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Design a Chic, Flowing Skirt with Fabric Strips

Your measurements, your choice of delicious fabrics, and some basic sewing skills are all you need
Threads magazine - 120 – Aug./Sept. 2005

Designing clothes is a passion of mine, and although I enjoy working out the intricacies of drafting fancy gown patterns and draping elaborate wedding dresses, sometimes I crave a quick, slightly less detail-oriented project. One of my favorites—and a favorite in the sewing classes I teach—is this strip-pieced, no-pattern flowing skirt. For instant sewing gratification and a speedy fashion boost, you’ll find this flowing skirt fits the bill perfectly.

The skirt is made of four to six different fabrics—opt for lightweight types that drape—cut into strips of various widths, and pieced into a new flowing fabric. This pieced fabric is casually pleated and fused to an internal, fitted yoke made of iron-on inter-facing, then free-motion-quilted for decoration and durability. The only fitting involved is in the yoke, which is simply a ring of interfacing darted to your body. The sewing consists almost entirely of straight seams, and the design process calls for a little math and a playful attitude.

Choose a finished or unfinished version

To make the basic flowing skirt, follow the steps below—then it’s up to you to decide how finished you want it to be. I’ve made many skirts that are deliberately unfinished, with softly fraying hems, seams, and waistlines. If you prefer a more polished style, you can add a waistband, or bind or face the waistline, and hem the skirt. And before you finish the strips’ seam allowances, make a few test swatches. I’ve found that seam finishes can interfere with the fall of the pieced skirt fabric; sometimes I opt to leave the allowances raw-edged to preserve the garment’s drape.

If you’ve used sheer fabrics, you may also want to line your skirt to offset its transparency. When I make an unhemmed skirt, I like to keep the lining a good bit shorter than the skirt’s length so that the uneven, raggedy look of the hem is visible.

Because the look of the skirt changes depending on the fabrics and finishes you use, I think you’ll find this style more versatile than you might guess. Give it a try and see how you can make it work for you.

How many strips?

Here’s how to do the math: First determine how much strip-pieced fabric you’ll need for your skirt. Multiply your hip measurement by 312, and add 20 inches. Example: If your hip measures 42 inches, you’ll need a total of 147 inches + 20 inches = 167 inches of pieced fabric. For all hip measurements, round up to the next full inch.

Although you can make the strips any width you like, I find that an assortment of strips with finished widths from 2 to 5 inches yields a pleasing effect. If you want one fabric to dominate the skirt, use it for the widest strips as well as for some of the narrower ones.

Make a chart for your measurements: A simple chart like the one shown here will help you plan the number and width of strips to cut from each fabric. Remember, the figures in the chart represent finished strip widths; be sure to add seam allowances to those widths when cutting the fabric. I use 12-inch seam allowances, which add an even 1 inch to the width of each strip. (The chart shown here is for someone with a 42-inch hip measurement.)

Strips of fabric

The skirt fabric is made of straight strips, with straight seams

Cut fabric strips of various widths, following a chart like the one on the facing page. If you want a perfectly regular stripe pattern, arrange the strips in sequence. Tip: The author prefers a random arrangement; the only strips she plans are the most dominant ones, which are usually the widest strips.

Choose your seam to match the fabric and look you want, and sew the strips together to form a striped fabric. Seam options include a machine-sewn straight stitch, a 3-thread serged seam, and a rolled-hem serged seam (shown in order at right). Make some test seams to see how they affect the hang of the fabric. A straight stitch is usually more supple, while a serged seam can give pleats a crisply defined edge.

choose your seam

A custom-fitted inner yoke is the foundation of the flowing skirt

A shaped strip of fusible interfacing supports the upper section of the skirt and holds the pleats in place with its adhesive. Choose an interfacing color that most closely matches the color value of your fabrics (e.g., white, ecru, or beige for light colors, and black for dark colors).

First, cut a rectangle to fit your hips. The length of the rectangle equals your hip circumference, plus 4 inches of ease, and two 12-inch seam allowances; the width equals the distance from your waist to the fullest part of your hip (7 to 9 inches works for most figures). Example: If your hips measure 42 inches, cut a yoke that’s 47 inches by 7 to 9 inches.

a custom yoke

Then find the difference between the length of the rectangle and your waist. For each inch of difference, make a dart with a 1-inch take-up at the yoke’s upper edge, tapering to nothing 12 inch from the lower edge; space the darts evenly across the yoke. Example: If your yoke is 47 inches long and your waist measures 32 inches, you’ll need fifteen 12-inch darts (each dart takes out 1 inch of fabric).

Try on the darted yoke to make sure it fits your waist-to-hip area. If the yoke is tight, release darts as needed; if it’s loose, deepen or increase the number of darts.

a custom fitted yoke

Assemble the skirt by pleating, fusing, and then stitching

Quarter-mark the yoke and the skirt fabric. The short ends of the yoke will be the zipper opening; the other markings represent center front, the right side, and center back. Lay the yoke, adhesive-side up, on an ironing board, and match the quarter-sections of the fabric to the yoke.

Quarter-mark the yoke and the skirt fabric.

Pleat the fabric to the yoke and pin it in place, working on the first quarter of the skirt. Keep the waist edges of the yoke and the skirt fabric aligned, and pin directly into the ironing board. The pleats don’t have to be of equal width, and you can decide whether to show or conceal the seams.

Pleat the fabric to the yoke and pin it in place, working on the first quarter of the skirt.

Fuse the pleats to the interfacing yoke, removing the pins as you press. Before you move this section, check that all the pleats are adequately attached to the yoke. If not, pin them temporarily to the yoke. Pleat and fuse the remaining skirt sections, one by one.

pressing the fabric

Sew through all layers of skirt fabric and interfacing to hold the pleats in place. Using straight or decorative stitches, and any thread you like, stitch across the yoke in several passes. This stitching can be in parallel or free-form rows (including crisscrosses and wavy lines), but be sure to cover the entire yoke so that all the pleats on the yoke section are firmly anchored. Try on the pleated skirt, and make the zipper openings. Interface the zipper opening, and insert an invisible zipper.

Sew through all layers of skirt fabric and interfacing to hold the pleats in place.

fitting the skirt to the body

Finishing touches

Hemmed with a waistband or purposely left undone—the final touches are up to you

Opt for a fringy, unsewn look, or neaten it up with a waistline treatment. If you line the skirt, the lining can be simply sewn in with a row or two of stitching (for an unfinished style) or anchored by a waistband or binding.

finishing touches

Stitch the hem or leave it raggedy for fanciful texture and movement. If you like a very tattered hem, shorten every other strip 1 to 2 inches before sewing the strips together. For a neat hem, trim the edge evenly, then roll-hem it with the serger, or blind-hem it by hand or machine.

showing off the skirt we just made

Previous: Sew a Straight Skirt with Ease Next: Sew a Summertime Cover-up in 7 Steps

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