Let’s talk handkerchief skirt construction.

As I said before, overall, I’m quite happy with this skirt.

However, now we will deconstruct it a bit.
It’s a handkerchief skirt, meaning two squares placed at 90 degree angles, with a circle cut for the waist. I got the idea from the book Bias-Cut Dressmaking by Gillian Holman.  The book itself was too involved for me in general, but I really liked the brief instructions for the skirt.  If you have interest in  bias-cut garments and some sewing experience, you might want to check out this book.  There is a huge section on all forms of underwear, which was interesting and which I will never make.  The book seems to be quite expensive right now online, but I got my copy from the library.  The author photo cracked me up, so be sure to take a look at that if you get the book.


The directions in the book were quite brief and glossed over how one would add a waistband.  However, I have just purchased the quite excellent Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing by Gretchen Hirsch (still on sale at Powell’s for $24.50!) and in her instructions for making a dirndl skirt she covers waistband construction.  So that went off without a hitch.  The waistband came out quite well.
Something that did not work well is that the circle cut for my waist was much, much too large.  I suspect that my half circle I free-handed on the pattern was not entirely spherical in nature.  But I also might have fallen victim to something called “bias bag.”  In order to make the skirt fit, I had to take in six inches.  SIX!  I did this by making four pleats, which I feel just enhanced the two-color effect of the skirt.  I did, however, error in making the pleats face all the same direction  After I finished, I remembered that the two in front should have faced each other, as should have the two in back.  This is one of those errors that probably only I notice.
As mentioned in the initial post, this was my first time making bias tape.  It was pretty easy, especially with the taffeta  which wants to do whatever the iron is encouraging.  I was was leery of the orange material, though, afraid it would melt.  Instead of taking the time to test a swatch so I had good information (sewing really highlights how incredibly impatient and lazy I can be) I just sort of assumed it would melt and instead of nicely pressing, kind of just shoved everything into shape and through the machine.  I also made much too much of the orange bias tape, wasting a good hour of my time.  Learning from that, I measured exactly what I needed for the taffeta.
I took along my sewing friend Julie to pick out material, as it is the part I hate most about making something.  I sometimes get caught up in an idea and that idea doesn’t translate well to wanting to wear the completed garment in public.  Julie is fun to shop with because she likes to find bargain material and make wonderful things, and I’m a fan of that too.  I glommed on to the sheer orange early on, but the other layer was tricky.  Julie’s color palette is different than mine, so I resisted her initial pushing of the beige sparkly taffeta.  But when doing a side-by-side comparison, she was quite right and I love how the beige sets off the orange while the sparkly sequins shimmer from beneath   The material cost me $15.00 at Fabric Depot’s clearance room.  The zipper was about three dollars and the thread I bought was six dollars. 
Oh zippers.  You are the worst part of sewing.  Zippers aren’t hard, but there is so much room for error.  And I have a history fraught with improper zipper installation, see below.  This zipper was more complicated because I needed to put a zipper where there was no seam and I’d not done that before.  Happily, the internet is one’s friend for such things and I used this tutorial.  With a little background information from this post.  I think the technique worked pretty well for me, considering I was working with two layers of very slippery fabric.  I did err in marking my fabric with a Sharpie (again:  lazy!) and the opening at the bottom of the zipper was much larger than in the tutorial, but overall, I’m pleased with the fact I learned how to do this.  As for inserting the zipper, I was in the thick of “almost-done-finish-it-dammit” impatience.  So I just used the thread that was in the machine at the time, instead of re-threading the color suitable for the orange fabric.  And I kind of just jammed in the zipper, free-handing the seam.  So the border is wider at the bottom.

That said, the zipper does its job and I don’t think it’s something that most people (ahem, non-sewing people) will notice.   If they look too closely, I’ll just spin and distract them.

The other thing that happens with zippers is that I nearly always put them in backwards.  It has been that way since the very first skirt I made.  I think to myself, “now, make sure you put this in the right way,” and then some trance comes over me and the next thing I know I ‘m looking at my newly inserted zipper and it’s backwards once again!  If’ I’m not in that lazy/impatient stage, I will pick them out and put them in properly, but I was in that stage with this project and I figured tearing it out would cause more damage.  So I left it as it was. Happily, backward zippers still work.
My favorite part of this skirt is that I used a closure I inherited from my grandmother.  She had a pack of these in her sewing kit and I’m happy to install it in my skirt.  I love the adjustable closure and the metal is much more sterling than I would have been able to buy today.  I’ve made a mental note to harvest this closure when I eventually donate the skirt to the Goodwill.

Also, I should move the closure over about an inch as I have a lot of waistband overlap.  I may never do this, or I might be able to muster up enthusiasm for the project while watching a movie.  And this view shows that I should have given just a bit more to the short side of the waistband because the lack of extra fabric means that edge wants to fold back like this.  Happily, this is something only I will ever notice.

Also, I think the zipper isn’t straight.  But again, the way the skirt is constructed means not many people will notice.

Overall, I’m thrilled to have this skirt which I will wear multiple times this Holiday season.

3 thoughts on “Let’s talk handkerchief skirt construction.”

  1. My mom says that you are too critical of your work here. She might even write a comment and share that herself. Come on, Mom!

    The skirt is lovely. Though I have the same OCD understanding of the nit-pickeries that are glaring and flashing at you. No one no one else can see or will even notice them (I can vouch – I didn't notice one of these things you mentioned). Sometimes I have to redo anchor charts and other class writing just because of that.

  2. I hate when people pick things apart, so I agree, in part, with your mom (who SHOULD post a comment). But I also wanted to highlight what went wrong and what went right. I'm very happy with the skirt, but I think pointing out things that could be improved is a good way to improve. Plus, but doing it here, I can better keep my mother shut when I'm wearing it and people compliment me.

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