Beginning Sewing

This weekend, I taught my coworker and friend’s daughter, Adeline, how to sew a simple wrap skirt. Here she is wearing it! She did a fantastic job, and it was a lot of fun teaching her.


The pattern is Simplicity 8133.  The design and lines of the skirt was great, and instructions were given for measuring yourself, selecting fabric, etc.  However – it also included a few things that seemed unnecessary and difficult for a beginner:

  • The pattern instructions tells you to hand-baste the front skirt edges (the pieces that wrap over each other in the front.  We sewed them down with a machine straight stitch.
  • The pattern is also missing clear placement for the ties and, because of the way it’s constructed, it’s very easy to catch the wide edges of the ties when you’re sewing them into the waistband.  A wider waistband draft or clearer instructions would fix that.
  • Hemming with a machine hem stitch is a tricky skill, and it’s easy to catch the fold of the fabric when you’re starting out.  We folded them hem under and pressed, then topstitched it down.
  • The side seams aren’t completely necessary – while they add shaping, you could open them to make the skirt more easily reversible.
  • Similarly with the waistband: to make this even more basic, you could opt out of the waistband altogether, and simply add that waistband height to the length of the skirt.A sketch of the design, and then an adapted design we might try next time to make it reversible:IMG_1458

    Some general takeaways for teaching someone to sew clothing:

  • Limit the speed of the machine presser foot if possible.
  • Explain the importance of proper ironing technique
  • Start with a project they’re interested in making within their skill ability. A wrap skirt, simple tank top (no sleeve setting), or bag/pouch seem like good starts.
  • Take accurate measurements beforehand.
  • Explain ease, or the amount of room allotted in a pattern. Wide leg pants have more inherent ease in their design, which basically just means the added room for movement in a pattern.
  • Finished garment measurements for bust and hips are something I didn’t learn about til a few years ago. For Big 4 patterns (McCalls/Vogue/Simplicty/etc) these are printed on the tissue of conventional patterns, instead of the outside envelope – on many indie patterns, they’re often much easier to find. Knowing these numbers makes it easier to determine whether you need to go down, or up a size.
Dresses · Projects · Uncategorized

Lady in Red

dress“…The lady in red is dancing with me, cheek to cheek,
There’s nobody here, it’s just you and me,
It’s where I want to be,
But I hardly know this beauty by my side,
I’ll never forget the way you look tonight…”

When I hear the song “Lady in Red,” I’m immediately transported to another time in place: a time of acne, Trapper Keepers™, and vague adolescent angst.

I am thirteen and at a junior high school dance.  It’s always the last dance of the night, and as the chorus of the song swells,  I watch my classmates dance under the watchful eye of the Vice Principal, their arms outstretched and stiff on each other’s shoulders like conjoined zombies.  Before the song ends, someone asks me to dance too, and now I am swaying with the music, my hands placed awkwardly on the shoulders of some teenage boy, staring to the right or left of his shoulder, making nervous conversation.

This dress was the result of a self-drafted pattern. My sister, who has always had an amazing eye for fashion and color, spotted this bolt of this fabric on a shopping trip last summer, and we each ended up getting about 5 yards each.  It’s odd stuff: polyester, rayon, with about a 50 percent two-way stretch.   Both of us immediately saw it and thought: WIGGLE DRESS.
I wasn’t sold on any of the patterns I found – and so I decided to base it off a dress that I love, a stretch gray plaid thrift store purchase with princess seams, cap sleeves, and a fitted, two-piece construction.

My process leading up to the making of this dress:

  • try on favorite dress in closet.
  • Realize that said dress is too small now
  • Squeeze into it anyway and proceed to break the zipper
  • Curse loudly
  • Make a mental note to go to the gym a lot more, starting after the holidays
  • Take off the dress and proceed to rip it up into pieces, which was oddly satisfying.
  • Draft a pattern from those pieces and add:
    • longer zipper
    • more ease
    • pockets!
    • cap sleeves cut on the bias – because the added stretch is necessary to give my arms room to raise above my head; the old dress was a little lacking in that department.
    • a longer skirt and a kick pleat

I gotta say, I’m really happy with it, and my additions to the original pattern make this a wiggle dress that I actually want to wiggle into.  And I mean – nothing says sex appeal like pockets, right?  Being able to shove your phone and keys somewhere, allowing your hands to gesticulate freely, is something I value highly. It’s comfortable without being constricting, red is my favorite color, and overall – I achieved my vision with this fabric.

What I would have done differently:
I originally applied tricot interfacing to a facing for the waistband, which radically changed (read: tightened) the fit and made it a little uncomfortable, so I was forced to unpick a bunch of hand-stitching and remove the interfaced facing from the inside, which was annoying and tedious.  If I make this pattern again, I’d like to try it in a fabric with less stretch and more body (the original fabric was about 25% 2-way stretch) – and I’m excited to see how it would look in a cool pattern or maybe a solid color rayon for the summer months. Honestly, as much as I love the color of this fabric, it pre-washed strangely – and it easily snags, leading me to believe that it’s not the best of quality.

What I learned:
I (re)learned several new things: how to draft a kick pleat and finish/bind a cap sleeve, install an invisible zipper, how to use my twin needle for finishing hems, AND try out my new Bernina walking foot. I LOVE the walking foot and I’ve since used it on a bunch of other stretch fabric projects.

at the wedding of a friend this May.