Monday, May 2, 2011

Working With Knits in Practice II: A-Line Skirt

Welcome back after the weekend! If you've just joined us, this is the third post of the Working With Knits trilogy. In the first installment, I went on and on about knits in general. We followed that up with an actual garment - a tiered skirt with a non-gathered waistband. It attempted to illustrate how knits can streamline an opening that might otherwise have needed to be bunchy. However, because gathers were part of the inherent design of a tiered skirt, the effect was somewhat watered down. In this third part, we'll see this effect more convincingly. 

Today's project is a basic A-Line skirt. It's fitted at the waist through the hip but roomy in the thigh. This is important because we're making it in a knit, and knits can cling. Eep!

I picked french terry because it is a robust knit and very easy to sew. It is thick, non-clingy, doesn't need interfacing and has a nice weight for a skirt. It also has a nice stretch but behaves much like a woven when under the presser foot. This means it can take top-stitching! I used a universal needle (after trying out a ballpoint needle with surprisingly unpleasant results)!

I started out with a basic skirt pattern. This is my fitted A-Line skirt pattern that I've used for all my (woven) skirts. It has darts only in the back. Two important changes were made upfront to convert this to a knit pattern:
  1. There is now no zipper. Therefore the back piece will be cut as a complete piece on the fold.
  2. There are now no darts. Therefore we will tape shut the darts.
Common sense will then tell us that, sans zipper, we will need to make the waist circumference big enough to fit over the hips. Let's go ahead and cut that out then. (Note: My patterns never have in-built seam or hem allowances, so you'll see a narrow border of fabric around the edge of the paper pattern - that's the seam allowance I added to the fabric when I cut it out.) Notice, however, an extra-wide allowance near the top of the pattern where extra ease was included to the waist so it might fit over the hips. How clever we are! (Or are we? We will come back to this later.)

Now, beyond this experiment, I am actually going to wear this skirt, so I added functional pockets.

This being a printed knit, I didn't want to mess up the print by slapping on a patch pocket. So I made unfaced inset pocket and matched the print of the pocket lining to the skirt. The pocket lining was simply top-stitched to the wrong side of the skirt.

Here's the construction sequence:

Slash away the edge of the pockets on the front of the skirt. The piece of fabric is still folded, to indicate symmetry.

Face them with a strip of fabric, right sides together (the fabric is still folded to show just the one side). Sew to attach, flip the facing over to the wrong side of the skirt, and top-stitch it down.

Position the lining behind the pocket opening, pin in place (if you're using crazy-print knit like I am, you might want to line up the print), and sew around the side and bottom edges of the pocket pouch to secure the lining.

This is the back.

Here is the front of the skirt with both pockets sewn in.

That small embellishment completed, The side seams were sewn up and it was time for the first fitting.

Surprise- it was far too loose! This is a knit, so the fabric itself stretched to accommodate the hips. We didn't need all that extra waist-ease after all!

So lay the paper pattern back onto the skirt,

redraw the original side seam

on both sides
and sew the new (er.. I mean, old/original) side seams. Trim away the excess seam allowance. 

Make the waistband - 

it's almost the same width as the waist of the skirt

so that it can be attached with minimal gathers

for a streamlined finish.

Top-stitch on the skirt just below the waistband to secure the seam allowance so it lies flat down.

Fold and hem the bottom of the skirt, and it's done!

No zippers, no darts, no excess ease, no gathers. 
Ignore the sag lines in the pockets - I'd just removed my hands and forgotten to smooth them down.

Here's the back - zipperless and dartless:

It's fitted, but stretchy!

I hope these two projects have given you some courage to dabble in knits. Many, many patterns originally meant for wovens can be adapted just a little to work for knits. Don't be afraid to experiment!


  1. I love that skirt! It has the perfect, flattering fit. I also loved your tutorials on adding pockets. I feel like I might be ready to add some pockets to my next pair of toddler pants. On a side note, where did you find that fabulous patterned knit fabric?

    Thank you for all your fabulous tutorials. Your instructions are so easy to understand and follow. I really appreciate all your hard work.

  2. Love it! I think I am going to make this next - never sewn a skirt not to mention pockets, but you're giving me confidence here! Thanks for sharing...

  3. oh FABULOUS. the print, the instructions, the pockets, everything. I want to make one! Never bought french terry, but I've worn it - now I'm going to see about buying some.

    good to know about the sewing machine needles too.

  4. I need about 20 of those skirts. I am scared but I really want to try it! I don't need pockets, so maybe I will get the courage.

  5. An A-line skirt and it is STUNNING ! Your creation is amazing.the interpretation of a simple A-line is the loveliest I've ever seen. I'm in awe.

  6. Thank you for sharing. I just tried my hand at a knit dress with less than perfect results. It is so good to learn some tips.

  7. I really like it! I'd like to sew more with knits but I find hemming really difficult with the curling and the slipperiness and it being hard to iron a crease in. Is there a trick?

  8. I never thought of reusing a woven pattern by simply closing the darts! I guess that's because terry cloth doesn't have much stretch, right?
    It would be great if you could give some tips on sewing a knit neckline and preventing it from stretching. I read tons but never found a suitable solution.

  9. @jen
    Jen, I don't iron my knit hems. It doesn't do much for them. I mark the hemline, fold by hand and hand-baste in place (if extra slippery). With this french terry, I folded and pinned and used my seam ripper to ease the fabric under the foot. The easing makes a difference, even if you have a walking foot - the upper layer of the folded hem stretches as it goes under the foot, and you get these diagonal shear lines as if the hem was pulled in one direction. Ease the fabric with the point of your seam ripper so that the top layer goes under the foot at the same rate as the bottom layer of the hem. I know this is hard to understand if you've not heard of it before. Sorry about that.

  10. @Sewing Princess
    Closing the darts is the first in many steps to adapting a woven pattern. But with a simple skirt, it is sufficient in itself. In tops/dresses, however, the seams itself (side, back etc) will need to be differently shaped to drape the contours of the body. And every kind of knit behaves differently, so it's hard to, say, make a knit-version of a sloper and use it for all knit patterns thereafter. Each different knit fabric will almost need to have its own sloper and muslin and several fittings if you want it to fit well. Luckily we're not working with bodices and dresses here on this blog!

    The fabric I used is french terry, which is not the same as terry cloth. French terry is smooth on one side like a sweatshirt knit, while terry cloth is more like toweling material with loops etc.

    I haven't actually sewn a knit neckline other than ribbing and a full facing. The former stretches like a Tshirt neckline and the latter does not at all. If you're making a garment whose neckline is large enough for your head to slip through without stretching, you could try facing it the same way you would a woven garment. That always stops stretching.

  11. @Dagny
    Dagny, the fabric was one of those remnant pieces I found accidentally at Mill End Textiles. It was about 7/8 of a yard with a tiny hole in the middle, and it was the last scrap of that print there. Sorry I couldn't give you a more reliable source for my fabrics. It's almost always a "Right Place, Right Time" happy coincidence that I find any fabric in any store.

  12. Hi just found this and not sure if you are still blogging as these dates are a little old but am trying anyway. Was wondering where I could find the aline skirt pattern you mention. Looked both on your free patterns and patterns to purchase but didn't see them. Thanks.

    1. There are no adult patterns on this blog, only those for kids (and, if so, they'll be shared as free tutorials and downloads, never paid patterns). This is because I draft to custom-fit, rather than grade to multi-sizes. If you are interested in drafting your own skirt block, this post might be useful (see below). It is part of a series on drafting for children but the method is exactly the same for women, except with larger dimensions.


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