Hand sew a vintage inspired skirt

Not sure if you like sewing yet? Haven’t got a machine? No problem. Here’s an easy, beginner friendly tutorial for the seamstress on the fence.

Humans. They have been making clothing for a while. National Geographic tells me this is the oldest woven garment we know of still in existence. It’s 5000 years old. The sewing machine, on the other hand, started it’s commercial journey somewhere in the middle of the XIX century . Humans have been hand sewing clothes for most of history, even if somehow today is seems ludicrous to spend 3 hours hemming a skirt. Regardless I can promise you if humanity somewhow managed to do this by hand, you can sew this skirt. So let’s start.

Materials you’ll need:

  • Fabric: the amount will depend on how long you want your skirt to be. I used 2m of 1.5m wide fabric. My skirt is ~70cm long.
  • Buttons: I used 6, but again it depends on the length of your skirt.
  • Thread that matches your fabric.
  • Scissors. Sharp ones.
  • Hand sewing needles.
  • A pencil/chalk.
  • Some patience from your hand sewing ancestors and the iron that you tucked away.

I made two skirts this way when I was first starting to sew. The first was supposed to be a mock-up but I ended up liking it way too much not to turn into an actual skirt. I used medium-weight cotton for that and light-weight linen for the second. This should however work with any woven fabric (i.e. no stretch) although I would not recommend polyester.

Step 1 Figure out what a half circle skirt is and how to sew it

There are several guides online for circle and half circle skirts. I used this one and followed the half-circle skirt instructions. What this means is that you will be cutting a big circle all at once that will go around your waist in one piece (as opposed to skirts who are made out of several panels).

When it comes to stiches, Bernadette Banner has a really useful video about all the different ones you will need. If you never sewed before, start by practicing this and understand the differences.

Step 2 Wash your fabric.

Fabric shrinks the first time it is washed and you don’t want it to shrink after you spent 3 hours hemming your skirt. Wash it now and let it air dry if possible.

Step 3 Lay and press your fabric

For this you want to find the biggest flat surface available to you. Lay your fabric folded in half.

Now, there are several ways to make sure your fabric is folded correctly in half and following the grain etc, but if you’re just starting don’t worry too much about this. Lay the fabric in half and press it with an iron until it is smooth and nice. Definitely do not use books as weights to press your fabric because you’re too lazy. It doesn’t work, I tried.

not even all this knowledge can keep linen from wrinkling

Step 4 Trace it

Depending on the colour of your fabric you need a pencil or some chalk to do this. First measure your waist and add 5 cm to the measure  (you will need a skirt bigger than your waist for the button closures). Follow the half-circle skirt guide and first trace the small half-circle at the top corner near the fold. To measure it put the end of your tape at the corner of the fabric and slowly rotate it from that fixed end.

After you trace the small circle, trace the big one. This will be your hem. Here is where you decide how long your skirt will be. If you have a skirt whose length you enjoy measure it and add about 3cm for the hem. Remember the skirt will start at your waist. My skirt is ~70cm and I am 1,60m short.

Step 5 Cut it

Take a deep breath. This is it. No going back. Your heart is pumping, your blood is… ok, get the sharpest scissors you have and cut the fabric around the markings. You should cut both layers of fabric at the same time.

Baste the waist edge (big running stitches). This will help the fabric not to stretch as much when you hold it.

Step 7 Figure out the overlap

VERY gently, put the skirt around your waist. It should overlap at the front. This part is a bit tricky, but you need to measure how much you need to fold the fabric on each side while still having one side of the skirt overlap the other so you can close it with buttons. The reason you want to fold the fabric on each side is so that it is more resistant to the pull of the buttons.

inside of the skirt

Do NOT hold your skirt by the waist longer than absolutely necessary (try to carry the fabric without holding only there). Your skirt is cut on the bias and will stretch awkwardly when held like this, especially if it’s long and heavy.

Step 8 Fold the front panels

Here you will need to prepare the closing. Fold the extra fabric on each side (the size you need will depend on the size of the buttons as well as the amount of fabric you added to your waist measurement) and press. When you fold the fabric it will naturally want to sit like on the picture, smaller at the top and larger at the bottom.

Cut the flaps into a straight line then fold 1cm under and stitch it in place with a fell stitch. You want this to be as invisible from the outside as possible, so try to take only one thread at a time from the outer side. Put a podcast on and take your time.

Step 9 – The waistband*

You will need to cut a big rectangle for your waistband. So measure how long the waist is in your skirt and add another 3cm for the seam allowance. Then cut a rectangle with those measures and 11 cm wide (3cm will be seam allowance too).

To make the waistband, fold 1,5cm of fabric the length of the rectangle on each side and press it. Then press the waistband in half length wise. Open it, as well as the 1,5cm seam allowance and sew it to the outside of the skirt with normal back running stitch along the fold line.

The ends of the waistband can be a bit tricky to finish. You can close them with a fell stitch but personally I prefer to fold the waistband onto itself, stitch the ends by the seam allowance, cut the excess, and then turn it around the skirt. This is the hardest instruction to get so after you should be fine.

sew the ends together
cut the excess
turn the waistband around

After turning the waist band, attach it to the inside of the skirt with small fell stitches, as hidden as possible. Remove the basting stitches.

*An important point about this waistband is that I didn’t use interfacing and now regret it. Consider adding some to have a more sturdy waistband.

Step 10 – Button holes.

Listen, this part won’t be fun. You’ll need a lot of patience to sew all of these button holes by hand.

Decide at what distance you want to have your buttons and how many you need. I used 6 buttons, 11cm apart, except for the first two.

I advise you to experiment on a piece of scrap fabric to know how big the button holes need to be to pass your buttons comfortably through them. After, mark the button holes onto the skirt and when you’re happy, cut them. Yes it’s scary. Be careful not to cut them longer than you need.

Once again, Bernadette Banner can explain to you how to finish button holes better than I ever could. Put whatever series you’re binging on on and go to button hole town.

When this is done, attach the buttons to the other side of the skirt. If you don’t know how to sew a button, call your mom to ask.

Step 11 – Almost there !

Alright friend, you have trudged along valiantly and the struggle is almost over. All you have to do now is hem. Before you do this, let your skirt hang for a while (1-2 days) so that is can stretch. Since the skirt is not cut on the grain, some parts will stretch more than others. After this, measure the distance from waistband to hem and try to cut it even. If you can’t seem to figure this part out, don’t worry too much. The lengthier the skirt, the less this is visible.

When you’re ready, fold the hem 1,5cm twice, press and pin if needed. Then fell stitch the hem. This will take a few hours. To help with this, just keep imagining yourself wearing the skirt on your next holidays.

You did it !

Alright, you beautiful person, you made your ancestors proud and finished the thing. Press it one last time and go make everyone in your life jealous.

Other links you might find useful :

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