Woven Skirt with a Handspun Twist
I am a new weaver, so my goal is not to wow you with my weaving skills, but to show you how even a beginner can whip up something that looks far more complicated than it is.
This past year,L I had the good fortune to work at Schacht Spindle Company, and with two large conferences to attend in the summer, it seemed to me that we ought to be wearing our weaving...and so, the "Schacht-Girl Skirt Project" was born.
I’ll skip the gory details about how it came down to the wire. After a few last–minute pinning sessions in Jane’s office-turned-fitting-room, Jane, Stephanie, and I had handwoven skirts to wear to the conference, each as different as their weaver.
Being the least experienced weaver of the three, I wanted to share my project with other new weavers looking to branch out beyond the basics.
This skirt was created using four plain-weave panels which were stitched together to form four quadrants, with the warp running from waistline to hem.
When I was planning this project I considered the weaving width of my Baby Wolf loom (26 inches), then thought about take-up, shrinkage, seam allowances, and my height.
I realized that if I used the width of the material as the length of my skirt, it would have been short enough to raise a few eyebrows.
- A loom that can weave plain weave. (To sew a four-panel skirt like the one in this article, the loom needs to have a weaving width at least as wide as 1/4 of your widest hip measurement, factoring in seam allowances and draw-in. Of course, since you will be creating your own pattern, you can always add or subtract panels, and adjust the warp length accordingly.)
- Sewing machine
Cottolin (3172 yds/lb) in Natural, 340 ends, wound five yards long.
I used the Cottolin for most of the fabric, and incorporated handspun as an accent border near the hem region of each panel.
The handspun yarn was a singles yarn, 11 wraps per inch, "Z" twist, spun worsted thick-and-thin. It was spun from a hand-dyed 70% merino/30% mohair roving in colorway Verdant from the Hello Yarn Fiber Club.
- Seven-inch zipper
- Cotton sewing thread
- 1-1/2 yards of cotton material for lining
20 ends per inch
Dimensions and Shrinkage
17 inches wide in the reed
15-percent shrinkage in length after wet-finishing.
When I started weaving, I received excellent advice from Jane Patrick: "Sample, sample, sample."
If you are creating fabric to sew with, you shouldn’t skip this important step. The weight, density, and handle of your fabric will affect the construction and look-and-feel of the finished garment. By sampling, not only will you know whether you like the finished cloth before you commit yourself to yards and yards of weaving, you can also wet-finish the sample and calculate shrinkage. Otherwise, you might find yourself six inches short of the fabric you need for your skirt.
When I wove my sample, I sleyed half the warp at 15 epi and the other half at 20 epi as a side-by-side comparision to determine which sett I preferred for my fabric.
Creating the Pattern
If you’d prefer not to make your own skirt pattern, there is a book called Sew U: The Built by Wendy Guide to Making Your Own Wardrobe by Wendy Mullin with Eviana Hartman that includes a simple A-line skirt pattern and excellent beginning sewing instructions.
To determine how much fabric you will need to weave, you first need to purchase or create your skirt pattern. Creating a pattern is much easier than you might think. The easiest way is to take your favorite ready-to-wear skirt out of your closet and copy it (the simpler the design the better if you are new to sewing).
Lay the skirt out flat so that the front is facing you. Take measurements to confirm the width and length in various places along all edges. Next, add a seam allowance to your measurements. You can use a 1/2-inch seam allowance along selvedge edges you don’t plan to cut, and a 1-inch seam allowance along any edge that will be cut. The extra seam allowance along the cut edges allows you to double-fold this edge so that the edge is enclosed within the seam to prevent fraying.
As you are measuring, begin to sketch your pattern out onto a wide sheet of paper. Be sure to note any design elements such as darts. Use a pencil so you can erase and redraw your lines as you refine the pattern.
Create a second sketch by repeating this step with the back, making sure to note any variations such as dart or zipper placement. You should now have front and back pattern pieces. If you are new to sewing, you can simplify the waist construction or eliminate optional extras like pockets to make the pattern easier to sew.
Regardless of whether you are using a commercial pattern, hand-drafting a custom design, or copying a skirt from your closet, you need to check that your pattern fits and looks good on you before you begin.
The best way to test a pattern is to sew up a sample garment in a cheap commercial fabric that duplicates, as closely as possible, the thickness of the sample of your handwoven fabric.
A quicker option is to test the pattern's fit by cutting out and sewing up the skirt's liner. Pin the liner pieces together in a few strategic places and try it on. You can make alterations on the fly if something doesn’t seem right. Lining material is generally inexpensive, and I’d rather make my mistakes with that than my precious handwoven fabric with handspun accents.
You should now have a good idea of how much material you will need. My warp was five yards long, 17 inches wide and 20 ends per inch. My plan was to weave a panel, create a separation, weave another panel and repeat until I'd woven four panels of equal length.
Here it got tricky: I wanted a band of handspun to accent the bottom edge of my skirt. If my fabric is woven in one continuous length, how would I get all those bands of handspun to line up precisely?
Thing I love about weaving is that it can be whatever you want it to be. Rather than stress myself out trying to make each quadrant perfect, I decided to use my handspun to make each quadrant different. This eliminated the headaches and added a unique twist to my project.
I measured out a length of yarn to serve as a measurement guide for weaving each panel and pinned this high-tech "length-o-meter" to the header of my weaving. The length of this guide was the finished length of my skirt, plus 15 percent to account for shrinkage (calculated by measuring a sample of the fabric before and after washing) and an additional 2-inch seam allowance.
Keeping a close watch on my length-o-meter, I wove the majority of my first panel of fabric using the same natural-colored Cottolin I used for my warp. When I was about seven inches from the end of the first panel I began to throw in a pick here and a pick there of my handspun. The goal was to gradually incorporate the handspun rather than abruptly make the change in weft material. After several picks, I transitioned to an all-handspun weft until I reached the end of the first panel.
At this point I inserted a spare lease stick into the warp to create a separation between panels, and began to weave the second panel. I continued in this manner until all four panels were woven.
After removing the handwoven fabric from my loom, I protected the end wefts of my panels from unraveling by using my sewing machine to sew a zig-zag stitch along the fell line of each panel. Then I hand washed, air-dried, and pressed my fabric before cutting the panels apart.
Note: Make sure you wash your fabric—in the manner you intend to wash the finished garment—before you cut out and sew your skirt together. Otherwise, after the first wash, you might have a skirt one or two sizes smaller than you intended.
My skirt pattern called for one solid piece for the front and two separate pieces for the back (so you can insert the zipper). I spread my panels out side-by-side and selected two pieces for the front. I stitched these together to make a piece of fabric wide enough to cut out the front of the skirt.
Before cutting into my handwoven material, I cut the pieces for the liner of my skirt. Once loosely pinned together I was able to try on my "skirt" to see if any alterations were required. From here, I pinned the pattern to the handwoven material and prepared to cut.
Measure twice, cut once.
If you have never cut into your handwoven material before, that first cut can be disconcerting, even emotionally painful, as the scissor blades head towards the threads you so carefully wove together. Take a deep breath and cut. You can do it. Life is about more than just rectangles and squares.
Note: I saved all of my handwoven scraps with the idea of one day creating a crazy quilt.
When my pieces were cut out, I zig-zag stitched along each freshly-cut edge to prevent fraying. I then stitched the left and right side seams of my skirt together, repeating the same process for the liner.
I press my seams as I am sewing. You’ll have to do it eventually, and I find that it helps keep the process organized.
Then I stitched up the back seam of the skirt and liner, up to the base of where the zipper would be inserted.
I pinned the top of the skirt to the top of the liner and sewed these together. Be sure that when you are sewing these pieces together that you have the public sides facing each other and the private sides facing out. You want your seam to be enclosed between the skirt and liner.
At this point you should have an unfinished bottom edge on both your skirt and your liner, as well as an unfinished area at the seam where your zipper will be inserted.
When inserting a zipper, I first pin it into place and then hand stitch around the edge with large, easy-to-remove stitches to secure it exactly where I want it prior to machine sewing it into place.
The final step is to hem the bottom edge of your skirt. I encourage you to have a friend help with this process. Put the skirt on and check that the front and the back of your skirt hang evenly. Have your friend pin the edge. Carefully remove yourself from the skirt (you are welcome to do this step without your friend), and immediately press the edge into place before sewing. Keeping a straight stitch along the hem can be challenging, which is why your choice of thread is important. Color match your thread to your material. Most people won’t be looking closely enough to see if you were sewing perfectly straight seams. Plus, this isn’t about being perfect. It’s about having fun and making something unique.
This project, with all its design choices: pattern, color, yarns, sett, etc., can be woven in nearly endless variations, each one unique and reflecting the personality of the weaver.
Jane wove her fabric using many different colors and textures and used the width of the loom as the length of her skirt.
Stephanie, facing the same skirt-length issues I had, and wanting to avoid cutting her material as much as possible, sewed an additional panel of fabric along one selvedge edge to create extra length and added a fun waistband which she secured in place using hooks and eyes—no zipper required.
According to a friend, Melissa was born a weaver. It just took her 35 years to figure it out. Formerly the Sales and Marketing Director at Schacht Spindle Company, she is currently freelancing. She is a weaver, spinner, gardener, cook and avid bike commuter. Melissa lives in Massachusetts with her fiancé Kevin, their two cats Stinker and Izzy and their English angora rabbit, Kickapoo. She blogs at Melentine.