Wedding dress: constructing the skirt

This is the second post in a series about making my sister’s wedding separates, which were completed in mid-June. The next posts will cover bodice construction, lace, the final dress and resources. The next few posts on construction won’t be strictly chronological; I bounced back and forth between bodice and skirt, depending on which piece had hit the skids. The bodice was generally more labor-intensive and complex, so I tended to work on the skirt when I needed some time away from it.


Hi folks! I’m back to talk about constructing my sister’s wedding skirt. (We made the decision to do separates instead of a dress somewhere in the transition from muslin to final pieces.) Since my sister wanted a flowing chiffon skirt above all else, I decided to use the fitted-through-the-hips Gabriola pattern for the underskirt, with the gathered chiffon layered on top.

We chose an off-white silk charmeuse for the underskirt, with the satin side facing towards the body (sister hates shiny) and the same color of chiffon for the overskirt. Pattern-wise, I combined the two yoke pieces into one, and took off approximately 1″ per panel piece at the skirt hem so the skirt could fit in 2.5 yards of 55″-wide fabric. I underlined the new yoke pieces with stashed silk habotai, and stabilized the seam where the yoke met the panels with silk organza selvedge since the seams were no longer on the straight grain.

Then, I made a decision I lived to RUE – I sewed the gored panels without underlining.

Looks fine here, right? The bodice shows through, but one would think it looks good enough to be covered in chiffon.

crabandbee.com | Sewaholic Gabriola wedding dress skirt

Once I began playing around with the chiffon overlay, however, the yoke revealed itself to look like big weird reverse undies.

crabandbee.com | Sewaholic Gabriola wedding dress skirt with chiffon overlay

I sulked and stomped around for a couple of days, cursing myself for french-seaming the panels. Then I bucked up and ordered more habotai to underline the panels. I grumpily cut the habotai, finished all the seams with a serger, opened the side seams of the finished skirt, stitched it in along the yoke seams, and sewed the side seams all together.

Blegh, blegh, blegh. This was the absolute nadir of the entire project for me.

crabandbee.com | Sewaholic Gabriola wedding dress skirt with chiffon overlay
Skirt of sorrow

It was over within a couple of days, however, and I got to sooth myself with catch-stitching the yoke and side seams down. I also got to move on to the chiffon overlay (again). I used two pieces of 52″ wide chiffon, essentially making a gathered tube over the underskirt. Believe it or not, the 100″+ tube was narrower than the Gabriola underneath it! Both hems were so wide and fell so nicely that I don’t believe it made a difference.

Instead of positioning the chiffon selvedges at the side seams, one was at center front and the other was at center back. This allowed me to avoid cutting a seam in the back for the opening. I sewed the back closed up until the zipper and folded the selvedges under, floating freely on top of the underskirt. I applied an invisible zipper on the underskirt only.

crabandbee.com | sewing wedding separates

As I mentioned in my post on Gabriola, the straight waistband didn’t work on me and I assumed it wouldn’t work on my sister/body double. Since the waistband needed to be fitted enough to support a 10-lb skirt, however, I didn’t reuse my pattern pieces. Instead, I sewed a rectangle of very firm canvas to test the fit. I took the waistband top in at the side seams only so I could still harness the straight grain; my waistband pieces looked like trapezoids.

I chose a piece of the duchesse silk satin from the bodice and fortified it with two layers of muslin for the outer waistband, and two layers of lightly crisp sew-in interfacing on the inner waistband.

The waistband closures were hooks/eyes and buttons, but I added a very special glass button from my grandmother’s collection for looks.

crabandbee.com | sewing wedding separates

I held off on hemming until the bodice was mostly finished. I hemmed the underskirt by measuring 1″ from the floor, and then adding a tiny bit of length to the chiffon overskirt hem. (I love how that looks.) I did find a rather ugly but ultimately not very visible mistake on the underskirt – there was one spot where the charmeuse was 1/2″ shorter than the desired hem length! Luckily the habotai lining/underlining was long enough, so I sewed down the raw charmeuse edge to prevent it from unraveling. The chiffon layer obscured the mistake. I was all out of patience for the skirt so I didn’t even entertain the notion of hemming it by hand – underskirt and overskirt alike got relatively speedy machine baby hems.

crabandbee.com | sewing wedding separates

Here’s my order of skirt operations, with faults included:

  1. Combine the Gabriola/underskirt yoke pieces for both front and back
  2. Cut out Gabriola/underskirt skirt pieces in charmeuse
  3. Cut out Gabriola/underskirt yoke pieces in habotai and underline charmeuse yoke pieces
  4. Sew Gabriola/underskirt together
  5. Hand-baste zip at CB to test fit
  6. Baste on rectangle test waistband
  7. Pin chiffon over underskirt
  8. Realize error of not underlining underskirt panels
  9. Sulk
  10. Sew underskirt panels in habotai
  11. Open finished skirt side seams
  12. Sew habotai panels to charmeuse panels at the yoke seam and side seams
  13. Close side seams again
  14. Remove basted zip
  15. Machine-sew invisible zip
  16. Measure chiffon yardage length needed
  17. Tear chiffon
  18. Sew chiffon tube, with an opening left at CB to match zipper length
  19. Gather chiffon
  20. Distribute and baste chiffon to underskirt
  21. Baste test waistband to skirt
  22. Fit waistband
  23. Construct waistband
  24. Add hook closures to back waistband
  25. Add decorative button to back waistband
  26. Measure and pin underskirt hem
  27. Machine-sew baby hem on underskirt
  28. Measure and pin chiffon hem
  29. Machine-sew baby hem on chiffon

Ultimately, I think the pattern was beautiful but not the best choice. My sister never liked the look of the yoke, which was the element that caused all the problems. I think a gored, flared skirt like Simplicity 4401 would have been better and easier, but that pattern art would have been a tough sell.

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Anyway, the finished skirt looked spectacular and deceptively effortless. When I look at it, I can almost forget the pain of sewing it… almost…

crabandbee.com | Sewaholic Gabriola wedding dress skirt with chiffon overlay
Me trying on the finished skirt, like a creep!

Back soon with a post on the bodice!

Something different: a two-piece dressy set

I’ve been working hard to focus on my sister’s wedding dress, but quite a few so-called palate cleanser projects have sneaked their way in. One was directly influenced by my sister’s dress – I’ll be attaching Sewaholic’s glorious Gabriola skirt pattern onto the bodice.

I sewed the skirt in muslin and couldn’t resist trying it on myself. I rarely wear skirts these days, but the instant I put it on, I fell hard for this design. I’d always admired it but just couldn’t imagine myself looking like, well, myself, in it. The muslin was convincing enough to lead me to believe that I should sew up a practice version in appropriately flowing fabric to use during bodice fittings that I could ultimately keep for myself.

crabandbee.com | Sewaholic Gabriola

Who was I to argue?

After combing the internet and local fabric shops for an interesting viscose print, I surprised myself by settling on a loud floral print. The color wasn’t quite what I’d hoped so I dyed over it with a lovely blue and used the wrong side.

crabandbee.com | Sewaholic Gabriola

There have been a lot of these gorgeous skirts shared on other blogs, so I’ll just give you my construction bullet points:

  • I changed the front waistband from a rectangle to a curve
  • I did a lapped zipper (stabilized by a silk organza strip) and made the button tab overlap longer
  • I wish I’d stabilized the front and back chevron panels because they distorted over time. The skirt is heavy in viscose and you can still see that those panels can’t fully support the weight of the skirt.
  • Even after grading down a size in the hips, I still had to take some extra width out – perhaps due to the distortion mentioned above
  • By reducing the flare at the bottom of the skirt by a few inches, I was able to sew my skirt on 2.5 yards of 55″ fabric instead of the recommended 3.5 yards.

How could I not put that extra yard to use in a matching top?

I used my sloper and my trusty ol’ Helen Joseph-Armstrong textbook and made a bias-cut cowl-neck top. I love how the dark floral motif looks like a big dramatic necklace.

crabandbee.com | cowl neck top based on sloper

crabandbee.com | cowl neck top based on sloper

I think this getup (and maybe even the skirt on its own?) is just a *smidge* too dressy for work so I’m eagerly awaiting the first opportunity to bust it out. Wearing yards of viscose from head to toe is like being swathed in a fluffy dream cloud – certainly something to look forward to.

crabandbee.com | Sewaholic Gabriola

My sewing recently has been quite practical – coat, jeans, shirts, blue, white, grey. Everything about this project took me by surprise… and I liked it.

Little linen outfit

Last year, Kelly made the Liesl & Co Everday Skirt. Since then, I’ve engaged in a monthly debate with myself – buy the pattern or try to approximate it on my own? “It’s a gathered skirt with an elastic waistband in the back – how hard could it be?” would be countered with “Do you really want to spend the time measuring out rectangles and tracing pocket facings?” The price seemed a bit high for the pattern. Finally, Katie sewed up her version and her verdict of “I was tempted to go the self-draft route for my dream skirt, but this pattern is basically it” pushed me over the edge.

crabandbee.com | self-drafted top and Liesl & Co Everyday skirt

 

I haven’t been sorry. There are a lot of things to like about this skirt design: the flat side panels, back elastic waistband, nice pocket placement all come to mind. I’m not even a skirt person, but I love this one. And from a logistical standpoint, I was impressed. The PDF downloads directly from a link in your email receipt, there’s a print at shop version included and the print layout is delightfully lean. This was easily my best experience with a PDF pattern to date.

I made a test skirt in my kimono fabric and decided to remove some width from the back panel. I wanted it the waistband at my natural waist, and the shortness of the back elastic I needed made the back panel very gathered and pretty heavy. It’s still more gathered than the front, so if I make this a third time, I’ll play around with shortening the front waistband to lengthen the back out. After my trial, I knew I wanted to make it in a special piece of linen and bought a straight-up new piece of fabric for the occasion.

crabandbee.com | self-drafted top and Liesl & Co Everyday skirt

I bought 1.5 yards of 60″ wide linen (the pattern suggests 1.75) but I miraculously had enough to create a cropped tank AND join Sophie’s super fun two-piece party!

crabandbee.com | self-drafted top and Liesl & Co Everyday skirt

Unlike the skirt, the top is actually self-drafted. I started working on a bodice block last winter, with beyond-generous help from Maddie, who shared her pattern-making knowledge and gently let me know that my neck couldn’t possibly be as small as I’d measured it to be, the fit expertise of my friend Casey, and Nathan, who helped me take endless rounds of measurements while I shivered convulsively in a chalked-up bathing suit. I worked on it in spurts and finally translated it onto tagboard last month. From there, I consulted Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s Patternmaking for Fashion Design to make a flared dartless tank and borrowed the Wiksten tank neckline. I wanted it to be boxy to emphasize the fitted skirt waist.

crabandbee.com | self-drafted top and Liesl & Co Everyday skirt

Victory! It fits!

Someday soon, I’ll share how weird my block looks. My back and front bodice pieces don’t even look like they belong together… unlike this top and skirt!

crabandbee.com | self-drafted top and Liesl & Co Everyday skirt

I’ll be back in a few days on the Sewcialist blog as I’m helping out with the September challenge. Get ready to bust through your scraps during SCRAPTEMBER (yep, I had to go there). Until then, I leave you with this:

crabandbee.com | self-drafted top and Liesl & Co Everyday skirt

LBS

I was staring at my fabric recently and decided to use a textured black cotton double-gauze (from one of those ill-advised fabric purchases where I “stock up”, or buy fabrics I don’t yet have plans for!) to make a pleated skirt. I’d been curious to try a shortened version of the pattern I’d used to make a long version this summer.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 559a

I found the pleats and waistline to be flattering even on my more rectangular figure.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 559a

crabandbee.com | McCall's 559a

One of my favorite details of this pattern is the contrast at the pocket openings.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 559a

The back pleats are almost identical to the ones on the front.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 559a

This was my first time working with double gauze and I was surprised by how squirrely it was! I used my walking foot until I got to the zipper. I started with an invisible zip, but it created a horrifying amount of puckering. Then I added some interfacing to stabilize the area which helped the puckering, but the puffiness and loose weave of the fabric really gave the zipper a fight. I finally went with a lapped zipper.

crabandbee.com

Now here’s where I admit that lapped zippers confound me. After a lot of staring at the zipper and every lapped zipper tutorial on the internet, I cobbled together something that looks okayish on the outside.

crabandbee.com

The insides look less polished, though – especially where the inner waistband meets the zipper. I keep on meaning to perfect the Fashion Incubator method, which seems to be based on numbers and science, but I tend sew lapped zippers when it’s late at night and I’m bereft of my senses.

The good news is that it functions without problems and looks decent from the outside. I also attempted a floating lining (I think that’s what it’s called?) at the zipper opening. I serged the raw edges of the lining and tacked the seam allowance to itself so it doesn’t get caught in the zipper.

Speaking of difficult closures, this is how I get in and out of a coat! The coat tries to resist by strangling me, then I emerge from it, struggling but victorious.

crabandbee.com | McCall's 559a

Final reflections on this skirt? As it turns out, my wardrobe of longer, looser shirts and tunics doesn’t play so well with this skirt. This shirt I made during Me-Made-May is light enough to tuck in nicely, but I’m at a bit of a loss as to what else I can wear it with! Even though it was an impulse project, I assumed that a fitted black skirt would go with more of my wardrobe. If you wear fuller skirts, do you have any styling advice? Please share!

crabandbee.com | McCall's 559a

 

Now, back to that coat muslin.

Arrested development skirt

Since I wrote this post in which I expressed an interest in dialing up the crazy a bit, I’ve got a few ideas and a sewing dare to boot! I appealed to Gillian for one of her legendary dares and she suggested taking a look at my Top 5 Goals for 2013. Oh yah, those! I’ve decided I want focus on Goal 2, “Textile experiments: learning more about applique and embroidery as well as putting my knowledge of shibori and maybe silk screening into practice” by doing a shibori romper. Holy crap, I’m excited! I’ve already cut out the romper! Lou from A View Into My World suggested the McQueen kimono jacket. Every few months for the past three years, I’ll take a look at that pattern and wonder if I’m ready to handle it. Jury’s still out, but maybe I’ll get crazy and try it before the end of the year! And gosh, have you seen Carolyn’s recent version?

Anyway, this project I’m about to share wasn’t an effort to dial up the crazy, but I’m super into it. I think it’s one of the best, most useful things I’ve ever sewn. Meet my Grainline Moss skirt!

crabandbee.com Grainline Moss

“Arrested development” is a fitting name because I was watching the new season of the show while I was making it, but also because I lived in skirts like this for the near-decade between freshman year in high school until I graduated college. I would have worn it with a hoodie, some lipstick, and a scowl (see below.) Unlike this version, my high school/college skirts were very short – to my thumbnails, perhaps.

crabandbee.com Grainline Moss

I scored a yard of cotton canvas from a rummage sale at my work, and dyed it khaki green as the original color was the very same color as my legs.

crabandbee.com Grainline Moss

I only made minor changes to the skirt; the yoke was a little wide and tall, so I removed 1/2″ width from each of the side seams at the top, and took out 1″ of the length since it was bunching. I baste-fitted it rather than making a muslin, since the design looked fairly simple and my measurements matched one of the sizes really well. I added 3″ in length instead of using the bottom band.

crabandbee.com Grainline Moss

I also used a 1/4″ seam allowance instead of the 1/2″ recommended by the instructions on the top of the skirt, since I prefer a wider waistband.

crabandbee.com Grainline Moss

Next time I make it, I’ll widen the hips by maybe 1″ to match where the waist sits a little better. As it is, the skirt is still extremely wearable.

crabandbee.com Grainline Moss

I did a hook and eye closure for the first time, which was really easy and clean-looking.

crabandbee.com Grainline Moss

My top-stitching was 3/8″ from the seam.

As I mentioned in my python pants post, the fly pattern pieces and instructions (especially when combined with Jen’s fly tutorial) were fantastic. They were leaps and bounds better than the ones included in the Burda pants pattern.

crabandbee.com Grainline Moss

I would definitely, definitely use this pattern again. Since this version is pretty much my ultimate casual/work skirt, I’m interested in making both a dressier version (perhaps in black, with the bottom band) and a more casual mini version. Experimenting with pocket variations would be a lot of fun, too.

But for now, this version is deeply satisfying to both my teenage/early-twenties self and my current self. Have you made anything lately that transported you to another time in your life?

Anna K skirt

Hi, and welcome to the new home of Crab & Bee! For continuity’s sake, I’ve imported all of the sewing posts over from my previous address (crabandbee.blogspot.com). I’ve adjusted the most recent posts to the new format, but am still updating some of the older posts. If you see any weirdness with image sizes and stray <table> tags (thanks, blogger!), that’s why! I’ll also be updating links in posts from blogspot, so apologies if you get sent back to my old blog! Finally, if you are looking for the posts that my sister/former co-blogger wrote, check out her new blog, Pollen & Wax!

Now, let’s get back to the sewing fun, shall we?

This is a project I made in late November/early December but wasn’t able to properly photograph until the weekend before New Year’s. The heavens opened up and Seattle saw two days of sun (albeit partial sun, but  we take what we can get!) At the first sight of it, I threw on my skirt and dragged Nathan outside for a mini-photoshoot.

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Yes, it’s another skirt made using Simplicity 2451, and it’s the fanciest yet!

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The fabric is a cotton twill, most likely intended for interior decoration. I fell super hard for the print and looked up the name on the fabric bolt, Ty Pennington. Apparently Ty Pennington is a very energetic reality-TV celebrity? Whether he designed the print himself (seems unlikely) or attached his name to it, it speaks for itself. It’s awesome.

There are three construction details worth noting. One, I underlined the skirt (a first for me with this pattern) with silk because I really wanted to be able to wear it sans clinging with tights during the holiday season. Two, I made a hem facing for the first time ever. I’d gotten attached to the pre-hemmed length and was looking for ways to make a luxurious-looking hem while keeping the skirt longer.

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And three, I did a lapped zipper instead of an invisible one because of the thickness of the fabric.

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This took an embarrassing amount of time to figure out, and I couldn’t tell you how it’s done. In fact, I’m using it on another project and I can safely say I’ve retained nothing. I’ve looked at a lot of tutorials and it just seems like magic.

You may be wondering why it’s called the Anna K skirt? Well (unrelated to the new movie), my husband has been reading Anna Karenina out loud to me while I sew. And the fabric kind of reminds me of a modern version of Russian easter eggs.

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I wore this skirt to three Christmas parties and to work a few times, so my mission was accomplished and then some. The print makes it feel special but it’s also quite wearable. I would have definitely included it in my Top 5 hits of 2012 list if photography had permitted, and I’m sure it’s going to see lots of use in 2013! Do you find that pieces you create for special purpose make the jump into your regular wardrobe?

Miss Navy Kelly Blue

Greetings!

I finished this project in September, my first attempt at the Megan Nielsen Kelly skirt. Here’s what I like about it: the pattern is pretty festive for how simple it is, the directions were super clear, and the pockets quite commodious. When I’ve worn the skirt, I generally get a compliment about my outfit. Overall, it’s a great basic item that looks lovely with my more colorful shirts.

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Un-true to form, I didn’t make a muslin (although my fabric, a stiff Kona cotton, could probably be considered muslin territory). The pattern looked pretty forgiving, with only the waist being fitted. This approach was mostly justified, although I did have to make some modifications because I initially made one size larger than the pattern recommended. I was hoping jumping up a size would allow the waistband to hit below my natural waist. This didn’t work out as planned, since the waistband is a single rectangle and caused a lot of gaping where my waist tapered in. I trimmed off the excess in both the waistband and side seems to make my normal size after all.

My other mistake (and one I can’t fix) was my fabric choice. I think this skirt would really do best in a thicker fabric than I used, one that doesn’t wrinkle up so enthusiastically. I’ve already got a thrifted and shoddily-sewn wool plaid maxi earmarked for a Kelly makeover, so I’m game to try!

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The other change I’d like to try is something else with the back. Maybe inverting the pleats or tucks (I can never remember which is which!) I also spaced these closer to each other than the pattern recommended, after an exchange with Nathan. “Does the back of this skirt give me shelf-butt?” I asked. He hesitated and said “I don’t know what that is…” (pause) “… but the answer might be yes.”

Finally, I may break the waistband up into three pieces instead of one. Though the gaping at the waist is much-improved since I made the right size, I think I’d still prefer something more graduated like my beloved Simplicity 2451s.

Anyhoodles, happy almost-Friday to you all! I’m getting close to finishing my Minoru and can’t wait to show you all soon. (I can’t believe I set it aside for so many months!) And Kirsty, Ginger and Gillian, thank you for your lovely and thoughtful comments about your sewing philosophies. It’s awesome to meet such thoughtful creators!

Failure!

crab&bee
I made this skirt last weekend. I based it off of my favorite skirt pattern, Simplicity 2451, which I thought I could turn into a midi-length mullet skirt. I think the idea might have been good, but I used the wrong fabric (at least it was thrifted) and ignored what I knew about making circle/half-circle skirts and ended up with something I don’t really want to wear.
Something else I didn’t consider; you need a nice seam in the back of the skirt because it’s visible! I overlocked the raw edges of my fabric but I still think it looks a little goofy.
Next, I’m going to cut off the mullet and see if I can’t make this skirt wearable enough for me or somebody else. Wish me luck!
crab&bee