I’m Making a Skirt! Phase 1: Practice

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I’ve taken it into my head to make myself a skirt on my sewing machine. I have two primary reasons for this:

  1. My current wardrobe is lacking. If I had to work more than four days in a week, I’d be pushing it to find enough appropriate outfits. This is partly because my work-appropriate wardrobe has been largely composed of pencil skirts, all of which make me appear to be trying only semi-successfully to conceal a second trimester pregnancy. (The baby is 3.)
  2. I hate shopping with a white-hot passion, but I enjoy sewing. Given a choice whether to spend a few hours trying on skirts or a few hours making one, I would choose the latter in a heartbeat. Plus I can’t shop while the children play outside in the yard. Have to bring the little buggers with me and that always ends in tears.
Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Day. On the left, the apron I made after several years of service. Grandma FP made the pink one I'm wearing.

Annual Christmas Cookie Baking Day, featuring my last completed project, an apron I made for a dear friend (left, after many years of service). Grandma FP made the pink one I’m wearing.

Note that “save money” was not on the list. Since I spend almost no money on clothes, it would be impossible for me to actually spend less than I have been spending. And even if I decided to go out and buy, say, 3 skirts, I could probably buy them as cheaply or even more cheaply (if I got lucky at Goodwill) than making them, considering the start-up costs. The first one, with all the “sewing notions” I’ve been snatching up, is costing at least as much as a very, very nice brand-new regular-price skirt. Improving my wardrobe in the way I prefer is the sole goal here.

I am using the book The Essential A-line: Make 17 Flirty Skirts from 1 Basic Pattern, which I checked out from my local library. (It involves using dressmaker’s tracing paper to create your own pattern, so the book’s pattern is not damaged by people using it.) To give you an idea of my skill level going into this project, I am fairly comfortable using a sewing machine for straight hems. I can’t do anything fancy like blind hems, and I have not completed a garment since about 2006 (when I made an apron as a gift). That was also the only garment I ever completed without assistance from Grandma FP, a very talented seamstress who can make all kinds of fancy things.

If you are not comfortable with a sewing machine, you might want to start with a lower-level book like Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time. The Essential A-Line assumes that you are comfortable with general sewing terms like presser foot and seam allowance.

My wrapping-paper pattern, pinned and ready for cutting.

My wrapping-paper pattern, pinned and ready for cutting.

Anyway, the book suggests making a practice skirt, which I have completed. First, I had to make a pattern. I had forgotten to think about buying pattern paper, so I used wrapping paper. It took me a couple of tries to get the idea right, but it worked. For the record, wrapping paper is not ideal for the purpose because it is slippery enough that the tracing paper can smudge, and it is thin enough that it doesn’t take kindly to the tracing wheel.

Pleats under construction. Next time I will know not to  start right at the top--it made the ugly knot you see up top.

Pleats under construction. Next time I will know not to start right at the top–it made the ugly knot you see up top.

I wanted to practice making pleats, so I followed the directions for the “sailor” skirt. And I’m glad I did, because there’s a mathematical error in the directions and the practice skirt came out too big. Now that I see the problem, I’ll correct for it. I had to read the directions approximately 97 times and refer to them at each stage, flipping back and forth between the general directions and the ones for the specific skirt. Eventually, though, I had an unfinished skirt shell-thing to try on, featuring with nice sharp pleats. The darts, however, were uneven, so I will mark them more carefully next time, and my edge stitching was crooked because I had not yet acquired a blind hem foot (more on that next time).

Finished practice skirt.

Finished practice skirt.

I already owned some basics like straight pins, thread, decent scissors, and other geegaws, but I needed fabric and some odds and ends just to get started. I began by buying the minimum (except for the pin cushion), just to make sure the whole project was going to work. These are the supplies I purchased in the practice stage, all from Joann Fabric and Crafts. Make sure to check for coupons as they generally have excellent ones; the prices below reflect a 20% discount that I downloaded on my phone.

I believe it's actually required by law that you purchase a tomato-shaped pincushion before beginning serious sewing projects.

I believe it’s actually required by law that you obtain a tomato-shaped pincushion before beginning serious sewing projects.

  • Muslin for practice skirt: $2.16
  • Pin cushion: $2.16
  • Tracing wheel: $2.16
  • Dressmaker’s tracing paper: $3.54

Total cost: $10.02

Consumable supplies: $2.16

Durable supplies: $7.86

Stay tuned for the next installment, when I go a little crazy buying gadgets and the cost mounts.

Do you ever make things that you could buy just as cheaply? What’s your reasoning?


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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

6 responses to “I’m Making a Skirt! Phase 1: Practice”

  1. FP grandma says :

    Good grief! Darts, pleats and making your own pattern? The practice skirt looks nice. Joanne’s sometimes has patterns as cheap as .99. I’ve never paid full-price for one.

    • frugalparagon says :

      And I remember spending many a childhood hour contentedly paging through pattern books while you made your selections. My children, however, prefer chasing each other up and down the aisles and grabbing interesting buttons (“Look! I found an airplane!), so I like to move as many parts of the process (eg, pattern creation) as possible to my house.

  2. Tarynkay says :

    I almost never make my clothes from scratch and I never use paper patterns when I have. I just use existing clothes that fit well as a guide. I’ve made a couple of dresses and skirts this way back when we lived in LA and could get great fabric for crazy cheap in the Fabric District.

    But I sew a lot- mostly I find stuff at Goodwill (or in my closet) and resize them/refashion them to fit me. My husband, a very tall and difficult to fit architect, has a long-standing dream that I will wake up one day with a burning desire to sew him well-tailored designer level clothing. I keep telling him that he needs to learn to sew himself if he wants that to happen.

    I also like to sew quilts, but pieced and quilted entirely by hand and out of scraps. This means that each quilt takes at least several months. I don’t know, I guess I like extremely tedious projects.

    • frugalparagon says :

      I feel like I lack the vision right now for refashioning–I read Mend It Better but it didn’t feel like “me.” Maybe I will get more creative as I make more things!

      Send your husband over to the MMM forums–if he can find it, there was a nice thread by a tall, skinny guy who had learned to make his own clothes.

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