Refashioning a wedding dress into a Christening gown.

I think this used to be a much more popular thing to do years ago, probably because wedding dresses were home-made more often and the fabric would have been quite a costly part of the finished article. I’ve made a couple of Christening gowns in the past (although sadly for complicated reasons not for my own girls) but this is the first time I can recall cutting up an existing dress for a refashion.

I got a message early one Sunday morning just two days after we got back from holiday recently asking if such a thing were possible and also I’d have less than three weeks to do it in! Fortunately the client was able to come the next day so we got cracking very quickly. She had an idea of what she had in mind so she showed me a photo and we went from there.

Although the dress was from five years earlier it hadn’t been cleaned so the skirt, and the hem in particular, was very soiled. I took the whole skirt off the bodice, and also the skirt lining, plus the embroidered lace appliqué panels which came off the bodice and skirt. I was able to wash the lining but I couldn’t risk washing the Duchesse satin of the dress so I had to separate the front skirt panel (which was asymmetric) from the backs and then work out where the straight grain was so that I could cut a new front skirt piece from the cleanest area. To work out where the grain is you can tell to some extent by pulling gently in each direction on the fabric. If there’s some degree of stretch (in a non-stretch fabric) then it probably means you’re not on the straight grain yet but if there’s little or no stretch then you’re probably pretty much on it. To double-check after doing this I cut along the edge of the piece on what I’d calculated to be the grain and then pulled a few loose threads away until eventually I could see exactly where the grain was. I could then place the pattern piece onto the fabric with a good degree of certainty.

As I never throw a pattern away I have a number of children’s patterns which I used when my own girls were small so I simply used bodice pieces from one of these. The client wanted an over-long skirt so I merely created a flared A-line shape to the length needed. She wanted small ruffles at the shoulders instead of sleeves and these are very simple to draft. I drew a line on the bias (a 45 degree angle) and then a curved line which measured approximately twice as long as the sleeve opening it was going into. The curved edge is the one which you then run your gathering stitches along to pull it up, the straight edge is the one which gets neatened, or in this case had new narrow lace added to it.

This pattern was from 1989!
The ruffles drawn directly onto the fabric at a 45 degree angle, the curved edge will be gathered and the straight edge gets neatened. The pieces don’t have to be on the bias but it gives the finished ruffle a nice fluidity.
I added new narrow lace to the edge of the ruffle.

After our initial discussions and sketches it wasn’t practical for the client to keep coming backwards and forwards constantly so we conducted the rest of our consultations via WhatsApp because it was a good way for me to send her photos of ideas for her approval.

The appliqué was too much for the tiny bodice, the baby is only ten months old, so I tried it on the skirt instead.

I suggested that the appliqué should be towards the hem because then it would show better in photos if the baby was being cradled or sitting on a lap. Once we’d settled on the position the lace had to be sewn on by hand.

I wanted a deep hem on the skirt rather than a narrow rolled hem because a rolled hem would have had a tendency to curl up on this fabric and not look nice. Because of the curve of the hem I couldn’t just turn up a hem of 4cms because there would be too much bulk that would look very clunky and no possibility on this fabric of steaming it away. Because of these factors I opted to make some 8cms wide bias binding from the Duchesse which, after I’d joined it into suitable length strips, I folded in half lengthways and pressed. I placed the cut edges against the hem of the skirt and sewed it in position. Next I pushed the seam allowances towards the binding and understitched it about 1mm away from the seam.

The bias is pinned in position ready to sew close to the edge. I did the front and the back separately and then joined the side seams later.
This is how the hem eventually looked when I’d slip-hemmed it into position.
The finished hem looks like this on the right side.

It was a then a case of putting all the pieces together, along with fully lining the gown. We went with two rouleau strips across the front, which I secured into the side seams, along with the loops for the back which would tie into a simple bow. The skirt was gathered into the waist seam and an invisible zip inserted into the back. I finished the neck edge with a simple bias binding, to keep it very soft and simple around the baby’s neck.

One final detail the client had asked for was her baby’s name and the baptism date embroidered inside. Fortunately my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2.0 has a range of script options so I did a couple of test runs. I stabilised a piece of the satin and then embroidered the words onto it. I added some more of the narrow lace around the edge and finally satin-stitched it inside the skirt lining. Maybe one day there will be other names alongside it, that would be nice to think.

I really enjoyed this project as it was so creative and was real contrast to most projects I undertake. The client was absolutely delighted, and not a little emotional, when she came to collect the gown. You have to put a lot of trust into a dressmaker, especially when you’re handing over a garment which is itself has precious memories. I’m looking forward to seeing photos of little Poppy in her gown eventually, I hope she doesn’t disgrace herself!

I decided with about 45 minutes before the client arrived to collect the gown that I needed to make a matching padded hanger covered in the satin and trimmed with leftover lace.
As you can see, I needed the washing line and Mr Y to help display the gown in the April sunshine. (I should have pressed that crease out before I photographed it!)

Designing by WhatsApp might be unorthodox and have its limitations but it worked a treat this time. Have you ever had to refashion a wedding dress into a Christening gown? Maybe you’ve done it yourself?

Until next time,

Happy Sewing

Sue

testing Eden by Tilly & the Buttons

It’s always nice to be asked isn’t it? Doesn’t especially matter what but anyway, it is. So when I was asked if I would help in the testing process of TATB’s new pattern for a jacket/coat to be released in the spring I was both flattered and happy to help.

I know I have a regular moan about some Indie pattern designers but TATB are one of those who I think do a very good job. The presentation (recently with refreshed new look packaging) and the quality of the drafting and the instructions is, in my opinion, of a very good standard. Tilly doesn’t usually chuck out loads of patterns one after another, they are often in pairs and spaced out through the year.

As is quite often the case with testing there was originally a fairly tight turnaround to return feedback so my first problem was to source the fabric, and quickly. I’m not a great one for buying fabric online unless I’m confident the description and other information is accurate, or I know exactly what it is. This time though I didn’t have time to explore my regular fabric shopping haunts in London and so I had to search t’internet to see what I could find. I’d hoped to get some kind of waterproof or waxed fabric but the ones I found were either very expensive, too boring, too childish (a lot of dinosaurs and unicorns!) or not suitable for the purpose. Next I looked at wool and wool-blends and many of these were also much too expensive as well but in the end I found a really nice felted wool from FabWorksOnline so I ordered that. I was very impressed with the speed it arrived too! It’s a fully lined jacket and I’d got some silky pale pink cloque in the old stash which I didn’t think I’d use for anything else, and I had a cream-coloured open-ended zip which I thought ‘that’ll do’ so I was good to go. One version of Eden is lined with jersey, you might want to consider putting a silky lining in the sleeves, although you could still put jersey just at the cuff ends if you want the contrast roll-up effect.

After a bit of a hold up the pattern arrived but when it did I hit the ground running. In all of Tilly’s other patterns I make myself a size 5 but after checking the finished measurements for the jacket I opted for a 4 this time.

I’m not going to give you a verbatim run through of the pattern here, this time I’ll highlight areas where I used specific techniques which I think work well for this kind of garment.

There are two style variations of the Eden, either a simple longer-length duffle coat style with toggles, or a shorter jacket with ’storm flaps’ and bellows pockets which is the one I opted for. We were asked not to make any drastic pattern hacks during testing but I chose to add 5cms to the overall length of the shorter style, it was shorter than I would wear it but the other was too long.

The next thing I did differently was to use the lining fabric on the underside of the flaps instead of the wool, to reduce the bulk of them when they go into the seams. If you’re using a thinner fabric this step isn’t so necessary but I knew that once all those thicknesses were layered up into the sleeve seams it would because very bulky.

this is the underside of the front ‘storm flap’ with lining instead of double wool.

The next thing I changed (and which hasn’t been altered on the final pattern) is the shaping at the cuff of the sleeve. This is because if you have a deep turn-back but the sleeve continues down straight ie. getting narrower all the way down, when you fold it back it doesn’t lie flat against the inside of the sleeve seam. Look at the photos below and you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve shaped the seam outwards, if you look at the next photo you’ll see why.
when you turn the cuff up inside the sleeve it will sit flush inside now.
I also opted to make the lining shorter to the line I’ve marked so that it wasn’t going to droop out of the end of the sleeve. I felt there should have been a notch to mark where the turn up point was. I made a 5cms turn up for mine.

My other suggestion for the cuff is to use a strip of iron-on interfacing to stop it from stretching, being baggy and to give it some body. This is a technique I’ve picked up after doing numerous sleeve-shortening alterations for people because this is what you will commonly find inside RTW coats and jackets to stabilise it.

Iron-on interfacing applied to the lower edge of the cuff so that it’s just over the folding point of the cuff.
it looks like this when it’s folded back.
After sewing up the sleeve seam I use my ‘clapper’ as a mini ironing board to press the seam open.
Then I turned the cuff back into position to give it a good steamy press. Use a pressing cloth so your fabric doesn’t go shiny. If you aren’t familiar with a clapper, as you can see it’s a wooden tool which can be used in a number of ways. It gets its name from when you whack the steam out of woollen fabrics during the tailoring process, so that it doesn’t remain damp.

I’ve also learned from doing alterations that a few hand stitches inside the cuffs, and also the lower coat hem facing will help hold them in position so that they don’t drop down and spoil the look of your finished jacket. It’s tricky to describe what sort of stitch this should be, it’s a kind of slip-stitch a bit like you might find on handmade curtain hems. The sleeves are raglan so they are easy to insert.

The instructions for putting the zip in are good and the photos are a help here too-there will be an online tutorial although at the time of writing this I’m not sure if it’s available yet. Putting the lining in isn’t actually that complex but it does take time and concentration, and a bit of brute force. Don’t make the opening in the sleeve lining too small because it will make it very difficult to pull everything through, especially if you have stiff or thick fabrics. The gap gets sewn up and is then down inside the sleeve eventually any way. If you’re in any doubt about accomplishing this part my suggestion would be to get the lining sewn by machine to the edges around the front (zip) and hem, pull the lining through and then slip hem the lining to the cuffs by hand.

I chickened out of putting snaps on my jacket even though they would look nice. I haven’t used them on anything else and I didn’t want to spoil my Eden so near the finish line! I opted instead for very large silver press studs which I sewed on by hand.

I finished my Eden in December and I’m really pleased to say that I have worn it loads over the winter months. I’m very happy with my size decision too because there is still plenty of room for jumpers to layer up underneath, I think the next size up would have been too big. I also think the grey and pink look really pretty together as well.

I hope you find the techniques I’ve mentioned helpful, although I don’t think they were carried through to the final pattern, TATB obviously felt that their own methods and descriptions were good enough and maybe I’ve over-complicated things but overall I’m happy with the finished garment. It’s categorised as for ‘improvers’ and I think this is a fair analysis, it would be too complex for a novice sewer although with online tutorials and determination anything is possible!

As you can see from my photos my colour palette is a little more ‘mature’ shall we say than the TATB samples but I think that also proves that it’s a nice casual style which will actually work in lots of fabric and colour combinations. I enjoy the process of testing although there are times when it’s frustrating, I assume I’ve been approached because of what my experience can bring to the party and that isn’t always borne out in the end but it can be rewarding and personally I always take a lot of time over it and try to use my skills and experience to help, advise and improve when possible. I probably won’t be asked again now so I hope you find this post helpful…

Until next time,

Sue

Simple Sew Lizzie dress

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I originally chose the Lizzie pattern because I wanted to make it for a wedding at the end of July but then, because I had to change my fabric choice, I opted to make it as a smart summer dress instead in a lovely cotton lawn from Doughtys Online fabrics. It’s a classic shaped sleeveless dress with Princess seams, a pretty notched neckline  and box pleats in the skirt which means it’s an ideal blank canvas for showing off lovely fabrics or adding embellishments too.

I decided to make a toile of the bodice first because I wanted to get a nice fit of the Princess seams. I’m glad I did because I was slightly surprised to find the bodice came up quite short. I’m a very average 5’5” tall and not long-waisted but I needed to add 3.5cms to bring it to my natural waistline. I traced off the bodice pattern on spot and cross paper between 2 sizes according to my own body measurements and the ‘finished garment’ measurements on the packet and then I marked horizontal lines across all 4 pattern pieces, all at a similar level to each other. [These lines must be at a right angle to the grainline too]

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The horizontal lines are where I need to add the extra.

You’ll need some spare spot and cross because then, one at a time or you’ll lose track of which piece is which, cut the horizontal line straight across the pattern [many big brand patterns have these lines already marked with ’lengthen or shorten here’] Stick the spare s&c paper behind one part and draw a parallel line on it that’s the amount you need to add-I added 3.5cms. Keeping the original grainline in vertical alignment, place the other part of the original pattern on the new line.

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Extra s&c added behind and then each piece is moved down keeping the grain in alignment.

Make sure you do this for all the pattern pieces and that it’s the same amount added into each-unless you have a sway back  when you’ll need to decree the amount as you get nearer your spine. Draw on the new seams but don’t cut them out until you’ve done them all. Check them against one another to make sure they line up properly particularly the side seams-pin these together and then cut them out.

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I pin the side panels together so that the new side seam is identical when I cut them.

Cotton lawn is quite a fine fabric so I chose to line the dress rather than use the facing pattern. It’s easy to line simple styles like this because you just cut the same pieces again, I used a plain cotton lawn I had in my stash.

The fabric allowance for the pattern is quite generous so I lengthened the skirt by 12cms for a change. I didn’t need to stick spare paper on for this as there’s plenty of excess on the actual sheet so I drew it straight on to the bottom of both pieces. I didn’t shape the hem turn-up though, I continued the side seams straight down by 12cms and then, making sure it’s a right angle (V important) drew the new hem level on.

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Make sure the new corner at the bottom of the side seam is a right angle, you’ll get a strange point where your seams join if not.

One other detail I wanted to try out was using my new piping foot attachment for my Pfaff Quilt Ambition 2 so I cut a few bias strips of fabric for that. This works by folding a slim piping cord sandwiched inside the bias strips and then it runs in the groove under the foot so that you can stitch really close to the cord. Once you’ve sandwiched the cord in this way you place it wherever you want on the garment (or soft furnishings) and sew it on still using the foot. [You can achieve this without a special foot just by using your zipper foot but sometimes you can’t get the stitching quite as close] From the toile I felt the armhole was going to be a little snug for me so I made it a tiny bit bigger at the underarm area, not much.

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I just used the enclosed piping cord around the armholes to give them a nice crisp and professional finish.IMG_7101

I added some pockets into the side seams too (of course!) I made a new pattern piece for this, it’s just a fairly standard curved piece that’s roughly hand-shaped.

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One other thing I did differently to the instructions was I didn’t make the pleats in the skirt before attaching it to the bodice. Because I’d altered the waist size for me, and to save lots of fiddly measuring, I just snipped the centre notch on each pleat then, matching the side seams and centre back skirt to bodice first, I put the pleat marking against the bodice seam and then folded the fabric into a box pleat until they were correct. This ensures the pleats are all in perfect alignment with the bodice. It still takes a little while so be patient. After careful pinning I machine basted them in position first so that they didn’t move about and then re-stitched to secure.

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box pleats sewn down.

After I inserted the zip and joined the CB seam I made a simple A-line skirt lining because there’s no need to make a whole pleated lining, it’s a waste of fabric and can add unflattering bulk at the waist too.

Finally, I chose to finish the hem with bias binding which I made in the plain cotton lawn. I pressed over one edge then attached the un-pressed edge to the hem. Stitch in position then understitch close to the join through all seam allowances. This gives a lovely crisp finish to the hem, if you’ve read my blogs before you’ll know I do this quite often. Finally, I hand-stitched the binding up in position, it took a while but it’s very satisfying!

 

So it wasn’t the wedding guest dress I had in mind but I’m really pleased with how my Lizzie has turned out-you’ll never know what great plans I had for it in the other fabric. Aside from the points I’ve mentioned the Lizzie is a nice basic dress which would be pretty quick to knock up, the first version of any new pattern always takes a bit longer because you’re not sure what you’re doing and I lined it which also took longer for example. I like the narrower shoulder seam and the fit at the neckline is very good, I’m glad I made it longer too, it makes a change amongst my mostly knee-length dresses. It’s one of those styles where it can be more about the fabric, if you’ve got something with a fun print for example, I’d intended to make it in a floaty georgette with a pretty coloured lining but that wasn’t to be this time. Thank you Doughty’s for coming to the rescue with this lovely fabric, it was so nice to work with.

Lizzie would also look lovely in a brocade or duchess satin for a special occasion dress too, or a velvet or sequinned bodice and a contrast skirt perhaps.

 

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Happy Sewing

Sue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imogen blouse from Sew Me Something

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This has become one of my favourite patterns this summer because I’ve made 3 now and I only bought it in March at the Spring Knitting and Stitching show! What I like about it is it’s beautiful simplicity with just a bit of detail on the neckline. Sew Me Something are based in Stratford Upon Avon and designer Jules sells lovely fabrics, teaches classes as well as producing a range of very wearable pattern designs. Whilst I haven’t been able to visit the shop, I’ve met Jules a number of times now at various shows in London. I admire her personal style and we have similarities in our work background, I used to work in high-end bridal and evening wear too…back in the day.

After I bought the pattern in March I made the first one in a slubby white poly/cotton (I think) origin unknown as a wearable toile. Rather than cut up the pattern I traced it off onto Swedish tracing paper which is stronger than regular tracing paper. I’m not always in the habit of tracing patterns off (especially if they’re tissue paper anyway) but, perhaps bizarrely, when it’s good quality paper I often do. I was short of fabric so the back had to have a seam in it but that wasn’t a problem. The instruction booklet is clear and well illustrated, the only possibly tricky part of the design is the notch neck front but following it slowly and methodically it works a treat. I’ve photographed my most recent version which hopefully makes it clear if you’re reading this as a bit of help.fullsizeoutput_1f97fullsizeoutput_1f98fullsizeoutput_1f9afullsizeoutput_1f9bfullsizeoutput_1f9c

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sorry this one’s a bit blurry 😦

Once you have the placket pieces overlapping I stitch through all the layers at the bottom to secure them, then I zigzag the edge to neaten them (easier than trying to put such a tiny piece underneath the overlocker.IMG_3993

Finally ‘stitch in the ditch’ carefully from the front to hold the placket in place.IMG_3995

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Oops, got that bit caught! annoying but easily rectified.

With my first plain white version I followed the balance marks for the gathering but actually I felt the gathers looked too spread out so when I made my second version (and now the third!) I’ve condensed the gathering into smaller areas on the front, shoulders and centre back which I’m happier with.

Another thing I like is the instruction to sew hems separately before joining the side seams. This sounds a small thing but because the hem is dipped and rises at the side seams it means you get a much neater finish at the side seams-genius!

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I sewed the sides with French seams so it super-neat inside. I’ve used contrast yellow on the hem too.

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I’ve noticed I always wear my gorgeous ‘bee’ necklace from Alex Monroe with Imogen because the notch shows it off so well. I’m wearing one of my Zierstoff Gina skirts and you can read the blog about those here.

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Autumn leaves at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire.

My second version was made using the gorgeous coral lightweight linen I bought from Jules with the pattern in March.

 

I’ve made all my versions with the longer length sleeve with loose elasticated cuff, you could obviously make them tighter but I prefer them like this.

I wore the coral top to the Sewing Weekender in August and it got plenty of compliments (and obviously I told everyone what the pattern was, although several people recognised it straight away)

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Hard at work (photo credit Charlotte Powell at English Girl at Home)

The jolly fabric for my newest version came from the swap hosted by The Foldline at the recent Great British Sewing Bee Live, it’s a sharp contrast to the plain fabric of the first two that’s for sure! Thanks Kate, hope you like what I’ve done with it…

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I look a bit crumpled after all that shopping and chatting at GBSB Live…I’ve made it to the cover of Love Sewing….well, nearly 😉

What I’ve loved about this top is how comfortable it’s been in warm weather, and the details are pretty but understated-a trademark of Sew Me Something patterns to be honest. I know I’ve made 3 but I reckon there’ll be more, it would be gorgeous in a silk chiffon or crepe de Chine, or fine wool challis for example. You could add a trim to the neck, in the seam perhaps or beadwork perhaps? This third version I’ve cut a little longer than the previous two simply because I had plenty of fabric. I’m going to layer it up in the winter with a long-sleeved tee underneath. Another thing I like about this brand is that the sizing is for real women and goes right up to a 22-not all independent companies have this range and I’m not sure why.  and that seems a shame.

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I lengthened this version by 4cms simply because I had plenty of fabric. If your fabric is wide enough to fold the selvedges to the centre it’s an economic way of cutting out, it also gives you the ability to line up elements of the print so they run pleasingly around the body (always a dead giveaway of cheap RTW clothes)

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I finished the inside neckline this time with a bit of soothing slip-hemming.

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Number 3 finished!

 

I want to stress that I bought my own copy of the pattern and the fabric so any opinions expressed are entirely my own. I’m trying out a few trouser patterns lately (more on that to follow in a few weeks) so I’m tempted to try one of Sew Me Something’s trouser patterns in the future but there’s a long Autumn sewing list to work through before I buy anything more….famous last words!

Happy sewing

Sue

 

Here be dragons!

At last year’s Sewing Weekender I picked up an interesting piece of fabric from the swap table. It was about 1m80 of printed cotton by Alexander Henry, a design called Tatsu and featuring Chinese-style dragons and printed in shades of grey and black with red. It’s not my usual colours or style but something about it appealed to me so I kept it. Thank you whoever donated it!IMG_3517

Initially I thought I’d make a kimono top with it but I realised that the placement of the dragons was such that I’d struggle to cut one out of the small quantity I had, not because there wasn’t enough but simply because I wouldn’t be able to get the dragons to match and look balanced-I didn’t want wonky dragons! So even though I’d washed it ready it languished in my stash for a year, although I did get it out several times to consider a dirndl skirt. Again it was the issue of having the dragons running around the skirt properly and not wonky. Incidentally, a dirndl is the name for a simple gathered or pleated skirt which is purely widths of fabric stitched together along the selvedges and sewn at the top to a waistband and hemmed at the bottom, it doesn’t have any shaping at all.

In the end I took the bull by the horns and worked out where the dragons would be on the front and, having bravely cut that piece, I was able to cut the back so that the two pieces matched at the side seams. In order for there to be a good pattern-match down each side seam there was a wider than usual seam allowance..

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I didn’t trim off the excess simply because it was the selvedge and therefore neat anyway.

I needed to insert an invisible zip into the other side seam  which taxed my brain and my sewing skills a bit but I was extremely pleased with the result-I didn’t even have to unpick anything, it was right first time!! Get in!

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This is the zip after I’d attached the waistband, there’s a large hook and bar under the overlap which I like better than a button and buttonhole.

I made a fairly narrow waistband which I stiffened with iron-on interfacing and then pleated the skirt onto it. I wanted the fabric to lay fairly flat as I’ve got a bit of a tummy these days (sad face) and bulky gathers would be very unflattering. I didn’t use any particular mathematical calculations to achieve this, I just folded and fiddled until I was happy with the look.

Because some of the dragon’s faces are quite close to the bottom edge I decided to hem it with  bias binding for a neat finish without losing any of the design.

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The added benefit of slip-hemming meant there is no visible stitching showing on the right side.

So there it is, a simple dirndl skirt using just 2 widths of fabric. It’s one of the simplest sorts of skirt you can make and works well for any length. Depending on the type of fabric you may need more widths to make the skirt look good though. For example, if you want to use chiffon or georgette, which are quite fine, you’d almost certainly need 3, 4 or even more widths of fabric to make it look effective and not to ‘skimped’, Conversely, thicker fabrics will need less if they aren’t going to be unflatteringly bulky. I didn’t bother lining this skirt although I often do. If you don’t need to consider extreme pattern-matching this is a super-quick skirt to make and you can gussy it up with pockets, trims, exposed zips, whatever, to make it individual. Take a look at my previous blog with the tie waist here if you want another variation.

Just a short blog this time, lots to get on with…

Happy Sewing,

Sue