I’m pleased to report that the Passport dress was a success: I wore it to the wedding as planned, and I had compliments from strangers who, unlike my friends, were not obliged to be polite about my efforts with the needle. Buoyed up by this initial accomplishment, I turned to two skirt kits which had been sitting in my stash until I built up the confidence to tackle them. I’m very glad I did: both turned out to be wearable, pretty, and a good opportunity to practise my new-found sewing skills.
The first kit I tackled was the Big Birdie skirt, designed by Jane Foster for Clothkits. Like many children of the late 70s, I spent my early years clad in a variety of Clothkits pinafore dresses (with co-ordinating jumpers and tights, naturally). Though my memories are hazy, the photographs testify to the fact that those were some awfully cute prints, and I’ve always had a warm feeling towards Clothkits as a result. When I found the skirt kits for sale in Cardiff, I couldn’t resist getting in touch with a piece of my past.
At first, I thought that £39 was rather expensive for a sew-it-yourself skirt. However, if you bear in mind that this includes the outer fabric, lining, notions and pattern, it all looks an awful lot more reasonable: being far away from the fabled Jo-Ann’s sales of the US, I’m used to shelling out anywhere between £5 and £8 for a pattern, and fine wale corduroy would set you back at least the same amount per metre, if not more. Add in the gorgeous design, and it all starts to look rather bargainous. As with all Clothkits designs, the pattern is printed directly onto the fabric, which makes for a very straightforward sewing experience. The instructions are very straightforward, offering alternatives for the absolute beginner and the more experienced seamstress.*
One note, though: the instructions suggest leaving the facings off if you aren’t confident of your ability to apply them, but I would urge you to persevere. Not only will the waistband sit better, you won’t have to miss out on the gratuitous loveliness of the facing design. I mean, look at it! Those cute flowers are there for your eyes and for your delectation only, you know! Doesn’t it tickle you to know that they’re there? It is a bit fiddly to pin the curves of the fabric together, but if I can get there, anybody else can.
The end product looks lovely, and is very comfortable. The only criticism I would make (and a large part of it is down to my own carelessness) is that, while the pattern has a range of sizes printed on it, it isn’t clear whether these are high-street clothing sizes or pattern sizes, and to what actual measurements they correspond. I fell foul of this, cutting out my “pattern” size, and ending up with a skirt which was substantially too large. In fairness to Clothkits, they did encourage you to pin and try on the skirt before sewing, and I, hubristically, did not do this, but a table of sizes with corresponding measurements in inches and centimetres would be a nice addition to the instructions. It’s not the end of the world: I took the side seams in by half an inch on each side, and the fit is now much better. The skirt still sits pretty low on my hips, but it’s a much more wearable length. Below, you can see it as it was (left) and with me gathering in a couple of inches of spare fabric prior to making the alterations (right):
The length is better and the legs definitely look less stumpy in the right-hand picture, don’t they? I’m afraid I was too lazy to take a new photo post-alteration, but the skirt now looks almost exactly like the second picture, the only difference being that the hemline is now even, as I’m not holding a handful of scrunched-up corduroy behind my back.
I loved making the skirt, and I’m very pleased with the end result. If I were to make this or another Clothkits design in the future, I’d definitely measure more carefully and aim for my high-street size rather than my pattern size. However, I’m undaunted by a little hiccup this time around: I’m certainly going to keep haunting the website and suggesting kits to Stephen as possible Christmas presents. I’m awfully tempted by the Rob Ryan and the cassette tape designs…
The second kit I put together was Nancy Kers’s box-pleated dandelion print skirt, which I spotted when it won Spoonflower‘s Fabric of the Week contest a while ago. Nancy is a freelance illustrator based in the Netherlands; she has designed a wide range of fabric prints available through Spoonflower, which are well worth looking at. There are several fun but not over-cute prints which would be ideal for garments for small boys, and, as a knittter, I’m particularly fond of the Incredible Super Sheep toy pattern. The dandelion skirt is a really lovely design: I was also extremely tempted by the poppy and gerbera versions, but these weren’t available to buy when I placed my order. Next time, next time…
I have to say I was glad to be making this after having put a couple of other garments together: Nancy’s English is great (certainly a heck of a lot better than my Dutch), but there isn’t much space left on the fabric for the instructions after the pattern pieces have been printed, which means the directions are, of necessity, a little perfunctory. It’s also a rather more complicated construction than the Clothkits skirt, involving as it does darts, pleats, patch pockets, and binding to finish the waist.
I changed a few details: I left off the ribbon belt, as my stomach really doesn’t need any more attention drawing to it. I also bound the waistband with contrasting bias binding instead of the printed binding in the kit, and bound the edges of the patch pockets with the same stuff. I used an invisible zip instead of a the regular one suggested; I also top-stitched the box pleat in addition to pressing it, and finished the top of it according to the directions in my sewing manual. This was a bit of an elaboration of the instructions, but it seemed to work well, and the pleat is staying put. As with the Big Birdie skirt, I’d love to make another of Nancy’s designs up, but I think I’d add a lining next time: without it, the skirt is definitely summer wear only, as the fabric is on the thin side, and it tends to cling to leggings or tights if you try to layer it.
I’m not in the business of writing reviews, but I have to say that I’d highly recommend both of these kits. Where else could you get such lovely results for so little effort?
*Or seamster, of course: there are no gender-based restrictions in my sewing room.