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How Did I Sew a Silk Split Skirt for Dancing ?

Ah, dancing! Where you fling your legs, skirts go flying, and body heat glows. Thankfully, I have saved my older patterns, so was easily able to locate a McCalls pattern 9519 (Found it here on etsy for you; the number has apparently been used for more than one pattern). I used view D, shown in blue, for making some shorts that were gathered and full enough to double as a split skirt. I decided to sew them out of silk that I had purchased at the Taipei fabric market. Then, I would have the benefits of a shorter skirt allowing for liberal leg movement when dancing, but less concern about undesirable exposure. Part of the idea was also that the natural fibers would lead to more evaporation than synthetic fibers do. The silk would be particularly light and flowing.

I purchased this pattern over 25 years ago for $4.50. McCalls number 9519, misses size shorts used as a split skirt.

I purchased this pattern over 25 years ago for $4.50. McCalls number 9519, misses size shorts used as a split skirt.

I wanted to keep the waistline from getting bulky, but thought this silk might not be strong enough to handle extra tension inherent in an elastic waist. Since the pattern used yoke pieces, with another row of gathering at the hips, I was able to reinforce these yoke pieces with little effect on the drape in the lower part of the skirt. The gathering at the hips might not work for some people, but, since I have inherited narrow hips, it works better for me to have gathers there, than at my waist where they make my waist seem huge.

I have made a couple of formal dresses from silk before, like the one in this blog article, but those silks were both a bit more crisp. Blouses from this flowing silk from Taipei turned out nicely, but were labor intensive. The silk wanted to constantly reshape itself, acting like every direction was the bias. I wanted the skirt finished for the following day. Hence, giving into the idea of an elastic waistline, which I usually avoid like the plague.

Here is a list of considerations for sewing with this silk:

  • Cut edges frayed easily
  • I wanted hemlines to stay loose and flowing (not get stiff from too much fabric at that location)
  • It seemed good to reinforce the waistline
  • Any stitching would be very difficult to remove without damaging the fabric

Methods to deal with considerations:

  • I skipped the inset pockets that were originally part of the pattern. This kept the sides more streamlined, reduced stress points in the garment, and made sewing faster.

    The completely silk, lower portion of the split skirt will be smoother without any pockets.

    The completely silk, lower portion of the split skirt will be smoother without any pockets.

  • I constantly checked and double checked how I had pinned pieces together. This saved me trouble when I discovered I had accidentally pinned the lower skirt sections to the yokes at a 90° misalignment. So glad I caught that!

    Sewing the gathers very patiently to the yoke after I have verified proper alignment of pieces.

    Sewing the gathers very patiently to the yoke after I have verified proper alignment of pieces.

  • I placed pins very close together, to hold the silk pieces well, but still needed to constantly be aware of how the edges were lining up while sewing.
  • Zig-zagging the first fold of the very narrow hem, and just inside the seam allowance of the basic seams strengthened seams and kept fraying manageable.
  • Fraying was also kept under control by adjusting the order of the sewing steps so that all raw edges had some stitching on them as soon as possible. For instance, I did that zig-zagging I mentioned on the hem of the legs as soon as the leg openings were sewn enough to not cause problems with future seams, and before I moved on to the waist and yoke finishing details.
  • I made a very narrow rolled hem at the leg openings, probably less than ¼ inch for each roll. (Two rolls so that the raw edge was enclosed).

What I Learned This Time Around:

  • The cotton lining the yoke pieces did make the seams around the hips a bit stiff. I had hoped the skirt would drape down more from the hips. If I were to use cotton lining again I would either need to make sure the skirt was more fitted at the hips or use an even thinner cotton. I could also try to use the cotton only as a strip at the waist line.

    One of the waist yoke pieces with the cotton lining pinned to it.

    One of the waist yoke pieces with the cotton lining pinned to it.

  • Even the narrow hem gave a slight stiffness to the hem. Next time I might try a raw, but serged edge. There is a ruffling foot for my serger sewing machine that I have never used since lessons when I bought the machine. That might be an option, too.

    Sewing a very narrow rolled hem at the leg openings.

    Sewing a very narrow rolled hem at the leg openings.

  • Knits were not one of the suggested fabrics, but I think a light weight knit would work well for this pattern, after making sure the yoke pieces were more fitted to the hips.

    Sewing the elastic casing into the reinforced waistline.

    Sewing the elastic casing into the reinforced waistline.

  • I still do not look best with an elastic waistband, but a more fitted knit top that fell to my hips smoothed things out. I have already received one unexpected compliment on the outfit. I think I have a new summer and/or dance outfit; and good ideas for future ways to make use of my outdated pattern!

Here is a look at the finished product. Pardon our goofing off with modeling positions.

Split skirt sewn from silk: front view

Split skirt sewn from silk: front view

Side view

Side view

  • Rachael Fortner Wheeler

    Very cute! And practical. I love older patterns like this.

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