Thursday, June 25, 2015

S-L-O-W-L-Y Starting the Skirt Project, Research and Discovery Phase

Making A Start: The Package Is Opened!
Ten days ago, I announced my plans to make myself a skirt.  See how much I have accomplished so far?  I actually bought my cotton voile print skirt fabric, solid navy cotton voile lining fabric, invisible zipper, thread, and twill tape over a month ago.  Then I spent several weeks procrastinating researching and agonizing over:

1. Whether and how to prewash my fabrics
2. What kind of interfacing to use for the waistband of the skirt 
3. What size should I cut out

I know my mom is going to laugh when she reads this.  She would have started cutting and sewing immediately and finished the skirt in a day.  I, on the other hand, need to research, ponder, mull, consult the Internet, and only THEN can I proceed.  Since I have only ever made one garment that ended up wearable (and I was disappointed with the fit), I started by purchasing a new book to teach me the basics.  I picked the Threads Magazine Sewing Guide because, having subscribed to Threads in the past, I know that Threads is all about garment sewing as an art form, with the goal of achieving couture quality garments with the best fit possible.  The frustrating thing about trying to learn to sew from a monthly magazine is that each issue has a random assortment of articles that never seem to mesh with the project I have in mind.  So, for instance, I have studied articles on how to contour princess seams, underlining with silk organza, and how to do a hand-picked zipper from reading Threads magazine, but I don't know what to do first when I open a new pattern.  The Threads Sewing Guide seems to be a compilation of articles from the magazine, but arranged logically so that a beginner like me can start reading at the beginning and know what to do.

The Skirt Pattern: New Look 6708
At this point I should probably explain that my goal for this project is not to have another skirt in my closet.  I already have a bunch of skirts in my closet, and if I really needed another one I could go to the store and buy one faster and probably for less money than it will cost me to make this one myself: $5 pattern, $45 for 3 yds of floral print fabric, $1.50 zipper, $1.30 twill tape, $3.35 thread, $17.25 for 3 yards of lining fabric, and $4.30 for an 8-yard bolt of fusible interfacing that I got with a 50% off coupon...  It is costing me about $78 to make this skirt.  Gone are the days of sewing for thrift!  But the skirt is not the goal, and saving money on a skirt is not the goal.  The whole point of making this skirt is to teach myself garment sewing on a simple project that is easy to fit, so I can learn the basics of reading and following a pattern and constructing a garment from start to finish, and then work my way up to more difficult garments like blouses and dresses -- again, not to save money, but because I have a horrible time finding anything in the stores that fits me well.  I took some great classes on pattern alterations and fitting when I went to Atlanta in March for the Sewing & Quilt Expo, but I think I need to get more comfortable with the basics before I tackle something that will require pattern alterations.  I want to take my time, learn as much as I can from this skirt, and do everything in my power to ensure that this garment is a "win" -- meaning that it fits well and looks good enough that, if it was a ready-made item in a store, I would have liked it enough to purchase it.

The Fabric: Pretty Potent Echinachea on Cotton Voile
So in answer to Quandary #1, yes, I did prewash my fabrics, both the print fashion fabric and the lining fabric.  They are 100% cotton voile fabrics of slightly different weights, so two concerns: First of all, when I establish the finished length of this skirt, I want that to be the REAL finished length of the skirt.  I do not want it to shrink two inches the first time I wash it.  Second, what if the print fashion fabric shrank more than the lining fabric and I ended up with the lining hanging out at the bottom of the skirt?  That actually happened to me with a ready-to-wear skirt from Ann Taylor, and after shortening the lining and having the top layer of the skirt CONTINUE to shrink, I finally added crochet lace to the skirt hem to make up the difference.  But since I'm going to all the bother of sewing this skirt myself, it's worth the extra trouble to preshrink the fabric before cutting into it.  I washed the fabrics in the machine with the Very Warm temperature setting and dried them in the dryer.  I plan to wash the finished skirt in cold water and line dry.

As for Quandary #2...  My pattern calls for fusible interfacing, period.  As if there was only one kind of fusible interfacing out there, and everyone knows where to get it.  Hah!  There must have been twenty different kinds of fusible interfacing at JoAnn's, some of it tissue-thin, others that were stiff and reminded me of heavy weight cutaway machine embroidery stabilizer.  How am I supposed to know which one to use?  I consulted several different sources for this one.  According to my Threads book, the general rule of thumb is that you want to use an interfacing that is similar in weight or lighter weight than your fashion fabric.  That helps.  But then I consulted another great book, Sandra Betzina's More Fabric Savvy, which lists today's common garment fabrics alphabetically and gives sewing recommendations for each of them.  Betzina has a section in the book for Batiste & Voile, and she recommends interfacing with self-fabric.  Hunh?  But my pattern says FUSIBLE interfacing!  I consulted another resource, Shannon Gifford's sewing tutorial for Voile at EmmaOneSock (one of my favorite online garment fabric shops).  Gifford says, "If you prefer to use a fusible interfacing, use the thinnest fusible available... However, the best interfacing for this fabric is a coordinating solid colored silk organza."  When I went to JoAnn's for interfacing, they did not have any coordinating silk organza, and the lightest weight fusible interfacing they had was a Pellon Ultra Lightweight Fusible Interfacing By the Bolt.  It's 100% polyester and the care instructions are machine wash warm, tumble dry and warm iron.  Fortunately, I bought a little more fabric than the pattern called for, so I'll be able to experiment.  I'll try both ways, fusible interfacing and self-fabric interfacing, and see which one looks and feels better.

Fitting Class with Lorraine Henry
And finally, Quandary #3, which size do I cut out?  Well, the reason I picked a loose-fitting skirt for this project is that it should be fairly easy to fit, just as long as I go by my waist measurement when deciding what size to cut out.  Easy enough, right?  As long as I know WHERE MY WAIST IS...  I learned from Lorraine Henry's fitting classes to tie a piece of elastic around my middle and then bend at the waist from side to side, forwards and backwards.  The elastic naturally settles at the elusive Natural Waistline (nowhere near where the waist of today's clothing is generally located) and THAT'S where you take your waist measurement.  No sucking in your abs, just relax those tummy muscles or the skirt will be way too tight and I won't want to wear it!  I got 30 1/4" for my waist measurement, and then I looked at the back of the pattern envelope and saw that a 30" waist is a size 16 and a 32" waist is a size 18.  Panic!!  That can't be right!  The skirts in my closet that fit comfortably are size 6 or size 8.  I understand that pattern sizes and RTW clothing sizes are no longer comparable due to serious vanity sizing in ready-to-wear, but size 16 for my skirt sounds HUGE. 

So I decided to figure out how big the waist of the finished skirt would be if I made a size 16, so I could compare that to the waist of the skirts hanging in my closet.  I measured along the top edge of the skirt waistband pieces, and subtracted out the side seam allowances, and I got a finished waist band of approximately 32 3/4" for a size 16 skirt (not the same as the waist measurement for that size, because the pattern adds wearing ease and the skirt is designed to sit 1" below the natural waistline).  Then I went into my closet and discovered that the most comfortable skirts I own actually do measure around 32" at the waist.  Go figure!  It looks like I'll be making a size 16, after all.  I'm still a little nervous about that -- what if I made a mistake measuring the pattern pieces or subtracting out seam allowances?  Just to be on the safe side, I think I'll cut the waistband pieces out of muslin, stitch them together, and try it on before I cut into the real fabric.  Maybe I should make the WHOLE skirt out of muslin, since I don't really know what I'm doing? 

Ironing Pattern Pieces
Meanwhile, I did manage to cut the pattern pieces apart and iron out the folds and wrinkles (dry iron, medium setting).  But then I stalled out, remembering how I made Lars a cute pair of toddler pajamas (a long, LONG time ago) in size 2T, and then when he outgrew them I couldn't reuse the pattern to make him a larger pair because I had already cut out the smallest size, cutting off all of the larger sizes of the multi-size pattern.  What if I cut on the size 16 line to cut out my muslin, but then after sewing up the muslin I realize that a smaller or larger size would be better?  I'm making the 24" long version of the skirt this time, but what if I decide that I want to make the 29" long skirt someday in the future and I've already cut the extra length off my pattern?  Should I trace the original tissue pattern pieces onto butcher paper, Swedish Tracing Paper, or some other material before cutting them out?  Or is that silly for something so straightforward as this skirt pattern?  I haven't decided yet.

Today I spent some time straightening up and organizing my studio so I have room to work on this project.  I ordered a roll of the Swedish Tracing Paper from Amazon because, even if I don't use it for this pattern, I know I'll want it for when I'm ready to make a lot of pattern alterations to dress and blouse patterns.  I had hoped to make more progress on the skirt today, but I ended up writing about it here instead.  Which is fine.  Writing about it helps me to sort out all of the conflicting advice gleaned from various sources, and helps me to clarify what to do next:

1. I need to read through the pattern instructions and make sure I understand everything.  I may need to look some things up in my sewing books, like how to do a sewn-in self-fabric interfacing, if I decide to go that route.

2. I need to decide how I'm going to finish my seams.  My Fabric Savvy book suggests either French seams or a 3-thread overlock stitch. 

3. I need to trace off the pattern pieces (if I decide to do that) and make up a muslin to check that I like the fit and the style. 

...and THEN I can cut out the pieces from the fashion fabric and the lining!

I'm linking up with Esther's WIPs on Wednesday even though this one isn't quilting related (I hope that's okay).  Meanwhile, we're headed to Carowinds tomorrow to ride the roller coasters with Lars and Anders.  Fingers crossed for light crowds and clear skies!


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

cute skirt - now is there a top pattern with no buttons and no zipper - just pull over the head type - that is something simple that maybe I could make - I'm not a skirt person but that one is cute that you show.

Barbara Sindlinger said...

I think I'd be more like your mom. I am too impatient! Good luck. Sounds like a good start.

Esther Aliu said...

Sewing garments is so expensive! And time consuming too! I know exactly how you feel. Often, when I can't find what I want I will make it myself (such as my range of floral shirts) but its doubly expensive, time consuming and frankly tedious.

Still, I completely understand why you are undergoing this test of practice. There's really no way around it - except actually making it. I do think Craftsy has some helpful sewing garment videos over on their site, if you're interested. I personally think watching other create garments is just as helpful (and much less expensive) than making up. But it's a good lesson. My only issue is that patterns are so inconsistent between brands. There used to be many great old fashioned home sewing books that showed every little last detail - but they went out of print and many modern books just don't allow for real beginners to get a grip of the art of home sewing.

What an interesting project, can't wait to see how you progress..

Pine Valley Quilts said...

Love the fabric you have chosen, you will have a beautiful skirt. Such a lot of thought you have put into your project. My Mother was a dress maker she never followed patterns but when she did use them to cut out the pieces she would fold them back to the correct size before pinning them to the yardage so the pattern could be reused at a different size. I think a dummy run with the muslin would be a good idea.

SJSM said...

1. Choose your skirt size by your hip size. It is easier to alter the waist than the hip area.
2. Do copy your pattern onto some sort of paper. I use rolls of medical paper (the stuff doctors offices put on the examining room tables) as it is the cheapest I've found that you can see through to trace.
3. Definitely make a muslin. If you are taller or shorter than the 5'6" female used for patterns then you may need to lengthen or shorten. To help figure this out you can measure the distance from your waistline to hip line. (If the pattern waistline is below your natural waistline, start with the distance from there. Usually a pattern will state how far the waist sits below the natural waistline). Either lengthen or shorten your pattern by the amount you need.
4. This appears to be a forgiving pattern as there is enough ease in the hips. Make the muslin to make sure and I'm sure you will be good to go.

Regarding interfacing: in general better interfacing can be purchased in specialty shops or on line. Silk organza is generally found the same way. I use Thai Silks dot com for most of my silk needs.

If you decide to get into garment sewing there are many good books on fit and techniques. if there is a fashion design department in a community college near you that is an excellent way to learn. The American Sewing Guild may be in your area. There are members at many different skill levels that belong. They are eager to pass on their knowledge AND they usually sponsor workshops that feature area and national instructors. Finally there is Craftsy dot com that will show you by video how to sew from an absolute beginner to couture sewist. I have many of their classes to reinforce all those clothing construction classes I've taken but don't use the specific skills often. Look at the ratings as well as the description to determine what is in the course.

If you were close by I'd help you with each step. Good luck!

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks so much, SJSM! I *THINK* my hip size also falls under the size 16, but not sure I am measuring in the right spot for hips. I agree that the fit is loose enough in this pattern that I should be okay. Yes, I'm taller than 5'6" so that's another reason I wanted to do the muslin, to check the length. Which online shops do you recommend for interfacings?

Jenny K. Lyon said...

SJSM said almost everything I would have. Joining ASG would be VERY useful! I am a member and I understand fit as a result. Don't worry about size numbers-the pattern size is usually 3 sizes bigger than most stores and 4 sizes bigger than Nordie's. Most of us garment sewers sew garments because ready to wear does not fit our odd bodies. I applaud your efforts. If you do the muslin thing, you will undoubtedly do some alterations so that when it comes to the real thing, it will be a snap. Have fun!

Janet M said...

Have you considered using Pellon Shape Flex 101? It's a light weight cotton woven fusible interfacing. It doesn't change the integrity of your fabric but stabilizes and adds body. Readily available at Joann's - I buy it by the bolt with a coupon.

BTW,I love the fabric and pattern you've chosen.

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Janet! I don't remember seeing Shape Flex 101 at JoAnn's -- but then again, the interfacing rack was a disastrous mess and I could not find a sales associate to help me. I don't like the idea of using a polyester interfacing with my 100% cotton fabrics. I'm going to check for that product online.

Diane M said...

This is a post I could have written if I had a blog as it sounds like what I've been going through. I am starting with easy projects like a circle skirt, shorts, and t-shirt. I don't know how many youTube videos and Craftsy classes I have watched and sew-alongs I have read through to make sure I understand what I'm doing ... which often leads to more confusion. What would take others 30 minutes to make is taking me hours. :-) As long as I'm having fun, I don't mind. I look forward to following your progress!

Sue Daurio said...

Holy smokes, quilting is WAY easier!! The skirt looks like it' gonna be really cute. You are a brave soul reaching out into the garment sewing. I don't think I could do it. But I will be watching to see how this turns out. And I really get the whole, research, read everything, know everything before you start and it is only THEN you can start.

Unknown said...

Rebecca - I applaud your skirt making process. I would approach it the same way probably if I were so inclined.

Isn't pattern sizing annoying? That is one of my pet peeves about sewing garments and the main reason why I don't sew for myself anymore, I just quilt. Partly because I am plus-sized and the major pattern companies don't seem to understand that plus-sized women do not necessarily have huge shoulders or freakishly long torsos, they just grade every part of the pattern larger so to fit my bust size a shirt is hanging off my shoulders with a huge wide gaping neck opening.

There are ways around that if you don't mind buying a smaller size and then making LOTS of alterations but I just can't think why the pattern companies can't make a pattern for shorter plus-sized women as opposed to or in addition to their Amazon-sized women's patterns! I will love to see your progess and the finished project. Claudia W

Rebecca Grace said...

Hi, Claudia! If you ever have the opportunity, you should take a fit class with Lorraine Henry. The best one for you would probably be the one she calls "Fitting the Four B'S: Bust, Back, Belly & Bottom. She would tell you to pick your pattern size based on your high bust measurement so that you get the fit right in through the shoulder area, where it's very difficult to alter, and then have you do your length adjustment and either a Full Bust Adjustment or else a Prominent Bust Adjustment (not the same thing, as I learned). I'm not quite an Amazon, but at 5'8" I still have to make bust and length adjustments (in the opposite direction from you) to get a good fit. But I have decided that it's worth it to me to learn how to do it because while there are great ready-to-wear options and alterations for petite women, there is nothing I can do about ready-to-wear blouses that pull open at the buttons, sleeves are all too short, and tops won't stay tucked in because there isn't enough length in the front. Thanks for your words of encouragement!