In the last few weeks, I have kind of learned to sew. And I mean that in the loosest sense of the word. What I mean more, is that I have learned (mostly) how to use my sewing machine (from reading reviews about the best sewing machine for beginners), and how to (kind of) construct clothing. A few years ago, I picked up a 1960s Kenmore machine on Craigslist for $30. I wanted a bunch of throw pillows because our sofa was naked and since I am super picky about everything that I really don’t need to be picky about, run of the mill pillows weren’t going to cut it. So I sewed custom pillow covers using my sewing machine. And then it got relegated to a shelf in the spare bedroom until recently. You see, we are planning a trip to Hawaii pretty soon for our friends’ wedding. This upcoming warm weather vacation, paired with the huge wardrobe transition I am in (I’m pretty much building a new wardrobe from scratch), has put me in a kind of strange mode where I am trying to acquire all new clothes for the trip (I don’t have much spring/summer wear to speak of). I decided that I needed a jersey pencil skirt in lieu of wearing shorts (they’re not a great look on me) and when I looked on pinterest for outfit ideas, I was inundated with “easy 20 minute pencil skirt tutorial.” So I crazily decided that of course I could sew a pencil skirt. Why not? Based on the tutorials, it seemed pretty simple. I hit the fabric store and got 2 different fabrics, a thick navy, and a super thin mint and navy chevron. I read over several different tutorials, and kind of winged it. Most of them said something to the effect of “get a skirt that fits you really well, and use it as a template. The problem is that I didn’t have a pencil skirt that fit me really well, so that wasn’t all that useful. I found a tutorial for making a pattern on pinterest and went with it. I took all of my measurements, taped a couple of opened up paper bags together, and drew the pattern out on them. My first skirt was fairly simple, and when I test-fit it, it was huge! I hadn’t accounted for the stretch inherent in jersey. Luckily, it was just a matter of sewing another seam a couple inches in on the fabric and trimming all the extraneous bits. After a bit of trial and error, I finally ended up with a size and shape that I was happy with. Then I laid that on the pattern, marked, and trimmed around it! Not ideal, but that’s how it shook out with me. Your mileage may vary.
I searched high and low for a tutorial on how to make a faux wrap jersey pencil skirt, and just couldn’t find something that I liked that wouldn’t show my butt if I bent over. I did however, find this Helmut Lang skirt on Pinterest that I felt reasonably confident that I could copy. So I found some fabric. I love saturated colors, and this bright royal blue was perfect(also, a remnant – so $6.99/yd). Being a thin fabric, it would still be comfortable as a double layered type of thing. I probably used about 1.5 yards of fabric. To cut it out, I folded the fabric along the bottom edge of the skirt, being sure that the stretch ran side to side (pay attention to this!) so it was doubled, and then folded it again along the side, so that when I laid the pattern on top, I would have 4 layers of fabric. I traced around it with some tailors chalk, and then cut it using scissors (one of those rolly cutters would have been way easier).
Once the fabric had been cut out, I made sure to determine which was the “right” side, that is, the side of the fabric that I wanted to face out. It is a lot more subtle in jersey type fabrics than it is on a standard cotton. The first thing that I did was I made the hem. The back of the skirt needed to be 2 layers thick so I could avoid showing my underpants to anyone standing behind me, so I put the 2 good sides together, and sewed a simple stitch along the bottom of the skirt. WHEN SEWING JERSEY, YOU MUST ALWAYS USE A ZIGZAG STITCH There. Now that that’s out of the way, we can move on. Use a zigzag stitch. This allows the fabric to stretch. If you don’t, when you put the skirt on and move, you’re going to break the thread and then you’ll be totally bummed out when your seams fall apart.
So you sewed the 2 layers of the back together. Now you need to turn them right side out and iron the hem. By now you’ve probably realized that jersey loves to curl. This is great when you’re wanting it to not unravel, but it sucks when you’re trying to get it to lie flat. Avoid stretching it at all while you’re trying to work with and sew it and this will minimize(but not eliminate) curling. I went with a simple hem for my front pieces, just folding them under once and stitching to hem. But I couldn’t get them to sit flat, so I pinned and ironed it. Grrr.
Once I had the 2 layers of the back hemmed together, and the 2 layers of the front hemmed separately, I had to get one side each of the front fabric gathered. I used this tutorial as a basis. With the outside facing up, I sewed and gathered the left side of one piece, and the right side of the other. I gathered about the bottom half to two thirds of each piece. Getting it even was a lot more difficult that it seemed like it should have been.
Once I had the gathering determined, I set about pinning all 4 layers of the skirt together, right-sides facing in. It was time consuming to make sure that everything was lined up as I wanted it to be But I finally did it. I made sure the long piece of each front side matched up with the hem of the back.
Then it was just a matter of sewing down each side. After verifying fit, I decided to add the waistband, which is a piece of the same fabric, but instead of running the stretch side-to-side, it runs top to bottom, making it so the waistband fits tight. It’s also really tight going over your butt and thighs, so you may have to do some test fitting to see if this is an option for you, or whether you’ll have to run your stretch horizontally. Either way, the waistband is just a piece of fabric doubled over (right side out), and sewed along the seam that holds it together (making a loop). Then you turn your skirt right side out, and pin the waistband to it, folded side down, so that the unfinished top of the skirt and the unfinished top of the waistband meet up. Then just simply sew around that area. You’re still using the zigzag stitch, right? Then you just fold the waistband up, and you essentially have a finished skirt!
At this point, you just need to do some test fitting to make sure it all fits well. Once you’re happy, trim all of the extraneous seam allowances off. I finished my skirt on Saturday, and felt so proud of myself (I was also totally ready to be done) but then when I went to put it on Sunday afternoon, I realized that the zigzag stitch (and also the color of thread) that I used was not right. The zigzag was far too “open” and resulted in the stitches kind of opening up and looking visible. It wasn’t cute. Set your stitch length much shorter and please be sure to use a thread that actually matches your fabric.
While I was picking at it, I ended up taking a lot of the seams out to change the way that the ruching laid. The bottom of my outer layer ended up getting shortened side-to-side by probably 3″. This helped to eliminate any parts of the skirt that were puffy or just laying weird. Sorry for the work bathroom selfies, I don’t have a full length mirror at home (I am just now realizing how strange that is).
These should be perfect cruising around Hawaii!