A summery skirt


This little flounced skirt was made with a TNT skirt pattern I developed last summer. (Inspired by Ungaro) I didn’t know I was frankenpatterning a TNT skirt when I made the Ungaro knock-off, but this is one that I could easily make over and over again.

This time, I made it in a bit of stashed cotton broadcloth, black with a silver pattern that looks a bit like a night sky. I bought it when the galaxy prints were dominating the runway. It’s evocative of those galaxy prints without being too specific — and I think that vagueness means it won’t become dated as quickly. Prints do become dated fast.

Here’s a crop of the print, tiny silver pinpoints on a black background. It almost looks mottled.


In any case, I whipped this one out pretty quickly as part of the June stash challenge. I sewed 30 yards for that challenge and have loads of new things to show you, which I had planned to do long before now. Things have been more than a little hectic here the past few weeks as we’ve had everything from problems at work to a gas leak in the house. So I’m just now looking around and saying, “Where was I?” I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post! Gosh, I’ve probably already worn this skirt four times since I finished sewing it.

This time, I didn’t underline the fabric. It’s a light broadcloth, but I wanted to keep it light. In the other two versions I made of this pattern, I underlined both and was very happy with the results. The Ungaro knock-off was underlined with a batiste which provided just enough body to let the quilting cotton hang smoothly and have a bit of movement. The other version is a mid-calf skirt with no flounce, and I underlined that one with some white shirting. I wanted that skirt to have a stiffer hand, and the shirting gave me just the bell shape I wanted.

If you look in the photo of this black and silver version, you can see that it hangs in loose, soft waves. If I had underlined it, those waves would not be as fluid. For this particular fabric, which has a bit of edge from the silver and black color scheme, I thought a little softness would be the right choice for balance. I didn’t want this to look stiff or hard.

So this one is a win. Honestly, most of the garments I made for the June challenge were wins, and it was a lot of fun to dedicate a month to volume sewing. I can’t even believe how much I finished in just a month — but we can always do more than we think we can, if we just focus on the task, right?




Summer Knitting

I love summer knitting. There. I said it. Whew! Just getting it out in the open like that makes me feel so light and free!

Knitting is usually all about the big, warm, cozy sweater, right? The wool cardigan, the bulky jacket, the stranded or cabled details that add extra warmth. Come spring, in knitting groups everywhere, people will start glaring at the rising mercury and muttering, “I don’t know, maybe some socks or a lace shawl until the weather breaks.” And it’s true that holding a blanket or heavy jumper on your lap in August doesn’t feel very nice.

But there’s so much more to summer knitting than socks and accessories. Don’t get me wrong — I’m an avid sock knitter, and I’ve knitted more hats and gloves over the years than any person could ever need. They’re fun little projects that factor high on the instant-reward scale (as instant as knitting ever gets, anyway). So I do get excited in the hot months about knitting little light bits of froth to drape around my neck or pop onto the ends of various limbs.

Even more than that, though, I love knitting tees and vests and tanks. And tiny little cardigans! They’re perfect for summer when the air conditioner is blasting arctic air all over your bare skin. And little skirts! I can’t wear skirts in Chicago’s frozen winter, but in the warmer months, skirts are the greatest thing ever. A warm breeze against bare legs? Yes, please!

Now that the weather is turning warmer, my knitting time is also turning to warm-weather items. First on the list is this Ankestrick cardigan in a laceweight that I just barely managed to start last summer.

summerhill start

Summerhill in Misti Alpaca Lace

That’s a top-down cardigan using the contiguous shoulder method that I’ve become so addicted to. It’s a great way to ensure a good fit. I find it better, generally, than a raglan in both fit and style, but that didn’t stop me from casting on this raglan cardigan a week or two ago.


Miette in Classic Elite Lush

That’s Andi Satterlund’s popular retro-style pattern, and the yarn has enough angora in it to make it seem even more retro. This is proving to be a quick knit so far, and it might end up living on the back of my chair at the family business through most of the summer. I don’t spend many hours there these days, but I spend enough to want a dedicated cardigan there. This might be it.

I’m eyeballing one, possibly two tunic/minidress things, another Elfe tee, and this extremely cool skirt — check it out.

golfjes skirt

Golfjes from Atalier Alfa

I’m so, so taken with Alfa’s patterns. She blows me away with the inventiveness of her stitches and style lines. That Golfjes stitch pattern makes my fingers itch to cast on. Doesn’t it kind of look like ripples on the surface of a busy lake? I’ve already picked out the yarn I’ll use, some Lorna’s Laces sock yarn in mostly black, gray, and cream, with just a slight touch of red here and there. (Colorways Pinstripe and Embers.) (We’re all shocked that I’m using black and gray, right? But there is SOME red in it!) The yarn is wound and ready to go, and I can’t imagine I’ll hold out much longer before casting this on. Knitting time has been precious, which is probably the only thing keeping this skirt off the needles right now. Every now and then, I see that project bag sitting all forlorn and patient in the drawer, and I coo, “Soon, my pretty, very very soon.”

What are you excited to knit this summer? Or do you put your needles away until the first frost in autumn?


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?


Slowly getting it back together


Isn’t that lovely? That’s a silk taffeta with silk organza appliques, painted flowers, and sewn beads. Love it. This is about to become a 3/4 circle skirt. I started stitching it and then realized I was out of lightweight seam binding, so I’ve ordered a bit more and am stalking my poor mail carrier, Frank. Feel sorry for Frank. He has to cart a lot of packages for me.

So, this round of remodeling is all done but for some tile repairs in both bathrooms, and that means I was able to put my sewing room back together. Literally — honestly, literally — as the painting crew started carting their stuff out, my laptop screen exploded with a virus. Within one hour, the painters were gone and so was my laptop, to the repair shop, where it lived for six days.

This is why my blog has been quiet. Hectic life, quiet blog, right?

But there has been a little sewing progress. I hemmed this little summer tank dress, which has been lingering for far too long in my UFO pile.


New Look 6210

I made only minor alterations to this pattern, adding a little room in the bust and making the racer back a little more modest. Here, I’ll show you the racer back as altered.


You can see that the back armscyes from underarm to shoulder are slightly cut in, but not super cut in. I just thought that would be more comfortable. It’s not anything wrong with the pattern, just a personal preference.

I don’t wear many prints, and cutting this dress reminded me why that is. The fabric is a lovely rayon jersey from Mood (link), and the scale of the print plus the muted color palette were what drew my attention to it. Print scaling on a petite body can be a little tricky, but this one is so large that you almost can’t see the repeat. A trained eye will spot it, of course, but to most people, that will look like a pattern with no repeat. I liked that, and it turns out to look pretty good on my 5’3″ frame. (I’ll be sure to update with a modeled shot when the weather permits me to wear this.)

In any case, I wanted to take advantage of the scale of that pattern to make it look like a no-repeater, but I also wanted to make sure that none of the curves were hitting me in awkward spots. So I spent a lot of time fussing with the placement of the pattern pieces until I found something that would work. I swear, cutting prints is more work than sewing them, but in this case, it was worth all the tinkering and shifting a quarter-inch this way or that. I’m very happy with the way the pattern swirls around my torso. This is a fitted dress, and the curved lines accentuate the fit rather than fighting it.

A couple weeks back, I sewed a very large cardigan/jacket thing with a sweater knit also from Mood (link). I had just enough of this fabric leftover to make a quickie skirt. I lined it in some nylon tricot (also called lingerie knit) that I had in my stash. That worked out well. The knit is a wool (a bit sticky but not itchy) with metallic lurex threads spun into the yarn that give it a silvery halo. I don’t think I gave you a good look at this fabric before, but here it is.


You can just see how the silver threads add to the overall stickiness of the fabric, right? So lining it was the right move, especially given that this is a heavy knit skirt, suitable for winter wear, that would really need tights with it. We all know what happens when you don’t have a slippery layer between a sticky skirt and a pair of tights. Hellooooooo, good china!

I doubt I’ll wear the skirt very often, but what the heck. I had just enough length for it, and given the choice between whipping up a quick skirt and either tossing or storing the leftovers, I’ll take the skirt. Even if I only wear it once or twice a year, it’s still better than no skirt at all!

What do you do with your leftovers and scraps?


One skirt, finally hemmed

I’ve been resisting hemming this skirt because it posed a small dilemma. This is McCall’s 5523, a fitted, no-waistband skirt with a side zip and inset details at the back of the knee.


I chose the view worn by the model. This view has an angled, curved inset, like so.


Please ignore the fact that this skirt needs ironing. When I’m feeling less frustrated with this project, I’m sure I’ll be delighted to iron and wear it. In any case, you can see the way the chevron-shaped inset provides a bit of flounce there. It’s cut like a flounce (curved along the bottom edge) rather than like a ruffle (which would be straight along the bottom edge, and gathered at the top). This means the bottom edge is longer than the top edge, much like the diameter of a circle as a circle grows larger.

Now, here’s the problem. I shortened this skirt in the pattern so that it would hit right around the bottom of my kneecap. Or so I thought. After I sewed it and added the lining and finished the zip and overcast the raw seam edges, I realized it was still around two inches too long. The hem would hit at a strange spot on my leg, one that would make my calves look like elephant legs. We all have that one bad hem length, the one that makes our legs look sort of trunk-like rather than shapely. I fussed and fooled with pinning that skirt hem, a quarter inch, then another quarter inch, until my legs looked curved again. And that took a hem several inches deep.

Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but because of the way the flared inset is flounced, not ruffled, that also took a lot of the flounce out of the inset. So I had a decision to make:

  • Option 1: Lose some of the flounce, or
  • Option 2: Take the skirt apart, including lining and zipper, cut an inch or more off the top at the waist, reshape the side seams, draft and cut a new interior waistband piece, reattach the zipper and lining, and thus preserve the volume in the flounce.

Option 2 was the correct choice, and I knew it. But it’s a load of work for a skirt that’s in the wrong color to begin with, in a fabric that unravels if you blink at it, and for a skirt I’ll wear only once in a while.

I went with option 1.


It’s done now, but for the final ironing.


And the moral of this story — say it with me, kids–

Always make a muslin.


Sunday status report

This is a thing I knit this week.


It’s not a throw rug, though the fabric is a bit ruggy because it’s knit from Noro Kureyon. It’s neither a blanket nor an antimacassar even though it’s draped on the back of the sofa. It’s draped there because all other work surfaces in my house have been given over to the upcoming holiday. Wrapping zones, baking zones, decorating zones — but not a “lay out your knitting for photography in an attractive manner” zone anywhere to be found.

Eventually, this will become a lanesplitter skirt, a Knitty pattern from about four years ago (link). But in order to finish it, I have to block it, and I don’t have an available surface for blocking right now. It will have to wait until the 27th, when all holiday madness will be history and my tables and counters can be reclaimed for regular usage.

At that point, I will make a nylon tricot lining for this skirt, too. The fabric is so coarse and ruggy that there’s no way I would wear it next to bare skin, and it would stick to tights in that weirdly inappropriate way that coarse fabrics stick to tights. So a lining it needs, and the fabric for the lining is on order.

I’ve also decided not to do a knitted waistband, which would be bulky and coarse and itchy and uncomfortable. Instead, I picked up a length of belt elastic and a black belt buckle. I’ll sew the belt right to the skirt as a waistband. It will be smoother and slimmer, and much, much easier to wear.

I’m also about halfway into a gathered pullover.


The body is knitted in the round to the armholes, then divided for the shoulders. I’m right at the point of division now, so a little further along than this picture shows. The cable for this sweater is simple and lovely.


That’s just the bottom half of the cable. With the top half knitted on, it forms a diamond-shaped medallion at the center front bodice. I’m using Sunday Knits Angelic 3-ply for this, yarn which was leftover from a shawl project. Here, I can show you the shawl, too, which I made a couple years ago and wear ALL THE TIME. This is one of the best things I’ve ever knit, a Carol Sunday pattern called Cambridge. Love this shawl.


When I bought the yarn for that shawl, I planned to do the largest size, and bought accordingly — plus a bit extra in case I wanted to knit a hat or gloves, too. I chose to knit the medium instead, and ended up with enough left over for a sweater. This is an angora-merino blend that is so soft and luxurious, yet so warm and cozy, that it will be perfect for the Gathering sweater.

This means I have a lot of half-finished knitting projects laying around here right now. I have a feeling the holiday break and most of January will be given over to finishing what I’ve already started.

Do you tend to work on one project at a time, or lots at once?


Another type of skirt waistband alteration

A few weeks back, I showed you a method I use to reduce the waist on a simple straight skirt (link). Today I’ll show you how I made that same alteration on a skirt with a fitted yoke waist.

I recently sewed Vogue 8837 (link), a knit skirt with a shaped yoke and shirt-tail hem. When I was cutting this skirt, I was primarily concerned with the finished length of 33″ — as drafted, it would have come nearly to my ankles. I shortened it eight inches (link), and I could have sworn I checked the finished waist measurements on the pattern tissue before cutting.

Apparently not.


How does it even stay up? GIANT!

So, okay, I made a mistake and didn’t measure the waistband, sigh, bummer, etc. This is easy to fix, though. I I didn’t even have to remove the yoke to reshape it. This yoke is one large piece, folded over at the top so that the fabric is doubled. You can see the seam across the hips where the yoke joins the rest of the skirt. That’s almost exactly at the true hip, which on my petite frame is 7″ below true waist. So I started by detaching the folded-over portion of the yoke from the skirt (that’s the facing portion, the “private” side that touches the skin, not the “public” side that faces outward). I left the public side stitched in place.


Skirt waistband interior

You can see the stitching and seam allowances running horizontally on this picture. You can also see that the side seam of the yoke curves inward a bit — not nearly enough for someone with my hourglass, but it isn’t straight from hip to waist. What I needed to do was increase the shaping there to make it smaller through the waist. So I started by marking the point where I wanted the new waist curve to end up. It’s a little hard to see on that picture because the dressmaker’s ruler is clear with red markings, but the white chalk mark is 1.5″ in from the original waist point. It’s smack in the vertical middle of the waistband because when we fold the waist back over to stitch it down, that’s where the fold will be.

Next, I extended that dot into a dash of about 1″, or a half-inch extending on either side of the dot. The purpose of this little flat line portion is to smooth out the curve on the waistband. You know how some waistbands are rectangles and some are curved? I wanted the rectangular effect at the very top bit of the waistband, but I wanted the rest of it to curve.


Marking the flat/rectangular portion of the waistband

Then I used the curved portion of the ruler to extend this line to the hip seam and the top raw edge. This isn’t precise engineering. All you really have to do is find an angle that looks right — pay attention to the way the angle changes over the length of the ruler, because the curve will be steeper at one end than the other. I wanted it steeper as it approached the flat rectangle portion, so I flipped the curve around and positioned it until it looked about right, aiming for the point where the seam allowances at the side seam and the hem seam would cross.


Yeah, okay, that should do it

Then I flipped it around and used the same points on the ruler to draw the same arc from the waist to the stitched hem end. This is what the line looked like.


New stitching line marked in chalk

That sweet little line represents a 6″ reduction in the waist size — or, 1.5″ times four. Do you understand why it’s times four? There are two side seams, and each side seam consists of two pieces. So if we make this 1.5″ reduction on each of two pieces and two seams, that’s four reductions. We don’t have to do it this way. If we have a big belly or an extremely tiny back waist, we can shape the back and front waist yoke pieces in different ways to accommodate those body shapes. But in my case, this symmetrical shaping usually works pretty well.

While I’m thinking of different ways we can shape these yokes, I should mention that I considered adding darts instead of altering the side seams this dramatically. I thought I could trim the side seams a half inch and then do some half inch darts in the front and back and achieve the same reduction. With a different fabric, I might have done exactly this. But this particular ponte (from Mood — link) is heavy enough to be made into coats, and so I wanted to keep the seaming to a minimum. Thicker fabrics work better with fewer of these fine shaping details. In another fabric, though, I might have used darts to distribute the reduction around the circumference of the waist.

Next, I stitched on the chalk lines and trimmed away the extra fabric.


Hunka hunka burning red ponte knit

One thing that might be apparent from this picture is that the angle of that curve is pretty steep along the waist to the hip. And the angle from hip seam to hem is about as straight as any skirt gets. This meant that we shifted from steep angle to straight side seam right at that hip seam, and it made the crossing bit — where the side seam crosses the hip seam — want to stick out a little bit. So I ended up stitching a bit of an angle below the hip seam, too, just to smooth out the transition. It was only a tiny bit of stitching, but it made a big difference in the smoothness of the fit over the hips. That stitching line started about 1/2″ above the hip seam and extended down about a half inch below it.

After all the stitching was done, and the yoke was folded back over and restitched at the hip seam, this is the fit. I’m standing a little twisty to take the photo, but when I stand normally, that side seam does hang at the proper angle. I wanted to take a side view shot so you can see the shirt-tail hem effect at the knee, which was what drew me to this pattern in the first place.


The fit at the waist is ever so much better now! It will even stay up if I don’t hold it in place, much to the disappointment of the neighborhood perverts. I’ll trim the seam allowances to remove some of the bulk and give it one more intensive pressing, but this thing is basically ready to wear. It’s a heavy enough fabric to wear with some fleece tights and boots even on a cold day.

But can you imagine what it would look like if I hadn’t shortened it eight inches? Yikes. That would be bad.

These are the two main alterations (length and waist reduction) I have to make in about every skirt or pants pattern. Do you have standard alterations, too? Or is your fitting done on a project-by-project basis?