Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Knit Gathered Skirt

Knit fabrics are pretty awesome. Garment construction with stretchy knits let you get away with so many things–you don't have to worry as much about ease and fit, you don't need as many zippers and clasps, and often you can get away with leaving your edges raw, since knits don't fray like wovens. (Though in all honesty, I hate raw knit edges.)

Sewing with knit fabrics takes a little more attention than your regular plain cotton weave, but with a little extra attention while sewing, you'll end up with better fitting garments in the end. This easy skirt project is a great one to start with, and looks as good as many you can purchase off the rack. It's actually just a more complex sew-a-rectangle project, really.
Regular straight stitches don't have much, if any, flexibility in them. Sewing knit fabrics normally will remove the stretch in the fabric, or break your seams if you try to stretch it. But there are two easy ways to sew knits with any sewing machine:
  1. Use a zig-zag stitch, or
  2. Use a straight stitch, and place one hand behind the foot, and one in front. Use your hands to stretch the fabric slightly as you sew, without pulling in either direction.
Zig-zag stitches inherently have more stretch than straight stitches. Sometimes, the zig-zag will still need some pulling, but not as much. Which one you use depends on your taste and the look of the final product. I highly recommend doing some test seams before you work on your project.


  • Stretchy knit fabric, whose width is larger than the circumference of your hips, and length is 4"-5" longer than you want the skirt to be
  • Knit waistband elastic, at least 2" wide, and the length of the circumference of your waist
  • Jersey/ballpoint machine needles
  • Thread to match, and contrast thread for basting.

1. Prepare Skirt Tube
Pin the selvages, right-sides together, and sew a 1/2" seam allowance. If you want to serge it, hand-baste and remove the pins before you do so.

2. Mark Skirt Tube
Fold the tube flat, so that the selvage seam is on the left. If you take the selvage seam as the back, the fold on the right is now your front. Mark that place with a pin, then move the fabric so that the tube is still folded flat, but the pin is now aligned with the selvage seam. Now the folds on the left and right are the sides of your skirt. Here's a diagram of what I mean:

Continue marking at even intervals: fold and match up pin markings and the selvage seam. You should end up with a total of eight marked spots. You can keep the pins in, but I prefer to mark it with some short running stitches, just so I know where they are if the pins fall out.

3. Hand-baste Skirt Tube
Using a very long piece of thread, hand-baste along the marked edge of your skirt tube, leaving a long tail. It should look something like this:

4. Lining (optional)
If you want a lining for your skirt, do the same thing with your knit lining fabric: sew the selvages together, mark the edges, and baste the top.

5. Prepare Elastic Waistband
For the elastic waistband, measure to the circumference of your waist, overlapping the ends by 2". You'll want to pull it snug. Zig-zag the ends of the elastic, so they don't fray, then sew down the middle of the overlap. This will mark your back centre seam.

Then do the same marking on the elastic, that you did to the skirt. Now you should have a skirt tube with eight markings, and an elastic loop with the same eight markings.

6. Pin Skirt to Waistband
Match up the selvage seam on the skirt to the middle of the overlap on the loop, pinning the right side of your skirt loop to the inside of the elastic band. Match up the edges to ensure that your seam will be straight:

7. Gather Skirt Fabric
You will have much larger spans of fabric on the skirt tube, so use that long tail of your hand basting to gather up the skirt fabric and make them the same length between each side marker. If you are using a lining fabric, grab both long tails at the same time. Be gentle with the thread! You do not want it to break.

It will take some shuffling of fabric and thread to get it right, but this is the hardest part of this skirt, and it's almost over.

Once you've successfully gathered the fabric, add some more pins between each marked spot, to make sure the skirt fabric doesn't shift too much.

8. Sew Skirt to Elastic
Now you can put those knit sewing skills to the test. Using your preferred method, sew the skirt tube to the elastic waistband, using a 1/2" seam allowance. Unless you're using a walking foot, you may need to lift the presser foot occasionally, to spread the gathered fabric evenly. If you do lift the presser foot, make sure the needle is in a down position, to prevent uneven stitches.

9. Hem Skirt Tube
After you've removed your markings, you can wear your skirt. If you want to leave the edges raw, cut the skirt to the length you want. Otherwise, fold the fabric up to the length you want, and hem the bottom.

You can wear the skirt with the gathered edge out, like so:

Or if you flipped the waistband out, you can wear it so that the seam is at the top and the gathered edge is on the inside.

I actually like this style more, since with my hips it bubbles out less, and the gathered fabric gets some space between the seam and where it appears, that it moves around a bit.

It's entirely up to you which way you wear it, and it's also entirely up to you if you want to turn it into a dress.

10. Add a Top (optional)
If you're like me and need to make things unnecessarily complex, you can decide mid-project that this is going to be a dress, and not just a skirt. Here are the steps to modify your skirt into a dress.

  1. Make a skirt
  2. Decide the skirt should be a dress
  3. Take out the waistband stitches
  4. Make the elastic waistband smaller to sit higher
  5. Re-do everything to do with sewing the skirt onto the waistband. No, seriously, everything.
  6. Look through all your sewing patterns to find a suitable top.
    (I used an upper bodice piece from New Look 6699, which is a "design your look" pattern where all the dress parts are completely modular.)
  7. Scavenge through your fabric collection to find something that might work, and hope there is enough to cut the pieces.
  8. Make the bodice, attach elastic to the bottom.
  9. TA-DA! You have another handmade dress for another wedding!

Even without the top, though, this is a pretty functional skirt. Knit fabrics drape much more nicely than most woven fabrics. I've found that when I try to do this same skirt method with a plain weave fabric, the skirt doesn't fall properly. But, I am pretty biased towards knits!

If you haven't seen my tutorial explaining knit fabrics, check it out!

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