Friday, 7 June 2013

Gipsy Skirt

My Gipsy Skirt, which has been in various stages of production over the last month or so, has reached completion and she's a joy! She took a lot of sewing and quite a lot of fabric but she's worth every single stitch!

She began to take shape when a friend sent me some gorgeous fabric from across the Atlantic - a most beautiful purple and turquoise-blue paisley print and another small-patterned purple print, (the one in the bottom right hand corner of the pic).

I suspect the fabric designer may have intended them as quilting fabrics but for me they were just too beautiful not to make something to wear. But what? A shirt? A short summer dress may be? Or perhaps a skirt?

I wanted to use every scrap of the fabric I could and waste as little as possible in the cutting so the idea germinated of a version of the Gipsy Skirt, you know, one of those tiered, flounced skirts that we all wore in the late seventies / early eighties. Well, you might not have done, as you may be too young, but I did!

Had I (or my mother) retained a pattern for such a skirt ? Sadly not. But a bit of googling around on the old Internet and a consultation of "Sew What Skirts!" threw up some instructions and it became clear that the construction of a Gipsy Skirt was a relatively simple matter. You decide on the length of skirt you want and the number of tiers. You divide the length by that number and that gives you the finished depth you need for each tier. Add on seam allowances to that figure and an allowance for folding over the top of the first tier to make a casing for some elastic and another allowance for a hem at the bottom and bingo, a pattern is beginning to form and you haven't even drawn anything out yet nor have you expended any money on a commercial pattern. It is however helpful to make notes of the Precise Measurements You Need for Each Tier and Which Fabric Will Go Where, otherwise it's easy to lose track.

Each tier is a simple, shallow strip of fabric and each one is wider than the previous one, as you go down the skirt. It's simplest to work in numbers of widths of the fabric so the first tier I made was one width across, the second was two widths, the third was three widths, the fourth was four-and-a-half widths and the fifth I made six widths. The finished depth of the tiers in my skirt is 7.5" and the finished length of the skirt is therefore 37.5" long, which suits me, but you can obviously adjust to make the skirt as long or short as you like.

There wasn't quite enough of the American fabric to make the entire skirt but I managed to find a couple of prints that I thought worked well with the originals and we were in business.

Armed with my rotary cutter (of which I always feel slightly nervous - I swear you've only got to look at those things to cut yourself), a large cutting mat and a ruler, and measuring turned to cutting. A lot of cutting, even for a Happy Snipper like me! But because the shapes you need are so simple and linear, it's quite straightforward so long as you Keep a Check on the Measurements! (Measure thrice, Mrs T, cut once!)

Not much left over at the end of the cutting process is there?
Just enough for a lavender bag or two, perhaps.
You then sew your strips together at the short ends to make the shallow loops of fabric that make up each tier in the increasing widths and begin assembly.

This again is pretty straightforward but there is a lot of sewing so you need plenty of thread and several bobbins lined up, full and ready to go. You make gathering stitches along the top of each tier (apart from the first) with a long machine stitch. I found this easiest to do in sections especially with the lower tiers where the loops of fabric were so big.

Pin each gathered section on to the bottom un-gathered edge of the previous tier, right sides facing, and stitch in place. Simple! Make a casing for some wide elastic at the top and turn up a hem at the bottom (which you can whizz along with your sewing machine in a jiffy) and you're there, bar the shouting, by which I mean you're there, bar the top-stitching just above the seam of each tier. Because there is so much fabric in the skirt, the top-stitching is not purely decorative - it adds necessary strength to the construction so although I was tempted to skip this step, (I felt that I and my sewing machine had sewed a marathon and could do with a break), I made myself keep at it!

It is beautiful to wear in a non-visual sense, if you know what I mean. Despite the amount of fabric it contains, it doesn't feel heavy at all but is gloriously light, swishy and easy. If I were ever to lose my sight, I'd want to wear skirts like this always - it just feels so lovely that it almost doesn't matter what fabric it's in. Almost, but not quite, because I think this fabric is just so beautiful that looking at it gives me a huge burst of joy and I'm so glad I have managed to incorporate so much of it in one place!

Special thanks again to V for your wonderful gift that made this dreamy garment possible

and to S for being so patient in taking some swirly photos of the skirt in wear - just not possible to take of oneself and without them you can't see quite how deliciously swishy the finished skirt is.
The good news is that this is a pattern that you can adapt to suit yourself in every way - make the number of tiers fewer or more numerous; make the tiers wider or less wide; make a waistband, if you don't like the idea of the elastic waist; make it in matching or contrasting cotton prints or in lightweight needlecord; make it plain or multicoloured; make it for yourself, your daughter, your niece or your granddaughter; just adapt to suit the amount of fabric you have and the look you want. Wear it on its own or with a retro, lace-edged petticoat, peeping out from underneath; wear it with bare legs and bare feet, gipsy-style, in summer; or with boots and thick tights in winter.

I am wearing mine gipsy-summer-style as the sun has got his hat on and come out to play this week. All I need now is a tambourine and a sense of rhythm for a little gipsy dance. I have a tambourine somewhere, but sadly, no sense of rhythm, so must content myself with a little private twirl in a corner of the kitchen, when no one is looking!

Tempted to have a go at one yourself? Go for it! You don't really need to be able to do anything other than cut and sew in straight lines!

PS Note to anyone, like me, with secret Fabric-Junkie tendencies: "This may be the project that fabric stash of yours, bursting from its cupboard or drawer and attracting unwelcome comments from less-discerning members of the household, has been waiting for! Tee hee! Enjoy!"

E x


  1. Very tempted. It looks absolutely fantastic Elizabeth. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. This is amazing E!!! Really stunning. Sadly you lost me with your first paragraph of instructions but I read through to the end thinking that I might 'get it' eventually but alas, no! Never mind. I'll be showing it to my mum and dropping atom bomb type hints which I hope she'll get!!! At 72 she's still sewing like a demon so I know she'll be keen...... xxx

  3. Beautiful skirt. I love quilting fabric. So easy to find something that you like, but it does see a shame to use them just for quilts. I love using them in dressmaking too! I'm planning on making something similar for one of my daughters. You're right, it is a great stash buster.

  4. It's outrageously beautiful Elizabeth, the fabrics marry so well together. I have the 'Sew What Skirts' book, I think it's about time I made good use of it.............and the fabric stash too.
    kim xx

  5. Wow, this is just so fun and flirty. :-) I see it with a pair of purple cowboy books and a denim jacket...but then again I live where such combinations are the norm. ;-)

  6. hello elizabeth,
    the skirt looks fantastic!!!! love the colors,very pretty!!
    wish you a wonderful weekend,
    love regina

  7. Your skirt is lovely, and you really appreciate it when you see it all swirled out like that...I love a good swirly skirt!

  8. Wow! Beautiful. That is amazing. Gorgeous colours. X

  9. What a great idea. Don't know if I want to tackle a new project now, but that skirt is perfect for summer travels.

  10. Congratulations fron Barcelona!!!! It's gorgeous!!!

  11. LOVE the skirt. Gorgeous colours and style, AND... it looks great on you! Well done!

  12. Dear E
    That is a beautiful skirt and the finished product is well worth all the hard work. I have the Sew What Skirts book too and as a result of your denim skirt making and the Great British Sewing Bee, I actually bought some denim to make a simple A line skirt. However, that is as far as it has got but I will do it at some stage - promise...
    Congratulations on a stunning result and enjoy all the swishing!
    Best wishes

  13. Whaouuuuuuu!!!!!
    I am in love With it......What beautiful Colors .....i love,i love,i love.....
    Quand j'aurai du temps je crois que je vais tenter l'aventure et peut être te demanderai- je des conseils
    Magnifique travail, Elisabeth.
    Et heureuse de te croiser sur mon blog,sincèrement

    Miel du Monde de Miel:

  14. Really wonderful! You are super talented! I really love purple and paisley so perfect combinations. Helen

  15. A lovely skirt and the fabrics were made foe one another. The pictures are wonderful. Would love to see you in your flirty hat while wearing your skirt.

  16. Oh yes - swishy skirts, bare legs and sunhats conjures up images of long hot summers in the late seventies when I had no cares in the world and could happily spend an afternoon lazing in the sun with a good book. If I remember rightly, the skirts could be twisted to pack in a suitcase and emerge ready to swirl. Your skirt looks fab.

  17. I love skirts like these. i think they had a mini-comeback in around 2003 as I'm sure I had a couple. I love them as you don't have to worry about shaving your legs too carefully! (I am very lazy)

    Yours is beautiful. That combination of cool lilacs and bright purples is divine. You wear it well! x

  18. Such beautiful colors! You truly have a magic touch, whether it's in the kitchen, or writing, or crocheting, or sewing:) I love it and hope you have many happy days wearing it this summer.

  19. Oh! It's wonderful, and as Ali says, so very you!

    I too made (I think I sewed my first age 13) and wore these back in the same era as you :)

  20. Such a beautiful skirt E. And such fabulous twirling options :)

  21. Wow - it's brilliant and looks comfortable and stylish. Thanks for the instructions as I will definitely make one of these as soon as I find a bit of time (lots of material in my stash so not a problem there - wish I had a 'time-stash' too!). I recently tried one on in a shop as I too used to have one of these in the early 80s, but it was a bit too long for my podgy build, but you are nice and willowy so the longer length suits you. I do remember them being very comfortable to wear. (Unusual spelling of Gipsy - any reason why? As you know I love words). Judy.


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