how to draft a basic skirt

thanks so much for all the lovely and flattering comments on my blog, burda and pattern review regarding my denim macaron dress! it’s always nice to hear other people being as excited as i am about something i made. but after finishing a project i always feel like yay that was awesome!! then, what do i do next??? well i have a few scraps of denim leftover and i have a daughter in need of some clothes… so i’ll make her a denim skirt.

also, i’ve been thinking a lot about fitting and drafting patterns and having a sloper handy for reference. i picked up a book from the library called “How To Make Your Own Sewing Patterns” by Donald H. McCunn. a quick look at reviews on amazon tells me that this is a staple book for pattern drafting and has been in continuous print since the 70s. okay. good enough for me! i’ll work on a bodice sloper for myself soon, but first i’ll use it to draft a basic skirt for my daughter. i have no problem conducting experiments on my children, plus they require less fabric yardage!

so here’s the skirt i have in mind: a straight pencil skirt to hit just above the knee with a straight 2-inch waistband and back zip. the front panel i will divide and put some front slant pockets, maybe with a topstitching detail. also, since this is for a 7 year old, i’m going to measure 1 inch extra for the waist and encase elastic in the waistband so she can still move around like a 7 year old requires. i suppose you could do this for an adult version too if you need or want the flexibility!

now, obviously fitting a stick thin 7 year old who can use a little elastic for shaping is much easier than fitting a woman’s curves. but, i’ll walk you through the process laid out in the book which you can definitely apply to a normal adult body.

take the following measurements:

  1. waist to above knee—16″
  2. waist to hip—5.5″
  3. hip—25.5″
  4. waist—22″

now that we have the basic measurements take a large piece of paper like tissue or tracing paper, tape some together if you have to. draw a line on the far right equaling the waist to hem measurement.

then mark the waist to hip measurement and draw horizontal lines at the waist, hip and knee marks.

next take 1/4th of the hip measurement plus 1″ and make a mark on the waist, hip and knee line. this is the side hip mark.

on the waistline mark off 1/4th of the waist measurement. this is the side waist mark.

measuring from the side waist mark, make a mark slightly less than halfway to the side hip mark.

draw in the side seam curving from the last mark made down to the side hip mark and straight down to the knee line.

at this point you have your starting point for a pattern. this would be cut in muslin (don’t forget to add the seam allowances!) and sewn. to establish the front and back darts, you pinch out the excess and mark it which you would then transfer to your pattern pieces.

for my purposes, i am going to continue with out a muslin fitting. my daughter is stick thin so i’m not worried about this not fitting! i am adding the dart and drawing a line straight down to mark off the side and center panels.

and next i am adding the pocket details.

from here i made my pattern pieces by tracing and adding seam allowances. i know the back piece will need to be slightly higher at the waist to cover her tiny derrière so i added about half an inch.

while i haven’t tried this on myself yet, you can see how simple it really is to make your own basic patterns. i’ll definitely be doing this for myself soon!

—lisa g

macaron pt. 5: finished!

to finish off my colette patterns macaron dress i merely had to slip stitch the lining in place around the top of the denim parts and down the zip.

i just love that my lining is red; it’s so beautiful it’s almost a shame that no one will ever see it! except for you lovely folks who visit my blog, that is.

after trying on the finished product i felt there was a little bit of strain at the bottom of the stitching on the pleats (i blame the flab-that-won’t-go-away mommy tummy for this). to be perfectly honest i hadn’t noticed that the pleats were actually tucks and were stitched down a ways. i hadn’t muslined this part so it was a little snug. to fix it, i took out about 1″ of stitching from the end of each tuck to ease up the strain here. it seems in better proportion on me so it all worked out. whew!

the one last thing i need to figure out is the fitting around my shoulders. my shoulders are slightly protruding and it feels like the actual armscythe needs to be moved toward the front just a wee bit. since i rarely make sleeved dresses (or sleeved anything…) i hadn’t considered this in my fittings. but now wearing it, my arm movement is a little restricted. will have to remember this in the future. but, i love the sleeves so they are not coming out!

here’s a quick rundown of the changes or alterations i made to the pattern:

  • converted the darts to a princess seam: this is by far the biggest change i made. i think the princess seams really suit the style of dress and my fabric choice. being able to topstitch with topstitching thread for denim was a real treat. as scary as topstitching may seem, it’s surprisingly easy and gives the garment a professional-looking finish.
  • button and loop back closure: like i mentioned before, i have a hard time getting in and out of side zip dresses. i just haven’t figured that maneuver out! so to give me a little extra room at the neckline, i added a seam down the back of the yoke piece and left an opening to be closed with a button. it’s a nice little detail and if you’re at all concerned with fitting the neckline over your head, this is an easy solution!
  • sizing: i started with a 0 up at top and tapered out to a 4 from the waist down. i still had to pinch out some room at the under bust, about 1″ total. since i’m pretty tiny here, the last thing i need is extra fabric flopping around!
  • back neck dart: i didn’t really talk about this, but i also removed some room from the back, about 1″ vertically. i took the room out right next to the neck dart in order to make this dart smaller because it kind of stuck out giving me a hunch back. not cool.
  • skirt tucks: after finishing the dress and trying it on, the tucks were a little strained at their ending point. to give some extra ease, i unpicked and shortened how far these were stitched down, taking about 1″ of stitching out.

i am so very happy with how my dress turned out! it’s such a darling design to begin with and once i found the perfect fabric i knew it would be amazing! i began this project with the highest of expectations and i certainly wasn’t let down!

macaron pt. 1: pattern alterations
macaron pt. 2: fitting woes
macaron pt. 3: progress and a major WHAT??? moment…
macaron pt. 4: almost there…

—lisa g

macaron pt. 4: almost there…

since all my drama in the last post, things have gone along rather nicely! because my yoke pieces are a little sheer i decided to use bias tape as facing for the neckline and make a small narrow facing for the sleeve hem. it was super easy and keeps everything looking neat inside and out!

to backtrack a step… ever wonder what to do with the little tails of thread from sewing a dart?

sometimes it’s just too much work to thread and re-thread the machine for the couture dart. grab your hand sewing needle and thread it with the tails of thread. then bring the needle through the fabric taken up in the dart and out.

pull the thread tight and clip right where you’ve pulled it out of the fabric.

ta-da! no tails hanging out!

and here is the completed bodice. i really love the button and loop detail. it’s a small thing, but it makes it so much easier to get in and out of the dress!

the skirt of the dress was surprisingly quick to put together, considering it has pleats and in-pleat pockets. i love the pockets! yes, any dress with pockets automatically gets higher points in my book, but i’m not really a fan of side seam pockets. they tend to flap around a little and create weird bulk at the hips if you actually use the pockets. and what’s the point of taking the trouble to put pockets in if you don’t use them?

back to the pockets on the macaron… i have to admit, it was a little nerve wrecking to slash down the middle of the side pleats to insert a pocket. i swear, i just stood there for twenty minutes to check and double check that i was cutting in the right place.

i highly recommend that you don’t plow through this step! fortunately, the directions are very clear. plus it’s great to know how to do this type of pocket, i’ll definitely use this technique on skirts/dresses in the future!

once i had the entire shell constructed and hemmed, i moved on to my lining. this was my first time using bemberg lining, and by the time i was about halfway through my lining construction i was convinced that it would be all off. that stuff is shifty!!! but so soft and lovely… at any rate, i muddled through and my seams are surprisingly straight. i used my serger to sew it all up, saving me from stitching then finishing my seams.

also, instead of the usual construction where you basically work from the bodice down, i sewed up the entire front panel, then the entire back panel, finished all the edges then sewed the front and back pieces together at the side seams.

i have to say, after seeing all this lovely red, i definitely need a fancy red dress at some point.

okay… i’m almost there! just need to hand stitch the lining in place and attach it at the zip. next will be the finished product! stay tuned!

—lisa g

macaron pt. 3: progress and a major WHAT??? moment

i put my fitting issues and craziness behind me, went back to the drawing board and whipped up a final pattern based on everything i had found out from my muslins and confidently cut out my actual fabric pieces. it’s always exciting to get the fabric cut and be all ready to go!

i rejected my momentary thought of trying to do a center back zip. i stuck to the side zip but decided to change the back yoke piece slightly. as writ, the back yoke is one piece cut on the fold. i wanted a little extra wiggle room because, let’s face it. i suck at being able to get into a side zip dress. i don’t know why, i get all lost with both hands up in the air frantically waving and me becoming increasingly claustrophobic. so, to make it a little easier to get into (and to have an air vent in case i do get stuck…), i added a seam to the back yoke and left the top part open to be closed with a button and loop. it was a small compromise to ensure that i can in fact get in and out of the dress i have worked so hard to make.

this was a really simple change. i added a seam allowance to the back piece when i cut the fabric. then, i measured out to have a 4″ opening then sewed down the rest of the piece.

then i pressed open the seam allowance, continuing all the way up the open part. then i turned the seam allowance under and pressed so the raw edges would meet the stitching line and be concealed.

continue pressing the entire length of the seam allowance on both sides

to finish my seam allowance, i  stitched along the turned edge, just up to where the opening is.

after this, i top stitched around the opening to keep everything neat and in place.

everything so far was going along just swimmingly. the denim bodice pieces were put together, top stitched, attached to the yoke, shoulder seams sewn. i was ready to triumphantly sew down the non zip side of the bodice. i pinned carefully to see if my seams lined up when i discovered…


what? uh, what?! how? shock and horror!! this was not a tiny difference, it was a full 1/4″!!! resist throwing things, there are children present. okay. be calm. somehow my side front piece is just too short. but only on the side. i had no good explanation.

it was all a little too much for my 2:30 in the afternoon on a friday i haven’t yet had an afternoon coffee brain. 

after my more than momentary panic, i decided it was fixable. there is enough seam allowance that i can unpick part of the waistband, align correctly and re-stitch. pinned to the dressform the waist band did look to be at an awkward angle heading toward the side seam.

soooo… that’s weird.

i came back to it with a clear, fully caffeinated head and fixed the problem. i stitched the side seam, perfectly matching all my seams, and even tried it on!

ah, much better. i knew i couldn’t sleep last night if i left this unfixed. even my top stitching lines match perfectly! not to brag or anything.

—lisa g

macaron pt. 2: fitting woes

i’ve made some good progress working on my muslin and lest you think i have completely lost my mind, this stripy fabric is just some awful fabric i had in my stash. so awful it’s barely even muslin worthy. in fact, the rest of it is going straight to the trash. guilt free.

lest you think for some reason that this looks
cool, the stripes will absolutely make you go blind.
that is my public service announcement for the day.

after my first go around i made a few more adjustments and sewed up a second muslin. which was still not quite right. hmm. i made a few more pattern adjustments and thought i was ready to cut my real fabric, but decided to sleep on it first.

after all, what’s the rush?

this morning with a clear head i tried my original muslin back on and realized it’s not nearly as bad as i had thought, and that i totally made adjustments in all the wrong places for my second muslin. in fact, it’s pretty darn close to where i need to be! i don’t know what i was thinking before, maybe the weird stripes and truly awful fabric i used for the muslin skewed my vision. that and i nearly went blind sewing it. for some reason i pinched out fabric in the wrong places and it totally threw off and flattened the whole bust area in a weird way. i am so glad i went back to my original before throwing it out, in this case a second look was a very good idea!!

so it’s back to square one, but since now i really know how to fix it, it’ll be a piece of cake and i’ll be sewing up this pattern in no time! don’t get me wrong here, i have found this to be a beautifully sized pattern! the sizing chart and how it actually resembles the finished garment sizes is super reliable (unlike some other patterns i’ve worked with). 

but, what i’m really coming to realize is how badly i need a permanent sloper (or toile or block… whatever your preferred terminology is). all it is is a base pattern that fits perfectly. then i could simply take my own existing sloper to use as comparison for any pattern and save me from needing to muslin at all! to have a well-fitting sloper at my fingertips would save time, energy, worry and fabric. in fact, i think i need to make one right after i finish the macaron. at this point, i’ve invested so much into my fittings (and since i’m really close to getting it right) it’d be a shame to not finish my dress first. plus, there’s still room for minor tweaks once i start in on the real thing.

so that’s that. hopefully i’ll be back soon with something real to show you all!

—lisa g

macaron pt. 1: pattern alterations

so excited just to put that title down! i know, it’s stupid but i have been in love with this dress for months and just want to get started!

BUT! first things being first… are you watching project runway all stars? as much as the last season of regular project runway was… well… a snooze fest… i have major hopes for this. i don’t make it a habit to get overly involved in reality shows. i know they’re all set up or cleverly edited and whatnot. but i still feel a little miffed about the fact that mondo didn’t win season 8. it was a crime and if you followed that season you know exactly what i’m talking about. so, basically i look forward to watching him make more awesome clothes for my thursday night entertainment.

back to the macaron! first: pattern alteration. groooooan. okay, maybe i shouldn’t grumble. after all, half the reason why i sew is because fitted RTW dresses just don’t fit me (to a rather comical degree). just looking at the sizing chart on this pattern you can see that i’m all over the map.

  • bust: sz 0
  • waist: sz 4
  • hips: sz 6

see why i can’t buy dresses that don’t have a tremendous amount of stretch? don’t get me wrong, i’m not complaining about my size i’m just illustrating a point for any person of any size. to be the same size from top to err… bottom is (i’m guessing) rare.

i digress… so, the bodice sections i will grade from a 0 out to a 4 at the waist. while i like a darted bodice as much as the next gal i am converting the darts to a princess seam. i am using a lightweight denim fabric (6.5 oz denim i believe) and want to do some top stitching to emphasize the denim and all the lovely seams. so, here’s how to make this relatively simple change.

first, draw in the seam lines (usually at 5/8″). all the alterations will be made so the length of the actual seam lines don’t change. this is very important!

starting with the back bodice piece, pick a spot above the dart on the seam line and draw two lines straight down—one to each leg of the dart (again make sure your line hits where the dart would be on the seam line). 

you can see what the two back pieces will be, so trace one of them then cut the other to make the second piece.

sorry this is so fuzzy, i just wanted a “before” picture as a reference

for the front of the bodice, draw a line going through the leg of the waist dart closest to center front all the way up to the seam line. then draw a line continuing the top leg of the bust dart all the way to the first line you drew. 

once you have these lines drawn, cut along the first line you drew, then cut out the rest of the waist dart. then cut along the upper line of the bust dart and just swivel and overlap the two side pieces and tape them together. you can see the one piece is a little pointy, just smooth it out.

betcha you thought it’d be more complicated than that, huh?

once you have all this done you can retrace the pieces adding in the seam allowances. i think i’ll just add it in when i cut my muslin in case i need to go back and fiddle with my pattern before i start in on my real fabric. and, since i was careful to not disturb my seam lines, my yoke and midriff pieces should match up perfectly.

next: cut and sew up a muslin! while i always feel like this is a waste of time and fabric it’s an absolute must especially when making significant alterations or using a new pattern, particularly one that i want to fit. like. a. glove.

—lisa g

thread belt loops

before i get engrossed in my next project (the colette patterns macaron, if you’ve been following along) i want to show you a little dress i made for my just turned 6 year old. as far as mainstream patterns for kids go, it’s pretty slim pickings. plus half the stuff out there is just bizarrely sized. the simplicity/new look project runway series however is much more true to the sizing chart and usually doesn’t require a thousand alterations! so as a birthday gift i decided to make up a little casual dress for her in a (bright!) pink polka dot flannel she picked out weeks ago. i used new look 6088 which is cute, casual enough to wear to school and has a few sweet details that make it special.

fortunately i didn’t have to change a thing. while it took a little longer than i expected with all the pockets, plackets, tabs, buttonholes, buttons, etc. i’m glad i didn’t leave anything out. all the little details make it look so much less homemade, if you know what i mean. i made her the size 6 which is a little big, but perfect for growing into. then after wearing it for a day my little fashionista decided it needed a belt.

fortunately that was a simple matter. i cut two pieces of material on grain, sewed, turned and topstitched. to make sure it stayed in place i added little belt loops to the side seams of the dress. now, here is the cool part and what i am really getting to in this post! you know those little thread belt loops you see on dresses? just enough to keep a belt in place but discreet enough that you don’t really notice them? well it turns out there is a super easy way to make them yourself. i remembered a handy tutorial on colette patterns website.

here’s a super close up so you can see what it looks like

i won’t post step by step pictures since they do such a nice job, but basically all you do is take 6 threads and sew a zig zag stitch over them, keeping the threads taut as you go. it was very easy, fast and created a nice sturdy belt loop!

to attach it, i just marked a spot at the waist on the side seams and ripped a few stitches (just enough to poke the loop through) then stitched it back up. then using a short stitch (1 mm) i stitched again about 1/8″ inside the seam allowance just to give it a more secure anchor. ideally you will have thought to do this before finishing the seam to begin with, but it was easy enough to go back and add.

hope you find this useful, i know i’ll be using these time and time again for belt loops, button loops and probably a hundred other things!

and i think she was right. it does look better with the belt.

woo-hoo! sewing stuff for christmas!

i suppose everyone i know has figured out that i’ve turned into a sewing fanatic. lucky for me this translated into a few sewing related gifts! i’ve been drooling over colette patterns‘ designs for a while now so i was very happy to get their new book along with two patterns! the two patterns plus the five patterns included in the book equal a very happy me! i’ve read through the book and what i really love are the clever construction techniques. most mainstream patterns just don’t offer much in this area and while i’ve figured lots out on my own over the years, it’s great to see step by step directions clearly laid out with gorgeous photos. so even if you’ve been sewing for a while it’s a great book to have for reference. plus the included patterns more than cover the cost of the book, so all in all it’s worth every penny.

oh yeah, i also received some fabric money which means i can start out with the macaron dress i’ve been wanting to make for a long time now! i have wanted to do a version in a lightweight denim and since denim just happened to be 50% off at joann’s… i had to get it right away! i picked out a light cotton material for the top contrast part. it’s a not quite sheer, faintly polka dotted shirting material. i have a sort of “jeans and a white tee” thing going in my head, so hopefully this will work out in real life.

i will have to tweak the pattern slightly to get the look i’m going for. to emphasize the denim aspect, i want to do lots of topstitching so i plan to convert the darts in the bodice to a princess seam. i will leave the contrast as is and substitute some bias tape for the facings so nothing shows through there. also i will add a lining under the denim. i have a beautiful red piece of bemberg i have saved for just this occasion! i am debating whether or not to move the side zip to a center back zip, then i may leave an opening in the center back (on the contrast part) with a button and loop closure at the top. details, details… i’m sure a muslin fitting will help me decide what to do!

i have a few details to work out in my head, but i’m very excited to get started on this project! i know it will take a bit of effort to get a good fit, so until that happens i won’t even look at my beautiful denim. so hard…

in other news, 2012 (and it feels really weird typing that) will keep me busy with several dresses i am making for my little sister rebecca’s summer wedding. since i happen to be blogging my sewing projects expect to see several random wedding dress, bridesmaid and flowergirl dress posts. since i am only just barely qualified to attempt such projects, i will be relying on various dressmaking books for ideas on interior construction. i hope this isn’t a project i will regret taking on… wish me luck!

happy new year to you all!