Wednesday, June 3, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size): The Peasant Skirt


This is another in my series called SAAS: Sewing at Any Size. It's also the last style of skirt I'll be covering, but hopefully with the half-dozen already described you can have almost any skirt your heart desires.

I hope to help women of all sizes thumb their noses at the overpriced poor-quality ugly crap found in mainstream stores this year. Quite a few basic wardrobe items can be made without commercial patterns, just by applying a little basic math and undertanding how things are shaped.

You can follow the SAAS series by clicking on the SAAS topic on the blog sidebar. As this will eventually be a book, please do not re-print or publish this information anywhere. You can, of course, print it for your own personal use!

I love peasant skirts, usually because they’re one of the few styles that are long enough to hit my ankles instead of mid-calf. While the traditional peasant skirt would be made out of light cotton or linen that crinkles and floats, experimenting sometimes offers interesting results. This is actually what sparked the idea for this series, because Fashion Bug wanted $60 for a knee-length peasant skirt made out grey sweatpant material. Seriously. It did look cute and I might have paid up to $20 to save myself the work, but no more than that.

This pattern made up in knit will give you a more form-following skirt that falls down instead of out. You may have to adjust the height of each panel to compensate, so if you’re using knit try to use basting stitches at first in case it needs to be taken up. Heavier material is fun to work with too. I made this pattern up in a medium weight white canvas-type material (like that used in cargo pants) so that I had a hippie skirt sturdy enough to wear to Pagan events that call for camping, light in color (biting black flies are attracted to dark colors) but thick enough that I didn’t have to wear anything under it to keep it from being see-through (a must in hot weather!). I’m thinking of making a corduroy version just to see how it turns out.

I’ll start with the assumption that you want to make an ankle-length, 4-tier peasant skirt in lightweight fabric. If you’d like to vary this, use test fabric (such as cheap fabric or old bedsheets) to experiment until you have the look you’re going for, and use that as a pattern. Remember to use long, loose stitches (basting stitches) to assemble test fabric garments so that you can easily take them apart later.

We’re going to use the larger of your waist or hip measurement. Your waist is where you normally wear the waistband of a skirt; the hips would be the largest point below that. Pick one. We’ll call this number W for Width.

Now measure from your waist to the point where you want the hemline of the skirt to be. We’ll assume that all the seams between two tiers are going to be ½”. We also want to add ½” for the hem at the bottom and top and subtract for the waistband, so take your length and add 3”. This total number will be called L for Length.

You’ll be cutting 8 pieces of fabric for the main skirt, as each tier will be two pieces. Here’s how to calculate their size (and remember your high school math):

I used decimals instead of fractions so that you can hopefully work these measurements out on a simple calculator. Round up each measurement to the nearest ¼ inch to make it easy on yourself. I’ll give you an example:

For a woman with a 60” Waist (assuming waist is larger than hips) wanting a skirt 33” Long, cut the following pieces:

Piece 1: Cut 2 pieces at 32” by 8”
Piece 2: Cut 2 pieces at 48.75” by 9”
Piece 3: Cut 2 pieces at 63” by 9”
Piece 4: Cut 2 pieces at 80” by 10”

Now this would give me an A-line peasant skirt with a very full bottom. If I wanted something less bulky I would reduce the lower three tiers a bit, but never making a tier smaller than the one above it. I might do 32”, 40”, 50” and 60” to wind up with a bottom tier about twice my waist and reducing the bulk of the skirt.

Remember that if you’re making each tier out of the same fabric you need to cut all the pieces with the fabric facing the same direction. If your largest tier is longer than the fabric is wide, you’ll need to cut them lengthwise. You can stagger them to use the fabric efficiently, like this:

This means that when buying your fabric, you’ll want to get a length at least equal to the length of pieces 1 and 4. Make sure it’s wide enough to also do a 2” waistband.

Take the two halves of piece 1, lay them “right side” together (i.e. the side you want visible when wearing the skirt). Sew each end together to create a loop.

Repeat for each set of pieces, so that you have four fabric loops (we’ll call them loops 1-4 instead of pieces 1-4 from here).

On the wrong side /inside of each loop (the side with the seams sticking up) make 16 marks with pencil, chalk or fabric marker, about the same distance apart, beginning with the seams (8 on each piece). This doesn’t have to be exact, but try to get them relatively evenly spaced.

Take loops 1 and 2 and lay them right-side together (the side you want showing when you wear the skirt) with the top of each loop matched up. Rotate them so that the seams do NOT line up, but each fall about ¼ of the way around the circle from each other. Pin the seam on loop 1 to the nearest mark on loop 2.

Find the mark on loop 2 opposite the one you just pinned, so that there’s an equal amount of “loose” fabric on either side of loop 1. Pin the other seam of loop one to this opposite mark.

Find the marks halfway around on each loop and pin them together so that the inside loop is attached in four places:

Find the marks halfway between each pinned mark on each loop, match them up and pin. Repeat so that all 16 points are pinned together.

Using the sewing machine or hand-stitching, run a straight stitch around the loops, catching the extra fabric in the outer loop as small folds or pleats. The sixteen divisions are to make sure that the extra fabric is taken up evenly throughout the loop and not bunching up anywhere. Try to spread the pleats evenly in each section, but a peasant skirt style is much more forgiving of uneveness than a pleated skirt, and you may actually want to mix up the size and directon of the folds for a more freestyle look.

An alternate way to do this is to run very long basting stitches around the top of the larger loop using strong thread, and use the thread as a drawstring to bunch and adjust the fabric until it matches up in size with the smaller loop, then stitch it on gathers and all. I find that the pin method gives more even folds all around without the risk of the thread snapping while you’re adjusting the drawstring and making you start all over again. (This happened twice the first time I made a peasant skirt, which is why I came up with the pin method.)

Fold the fabric down and iron flat. Repeat for the next two loops.

Hem the bottom loop up by ½” from the bottom edge (either before or after attaching the top edge to the skirt).

Follow the instructions in Making a Gored Skirt for creating a waistband for your peasant skirt.


Add lace, ribbon or other trim to each tier of the skirt. If the trim has two finished edges (such as lace or ribbon) you can simply stitch it onto the skirt at the seam. If the trim is meant to be tucked, or has a raw edge, you can sandwich it between the tiers when you attach them to each other, so that the part of the trim you’d like visible hangs out of the seam on the right side of the skirt.

For fewer tiers or a shorter skirt, use test fabric to adjust the pieces until you have what you want. Just remember that each tier needs to be larger than the one above it for the gathered, peasant skirt look.


Nudiemuse said...

I say are awesome.

caseyatthebat said...

I've been in the mood for skirts this summer, and your posts have given me the sewing bug!!

Anonymous said...

I love this series. Thank you so much!

Mary said...

Thanks for the formula. I'm assuming from your numbers the waist tier has 4 inches of ease?

JoGeek said...

Mary: Actually there's 2" of ease after subtracting the 1/2" seams. The W number should be the larger of hips or waist to make sure the skirt can come on or off, then if your waist is the smaller number the extra fabric is gathered by the waistband.

Margo Anderson said...

The problem of the gathering threads snapping can be avoided by sewing a wide zigzag stitch over (not through) dental floss. The stitches form a casing and the floss can be pulled up like a drawstring to form gathers.