Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sewing a Half-Circle Skirt

Remember my exciting fabric that I got in the mail a little while ago? Well, I finally got around to playing with it once I felt confident with my new machine skills. I decided to first go with the easy, plain, cotton knit that I got in navy. Now, I live in Wisconsin, and even though it is June it's still routinely in the upper 50s or mid-60s here during the day. Not super warm. (Although, come July, it will be sweltering.) But, in August, I am moving to Alabama, where I know that it's insanely hot all the time, and also humid. So I am beginning my mission to create (and/or find at thrift stores) summer pieces so I don't die of heat stroke.

Therefore, I decided to create what I hope will become a summer staple of mine: an easy breezy summer skirt! I made it in a half-circle fashion, and it was super simple: the skirt part, and the waistband part. I'll show you how I did it :)

1. Drawing the waist line.

Your fabric probably came folded in half. That's good! Leave it folded. Spread it out on a solid surface (mine is on the floor, which isn't ideal since we have carpet. It would better if you had hard floors, or if your dining table was big enough). We are going to start by drawing a semi-circle (which will end up being the waist), and then another, larger semi-circle (which will end up being the bottom hem of the skirt).

So, in this picture we're looking at the "wrong" side of the fabric, although it's really kind of difficult to tell on this fabric. On the right side of the fabric is the fold.

This requires kind of a little geometry. And bear with me, cause I think the geometry might not be 100% accurate, but it ended up okay for me. Measure your waist, at the area where you'd like your skirt's waistband to fall. Then divide that number by 3.14, and you get the diameter of your waist. Diameter is the distance across (usually across a circle; but in this case, it's more like the distance from your left side to your right side if you pulled a string across your front, or if you pulled a string across your back side).

Then, cut a string (I used  piece of yarn) to that length. Hold it in the corner (at the fold) of the fabric and trace a line with a pencil or marking pen in a semi-circle, tied to the end of your string. This serves to keep the circle the same length away from the corner at every point on the circle. Does that make sense? I wish I had more pictures. Think of how a compass works (not the kind that navigates, but the kind you used in geometry class). One leg of it gets held in place - that's the end of the string that you're holding. The other end swivels and makes a mark. That's the end tied to the pencil.

Now, here comes the part where I think the geometry is wrong. My skirt ended up being a lot bigger than it needed to be. I had to take it in by like 3 inches. BUT, I don't know how to fix that at this stage. I am not sure how I could have modified the math to make it work. So, this is the best way that I can recommend. There are a million other tutorials out there (try this one or this one) but they don't all make a skirt the way that I wanted mine to be. Excellent places to get ideas though!

2. Drawing the length line.

Well, hopefully the fact that this picture is extra large will help you see what my crappy phone camera can barely capture. In the bottom right hand, we have our waist line! Yaaay! Then, you can see a faint white line stretching from the left side of the picture all the way to the right, higher up on the fabric. That's serving as the bottom of the skirt.

In order to determine where to draw this line, figure out where you want the skirt to hit. Mine is about knee length. Measure from your waist (the point where you want your skirt to sit, and where you measured your waist measurement) to where you want it to hit. I don't really recommend making this much shorter than knee length, cause it's kind of flouncy and will catch in the wind.

So... at this point, I used the same string method that I used before. I cut a string to the length that I wanted my skirt to be. I tied this string, onto the string I originally used to draw the waist line. Very scientific. I held it in the corner (I used my foot to hold it) and drew, with my marking pencil, a biiiiiiig semi-circle marking the bottom of the skirt.

Now, I am going to caution you... On mine, as I drew I ended up tilting out the pencil more and more so that the right side of my skirt ended up being two whole inches longer than the left side of my skirt. Don't do this! Cause it looks silly. Instead, try your best to keep the pencil straight up and down when you're drawing.

3. Cut the fabric!

This was kind of nerve-wracking for me, because it was my first time ever cutting into fabric that I paid my own money for, to make my own clothes. But I did it! So you can too!

First, I pinned it in about 10 spots along both the waist and bottom lines. Then I carefully cut, with sharp scissors, along the line that I'd drawn. Voila! I don't think this matters too much, but I cut the bottom line first and then the waist line. That way I had a smaller (therefore less unwieldy) piece of fabric to work with for the waist line.

4. Measure and cut the waistband.

First you should decide how wide you want your waistband to be. I originally had in mind an extra-wide, fold-down waistband, but then that seemed like a lot of fabric and I didn't want to use too much, in case I messed up the entire thing and had to re-do it. Instead I settled on one which turned out to be about 2" thick, finished.

So, once you've determined your preferred thickness, cut a piece of fabric which is double that width. It needs to be double, because we're going to fold it over.

For the length, you should measure around your waist (at the spot where you want the skirt to sit), and then halve that number. So if your waist measures 35" around, the length of your waistband strip will be 17 1/2" long. Now, most of the time you'll add a seam allowance here. BUT, in this case I did not. Because this fabric stretches, and I wanted it to be tight enough not to fall down. (And anyway, as I said, I had to take this in a ton... so it was kind of a moot point.)

5. Sew the waistband and skirt, separately.

First I sewed the waistband together (so it formed one circle of fabric), then I sewed the skirt together down its side seam. Sew only the short ends of the waistband rectangle together, with right sides facing each other. This will create a loop of fabric.

Here's the waistband. I sewed it with a straight stitch, but only because this fabric doesn't stretch up and down (as up and down are shown in this picture). It only stretches left-right. BUT. See how it made the fabric in the seam kind of wavy? I didn't like that. And, when I took it in to make it fit correctly, I sewed it with a zigzag and it got rid of that wavy-ness. So, I guess I'd say go zig-zag. ESPECIALLY if your fabric is a 4-way stretch, or if you are cutting/sewing on the bias... then a zig-zag is mandatory, or your thread will break when it's stretched.

Then it's skirt time...
This is the side seam of the skirt. One benefit of having cut the fabric on the fold is that there is only one side seam to sew. I used a fairly narrow zig-zag stitch for this, because I needed it to be able to stretch a little.

It's important to remember the way you cut the fabric here. While we cut the waistband straight, so we could control which way the "grain" and stretch of the fabric went, the body of our skirt was cut on the bias. (I think.) The grain at the top of our cut was straight - no stretch. But the grain at the bottom of our cut (at the other end of the half-circle we drew) was perpendicular and, thus, has stretch. (Obviously this only applies if you're using a knit like I am.) So we should account for stretch being present in our fabric and stitch with a zig-zag.

Whoo! Tired yet? We're almost done!

6. Pin on the waistband.

So. Now that you've got your waistband sewed together, we need to fold it in half, hot-dog style. It's already in a loop, and we want it to stay in a loop. Just a skinnier one. I guess it's not really folding, so much as you're allllllmost turning the loop inside out, but you stop halfway. So that the right sides are facing out, and the raw edges are lined up.

Like this!

Once you have the waistband correctly folded, then we place it over the top, raw edges of the body of our skirt. All the raw edges should be matched up. And, it's important to match the seams. The seam of the waistband should line up with the side seam of the skirt. Otherwise it will look a little silly.

Pinning is a little difficult, because the waistband should be just a smidge smaller than the body of our skirt - that both makes sure it won't fall down, and also creates some small, but nice, gathering from the top of the skirt. What I did was first pin in two places on opposite sides of the skirt - next to the seams, and then directly across that. Then I pinned right in the middle of those pins, on each side.

Next you should fill in with more pins so that the skirt is securely pinned to the waistband. However, we will need to stretch the waistband just slightly to make sure that it doesn't get bunched in one place or way too stretched in another. (Think of it this way - if we sewed it un-stretched all the way around until the last 3 inches, we would have to stretch it more than we should to make it match up for those last 3 inches. Because the waistband is smaller than the skirt. So instead, we should stretch it just a little, the whole way around.)

So stretch slightly as you pin.

7. Sew the waistband on.

Using a zig-zag stitch, so that the fabric can stretch when you put it on and wear it, sew all the way around your waistband/top of your skirt. It's important to keep in mind with knits not to pull or stretch the fabric as you sew. Otherwise it will make the seam look wavy and funny. If you have a walking foot, I've been told those are fab. I don't have one, but it worked fine for me without it.

The only part I found a little difficult was this part, where both of the seams were... the fabric is thicker here, and I wanted to be careful not to break my needle or anything. So I went very slowly, and when I was directly on top of the seam I actually used the hand wheel so that if I felt like it wasn't going to go through, I could stop. But luckily nothing broke and it all worked fine!

8. Wear your skirt!

TA-DAAAA! The finished product! I can't tell you how excited I was when I put this on and it fit. It's really a huge sense of accomplishment to make something for yourself, especially when you've put hard work and effort into it.

Let me know if you have questions or need clarifications, or if you actually follow this and it works out for you! :)

This tutorial is linked up to:

 and here

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