Welcome to Episode 2 in the How to Sew A Skirt Sew-along series. The subjects for today are: Drafting your custom fit pattern, and all about ease and seam allowances.
Drafting your custom fit skirt pattern
I admit it – I'm a funny shape. No hourglass figure for me – I'm a total rectangle. And this means I can't get ready-to-wear skirts to fit me properly. They are either far too loose in the hip if they fit at my waist, or fit at the hip and are far too big in the waist. Many of us don't conform to the standard body shape for regular clothing and patterns. Especially as we get older, perhaps a little broader, and our body shape and proportion changes.
So in this part of the Sew A Skirt, we will look at making your very own skirt pattern that is going to fit to your own set of measurements, and your own body shape. By following the simple step by step instructions, you can end us with a basic skirt pattern that you can use time and time again to quickly make up a skirt that you know is going to fit you properly without any alterations.
Drafting the Skirt Pattern
I already have a step by step photo tutorial on how to draft a custom fit skirt pattern, so I'm not going to repeat all that here. Just point you in the direction of the earlier post – Draft Your Own Pencil Skirt Sloper.
This post includes photos and directions on how and where to measure yourself, and how to make up the pattern that we are going to use in this series.
Recommendations for success:
- You will get a better result if you can measure accurately. I recommend trying to use centimeters rather than inches – your tape probably has both.
- It's easier to work in decimals with centimeters. 29.4 centimeters is easier to draw out as 29 cm and 4 mm than trying to draw 3/10th of an inch.
- There is a spreadsheet you can download in the earlier post where you enter your basic measurements and it does all of the maths for you, and tells you how long to make each of the lines for your pattern.
- Draw out the basic pattern shape first. Then cut it out and stick it down on another large sheet to add your seam allowances around the outside. This makes the seam allowances easier to identify and change later if you need to. It also makes the pattern a little thicker and more durable so you can keep it and reuse it in future.
All about ‘Ease'
What is ease? When we take our body measurements, if we drew out a pattern to exactly match those measurements then we would end up with skin tight clothing. That's OK if you are using knit fabrics with good stretch and want to look like you are from the crew of Star Trek or some science fiction film. But most of us want our clothes to skim the body and flatter, not show every single lump and bump! And not every item of clothing will be made from super stretchy fabrics.
So we will need some ‘ease’ in our skirt if it is not to be skin tight and then split when we sit down and our bottom and thighs expand. There are typically two types of ease added to a pattern – wearing ease and design ease.
Wearing ease is the amount of extra fabric you need to move comfortably in a garment. Design ease is the amount of extra fabric the designer has built in to give the garment its shape and style. The total amount of ease is the difference between the measurement of the finished garment and the measurement for your body.
This skirt is supposed to be close fitting at the hips so no design ease is used, just a little wearing ease.
What about ease at the waist? Well think about it. The skirt is designed to sit at the waistline. If you add an inch of ease to the waist measurement, then it won't just be loose at the waist, the skirt will actually drop until the new waistline now sits where your body is an inch wider, therefore the whole skirt sits lower, the hips won't be in the correct place etc. So we don't normally add a lot of ease at the waist in a skirt, although you might add some in a dress.
What are seam allowances?
A seam allowance needs to be added around the pattern pieces, except for the part that is cut on the fold of the fabric. The seam allowance is the fabric that you see on the inside seams of the skirt and should be a standard width throughout.
It's not the same as ease, but if you didn't add a standard seam allowance and then sewed up the skirt, it would be too tight. Standard seam allowances in a commercial pattern tend to be 5/8th of an inch and your sewing machine cover plate most likely has a line at this distance from the needle. You line up the edge of the fabric when you sew and the needle stitches the seam 5/8th of an inch from the fabric edge.
By setting a standard seam allowance on your skirt, you always know how far in to make your seam and thereby leave the skirt at the size you measured and intended.
Cut out your pattern pieces separately and then stick them down on a large sheet of paper and draw in your seam allowances around the outside. 5/8th of an inch is standard.
You may want to add 2 inches for the bottom hemline to allow for this to be turned up twice and a deeper hem also looks nicer too. Do not add a seam allowance to the front center as this is cut on the fold.
Testing your basic pattern
Now you have your basic pattern. And you are ready to sew your skirt. But stop! Don't rush in just yet. Any good sewist will tell you that when making up a new pattern, you should always make a test piece first.
In the US called a ‘muslin' and in the UK called a ‘toile'. This is a quickly run up test garment using some leftover fabric, cheap yardage, muslin or even an old sheet. The idea is that you make up the pattern sewing in the darts, seam allowances etc as you would in the finished skirt. But then leave out the zip, don't do any fancy finishing and just try it on to see how it fits.
If you have a pretty standard body shape, then the pattern you have drafted should fit pretty well ‘right out of the box'. But if you are very tall, very short, have a short or long measurement between waist and hip or a very big variation in measurements – then you might need to tweak your pattern to make it just right. Plus, we all have a personal preference as to how a skirt should fit so adjust for this now.
So before you cut your nice fabric, do make up a test garment and give it a try, pinning the back closed, to see how it fits. You can also try on the skirt inside out so the seam allowances are on the outside. Then if you need to pin any alterations, take in a little, change the darts a little, you can see this easily and pin on the inside.
Sew up your alterations and check again for fit. And don't forget to transfer any alterations over to your paper pattern so you can sew the skirt next time without any need to re-do those alterations.
Our next steps
Join me soon for the next step in our Sew A Skirt series – Cutting your fabric and pattern matching.
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