SWAP 2016 0.23 Biki of Milan skirt in Iris chiffon silk


This is a post about a 1960 designer skirt; it updates my 2016 Sewing with a Plan. But, for those into tips and techniques it tells you how to make a garment with

a) insufficient fabric

b) the wrong fabric for the job

In short I didn’t have enough of the wrong type of fabric, but like a driven person with a plan, I made the skirt anyway.

My Fabric

You will appreciate, looking at the drawing on the left,  and thinking about the welt pockets, bound buttonholes and the general design of this skirt, that the ideal fabric would be a medium weight wool. However I love the fabric on the right; a lightweight, translucent, silk chiffon. Delicate, billowy, drapey.

I found it in the remnant bin for £5, and I felt the colours will combine well with my sweet pea SWAP. The piece is rather small; on one side it measures 1,4m, but it also features a square hole (for a sample, no doubt).  As usual I didn’t really take much notice of the amount of fabric (2.5 yards) listed on the pattern envelope, but when I laid out the pattern pieces I knew I was in trouble.

I could have changed my Sewing with a Plan, maybe I should have, but at this stage I am too tired. Introducing a new fabric, or pattern is wrought with difficulty as it would have to work with the garments I have completed.  I haven’t got the time or energy to plan it out, or to go and buy a new pattern or fabric. With a degree of irritation at my own inability to plan properly, I decided to plough on.

So this is a tale of pigheadedness – a determination to dominate the raw materials and get a good result regardless. I like the pattern and I like the fabric. Who cares that the fabric is not only  too scant, it is also entirely unsuitable for the project?

My pattern

I bought this Spadea NS – 249 Biki of Milan pattern because I favour classic styles with a twist. This wrap around, flared skirt fastens with large buttons at the front, and has nice pockets, and a contrasting bow waistband. The pattern includes a left front and back, a right front and back and a CB piece.

How to cope when you do not have enough fabric for the job

  1. Alter the pattern to reduce its size
    • The easiest alteration to make is to reduce the length of your garment so it takes up less space. Start by shortening your pattern to your actual height or arm length. It may be that this saves enough fabric. You might then consider shorter – going from a knee length skirt to a mini, or a long sleeved blouse to something shorter, or leaving out the sleeves altogether. You can often reduce the depth of the hems, or use a facing instead.
    • Secondly consider the width of the pattern pieces, for example creating a slimmer sleeve or trouser leg for example.  In this case I considered taking out much of the flare from the CB piece to make it fit (but rejected this option). You may be able to reduce ease.
  2.  See if any pieces can be “grown on” to others, or cut on a fold – this eliminates the seams. I considered joining half of my CB piece to each of the side seams, creating a dart at the waist instead of a seam (but rejected it in order to get the straight grain down the CB so the skirt would hang better).
  3. Change the layout
    • I invariably do this anyway as few layouts are as economical as they could be.
    • Next consider if you can cut top to tail – some fabrics are tolerant of this, others less so. Flared skirts cut on a fabric with a nap or pattern direction (like this fabric) have all the width cut at the bottom end of the design, reducing this option
    • Consider if you can cut any parts off grain. I generally do this with facings. Often it is fine to use the crossways grain rather than the selvedge grain if you are sensible. Sometimes you can get a bias piece out better than a straight one and this can work better on collars and waistbands.
  4. Piece the fabric
    • For this project this was my prefered option. At first I thought I would be able to cut the CB (cut on fold) piece in two separate pieces and seam them at the CB. Unfortunately due to the flare this was not possible. The solution I achieved was to cut the CB skirt piece on the fold, but without sufficient width at the base. I then cut out two additional triangles to fill the space and joined them. I was only able to achieve one pattern match. The other I chose a piece with as much background as possible.
      Patching in a piece of patterned fabric
      Careful piecing
  5. Use contrasting pieces
    • This can be a great solution if your pattern lends itself to using a contrast panel, say across the midriff of a dress, or a colour blocked skirt. However you really need the same fabric in a different colour rather than something very different.
  6. Most of these solutions are a compromise and less than perfect.

How to cope when your fabric is too lightweight

  1. If the fabric is too light then underline it – I used black silk organza
  2. consider altering the design to make it more appropriate for the fabric eg eliminate the welt pockets and use machined rather than bound buttonholes (I will persevre)
  3. Choose interfacing that is suitable for the combined weight. In some circumstances you can use an iron on interfacing on all garment pieces to give the fabric more weight
  4. Line the garment

How to cope when the fabric is too heavy for the job

  1. Modify the design to reduce fullness and bulk, eg replace gathering, tucks and pleats with darts,
  2. Consider binding the edges, or line with lightweight fabric to eliminate turnings and facings. I have often used a lighter fabric to face the waist band, hem, pockets and facings.
  3. Consider altering the fastening method eg use a pin, clips, zips or ties rather than button holes in a jacket, say.
  4. Be rigorous with your trimming

I will finish the skirt this week and show it to you next Saturday.





13 Responses

  1. jay

    I would totally have struggled all day to use that beautiful fabric. Now I want to see it made up! (a brilliant piece of pattern matching btw)

  2. Ruth

    “Not enough of the wrong type of fabric”! Brilliant – Sounds like a lot of my sewing attempts and I so admire your pigheadedness and determination – you sew!!

  3. Anne Frances

    It is going to be lovely. I recently struggled to get a jacket out of a too-small piece of fabric. I
    1. chose a v neck design without collar
    2. eliminated sleeve vents
    3. eliminated facings – lined the jacket edge to edge
    4 eliminated overlaps – fastened the jacket edge to edge with hooks and eyes
    5 added a yoke with a centre back seam at the back – there was not enough length to cut full length shoulder princess pieces, but a yoke plus shorter pieces fitted
    6 cut the two main centre back panels on the cross grain. I hesitated about this but it’s an even weave wool and you really can’t tell.
    I was very doubtful but it really has worked and I have already worn the result several times. The problem arose because I wanted trousers out of the same piece. For them I
    1 used in-seam pockets made in a different fabric
    2. pieced the waist band and faced it with a different fabric
    3. faced the hems with different fabric
    4. (but this I very often have to do) pieced fabric in at the top of the inseam to provide enough for the back crotch point.
    5 had to do a seamed (sewn on) fly fastening, not the cut-on fly I usually use.
    Result – a trouser suit out of a definitely too small piece, all cut on grain and – apart from the jacket centre back, with nap. No left over scrap bigger than about 3 cm x 10 cm.

    The fabric was a cheap but high quality remnant with “pura lana Kashmir” woven into the selvage, so the struggles were definitely worth it, as will be yours with that gorgeous chiffon. Looking forward to seeing how it comes out.

  4. Stephanie

    This is so funny, Kate, bit I think the skirt will be lovely. Rather than cope with too little fabric I am usually trying to stuff the square peg that is me into a round hole, so I understand your pigheadedness. My only big sewing decision at the moment is whether to underline a too-thin linen.

  5. helen

    Great post, I often find myself short on fabric, I always underestimate how much fabric there is in a flared skirt. Looking forward to the final garment.

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