Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sewing Project: An Accidental Maxi Skirt

I love skirts. I hate winter and the cold, because it means I can't wear pretty, flirty skirts. Last summer, with an infant in tow, I didn't wear many skirts because I typically needed pockets. I own about 10 skirts and only one has pockets, and it's actually a skort that I only wore when I played golf, pre-baby. All of my skirts are neutral colors; white, black, grey, and brown. One of my goals for this summer is to make and wear more skirts, and to make them in PRINTS! I'm the kind of person who has a LOT of solid colored items in my wardrobe. Solids and stripes are about all I wear. It's great for layering and mixing with jeans, but it is sort of boring. Imagine a solid blue blouse with a solid white skirt. SNORE. I fell asleep just describing it.

In order to inject some more fun into my summer wardrobe, I have a few neutral print fabrics stashed away that I'd like to make into skirts. That way I can break up my sad solid colors, but still mix and match with the rest of my wardrobe. And obviously, pockets are a must.

See? Solid-colored shirt.

Enter McCall's 6288.

Now I know what you're thinking. This is the most boring-looking pattern photo of all time. Also, there is no maxi skirt. Right and right.

There is, however, a short skirt with pockets, though the model isn't doing anyone any favors and does not have her hands IN the pockets. How else are we supposed to know they're there?! Since the photo does nothing to describe the pattern, I'll do it for you. The skirt is a rectangle which is gathered into an elastic casing waistband. There are pockets and instructions for a lining. It's meant to be made with jersey.

I decided to make this skirt without a lining, and without the elastic waistband. When I cut out the pattern in the smallest size (seriously, it was just a rectangle) it was almost exactly 30" wide. The instructions were to cut 2 (front and back). Do you see where I'm going with this? It meant that I could make a skirt from one yard of fabric, by cutting it up the middle (when folded selvedge to selvedge with 60" wide fabric). And the fabric I chose was this:

Poly/spandex blend from Hart's Fabric.

It's a pretty substantial knit, which is why it didn't need a lining. I was pleasantly surprised by the heft of it. It is, however, VERY stretchy. Because of the stretch and the weight, I was concerned about using this fabric for the pockets. So, I dug around in my stash and found some poly satin of some kind, and used that. It worked great! The slipperiness of the satin means that the skirt flows around the pocket without sticking. And there isn't any stretch to it, so no sagging.

Pocket. I added topstitching.

Even though I'm making it sound like this pattern was stupid and just a simple rectangle, I did rely on it for the pockets. I used the pocket bag pattern piece and the placement on the skirt pattern piece to get everything lined up correctly. 

Everyone who talks about sewing with knits will tell you the same thing: use stitches with stretch. I typically use a zigzag on most seams, but for whatever reason with this fabric, my zig-zagging looked like this:

Side seam.

The dreaded waviness. It got a bit better with pressing, but this is a poly knit so there wasn't much to be done. For the second side seam, I decided just to try a straight stitch.

Way better! Since it's the side of a skirt, I don't need any stretch there anyway. This is sort of a head-scratcher for me, but I wanted to show how following the "rules" doesn't always work out in sewing.

As I mentioned, I did not want to make an elastic casing waistband, as the pattern directed. Instead, I wanted to apply decorative elastic directly to the top of the skirt. The elastic I chose is also from Hart's Fabric, and it's 2.5" wide with a pretty ruffle along the top.

The grey of the elastic nicely matches the greys in the skirt fabric. To make the waistband, I measured my waist where I wanted the elastic to sit, then cut a piece to that length. I overlapped the ends by about 1 inch and sewed a box, being careful to stay inside the vertical ribs of my elastic when I was going up and down. The overlap meant that the waistband fit snugly once I put it on. To apply the raw edge top of the skirt to the elastic, I literally used 4 different methods, because none were working. 

If you search sewing blogs for help attaching elastic directly to fabric, you'll probably only find one method: quartering. You divide the elastic circle into fourths and mark with pins. Then you divide your skirt circle into fourths and mark with pins. Match up your pins, and sew the two items together, stretching the elastic while you sew (but not stretching the skirt). Okay. Am I the only one who HATES this method? If I stretch my elastic while sewing, it gets all wavy and crazy. I end up using two hands to guide the elastic, which leaves no hands for guiding the fabric, so it goes all different directions. It. never. works. I said above that I used four different methods, and that's because I started with the crazy quartering method. I marked my quarters and then I actually tacked each quartered point down. I thought it would help, and it WAS better than pinning. However, the stretch-the-elastic-while-you-sew nonsense failed.

This is the first quarter of the skirt. Wavy. Wonky. Looks like dog poo. The second quarter, I did the same thing, except I glue-basted the skirt fabric in place so it wouldn't move around. It was better, but still not great. The waviness persisted.

For the final two quarters (that's a "half" for all you math-lovers haha) I finally found a method that worked. I gathered the skirt fabric until it was the same length as the waistband, and then sewed the two together without stretching. Since half of the skirt was already assembled, I had to gather by hand (really just a single running stitch) but that ended up being faster and easier to remove than machine gathering, anyway.

This is what it looked like using the gathering-no-stretching method. So much better! I will definitely be using this method from now on. And if you're curious, I did use a zigzag stitch in order to maintain some stretch.

It even looks good on the hanger.

Don't mind the socks.

Now, how did I arrive at the maxi length? When I cut the skirt, I wasn't sure exactly how long I wanted it to be. I thought it looked a tad short on the model, and with the alterations I was making at the waistline, I knew there'd be some differences anyway. So, I assembled the whole skirt with the intention of deciding on the length when I was done. When I put it on, I loved it as-is! I couldn't believe how flattering it looked. All of my other skirts are at the knee or just below. In fact, my RTW skirts are at no particular length at all. No deliberate length. Is it a coincidence that I sort of always hated how my legs looked in these skirts? I'm bow-legged at the calf, and my other skirts hit in just such a way as to highlight this sad feature.

Before I finished this skirt, I didn't own a single maxi-length anything. I always thought they looked dowdy or made the person look shorter. These opinions were all formed without ever trying on a single maxi skirt. And now, having seen this one on myself, I see that it completely hides my silly bow legs, and is really rather slimming to the overall silhouette. And it just so happened that the 36" of one yard is the perfect length. I actually didn't hem it at all, because I didn't want it to get shorter and the knit was so heavy. 

Even though it's a simple maxi skirt, I learned so much making it that it's one of my favorite things I've made thus far. Don't be afraid to try different stitches, different fabrics, different assembly methods, and even different lengths. You may be pleasantly surprised and end up with a piece you love!


  1. I'm totally making this skirt! Thank you!

    1. You're welcome! It's so easy, I can't believe I haven't made a dozen more!

  2. I love the skirt. You write well.


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