{case study} the making of my new favorite skirt

an excerpt from my {classic wrap skirt} book

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summary

Hours of hand stitching
to create a replacement
for a neutral gray maxi skirt.

A waste of time? Or a wise investment?

backstory

Last summer
I practically lived in
a particular gray maxi skirt.
Obviously, I liked the skirt,
but there were certain things I didn’t like about it.

It was made of a thin jersey knit fabric.
Not as thin as some, but thin enough
that it clung awkwardly to my legs when I walked.

I knew it couldn’t be my go-to this season,
because it was wearing out already;
it’s starting to pill
and some of the stitching is coming out.
Now, I could easily mend the stitching,
but these loose stitches are simply signs
of more wear to come.

Rather than continuing to rely on this as my go-to skirt,
I decided to make a better one.

problem

I knew what I liked about last season’s skirt:
the practical length and the neutral light gray color.

I also knew what I didn’t like:
the fact that the fabric was both flimsy and wearing out quickly.

I wanted to keep the skirt lightweight,
but substantial enough that I felt protected,
and I wanted a fabric that would stand up to many wearings.

Another requirement for my fabric
was that it be at least 53" wide,
otherwise the skirt would be too long to fit on the fabric.

If I was going to be wearing this skirt
as often as I had worn the knit one last season,
I wanted to take my time making it,
and really invest in making it beautiful.

solution

I found two linen blend fabrics online.
One was linen/rayon,
and the other was linen/cotton.
Both were labeled machine washable (cold)
and dry-able (low).
I ordered three yards of each.

After washing both of them,
the linen/rayon blend fabric
was clearly the right choice for this skirt.

First of all, the linen/cotton blend fabric shrunk so much in width
that I would have been unable to make a skirt as long as I wanted.

But secondly,
I absolutely fell in love with the linen/rayon blend fabric.
It drapes and flows so beautifully,
yet it has enough body to hold its own
and not stretch out of shape.

When I cut out the skirt, I hadn’t yet decided
exactly what methods I would use for each step of the process.
I used the scraps to experiment a little
and quickly found that I loved stitching this fabric by hand.

I decided to stitch anything visible by hand -
the hems on the straight sides of the skirt,
the inside of the waistband,
and the hem.

It was so easy to manipulate this fabric in my hands
that I didn’t even have to press the hems before stitching them.
I simply rolled the hem with my fingers as I went.

It took a while, yes,
but it was so worth it.

I took the project along with me on a road trip,
so I was able to keep sewing even though
I didn’t have access to a sewing machine.
In a way, this made the project go faster
than if I had opted to stitch it by machine!

outcome

I haven’t touched the old maxi skirt since making this one.
The old one will come in handy as a back-up, I suppose,
but so far I’ve only wanted to wear the new one.

I love the practicality and versatility of this skirt,
but more than that,
I love all of the positive associations that it carries.

When I wear it, I remember the road trip,
the places where I sat and stitched,
and the people I was with while I was stitching it.

I smile, knowing what I invested,
both time and talent,
to craft this perfect skirt.

The other night I wore it to dance practice.
I’m no professional dancer, and I don’t do anything fancy,
but as I danced the old traditional middle-eastern steps
and felt the skirt swish, I felt an extra level of joy,
knowing I had made this beautiful thing with my own two hands,
in the same way that women made their skirts ages ago
when they danced these same steps in ancient times.

reflection

One might say that I wasted time
hand-sewing a skirt
to replace one I bought
ready-made.

I would ask what was meant by the word “wasted”?

Is it really wasting time
to create something both beautiful and useful
while among friends and family?
Is it wasting time to spend it doing something that brings you joy?

I don’t see it as wasting time,
or even spending time,
so much as investing time.

The investment has already paid off, in my estimation.
I’ve had hours of pleasure and can look forward to more
as I wear this skirt that carries in it memories of beauty and joy.

{case study} from making curtains to crafting clothing

summary

Allison started with only very basic sewing skills
and after a week in my studio, left wearing a hand-crafted skirt
that she had made herself, under my direction.

backstory

I live in a school.

See, there’s this wonderful private school
that is housed in two big 100-year-old houses.
The third floor of one of them
isn’t usable for classroom space,
but it makes for a nice little studio and apartment.
My studio and apartment.

I’m sort of an artist-in-residence,
so when one of the students
decided to do her senior project on fashion and sewing,
I became a part of her education.

Every afternoon for about a week,
Allison climbed the stairs to my studio
and worked on a project that was, quite frankly,
too big for her.

At least, it would have been too big for her
if I had handed it to her all at once.

I’ve taught people before
and I am not usually content
to hand them a project they can handle.
If I did that, why would they need me?

I want to push the limits of my students’ ability
and I want to show them that they can do more than they think.

I present my students with one step at a time,
sometimes even breaking down a single step into micro-steps.
As they focus on making each step firm and confident,
they find at the end that they’ve climbed a mountain.

This was my goal for Allison:
that she would accomplish something too big for her
and that she would learn to do it well.

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problem

I had a basic working knowledge of hand stitching and how to use a sewing machine, but I had never made anything that required more than stitching one straight line.
— Allison

I had a limited amount of time with Allison;
by the time we were able to get together,
her graduation was fast-approaching.

She had been working on her senior project all year,
learning the basics of sewing,
and had accomplished a simple project:
curtains for her bedroom.

Allison was planning to go to college to study fashion design
in the coming year,
so although the skills she learned while making curtains
would be helpful,
what she really needed to learn was how to make clothes.

She thought this was out of her reach,
but I knew it wasn’t.

solution

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I had been developing the {classic wrap skirt}
in the time leading up to my meetings with Allison,
and I was confident that this was the sort of project
that would allow me to teach her
the skills she would need.

I didn’t allow her to be overwhelmed
by describing the entire process of making the skirt
or all the skills she would need to learn.

Instead, I simply explained the first step,
and then the next,
and then the next.

Each one taken alone was simple,
even if it was something she’d never done before.

Beyond teaching Allison to sew,
I wanted to share some of my knowledge of design with her
and help her to develop her own design process.

After all, she was planning to study fashion design,
and this senior project was supposed to be preparation for that.

This is another reason the {classic wrap skirt}
was a perfect choice for this project.

She would have to make design decisions,
like what length of skirt she wanted,
and which techniques to use.
She would also be making this skirt
from her measurements,
not using a pattern created by someone else,
but drawing the shape of her skirt directly onto the fabric,
so she got a taste of what it’s like to create her own pattern.
(This is the method I teach in the {classic wrap skirt} book.)

outcome

Jordan’s teaching style was clear and enthusiastic. It is evident that she has a passion for what she does and for teaching. When I made a mistake she didn’t just tell me how to fix it, she explained why it would cause problems in the finished project.
— Allison

In working with Allison,
my focus was not so much on the finished product -
the skirt she would be able to wear at the end of it.
My focus was on using the skirt as a tool
to make Allison into a skilled artisan.

At the end of our meetings,
Allison had a skirt,
but more than that,
she is now someone who can hand-craft beautiful clothing.

This skirt that she created is evidence of this!

Her skirt doesn’t so much look “homemade,” as "hand-crafted,"
partially because of the care that Allison took in creating it,
and partially because of the materials and techniques that she used.

Instead of looking for a cheap fabric,
I guided Allison in selecting something she would love to wear.
Instead of taking the quickest, easiest route to making a skirt,
I guided her through a professional process.

Because of our attention to detail,
Allison now has a beautiful, hand-crafted garment
that reflects her new identity as an artisan-in-the-making.

reflection

Allison was a joy to work with.
She was diligent, and worked hard to accomplish her goals
both while she was in my studio,
and as she did “homework” between visits.

It was wonderful to dive back into the world of teaching sewing.
I’m looking forward to teaching more students,
whether in person, through blog articles,
or through my book!

I would not change a thing about my experience. The steps were easy to follow and I always knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing. ...If you have any desire to learn to sew at all, just do it. You will learn so much in a short amount of time and reaching the end goal is so rewarding.
— Allison

{case study} the best of both worlds: a modern ensemble inspired by historical fashion

Steampunk fashion has been described as “an appreciation for the ornamentation of the gilded age.”

I don’t have much use for a stereotypical Steampunk ensemble
(I don’t like to be stereotypical anyway),
but I do love a modern ensemble with a good dose of old-fashioned inspiration.

The first piece a lady would don
in the Victorian and Edwardian eras
is a chemise - a comfortable, next-to-the-skin layer
that provides a nice foundation for everything else.

The brown bamboo jersey dress fulfills this same purpose in my ensemble.
I cut the pattern using my basic princess-seamed bodice,
overlapping the seams to create a one-piece front and one-piece back
with negative ease where seams would usually provide shaping.
The skirt is a half-circle, and the neckline is finished with a simple folded strip of self fabric.
Once again, I used negative ease in the neckline area,
so it clings and doesn’t gape when I bend over.

On top of the chemise, a lady would wear a corset.
My hand-spun, hand-knit shell is anything but constricting,
but the fit and the lacing up the back are reminiscent of this old-fashioned garment.

On top of everything else is the red wool coat.

One of my favorite Victorian details is the shoulder seam that slants toward the back,
creating a smooth, easy-to-fit shoulder line.
I based the shoulder shape of my coat off of a pattern with a c. 1870 style
and drafted the skirt of the coat with pleats in the back,
mimicking the feminine silhouette of coats like this sketch from a Victorian-era ladies' magazine.

Embroidery can be a forgotten detail when it comes to our modern era.
I drew the designs featured on the back belt and sleeve cuffs,
then stitched them with a sewing machine.
I did not computerize the design,
but rather used a straight stitch and manipulated the fabric by hand.

I stitched all of the buttonholes by hand with silk thread
after stabilizing the slits with machine-stitches.
(The best of both worlds!)

I used hand-finishing elsewhere as well.
Anywhere understitching was necessary, I used pick-stiches.
After binding the lower edge, I folded up the hem and catch-stitched it in place.
I also handmade thread chains to attach the lining hem to the coat hem.

The test of any good design is marketability,
so I put my outfit to the test at the 2013 National Make It With Wool competition,
which includes marketability as part of the judging criteria.
I was the fourth-runner-up over all, and received special recognition for the shell,
which led to my being featured in THREADS magazine.

This is quite possibly my favorite creation to date.

There’s something about its history…
the design process itself…
the details from yesteryear…
the decorative elements often overlooked…

…something that makes this ensemble special to me.

understitching {or, details matter - who knew?}

I can be rather hard-headed at times.
"Because I said so" never worked well on me.
If I don't understand the "why" behind something,
I often simply disregard it.

Such was the case with understitching.

I didn't think it could be all that important,
after all, it was inside and underneath - hidden from view!
So for a good while I simply didn't do it.
I've since learned my lesson.

Making this coat solidified in my mind
how much of a difference understitching can make.
I took my time, stitched by hand, and produced a beautiful result.

The lesson I learned was this: details matter, even those you think no one will notice.

I took this snapshot halfway through the understitching process - only one lapel and one side of the collar has been under stitched, and you can see how much more nicely it lays, even without any pressing.

I took this snapshot halfway through the understitching process - only one lapel and one side of the collar has been under stitched, and you can see how much more nicely it lays, even without any pressing.

{click here to read the full case study for the complete ensemble that this coat is a part of}

catch-stitch

Catch-stitching isn’t the most straightforward stitch in the book
but it’s worth the extra effort!
Keep an eye on the photos and take it a step at a time
and you’ll do just fine.

Begin with:

— a threaded needle and knotted thread
{click here to learn how to get that far}

— a 6” by 12” piece of light, crisp fabric
{the same one you used to learn the running stitch and whip stitch}

— a feeling of confident anticipation
{because by the end of today, you’ll know how to work catch-stitching!}

Fold over the short edges of the fabric 1/2” toward the “wrong side” of the fabric (the inside of your bag)
and press with a hot iron. (This will be easy because your running stitches make for a nice guide.)

Take a tiny stitch from right to left, beginning at the left-hand edge -
the opposite of where you began for the running and whip stitches.

About 1/2” to the right of your first stitch,
take a small right-to-left stitch through only the top layer of folded fabric.

Be sure to keep your thread out of the way as you pull your stitch taut!
In this case, keep the thread below your needle.

About 1/2” to the right of your last stitch,
take a small right-to-left stitch through only the main fabric.

This time, in order to keep your thread out of the way,
keep it above your needle.

Continue in this way,
alternating between the main fabric and the folded layer.

When you look at the “right side” (or outside of your bag)
you should see a single line of small stitches.

You can stop stitching, tie a knot, and begin again when you reach the halfway point,
or you can keep right on stitching - do what works for you!

In any case, when you come back to where you started,
tie a knot the way you always do when you get to the end of your work.

Many people who know how to sew have never learned this stitch.
You can be proud of yourself, now that you know it!

This tutorial is an excerpt from a free eBook with start-to-finish instructions for creating a little bag. Enter your email below and I'll send it to you too!