Friday, 28 September 2012

Deconstructive / Reconstructive Sewing

At least six, probably seven, years ago I bought an inexpensive, plain, A-line denim skirt from good old Marks and Spencer. I thought it would be useful and it turned out to be one of those exceptionally useful purchases you wish you had bought two of, but only realise this, once the item in question is no longer stocked where you bought it. I have worn and worn this skirt, in season and out of season.

It has worked warmly in winter, layered up with cosy cardigans on top and thick tights underneath and like a breeze in summer with bare legs beneath and light-weight fabric tops above. I've dressed it up and dressed it down. I have worn it almost literally to "a ravelling" like the Tailor in Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester. It has served valiantly at every turn and survived its many launderings pretty hardily. Until now that is. Recently it has begun to show signs of giving up the ghost. The hem is fraying badly and the waist seam is beginning to disintegrate and is developing holes here and there. In addition, it has not been improved by a small accident suffered when I was making my patchwork bag and turning the handle the right way out using my old Victorian wooden knitting needle. The knitting needle slipped and made a sizeable hole right in the middle of the front panel of the skirt which I was wearing at the time. Although I mended this with a small piece of fabric placed behind the hole and a bit of judicious 3-step zig-zaggery with the sewing machine, it did not enhance the appearance of my favourite garment. So the time had arrived for replacement. But could I find a similar style and length of denim skirt out there? Could I heck!

Marks and Spencer, bless them, although they kept the design going for a few years in other fabrics, of course have long since moved on to trendier cuts, fabrics and lengths for their skirts and although I have hunted high and low both On-Line and in actual shops, when I have had rare real rather than virtual shopping opportunities, nothing remotely similar has turned up in any emporium that I've come across. I couldn't even find a commercial pattern that seemed to replicate what I was after, simple though the design was at heart.

"Why don't you take the old skirt apart and make a pattern from it to make a new one?" suggested my mother. My mother does this sort of thing all the time and breezes into such a project without a second's hesitation but I felt rather like Tigger in A A Milne's "In Which It Is Shown That Tiggers Don't Climb Trees" - "It's all very well for Jumping Animals like Kangas but it's quite different for Swimming Animals like Tiggers." For which, read, "It's all very well for Expert Seamstresses Like My Mother but it's quite different for More Tentative Sewers Like Mrs T!"

There are two reasons for my Tigger-like nervousness really. One: I didn't want to "take the old skirt apart" - yes, it's worn and does need replacing but it's not quite beyond wearing in the garden or in the kitchen even if it's not really respectable enough to go out and about in. Once deconstructed, there would be no returning because, as you and I both know, I would never have been able to put it back together again remotely as it was, once it had been snipped apart.

And two: although I make quite a lot of my clothes, especially summer stuff, and I do draw out my own patterns for simple craft projects, I am afraid, cravenly, I have always stuck to using commercial patterns for clothing, both for the critical pattern pieces and also the instructions for assembly and I've learnt the hard way that sitting light to these does not always give a good result. So the idea of leaving the safe slow lane of following a proper pattern and pulling out into the dangerous fast lane of making my own pattern without any instructions was enough to cause serious trepidation and determination to resume the search for a safer, commercially insured bet.

Nothing turned up however, until by accident I stumbled upon a reference to a book called "Sew What! Skirts".


This is an American book of Empowerment and Enabling to the nervous sewer who has clung to the slow lane! It demystifies the whole pattern business and tells you how to draw out your own pattern for a variety of skirt shapes using your own measurements. Deep breath here. I do not do "make to measure" unless it is a lining for a basket or a straightforward bag or something. But in the end I thought, "In the absence of anything better, why not?" and bought a copy for not much more than the price of a commercial sewing pattern. Sew far, sew good! (Sorry - couldn't resist the pun!)

Now, as you will know, if you are a reader of these pages, Mrs T and arithmetic do not get on terribly well. Never have and probably never will so it was with some suspicion that I embarked on filling out the page in my new book with measurements and doing the accompanying multiplication, addition, subtraction and division. Even more trepidation accompanied the drawing out of the pattern (although my hand was held by my old skirt who sat by as a bit of a guide). The pattern, once drawn and cut out, looked too small. Quite a lot too small. Always a fear of mine when making my own clothes although I have learned from my experience of making a skirt when aged 13 or 14 and I thought I ought to add an extra inch all round in case I put on weight and predictably the result never ever fitted. Anyway I measured and remeasured and it still came out the same so I took the plunge. I bought a couple of metres of inexpensive denim fabric of the kind of weight and colour I liked and went for it.

And stone the crows, it's worked! In fact more than that, it fits and hangs far better than the old skirt! And I cannot believe how simple it turned out to be. The book not only tells you how to draw out a pattern to your own measurements but it also gives assembly instructions and not just for one type of skirt either. Basically it gives you options and you follow whichever section applies for what you've chosen.


I am so delighted with this I can't tell you! It's nothing particularly ground-breaking to look at and you're probably thinking, "What's so special about a plain old skirt like this?"


Well, there isn't anything particularly special about it apart from the fact that it fits like a dream - in fact I don't think I've ever had a skirt that has fitted so beautifully and I have discovered I can do something I thought was way beyond me. I wondered about jazzing up its austere plainness with some braid along the bottom or a few bright buttons at the side but I've passed the temptation up. The plainness of a garment like this is actually what makes it so incredibly versatile for teaming with other colours and fabrics depending on mood, weather and choice. Adding other colours and trims at source, as it were, would compromise that, so I've left well alone. Apart from on the inside!

On the inside, I have indulged myself to compensate for the austerity of the outside even though nobody will ever see apart from me. I know, I know - I am a sad soul! But I couldn't resist turning a fat quarter of deliciously pretty quilting fabric into homemade bias binding and finishing the edge of the facing with it as well as using it to create a false hem at the bottom. I often make hems like this, especially on a curved hemline as it's just so easy and avoids the bunching and crinkling of folding up a double layer of the skirt fabric.



You just line up the raw edge of the bias binding with the raw edge of the hem, right sides together and pin in place. You then whizz along with the sewing machine all the way round, following the crease of the bias binding which is about a quarter of an inch in from the raw edge. Press and then simply fold up the bias binding to the inside and hand stitch the folded edge in place. Very neat and unbulky. It's worked particularly well with this skirt, as denim is a heavy fabric to make turnings in. I wasn't sure that a fat quarter would make enough binding but it did, although it had to have joins, of course.

I like these frippery touches that are outwardly invisible and arguably unnecessary - they give the skirt a kind of "made with love" feel and a satisfyingly "finished" appearance, to my mind anyway.

I am now on a roll and may never buy a commercial skirt pattern again! If anyone else feels like Tigger on his branch, reluctant about jumping off and making to measure instead of following commercially prepared instructions to make something like this, I can only echo Roo's gleeful encouragement "Come on, it's easy!" And I hope that, like Tigger, you will have a go and find out "how easy it was"!

26 comments:

  1. Oh bravo dear one! Well done for overcoming your own trepidation! The skirt looks lovely, very 'you', and how fabulous that you've made it to measure so well. They'll be no stopping you now! I expect to see skirts abound....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear E
    Congratulations on your beautiful skirt! I have this book too and was intending to make some skirts that finally fitted me (nothing out there fits me without major alterations being made, which is annoying and makes me feel as though I must be a peculiar shape!). However, I do identify with Tigger on this one. Perhaps I should be brave, have another look at it and have a go...
    Best wishes
    Ellie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All I can say is I started on this with deep suspicion but it does work if you follow the instructions! And there were serious moments of anxiety when I thought I'd done all the maths wrong but I hadn't! For what it's worth my advice is to set aside some uninterrupted time when your mind is wholly on the matter in hand for making the initial measurements and calculations and from then on you're laughing! Have a go! E x

      Delete
  3. Ooooh bother, I just wrote a length comment and something went up the left and it hasn't worked! Boo hiss!!

    I was just congratulating you and wanted to tell you how very clever you are. I am mega impressed with your new skirt. It looks lovely and the binding is especially nice (not a sad thing to do at all, very lovely in fact!). I was going to buy that book a while ago and chickened out and bought a sew serendipity pattern for a simple a-line skirt with some alternative versions. I haven't plucked up the courage to use it yet. Just cut out the shapes on the paper and got scared after that! So a big well done to you. There's not stopping you now.

    Sorry I haven't been around very often, I'm still an avid reader, just finding it difficult to juggle everything at the minute so I had to give up something and posting on my blog and commenting had to go.. just for now... I hope to be back someday!

    Hope you are feeling better after your nasty cold.

    Take care,
    Helen xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Helen
      I love it that you still read here! Life is full of ebbs and flows and one needs to go with that. Enjoy all that now offers you - blogging can wait! If you've cut out that pattern give it a whirl - there's a skirt out there waiting to happen with your name on it! E x

      Delete
  4. I am pleased for you I really am. I have been collecting bits of material to make a patch work skirt. There is enough now but I keep putting it off. May be next week.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a lovely idea! I love patchwork garments and am planning a kind of 70s blouse thing made up of a mixture of fabrics. Am thinking it will go nicely over the new skirt! I find cutting out is half the battle - once that is done it's a doddle to do the sewing but making that pesky first cut....! So go ahead and cut it and then all you have to do is enjoy the sewing as and when you have time! Have a lovely weekend, Suze! E x

      Delete
  5. Back in the 1980s I had a book that involved making a master pattern to fit your precise measurements and then by piecing the bits together it made a multitude of skirts, dresses and tops. I shall have to search it out, though I fear that in the intervening years the measurements will be rather different. The good thing about that and your pattern though is that clothes fit because they are for your body and not someone else's. I looked at long dresses last week but they were about a foot too long and I couldn't face chopping so much off the bottom. I can see I shall have to follow your example and get sewing.I love the "frippery touches".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you like the frippery touches! Where would the world be without such things?! I say that unfacetiously. Sometimes I think it's the frivolities of the world that keep the wheels turning. Happy weekend, Anne! E x

      Delete
  6. Bravo! Your skirt looks very professional and there is nothing more heartwarming than a surprise lining just to please the wearer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are very kind Ali. I am sure if you look closely there are all manner of unprofessional touches but never mind! And as you say a surprise lining just to please the wearer has something to be said for it! See you hopefully next week. E x

      Delete
  7. This has been such a busy couple of weeks, but I'm finally taking some time today to catch up a bit. I love that your skirt turned out so well. I once made a simple black sheath dress and tailored it to fit like a dream. Of course, I was probably a size four then and soon gained weight. It was amazing, though, how well I was able to make the dress fit.

    I really like the use of the quilting fabric on the hems. I always notice details like that when I'm shopping.

    ReplyDelete
  8. What a dream dress your black sheath dress must have been - everything is in the fit with elegantly simple dresses like that. Glad you like the binding - a bit of an indulgence on my part but so what! E x

    ReplyDelete
  9. Simply divine, Mrs. Tittlemouse! Love the skirt, love the binding, love even more that you struck out and did it yourself... Happy endings abound! Makes we want to get cooking on some material and my old Singer this weekend! Thanks for taking the time to share with us like you do... And to inspire us, which you certainly do.

    ReplyDelete
  10. It's fabulous! I have never attempted to make my own clothes, believing it to be way beyond my sewing capabilities, but you have inspired me. There is something so alluring about making an item that fits you, and only you, perfectly. I dream of a classic shift or shirt dress in liberty tana lawn - or maybe a simple sleeveless top...you've got me thinking now! x

    ReplyDelete
  11. Oh E, yet again you made me smile.... Your mother and mine must have gone to the same school because mine too can deconstruct a garment and whizz it up into something else within 30 seconds and cook dinner at the same time! Must be cos she was a war baby!!! YOUR SKIRT IS STUNNING and you're sooooo brave to jump off the 'safety' pier into the deep dark water of No Pattern Lake!!! Once more you've inspired me as I'm much happier with two needles in my hands rather than sitting at my very intimidating sewing machine! But no more! I will conquer the fear, walk with the heroes and buy this fabulous book that you speak of! Wish me luck on my adventure..... but please have a strong cup of English Breakfast Tea and a slice of chocolate cake available when the wheels fall off!!! love always Laura x

    ReplyDelete
  12. My mother could do that too. Buy a length of fabric from the market, chop it up without even holding her breath and produce a skirt without a pattern in sight. Scares the heck out of me, but I may have to look for that book because your skirt has come out beautifully.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Yet again you have inspired me to try something new. Like you, I prefer to stick to commercial sewing patterns. The only problem with them is that they too follow the whims of the Fashion business, so often you can't find something you like if it's currently not in fashion, and let's face it, at our age fashion is unimportant; as my mother always used to say, it's about what suits you, not about what everyone else is wearing. I've been coveting some velvet on ebay but can't find a suitable pattern, so perhaps I will have a go at adapting one that I already have. Well done on the skirt - it looks great.

    Judy,

    ReplyDelete
  14. Bravo Mrs Tittlemouse, cette jupe est magnifique, et les petits d├ętails de finition sont ravissants !

    ReplyDelete
  15. The bias binding finishing is perfect. And the skirt is clearly a triumph. Kudos Mrs T :D

    ReplyDelete
  16. Your skirt turned out wonderful! I have to confess I have that same book and have made two skirts from it, one for my daughter and one for me, but they both came out too big! So I see your math skills are much better than mine:) I have never done a hem this way but am definitely going to try it. I have had a bear of a time trying to hem a curved seam. You are just full of good information:)

    ReplyDelete
  17. Gorgeous! I just love the binding, it is perfect with the denim. I've not attempted to sew a clothing piece in many years, but I must say I am truly inspired to give it a whirl after seeing this.. well done!! :^)
    Janine

    ReplyDelete
  18. Lovely skirt, E. the only photo that is missing is one of you wearing it!

    ReplyDelete
  19. It is fab, and I love the fabric inside too

    ReplyDelete
  20. Once again I am bowled over by your talent. I know with such a garment the simpler it looks, the more important it is to be done neatly and this is finished beautifully. I'm sure the hidden hem will make you smile everytime you see it. Your comment about adding an inch 'just in case' made me laugh as I did this on my skirt at school, cue one unwearable garment! Abigail x

    ReplyDelete

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me at Mrs TT's and comment. I love to read what you write.