Primary colours gone tropical


I bought this little knit top in 2013 for $3.99 at the Bloor/Lansdowne Value Village in Toronto, spotting refashion potential. I’m not a big fan of the overall effect, for several reasons. More than anything else, this top in its original form looks like a surprised rabbit. Also, empire-waists are really not the best match for my figure. Ribbing isn’t my favourite thing in the world either. But I do really like the colour, and the lace section, not to mention the straps and buttons. Plus, the yarn is a nice soft combination of cotton and rayon. I figure I could probably separate the lower piece and make a skirt of some kind. Shall we?

To get started, I cut into the bottom of the placket and unravel a few rows down. As the darts are freed, the piece becomes a bit wider – just as well given that I’m hoping this’ll fit around my hips rather than my ribcage. Next I need to grab all the live stitches and bind off all the way around. These are tiny, so I end up needing a pair of 00 circular needles. (Which sounds like the answer to some obscure joke about what James Bond buys as a birthday present for his grandmother, but never mind.) A lot of careful precision is called for here; if I miss a single stitch, the dropped stitch is going to make itself obvious and be a general pain in the rear-end. I take it really, really slowly and do my best to catch all the live stitches. Fortunately, there are no issues.

Then, with the stitches safely on the circulars, I deal with the side-seams by sewing them closed on the inside before they come apart. After that, I bind off the stitches – hopefully tightly enough for a hipline but not so much so that I can’t slip the thing on. Luck is on my side in this case: the completed piece is only slightly too big for my hips, which is exactly what I wanted. Oh, and it’s comfortable! I can’t stop here, though. The thing needs a waistband, for one thing; it’s also sufficiently hole-y that it requires a lining; and it’s so short that there’s no way I’m going to want to wear it like this. Needs at least a bit of additional length – probably with an addition onto the bottom.

Figuring out a solution proves to be a moderate challenge. Originally I envision a mesh net made out of the remaining yarn from the ribbed section, but most of the unravelled pieces aren’t individually long enough to knit with. Plus they’re unplied and really annoying to handle. They’d make good hair for an 18″ doll or something, but not much else.


I make one last attempt at making use of these pieces – knotting them together and making a hanging fringe – but that looks unkempt and kind of ugly, so no. Fed up, I cut off the pieces, then consider the single piece of skirt I still have. I find myself thinking that what it really needs is a bit of pizazz, and go digging around in my big fabric drawer for ideas.

Enter some pizazz.


I found this decorative scarf at a garage sale in the summer of 2017 and paid $10 for it. I freely admit this was far too much to spend on a small amount of secondhand polyester. Couldn’t resist the textures, though!

The scarf has three layers with a single seam and a bit of elastic running up the middle. The bottom layer – the red-purple crinkled piece – is what has my attention here, so I unpick the scarf’s seam, separate the pieces, and refold the crinkled polyester back along the seam-line. Now this is the bottom of a skirt, isn’t it? I think so! With that, I hand-baste the pieces together.


To be sure, the skirt is now a bit…loud. Most of my individual clothing items are a lot less adventurous than this in terms of the colour combinations. But I love this pairing. And, well, pizazz.

Only one thing needs adjustment here: the vertical positioning of the polyester. I unpick the baste stitches and redo them slightly higher in order to hide the ribbed half-inch at the bottom of the knit section. That’s better. With that in place, I flip the fold back open in order to sew a seam vertically up and down the polyester.


Sewing that seam closes the polyester loop at the left hip. Then I neaten the seam with zigzag stitches on each side, fold the seam back down, and put a few small stitches at the bottom in order to keep the seam tidily confined to the inside.


Time for the machine to sew the polyester into place. (While I’m at it, I also go back in underneath the polyester and reinforce the now-hidden ribbed bottom of the knit section with a zigzag stitch over the edge. No one’s going to see that, but it’ll increase the durability.)


As noted, pins and I don’t get along well. Instead, I tend to hand-baste a lot. I typically use contrast colours for basting stitches – in this case, one round of orange (holding the polyester in place), and one round of teal (horizontally through the polyester alone, placed there in case I needed to gather it a bit). Part of my reaction to removing the basting stitches, in this case, comes as a surprise.


It occurs to me that the teal looks pretty nifty at the boundary of the gold and raspberry. Does the skirt need a tiny bit of blue, of all things? I take out some teal yarn and hold it up experimentally. It doesn’t quite seem right. But then I remember that my shoebox of stray notions contains a length of chain of periwinkle-blue flowers.


I bought this from either a fabric shop or a ribbon store; it must have been in Toronto around 2015, probably at one of the indie fabric stores on Queen West to the west of Spadina. I think I remember it being $6 a metre; I bought about three metres. Now I’m leaning towards adding a line of these to the skirt but am not totally sure, so I run the question by my mother – who gives me a major thumbs-up. Onwards!


Attaching the flower-chain is too delicate an operation for the machine, but I do unexpectedly find a bit of matching thread among my supplies. (‘Unexpectedly’ because I haven’t been wearing blue very often. I know I bought this thread years ago – 2011? – and evidently I used a lot of it, but I’m genuinely unsure what for. My skills were not at the point where I would have been making things for other people.)

I sew by hand through the bottoms of the flowers all around (through the polyester), then around again through the tops of the flowers (through the gold knit section), and finally one stitch over each of the two connecting links between each flower. Not going to pretend this doesn’t take a while. Worth it, though!

Now it’s time to think about a waistband. I take another look at the straps from the original top.


I don’t have any matching thread – not even close – but for now I zigzag the straps to each other end-to-end on the machine with a raspberry-coloured thread. I expect the combination to be too short for a waistband and to need a decorative bridging piece across the front of the waistband – but it turns out this is exactly long enough. There is no a priori reason for this to be the case, but okay!

This skirt is a stretch knit and so is definitely not getting a zipper. However, the straps are knit as well – more finely and densely than the skirt piece, but still enough to stretch a bit. That’ll work. I baste elastic to the band.


The skirt needs a small amount of gathering in order for the waistband to fit around it. I attempt to baste the waistband into place without pins, which does not work. I relent and pin the thing.


At this point, I go to the fabric store and purchase some matching thread ($2.50). Because I also have nothing I can use as a decent lining for a skirt with some stretch, I get a metre of polyester stretch-lining in a wine-coloured polyester ($8) as well.

I was going to zigzag-stitch the waistband to the skirt on the machine, but I find myself thinking that would be a bit obvious-looking. Instead, using the very small knitted stitches in the waistband as a grid, I put in a zigzag stitch manually, doing a running stitch around the entire perimeter twice: once for the stitches in one diagonal direction, and then again doing the opposing stitches.


I’m pleased enough with how subtle this looks from the outside that I decide to fasten the elastic to the waistband permanently in the same way.


I remove all the basting stitches attached to the waistband. While I’m at it, I unpick the raspberry-coloured stitches in the waistband over the right hip and close the gaps at both hips with hand-stitching in the matching thread instead.

I consider a line of ribbon through the middle of the waistband, horizontally, in order to disguise the buttonholes and the stitches holding in the elastic. However, I reason that the skirt is going to be under a shirt most of the time, so it doesn’t matter that much.


We have the outside of a skirt. Now to put in the lining.


I’ll need a pattern piece here. I’m temporarily out of newspaper, so I tape together three pages of a flyer instead. Then I fold the skirt in half, position it on top, and use a French curve and a pencil to trace it evenly (but generously, especially at the top).


Time to fold the lining material, put the pattern piece on the fold, cut it out, and open it up.



Then I do it again so that I have front and back pieces for the lining.

The first thing I try is sewing them together with standard seams. This doesn’t work well; I can’t get the lining to fit tidily anywhere else that way. It becomes clear that I need to prioritize the attachment of the lining to the waistband. I take the waistband pieces apart again and baste them to the waistband individually instead.



Then I baste along the side-seams; this time, they’re much better aligned with the skirt.


To machine-stitch the sides, I need to detach the lining from the skirt, so I unpick the waistband basting that helped me set up the sides. Then I machine-stitch the side-seams.


Each side-seam gets finished with a single zigzag and a line of topstitching holding it down on the wrong side towards the back of the skirt. (This is mainly because I find zigzagging stretchy fabric annoying and only want to have to do it once per seam.)

Now we have a lining that will fit inside the skirt well.


Time to reattach it. I baste the lining and skirt wrong-sides-together along the top.


Then I zigzag the bottom of the lining to keep it stable.


At the top of the skirt, I hand-zigzag it the same way I hand-zigzagged the waistband to the skirt and the elastic to the waistband. Then I remove the basting stitches.


I try the skirt on and discover there are three problems. First, the lining isn’t long enough. In spite of how cautious I was (thanks to having worried about this very possibility), it’s about an inch too short. The lowest part of the gold knit section noticeably doesn’t have any lining behind it. I don’t want to lower the entire lining to the bottom of the waistband; I like how it’s disguising the elastic. But the second problem is that the lining keeps riding up over the top of the skirt. And then there’s the third problem, unrelated but still noticeable: the zigzaggy bottom of the lining is too scratchy and my skin is protesting. (I do usually wear leggings, but I don’t want to rely on that as the solution.)

I can’t solve all of these at once, so I experiment until I come up with a plan. First, to secure the lining below the waistband and keep it from climbing up over the top, I add two rounds of opposing stitches, each in sort of a square-wave pattern, to the bottom of the inside of the waistband.


To solve the two problems with the bottom of the lining, I purchase some similarly-coloured double-fold bias-tape ($5).


Which I baste around the bottom, leaving a temporary gap for me to fold the bias-tape in on itself and close the loop at one side-seam.


It’s not especially stretchy, but this is the bottom of the lining – the widest part – where the stretchiness can safely be a bit compromised. It does add a little bit of bulk, but that’s not visually apparent from the outside. The weight helps the lining hang, too.

I machine-stitch the bias-tape in place, remove the basting stitches there. At the bottom of each side-seam, I pull back the lining to expose the wrong sides of both layers, and add a bit of elastic (taken from the sleeves I removed from a vintage party dress) to tether the lining to the outside of the skirt.



And there’s a skirt, finished! It just needed that bit of pizazz.

The lining took a while, but that meant that by the time I finished the skirt, it was warm enough to want to pose outside. Photos are courtesy of my wonderful sister, who is a semi-professional photographer and all-around excellent person.

I’ve paired the skirt with red-purple leggings and with a cotton top, covered in slightly loud circles, that I got at a clothing-swap in Toronto in the summer of 2017.


Here I am twirling around to show you the back of the skirt. And that one particularly playful dot.


Side view – the photographer is making me giggle!


Really happy with how this turned out. It was a fair bit of work but it paid off. Success!

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