Category: Skirt Construction

Constructing Skirt Pieces

Hello! I’ve got a photo tutorial for you today. I’ll go through the steps to construct lined skirt pieces, such as those used in Skirts II, IV, V, VI, and VII in the 3rd Edition of the pattern.

Each piece of the skirt is made of 3 layers:
1. Fashion fabric – Our top layer, the main visible fabric of the dress.
2. Skirt base or stiffener – Stiff panels would have a layer of stiffener such as (Pellon 70 or Vilene S80). Soft panels still need some support; I like Pellon 40 Mid-weight Sew-in (Vilene M12/312 is supposed to be similar).
3. Lining fabric – Usually satin, often in a contrasting color.

1.  The first photo (left) is my fashion fabric.  It’s a black microvelvet, and it was very flimsy, so I fused it with Pellon Shape-Flex.  This isn’t necessary for most fabrics, so you’d just have the fabric.  For all intents and purposes, this Velvet/Shapeflex combo is 1 layer.

2.  In the second photo (right), I’ve added the Base layer, which in this case is Pellon 70.  The piece I am photographing is skirt front piece C from the 3-panel skirt.  If you are creating a soft skirt panel, you’d use a softer base material, as I stated above.  I’ll note that the 3 dots near the center of the base layer are only references for embroidery placement.  Baste the two layers (fabric and base) together around the edges.  You can see this done in the next photo.

3.  The next step is to do your decoration, whether it be embroidery, topstitching on appliqués, pre-made trim, or any number of things.  You can see I’ve added some machine embroidery here (left photo).

4. Trim the seam allowance off of the bottom edge of the Base layer. As you can see from the photo (right), I’m doing a shaped hemline so I trimmed to that shape. If you’re keeping it straight, you would just trim straight across. For soft panels, this isn’t necessary. You can leave it in, as you’ll see in the next photos.

***This tutorial will use a seamed edge sewn with right sides together. Another option, as stated in the Pattern Instructions, is to stack fabric, base, and lining, trim away bottom seam allowance from all, and satin stitch the edge. If you do that, you can skip to step 7***

5. Pin the lining fabric to the fashion fabric with right sides together. Stitch together along the hemline.

The left photo shows the piece I have been working with in the previous steps. The right photo is a soft panel from the back of the skirt. You can see that on that one, I didn’t trim the base layer out of the seam first.

6. If you have a shaped edge like me, trim the seam allowance to 1/4″ and clip curves as necessary. If your hem is straight/normal, this is not necessary.

7. For a straight hemline, you want to under-stitch by pressing the seam allowance towards the lining, and stitching it down 1/16″ from the seam (top photo). To clarify, the stitching will go through the lining fabric plus the seam allowance of all 3 layers, but not the base or fashion fabric. This does two things. It keeps the shape of the hem edge smooth by reinforcing it with a second line of stitching. Secondly and most importantly, it keeps the lining fabric from scootching around to the outside of the dress, which would look horrible.

Now for a shaped hemline like mine (middle photo), it’s difficult to under-stitch because of the angles and corners (OK mine’s pretty mild so I probably could have, but I wanted to show you this other option). Instead, turn the skirt piece right side out and pin the hem edge flat, as I’ve done in the right-hand photo. Be sure the fashion fabric is showing just a tad on the edge, as my black velvet is doing. You don’t want that lining making an appearance! Finish the edge with a line of top-stitching 1/4″ away from the hem (bottom photo). It doesn’t have to be exactly 1/4″, and if you have embroidery right near the edge, it’s best to run it along the edge of the embroidery, which will disguise it. Now this velvet of mine pretty much hides anything (evidence by how much I had to over-expose this photo to even show it), but if you’re worried about how it looks you can always use clear quilting thread.

8. Whichever method you used, give your hem edge (now turned right-side out) a nice press! If you used the under-stitching method, make sure your fashion fabric is rolling around the edge, like in the middle photo. You don’t want the lining peaking around to the outside.

9. Get your lining fabric laying all flat and nice, and baste around the side and top edges of the piece (left photo).

10. Usually my lining ends up with some extra at the edges. If this happened to you, trim it off now, so the edges are clean and even.

That’s it! After constructing all your panels, consider checking out this post on stitching them to the under-skirts and sewing the side-pleat. Coming soon, a tutorial for constructing the 3-panel skirt.

Happy sewing!

Lining and the Center-Back Skirt Seam

The center-back seam allowance of the skirt is never pretty.  The skirt gets lined, usually in beautiful contrasting fabric that flashes when the dancer kicks, but the bulky seam allowance always stands out, looking gross and un-finished.  Due to the way the skirt is constructed, and the fact that the center-back is an alteration point, there is really no way to hide the seam allowance completely, so I like to bind the center-back seam allowance in lining fabric.  You can do it two ways:

1. Leave extra seam allowance on that edge when cutting the lining fabric.  To figure out how much lining seam allowance to cut, double the seam allowance of your other fabrics on that edge and add 1/8″.  So instead of 1″ you’d cut 2 1/8″, or instead of 1 1/2″ you’d cut 3 1/8″.

Press over 1/4″ of the lining and fold it up and around the edge of the skirt panel to the top.  It should end up about 1/4″ away from the center-back seam line.  Don’t let it sit closer than 1/4″, as you don’t want it to interfere with the seam.  Pin the edge down as shown below and stitch along the edge.

2.  If you’ve already cut out the lining and weren’t able to add an extra inch or two, you can also just cut a strip of lining fabric and bind the edge in the standard way, like you would with bias tape…really really wide bias tape!  Except it doesn’t need to be cut on the bias, since you’re binding a straight edge.  Just like in the previous description, don’t let it sit within 1/4″ of the seam line.

If you ever need to let the center-back seam out, the wrapped fabric can just be folded back or removed completely.

Here are a few photos of a dress from a couple years ago.  This one was done with the second method of using a separate piece.

Skirt Side-Pleat (and Under-Skirt) Construction

Many folks find the skirt’s side-pleats the hardest part of construction to wrap their head around.  It’s probably the part that’s farthest from typical fashion construction, so this is understandable.  I’ve been wanting to make a photo tutorial of these steps for a while, and have finally been able to take some photos while working on a dress this month.

I’m starting at the point after the skirt front and back have been finished separately (see photo of backs below).  In the 3rd Ed. patterns, this is step 37.  For reference, the skirt I photographed is a stiff single-panel (View VI in 3rd Ed.).  For a better fit on this specific dancer, I’ve added a couple small pleats in the back.  You’ll also notice that I’ve bound the center-back seam allowance in lining fabric.  This is because I hate seeing the contrasting seam allowance underneath when the dancer kicks.  In this case the seam would have been black on gold…so noticeable!  I believe these are the only two ways in which the photos differ from the original pattern.

1. Basting to the Under-skirt
Baste a skirt back to the under-skirt back.  Stitch along the dropped waist seam line using a machine baste.  I didn’t in the photo, but I’d advise continuing the stitching down the side edge as well.

Since I have a stiff front skirt, I’m not using a front under-skirt.  I just basted along the dropped waist seam line to make sure it’s visible.  If you’re making a soft front, you would baste the skirt front to the front under-skirt, in the same way as the back.

2. Stitching Front and Backs Together
Now we have 3 pieces, one front and two backs, with under-skirts attached.  With right sides together, pin the backs to the front at the sides (I threw my ruler in to show that the front is underneath…it’s hard to tell with the black velvet.  The ruler is not related to the task at hand). The order of layers here is, bottom to top:
1. Front Under-skirt (if using.  I’m not.)
2. Front Skirt
3. Back Skirt
4. Back Under-skirt
Of course with the under-skirts basted to the skirts, it’s only two functional layers; the front and back.

For best results, I’d recommend lining up the side-pleat line first, then pinning the seam based on that.  Because I did some alterations to the shape after constructing my backs, the shape changed a bit and the edges of my pieces don’t line up exactly.  The side pleat is pretty deep, so it’s not the end of the world if I lose a 1/4″ at the edge.  It’s much more important that the pleat-folds line up with each other.  In an ideal world both your pleat-folds and your seam edge will line up, but it doesn’t hurt to check just in case.

Once you have stitched the seam, trim seam allowance to about 3/8″.

3. Binding the Side-Pleat Seam
Bind the seams sewn in the last step either with bias tape, or a strip of your lining fabric (strip can be cut on the bias, but on grain will work too).  Be sure to use thread that matches the lining fabric…this will be seen!  Once you’ve finished with this step, keep the seams flat as they have been since step 2.

4. Tacking the Side-Pleat
The skirt is now all in one piece, but we haven’t yet made the pleats defined.  On each side of the skirt, double check that the side-pleat fold-lines are lined up with each other.  Draw them in, if you haven’t already (mine is that shadowy brown line…my disappearing marker is starting to die).  Pin through the top few inches of the fold line to keep it from shifting.  1/16″ away, stitch parallel to the line starting 1/2″ above the seam line and ending 1/2″ below.  You can do this either by hand or machine.

5. Pressing the Side-Pleat
The skirt is now complete, but the most important step still remains.  We need to press the pleats into the skirt, so that it gets its distinctive shape.  If you skip this step, the skirt will look weird and bulbous, even if it was constructed correctly.  Fold both front and backs along the side-pleat fold lines and press well.  Use caution with velvet; you don’t want to crush the pile.

The skirt is now complete and ready to be sewn to the bodice. Remember to fold the bulk of the pleat towards the front before stitching to the bodice, as shown below.

If you have a lightweight machine that has trouble with bulk, try our alternative method for stitching the dropped waist seam.  I’ll leave you with a couple photos of the completed side pleat.

Happy sewing!

A Review of Dress Stiffeners

A lot of people ask what kind of dress stiffener they should use when making a solo dress and it’s a fair question when there are so many products on the market.  There used to be a nice vilene product out there made specifically for Irish dance, but I can’t find anyone who still sells it.  I’ve been trying many others in the meantime and here are my reviews of several different stiffeners.  They are listed in order of stiffness, starting with the least stiff.
Pellon 926
Price: $4.29/yard
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 1 mm
Distributor: Joann Fabrics (US) (and most fabric/craft stores)
This is the softest stabilizer, and I would not recommend it for the average Irish dance dress.  It is very flexible, yet still stiff enough to hold its shape and not collapse in on itself.  I would recommend it for very small dresses when you are afraid of too much bulk.  I have tried using it for a stiff-panel skirt, and would not recommend it for that, but it could be a softer under-skirt option for a small-sized dress.
Price: $1.75/yard
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 1 1/4 mm
Distributor: Long Creek Mills (US)
I was initially skeptical of this one due to how cheap it is, however it is definitely stiffer than the Pellon 926 for about the same thickness.  It is still a little bendy for my preference, but would work all right for a small dress, or if you don’t want the most rigid stiffener.  Because it’s pretty thin, you could also fuse two layers together for a sturdier option (trim one layer out of seam allowance).  You’d definitely want to add an extra layer in most places.
Flexi Firm
Price: $6.87/yard
Width: 30″ wide
Thickness: 1 2/3 mm
Distributor: Fabric Depot (US)
Flexi Firm is about as stiff as the Stiffy, but a little bulkier.  It would work okay, but definitely isn’t my favorite.  It’s almost as bulky as the Pellon 70 and Timtex, but you’re not getting as much structure for it.
Pellon 70
Price: $5.99/yard
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 1 2/3 mm
Distributor: Joann Fabrics (US) (and most fabric/craft stores)
This one (along with the 926) is definitely the easiest to acquire, being widely available at local fabric stores.  It’s one of the thicker stiffeners but it holds its structure well and is easy to find.  Being on the thicker end of the spectrum, I find it to be pretty bulky for multi-panel skirts.  I’ve done it before, but be prepared to have trouble sewing over 2-3 layers of it as you sew your dropped waist seam.  It works just fine in the under-skirt of a soft skirt style though.  Depending on the fit of your dress, you may find that 1 layer is enough. 
It also comes in 1- and 2-side fusible (Pellon 71 and 72).  I don’t like using fusible stiffener on skirt panels because they tend to show if the panel has gotten folded or wrinkled accidentally.  The fusible is nice on the underskirt however, where you have to cover both sides with fabric but it’s not a main feature of the dress.
S80 Vilene
Price: £8.20/meter or £20.50/3 meters
Width: 36 inches
Thickness: a bit under 1 mm
Distributor: Empress Mills (UK)
This might be my favorite, which is unfortunate as it’s the priciest (not to mention the cost of shipping to the US).  It’s almost as sturdy as the Pellon 70, but half as thick.  This makes it great for stiff panel skirts and sewers whose machine doesn’t handle bulk well.  Because it’s so thin, you can easily fuse two layers together for extra structure as needed.  If you don’t want to ship from the UK, it can sometimes be found on Etsy.
Price: £8.00/meter
Width: 20 inches
Thickness: 2 mm
Distributor: Quilt Direct (UK)
Also available in 10 yard bolts (around $64) or smaller ‘craft packs’ from Amazon, Walmart, Joann’s.
Timtex is probably the stiffest product I’ve found.  It’s also the thickest, at over 2 mm.  I would not recommend doubling this stiffener; it is plenty effective in a single layer (but if you do, trimming one layer out of the seam allowance makes sewing much easier).  It is very sturdy and holds up extremely well.  Like the Pellon 70, be aware of how bulky it can get in multiple layers.  If you have a wimpy sewing machine, you may want to try something thinner as your dress will become bulky very quickly.
What stiffeners have you tried?  How did they work?  Is there another that should be on this list?  Share your experiences in the comment section below.