Finished the red skirt + what happens when you don’t know what you’re doing

An update on the red skirt:

That, folks, is a finished skirt, and I am extremely happy with it. I finished it on Monday but I haven’t worn it yet because yesterday was chilly so I got to pull out my Roses sweater, and today is a work from home day, which means sweatpants and a tea pot by my side. Tomorrow is going to be a scorcher again so that is when my new skirt will get its debut. But enough about weather, let’s talk zippers. (Apologies for the photos, which show the skirt as being three different colors. The photo above shows the true color. At least to my eyes.)

I thought it was going to be tedious hand sewing the zipper but it actually wasn’t tedious at all and came together more quickly than I had expected, about one episode of House of Cards. (That is how I timed my sewing this past week, but we’ve finished the entire season already so I’m going to have to find a new unit of measurement.) I am very happy with the job I did on this. Maybe it’s not perfect, but I’m less and less sure of how to measure perfection in sewing and knitting, and against what standard of “perfection” I measure the things I’m making. For me, this skirt is pretty near perfection. I like the fit, I like the color, I like that I just winged the whole thing and thus it is of my own design (although it’s not exactly breaking any new ground in design). I also like that I decided part way through to take a breather, go buy a better zipper, and be patient with it instead of just hacking my way through and calling it wearable.

On that note I also started refashioning a shirt that I had already refashioned from a dress last year. This was the original dress and the shirt I made out of it:

Those are some awkward photos but in my defense they were meant to be a little self-mocking. This was the first shirt I made, and I sent these photos to my mom, as one does when one is a woman in her mid thirties and has just done something she’s proud of. When Mom got my email she called to my dad in the other room, “Bob, come check out the dress Kate just got at a thrift shop!” and then only showed him the first photo, which she said made his face go slack with horror. (She’s funny like that, my mom.) Dad finally said, “But …Why?” and then she showed him the following two photos and he perked up and said he thought I was mighty clever. I thought I was mighty clever too at the time.

This was the first shirt I made. It was a rainy day and I was binge watching sewing videos on YouTube, trying to figure out what to do next with my new sewing machine because I was getting bored with pillow cases. I came across a video or a blog post, can’t remember what it was, which showed a tutorial for making the simplest shirt ever, basically two squares of fabric (something synthetic or jersey, just not anything stiff) cut to the width of your shoulders/hips. You sew up the sides and the top, leaving holes for your arms and head, and then flip the fabric around the holes inward and hem that as well as the bottom. And ta-da, you have a shirt.

Hungry as I was at the time to make something wearable, I whipped one of these up using a dress I’d gotten at a thrift shop for the express purpose of chopping up and creating something new. I really like the fabric — it’s dark blue with a tiny red and white flower motif, some sort of mystery synthetic, but it’s not hot like polyester and it has a nice flow and a slight sheen to it. I wore this shirt a lot, but as time went on and I started understanding garment construction a little better, I began seeing all sorts of little and not so little things that bugged me. For one, in my rush to create, I used dark green thread because I only had three spools of thread at the time and dark green was the best choice among them. I also did something pretty lazy with the hem, which is hard to explain without diagramming it for you, but trust me, it wasn’t good. You couldn’t see it from the outside, but I averted my eyes every time I put it on. (Just to be clear, it wasn’t stapled — I’d already moved beyond staples.) I had also, as my instructions had instructed, turned in the fabric around the neck and armholes and stitched that, instead of adding facing and understitching.

I mean, come on. No facing and understitching? Amateur. <—- Kidding! I was (and still am) a beginner so give me a damn break. But that doesn’t mean that I have to let my beginner’s moves relegate this shirt to the back of my closet. This past weekend I decided to do things up right, so I set to work ripping out the arm and neck hole seaming as well as the corner of the bottom hem that also needed a redo. I was not prepared for how long this would take. I had apparently used a very tight stitch gauge when I initially made this, and so ripping out everything took approximately four episodes of House of Cards. It was a thousand times more tedious than hand stitching the zipper in the skirt up top, probably because I had expected the stitches to come right out and so I was mentally unprepared for the work. But I got through it.

I’m not sure what the lesson is in all of this. I suppose it falls between “Jump first, learn to swim later,” and “Take the time to do it right the first time.” I’m not entirely comfortable with the latter because, although it’s true in some sense, it also would have killed my enthusiasm on that rainy day when I first made this shirt. When you’re starting to learn how to sew (or anything else), there’s something to be said for charging ahead with a project, just to give it a go, and to be okay with knowing that you will possibly/probably be ripping out seams a year later. I think it was necessary to just recklessly dive in when I was first starting out. These days I’m trying to take things more slowly and get them done right the first time, but that’s also because I have more sewing knowledge now (knowledge that I gained from doing, from making mistakes, from making bad mistakes that ruined some very pretty and irreplaceable fabric, and knowledge that came from asking for help).

The day after the deconstruction, I started reconstructing: I reshaped the boat neck and the sleeves so things would fit better, and then I cut the pieces for the facing, sewed them on, and ironed and pinned them down. Yesterday I picked up dark blue thread that is a near perfect color match, and some time this week — maybe I’ll start today — I’ll do the understitching. And then this will be finished and I will start wearing it again. And possibly take it apart a year or five years from now when I will have learned better ways of doing things.


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  • […] but my running clothes and my schlepping clothes on the delicates cycle. Contrast that to the blue shirt refashion I wrote about in my last post, which I have worn repeatedly over the course of more than […]

  • Patti says:

    You’re inspiring me to sew. I’ve always found starting so daunting. Is this a true beginners project? I like the idea of repurposing thrifted goods or old clothes more than learning sewing basics. Also, I love those roller skates!

    • Kate says:

      Ah yeah! You should start! As for being a beginner’s project, it definitely is — prior to it I had made nothing but pillowcases, which are about as simple as you can get. But as a shirt it was very homemade looking. (Why do I think like that? “homemade” is a positive for jam and cakes, why not clothes?) For a great beginner’s pattern that looks nicer, I would recommend the Lou Box Top — I just recently made a couple of shirts with it and it’s very beginner friendly, clear instructions and you come out with a really nice looking shirt. Wrap skirts would be a good beginner project too, nothing but straight lines to sew.

      Thanks for your compliment below too! I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of this shirt, even if it looks homemade 😉

      • Kate says:

        PS you can always do the two — repurpose old clothes and learn sewing basics at the same time — I’ve refashioned a bunch of thrift shop clothes and have learned some techniques with all of them.
        PPS the roller skates are from a flea market, I was feeling nostalgic. Worn once, was lucky to not break my leg. I think I prefer feet without wheels.

  • Patti says:

    Also the color and cut of that shirt is everything! Makes me long for crisp fall dates, skirts and boots.

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