The Not-so-simple skirt

Okay. So, last year, I fell in love with a bit of silk taffeta at Fishman’s Fabrics, as you do. (If you’re ever able to go fabric shopping in Chicago, Fishman’s would be my first recommendation, and the Needle Shop would be my second. Amazing stock.) Take a look at this gorgeous stuff.


Gingham is hot right now, and this is a nicely weighted silk taffeta — light enough to rustle and swish, but stiff enough to support a good shape in a circle skirt. The taffeta has embroidered silk organza leaves, painted flowers, and beading in an allover pattern atop the gingham. It’s an unusual fabric, and I knew it struck just the right mix of evening and casual to be perfect to wear to the theater. So I snapped up three yards, and here is the first garment, using 1.5 yards of the length.


I used Simplicity 1200, a very simple three-quarter circle skirt with only three pieces — front, back, waistband.


This should have been a super easy skirt to make, but there were two complicating factors. First, my sewing machine hated the beading on this fabric. It’s been a while since I’ve worked with an embellished fabric, and I had a different machine the last time. (That was a gold sequined knit used to make play clothes for my then five-year-old niece, who is now fourteen. Been a while!) That old machine, a wrought iron Singer with a motor that could stitch through tree branches, wouldn’t have balked at a few tiny seed beads.

But now I have a new and wimpy Singer. It cries and shivers and looks for the nearest fainting couch if I ask it to sew through more than two layers of fleece. These beads? A tragedy of Sarah Bernhardt proportions.

I wanted to do French seams because of course I did. I love French seams. Why wouldn’t you use a lovely French seam on a weightless, swishy taffeta like this? But this meant sewing each seam twice, with a machine that pouts if you ask it to handle any extra thickness. So I had to painstakingly clear each seam allowance of all those teeny tiny seed beads.


Those beads were sewn in, which made the task much easier. I just inserted my seam ripper into the thread between the bead and the raw edge and slice the bead free. I had to be careful not to pick up any threads from the taffeta along the way, but this is a good taffeta, dense and smooth, so it was relatively easy to avoid that particular problem.

I’m still finding these tiny beads everywhere in my sewing room.


Under the sewing machine! Ack!

There were a few spots that French seams were impractical, such as at the zipper, so I used Hug Snug on those raw edges. You know about this stuff, right? It’s perfect for this kind of taffeta because it’s almost weightless and wasn’t going to create any drag on any of the seams. Plus it’s inexpensive and it comes in lots of pretty colors and the rolls are enormous. I get mine from Wawak. A lot of people want to use a two-step stitching process, but I find it works fine to just wrap the edges, pin it, and sew away.


Wrapping the raw edge of the hem in one step

You’ll notice I’m using a standard presser foot there. That’s because I already cleared that raw edge of the beads. But in other places, such as the waistband, I used a zipper foot. This was because not all the beads fell into a seam allowance and could not be cleared. The zipper foot provided fewer opportunities for my machine to scream and die and get all tangled up on itself as it encountered a bead — the feed dogs and the surface of the presser foot just could not navigate those beads smoothly. So a zipper foot has a smaller area of contact with the feed dogs, and this cut down on problems. I also very carefully marked every bead that was likely to come up against the presser foot, and I stitched very carefully when I came upon them.


Look closely where the point of the seam ripper is aimed. That bead is about to take a direct hit from the presser foot.

So, that was the first complication — all those beads required careful handling, and it could take as long as 30 minutes to clear a single seam of beads. Normally, on a similar fabric with no beads, I could have inset the zipper and finished the invisible zipper seam in that same 30 minutes. So this skirt was slow going, but worth it, I think.

The other problem I ran into was with the waistband piece. For some reason, it ended up about an inch shorter than the waistband circumference. That was a headscratcher. I checked the pattern pieces, and I don’t appear to have lopped off the end of the waistband during cutting, but it was definitely too short. So the pattern might have been misprinted? Don’t know. I checked the pattern reviews, and the only review of this pattern notes that the waistband is very tight. So it’s something in the pattern. This detail alone would prevent me using this pattern again. I didn’t want to tear apart the taffeta seams, so I added very small darts to the waistband to draw the waist in, with the result that the waist is even tighter than it would have already been. I normally cut my waistbands around 28 or 29 inches, depending on the fabric and width of the waistband, and this one is a nudge over 27″ in an unrelenting fabric. So I’m not best pleased by that, and it might end up being a little uncomfortable to wear, but I’ll just have to wear the high spanx under this skirt. Sigh. And no dessert at any pre-theater dinners!

In any case, I’m please with the skirt, and the remaining yard and a half will be some kind of top. I keep going back and forth between a princess seamed tee with a scoop neck (simple to make, which given the beads, might make a huge difference), and a corset type vest thing to wear over a blouse.  I think a corset in this fabric would be stunning, but those require such precise tailoring, and this might not be the fabric for that kind of project.

Have you ever worked with embellished fabrics? Did you develop any special techniques to handle them?



5 thoughts on “The Not-so-simple skirt

    • A fairly simple skirt, like one with an elastic waist or wrap and tie closures, would let you get the feel of that machine and wouldn’t require a lot of fitting or fussy detail work. Another good first project would be napkins or place mats. If some of your fabric is fairly sturdy and washable, you could use it for that. That’s just straight-line sewing, nothing fancy required. Sewing straight lines is easier than sewing curves when you’re trying to get the hang of a new machine!


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