Sewing Bee Round One — A-line Skirt

It’s been a slow week on the blog because I’ve been sick — not sick enough to stop doing All The Things, but sick enough to require naps (plural!) each day. My schedule is so tightly packed that adding naps can put me behind on all sorts of things, and in this case, the blog fell off my schedule. But I’m better now, and I have lots of good things to post over the next few days.

Starting with my round one entry into the Pattern Review Sewing Bee Contest.


The idea behind this contest is pretty simple. It runs for four weeks. In each week, a project is defined, rules are presented, and we have one week to sew the item and post the review. Each week, a winner is announced (with really amazing prizes!) and a percentage of entries are eliminated. Something like 340 people signed up for the contest, but only 141 people completed the first week project and posted the required review. As I write this, I don’t know if I will advance to the next round. The results will be posted sometime later today.

For this round, we were required to make a lined, A-line skirt with a zipper, waistband, and hem. This was a very simple project, in other words, and my first thought was that very few people would drop out on this round. A lined A-line skirt, under normal circumstances, is roughly one afternoon’s worth of work. You have side seams, maybe a center back seam, a zipper and waistband, some kind of closure for the top of the waistband, the lining, and the hems. It’s not complicated, and the fitting on such a project is usually moderate at best.

Because this style is so clean and minimal — something like a blank slate, really — I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do before I started work. I pored over my pattern collection and dug through every inch of my (not very extensive) fabric stash. Because my wardrobe is still so meager, I knew I wanted to make a basic, everyday sort of skirt, something that would be a real wardrobe builder rather than a statement piece. But I also know that a statement piece would be more likely to advance to the next round. Dilemma!

Here’s how I resolved that particular need to balance everyday wear-ability with enough pizzazz to (please, I hope) advance to the next round of this contest. I found a pattern in my stash, Simplicity 1322, that is an a-line skirt with a mock wrap front. Take a look at the line drawings.


I made view E, which has a front overlay piecing that is designed like a regular wrap skirt, but the whole thing is held together by the waistband. In other words, that vertical line down the front of the line drawing shows where the pieces overlay. I chose to use a very plain, but deliciously smooth and expensive-looking gray cotton sateen that I picked up from Mood (link to the fabric). I find that Mood’s basics, such as this sateen, tend to be reliably and consistently of a good overall quality. It has become my go-to place for this kind of fabric. I do have some local sources with decent basics, but their prices tend to be higher, so Mood is usually my first choice. I worry sometimes about ordering fabric without being able to handle it first, but while other online shops have disappointed me, Mood has not. Knock wood.

Because the sateen was so plain, I decided to add a bit of trim along the wrap front openings to give it just a touch of interest. My first thought was leather piping — I thought black leather would add a touch of toughness to a sweet a-line shape. (I love mixing a bit of grit with a bit of sugar in my outfits.)But I couldn’t find black leather piping anywhere I looked, and time was limited for this challenge, so I gave up the hunt and used a very tiny black cotton piping instead. It’s delicate, but it’s a nice touch. Here’s a shot of how it looks set into the seam. I took this picture when I was ironing the front overlay — the hem is on the right side of the photo, and the bottom edge of the fabric is the vertical edge of the front overlay piece. The black cotton piping provides just enough sharpness to make that line more evident, but it’s not so much to be obtrusive.


This skirt was unlined, so I had to add a lining. And that became the real challenge for this assignment.

Normally, a skirt lining is attached only at the waistband, and it hangs free from the waist to hem, except for maybe a bit of tacking along the zipper. That zipper tacking, by the way, serves a dual purpose — first, the zipper is a continuation of the waist opening, so it’s aesthetically pleasing to continue the seam along that opening, and second, as a matter of function, it keeps the lining from getting caught in the zipper teeth. It always shocks me to find ready-to-wear skirts with a lining left free along the zipper. This is one construction shortcut that makes me realize just how evil some garment manufacturers are — it’s as bad as this stupid current trend to eliminate hems. Rant, rant, rant, enough about that.

In this case, because the wrap front opening would move when I walk, I thought it made sense to attach the lining vertically along that opening. I chose a printed poly chiffon because I knew the lining would be momentarily visible, just in flashes, as I walk and move. But I wanted it to be clean and well-finished, not just flashy. So I really had to think through how to attach the lining to make this work. These are the steps I used.

  1. French seams along the side seams of the lining, and along the center back up to the point where I expected the bottom of the zipper to hit. I had to use French seams because this is a poly chiffon lining, and chiffon just looks neater with this sort of seam.
  2. Attach the piping to the vertical overlay seams, then attach the lining to the skirt fronts along these vertical seams.
  3. Sew the side seams of the skirt.
  4. Overlap the front overlay pieces and baste along the waist line to join the lining to the skirt. I stopped this basting an inch or so from the center back seam to make it easier to insert the zipper.
  5. Insert the zipper into the skirt fabric.
  6. Attach the waistband.
  7. Sew the lining to the zipper.
  8. Rolled hems. I had to hand-finish the lining hem where the lining was attached to the vertical front overlays. I had to pick enough of it clean from the skirt front and piping to be able to roll the hem, then I had to reattach the rolled hem to the overlay. This was a bit of a hassle, and I wish I’d thought to hem the lining before attaching it to the skirt on those vertical seams.

Here’s a view of how that skirt overlay looks when the piece moves to reveal the lining.


You can see how the bit of piping adds a nice clean edge to differentiate the printed lining and the main skirt fabric. Also, how fun is that print? Stars, you guys. I do love some stars. You can also see just a bit of clumsiness in the corner join where I had to pick apart that vertical seam, roll the hem on the lining, and reattach it to the skirt. It’s not dreadful, but it’s not perfect, either. I would call a do-over, except for one giant problem with the lining fabric. Check this out.


Could you die? Look at that mess. This fabric absolutely disintegrates along cut edges. Talk about crap. I bought this from Vogue Fabrics on Roosevelt Road (which is closing forever in a week), and while I loved the print, I HATED handling the fabric. Cutting chiffon is a bitch in any case, but I was prepared for that. What I was not prepared for was the way this textile simply could not hold itself together in any way. Handling it at all  meant that it would fray. A lot. Utter garbage fabric, and I bought plenty of it because I thought the print was so fun. (Am I the only one who has noticed the sharp fall-off in quality from Vogue Fabrics in recent years? Shopping there has become a treasure hunt — you have to sort through so much bad poly and rayon to find anything worth sewing. There are still some decent fabrics to be found there at reasonable prices, but you have to be so careful. I can’t imagine making the trip to the still-staying-open Evanston location all that often, given the way their stock has changed.)

Anyway, here is the finished skirt.


It’s very plain on the hanger, but you can see the piping along the overlay. You can’t see the lining at all when I’m just standing in the skirt, but when I walk, little flashes of stars pop up along the piped edge. It’s a fun effect, and I’m really pleased with how this skirt turned out. It will be a good everyday skirt, but it avoided being boring. And that adds a gray skirt to my wardrobe, so I can tick that off the wardrobe-building list.




An Announcement and a Finished Skirt

First, the announcement.


I’ve decided to participate in the Ralph Rucci Vogue 1419 coat sew-along sponsored by the McCall blog.

::cymbal crash::


Is that coat gorgeous or is that coat gorgeous? I’ve been a fan of Ralph Rucci from early days. He’s a man of ideas (“too many ideas” is a common criticism, in fact), he’s out of the Halston atelier (about as good a pedigree as any American designer can hope for), and he uses really interesting techniques to make his clothes. In this case, he’s cutting the coat pieces very creatively, adding some cool topstitching, and using a stiff-ish fabric to give the garment extra shape. Here, look at the line drawing, and you’ll see what I mean.

Rucci coat line drawing

I can’t wait to sew this. I fell into a swoon the second I laid eyes on this pattern, and it seemed too good to be true when the McCall blog announced the sew-along for this coat. This week, we’re cutting the muslin and I think we’re supposed to start piecing it, but I’m already behind because a) my fabric had to be ordered and apparently is being shipped by ornery pack mule, and b) I have to make my Halloween costume first. More on that later.

So that’s the announcement. I haven’t posted a finished sewn item in a while because I’ve been cranking on that secret test knit (which I can’t show until the designer releases the pattern, alas). But I finished the test knit, which allowed me back into the sewing room, which meant I finally had time to finish this skirt.


This is a lighter-than-air cotton lawn, and I look forward to wearing it when warmer weather returns. In the meantime, let me encourage you to check out the print pattern placement on that waistband. Blow up the photo if you have to. I’m rather proud of that detail. The pattern placement for these seams ended up perfect thanks to a cutting technique my grandmother taught me (blogged here).  Check out this seam.


The straight part of the side seam — not bad, eh?

005 edit

The hip curves disrupt the perfection of the pattern match, but that’s still pretty good

I’m glad to have that done, and I’m especially glad to be back in my sewing room. I missed it! I do love knitting, but I’m pretty faithless and want to knit, sew, and shop my way into a great wardrobe. This skirt (McCall’s 6608) is a good addition to the summer skirt collection.



The 90-minute skirt

I recently pulled on my go-to black skirt, only to discover it is entirely too big to wear. I should have realized this before I even tried to wear it — it’s a thrifted Banana Republic cotton sateen skirt in a size 10 rtw, and I’m currently wearing a size 6 for most rtw skirts. In fact, during my last shopping excursion, I even had to try on some 4s, though I ended up not buying any of them. In any case, into the donation bag went my size 10 black skirt, with my heartfelt thanks that it saw me through several months of dieting for a mere four dollars. I’ve bought very little clothing as I dieted, but that skirt was a real lifesaver on several occasions. Sometimes you just have to trade the running tights and yoga pants for something a little more polished, right?

So the upshot is, I needed a new all-purpose black skirt, and found a length of heavy cotton black ribbing in my stash. This fabric has been around long enough that I can no longer remember where I purchased it, but my best guess is Vogue Fabrics. I have a hazy memory of fingering some ribbed knits there some time ago.

Knits are a good choice for the moment. I’m about 8 pounds from goal weight — close enough to sew in my goal size, far enough that fit might change just a little bit between now and goal. But knits are pretty forgiving in the fit department, and a simple knit skirt with an elastic waistband will be easy enough to alter later, should the need arise.

I just happened to have this McCall’s pattern on hand for just such a skirt project. I chose View B, a straight-ish skirt with a 21″ length.


The only pattern alteration was to the waistband. I removed 4″ from the waist by tapering the pattern in one inch on either side from hip to waist, front and back. I did this to remove bulk from the waist area — this is a heavy ribbed fabric, and nobody likes the feeling of a lot of bulky fabric bunched up around the waist, right? Even so, there is plenty of room in the waist area, and I suspect I will use this modification even with lighter weight knits. (For a step-by-step of this super easy alteration, see this post.)

I chose to use a twin-needle topstitched hem, which is a little sporty, but this is a casual skirt so it works just fine. This is a little tricky to photograph on black fabric, but this picture kinda sorta shows the effect of the topstitched hem.


An unpressed hem! The horror!

From start to finish — cutting, stitching, fitting, and finishing — this skirt took an hour and a half. Nothing to it, really. I can already tell this will be one of those skirts I wear over and over in the fall: skirt, tights, boots, sweater, mix and match and repeat. It’s super comfortable and warm enough for a crisp fall day.


Not much hanger appeal! But I’m too lazy today to put on makeup and do the right sort of modeled pictures. Sorry! You can see from this picture that the waistband is pretty gathered despite the fact that I removed four inches from the waist. I’m so glad I did that. Can you imagine how gathered that would have to be with four more inches of fabric? This is why, before I cut any pattern, I measure the pattern pieces at the cross-back, bust, waist, hips, and length. These simple checks can help me tailor the garment on paper before my scissors get anywhere near the cloth. It’s surprising how often I have to reduce the waist on paper. My waist isn’t all that small, but I guess it’s smaller than the pattern companies expect it to be.

Do you do most of your fitting on the pattern or on the garment?



Today’s outfit

This particular outfit has become one of my go-to summer outfits, but it won’t be for much longer. Blame the fit.


terrible selfie, yikes

The skirt is made from white jersey and it has an elastic waistband, so it is about as comfy as yoga pants. You can see from the photo it’s no longer a straight skirt (as it should be), but a sort of full, gathered, used-to-be-straight skirt. That’s because I bought it around 20 pounds ago, and it’s really getting too big to keep wearing. It’s a 12, and I typically wear an 8 now, sometimes a 6.

The short-sleeved sweater is a navy knitted thing with dolman sleeves. Dolman sleeves were created by the devil to make us all look lumpy and shapeless and enormous above the waist, but I thought the mesh lace was sheer enough to counteract the awful dolman shaping. It’s probably not, and it’s also starting to get big on me. I won’t be sad to relinquish this piece even though I wear it a lot right now.

Usually, I wear this with a bright red lipstick and some red sandals, but today I was carrying a red bag, and red sandals plus red bag is too matchy matchy. So I wore my new Vince Camuto silver metallic thong sandals.


Please ignore the toenail weirdness on the left foot. I’m a runner, and toenail weirdness happens to runners. I usually try to keep the toenails covered in a solid polish to hide any weird discolorations or other anomalies there, but the one thing polish doesn’t cover is a fallen-off nail. Eh. It will grow back eventually, and then I can polish that toe properly again.

Meanwhile, I love these shoes with any casual look. They’re the first pair of flats I’ve bought (other than athletic shoes and hiking shoes) since my shoe size went down, and the silver metallic snakeskin finish feels pretty sexy for a flat sandal. The polish is OPI Haven’t The Foggiest from their San Francisco collection. Their polish is durable enough to survive even the abuse I give my poor tootsies, so I tend to wear nothing but OPI. I went through at least eight or ten different colors this summer before I tried this one, and now I’m hooked. This is the only color I want to wear right now. The silver metallic is right on trend, and it has a way of picking up a tint from whatever I’m wearing. Black pants turns it slightly pewterish, and my magenta skirt makes it gleam almost like the reflection of a stoplight in a puddle at night. Love it.

What is your go-to polish color these days?



A challenging process, a happy result

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about a recent arrival from Mood that included some tissue-weight rayon jersey. That jersey has now been transformed into a skirt. Ta-da!


We tried to get some motion shots so you could see the natural movement in the skirt. For some reason, the skirt kept trying to billow forward, so none of the photos really capture the true fluidity and volume here. But you can get a sense of the motion in the fabric.


I think this was a perfect combination of pattern and fabric.The pattern is McCall’s 6608, a four-gored skirt with an elastic waistband. I made two modifications. I shortened it to fit my 5’3″ frame, and I tapered about eight inches out of the waist from hip to waist. You can’t see it in the photos because I’m wearing my tank untucked, but if I had not removed that extra eight inches, the skirt would have had to be gathered into the waistband. Instead, I was able to ease the two pieces together — the skirt was still wider than the waistband, but only by a couple of inches, and stretching the waistband during seaming took care of that. I wanted the fit to be smoother and flatter over the hips, and I wanted to avoid the dirndl look at the waistband.

The fabric was tricky to handle because it was so light and a bit slippery. Rayon jerseys often behave this way, so it was nothing unexpected, and it did not detract from my pleasure in working with this fabric. I handled it much the same as I would handle a silk woven — charmeuse, chiffon, other notoriously slippery stuff — and it worked out just fine. During cutting, I weighted the fabric with canned goods (always handy, and usually the right size and weight) to prevent it sliding all over under the rotary blade. I did still have to re-cut one piece that managed to pull wildly off-grain, but that was a small band piece and not a big deal.

During sewing, I pin-basted the crap out of every seam, and I made sure to hold the fabric before and behind the needle to keep it stable as the feed dogs pulled on it. Because the skirt pieces were each very large and could easily take flight from my sewing table, I also made sure the fabric was well supported in my lap or on the table to avoid that kind of sudden motion and pulling.

For the seams, I simply stitched along the 5/8″ stitching line, and then a second time 1/8″ inside the seam allowance, and then trimmed the excess. I didn’t want a lot of weight in the seams, so that excess had to go.


And I used a simple narrow rolled hem to finish the hem. I don’t use a presser foot for this because I’m kind of a control freak and prefer to roll the fabric myself. The best finish comes when I use a narrow overcast zigzag on the raw edge (about 1/8″), and then use that stitching line to control the roll, like so–


So, nothing fancy, really, in the construction, but the result is just what I hoped for. The skirt is so light as to be almost weightless, and I’ve already worn it twice since finishing it. It moves like a dream. If this fabric came in other colors, I would be buying some to make a second skirt right away. Alas, it seems to only be available in this lovely magenta. I ordered five yards — the pattern called for something like 4.5 yards, and I always get a little insurance yardage in case I do something intensely dumb with scissors. (It happens.) I ended up with enough leftover, easily a yard and a half, to make a jersey of a Kwik-Sew t-shirt pattern I’ll be using for my TNT Tee challenge at Sewing Pattern Review.


My review of this pattern at Sewing Pattern Review is here.



A printed maxiskirt

As long as I had McCall’s 6608 out of the envelope for pattern prep, I decided to cut another maxiskirt, this one in an exquisite lawn from The Needle Shop. This tiny but well-curated shop has the best lawns I’ve ever sewn with, as smooth as silk charmeuse, every bit as excellent as a Liberty Tana Lawn, but at less than half the price. This particular lawn had a zigzag stripe that I initially thought I would cut on the bias for View C, the striped skirt on the pattern envelope.


I prepped the pattern (shortened it about 5″ at the top of the thigh, that is, and regraded the seams), and then laid it out on the fabric to do some print matching along the seam lines. But the more I looked at it, the less I wanted to cut it on the bias. Something about the zigzags just wasn’t reading right on the bias. So I ended up cutting it on the straight of grain instead. I measured the pieces carefully to be certain I would have enough ease down the length of the skirt to accommodate this change. Bias draping adds a tiny bit of give to the finished piece — not stretch, exactly, not in the same way a knit would stretch. But woven fabrics do stretch a little along the bias, so I wanted to be certain the changed cutting plan wouldn’t result in a too-tight skirt. It should work out just fine. There’s plenty of ease built into this one.

When I was first learning to sew, my grandmother taught me a print-matching trick that I find much easier to use than pattern markings. Most matching techniques have you match notches or some similar markings on the pattern piece to the print on the fabric. This technique has you match the fabric pieces instead. In this case, there was a skirt front and a skirt back that needed to be matched along the side seams. I started by cutting the skirt front. I paid attention to where to print lines fell, but only enough to be sure they would fall in a pleasing place on the finished skirt front. Then I laid out the skirt back in an approximation of where I thought the patterns would match, more or less.

Next, I took this cut skirt front and laid it on the fabric where I would cut the skirt back, matching the print so that the skirt front laid exactly on top of the print in a nearly invisible match. Here, you can see that the pattern piece (the gridded pellon at the top of the picture) is laid loosely where I think I might cut it — the marker lines on the pellon are  the side seams for the skirt back. I am matching the cut skirt front (held in my fingers) to the print on the uncut fabric near the seam to match the print.


Once the skirt front is laid atop the fabric, you can easily see how the side seams will sew together, and you can lay the pattern piece with a little more precision. I fold under the seam allowance on the pattern piece to make it even easier to see where the stitching line will fall.


Then, once the pattern piece is laid out so that the pattern will match, I remove the cut skirt front piece and cut out the back. This might sound complicated in this description, but I find it infinitely easier — and infinitely more precise — that the normal practice of matching markings on the pattern tissue.

What tricks do you have for matching prints when cutting fabric?




Thank you, Mood!

I became a Mood Fabrics junkie the very same day I rode the funny elevator up to their Manhattan shop. That was a good day. I spent hours just investigating the printed silks, and I’m still sewing some of the things I picked up that day. (Yeah. I bought a lot. Hard to resist.)

One of the consequences of visiting their physical stores is that you become very comfortable with the online store. I have seen the quality of their stock in person. I have talked to their staff about different fibers and know how well-informed they are. Now, if I have a question about a fabric I see on the website, I don’t hesitate to shoot them an email or a tweet, and I get prompt answers.

But in the case of these two fabrics, no extra help was necessary. I’d been stalking the print on the website for weeks, and the product description for the solid convinced me it was exactly what I needed.


The “famous designer” jersey print was one of their half-price one-day specials. It’s a smooth jersey with just the right balance of drape and stability to make an excellent wrap dress.The print is subtle enough to wear from shoulders to knees, and interesting enough to stand out. Here’s a better view.


I just love that print. What is it with gray lately? It seems like the freshest color to me, and this blend of gray and cream feels sophisticated. I have several wrap dress patterns in my stash and haven’t quite decided which one to use yet. At the moment, I’m leaning toward Vogue 1027, though I’m a bit uncertain about those long sash ties. What do you all think? Are these ties a distraction from the design lines, or an enhancement?


The second fabric is a very light and fluid rayon-lycra jersey. This is the one I bought based on the product description:

Ready for bold and bright? Check out this vibrant knit! Here we have a loud, light-weight, magenta, rayon-lycra jersey with great two directional stretch. This material contains a fantastic luminescence, a phenomenal drape, has an extremely smooth hand, and is slighty sheer. Use this material for billowy summer tops, slinky audacious dresses, or double it and make vibrant leggings!

 I wanted a very light, almost weightless jersey to make this very full maxiskirt, McCall’s 6608 View D, the green skirt worn by the model on the pattern envelope.


The jersey ticked all my boxes — bright color, super light, not too terribly expensive for a very unserious skirt. I hesitated for the merest moment because I’m not a big fan of rayon, but it does have the advantage of being light and drapey. Any cotton, for example, would have been weightier by comparison. But rayon sometimes feels sort of rubbery, especially inexpensive rayons, so I was very curious to feel this fabric when it arrived.


 It’s perfect. It feels smooth and cool, almost silky. It’s actually not as sheer as the description might indicate, though the volume of the skirt will reduce some of the sheerness of the fabric. And the drape! Amazing. The five-yard length weighed almost nothing — in fact, I had to treat the length much like a slippery silky woven during cutting, because it is so lightweight that it was willing to shift all over my cutting counter. But a little care and attention made it easy to cut, and I am more than a little enthusiastic about sewing this skirt. I can’t wait to wear it.

So what do we think about the ties on that wrap dress?