Monday, January 12, 2015

In Progress: bias cut plaid A-line skirt

I used to own a wool bias plaid skirt, but I lost weight and it no longer fit so I donated it to the Salvation Army.  A few weeks later, I saw a girl wearing my skirt with a tank top and combat boots. Frankly, it looked way better on her than it ever did on me, but I instantly regretted having given it away.

I decided to adapt my Amy Butler Barcelona skirt pattern but I became paralyzed with anxiety about matching the plaid at the seams.  I own two comprehensive sewing books: The Sewing Book by Alison Smith and The Complete Book of Sewing (1943) by Constance Talbot, plus I read several online tutorials, of which my favorite is Ladybird's Matching Plaids Like a Boss, but these focus on matching plaids cut straight on the grain, which is difficult enough.  The bias (diagonal) cut adds a level of complexity that is beyond my feeble skill.

An A-line skirt is one of the easiest things to sew, but as much effort has gone into the execution of this skirt as went into Neuschwanstein Castle, with similar tragicomic results.  I made a practice skirt, out of a set of plaid flannel pillowcases that I bought at the Salvation Army.

Pillowcase skirt--avert your eyes from that hem!

When the real fabric arrived, I spent at least a day just staring at it.  The more I folded and manipulated and studied the fabric, the more I realized I was in over my head.  I considered giving up and cutting it on the straight grain, but then it would have looked like my grammar school uniform, which, no.  I began to make contingency plans for hiding the seams, like carrying a large bag or holding my arms down at my sides at all times in the manner of a toy soldier.  Or I could just never take my coat off.  It's a winter skirt after all.  Finally, I had to just tell myself to calm the fuck down and cut the fabric and be willing to live with the consequences.

The tutorials all caution against cutting plaid fabric on the fold, so I traced my pattern so it could be cut on flat fabric.  I used Jon's carpenter's square to ensure I had the true bias.

Could NOT get it perfect, not matter how much
I micro-manipulated it.

Per Ladybird's tutorial, I then cut one side of the back, flipped it over and manipulated the piece until it was overlaying identically on the fabric, and cut the other half of the back.  It was here that I realized something was horribly wrong.  First of all, I had been unable to determine which was the right side of the fabric so I picked a side to be "right" and committed to it.  But when I flipped the first back piece to cut the second one, I could not get it to match until I flipped the whole piece of fabric over.  It was baffling.  In other words, the only way I could get the plaid to match was to have one half of the back be wrong side out.  Right and wrong appear identical on this fabric, but I have a sinking feeling that the finished skirt will look "off."  Furthermore, this means that the front piece will also be inside out, compared to one of the back pieces.  I bought extra fabric, so I can cut a new front piece, or one new back piece, if necessary.

Incredible as it may seem after my struggles with this skirt, but people used to PAY me to sew smocked dresses for their granddaughters. Now I'm reduced to watching you tube tutorials just to figure out which is the right side of my fabric.  Sewing, apparently, is not like riding a bicycle.

Plaid dress I made for Grace's first day of kindergarten.
Smocking and a dropped yoke means not having to match the plaid.

Stay tuned...


  1. I like the pillowcase skirt! Matching plaid is a bitch. One of my first sewing projects was a matching plaid nightmare - it was a lined bib jumper and as I was doing it in my sewing home ec class, the nun wouldn't let me fudge any of the matches. I haven't bothered to match a print since!
    You have this. It'll turn out fine!

  2. I was just thinking how cute your pink and white skirt was, and how well you'd matched the plaid --and then read it was the practice :-) I wonder, if you can't tell the difference between the two sides of the fabric, maybe no one else will be able to either?

    Good luck --I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product.

  3. I agree with Cassi - I think you can wear the pillowcase skirt out and about. It looks great!

    I used to sew clothes, but it created such anger and angst in me that I eventually gave it up. I realized that I never enjoyed the process and the end result was not satisfactory to me either. If I had tried sewing anything plaid it would have sent me to the loony bin.

  4. OOooh love an A line skirt and love are clever sewing is a skill I have never mastered!!

  5. CUTE! I like it, don't care what you say.