Sunday, October 21, 2012

From a Jumper (UK Pinafore?) to a Skirt

This is my first sewing tutorial. Please let me know what you think (be gentle!) and especially if you find it useful.

Because evidently blogging about garment sewing adventures means suspending all pride in order to help readers understand what you are doing and why... here's a photo of me in the jumper. We'll call this BEFORE.
Some time ago, I bought this jumper from QVC -- I liked the pintucks in the hem area and totally forgot that all of the models are about 6 feet tall and I am not -- and when tried it on at home, of course it was several inches too long. I could have just shortened it, but then I would have lost the one feature about it that I liked: the hem treatment!

So I put it in the closet. I recently decided to transform this into an elastic-waist skirt that retains the original hemline. I am using the finished curved neckline as the opening part of pockets that I am adding to the skirt.

An even hemline is one that is the same distance from the floor all the way around, when wearing the shoes that will be worn with that garment. Hemlines on skirts or dresses on some women are uneven. Here are a few reasons:
  • I might have more or less (ahem) "soft tissue" in certain areas (tummy, high hip, bottom) than the designer or pattern maker allowed for.
  • My waist might be tilted; that is, it might be lower in the front than in the back or it might be higher in front than in the back. Or one side and the other.
  • My posture might be different from the ideal, and it could be different front to back and/or side to side.
Because some of these apply to me, I have learned to keep the existing hem in the garment or pattern and make the adjustment at my own real waist. This makes the garment look a little funny on a hanger BUT when I wear it, the hemline is even all around.

For this remake, I used the following:

A skirt that is too long (a jumper, actually)
A yardstick and a thick rubber band
Elastic (1-inch wide) that I sewed into a loop so that it is snug around my waist (a piece of elastic a few inches shorter than your waistline and a safety pin to hold it in place would work just as well)
Shoes that I would wear with the skirt
A mirror that's either long enough or angled enough that you can view your waist down to the floor
A sliver of soap for marking the fabric
Usual sewing supplies (machine, thread, etc., and 3/4-inch wide elastic)

Note: See photos at end of lists.

Part 1: Establish the actual waistline:

  1. Decide on the finished length from the floor, wearing the appropriate shoes and the too-long skirt. Pull the elastic loop on over the skirt (or length of elastic around your waist and pin it so that it's snug). Fiddle with the elastic until it is at your own waistline all the way around. 
  2. Distribute the skirt fabric evenly around, paying careful attention to making sure that the skirt's side seams are at your side seams. 
  3. Pull the skirt fabric up and down above the elastic until you find the length that works for you. Mine is 14 inches from the floor.
  4. Wrap the thick rubber band snugly around the ruler, placing the bottom of the rubber band even with your finished length.
  5. Place the ruler in front of you, with it touching both the floor and the skirt fabric, so that the rubber band mark is at your desired length from the floor. 
  6. Pull the fabric up and down above the elastic, keeping the side seams straight, until the skirt is even all the way around. Photo shows bunched up fabric above elastic.
  7. With your sliver of soap (or other preferred marker; I like to use white slivers of soap because they come right out with steam from my iron), mark the bottom of the elastic all around. Don't worry if you miss a few spots because of fabric folds.
  8. Remove the elastic and the skirt. With the soap sliver, connect any missing portions and even out any irregularities. Do not expect a line that is parallel to the hemline.
Ruler with thick rubber band marker
Determining my waistline for this skirt; see that bunched-up fabric over on the right just above the elastic?
Arrows point to unevenness in front. Upper soap lines are explained in Part 2.
Back is almost even...
Unevenness shows more when looking at it from the side (front is at the right).
At this point, you have a couple of options:
  •  You can add a zipper and darts to the skirt and make a separate waistband and attach it.
  •  You can make a casing and insert the elastic through it. This is what I am doing with this skirt.

Part 2: Prepare to finish the skirt top:

  1. Select the elastic for your skirt. I suggest 3/4-inch to 1-1/2 inch wide elastic. The more uneven your waist, the better to use a narrower elastic. I am using 3/4-inch wide non-roll elastic.
  2. Add a few inches to the top of the marked waist for the casing, which must be enough to go around the elastic twice plus a bit extra. Caution: Math ahead! (but only a little)
    Width of elastic x 2 + thickness of elastic x 2 + extra for finishing the raw edge and also to enable you to work the elastic through the casing. Mine:
    a. Width of elastic: 3/4 inch x 2 = 1-1/2 inches
    b. Thickness of elastic: 1/16 inch x 2 = 1/8 inch
    c. Extra for finishing raw edge = 1/4 inch
    d. Ease in working elastic through casing = 1/4 inch
    e. Total: 2-1/8 inches, rounded up to nearest 1/4 inch = 2-1/4 inches
  3. Mark the skirt 2-1/4 inches (or YOUR calculation result) above the marked waist, and cut all around.

Part 3: Adjustments before finishing the waist:

  1. Try the skirt on again, with the elastic loop over it. In addition to making a few minor adjustments in length, I decided that my skirt was too full, so I resewed the side seams.
  2. I made two patch pockets, using the finished neckline curve for the slip-your-hands-in portion. I planned to sew one raw edge into the side seam. Unfortunately, I forgot that I reshaped the side seams so that they were no longer straight. I set the pockets aside while I continued with the skirt. 
  3. The slit at the bottom of the side seams, which was originally about 10 inches long, was too long after I shortened the skirt. So I reworked the side seams (again), especially the bottom portion of the side seams so that the new slits were a more proportional length, now ending at the top of the pintucks. 
  4. Pockets: I turned under and pressed the raw edges of the pockets. Denim is thick. I took the pockets to the basement (concrete floor) and hammered the corners of the folded pockets to flatten them. I then topstitched each pocket close to the folded raw edges, then steam-pressed them to remove the rippled corners. I then pinned the pockets onto the skirt front parallel to each other and a bit in from the side seams. I stitched them on. 
Arrows point to slip-your-hands-in portion of pockets

Cut in half; center edges will become outside edges.

Arrows point to slip-your-hands-in portion; outer edges are now at edges of photo.

Raw edge folded under and pressed.

When top edge is folded down, the thickness of denim becomes apparent.

Smack, smack.

Thinner, manageable.

Topstitch close to the folded edges.

Ripples (caused by bias)...

...taken care of with steam, heat, and pressure.

Pockets pinned to skirt front

Stitch pockets, again stitching close to the edge.

Part 4: Finish the waist:

  1. Serge (or press under 1/4 inch) the top raw edge. 
  2. Fold over the waist the width of the elastic plus 1/4 to 1/2 inch, and press.
  3. Stitch from the right side, close to the finished edge, leaving an opening approximately 4 inches long for the casing.
  4. Trim the corners of the elastic, attach a safety pin, and insert the elastic through the casing.
  5. Try the skirt on again. Adjust the elastic until it is comfortable. Pin the elastic. Adjust the skirt, making sure that the skirt's side seams are at your side seams. Place clips or pins at the side seams.
  6. Pull the elastic out at least a few inches. Trim the end and stitch the ends of the elastic together. Stitch the opening closed.
  7. To keep the elastic distributed as desired, stitch in the ditch at the side seams. 
Serge the top raw edge.

Serged top edge

Fold over and press. Note the curve (because of my unevenness).

Stitch from the right side.

Elastic and pin.

It doesn't matter (to me) that the thread color doesn't match the elastic color.

Stitch in the ditch to keep elastic distributed as desired.
And we'll call this AFTER. Here I am, wearing the skirt. Getting used to using the timer on the camera. Jumping on and off the platform. No mirror; no time to fix my sweater, posture, etc...
So, in my next jumper-to-skirt project (because yes, indeed, I bought two of these!), I will bring the side seams in even more, and I might eliminate the slits.

I have a couple of questions for you, if you don't mind:
  1. Please give me some styling advice as to what kind of silhouette would be best for me to wear with this skirt. I traded in my actual waistline for menopause some time ago.
  2. What do you think of the length? This is the length that I feel most comfortable with, but I don't know whether it's the most flattering length. The camera is at eye level.
  3. I feel like this tutorial is really really really long, but I am at a loss as to what to omit. Suggestions welcome. Criticisms welcome, too, as long as they are sandwiched in kindness.
Is there a way to insert a photo within a numbered or bulleted list? I offer no prize for guessing how much time I spent looking for that answer!

Do you like the photos centered? Left-aligned? Some other way?

Special thanks to Bunny who suggested PhotoScape as a good photo editing software.

I need a nap! 

Blessings and peace...


  1. This is a fabulous post! Congratulations on your new blog. I like this much better as a skirt than a jumper.

    1. Thanks, Linda, for stopping by and commenting. I wore the skirt all day yesterday, adding an apron when I cooked. (I usually change out of my wear-out-of-the-house clothes the minute I get home, so this was an indication to me of how comfy I felt in it.)

  2. Wow, Sandra, what a great post. You sure made a silk purse out of, well, a silk purse for a taller person. Your denim skirt (remade) is wonderful and suits you perfectly. I enjoyed following along in the process with you.

    I'm wondering for the second jumper that you can just keep the jumper idea and take more tucks to shorten as desired. Do you really need two skirts? Just wondering...

    I hope you enjoyed writing your first sewing tutorial 'blog post as much as I enjoyed reading it.

    1. Haha, silk purse out of a silk purse for a taller person. Thanks for the chuckle. I have already done the "deconstruction" of the black denim jumper, so I'm going to go ahead with it. I wear a lot of skirts, so I won't mind having two that are so similar. Plus, I have a few things I'd do differently, so I am going to go ahead with it. I think my next tutorial will be shorter -- I covered a lot of things in this one, but I did totally enjoy it (not counting the taking photos of myself). Thanks for your lovely comments!

  3. Great tutorial, and I like the skirt better also! VERY clever to use the neckline for the pockets. I've never thought to round off the elastic before feeding it through - genius! Just made a skirt for R today and that could have come in handy. Thanks for sharing your project!

    1. Theresa, thanks so much for appreciating my creativity about the pockets. After I cut off the skirt portion, I stated at the bodice and wondered, What can I do with this? Is there any way I can use the finished neckline? The darts, when unstitched, imposed limitations, but that's how it usually is with creativity. Thanks for leaving such a helpful and complimentary comment.

  4. I do not think that this tutorial is too long; because clearly explaining things does take time and space. I like what you did with the conversion and am particularly taken with your use of the bodice to pocket idea, very creative!

    I find it hard to tell what is the "best length", personally, but have read that one can try moving a skirt through various lengths an inch at a time, and taking pictures, or just looking in the mirror, and there will be some lengths that just look better than others.

    If you like narrower skirts, you might not only take in the other jumper/pinafore more, but make a center back slit to allow for walking ease? Two different silhouettes in denim I would find quite versatile as "wardrobe workhorses" but then I wear a lot of things that coordinate with denim

    1. Alison, thanks for leaving a comment, and one that's so useful. Regarding skirt length, I know that the best length depends on the fullness and drape. I've never tried using the camera. One thing I learned from this tutorial is that my camera "tells it like it sees it" (darn it! Where's that slenderizing feature?) and I will use it to assess the hemline in my next project. I know that I like to be able to sit down and still have the skirt cover my knees, just so that I don't have to think about how I look to someone across from me.

      I seldom wear denim! But I like this skirt and will get a lot of use out of it. Thanks again!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this tutorial. Although I'm not much of a seamstress (more of a mender), I believe that this would be quite useful to one who machine sews and has a real, regular, uneven-in-places, non-model body. Which is pretty much everyone. Favorite caption: "Smack, smack."

    1. Thanks, Emily, for your comment. "Smack, smack." was my favorite caption, too!

  6. Great job on the tutorial. I enjoyed the detail for I learn so much when small items are well discussed. Thanks so much for taking the time to enhance our sewing experiences.

    Karendee on SG

  7. Karen, Thanks for leaving me a comment. I especially appreciate your letting me know that you like the level of detail in the tutorial. I've got a couple of ideas for more tutorials, but first I need to complete the black denim skirt (it will be a lot like this blue one). Thanks again!

  8. I learned something new! I have often wanted to do this, but thought the elastic would shred. Cutting the end into a rounded shape, that is. I will certainly do that from now on.

    Great tutorial. I KNOW how long it takes to do all of that.

    Thanks! Joy

    1. Hi Joy, There's always more to learn about sewing. I think that's one of the reasons I love it! Yes, rounding the edges makes it so much easier to get through the casing. And if it shreds a little, who am I to tell. It will never show. Oh, and I really stitch the ends together; there's no chance of it coming apart.