Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Tutorial One: The Blank Canvas Skirt

Tutorial One: The Blank Canvas Skirt

Commonly referred to as a Simple Skirt, I like to call this my Blank Canvas Skirt as it really is a fantastic starting point for making gorgeous outfits. It's also a great beginner project and a perfect place to begin our sewing journey.

In this tutorial you will learn how to:
  • Determine the measurements of your skirt
  • Sew side seams
  • Add an elastic casing
  • Sew a hem.
I, in no way, profess to be an expert. These are just the steps I take. I recommend reading through the tutorial completely at first, to familiarise yourself with each step.

I'm far too excited to wait any longer, so let's begin.

What you will need:
  • Fabric. Enough to cover the dimensions of your skirt, as discussed below. Always pre-wash and iron your fabric in the same manner you intend to wash the skirt (i.e. Cold water, warm water etc). This will ensure your finished garment doesn't shrink or have the colour run.

  • 3/4'' Elastic, sized to fit comfortably around your waist, with half an inch or so of overlap. You can use wider/narrower elastic, if you want. Just make sure you adjust the casing size accordingly.

  • Thread to match your fabric. Maybe you'll use the same colour, or be daring and have a contrasting thread? It's entirely up to you.

Making your skirt:

The first step is to find the dimensions of your skirt. You don't need to be too particular, just a rough guide. You're better off measuring too big than too small as you can always cut the fabric smaller.

The skirt is cut as two rectangles, so you need two measurements: width and length.
  • For the width, measure all the way around your waist, where you would wear your skirt. I'm making this for my 21 month old daughter, Pepper, so her waist measurement is 19 inches.
  • For the length, measure how long you want the skirt from waist to finished hem. Pepper's length, from waist to knee, is 9 inches.
Next you need to add hem and elastic casing allowance, or your skirt will end up too short.
  • For the elastic casing, add another one and half inches (1.5'') to the length.
  • For the hem, add another one inch (1'') to the length.
  • The total length, for Pepper's skirt, is 11.5 inches. (9'' + 1.5'' + 1'' = 11.5'')
Note: Due to the forgiving nature of this skirt, I haven't bothered adding any allowances for sewing the side seams. In fact, if you want a less full skirt, you could even take a few inches of the waist measurement and it will still fit beautifully.

Now it's time to cut your fabric. The fabric you use is entirely up to you, however, I highly recommend using something easy to handle. Quilting cotton is great and comes in a gorgeous selection of designs.

Cut TWO (2) rectangles using your waist and length measurements.

I have cut two rectangles. Each of size 19'' x 11.5''

Note: For this tutorial I haven't worried too much about cutting along a particular grain line or anything (GASP...the horror!!!). If your fabric has some stretch, try and cut this across the body (i.e. the waist measurement) but honestly, it's not the end of the world if you don't. I often cut this skirt breaking all the rules, just because the design on the fabric will look prettiest a certain way. I'm such a rebel.

Now it's time to start sewing:

Skirt Body
Pin the two rectangles, right sides together, along the shorter edge (i.e. along the length, not the waist)

Right sides of the fabric are facing each other, with the raw edges lined up neatly.

The shorter, length ends are pinned together, ready for sewing.

Sew down each side, using a 3/8'' seam allowance. This simply means sewing 3/8'' in from the edge.

Sewing with a 3/8'' seam allowance.

You should now have one piece of fabric, sewn at the sides and open at the top and bottom. It might look miles too big at the moment, but don't worry. It'll be brought down to size soon enough.

If you have an overlocker, or your sewing machine has an overcasting foot, overcast the raw edges of the two side seams. This is an optional step, but gives a professional finish to the skirt, prevents fraying and strengthens the seam by having that extra row of stitches.

Overcasting the seams

Elastic Casing
Fold and press, with a hot iron, the top of the skirt inwards, 1/4''. This will help hide the raw edges of the elastic casing. 

Press the top of the skirt down 1/4''.

Fold and press the elastic casing down again, this time 1''. 

Press down another 1''.

Pin around the elastic casing to keep it in place for sewing.

Pin the elastic casing down.

Mark a few inches that will remain unsewn. This is where you will thread in your elastic. 

Leave a gap to thread the elastic. I use double pins to remind myself when to stop sewing.

Sew around the casing, leaving the gap you've marked open.

Sew from the first set of double pins, all the way around the waist to the second set of double pins.

This next step is entirely optional. If you think it might make your casing too narrow, just skip it and move on to threading your elastic. I just love the finished look it gives the casing though.

Stitch around the entire elastic casing, as close to the edge as possible.

Stitch, close the edge, around the entire waist.

Thread your elastic through the casing. I like to add a big safety pin to each end, so I don't lose the elastic. Take care not to twist your elastic as you're threading. 

Thread your elastic through the casing

The elastic is threaded and ready for sewing.

Overlap and sew the ends of your elastic together. I just use a few rows of zigzag stitch. 

Overlap and sew the elastic ends together.

The sewn elastic

Sew closed the gap in the casing. 

Sew closed the gap in the elastic casing. Make sure the fabric and elastic are nice and flat.

Evenly distribute the fabric around the elastic. On each side seam, stitch the elastic down to help prevent it from rolling. 

Stitch the elastic down to prevent it from rolling.

Fold and press the hem inwards 1/2'', with a hot iron. 

Press the hem down 1/2''.

Fold and press the hem inwards another 1/2''.

Press the hem down another 1/2''.

Pin the hem to prevent it moving during sewing.

Pin the hem. This will prevent it from moving during sewing.

Sew approximately 3/8'' from the edge. You want to make sure you're catching the hem without leaving it gaping. 

Note: If it makes things easier, sew with the hem facing you so you know you've caught it. Trust me, nobody will know if they're looking at top or bobbin thread. 

Sew the hem, being sure to catch it on the underside.

Sew a second row along the hem, about 1/8'' away from the first row. This is optional but I love a double sewn hem. I think it really adds a professional touch and gives a little extra strength.

Sew a second row of stitches, close to the first for a professional finish.

Finally, press your skirt, remove any threads that have been left dangling and be proud of your latest creation.

Congratulations on completing the first in this short series of beginner tutorials. Here are a few extra hints and tips to help you enjoy your sewing journey:
  • Take your time and be comfortable with each step. It's OK to take longer than a pattern suggests. You're looking for a beautifully constructed garment, not an entry to the 100m dash at the sewing Olympics.
  • Focus on sewing from one pin to the next. Are the raw edges lined up between these two pins? Am I sewing in a straight line and keeping the correct seam allowance? That way, you only have a small number of things to think about at a time.
  • Don't be afraid to unpick. If you're unhappy with a seam or think your hem is wrong, unpick and do it again. We like to call this 'reverse sewing' and it is a perfectly acceptable practice. It's better to correct mistakes early than try and do it at the end.
  • Likewise, don't be concerned if your sewing is a little 'off'. These skirts are very forgiving. We all learn from mistakes so, if you make a few, don't beat yourself up. You've simply learnt for next time.
  • Finally, the iron is your friend (boy, I never thought I'd hear myself say that). Neatly pressed seams and hems not only make construction easier, but are the difference between a beginner and a professional looking garment.
Please don't hesitate to ask questions if you have any or are stuck on any step.

I hope you've enjoyed yourself and I'd love to see your creations on my Facebook page. 

Stay tuned for the next tutorial which will have us adding a cute little border to give our skirts some character.

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