Saturday, 3 July 2010

Make a Jeans Skirt

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
The heat of summer has finally arrived. I needed a casual alternative to pants, a bit more appropriate than shorts, to wear. Making a denim skirt is an easy afternoon project. I've been turning old blue jeans into skirts for decades, a fashion that never seems to go out of style. It's easy enough for a beginning sewer too, involving only a bit of cutting, pinning, and straight, flat sewing.

Start with a pair of blue jeans that fit your waist and/or hips. Making a skirt is a great refashion for a pair of pants where the inseam is beginning to wear or fray. The cut-off legs are what make the gores of the skirt, and have to be long enough to reach from skirt hem to within an inch or two of both the bottom of the zipper fly and the back yoke of the pants to look best. A jeans skirt, therefore, can't be much longer than knee length, unless you want to piece together two pairs to make one skirt.

Either mark where you want the hem while wearing the pants, or better, with the pants lying flat, flip the legs up to the bottom of the back yoke and cut across where the fold is. I used an old pair of my husband's pants, now too small for him in the waist. He'd ripped a hole in the knee, but since he wears a 36" inseam I knew I could cut away that ripped bit and still have enough length left.

Laying the pants flat, cut away the inseam just inside the stitching and discard.

Cut the seams and hems from the pant legs. When finished, you should have four long rectangular pieces. Pressing them flat will make it easier to put the skirt together.

Match the side seams of the pants together and lay it out flat, front to one side, back to the other. Pull the curved crotch out front and back, smoothing everything so it all lies flat and equal. Cut the curved crotch away, making a straight cut from bottom hem to an inch or two from the bottom of the fly. Do the same on the back, making a straight cut from back hem to a couple of inches below the yoke. Use the leg pieces as a rough measure, since they will be filling in the area you're cutting away, to make sure they'll reach from hem to the top of your cut, especially in the back. After the photo above, I ended up making the back cut reach up even higher, after laying out the pant leg to make sure I'd have enough.

Rip the seam, front and back, another inch beyond where you've cut. Then press about 1/2 inch of the cut edges to the inside, overlapping one side of the ripped part of the seam over the other on the outside. Laying the skirt down flat, position one rectangular leg piece underneath, smoothing it flat, and pin into place.

On this skirt, I used golden thread that would match the top-stitching of the blue jeans. Top-stitch the front gore into place. I turn the skirt inside-out, to make sure I won't catch any other part of the skirt in my stitching. Then, making sure the leg part lies smooth and flat on the bottom, I stitch right next to the pressed edge from hem up to the top, across the top of the gore, and then down next to the edge on the other side. To match the jeans stitching, I top-stitched another row of stitching 1/4" from the first row on all pieces, and went back and forth at the top of each gore for extra reinforcement.

Trim away the excess pant leg material from the inside of the skirt. Do the same for a gore on the back of the skirt: rip the seam another inch (I think it looks best when the gore reaches all the way to the bottom point of the back yoke, if you have enough pant leg material to reach that far), press the cut edges to the inside, lay flat to get pant leg into position, pin, top-stitch, and then cut away the excess inside. The photo above shows a closeup of the reinforcing cross-stitching at the top of the gore.

If you want a straight skirt, you can proceed from here to finishing the hem. But I wanted more of an A-line skirt, so using the remaining two leg pieces I added gores to the side seams as well. Instead of cutting the side seams away, I just ripped them open up to where the front pocket was attached inside. After picking away torn bits of thread, I pressed both edges to the inside, laid the skirt flat, positioned, pinned, and top-stitched a gore into each side. To make sure I wouldn't catch any part of the front pocket in my stitching, I pulled each one up and inside-out the top before sewing. To make a nice point or corners at the top of the gores, leaving your needle down in the material, lift up the presser foot, and spin the material around the needle. Put the presser foot back down to stitch in the new direction. Stitching backwards and then forwards at the very top makes a nice bit of reinforcement over the seam. Cut away the excess bits inside.

Try the skirt on to decide where you want the hem. Lay the skirt out flat, front to one side, back to the other. Trim away the uneven bottom edges, making a nice, slightly curved, bottom edge. If you want a finished hem, leave an extra inch, press to the inside and top-stitch down all around.

For this skirt, I want the bottom edge to fray naturally. After trimming to the length I wanted, I made little bar tacks, stitching forwards then backwards, about half an inch from the bottom of each seam to keep them from ripping upwards. After a couple of times through the wash, and some thread-picking, I'll have a nice soft fringe along the bottom edge.

This is just a basic skirt. But jeans skirts make great bases for customization too. Add a cotton ruffle (or three), or maybe practice your embroidery stitches. Ready to start sewing?

Edit added later: Since my sister, Annodear, asked for a photo of the finished skirt - here ya go, such as it is. My only full-length mirror is old and spotty, and having to use a flash doesn't make it any easier. This pose, you can see both the front and a side gore.