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Category: how to

how to: add a button extension

And just like that, three weeks have gone by since my last post. June and July have been busy and full of new adventures and distractions, but I certainly didn’t think my blogging routine would fall by the wayside. And I’ve had good intentions, saying things like “coming next week” and “look for the new post in a couple days” but time and other things kept me from sticking to it. All of this to say, my apologies for getting off track. I’m excited to be back with you today, and I have tons of content planned for the rest of the summer. The funniest part about all this is that I have the pictures and ideas ready to go, it’s just a matter of editing and typing it all. Maybe I’ve stumbled into a lazy streak when it comes to computer work?

If you’re wondering about what’s been going on with us this summer, I’ll put some highlights at the end of this post. But first, let’s talk about this darling skirt. I’ve had this out-of-print pattern for ages (McCall’s 5431), and it’s one of those patterns that always gives me pause when I’m digging through my pattern stash. It’s a great little skirt for summer, and I especially love the big patch pockets. For the longest time, I thought the design was missing something, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was. That is, until Emily’s Summer of All the Buttons 2017 mindset kicked in and the lightbulb went off: Buttons! It needs buttons! (And I’m not kidding about my button obsession. I’ve made two new button-up blouses, and I have plans for four shirtdresses. I can’t stop with the buttons.)

My fabric is 100% linen, and I got it from Textile Fabrics in Nashville last month.

In order to have the skirt button up the front, I added a button extension. It’s an easy pattern change to make, and once you know the rules for button placement and spacing, you can apply this concept to just about anything. There’s a few different ways to execute the placket itself (a fold-over facing, a separate placket, etc.), but for this skirt I went with a separate facing piece.

The rules for button placement and spacing are pretty simple, but it all starts with the size of the button. I used 7/8″ buttons for this skirt. Usually, with button extensions (on a blouse, for instance), spacing is determined using the first and last buttons as a guide. Then you fill in the rest, making sure each one is evenly spaced. With a skirt, however, buttons don’t always go all the way to the hem, so determining placement and spacing is much easier. You can just start at the top and work your way down without having to worry about spacing the buttons in between the top and bottom buttons. So, if this is something you’d like to try on a project, I’d recommend starting with a skirt.

Here are the guidelines for adding a button extension:

  1. Length: The length of the buttonhole is equal to the size of the button plus 1/8″. My buttons are 7/8″, so my buttonholes are 1″.
  2. Placement: Buttonholes are sewn 1/8″ beyond the center front line, or wherever the garment is overlapping. So the majority of the buttonhole will be on the garment side, with just the 1/8″ extending beyond center front.
  3. Spacing: For blouses, mark for the first and last buttonhole, and then divide the remaining space among the rest of the buttonholes. For a skirt or other garment where the buttons do not cover the full distance of the placket, start at the top and work your way down. You want enough space from the top of the button so that it doesn’t touch the edge of the garment, but don’t leave too much space so that it gaps open.
  4. Extension/Facing: To accommodate the buttons, you have to add space beyond center front. This is equal to the size of the button. So, I have added 7/8″ beyond the center front line. Then, I added seam allowance (5/8″). In total, I’ve added 1.5″ to center front. (You can see that in the white paper.)

This skirt has a yoke, and only one button could fit on it, so that made this even easier. I simply centered the first button on the yoke and worked my way down.

To determine the spacing for the remaining buttons, I used a couture method I like to call “eyeballing” it. (Hey, when it works, it works!) Bigger buttons need more space between them, and then the opposite is true. Just keep an eye on proportions. My buttons are spaced 3″ apart.

 And that’s it! I’m quite happy with how this skirt turned out. I think the buttons give it a little something extra, and I know I’ll get a lot of wear out of this piece this summer. I really, really need a few garments like this (easy to sew, unlined, comfortable in the heat), so I know I’ll be making this one again.

This pattern is out-of-print, but it is still available to purchase on the McCall’s website. I’d also check eBay too, if you’re interested. I didn’t make any other changes to the pattern, but I will say that it runs a bit big. I ended up going down two sizes. The pocket flap is also a bit funky, so I ignored that pattern piece and tweaked the pocket piece so it would have the same look.

I didn’t have any ribbon on hand that I really liked, but I did have a small piece of lace to use along the bottom of the yoke lining. I think it finishes that seam nicely. It serves no practical purpose, it’s just a pretty detail for the inside.

It’s been a busy summer for us. I mentioned a few weeks ago that we were house hunting, and I’m thrilled to tell you that we found one. YAY! This is our first home purchase together, so it’s extra exciting for us. We have big renovation plans for the house, so I’m excited to share those with you soon too. We’ll be moving next month, and I’ve already started organizing and packing the house we’re in now. It’s been a few years since we last moved, so I’d forgotten (or just blocked out) what a task all that is. But I’m taking it one day and few boxes at a time.

The house we found is truly a blessing for us, and it has just about everything we’d been looking for. Ty has an office, and I lucked into a huge studio space (even bigger than what I have now!), and we have plenty of room for guests and an acre lot for the puppies to run around in. The neighborhood is charming with tons of mature trees, which takes me back to growing up in North Carolina. The house itself has quite a bit of southern charm, and I can’t wait to get some white rocking chairs for the porches and enjoy having usable outdoor spaces.  We love it.

Ty had some business to do in Alaska and California recently, and I got to tag along. His parents have a cabin in Alaska, and they happen to live 20 minutes from where Ty needed to go, so we got to visit with them for a few days. We explored and fished for salmon and had a wonderful time. This was my first trip to Alaska, and it was magnificent. Then we spent a couple days in San Francisco for the final leg of the business trip. I spent an entire afternoon at Britex Fabrics, easily one of the best fabric shops I’ve ever seen.

It’s always fun to leave for a trip, but it’s also nice to come home. I’m glad to be back, and it felt so good to sit down at my sewing machines after a few days away. You know me – always working on projects is my happy place.

Ty in his element, fishing at the Kenai River.

Walking along the beach in Homer, Alaska.

I caught a salmon. ALL BY MYSELF. It was amazing. (Also, kind of gross.)

Beautiful Alaska.

Have a great rest of the week!

how to: add a vent in a straight skirt

I’ve never been one for mini skirts. I don’t really have the legs for a skirt that short, and I’ve always wondered about the whole sitting-down-and-actually-doing-things-in-a short-skirt dilemma. But I do have the height to pull off a skirt that falls below my knees. Good thing too, since my preferred skirt length falls somewhere between right below the knee and mid calf. I add length to my skirts on just about every project.

Any skirt with adequate sweep in the hem is a no-brainer to lengthen, but the closer fitting pencil and straight skirts require an extra step or two to make them wearable. Enter, the back vent. Today, I’m going to show you how add a classic back vent to straight skirt patterns, and then we’ll go over how to sew it. Just like everything else, there’s more than one way to go about this, and it’s up to each seamstress to determine what’s best for her project. A pleat in the center front seam can be a fun alternative to a basic back vent. Or, a flared gore in the center back seam elevates the back vent to an intentional design detail. I’ve seen pleats in the back princess seams too, which is also another interesting option.

Adding a back vent to a skirt is as easy as adding length and width to the center back seam. The length of the vent itself depends on how long the skirt is. For some context, my skirt is 27″ from my waist, and I made my vent about 8″ long. You don’t want a vent that comes up too close to your backside, but you also want a vent long enough to allow for your normal stride.

So, to the center back seam of my pattern I added a piece measuring 2″ wide by about 8″ tall.

I like to curve the top of the vent, to make serging the center back seam easier.

And that’s it for the pattern! The back skirt pieces are both cut the same.

To create the back vent, the back seam is sewn together from the bottom of the zipper to the edge of the vent. Here, my center back seams have been sewn together, and I’ve turned the skirt right sides out and placed it on my ironing board. I have turned under the serged edges of the vent, and I will sew those before sewing the vent together.

Once the edges of the vent are sewn:

Now the vent gets pressed in place. It doesn’t matter to what side the vent gets pressed, just use a hem gauge to make sure what you’re pressing is accurate. Remember that that vent is 2″ wide, and I just pressed under 1/4″, so now it’s 1 3/4″.

After the vent has been pressed, carefully pin it in place. Now, here’s the trick I learned in college: use a piece of tape as a sewing guide. Place it at the top of the vent, making sure that your sewing line will go through all the layers of both sides of the vent at the top. It’s also a good idea to go just beyond the center back seam and either backstitch or bartack this spot to make it as strong as possible.

Tape in place:

Sew alongside one side of the tape guide.

One thing you sometimes see on a back vent is a sewing line from the top of the vent to the hem, which keeps the top side of the vent in place. I opted not to do that on the orange striped skirt to keep distracting topstitching to a minimum. I also knew I would go back in and tack the vent down on the inside, which is a totally acceptable option. If you sew the vent along one side, it will look like this (I know the bright green thread is hard to see clearly):

Once the vent is sewn in place, hem the skirt. This particular skirt has a 2″ hem, which I hemmed using the blind hem stitch on my sewing machine.

Hem completed:

And that’s it!

There are other ways to add the vent to the lining, but this method is my favorite. It’s simple and straightforward. So, if your skirt is lined, follow the same steps to add a back vent to the lining.

Back vents are one of those things that may seem intimidating at first, but after doing it once it clicks. Then, you’ll feel like you can do them with your eyes closed!

Happy sewing!

how to: the striped skirt

There are a few things you can always count on me to make on a regular basis: full skirts, fit and flare dresses, pretty blouses, and anything striped. Stripes are so charming and fun to work with, and the striped garments I make are some of my most worn items. (Which reminds me, I need to source some pretty striped shirting fabric. Ah, the endless fabric hunt!)

I designed a skirt a few years ago when I was in business out of sheer necessity. I had long envisioned a pleated, flared skirt with even, balanced stripes, but it’s no easy task bringing that idea to life without getting a little creative. Now, to be clear, there are easier ways to make something similar to the skirt in this post. You can use a printed stripe fabric, cut a rectangle out of it, and pleat it into a waistband or bodice. In fact, that’s an easy project for beginners, so that might be a great place to start. For me, I wanted a designed skirt with built in flare so that it didn’t fall flat from the waist, which is exactly what just cutting a rectangle will do. I also wanted to call the shots in terms of skirt length, stripe width, and overall design. So I made my own stripes, and today I’m showing you how to do the same thing. And the beauty of this concept is that it can be applied to any garment. So, in addition to my design, I will also be showing you a Butterick pattern I adjusted to make a striped pencil skirt.

Let’s go over a few things before we get started on the pattern:

  • I used cotton sateen to make these skirts. Another good option would be poplin or lightweight twill. I also lined the skirt using the half circle skirt pattern.
  • There are side seam pockets in this skirt, but you can go with another pocket option or omit them entirely.
  • Because this skirt becomes quite wide with the addition of the pleats, it is cut on the crossgrain.
  • I made the pattern for this skirt using my skirt slopers, to which I added flare and the inverted box pleats. Then I adjusted the length and determined the width of the stripes. The same result can be achieved by starting with a half circle skirt, which is what we’re going to do today. For instructions on how to draft a half circle skirt pattern, see this post.
  • There is no tutorial for the waistband, zipper, pockets, lining or hem in this post. I’m assuming you know these things. The focus here is on making the pattern and sewing the stripes together. I’m also assuming basic pattern making concepts are understood (just in the interest of time here, folks), so if you have questions about the terms I use or any part of this process, please let me know. I’m happy to help! In the coming weeks, I will dedicate a post to basic pattern making concepts.
  • My skirt is 27″ from the waist with six stripes that measure 4.5″. I am 5’7″ so 27″ from the waist is a flattering midi length on me, but you may want to adjust the length to suit your height. The pleats are 6″ deep, and you may adjust these as well to be bigger or smaller or omit them altogether. If you don’t want the fullness of the pleats, you can always just separate the half circle skirt pattern into stripes and go from there.
  • When determining the length of the skirt and the width of the stripes, just keep proportion in mind. We don’t want stripes that are too narrow or too wide.
  • I lined my skirts using the half circle skirt pattern, not the pleated skirt pattern.

So, here’s the front half circle skirt pattern. Remember that this is cut on the fold which is why we’re only looking at half of it.

Because the half circle is already pretty flared, we can jump right into adding the pleats. This skirt has three inverted box pleats in the front and two in the back, along with a knife or “side” pleat on either side of the zipper in center back. 6″ has been added to create the pleats, so you only need to add 3″ at center front (because it’s cut on the fold), and 6″ for the second pleat. The placement for the second pleat is roughly halfway between center front and the side seam.

You can see the gray paper I added to center front for the first pleat and the line I’ve drawn to mark the placement for the second pleat.

Cut the pattern along the line, completely separating it. Then, add 6″ for the pleat.

On the gray paper we just added, mark down the middle at 3″. This is where the pleat will meet after we’ve folded it. Remember that center front is cut on the fold, so we’ve only added 3″ there instead of 6″. So when you fold your paper it will only be half of the pleat. For reference, here’s a visual from my pattern making book that illustrates inverted box pleats very well:

Here you can see that I’ve folded the pleats in place and trued the waistline. Cut off the excess paper. Determine the length of your skirt and cut off excess paper at the hem.

After the pleats are added and folded and the waistline trued, your pattern will look something like this.

Now, we need to determine the width of the stripes. Once you know how wide you want the stripes, measure from the waistline down that amount. There’s your top stripe! Then, measure down the same amount from the line we just drew to create the second stripe and so on.

I’m pointing to the first stripe here:

Once you’ve drawn all of your stripes, cut each one and add seam allowance. This part takes paper, lots of tape, and an upbeat playlist to help get you through it! When each stripe has been separated and seam allowance added, the skirt will look like this, and remember to label each piece along with whether it’s a color stripe or white or print or what have you.

 Repeat this process for the back skirt, putting the pleat roughly halfway between center back and the side seam. The original version of this skirt had a full box pleat at center back, but over time I decided it was a bit bulky, so now it’s just a knife pleat. You may add this or just have the one inverted box pleat in the back.

Cut the skirt on the crossgrain, and make sure to double notch at center back. This skirt is easy to make, but there are parts that are quite tedious, and cutting it out is definitely one of them. Remember that playlist I mentioned earlier? Yeah, you’ll want it again.

Navy stripes being cut:

White stripes being cut:

I like to line up my pieces in order and sew them together starting with the bottom piece. That way, when I get to the last stripe, it’s the shortest. I’m always happy to get to that last piece!

And here’s a trick to make sewing the front stripes together easier: start at center front instead of one side and sewing the length of the seam at once. I’ve found that starting at center front is much easier, and there’s never an issue lining the seams up. So, when you cut your front skirt stripes, notch at center front of each stripe piece so you can match it to the next stripe and so forth.

Here you can see the notches at center front I made when I cut out the front stripes. Starting from the top or bottom–wherever you want–match the stripe pieces at center front and sew together from center front to the side seam. Then, turn the pieces over and, starting at center front again, sew to the opposite side seam. This step isn’t necessary, it just makes things easier.

The next tip is important: serge the seams and press them as you go, not once the entire front or back piece is assembled. I press the seam allowances towards the color stripe, which goes against pressing rules, but I don’t like seeing the seam allowance through the white stripe.

Insert the pockets. 

Be careful to match the stripe when you sew the side seams, but the rest of the skirt construction is easy and just like any other skirt. Attach the waistband, insert the zipper, drop in the lining, hem. Then, you’re done!

Once you’ve got the concept down, have a ball applying it to whatever you want. Tops, jackets, accessories, you name it. I’ve always wanted a striped pencil skirt, and I had an idea for an orange one because I knew it would pair beautifully with a blouse I made a couple months ago. And it does!

I used Butterick 5466 to make this skirt. You can see the other version I made in this post.

I added about 4″ to the length of this skirt, as well as a back vent and I widened the waistband and lined the skirt in Bemberg rayon. Tutorial for adding the back vent and how to sew it coming next week!

You know I like my makes to be as versatile as possible. You may not think that an orange stripe pencil skirt can be translated into a lot of different looks–the ceiling of versatility isn’t quite as high with this one as it is the others–but there’s still a number of things you can do with it. Go cute and casual:

Or, dress it up. More about this top here.

Lately, I’ve been putting bias tape or ribbon along the waistline seam of my skirts. It serves no practical purpose, but it sure does look pretty. I love navy and gold together, so I used gold bias tape in this skirt:

And I used an orange floral print quilting cotton to make bias tape for the orange skirt:

If you’re at all intimidated by this skirt, don’t be. It’s not complicated or difficult, just a little time consuming and tedious. But the result is so worth it!

As always, let me know if you need clarification on anything in this post. Have a wonderful weekend, and send me pictures of your striped projects!

Happy Sewing!