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Fun with dye

I recently got a tiered circle skirt at an estate sale for a dollar or two. It seems to be a square dance skirt and is made of sturdy cotton. I did wear it once as-is, but it was a bit long on me and I was not a fan of the natural cotton color.

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I promise it wasn’t this wrinkled when I wore it.

The light color also made it a bit more sheer than I prefer.

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My first step in the transformation of this skirt was to remove the lowest tier. This took forever–there is a LOT of fabric in this skirt.  Removing the bottom foot or so of fabric made it a lot less overwhelming in length and weight. The next step was deciding on a color to dye it. I thought about a nice bright cobalt or deep red, but since the skirt style is a little out of my comfort zone anyway, I decided to go with black so it would blend in with the rest of my wardrobe. Finally, I sewed up the hem using another estate sale find, this beautiful vintage Necchi sewing machine.

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I bought regular old Rit dye from the supermarket–I chose the liquid version and followed the instructions for adding salt and dish soap. Unfortunately I didn’t do it perfectly, because it came out as a dark purplish-blue.

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I do kind of like this color, though, so I’m debating whether to redye it to get the deep black I wanted or to leave it like this.

I also took the opportunity to dye another estate sale find. I purchased some pale peach silk culottes for a couple of dollars, thinking that if I didn’t wear them (again, a bit out of my comfort zone), I could use the silk for another project. I did end up wearing them twice, but was not in love with the color. Here is a bad mirror selfie to give an idea of what they originally looked like.

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I was a bit nervous about dying silk so I read a bunch of tutorials. I used black Rit dye for these as well, but ended up loving the deep purplish-blue color that they turned partway through the process.

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I can’t believe how beautiful they are now and I can’t wait to wear them!

I also dyed a white shirt that I bought on Amazon and stained with tea the first day I wore it. Who would have thought that $3 bottles of dye could be so much fun?

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Pendleton pencil skirt

Last year I bought a pale aqua Pendleton wool skirt suit from Goodwill for something like $8. I am unsure of the suit’s vintage, but the color and style of the skirt suggested that maybe it dates from the late ’70s to early ’80s. While the jacket actually fits pretty well, the skirt was long and rather frumpy, and the waist was impossibly tiny. I was sure I photographed the skirt, but I can’t find the photos, unfortunately. It was gathered slightly at the waist and had a large pleat in front. It was ingeniously constructed with pockets and only a button at the waistband for closure. Despite the tiny waist, there was a lot of fabric to work with, making it a perfect candidate for conversion into a pencil skirt. I cut off the waistband and unpicked one side seam and the back darts, leaving me with a big rectangle of wool.

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I used the pencil skirt pattern from Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing, since I had been successful with it in the past. As before, I shortened the skirt by a few inches. I also decided to make a plain waistband rather than the curved one in the pattern, so I didn’t need to use boning. With careful positioning, I was able to preserve the skirt’s original hem. I used just about every inch of the fabric.

I spent more time on this than on anything I’ve ever made. I added a lining (I had to buy new fabric for this, as the original lining wasn’t big enough to reuse) and hand-picked the zipper. There was a lot of hand sewing with this project–usually I hate hand sewing, but the results were worth it. And the wool was a dream to work with.

hand-picked zipper (with some stray threads that need to be removed)

hand-picked zipper (with some stray threads that need to be removed)

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While there are a few issues, mostly with the waistband, I am delighted with this skirt! I love the way the lining makes it look so much more finished and professional. I will definitely be lining my skirts in the future.

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Owl skirt

I have long been planning to make a skirt for my sister, so I finally got my act together and made her one for a Christmas gift. I used Simplicity 4137, an It’s So Easy pattern that was among the first I ever bought. It’s a very simple pattern for a pull-on, yoked, A-line skirt in two lengths. I’d made this skirt twice before, in the long and short versions. Here is the long version, which was the first sewing project I ever completed back in 2006. I still wear this skirt; even though it is longer than I like my skirts to be, I have never bothered to shorten it.

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I used the short version for my sister’s skirt. Since she loves owls, I chose an owl print quilting cotton. I thought it was cute but not too twee, especially with the rather subdued colors. The pattern includes a drawstring, but I personally don’t like drawstrings on my clothing–they are fiddly and can make outer layers look odd–so I used elastic instead, as I did when I made this skirt for myself.

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I used French seams to give it a nicer, more finished look, and I decided that it needed a lining, both to make it nicer and to make it more practical for winter wear over tights. This was my first time lining a skirt, and I really wanted to do a good job. I cut the skirt pieces from ivory satin (I have several yards of ivory satin that I got at a garage sale a few years ago), thinking it would give the skirt a nice shape. Since I wanted to avoid extra bulk at the waist, I used a thin, cream-colored lining fabric for the yoke pieces. I assembled the lining and attached it at the waist so that the fabric and lining together made the casing for the elastic.

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The inside actually looked pretty decent, though it needed ironing. The addition of the lining prevented the bias-cut yoke from stretching, so I hope it will fit her.

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Due to schedule conflicts this year, I couldn’t give it to her in person, so I’ll have to wait to see whether it worked out.

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Pillowcase skirt

This super-quick and super-casual skirt is the product of inspiration that struck while I was organizing the linen closet. Among the sheets was an old, heather grey pillowcase made from stretchy cotton t-shirt material. This pillowcase dates from my college days; I haven’t used it in well over a decade. I was about to tear it up to make rags when I realized it could be the world’s easiest skirt.

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I just cut off the closed end of the pillowcase and sewed on thick elastic with a zigzag stitch. Then I folded the top over the elastic twice and sewed it down. I didn’t do a great job on the stitching, but I am not likely to wear this beyond the confines of my property, so I’m okay with that. I probably should have just made a casing and threaded the elastic through it; my sewing would have been better if I had not been stretching the elastic as I went.

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There is a lot of heather grey and the whole thing was alarmingly sweat-pants-adjacent, so I added a little pocket made of leftover fabric from the yellow tote bag I recently finished. Then I made a coordinating tie with ribbon.

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It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but hey–it was free, and it’s so very comfortable. And it never hurts to have another skirt to wear around the house.

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Retro high-waist pencil skirt

I finally finished the pencil skirt I began nearly a month ago. The pattern is the first in Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing. I spent more time on this than I usually do on sewing projects, and even made a muslin.

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It turned out that the size 10 fit perfectly and needed no adjustments (though I did shorten it by a few inches), so I went ahead and began the skirt using some odd fabric that Jared’s mother gave me years ago. I think it is actually a home decor fabric, as it is fairly stiff. I absolutely love the retro-look pattern; it is a pale green with a print in darker green, black, ivory, turquoise, pink, and metallic gold.

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The book does not provide very thorough instructions, but the pattern was straightforward and came together easily. Gertie suggests putting boning in the high waistband to help it hold its shape, so I did this. It was my first experience with boning and it was easier than I expected; I really like the structure that it gives the thick waistband. I hand-picked the lapped zipper, which was very easy, especially after making my niece’s dress last week. Rather than using a button to close the waistband, I opted for a pearly snap.

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I used turquoise lace hem tape for the hem and back slit; I took my time hand-stitching it and it definitely turned out better than most of my hems.

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It is not perfect, but I love it and am looking forward to wearing it soon, after washing, ironing, and trimming the loose threads. I will definitely be using this pattern again.

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Beginning stages of a new skirt

One of my birthday gifts this year was Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing, which has been on my wishlist for a while. I love Gertie’s website and her retro aesthetic. The book contains several patterns, and I am starting with the simplest–a basic pencil skirt. I love pencil skirts and am hoping that this pattern will be perfect so I can make a lot of them.

One thing I appreciate about the book is that the patterns are sized more like ready-to-wear sizes and are based on the author’s body type, which is not rail-thin. I chose the size ten and traced the pattern pieces onto my beautiful Swedish tracing paper, which was a Christmas gift from my sister. Unfortunately, this is as far as I am right now, since we are painting the floor in the room where I sew and my sewing machine is inaccessible at the moment. Therefore, the photo below is the best I can do. I plan to make a muslin–a first for me–since I want to be certain that the fit will be correct. Gertie is a bit more pear-shaped than me, so I may have to take in the hips a little.

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In other news, our last CSA share was massive–lettuce, Chinese cabbage, two kinds of choy, kohlrabi, carrots, radishes, peas, green onions, garlic scapes, and a couple other things. It is only the third week and I already feel like I’m losing creativity–we’ve  been eating a lot of stir fry. My most recent meal was tofu, choy, and miso stir fry with Chinese cabbage coleslaw. Not bad.

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Corduroy skirt from an old jacket

While cleaning a closet last weekend, I found an old, unlined corduroy jacket that I’ve had for well over a decade–definitely since college and possibly since high school. The jacket was navy blue with two front pockets and a metal zipper up the front. Since it was definitely not my style anymore and had some paint on the sleeves and on the front (most likely dating to my studio art days in college), I thought maybe I could make something from the fabric. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a photograph of the jacket before I cut it up.

After playing around with a few ideas, I decided that the best and easiest course of action would be to make the bottom half of the jacket into a skirt. I cut a straight line just under the armpits, which went through the pockets–it would have been better to go under the pockets, but that would have resulted in a very short skirt. I tried it on and marked my waist, then took the whole thing in a few inches, tapering it into an a-line shape. I wanted a waistband with a button, which would both make the skirt look more finished and keep the zipper in place (I cut right through the zipper, so there was nothing to stop the pull from coming off the teeth).

To make the band, I recycled the button and buttonhole on one of the cuffs; I cut strips twice as wide as the cuffs from the sleeves, folded them in half, and pieced everything together to create a waistband. Before I sewed on the waistband, I removed the pocket remnants (now I realize that it would have been better to take off the pockets before cutting so I could reuse them). The corduroy under the pockets is lighter and softer than the rest of the material, but I’m hoping they will start to match better after a few washings. I sewed on the waistband, and that was it.

Okay, that wasn’t quite it–I had to take it in a bit more around the waist to make it fit better. But it was a pretty quick and easy project overall and I am happy with the result. I will probably add some patch pockets to disguise the area where the previous pockets were (the flash makes them much more noticeable in the photograph than they are in real life) as well as some paint on the front.

Not only was the skirt free, I didn’t even have to make a hem. Yay!