Every seamstress has that one fabric. We’ve had it for ages, years maybe, and it’s more beautiful than any other we own. We dream endlessly of all the sumptuous gowns and garments we could craft out of it. But we can’t use it. Oh no. No pattern can ever match its exquisite beauty, and besides, we’re too scared. What if we make a mistake and the fabric’s RUINED FOREVER? So instead it just sits there, untouched, in our ever-growing stash, watching as fabrics come and go and get turned into dresses and blouses. Occasionally we take it out, and stroke it fondly, imagining how absolutely fabulous we would look draped in its folds. But then we carefully fold it up again and replace it, because it’s safe in the stash. No harm will come to our most prized fabric there.
But hold onto your hats, gang, because this week I took the plunge, and used my favourite fabric. Actually cut it up and everything.
OK, I might be exaggerating slightly, but still. I have this beautiful fabric – a medium-weight emerald green cotton with a printed design of red elephants – which has been lingering in my stash for a good few years now, and for which I’ve always wanted to find a good use. You can see it in the picture at the top, and here’s a close-up of those elephants:
As you can see, the print consists of a grid pattern, so I wanted a fairly simple garment with clean lines which would show off the print well. I decided to go for a box pleat skirt, which would work much better with squares than a gathered or fitted waist. I based it on the box pleat skirt in the Great British Sewing Bee: Sew Your Own Wardrobe book, pictured at the top of the post, but I didn’t use their pattern. In fact, I didn’t use a pattern at all. That’s right folks: my first pattern-less garment. It shouldn’t be a big deal, as all my pattern pieces were simply rectangles, but it’s still a small achievement for me, as I’m still inexperienced enough at dressmaking to cling to the instructions like a security blanket. But this does mean I can reproduce what I did here, as a set of instructions for if any of you would like to make your own.
You’ll need about a metre and a half of fabric if your fabric has a strong directional design like mine does (we can’t be having elephants on their heads now, can we?), and a little less if it doesn’t, but it really depends on your waist measurement and how long you want the skirt to be. You’ll also need iron-on interfacing for the waistband pieces, two poppers and a 20cm zip (ordinary, not invisible).
Cut two rectangles, the width that you want the bottom hem to be + 2cm seam allowances (as guidance, the final hem of my skirt is about 160cm all around. So 80cm each for front and back), and the length that you want your skirt to be + 2cm hem allowance. You’ll also need to cut out two waistband pieces, but I did that later, once I had put the box pleats into the waist of the skirt. Which we will do now.
Don’t be frightened, but this next bit involves a little maths. Breathe, we’re going to be fine. You need to put two pleats each into the front and back pieces, so that they match your waist measurement. My fabric has nice big squares in it, which made things a bit simpler. My waist turned out to be 16 squares, so 8 each for the front and back pieces. Each piece was 16 squares wide, so I needed to ‘get rid’ of 4 squares in each pleat. Basically, measure your waist and divide it by 2. Work out the difference between this measurement and the width of your rectangles. Divide that by 2, and you have the amount of fabric which needs to be concealed within each pleat. Space the pleats evenly across the top edge of the skirt pieces.
It’ll take a bit of trial and error (see above), but when you’ve found some pleat measurements that work for you, pin and tack in place, then press the pleats thoroughly from top to bottom.
Once your pleats are in place, place the front and back pieces right sides together, and pin them together down the side seams . Try the skirt on and adjust the side seams to fit. You’ll want to leave a little breathing space around the waist, as the waistband will add some bulk to the finished skirt. Then take your zip, place it against the top edge of one of the side seams, and place a horizontal pin in the skirt where the bottom of the zip is. Sew this seam from the bottom up to the horizontal pin. Sew the other side seam from top to bottom. Finish the raw edges and press the seams open, including the un-sewn gap for the zip.
We’ll be inserting a lapped zip now. This was my first lapped zip and it’s really not scary at all. Open the zip, turn the skirt right side out and pin one edge of the seam opening right against the teeth of the zip. Attach the zip foot to your machine and sew as close to the teeth as possible.
Then lap the other edge over the teeth, concealing them and the stitching. Tack, then sew across the bottom of the zip tape, and all the way up the other side, again as close to the teeth as possible. The result should be an unobtrusive zip, concealed in the side seam and visible only on close inspection. Press.
You’ll need to cut out your waistband pieces now. If you fabric is wide/long enough, you can just cut one long piece – make it 10cm wide and 6cm longer than the top edge of your skirt. Alternatively, you can do the waistband in two pieces like I did (my fabric was way too narrow): make the front piece 5cm longer than the front of your skirt waist, and make the back piece 2cm longer than the back of your skirt waist. Cut out interfacing pieces the same size as your waistband pieces, and iron them to the wrong side. If you have two separate pieces, sew them together to make one long strip, with a 1cm seam allowance. Make sure this seam is on the opposite side from the zip! Press open.
Pin the waistband face down to the skirt waist, right sides together, matching the side seams so that the front waistband piece overlaps over the zip. Sew with a 1cm seam allowance. Press open, then towards the waistband.
Fold the waistband in half, right sides together, and stitch the ends together. Clip the corners, then fold the waistband back the other way, using a pencil or knitting needle to ease out the corners. Fold and pin the waistband to the wrong side of the skirt so it just overlaps the previous line of stitches, then sink stitch from the right side all the way around. There will be quite a few layers for the needle to get through, so think about going up a needle size, especially if you’re using a thicker fabric.
Sew two popper fastenings onto the part of the waistband overlapping the zip. Then press under a 2cm double hem all the way around the bottom of the skirt, pin and sew. Press your hem, and the whole skirt, as all the excitement is likely to have flattened out your pleats somewhat.
And we’re done!
I’m really happy with how my skirt turned out (even if it is a little tight. But who needs to breathe, hey?). It wasn’t difficult, and I think it was the right project to show off the beautiful fabric. And I still have some fabric left – not quite enough for a top, I reckon, but plenty for a cushion or a bag. So watch this space…