Friday, 4 April 2014

Sew Along Sewing

Daisy of LazyDaisyJones is hosting a lovely Sew Along project starting here using McCalls 3341 skirt pattern recently featured on the Great British Sewing Bee. Daisy herself has already made four of these skirts in different fabrics - wonderful examples of how the same pattern can give you an array of quite different looks. Have a look here. There are some other lovely examples out there in blogland too like Jacquie's version here.

So I thought to myself, well, why not? Recently I've been using my own skirt pattern, drawn out to fit my own measurements following the instructions in SewWhat:Skirts and very useful these makes have turned out to be, both my long and short denim versions that I posted about in 2012 and a couple of long, lined, Shetland tweed ones that I made this winter, which never made it into a blog post. And as I had been wondering  about making another short denim one - so useful for summer and easy to wear on cool days with thick tights too - instead of just making another version of my own pattern, I thought I'd tag along with Daisy's Sew Along. Not that I've made the denim one yet - got side-tracked by needlecord roses - as you do!

The pattern is lovely - a simple A-line really but with a couple of clever darts in the front and in the back, to give a good fit and you can choose from five different lengths depending on the look you are after. Usually I've found with commercial patterns that they give you a range of sizes from a UK 8 to 18 but this pattern comes in either a UK 4 to 10 or, in a separate envelope, a UK 12 to 18. That gave me an initial conundrum as really I am between a size 10 and a size 12, so I usually assess a particular pattern for generosity of cut when I see the pieces and choose between the sizes accordingly. Most of the things I make aren't too fitted anyway, so it doesn't matter unduly but this skirt is fitted - that's the whole point of it. After humming and hawing about which size option to choose, I ordered the larger one. Mistake. Definitely too big.* Ordered the smaller size and looked at what seemed to me some scarily small pieces - eek! I am never going to fit into that! Checked the measurements again and cast an eye at the lovely, new, denim fabric I'd bought and the delightfully Springlike, rosy needlecord, hanging over the banisters, all pre-washed and pressed.

Realised there was nothing for it but to break the habit of a lifetime and make what I think is technically called a "muslin"- a mock-up, in any old scrap fabric, so that you can adjust the fit, if need be, before cutting into the lovely fabric you've just spent good money on and finding out too late that you should have cut it bigger, or differently.

An ancient cotton sheet, inherited from my grandmother, with a large rip in the middle of it was the obvious choice for this exercise and so stage one was to do a trial run and see how the sizing and fit worked in practise. I didn't bother with the zip and facing, of course, just cut the main pieces and sewed the darts and main seams.

It turned out to be a surprisingly useful exercise and although a little voice in my head kept saying, "You're wasting valuable sewing time with this mock-up nonsense, Mrs T!", it wasn't true. It didn't take very long and the results were surprisingly informative. The cut is, in fact, quite generous in this pattern, so the size 10, amazingly enough, fits perfectly - the small pattern pieces are deceptive. But the length definitely did need adjusting. I wanted to make a short skirt but not that short and I realise that because my mind was on the other aspects of the fit, I would have sailed straight in and cut it at the pattern's line if I hadn't had the muslin's clear evidence that more length was needed.

Of course, having spent all this time faffing about, did I bother to add a bit of paper to the bottom of the skirt pattern pieces to accommodate the need for the extra length, before cutting? No, of course, I didn't! I said to myself, "I'll just measure the extra and mark with pins." "Yeah, yeah, yeah...  " All went well until I started cutting the lining which I wanted to add to the needlecord version, to stop it sticking to my tights, in wear. Emboldened by the success of lining my Shetland tweed skirts a month or two ago, I thought I could cannily cannibalise the left-over remnants of lining fabric to line this needlecord one. Thrifty or what?! Just enough fabric, if if I pieced together a couple of bits, but only just. All went well until, in the process of pinning and cutting, the 'phone rang. Working from home is not good on this front. What does Mrs T do? Does she leave the caller to leave a message and carry on cutting out, or put the scissors down and answer the 'phone? Neither. She answers the 'phone but, as it's something non-urgent, she thinks she will multi-task and carry on cutting, with one eye on the fabric and one ear on the 'phone. Yes, well, the inevitable happens. I forget I am supposed to be adding on the extra length. At the end of the 'phone call, I realise what I've done and shock my (pretty unshockable) 16-year-old son with a raft of expletives he didn't think his mother had even heard of - he now knows differently! Apologies, H! - and assess the damage with a gloomy heart.

What to do? Not enough spare fabric to recut entirely - and just a tad too drastic to carry on regardless. The worst of both worlds.

1 abandon the lining idea;
2 carry on but cut the lining much shorter than the skirt;
3 reposition the pattern pieces on the fabric available, to minimise the erroneous cut; recut the pieces, slightly less in line with the grain than is ideal but probably close enough to get away with, and hope for the best;
4 go out and buy replacement lining fabric.

I went for option three and by placing a small piece of fabric under the cuts and using a three step zig zag stitch I did a sort of darn to secure them from going any further.

In fact, they're pretty much contained in the seam allowance and on the right side of the lining, you now can't see any evidence of my careless cutting crime!

The reason I share this little cautionary tale is to say to you:

1 If you resize or redraw a pattern, do go to the trouble of drawing out your amendments and adding them on to the existing pattern pieces - in the long run it will save you a lot of hassle, even though it's a pain.
2 Don't answer the 'phone / feed the cat / cook the supper and cut out a sewing pattern at the same time. You are a woman and you do multitask as a matter of course, but you are still very likely to make a mistake!
3 If the worst happens and you do cut where you shouldn't have, stop as soon as you realise and remember that there is often a creative solution, even if you think the situation is irrevocable. But see 4 below!
4 Never mind: "careless talk costs lives", careless cutting costs valuable sewing time!
5 Never underestimate just how innocent, teenage children think their parents are!

Having got over this little glitch, matters went more smoothly and I'm rather pleased with the results!

Like a peek?

Here it is then!

A couple of sewing tips you might find useful, other than the above, hard-won advice of course!

1 When you are choosing a zip, it can help to choose one that's quite a bit longer than the length you actually need - gives you much more room to play with and once you've sewn in the correct length, you can just cut off the excess. Works at both ends. Make sure you've slid the zipper-pull down into the section that you've sewn on to the skirt first, before you cut it off, by mistake, though! Using a longer than strictly necessary zip is particularly useful if you find machine sewing past the zipper-pull tricky, with your zipper-foot, as I do, because you can slide it out of the way while you stitch.

2 I use bias binding to finish off the raw edges of the facing in a skirt like this and also to make a false hem at the bottom. Avoids the bulk of a double hem-fold and if the hem is curved, the bias of the tape absorbs the curvature perfectly.

 Just unfold one side of the tape and line it up against the raw edge of the facing (or the hem-line) as I have done in the pic above;  machine sew along the first fold-line all the way round; press the tape up, folding it over to the inside and hand-stitch the top edge (which will still be folded over) of the tape in place to the inside, with hemming stitches. I fold over the binding on the facing, half-way, so it remains visible, as you can see here, as the facing is on the inside of the skirt;

and for the hem, I fold it over so that all the tape is folded up, away from sight, to the inside and the machine stitched seam makes the bottom edge of the skirt. You can use commercial bias binding in matching or toning colours or go for something a little more decorative. I usually make my own with left-over cotton prints from my fabric box and one of these bias binding makers but here, I am using some flowery bias binding I picked up in Cologne last year. You can see the finished hem of the skirt in the pics below.

3 Use iron-on interfacing - it's very easy and when you've ironed it on, take a sharp pair of scissors and trim off the excess from the edges of your pattern piece. I find it tends to stretch a bit as it's applied and the trimming helps you to keep your seam allowances neat and even because the edges aren't blurred by overlapping interfacing when you come to sew.

5 If like me, you want to add a lining, it's not as difficult as you might think. Simply make up the basic skirt in lining fabric as well as your chosen outer fabric (ie the main pieces, minus the facings and omitting inserting the zip) and before you attach the facing, insert the lining into the skirt with the wrong sides of the fabrics together. Tack the two fabrics together along the waistline and simply treat the outer fabric and inner lining as one layer of fabric, as you proceed. For the hem on the lining I just turn up the fabric, fold in the raw edge and machine stitch in place as you can see in the pics above. It needs to be a little bit shorter than the hem of the outer skirt but not much. Finally, hand stitch the folded-back seam allowance of the central back seam onto the zipper fabric to secure in place at the opening which is what I am doing in the pic here:

6 I've added hanging loops because find I never have enough proper skirt hangers whereas I do have plenty of hangers with notches in them. Use some tape or bias binding and stitch onto the facing fabric at the side seam, with the loop facing downwards so that it doesn't show when you wear the skirt.

I then stitch "in the ditch" of the side seam to secure the facing to the outer fabric and avoid it pulling out of shape when you hang the skirt up by the loops. This also helps keep the facing in position when you wear the skirt. If you do this, make sure you stitch from the outside so that your stitching stays invisible on the outside of the skirt - I find it's difficult to ensure otherwise that the stitching does not stray from "the ditch" of the seam you are sewing in. Obviously, keep the attached loop out of the way or you'll stitch that in the ditch as well!

Thinking you might join Daisy's Sew Along too? Go on, give it a go! 

E x

*PS If you'd like to give this skirt a whirl and would like to have the spare pattern (UK size 12-18) that I originally ordered but found was the wrong size, email me with your address and I'll send it to you, as a little Sew Along freebie - it will ease my conscience at having had to order two! (It's been opened and looked at but is completely uncut.)

Ed to add: Pattern has now gone off in the post to come to life in a new Sew Along home! Happy Sewing, Deb! E x


  1. Dear Mrs T
    What a fabulous skirt - many congratulations! I am joining in with the sew along, am waiting for my pattern and am going to make it in calico first because I am a total beginner in the making clothes department. I am excited but nervous too. Seeing lovely examples like yours is encouraging though. I hope to progress to a knee length denim version eventually...
    Have a lovely weekend
    Best wishes

  2. What a super cute skirt and thanks for all the little tips x

  3. What a super cute skirt, I love the fabric, I took the plunge today and a ordered a sewing machine eek, no going back now, I going to learn to sew
    Clare xx

  4. I loved reading this post :) it has really tempted me to give the skirt a try. I'm also chuckling at you shocking your 16 year old!!

  5. Oh what a great way to end a long day, reading your post. You made me giggle. I try to use Swiss German expletives if I remember. That way, if the children repeat them in public, it is less likely to be noticed by the super mums, or by a teacher. I hope to sew a skirt this summer but probably won't participate in the sew along, ballet costumes need to be sewn for Annie's dance class first, and a birthday present for one James' and Alistair's school friends. Your skirt is just beautiful, I would wear any day (although I might only be able to squeeze one leg in!). Have a lovey weekend. xx

  6. Wow, Elizabeth, I LOVE your skirt. It's such beautifully pretty fabric and your work is beautiful. It makes me want to make another...with a lining and pretty bias binding :0)
    Jacquie x

  7. Love your skirt E - so pretty and colourful. Perfect for summer days, or brightening miserable ones! x

  8. Beautiful skirt!!! Love the fabric! xxx

  9. Absolutely darling, and love how you paired it with the periwinkle sweater and tights. You would probably look good in a tow sack, but know you look smashing in your new skirt.

    You instructions are detailed and perfect.

  10. A lovely bit of work and some gorgeous material E. It's so nice to see someone working with so much colour and using fabric that really sings!!!
    B x

  11. It's ages since I did some dressmaking. I'm thinking I should get back on the treddle this year.

  12. Lovely skirt Mrs T - I have invested in some patterns this year and hope to get busy making some skirts and dresses. Your post is delightfully explanatory and I love how you have bound your facings with bias binding - really pretty result - hoping you will enjoy wearing your new skirt

  13. such a pretty skirt - I'd love to have a go at making this skirt but I would be afraid to cut into such beautiful material and make a mistake
    Thank you for sharing (love the bias binding!)
    Caz xx

  14. such a pretty skirt - I'd love to have a go at making this skirt but I would be afraid to cut into such beautiful material and make a mistake
    Thank you for sharing (love the bias binding!)
    Caz xx

  15. Wow and wow again!!
    That needlecord is divine, I love it, and I really am admiring your bias binding touch it finishes that skirt off perfectly.
    Some lovely tips to take note of here.
    Thank you for generously linking to me too as I can sew you need no help with your sewing, indeed you are a very talented seamstress, now tell me is there anything you CANNOT do?
    I enjoyed reading this post....bestest wishes Daisy J xx
    Ps those tights are the bees knees! my fave colour!

  16. Hi, Elizabeth. You did a wonderful job of showing all of the details that went into making your skirt. I love the use of diferent fabrics. I've been busy sewing a small quilt with Downton Abbey squares, but only work for maybe an hour or two a week--on Saturdays or Sundays. I've been itching to put in some time sewing and your post adds to that desire. I hope to do some this spring break and summer.


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