Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tee Shirt Skirt Tutorial

I realize posting two maxi skirt tutorials in a row runs the risk of seeming a bit like a one trick pony.
But I have a good reason!
We needed a Crafting Hope project for September. My friend Jessica mentioned that she had some connections with a mission in Africa where we could send some women's skirts. She also mentioned that she'd like to learn to make a simple tee shirt skirt.

As I searched on-line for good tutorials I found a couple that were great.
However. . . the skirts were all too short to be appropriate for that culture.
So, I decided to play around a little and see what I could come up with on my own.
I owe a huge debt to Sew Like My Mom's Shirt skirt for inspiring this maxi as well as to Ashley at Make it Love it for her very clear instructions for sewing with elastic thread (shirring).


2 XXL or larger mens tee shirts
          They don't need to be new shirts. Raid your husband's closet or head to the Goodwill. 
          Just find something that's in good shape in a color that you like. Pattern on the front or no.
          You could even use a knit polo shirt.
Rotary cutter and ruler (or good old fashioned scissors)
Elastic thread--I found mine in the notions aisle with the elastic and not with the thread
Iron and Ironing board
Straight pins
Fusible Webbing (optional)


1.    Cut your tee shirts in a straight line right under the arms.
You'll want to be sure that the shirts are laying flat with no wrinkles so that you get a clean, straight cut. If you have to, iron the shirt, just be careful you don't melt the image on the front.
Decide which shirt you want to be on the top of the skirt and cut the hem off of that one. Scissors are probably easier to use here than a rotary cutter. It doesn't have to be perfect but you do want it to be fairly straight. Just cut right above the top line of stitching and you will be fine.

Leave the hem on your second shirt. Since this shirt will be on the bottom of the skirt we are going to re-use that tee shirt hem as our skirt hem. Big time saver.
2. Sew the two shirts together.
With right sides together, match the top of the bottom shirt and the bottom of the top shirt (clear as mud?).  It helps if you put one tee shirt tube inside the other. It doesn't matter which one so long as you are matching right sides you'll be fine.
When you are sewing with knit fabric you want to pin. Life will be easier if you do, trust me. Pin all the way around the tube.

These are ball point needles.  They are specifically made for sewing knit fabric.  I don't always use them when I sew knit (because honestly, sometimes I'm too lazy to change my needle) but I should. They go in and out of knit fabric more smoothly than a standard needle. But if you don't have ball point needles and JoAnn's is closed (or is 20 miles away, ahem. . .) don't let that stop you. In my experience, the type of stitch you use is more important than the type of needle.

Speaking of the right type of stitch. . .
You want to set your machine to a stitch that will stretch when the fabric stretches. Otherwise, the thread will break and your garment will tear.

On my machine, the "right" stitch is number 03.  It looks like a slanted zig zag stitch.  If your machine doesn't have a special stretch stitch (check your manual) just use a narrow zig zag stitch. It's the next best thing.
Now that you have the right stitch setting and the right needle, go ahead and sew your two tubes together where you pinned. Take it slow and steady.  You want to make sure the knit doesn't stretch as it's feeding through or things will get all wonky.  I used about a 1/2" seam allowance.

Sometimes when I'm sewing wovens I will sew right over my pins. It's fine. You're supposed to be able to do that. But with knits I try to remove the pin before it feeds under the presser foot. I've found that sometimes my machine gets hung up and kind of "stuck" on pins. So, avoid that and just take them out as you go.
Once you've sewn all the way around your tube of fabric go ahead and iron that seam.  If you have a shirt with a logo printed on it, be careful. You may want to use a pressing cloth in that area or press on the wrong side of the shirt. I'd hate for you to melt that ink onto the plate of your iron.

Now you have a long, wide tube of fabric that is starting to maybe look like it could be a skirt for an elephant. Never fear! The next step will cinch it all in.
3. Shir the top of the skirt.
Shirring is simply sewing straight lines with elastic thread in the bobbin chamber and regular thread on top.  It can be intimidating because different machines take elastic thread differently. But it is well worth getting over the fear and using trial and error to figure out how your own machine works.

As I mentioned, there is a great, photo heavy shirring tutorial over at Make it Love it.  Be sure to check that out, especially if you are having trouble.

I have a Brother sewing machine and they are notoriously stinkers when it comes to shirring. You'd better believe I threw a small party celebrating the moment I figured it out.  If you have a Brother too, here's what you do (if you don't have a Brother the steps are similar, I'll try and put them in parenthesis as we go along)

First you need to hand wind the elastic thread on your bobbin. Don't try to use your machines self winding bobbin feature, it won't work.  As you wind pull the elastic tight.  Not stretched to the point of breaking tight, just good and taught. You can see my bobbin above.  (This is a major difference between Brothers and other machines, if you have another brand of machine, you will wind your bobbin loosely, but securely.  Follow the Make it Love it link above for a great photo of what it should look like)
Next you need to drop your bobbin into the bobbin chamber. The elastic will unwind a little and you will probably panic, you might shed a tear, but don't worry! I promise it's o.k. (If you don't have a drop in bobbin, just go ahead and load your bobbin in the bobbin case or however you would load a "normal" bobbin)
Make sure the elastic thread catches under the little tension spring thingy--this is, of course the technical name--and draw it out through the little thread channel but DO NOT cut it.  Just let the tail end drag out like in the picture above. (If  you have a different machine, you can likely go ahead and pull the bobbin thread up through the bottom like you would a normal bobbin thread)
Set your sewing machine to a normal straight stitch.  All machines are a little different, but I've found setting it to the longest stitch length works the best for me.  No matter what kind of machine you have, take some time right now to play around with it on some scrap fabric. It might take a couple of times to get it just right.
This is what your first line of shirring should look like. When you achieve this on your scrap fabric, do a little happy dance and then go grab your skirt.

Now here is another reason to happy dance. . . since this skirt is knit, it won't fray and therefore there is no need to finish the rough top edge of your skirt in any way. You certainly could. But for this skirt, I like the slightly raw look.

So load your skirt in your machine. You are going to sew a straight line of shirring all the way around the top of your skirt. I like it at about 1/2" from the edge but it's up to you.  When you start your line of stitches make sure you back stitch to lock that line of stitches in.

This first line might not gather it up a whole lot but don't worry. It will gather up more as you add more lines of the shirring and then even more when you steam it.
When you've finished your first line, back stitch, cut your thread and start your second line. Your spacing is up to you. For ease, I like to just line up the inside of my presser foot with the lint of stitching I just took.

As you sew your second line of shirring and all of those after you want to pull the fabric flat before it goes under the presser foot. You don't want to sew gathers in the fabric, you want the elastic to gather the fabric on it's own naturally.  Use a gentle touch, you don't want to fight with your machine, you're just looking to flatten the sewing surface.
You can see how even the second line of stitches starts to gather things up even more. This is where I really, really started to get excited.

Keep on sewing, row after row until you have 10 to 15 rows.  How many rows is really up to you but I like the way 10 to 15 looks.
And this is the way the elastic should look on the back. It should be pretty smooth, no loops.

When you've finished all of your rows of shirring, go back to your iron and just steam the waistband.  You don't need to push the iron down on the stitching, just hold it over top of it and push your steam button. You will see the gathers shrink up even more. It's like magic. I dare you not to ooh and ahh.
4. Applique the logo onto the top part of the skirt. (optional)
When I put my skirt layers together, I bisected the logo on the front of the one shirt. It just looks weird like this in my opinion.

 Sooooo. . . rather than leave it be, I got out my fusible webbing and prepared to do some applique.

If your shirts didn't have logos or if the cutting of them doesn't look weird to you, you can skip these next steps. You are done.

If you do have a logo, cut it out of the discarded shirt right now. Leave a little bit of an edge all the way around.  Lay your logo on your fusible web and cut a piece of webbing to fit.  Follow the instructions on the webbing to attach the logo to the shirt skirt.  Match it all up so it looks purty.  It will be a hair off just because you have lost a little logo in the seam allowance but it won't be enough to make a huge difference in most logos.
Iron your applique to set the fuse in the webbing.  I had to use a pressing cloth because this logo was very melty. Yes, that is the technical word. I made a real mess of my iron in discovering this fact. Thank God for plate cleaner.
Your fusible webbing will work kind of like double stick tape to hold the applique down to the skirt. Once it's ironed it's a pretty firm bond, but you will want to sew around the appliqued piece for extra security.  You can use any stitch you like. Since this is knit, the edges won't fray.
I used a straight stitch to sew this applique on. You can see how that allows the edges to curl just a bit. It's a fun, kind of raw look that I really like.
And here you can see how the waist band looks on. It's super comfortable. This is one of those skirts you can wear on a fat day or a skinny day.  It's going to conform to a large range of sizes--about as "one size fits all" as you can get.
Now, go forth and make more! Lots more! 
If you are so inclined make one or two or a dozen to donate.
Happy shirring!!


Crafting Hope is scheduled to meet at the Nappanee Public Library on Thursday, September 6 at 6:30 pm.
Anyone is welcome!  Follow the link for more information or contact me for details.
Skip To My Lou

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tiered Maxi Skirt Tutorial

Here it is, the tutorial for the tiered maxi skirt that I have lived in all summer long and don't anticipate giving up until the snow flies.

I made this skirt using a skirt I bought at Target as my pattern so that's where I got my measurements.
If you are woman's size large, this tutorial is perfect. 
If you are thinner, go eat something would you? 
Ha! Seriously though, you should be able to adjust it. Maybe just start with a muslin to make sure the fit is right.
2.5 - 3 yards fabric
          Lightweight fabrics are best. The fabric here is quilting cotton and it made for a heavier, warmer skirt 
          (which will be nice for Fall, but is too warm for right now)
          Voile and other light weight natural fabrics are probably best
          I haven't tried this skirt in knit but I think that would be really comfortable as well.
Rotary cutter and ruler (or good old fashioned scissors)
Elastic--I used 3/4" because it's what I had on hand, 1/2" would work o.k. too
Iron and Ironing board
A safety pin
Straight pins


1.    Cut out your three tiers.
The following dimensions are for a size Large skirt. If you are a smaller size you can subtract inches from the width of each tier (keep the proportions), or just attempt it with these measurements and use less elastic. Your skirt will just be more full.
Cut 2 rectangles for the top tier,  24" x 9"
Cut 2 rectangles for the middle tier,  32" x 15"
Cut 2 rectangles for the bottom tier, 38" x 19"
Something to be aware of, if you have a directional print you'll want to be extra alert as you sew pieces together. Make sure the front and the back pieces have the print all going the same way as well that as the print from tier to tier is pointed in the same direction.
2. Sew the side seam on each tier.
Put the right sides of the first tier together and sew the short ends of the rectangle together, using a 1/2" seam allowance. You're just sewing one side seam right now.  Repeat for the next two tiers.

Remember to double check and make sure your fabric pattern is all going the same direction if you don't have an all over print.
3. Finish your seams so they don't fray over time.
Use your preferred finishing method. You could cut the fabric with pinking shears or you can zig zag the edges.  
If you are using the zig zag stitch you want it to be right on the edge of your fabric. I just sew the two layers of fabric together here because I'm too lazy to sew each layer on it's own.  In 4-H, we used to zig zag around every piece of fabric before we started sewing anything. You can do that too if you want. I just find this way is quicker (and uses less thread) and I'm all about short cuts.
4. Iron your seams flat.
If you sew, your iron needs to be your BFF.  Nice crisp seams make everyones life easier.
5. Make your elastic casing.
Locate your first tier. It's the shortest one.  Bring it back to your BFF, Mr. Iron.  On the long side, turn under about 1/4" of fabric and iron it down.
Then fold that over another inch and iron again.  This will create your casing for your elastic once it's sewn.  If you like to pin things, pin this down after you iron it. I rarely use pins. I prefer to live on the edge.

If you want to include a tag, decide which side will be the front and which the back and pin your tag under the casing in the middle of the back panel. I forgot my tag on this skirt. No biggie. Front and back don't really matter for the fit.
Once you've ironed and pinned (if you so desire), sew the casing.
Take a straight stitch right down the edge. You can see there at the top of the photo, I like to get really close to that edge. I line it up right with the inside of my presser foot.

6. Insert your elastic into the casing.
I use a very technical and mathematically advanced method for determining how much elastic to use. Are you ready for this? Get out your graphing calculators. . .

Take your elastic out of your package and wrap it around your waist.  You want it to be just a little stretched so that your skirt stays on but not so much so that it's uncomfortable.  You've worn clothing with elastic waistbands before, just go with what feels right.

Make sure you have about an inch extra from that comfortable stretchy point then cut the elastic.  This is SUPER forgiving because elastic is stretchy so don't sweat it and stress and measure. Just guesstimate. I promise you will be o.k.

And for goodness sake brush that stray white thread off of your pants. And wear a shirt that doesn't have holes in it next time, k?
Take a safety pin and pin through one end of your elastic, like so.  The safety pin is going to give you something to grip as you pull that floppy elastic through your casing.
Put the safety pin in the casing and push it through.
You will continue to push and grab and pull until the elastic is all the way through your casing.  You want to be careful that you don't pull the other end of your elastic all the way into the casing or you will have to start over.

That's fabric paint on my ironing board cover. Gross, right? Time for a new cover.
If you need to you can use pins to secure each end of the elastic in the casing while you take it over to your sewing machine. You want to stitch down the elastic on both ends so it doesn't slip as you sew the rest of the skirt, so take a line of stitches down and back right on the edge. Make sure you are catching the end of the elastic in there.
Now, this part is purely optional, but I hate when my elastic flips and flops around inside that casing so I'm going to run a few lines of stitching through it.  Start at one end and sew a straight stitch all the way down to the other end. You'll have to pull the elastic taught so that the fabric is flat as you sew.  Once you get the hang of it, it's not hard.
I ran two lines of stitches down the elastic. This is what it will look like when you are done and you've let the elastic spring back into place.
7. Gather the tiers.
Since each tier is progressively wider than the last we will be gathering them slightly before sewing them together.  For this, I use the gathering cheat. If you've never done it, it may just rock your world.

First, you want to increase your thread tension. How much you increase it depends on how tight you want your gathers. The wheel on top of my machine is my tension wheel. Normal tension is right around 4 on my machine and 9 is maxed out. You'll note I've got it set on 7.  I'm not looking for super tight gathers for this I just want a soft gather.

Also, you need to adjust your stitch length to a longer stitch. If you have good eyes, you'll note that my stitch length is set to 5. That's as long of a stitch as my machine can do.  Again, the stitch length you choose will effect how gathered your fabric gets. In this case, longer stitch equals more gathered.
Get a scrap piece of fabric and play around just to see how this all works before you dig into your skirt ok?
Do you see how the fabric gathers up as it goes through the machine? Those loose gathers are exactly what you are going for.  Lighter fabric will gather up more tightly than quilting cotton will so I can't stress enough how important it is to play on some scraps first to get the feel.
When you have figured out how to set up your machine to achieve a loose gathering stitch go ahead and sew a line of gathering stitches at the top of the second and the third skirt tiers.  Make sure when you are determining "top" and "bottom" that the pattern on your fabric is all going in the same direction. (Are you tired of that reminder yet?)

Before moving on to the next step, set your tension back to normal and adjust your stitch length back to normal as well!!!
8. Sew the tiers together.
Now take your first tier and your middle tier and put them right sides together with the bottom of the first on the top (gathered part) of your middle tier. Match side seams.
Pin the living day lights out of it. (Says the seamstress who hates pins)  Seriously though, pin the whole darn length of it. It should match up fairly well because of the gathering but you can adjust by adding in your own gathers or pulling out a bit of the gathering as needed.  The ends should match up and the seams should match up. That's what you are going for.
Start at one end and sew the top tier to the middle tier.  I've found it easier to sew with the gathers on top and the flat side on the bottom. It just feeds though my machine better.

Use about a 1/2" seam allowance.
Switch over to a zig zag stitch and finish that seam!
You may have some rouge gathering stitches that show on the right side of the garment (if you are anything like me and can't sew a straight gathering line to save your life). Take a minute and pull those now if they bother you. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Depends on how eager I am to finish and how well hidden in a busy print the stitches are.
Once you've pulled and snipped those excess threads, iron down that seam. I will look much nicer and more crisp once it's been well ironed.
So you could stop right now and just sew up that side seam, hem it and you'd have a cute little skirt.
I, however, was going for an ankle length maxi skirt so we need to attach the last tier.

You do this the same way that you attached the first two tiers. Take your last tier and, right sides together, line up the top (gathered side) of the last tier with the bottom (flat side) of the middle tier.  Match the seams and the ends and pin the heck out of it.  Sew together with a 1/2" seam allowance. Finish your seams with a zig zag. Pull excess gathering threads that show on the right side. Iron the seam.
9. Sew the side seam.
Get out your pins again, you are going to need them.
Put the right sides of your skirt together along the final side seam. Match the top and each seam for the tiers. Pin it all the way down.  Don't worry if it's not totally even at the bottom. You can fix that when you hem.
Start at the top of the skirt and sew your side seam all the way down the edge of your skirt.  I took a slightly deeper seam allowance here (a more traditional 5/8" seam). I don't really know why. I just felt like it would have more staying power. Make sure you backstitch at the beginning and the end of your seam.  

Backstitching is taking a few stitches backwards. It "locks" the thread. Just a bit of added security.

Finish this seam with a zig zag stitch and iron.

You are almost done!!

10. Hem!
If you want, put the skirt on now and see how it fits. Spin around. Admire yourself in the mirror. Resist the urge to stop now and leave the hem raw. People WILL notice. (Unless it's knit! If it's knit it won't fray so you can skip all the hemming and seam finishing you lucky dog you!)
Take the skirt off and head back to the ironing board one last time.  Turn under 1/4" of the hem and iron it down.  If you are 5'4" like me you should be able to fold up about 1" and iron that down for the perfect hem length.  
Go ahead and sew that hem and you are done!

This is such a forgiving and easy skirt to wear. If you are a whole lot taller than I am you may need to adjust your bottom tier length. OR add a contrasting band around the bottom.
Confession:  I didn't have enough of the navy ikat fabric so I added a contrasting band around the bottom of the skirt I made for this tutorial.  I cut two rectangles for my band the same width as the bottom tier (38") and about 6" wide. I sewed the two band rectangles together on the short end and ironed that seam.  

I folded that long rectangle in half, wrong sides together and ironed it. Then I pinned the raw edge to the bottom edge of my skirt before I sewed up the final side seam.  I sewed the band onto the last tier and then sewed up the side seam.

I'm sorry I didn't get pictures of that part of the process. Let me know if you need further explanation of how to do that.
So there you have it! Now go sew up a few for yourself. I promise you will want to live in this skirt. It's the best.

If you sew any of these for yourself, I'd love to see photos! Feel free to link to your blog or Flickr stream in the comments.  If you leave a comment and desire a response, please make sure you aren't a "No Reply commenter" or if you are, leave an e-mail address so I can get in touch! Thanks! And enjoy.


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