unselfish sewing: the great skirt experiment

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Fit was a huge part of why I wanted to learn to sew. (And polyester. God, the polyester.) I was tired of getting pissed off while shopping because entire genres of clothing were off limits.

Of all the reasons I’m proud of my handmade garments, the fact that they fit is probably the most important thing. But I began thinking: Wouldn’t it be an interesting exercise to try to fit a garment to someone else?

So I sent an email blast to some lady friends with a proposal: Give me some of your time — enough for me to take measurements and do fittings — and I’ll give you a free skirt.

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The friend who volunteered is the perfect test case for this. She’s got roughly the same hip and waist measurements as me, but our bodies aren’t particularly similar. She was also really patient with my butterfly attention span … this project took months from conception to finish, because I kept setting it aside to work on my own stuff, and she never complained.

We did this in about three total meetings:

  1. Getting measurements;
  2. Fitting a muslin and making adjustments;
  3. Fitting the partially constructed garment. I basted most of the seams for this part so that I could make adjustments if I needed to (but I really didn’t need to!)

I used a proper muslin — a real, Susan Khalje-style, totally thread-traced muslin. That turned out to be invaluable, because we made all sorts of changes.

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[ adjusting the muslin after a fitting — and converting darts to princess seams]

The pattern I used was the same as for my previous pencil skirts, New Look 6107 — a straight skirt with waist darts that hits at or below the knee. We worked on finding the fit and shape she wanted, and ultimately it became a tapered pencil skirt with a princess-seamed front that falls above the knee.

This is the first time I’ve converted darts to princess seams, but it really made the most sense here. The skirt front was bagging below the apex of the darts/the curve of the stomach, and taking it in at the side seams wasn’t going to smooth it out.

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[ probably my tidiest vent yet ]

The nuts and bolts on pattern adjustments:

  •  Took some fabric out of the skirt front’s side seams, to bring the yoke up to the natural waist and remove bagginess right below the waist;
  • Tapered the hem opening by 1″ at each side seam, for 4″ total tapering;
  • Converted the front darts to princess seams;
  • Took up the hem by 3″ (my friend is petite).

The fabric used here is a lightweight, soft, caramel-colored wool suiting from the “luxury suitings” remnants at G Street Fabrics, and I grabbed the lining from the silk remnants bin on the same visit. All in all, nice materials, albeit a bit prone to wrinkling. And I tried to make my finishes match the fabric — hand-hemming, my first thread chain to tether the lining, very careful pressing with a clapper.

And you know, I think it turned out really nicely.

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[ hand-sewn hem, thread chain for lining, and a mid-stream change of heart on how to finish the seams ]

The very best part about this process? My friend’s excited reaction when she tried on the skirt during the last fitting, while it was still basted together. She was grinning like crazy because really, when was the last time you tried something on that fit perfectly from the get-go? Well, I guess if you sew, that’s how it’s SUPPOSED to work. But it’s easy to forget what a great feeling it is when you’re not used to it.

She said, “I feel pretty!” Good. That’s the whole idea. Another thing that’s easy to forget.


Pattern: New Look 6107
Fabric: Wool suiting and silk broadcloth from G Street Fabrics

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