In the Workroom: New Exam Skirts (with tutorial!)

If you've ever wondered what the holidays are like for dance teachers... they're busy, busy, busy! Alison has been working hard on choreographing new dances, finding new class work, and sorting out our newest competition students - as well as, of course, working out a new studio roll book for a brand new year. Meanwhile, I've been teaching a few of our senior competition students their new contemporaries, and working on a contemporary dance to teach to the NCEA Dance students at New Plymouth Girls' High School in Term 1. But there's always time to sew, and here's my latest project: new exam skirts for our Junior Ballet classes.

One of the original exam skirts

The original skirts, though still beautiful, are now almost 25 years old (talk about good quality material!), and some are starting to show their age. Last year Mandy was given a whole bunch of beautiful curtain fabrics for free, the sort of material which would cost hundreds to buy. Some of it has already been reincarnated as the Degas bows and flowers that our Intermediate ballet class wore with their white tutus at our concert (as nerve-wracking as it was for me to cut into that fabric...).

Our Intermediate Ballet class wearing their white tutus with the Degas bows I made from that beautiful fabric

Included was three lengths of a gorgeous blue organza which is a close match for the existing skirts. I've already made new hair ribbons from the material when we realised, a few days before the ballet exams, that some of our existing ribbons had mysteriously gone missing. Now it's onto the skirts!

Such gorgeous organza!

The pattern was, as always, the first hurdle. It would have been fairly easy to take a new pattern off an existing skirt, but as that can be time-consuming, I decided to have a hunt through the 'archives' at the studio. Right at the bottom, I found the original pattern, in perfect condition. A big thank you to my predecessor Gill-e for that!

The original pattern

The pattern consists of two pieces, a yoke and a half-circle skirt. For anyone who would like to try drafting their own copy, the yoke is a rectangle approx. 43cm x 15 cm. The skirt is a bit harder; it's 32cm long with a waist approx. 40cm long. I recommend folding a piece of paper into a square at least 46cm x 46cm. From the top folded corner, measure out approx. 12.5cm curved and cut. Then measure 32cm down from the new line to create the hem. Remember, this pattern is made to fit girls approx. 5-6 years old. You can add to the skirt length for a particularly tall girl. Here's a picture of the original pattern:

The yoke piece

The skirt piece, folded in half

Layout your fabric and fold it over once. Pin the pattern pieces on top and cut through both layers. When you unpin you should end up with two separate skirt pieces and two separate yoke pieces. My fabric has no right side, but if yours does make sure the pattern can be seen clearly on all pieces.

The pattern pinned onto the fabric

The four pieces cut out

Now to the sewing machine! Thread it up with matching thread; I'd run out of the thread I used previously for the hair ribbons and had to make a short trip to the local gift shop for some new thread. Not an exact match, but pretty close...

My sewing machine!

New thread on the left next to the remnants of my Gutermann thread

With the machine on zig zag stitch and using a 2mm stitch width, zig zag the hem of both skirt pieces to prevent fraying. You could also use an overlocker, but not only do I not have access to one, I think the stitches would be too heavy on this kind of fabric. It depends on how you want the skirt to hang.

Sewing the hem

Once both hems have been sewn, trim off any excess material.

The finished hem, partly trimmed

Pin the sides of the two skirt pieces together. If the fabric has a right side, pin right sides together. Sew with a running stitch (1/2cm seam allowance) and zig zag the edges. Trim any excess, and repeat on the other side.

The pinned skirt side seam...

...And the finished seam

Turn the skirt the right way out. It should look something like this (and yes, that is the dining room table...):

Zig zag the top edge of the yoke pieces; this will save you having to zig zag the waistband seam later and looks much neater.

One of the hemmed yoke pieces

Pin the yoke pieces together, the same as the skirt pieces, and sew (1/2cm seam allowance); zig zag to finish, and trim any excess.

The yoke pieces, pinned at the side seam...

...And the finished seam

Now for the tricky part; with the skirt right side out, slip the inside out yoke over the top (essentially right sides together; when finished all the seams should end up inside the skirt). Pin the top edges together, matching the side seams first to ensure they're aligned properly. Pin slowly, ensuring there is no bunching.

The yoke pinned to the skirt, right sides together

Sew together with a 1/2cm seam allowance. Take out the pins and flip the yoke the right way up to ensure the skirt hangs even. Refold the yoke down, zig zag the seam, and trim any excess.

And the finished seam

The skirt should now look something like this:

The yoke will look abnormally long, but don't panic because the waistband still needs to be sewn.

Turn the skirt inside out and fold the top edge of the yoke down. The waistband should measure approx. 2cm all the way around. If you have different sized elastic, adjust as needed. Take your time pinning to make sure it is even, starting with the side seams first. Make sure the seam lies flat and isn't twisted.

Measuring out the waistband

Pinned on the side seams first

On what will be the back panel, mark out a 5cm gap with brightly coloured pins. You'll have to leave this unsewn to insert the elastic later, so don't forget and sew over it! Unpicking organza can be extremely frustrating (believe me, you don't want to go down that road). Here's my two orange pins measured out:

Starting from the bottom marker, sew the waistband just to the right of the already extant hem. Go slowly as it can get hard to see what is hem, and what isn't. Stop just short of your next marker. Take the pins out and check that you have caught all of your fabric (there should only be one hole...).

The waistband sewn, showing the gap for the elastic

Your skirt should now look something like this:

We're now on the home run. You'll need 12mm elastic for this part, but how much will depend on the child's waist measurement. I'm sewing for a group, so my measurements are more standard. I'm using 59 cm for each, including 6mm for overlap. Thread your elastic through the waistband, using a large safety pin.

Threading the elastic

Hold both ends and pull the skirt fabric away to gather it. Match the elastic together (make sure it's not twisted!) and sew a small square, going over twice for security.

The elastic ready to be sewn

Thread the sewn elastic back into the waistband and pin the loose fabric of the waistband down, matching it to the previously sewn seam. Sew this last 5cm and cut the thread.

The waistband gap pinned and ready to be sewn

The finished article!

New next to old...

And hanging up - hoping I don't have to steam the skirt to get the wrinkles out!

It's finished! I've got five more to sew, but if you've been following along, your work is done. You could make a softer version in chiffon, or a day skirt in a soft cotton (you'll need to properly hem it though), or anything with a nice drape to it. I've found this particular reconstruction very interesting, and I hope you've found this post enjoyable. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment and I'll try to help.

As always, thanks for reading!

- Selene

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