This is the story of my effort for this London Dressmakers Club event. I’ve included some hints that I think may be useful to beginners.
To look at the contestants in “The Great British Sewing Bee” one could be forgiven for thinking that you just grab your fabric and start cutting out. In real life you need to prepare your fabric first. I am assuming that your material is washable so wash it to get rid of any shrinkage, to test if it “bleeds” (in which case launder it separately from other garments in the future) and to get rid of any “dressing” that might have stiffened the fabric and be concealing its true drape and handle. Then iron the fabric so it is smooth and any creases eliminated. I also iron my pattern on a low setting to make sure that this also has no creases or wrinkles.
Then check if your fabric has a nap (see glossary -link at right hand side of blog), a one way design or a pattern to match up at the seams or centre. If you have been watching “Sewing Bee” you will know how important this is in getting a professional looking finish and it will determine how you lay out your garment pattern pieces before cutting.
You also need to check that your grain (see glossary) is straight as many pattern pieces have to be placed in a particular way in relation to the grain line. The grain line of the warp (the threads that extend lengthwise on the loom and across which the weft is woven) is almost always the strongest thread and the one most commonly used. Unfortunately sometimes the design on the fabric turns out to have been printed slightly off the grain- in which case you probably need to go with the line of the design. Now you can start laying your garment pattern on the cloth. Play around with the layout as you sometimes find that the layout included in the garment making up instructions is not the most economical in terms of the amount of fabric required. This is why I had enough jersey fabric left over from making another garment to make this skirt.
You can see how old this pattern is from those huge shoulders of the jacket. Notwithstanding the length of time this pattern has been lurking in my pattern box, I had not made the skirt before despite my good intentions.
I trace my original paper patterns on to greaseproof paper because then I can easily mark out any alterations and, by not cutting the original, also preserve other sizes if it is a multi-size pattern.
I know that my problems in fitting skirts are due to my flat buttocks and back, causing the skirt to drop at the back and the side seams to swing forward towards the front of the garment unless I make alterations. To counteract this figure fault I took a tuck down the length of the skirt from the waist to the hem and redrew the back dart. I also lowered the back waist seam grading it from its lowest point at the centre up to the side seam. You can see these alterations in the photograph below.
The pocket linings were cut from a lighter weight woven fabric to reduce the overall bulk of the pockets and to give more stability to the pockets that might otherwise have stretched if they were made solely of jersey. Also I wanted a "secret" flash of colour somewhere as the actual skirt is very sombre. It's nice to know you have a secret even if it is only a coloured pocket.
The next step, after cutting out, was to tack the darts and pin for fitting. The front of the skirt has a pleat either side of the centre and this is just tacked in place, the tacking to be removed once the waist band is stitched on as this band then holds the pleats in place. At the centre back of the skirt I had included a 2 cm seam allowance a) because I was going to fit a zip and I always allow more for a seam where I am putting a zip and b) because the pattern does not have an extension for the kick pleat at the back of the skirt but just folds the seam allowance back so I wanted a bit more.
Amazingly it seemed a reasonable fit at first try on and all I would need to do would be to take in a small amount from the waist to the hip when sewing the side seams.
After sewing the back darts I inserted an invisible zip. I've been asked before what is the difference between an invisible and a standard dress zip so here's some identification help for next time you are rummaging through the bargain zips on a haberdashery stall. In the photos below the grey zip is the standard dress zip and the black one is the invisible zip. This is how the zips look when you are looking at the side of the zip that will be facing outward on the garment. With the black zip the teeth are, well, invisible. Note also the typical teardrop shape of the zip tab.
Here are the same zips on the reverse side, the side you will see on the inside of the garment. Now it is the standard dress zip that has no visible teeth. You will know from looking at the zip slider tab which side is the front and which the back of the zip.
Invisible zips mean that no stitching will show on the outside of the garment but they still need to be put in carefully. There are demonstrations on YouTube of putting in invisible zips with an ordinary zip foot but it is so much easier with a dedicated invisible zip foot. Mine cost £15 and was definitely worth it.
This is the way I tackle an invisible zip, there are other methods so find what gets the best result for you. The zip is put in before sewing up the back seam. You need a zip longer by 3 or 4 cm than the actual opening, the end of my opening is marked by the pin in the photograph below.
Before you start inserting the zip very carefully press along the zip tape to flatten out the fold next to the zip teeth. I say carefully because you do not want to damage the zip teeth. Using the longest stitch on your sewing machine tack up the seam along the seam allowance from the waist to a few centimetres beyond the point where the end of the zip reaches. Press the seam.Lay the zip in position face down on the seam with the zip teeth centred over the seam. Pin and then tack the zip in position tacking the zip only to the seam allowance and not through 2 layers of fabric ( that is, not through both the seam allowance and the outer fabric). In the photo below one side of the zip is still pinned and the other side is tacked. I've turned the seam so you can see that the tack only goes into the seam allowance and not into the back of the skirt.
Below is the zip tacked in on both sides.
Now unpick the machine basting that you did to close the seam (stitch ripper to the fore!) as far as the end of the skirt opening so that you can open the zip and flatten out the fabric so that the seam allowance is no longer folded under. I should have taken pictures but my battery ran out. The seam on the right hand side will be sewn first. Place your invisible zip foot so that the right hand groove of the foot straddles the zip teeth and you will be stitching on the left hand side of the teeth from the waist downwards as far as you can go until the zip slider stops you from going any further. Fasten off. Then you do the same for the other side but with the left hand side of the groove of the zip foot straddling the zip teeth and the stitching to the right hand side of the teeth. This latter is the side shown in the photograph below.
In order to complete the seam down to the hem you need to fold the zip up out of the way as in the photo below. It is easiest to use a normal zipper foot to sew this seam so you can get as close as possible to the base of the zip but I used a standard straight stitch foot. You should have a few machine tacking stitches that you did not unpick left in the seam below the end of the skirt opening. Use these as your guide as to where to place your foot to start sewing the rest of the seam and thus it will line up perfectly with the zip opening. You may be able to see the line of tacking stitches that I am following exactly in the photo below but I stitched in black when tacking so they are hard to see.
And here is how your inserted zip will look from the right side - Invisible except for the zipper slider tab!
Then I only needed to sew the front part of the skirt, by creating and attaching the pockets that formed part of the front yoke, and sewing up the side seams. I made a lining by pinning the patterns for the pocket yokes and front of skirt together and cutting it in one piece. The back lining I cut as the skirt back pattern but, instead of sewing the darts, I just made the relevant sized tuck at the waist and pressed them the opposite way to the darts in the outer fabric; this reduces bulk at the waist line and allows some ease in the lining. See the tuck in the photograph below with the waistband in position. I was a bit disappointed in the quality of this lining that I had bought cheaply in a rush. I hope it lasts.
Finally I sewed on a skirt hook and bar fastening and completed the skirt and lining hems. Result- a skirt made of left over fabric in a pattern I had been meaning to use for some time. It is rather a boring skirt really but will be very useful as it goes with the black and the grey jackets and many of the tops and jumpers that I already have. I love having pockets, it is a good fit and the fabric doesn't crease. I like it so much that I am sure I will make it in another fabric, something a bit more exciting maybe. I've just realised that I haven't got a photo of the finished article so I'll take one in a day or so and post it on the London Dressmakers Meetup site under the photos for the "Sew a Skirt" event. You can get to the site from the link on the left hand side of this blog.
Happy Sewing, Barbara