Fabric Alchemy: a denim skirt

Sewing is like a puzzle. No. Wait. Sewing is like putting together a LEGO set.

You can follow the instructions to build the pirate ship or the castle pictured on the front of the box. Or, you can take creative liberties and construct something a little different. Or you can take apart the castle and the pirate ship and combine the pieces into something COMPLETELY unique.

I think this is why I enjoy sewing so much. Each project is a problem that needs solving.

Problem: I needed (yes, needed) a denim skirt that fit and could be paired with either casual or slightly “nicer” outfits.

But despite there being a plethora of denim skirts available from most major retailers, I try not to buy *new* clothes anymore, remember?  Instead I periodically perused the racks at Goodwill, Buffalo Exchange, and Crossroads Trading Co.  Even though I found a decent number of used denim skirts for sale, I always felt a little bit like Goldilocks.

  • This one is too big…
  • This one is too small…
  • This one is too edgy/deconstructed/wrong color…
  • This one…is not worth $30 (used)

Solution: Buy a skirt that is *close* and alter it. 

On a trip to Crossroads in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, I found this:

Decent enough, but did not look good on me.

The denim fabric (more accurately a chambray) was a thickness and weight that would lend itself well to a business-casual pencil skirt style. The gray knit shirt that was attached to this dress, well, I was willing to look past it. In its original form, the waist band of the denim skirt[dress] rested at my natural waist. When I bought this for $7, I imagined that it would be an easy alternation (1. remove the top, 2. wear the skirt).

With my trusty seam ripper, I dispatched with the gray top and tried the skirt on as-was. The gathered aspect of the skirt at the waist looked nice on the dress form, but it had too much volume for my body type and did not pair well with my existing wardrobe.

After brainstorming, I settled on a pencil skirt design, based on the skirt sloper I made during my summer sewing class.

Process: Seam rip, cut, and resew.

I detached the waistband, ironed out the gathers at the top of the skirt. With the skirt side seams still in place, I cut a panel from the front and the back. The lines were determined by the placement of the dart/princess seams on my skirt sloper, in order for the skirt to fit my hips and waist. Based on a skirt made from this sloper, I wanted the hem to have a 19-inch circumference.

(Secret: I opted for the princess seams because this particular alteration would be faster than ripping out the side seams, darts would have been needed to adjust the waist line anyway, and the seams add variation. Also, the side seams already had a place for the side zipper.)

The newly cut panels were re-sewn along the cut lines. Some adjustments were made to the princess seams and side seams at the waist until the skirt fit better. The length of the skirt was not altered.

I wanted a thinner waistband, so I folded it in half. Now that the skirt sit at my hips, rather than at my natural waist, the waistband came up a bit short. To hide this, I stitched some of the scraps together to create a chevron design for a button tab at the left hip. This also hides the bright red zipper (I lost track of the gray zipper that came with the dress).

All done!

Now I own a denim skirt that meets my overly-specific criteria.

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4 thoughts on “Fabric Alchemy: a denim skirt

    1. See if the universities have any kind of “extended learning” program that is personal enrichment focused. Local fabric stores often have a number of sewing classes too.

  1. Wow, Amazing job!! Looks like a totally different skirt now. Im trying to figure out how to take in the hips on a vintage heavy denim skirt? The skirt had a tiny waist and huge ‘bubble’ hips (looks ridiculous on me) i bought it on Poshmark so im stuck with it now : (
    Im afraid the tailor will charge me alot to alter, i live in LA and everything is over-priced here. Do u have any suggestions for me, or should i just resell skirt to thrift store, cut my losses

    1. Oh Kim, I am sorry for taking so long to respond! When I refashion clothes I ask myself two questions: 1) how much work is it going to take to make it what I want? 2) What is the likelihood that someone else will find this and LOVE it immediately as is. When I bought that knit and denim dress the knit shirt was a bit ratty. So I didn’t feel bad taking it out of rotation. Can your machine handle heavy denim? Do you have any friends who might want the skirt before you cut into it? I think that you can do it – open the side seams completely and re-sew them to fit your hips. But if you aren’t 100% sure, if you are like me you will leave refashion works-in-progress half cut in the closet and no one gets to wear them…

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