Saturday, September 20, 2008

Denim Skirt: A How-to

After the last skirt, I wanted to put up something that shows more of the steps in creating a 6-gore skirt.

I'll talk you through the steps to creating your own skirt.

Warning: I'm going to leave out the instructions for creating the pattern for the skirt. You can find that at the web page referenced in an earlier post.

Second Warning: I will not tell you how to sew in a zipper. To put mine in, I just followed the instructions that came with the zipper.

Step one: iron your fabric. Some people think this is an optional step. I'm here to tell you that it is NOT an optional step. That's right, half of sewing is ironing. A good press is worth more than you can imagine. With quilting, when you're working with 1/4 inch seam allowances, a 1/8 inch here and 1/8 inch there can really add up. The same is true with garments, it just takes more of those little mistakes to mess things up. That's why I told you to iron the fabric before you started layout and cutting. Fabric that has wrinkles or folds in it will not cut to the same size as your pattern. The same goes for your pattern, too. Make sure the steam is off on the iron and press the patterns before use.

Fold the fabric so the selvage edges line up (if you have 2 yards of fabric you would fold the opposite way it comes on the bolt, in other words, it would be 1 yard long folded). I purchased three yards of fabric for this project. I ended up with about 1/2 yard of fabric left over. The fabric was 60" wide, not 42". I can get six gores out of 42" wide fabric and eight out of 60" fabric. I can't tell you the math for figuring out how much fabric you'd need for different sizes. I can tell you that the calculation is out there on the Internet, I just don't have the reference for you right now.

Lay out the pattern piece so it is parallel to the selvage edge. Use the center line of the pattern piece to get this lined up correctly.

I used my rotary cutter and ruler to make the long cuts and scissors for the top and bottom cuts. This made it go much more quickly and ensured nice neat cuts.

I cut the waist band on the length of the fabric (parallel with the selvage edge). I cut it several inches longer than the recommendation. After my last skirt and the waistband that I had to add length to, I was going to make sure it was long enough.

I ran all the pieces through the serger to keep the edges nice and neat and to prevent raveling in the future. With some wovens, you just need this step to keep your garment going longer. You could also use a simple zig-zag stitch on a conventional sewing machine, or trim the edges with pinking shears (I have some, but no idea where they are).

Sew two of the gores together with a straight stitch, following the standard 5/8" seam allowance. You should be able to simply use the plate on your sewing machine to determine this distance from the needle. If needed, place a piece of tape on the machine to help you line up the seam allowance.

Back to the ironing board we go. Press the seam flat, this sets the stitches and makes it easier to press the seam open.

Open the work and iron it open before you flip it over to press open the seam. You'll have to trust me, again.

Turn to the wrong side and press the seam open. When you do this, you should really only be pressing down one side of the seam allowance, the other side was pressed when we pressed it open from the right side.

Now that your seam is pressed open, it's time to add the detail stitching.

NOTE: If you think there is any chance the skirt will not fit, now is the time to forget about the detail. Sew all the seams but one and check the fit. Don't forget you'll need to have room for another 5/8" seam allowance. If you're confident that it will fit (which I was) you can just keep going with the detail stitching.

I would sew two gores together, press and put in the detail stitching. This way I only had to wrestle with a small piece of the overall skirt. Granted, this really only worked for the first three seams, but it was still easier than sewing all the gores together and THEN doing the detail stitching. It also slowed me down a little since I was using only black thread for construction. I used gray and black thread for the detail (gray on right side). I had to do a couple seams, change thread, detail stitch, change thread... you get the idea.

For the detail stitching, I just used the presser foot as a guide along the seam line, with the needle in the center position and stitched from the top to the bottom, turned and stitched back up to the top. I kept the turn stitches on the fabric since I knew I'd be trimming the hem later.

Before I got too carried away with all this detail, I put the zipper between two of the gores and completed the detail stitching on that third.

See the note earlier about the zipper. I can tell you that the instructions provided with your zipper will be easy to understand and follow. Their pictures are much better than mine could ever be.

Keep creating seams and applying the detail stitching until you have joined all but one of the seams.

This is where you'll have to double check your fit. Don't say I didn't warn you earlier.

Last seam and some fighting with the sewing machine. This is where the trick of sewing down one side of the seam and back up the other really comes into play. Otherwise, you'll end up with the skirt almost stuck on the arm of the sewing machine. Just turn the work and go back the way you came. It will be back out from under that foot in no time.

Now we're ready to add the waistband.

Before we get too carried away, let's get back to the ironing board. We want to press the 5/8 inch seam allowances on both sides of the waist band. If needed, use a ruler and draw a guide to make sure this press is as even as possible.

Next, we fold it in half; the same way it will be on the finished garment. This press is primarily for ease of use. It may well change once we've sewn in the band, but it's a good guide.

Making sure that one end of the waist band overlaps the top of the zipper, we pin the band to the top of the skirt.

Depending on which side of the skirt you'd like to put the waistband opening, you will leave enough to create the overlap just past the zipper (I've got a picture below that shows exactly what I mean.).

Here you can see that I've pinned the waistband to the top of the skirt. I usually like to keep the flat piece of fabric on the bottom (the feed dog side) to make feeding it through the machine easier.

Just a side note: don't let the needles go through the machine. I know, you may know that I have loads of bent pins, indicating I don't follow my own advice. I've also changed more than a few machine needles due to this oversight. If you want to keep from busting up machine needles take the straight pins out before they get to the feed dogs.

Safety first!

Now, we fold the waist band with right sides together. This will allow us to sew across the ends. The side that will be the back (I intend to wear the skirt with the zipper on my right hip) is sewn flush with the edge just above the zipper.

The other end is sewn about 1 1/2 inches from the zipper edge to create the tab that will overlap.

Trim the seam allowance on these so they will turn more easily. I usually just cut the corner so I can make it more or less pointy when it's turned.

Then we pin the waist band so we can do the detail stitching and secure the inside of the waistband.

When I made the patchwork skirt, I didn't do as much detail stitching, so I just finished the inside of the waistband with hand-stitching. With this skirt, I wanted the stitching to show.

I stitched all the way around the band, turning at the corners and continuing until I'd made the complete "lap." Since I started the stitching on the back, where the tab would overlap, it should be completely hidden when the skirt is worn.

Now, for the hemming. Yes, we'll get back to the ironing board.

First, let's try the skirt on and check the length. You can have someone help you, if needed. I usually just eyeball it. For this skirt, I marked down two inches from the bottom and used the serger to cut off the excess and clean up the bottom edge.

Press up 5/8 inch on the bottom.

I used more detail stitching to make the bottom hem. I like it when I'm able to use a structural stitch to actually add design detail. It doesn't happen often, but when it does it is nice.

I stitched about 1/4 inch from the bottom, then 1/4 inch from that stitching line.

Another press at this point will help set the stitches and create a nice sharp hem.

Finally, the closure. I used a simple Sew-on hook & eye closure. You'll find this closure on slacks and skirts.

Sew the hook portion onto the wrong side of the tab and the eye to the right side of the side opposite.

So, there you have it. Skirt in a morning. I know that you'll find things that I do differently from the published instructions of pattern companies and the many books on the subject of sewing. These are just the things that I've found work for me.

Granted, I didn't manage to figure out how to add pockets, yet. I'll save that innovation for the next skirt. I should go rummage through my stash and see what suitable skirt fabric I might have. The denim was purchased specifically for a skirt, but you never know what's in the stash. Heck, I don't know what's down there.

Please, if you use these instructions, let me know. I promise to post a picture if you send me one.

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