Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2011 In Review -- Part 1: Skirts

Reading through some of my favorite sewing blogs (Gertie's New Blog For Better Sewing, Elegant Musings, Wearing History, and Male Pattern Boldness, just to name a few), there seems to be a rash of "What I Sewed in 2011" posts going around -- and I love them.  Seeing all the beautiful things my favorite bloggers created last year really makes me kick myself that I didn't start blogging my own sewing earlier.  I did post on Twitter about my sewing projects fairly regularly, but I still don't have as many photos of my finished projects as I would like. I'll try to channel that into motivation to keep blogging throughout 2012, and to take more photos.

My memory being what it is, I'm going to break my 2011 projects down by category rather than by the month that I sewed it in -- skirts, dresses, costumes, home decor and disability aids, and gifts.  I think that'll cover everything.

2011 was definitely The Year Of Skirts.  I started off the year still easing into a retro aesthetic in my everyday wardrobe, and as part of that I challenged myself to wear skirts and dresses more often.  Skirts are an easy, quick sewing project comparatively, and I often don't even use a pattern when designing and sewing skirts, just work from my measurements and initial sketch.  The simplicity and ease of skirts has put me off them in previous years -- why sew something simple and easy to fit when I could be tackling the fabulous and precisely-fit? -- but throughout the course of 2011 I came to really love sewing skirts, and have several more sketches and ideas for skirts to make this year.  Of course, by the time October rolled around, I was suddenly quite glad that I'd found my love of skirts, since my joints could no longer handle wearing jeans and pants!

The first skirt I sewed in 2011 was for the trip my husband (who I'll refer to as MB here, for his Twitter account MarcusBlack_) and I took to Paris in April.  By that point I was already having trouble wearing jeans, pants, and fitted skirts for long periods of time, especially when travelling, so I thought a full gathered skirt would be the most comfortable for the twelve or so hours we were going to spend flying from southern California to Paris, while still looking cute when I stepped off the plane.  From there I started thinking about black-on-black textures and the idea of several types of semi-sheer fabric layered together to form a 3D effect -- specifically black lace, chiffon, and tulle layered on top of each other.

In the search for high-quality black lace with a scalloped edge (I love full skirts but hate hemming them, so I'll always use the selvage edge of the fabric as a hem if at all possible) I made my first pilgrimage from Orange County up to the fabric district in LA.  It was a little nerve-wracking and I somehow managed to miss going to Mood while I was there, but the collection of little fabric stores, holes-in-the-walls really, was amazing.  I scored a gorgeous French lace fabric (and even haggled for the price!), along with chiffon and yards and yards of netting and tulle.

The lower layers of the skirt were composed (from the inside outwards) of a short black jersey lining, then tulle, netting, chiffon, and finally lace, all gathered (and gathered and gathered -- I really need to get myself a gathering presser foot, omg) onto a black jersey waistband.

I broke a shocking number of needles sewing this skirt, especially considering how delicate each of the layers are.  I remember being in the final few days before we left for Paris and trying to get the lace overlay for the waistband attached, and my sewing machine simply would not cooperate.  It's usually very reliable and hardy, but machines really do know when you're down to the wire, don't they?  I ended up hand-sewing the last of the waistband into place, sometime after I took this photo:

I did manage to get it finished in time, if only barely, and added a cute little black satin ribbon tie to the front right hip, as the lace isn't stretchy but the jersey lining is, and the skirt has no other closures.  I wore it on the plane to Paris in complete comfort (other than the fact that the lace likes to grab ahold of both my charm bracelet and the zipper on my leather jacket) and out to dinner while we were there at least once, if I remember correctly.  MB snapped this photo of me in our apartment there, which is unfortunately one of the best photos I have of the skirt.

The hemline hits right about at my knee, which is a length I find myself gravitating towards.  At 5'1" and short-waisted, I find that tea-length looks odd on me except for formal dresses, and even then I have to play around to get the exact right length.  But knee-length is always a safe bet.  I also managed to avoid doing any hemming on this skirt, by using the scalloped edge of the lace and the selvage of the chiffon at the hemline, and leaving the tulle, netting, and jersey all unhemmed, as they don't fray.

When I finally broke down and bought a petticoat last fall, it was primarily to go with this skirt.  As puffy as it is on its own, the extra fullness at the hem provided by the petticoat really makes it cute.  I love all the skirts I made in 2011, but this is definitely my favorite.  It's got a somewhat retro vibe, especially with the petticoat, but isn't from a strict time period, and there's a subtle shabby-chic thing with the way the lace wears that I just love.  It's probably the one piece in my wardrobe that best describes me.

By the time we got back from Paris it was time to buckle down and start sewing costumes for DragonCon, so I didn't get back to skirt sewing until the fall.  With my ability to wear jeans and pants quickly fading and another trip (this time to Walt Disney World in Florida -- I have no idea whose idea it was to travel this much in 2011, but never again, seriously) coming up, I knew I needed more skirts.  Practical skirts.  Skirts I could run around Disney World in and not worry about ruining them.  Skirts not made of French lace.

Between October and the last week of November, I sewed three skirts and started a couple more, which I hope to finish sometime this year -- a pretty fast rate of sewing for me, especially as my health also took a dive around that time.  In more or less chronological order, the three skirts I finished were the jersey maxi, the blue satin, and the houndstooth pencil.  (And again, please forgive the cell phone pics and vacation shots.  I really do need to get  better at photographing my creations this year.)

My inspiration for the jersey maxi skirt was Elle Apparel's lovely tutorial on jersey maxi skirts.  I went with a fairly heavy black cotton jersey that I picked up at my local JoAnn's, and decided to cut it on the bias to give it some extra drape and flow.  Using Elle's tutorial as a jumping off point, I drafted a simple pattern from my measurements and cut the front half of the skirt on a 45° bias.

For the back of the skirt, I decided to use a technique I'd last used on the formal gown I made in 2008, where the center back seam flares out significantly, creating a great drape in the back, especially when cut on the bias.  (I'm sure there's a technical term for this, but for the life of me I can't remember what it is, and my Googlefu is failing me.  Anyone out there know what the correct term is?)  I used the same simple drafted pattern that I'd used for the front, but cut extra space at the back center seam.

I drafted a simple waistband and facing, and used Elle's instructions for sewing with elastic thread in the bobbin (a first for me!) to give the waist a bit more fit.

Of course, the skirt ended up being huge on me.  I didn't want it to be too tight, as that would irritate my hip joints and defeat the purpose, but I always seem to underestimate the amount of stretch in both jersey and bias.  Combine those two and even working directly from my measurements, the fit ended up a bit loose.  I took in the side seams a tad, and over the past few months I've gotten used to the fit.  When it's fresh out of the dryer, this skirt fits like a dream, with the waistband hitting right below my waist and the hem just barely floor-length.  But the more I wear it, the more the waist loosens up and the skirt gets longer and longer, until eventually I'm tripping over it and hiking it back up my hips.  At which point I just throw it in the wash again and start the cycle over.

MB had trouble getting a half-way decent shot of me in the skirt once it was finished, but the skirt, the lighting in our kitchen, and my "I'm sewing today and not going anywhere" hair and makeup didn't help anything.  It's really much cuter in person, promise.

I wore this on the plane to and from WDW, and it was comfortable, but I prefer the black lace skirt for travel when I can.  That said, this is by fair my most comfortable skirt ever, and what I live in at home most days.  I'm wearing it as I write this -- it's gotten to the stretched out and cat-hair-covered phase, so needs to  be thrown into the wash again soon, lol.  I have leftover jersey fabric from this project still.  My attempt to make a wrap dress from it before the WDW trip was an exercise in frustration, but eventually I want to pull it out of my stash and whip up another skirt or two, in shorter lengths.

For the next skirt project, I was inspired by this skirt from Margaret Howell's Fall 2011 collection:

In my stash I had the remains of a terrible costume skirt I made in high school (before I realized how much I hate narrow-cut dirndl skirts) -- roughly two yards of dark blue polyester satin with one seam, a machine hem, and a draw string waist.  It had been sitting in my stash for at least twelve years waiting for a remake into something wearable, and this seemed like a perfect excuse.  While following Elle Apparel's maxi skirt tutorial, I saw that she had another tutorial for what she called The Gilded Skirt.  Using that and the inspiration pic as a jumping off point and my strictly limited amount of fabric as a limitation, I dove in head first.

The contrast satin stripe on the inspiration skirt was something that I definitely wanted to keep, and it gave me a perfect way to use the reclaimed satin without ending up with a shiny polyester satin skirt.  I wanted to get as much fullness at the hemline as possible, given that I was only working with two yards (likely a bit less), so after picking out the old back seam, the first thing I did was figure out how tall I wanted the shiny stripe to be, and then cut that plus seam allowance from the original hem of the skirt.  Given my hatred of hemming, I used the hem I had sewn in high school, though I did end up picking out the stitching, ironing it nice and flat, and then re-sewing it with a hidden hem stitch using the correct tension, to eliminate the puckering the original hem had.  (It's always nice to see concrete examples of how your sewing technique has improved over the years, isn't it?)

For the body of the skirt, I flipped the fabric over, so that the matte underside became the right side.  Using Elle's recommendation for slightly more fabric in the back, I divided up the two yards of satin into one front piece and two back pieces.  Since I wanted the new skirt to be shorter than the original skirt, I had plenty of fabric length to work with, and drafted a simple waistband (higher in the back and lower in the front, which I've found over the years I really prefer) from the upper section of the old skirt.

The pleats were nothing more complicated than a bit of math to see how much fabric I needed to fold over in order to make the body of the skirt match the waistband, then dividing that amount of fabric evenly between several pleats.  I did inverted pleats on the back sections, just like Elle's Gilded Skirt, but in the front I played around with different pleat types until I found a combination of number and size and location that I liked the look of.  I tacked down the pleats, attached the waistband and the stripe, put in an invisible zipper in back, sewed up the side and back seams, and called it done.  This is another great example of why I love sewing skirts so much.

Like the black lace skirt, this one hits right about at knee level.  It has a nice amount of fullness on its own, but I tend to wear a little white muslin peasant skirt I made years ago as an underlayer to this skirt, both for warmth and for loft.

It got a good amount of wear in WDW and the matte side of the satin held up just fine.  Random fact: MB hated this skirt while I was sewing it.  Hated it.  Once it was finished and I tried it on with the tights and shirt I'm wearing in the above photo, he did a 180 and suddenly loved it.  Every time I've worn it since then, he's mentioned how much he likes it.  I'm not quite sure what I wasn't communicating well about my design, but it ended up just like I had imagined it, and I'm just glad MB loves it as much as I do now, heh.  It's probably his favorite of all my skirts, while for me it ranks a close second after the French lace skirt.

(Also in the above photo, the little black suede purse I designed and sewed a few years back, after giving up on ever finding The Perfect Handbag in a store.  I love that thing so much, though as you can see from the safety pin, it needs a little repair.  Handbag sewing is a little more fiddly and annoying than clothing sewing IMO, just trying to get into all those little corners, but it's so worth it.  That is by fair the most used piece I've ever sewn.)

For the third and final skirt of The Great Skirt Push of 2011, I really wanted a plaid pencil skirt.  Really really.  While looking for plaid fabric at JoAnn's (didn't have the time or the energy for another trip up to the LA fabric district, sadly), I came across this lovely soft cotton woven houndstooth fabric, and decided I liked it better than any plaid.  I love the look of pencil skirts, but given the issues I was having with pants at the time, I knew I couldn't go too tight with it, or it would put too much pressure on my hip joints to wear comfortably.

I used Vogue 7937 since I had it in my stash and had used it to make a pencil skirt several years ago (which is sadly far too tight to wear anymore).  I went with view A (without the belt loops) and cut it a bit loosely.  The pattern is very straight forward, and with just the two back vents as the only even somewhat complicated bit, the skirt went together rather quickly.  When I first tried it on, the skirt fit in the waist, but through the hips it looked like I was wearing a size or two too big.  I brought it in little by little, making sure I could sit without pain each time I took it in.  It's still not quite as fitted as I would like, visually, but it's as tight as my hip joints can handle.

I wore it on our first day in Disney World (we went to Animal Kingdom, where the set design continues to astound me), figuring that as the week went on, my hips would be less able to handle an even somewhat fitted skirt.  I loved it and wish I was able to wear it more often.  For a day walking around on vacation, it's great.  For sitting in the car or on an airplane, not so much.

And that's it for The Skirts Of 2011.  In addition to these four, I have a gray wool skirt I sewed in 2009, a floor-length spring green wrap skirt I sewed in 2002 or so, and a purchased dark green knee-length wrap skirt from 2005ish.  Between those and the handful of day dresses I have, I'm managing life-without-pants pretty well.  I would definitely like to sew more skirts in 2012, and have sketches for two or three ready to go.  And this time, I'll blog about them as I finish them!

Next post I'll cover the dresses I made in 2011.  Until then, thanks for reading, and please do leave a comment to say hi!

Creative Commons License
This work by http://sheliesshattered.blogspot.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


  1. I loved seeing these skirts as you posted them on twitter. I also have a hard time finding anything that fits off the rack and you've inspired me to start making some pieces for myself!

    1. Thanks! You definitely should sew pieces for yourself, and Tweet me the pics when you do! As much fun as costuming sewing is, there's something really fun about being able to wear stuff you've made in an every-day context. ;)