another quilting cotton print what was I had in mind before I made the navy one, but quilting cotton wasn’t in the stash and navy linen-cotton was. See how far that got me.

I can’t remember when I last deliberately shopped for “fashion fabric”. My usual MO is deliberate shopping for notions and serendipitous fabric finds in the store (usually in the bargain section, but sometimes merely slightly reduced). These days I’m making every effort to shop the stash first.

The store I went to has a good selection of quilting cotton, but after scoping out every bolt, I only found one in a colour that would suit me and with a print that I liked. I was in a crappy mood by this time, which impairs my decision-making ability, but I did come home with a piece of fabric. The good news is that I like it even more now.

As usual, I’ve stopped at “wearable” before getting all the way to “finished”. I’ve roughed in the waist casing so the skirt is a touch shorter than the others. Also, I’ve been finding that where the waistline wants to sit is sometimes different than where I intend for it to be, so I’m paying a little more attention to that this time.

My wardrobe is red and black heavy and I’ve come to the conclusion that these colours are not the most flattering on me. It’s nice to introduce a new colour, especially one that’s better suited to my colouring. When I eventually get around to making tops in better colours, then they’ll probably match the skirt nicely. It seems to work well with most of the tops I currently have, which is a bit of a relief.

I put in a side-seam pocket, this time straddling the yoke seam and with the pocket top caught in the waist casing. The construction worked OK but it gapes a bit, revealing the black broadcloth I used for the pocket. I may revise this in future, but it’s good enough for the moment.

I still like this skirt design, I’ve got another in planning stages, and will almost certainly make more in the future. This is kind of funny because I’ve never been a skirt person. I think that when I was a kid and riding my bike everywhere, I removed skirts from the list of clothing options mostly for practical reasons. When I got into historical costuming during university, I discovered that I was really resistant to skirts and dresses: they made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Maybe just too far out of my comfort zone at that moment, because I’ve had similar experiences with certain office wear.

Have you ever excluded an entire category of clothing from your wardrobe? Was it a comfort and mobility thing, or the failure of RTW to fit your particular body type, or something else entirely?

navy pleated skirt

Since my last post, I have actually found my sewing mojo again. It was in a pile of low-risk projects, starting with this one.

My one skirt doesn’t ordinarily get a lot of love because it is the coolest (temperature-wise) thing I own and we don’t get that much truly hot weather around here. It got hot for a week or two though, I don’t have air con at home and we didn’t have at work either (though it’s been installed since), so the skirt was seeing a fair amount of use. As the print is rather memorable and I’m not going to wear the same thing all week, much as I may like to, I figured another pleated skirt was in order.

The first version was a complete success – a happy accident, really. I was satisfied with the design, but the fact that the fabric I chose (quilting cotton in the bargain section) had good weight and body for that design was mostly luck.

A couple of months later, I tried a second version using three different fabrics, all quilting cotton, which were leftovers from a full-length skirt I had made for dance. I assembled them in tiers in the same order as the original skirt: plain red for the yoke and much of the bottom, then a red scale pattern, then a larger red pattern with a variety of motifs. This was less successful: I didn’t like all the different patterns in one knee-length skirt, and the seams made the skirt a bit too stiff and it didn’t hang how I wanted it to. Also, I wasn’t expecting to see the structure of the pleats so much, as they had been mostly hidden in the pattern of the first iteration. It wasn’t a complete disaster, but it wasn’t what I wanted and I only wore it a couple of times.

For this third skirt, I thought I’d try an experiment with a different fabric to see how it draped, in a basic colour so that it might turn into a wardrobe staple.

I sketched it out on a Saturday and finished it on the following Wednesday morning so I could wear it that day. This is lightning speed, people! Oh, such a treat to have a clue what I’m doing and not have to worry about fit.

The fabric this time is navy linen-cotton from the stash – a rather small amount from a rather large bolt that a friend gave me almost 2 years ago. I had bought a navy linen skirt on sale at the Gap a few years ago but never quite liked it, though I thought a navy skirt was still worth a try.

Navy Gap skirt. Gathered to a yoke, same length front and back, a little longer than knee length. Yoke too long. Looks not-terrible here, but I still don’t think I like it enough to keep it, whether I try to alter it for length or not.

There are three basic pieces: yoke, skirt front and skirt back. I decided to try an inseam pocket this time. I’ve modified the shape of the pocket slightly so that I could get both pieces out of the scrap I had:

Pocket pieces. What’s left is almost all of the waste for this project.

I put the pocket into the right side seam, below the level of the yoke seam, because I didn’t want to contend with crossing that seam.

The yoke is a cylinder with a drawstring at the top, slightly lower at CF. The skirt bottom is a bigger cylinder comprising two selvage-to-selvage panels of the appropriate length (to the knee + a deep hem allowance), pleated onto the yoke. Skirts 1 and 2 were made with fabric that was about 45″/110 cm wide, while this fabric is more like 54″/135 cm. No worries – the design stays the same and the pleats are just a little deeper.

Navy pleated skirt.

I’ve now worn it a few times, and I’ve realised that I don’t quite love it. Some observations:

  • I didn’t notice at first that the fabric is actually kinda scratchy. I’m hoping this softens a bit in the wash, but I’m not holding my breath.
  • The inseam pocket looks good, in that you can’t really see it, but it feels low and it flops around because of the looseness of the skirt and the fact that the pocket doesn’t connect to a horizontal seam at the top. Still, it’s nice to have a pocket for my lipbalm.
  • The colour is dark enough that the structural details of the pleats are not overly visible, although this time I don’t think I’d mind if they were a little more visible.
  • The fabric is noticeably wider and stiffer than what I used before. Not bad, just different. The skirt hangs a little fuller than my first one. However, the fact that it also feels heavier and warmer means that I haven’t been to keen to wear it as hot weather gear, which was kind of the point. We’ll see how it works in the fall.
  • I think I’m pretty much off black, and I was thinking that navy might replace black for me. However, it feels too dark, too saturated, too serious, too conservative. Two of these points surprise me. I don’t recall ever complaining about a colour being too saturated, and I know I’ve said I like certain colours for that precise reason – though they were admittedly lighter than navy. I tend to be a serious person, so you’d think serious clothes would work; maybe I’m less serious than navy, or maybe it just feels too heavy for summer. Also, I still have a lot of black in my wardrobe and I think this runs too close to black to feel sufficiently novel.

stash -1.5m

Noko, who will be 19 in a couple of weeks.

ukiyo-e skirt

Digging into the sewing archives with today’s post. I made this one in June 2009.

The fabric

I love this fabric and have never seen anything like it before or since. It’s indigo printed on white cotton, and the images in the little medallions are from Japanese ukiyo-e prints. (At least I assume they are. I do recognize “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, at least.)

Ukiyo-e print. Apologies for the lack of focus.

I bought 2m of the stuff from the bargain section of the local chain fabric store when I went looking for a cool print with which to make pyjama bottoms for a sleepover-themed house party. (You wouldn’t want to see me in what I usually wear to bed; the fantasy is much more attractive than the reality.) This fabric is basically quilting cotton. A day or two after I bought it I decided I wanted more, but it had sold out by that time. I wasn’t too happy with the resultant pyjama bottoms so after the party I relegated them back into the stash.

Thus when I started out on this (pre-blog) skirt project, I didn’t have a lot of fabric, and some of what I did have was already in pieces.

The design

I started out with the basic idea of a flaring knee-length skirt that I could wear as “real clothes” as opposed to some kind of costume, which was the vast majority of what I was making prior. A circle skirt was a possibility but I quickly decided that I wanted to work with rectangles and pleats more than I wanted to cut arcs and worry about grainlines. Having made a few full-length tiered skirts for dance, I had a brainwave to simply make a shorter skirt using the same basic design elements: pleats,  rectangles, a yoke.

This skirt is essentially one “tier” plus the yoke, with the fullness controlled using box pleats.

I basically built up and down from the horizontal hip seam. Because I didn’t have much fabric, I rotated it 90° (lengthwise grain – ordinarily vertical – is now horizontal) to make best use of what I had. I put selvages at the hip seam (on both the yoke and the “tier”) to avoid the necessity of seam finishing there.

Yoke seam of ukiyo-e skirt, with box pleats below. Hard to make out with this print.

The yoke is a cylinder just big enough to get on over my hips, with the one (French) seam at the right side. I scavenged part of a pant leg for this piece.

The “tier” is a rectangle: I took the remaining uncut fabric (about 1.2m long and 115cm wide), cut it in half lengthwise, and French seamed the pieces together to make one long, narrow piece with the selvage all on one side. It was quite long; when I hemmed it to knee-length, I folded up all the excess fabric into a fairly deep hem (2 1/8″/5.5 cm). This had the effect of giving the hem good weight and, because the hem was doubled, a little extra body.

The last step was to mark the waist and make a casing. I used the drawstring I had originally made for the pyjama bottoms.

ukiyo-e skirt

The results

Having grown up tomboyish and riding bikes, I’ve never really been into skirts. Nonetheless, I quite like how this one turned out. I’ve worn it numerous times and I’m happy to say it goes with pretty much all of my dressy shoes. It’s also machine washable and super comfy – I can sit cross-legged in it, which is a necessity if I’m going to wear it to work. Most versatile. (Well, as versatile as an ukiyo-e print can be. Can’t say I’ve seen a lot of this stuff on the street.) The only possible drawback is that it has to be quite warm out before I can wear it without feeling too cool!

Skirt, in front of "borrowed scenery".

blue drawstring trousers

OK, so trousers haven’t been going super well for me. If you’re keeping count, you’ll know that I have one grey pair (too loose), one purple pair (too tight), and a stripey pair (too not done – though not actually abandoned). I figured the next project should be simple (in the sense of fewer variables) and practical for summer (because it was summer when I started).

I’ve been thinking that I want to be able to make all my own trousers, and I think I’ve finally deeply accepted the fact that (a) trousers that fit me cannot be bought off the rack, and (b) altering store-bought clothes is a pain in the ass (no pun intended). A corollary to the principle of “make my own” is “don’t buy any”. This part I have down. The making-my-own still requires some work though. As a result, I currently have 3 pairs of summer-only trousers and they’re all wearing out – in my world, that means not worth patching again. I do get my money’s worth, anyway.

Linen drawstring trousers/pants seemed to fit the bill as they’re super comfy but dressy enough for work (unlike my mostly worn-out cargo pants with the plaid patches). And I’ve got linen in the stash. I’ve got an existing pair (soon to be retired) that made a good reference and starting point.

Old on the left, new on the right. The length is very similar, but the crotch curves are different. I believe that the old pair is supposed to sit below my natural waist. The new pair actually does.
Another comparison.

The first – and most time-consuming – step was to develop my regular trouser pattern into a version that will work for drawstring trousers, which involved a muslin and numerous fittings. I got it working, cut my good fabric, and had even more fittings.

This is the fabric I used for this project: 5.3 oz linen in "blue bonnet" (IL019) from

Still trying not to get bored and frustrated with fitting, but at least the crotch curve ended up not needing any adjustment – win! Once I got it working the way I wanted, it was time to figure out a seam finish. I was not going to disassemble it and start again to facilitate French seams, no matter how much I may like them. I chose to flat fell, and when I was done they looked better inside out, so that’s how I finished them.

CB: note the angle of the grain.
Drawstring at CF.
Seam finishing at cuff. Right side at top of photo, wrong side below. Slight wonkiness to right of seam is from hang-drying.
The waist at front isn't worth seeing (fabric ends up a bit bulky), though it's not bad from the back. They're freshly washed but not ironed, hence the wrinkly lower leg.

I have fabric for more, but September 1 has come and gone and it’s now fall. Although I’ve cut one more pair I’m not counting on being able to wear them this year – not at the rate I sew, anyway.

stash: -1.5m

gold silk pantaloons

I got something finished, woo! The colour and texture of this fabric makes me think of flattened Ferrero Rocher wrappers.

gold silk pantaloons

These pantaloons are for tribal bellydance. We generally wear ‘loons under skirts, but I’m not sure I want to hide them.

They’re based on rectangular construction. The only curved seam (such as it is) is the waistband. There’s a self drawstring. The legs are full selvage-to-selvage widths, with the selvages running vertically and knife pleated to a somewhat fitted yoke, shaped using a diamond-shaped crotch gusset. The bottom of the leg is pleated to an inch-wide band. Because the pant leg was so wide and the band so narrow, it was a little difficult to get the pleats on the bottom clean and even – but as you can see, that’s not likely to be an issue. French seams throughout. I like to finish all raw edges anyway, but with this fabric it’s essential as it frays like mad.

I start teaching a 4-week dance class tomorrow, and part of my justification for making these pantaloons was that I could wear them for the class. But then it occurred to me that I’ll be sweating in them. Hmm. You’ll have to wait and see whether preening vanity wins out over practicality.

As for the stripy trousers, they’re on hold for the moment. I inserted the petersham waist facing, which then made the pants look like they didn’t fit again. My current theory is that this is due to a disagreement between the stretch of the fabric and the non-stretch of the petersham.

wool hat

While in London, my husband and I noticed some people checking out my hat. I choose to believe that was because they liked it, as opposed to the alternatives.

The hat is simplicity itself. It’s basically a cylinder with an oval cross section, rather than completely round. The top is theoretically the shape of my head (around eyebrows, top of ears, and occipital bone). The front-sides-back is a rectangle that was long enough to fold up. The fabric has a little give to it, and I stay stitched but didn’t otherwise finish the raw edge

The fabric is a heavy, double-sided wool. I bought it with a different style of hat in mind, then never made what I had originally planned. Story of my life. I felted it up a little in the washing machine with the idea that it would block the cold air more effectively. I like to think that this worked, since I plugged the machine in the process, necessitating a plumber. Even so, it was probably still cheaper to make than buy 😉