Half circle skirt

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Half circle skirts are the best sort of a-line. The seams are on the grain, so they sew up without pulling and make it relatively easy to put in zippers. A half circle is a nice amount of fabric for an every day flared skirt. It’s not a dramatic as a full circle, which makes it easier to wear. And a half circle pattern is very easy to draft.

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To make a pattern for a half circle skirt, you will need your waist measurement and the skirt length. In this pattern the front and back are identical. For patterns this simple I generally just draw on the fabric with a piece of chalk. For each piece, you will start at a corner and draw two quarter circles – a small one near the corner for your waist, and a larger one farther away for the hem.

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Divide your waist measurement by 3 to get your waist radius (people who like trigonometry may be tempted to divide by pi, but rounding down helps balance out the stretch along the bias angled parts of the circle). Hold one corner of a yardstick or tape measure at the corner of your fabric and measure out your waist radius. Swing the yardstick along the fabric, keeping one end in the corner, and mark out points as you go. For example, if your waist radius is 10″, you would mark out several points 10″ away from the corner of the fabric at different angles. Connect these points with a curve.

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Add your skirt length to your waist radius to get your hem radius. Mark out points at this distance, as you did for your waist. Cut along both curves. This is the front of your skirt. Do the same thing at the opposite corner (or trace the piece you have) to make the back.

Sew up the side seams, putting in pockets if you want them, and a zipper on one side. Hem the bottom and finish the top with bias tape or a buttoned waistband.

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Gathered skirt tutorial

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Gathered skirts are by far the easiest skirts to sew. I made the black and red skirts in the photo above in about half an hour each. They require a yard of 45″ fabric, enough 1″ elastic to go around your waist, and the ability to sew in a straight line.

Before you begin, launder your fabric the way you plan to launder the finished skirt and iron out any major crinkles.

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Cut the fabric in half horizontally, to make two pieces half a yard long and as wide as the fabric. With 60″ fabric you can buy half a yard and cut it in the other direction to make 30″ by 18″ pieces.

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Put the right sides of the fabric and sew up both short sides. You now have a big tube.

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Next, make a casing around the top of the skirt to put the elastic in. Fold down and iron 1/4″ all along the top of the skirt, folding onto the wrong side of the fabric. Then, fold down another 1 1/4″. This should make a casing which is slightly larger than your elastic.

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Sew along the edge of this casing, beginning a few inches before a seam and leaving open a 2″ gap.

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Make sure your elastic is an inch longer than you want the waistband to be. Starting with a piece of elastic as long as your waist works well, since the elastic should be a little stretched when the skirt is on. (This is the force that holds your skirt on. Very important). Attach a safety pin to one end of the elastic and feed it through the casing, gathering the fabric as you go. Make sure to keep hold of the other end of the elastic!

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When the elastic is fed all the way through the casing, overlap the two ends by 1″, being careful not to twist the elastic. Sew up one side, across the diagonal to the far corner, down that side, and back to the far corner to complete a bow tie shape.

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Carefully sew up the gap you fed the elastic through, making sure not to catch the elastic.

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Check if you like the length of your skirt. This is the time to cut it shorter if you’re so inclined. To finish the bottom of the skirt, fold 1/4″ to the wrong side of the fabric all along the bottom of the skirt and iron down. Fold another 3/8″ and iron again. Sew along the edge of the folded fabric.

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Your skirt is done!

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1974

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Over Christmas I spent an afternoon at my grandma’s looking through old photo albums. Grandma has always dressed carefully and had beautiful clothes, and looking at old pictures of her often inspires new sewing projects. This time a red skirt with white buttons caught my eye. I liked the colors, and the contrast stitched placket looked like a fun thing to try to recreate.

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My version is a basic fitted skirt with a sailor bib front. The plackets were indeed fun to make, and a little tutorial is coming. The only problem with this skirt is that the buttons stop at my hips and the skirt is a bit too tight to step into – I have to pull it over my head. It looks like Grandma’s might have been a wrap skirt, which would be easier to put on.

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Thanks Rosalie for taking the pictures!

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Another flannel dress

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My red flannel dress is one of my favorites, so when I saw a pretty turquoise and black plaid at the fabric store, I knew exactly what to do with it. The shape of this dress is similar to my other one, with a waistband and a-line skirt, but the construction is actually pretty different. The bodice is cut on the bias, giving it enough stretch that it didn’t need darts. The waistband is cut with the grain to give the dress some structure, as are the sleeves. The buttons in back are useless – they don’t go through the waistband which is the smallest part of the dress. It actually closes with an invisible zipper on the side.

In making this dress I learned that side zippers should not go all the way up to the top and poke into your arm pit, because that is uncomfortable. There is a reason every side zipper I’ve seen ends a couple of inches bellow the sleeve. Now I know.

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Peacock lace

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I started Prima’s birthday present with unreasonable expectations. I had a pattern for a shawl which I thought she’d like, and I thought I’d knit it up on the subway going to and from work. Her birthday was three weeks away. It seemed so easy.

But I had picked a terrible pattern, with terrible charts for lace which seemed to mutate constantly making it impossible to memorize. The second day out I discovered the chart I was carrying only covered the first twenty lines. With an hour of knitting time ahead of me and no information about what came next, I abandoned that pattern and started knitting leaf lace, based vaguely on my memory of Aeolian. But I wanted something special, something particularly Prima-y. So for the border I created this peacock feather lace.

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I don’t think it would be right to put up a pattern for this shawl as a whole, since the first twenty rows came from someone else’s pattern. But I’ve charted the peacock lace for you to incorporate into your own projects.

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This chart shows only the right side rows. Purl all wrong side stitches. To make a peacock feather from this pattern, work rows 1-2 (first box) 8 times to make the quill. Work rows 3-12 one time to set up the barbs. Work rows 13-16 (second box) 8 times for the body of the feather. Finally, work rows 17-38 one time to make the eye of the peacock feather. In line 17 (the first line of the eye) there are several yarn overs in a row. Wrap the yarn around the needle multiple times to create an extra large yarn over. Then, on line 18, knit into the front and back of this loop until you have formed four stitches (front, back, front, back).

When you block the lace, pin the tip of the feather to form a point, and push around the eye until it has a nice round shape.

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Lace weight shawls take longer than I’d planned on, and making up the lace as I went didn’t help. I gave the shawl to Prima for Christmas.

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Cotton dots

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This dress is a more casual version of the shibori silk dress I posted recently. Bias cut, drop waist, boat neck. It’s a very soft double cotton gauze. The fabric was wider, so there was no need for a yoke and the skirt is slightly longer and cut straight across. I sort of wish I’d done a yoke anyway, since it makes a cleaner neckline. Instead I used my serger’s handkerchief edge, which looks ok but needed a lot of pressing to lay flat. As a dress I plan on wearing to work, it had to have a pocket. The drop waist makes it difficult to do in seam pockets, since the dress is pretty fitted at the point where pockets should go. So instead I sewed down one pleated patch pocket.

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Rosalie’s six paneled skirt

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Rosalie’s made about a dozen of these six paneled skirts over the years. They’re easy to make, have a nicely balanced skirt, and are a great shape for her. These skirts have more seams than a basic a-line, but the pattern is just as easy to make, and the fullness of the skirt is evenly distributed, rather than tending toward the sides.

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To make a six paneled skirt, you will need 2 yards of 45″ fabric, an 8 inch invisible zipper, and the following measurements:

1. Waist – measure all the way around your body wherever you want the top of the skirt to sit
2. Hip/bottom – measure around the largest part of your lower body
3. Waist to hip/bottom – the distance between the previous two measurements
4. Waist to hem – the total length you want the skirt to be

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I like to make patterns on newspaper, but any large piece of paper will do. Fold your paper in half. Divide measurement 1 (waist) by 12 and draw a line this length near the top of your paper, starting at the fold. Measure down perpendicularly from the center of this line by measurement 3 (waist to hip/bottom) and mark. Divide measurement 2 (hip/bottom) by 12 and measure out from the mark by this distance and make a second mark. Connect this new mark with the edge of the waist line with a gentle curve. A straight line will do, but curving it slightly improves the fit. Continue this line out until the total length is measurement 4 (waist to hem). Measure this same distance (measurement 4) along the fold from the waistline. Measure out a couple more points in between and draw a line for the hem. Cut out the pattern, unfold, and cut 6 pieces from your fabric.

Sew the skirt together along 5 of the six seams. Add the zipper to the last seam and sew it up. Finish the top edge with double fold bias tape and fold up the bottom for a simple hem.

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Shibori

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I’ve been making a lot of dresses with yokes lately. I like how they look, but more than that I like the built in neckline and upper armhole facing. With a split back like this one, you can sew the front and back together at the shoulders, then sew the yoke to the lining along the neckline and armholes, and turn it right side out without leaving any extra opening. All edges are now neatly finished and can be pressed flat. Then you sew the bottom edge of the yoke to the top of the dress, keeping the yoke and its lining together. For the back I sewed each half out from the middle so I could line them up the way I wanted, and trimmed the armholes to match. The lower armholes still have to be finished somehow, which I did with the “napkin edging” setting on my serger. I finished the hem the same way.

The dress is cut on the bias, which means I can get into it without any fastener. It’s shaped with bust darts and side seam shaping, but the bias drape also pulls it in a bit, making it more flattering and comfortable (although harder to sew) than the same dress cut on the grain would be. The fabric was very narrow, so I used the yoke to lengthen it from the top, and added a ruffle at the bottom. The bias cut makes it hard to cut a straight hem, so I didn’t try. The bottom of the skirt is angled one way and the bottom of the wedge shaped ruffle runs the other way.

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Inspiration

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My sister Rosalie recently scanned some old photos, including my class photo from 1995 featuring my favorite dress ever. That’s me in the back row, third from the left, wearing The Dress. This dress was so soft and cozy, it made up for having to get out of bed on cold foggy mornings. It had a tiered twirly skirt and ruffles and was, to my 9 year old eye, the most beautiful thing ever. It died a sudden and tragic death in a lunch time football game.

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I never forgot this dress, and a few years ago it inspired another similarly cozy dress. As an adult, I don’t wear a lot of ruffled necklines and tiered skirts, so I didn’t create a perfect replica. I gave it a more adult shape, a simple bias tape bound neckline, and mock cuffs. The skirt is still twirly, but a simpler a-line shape. But the soft buffalo check flannel is the same, and that’s the important thing.

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Neuron pillowcases

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I embroidered these neurons on pillowcases for a fellow neuroscientist’s bridal shower. Embroidered pillowcases are my go to present for situations like this. I found some pictures of neurons, traced them onto the pillows in pencil, and stitched along my sketch. Easy, personal, and pretty fun to make! Just remember to wash the pillowcases before you start so they don’t pull the embroidery out of shape when they shrink.

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