My first DIY dress ever! It was a rather impulsive decision, and the execution was muddled with detours. It took me 20 hours to create this high-low circle skirt dress from sketching to finished garment, but the end result (and learning experience) was SUPER worth it!
But I didn’t get do it for long. Almost immediately, I started clothing the figure I just drew with a simple high-low circle skirt dress design. It became an illustration that I really wanted to make into reality.
Several Pinterest pins later (and one particularly helpful pin for drafting a high-low circle skirt), I was set to create a high-low circle skirt dress. The fabrics I chose were bought several years ago at a fabric store at Clement St. in San Francisco. I had not found the right project to use them, however it just seemed quite fitting this time.
I thought it was going to be a pretty simple project (note: I should banish that thought out of my mind every time I begin a new project). A circle skirt should take about 1 – 3 hours to make, and the top is shaped like a kaftan top. I use elastics so I don’t have to sew a zipper. Shouldn’t take me more than 10 hours to finish this circle skirt dress, right?
Nope. There were several detours along the way, and working with plain knit fabric is actually a lot harder than I thought. Forming a good, flowing high-low shape with a slippery fabric is really difficult. However, after all’s said and done, it was a really wonderful learning experience. Moreover, I have ideas to create more dresses in the future!
The high-low circle skirt dress isn’t my best work, but it looks cute overall. On the colder days, a wide belt to cinch the waist and a blazer (or a cropped jacket) can finish the look just fine. Life’s good :)
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List of Materials
- 1 yard of 60″ wide multi-colored chevron(ish) print tricot nylon knit fabric (pictured below)
- 2.5 yards of 60″ wide gray plain knit fabric
- 5 yards of tulle
- 1.1″ wide elastic band, as long as your waist circumference
- black elastic fabric as the elastic band’s coverup
- tracing paper and pencil
- sewing machine (mine is Brother CS6000i model)
- needle and thread for a bit of hand sewing
with ballpoint needle (I use Schmetz Ball Point Jersey Machine Needles Size 80/12)
I’ll try to be as thorough as possible. This DIY Project is divided into 4 big parts.
Part 1: Making the Top
Luckily, the tricot nylon fabric is easy to work with. It has a slight stretch and enough structure, and it doesn’t fray. YES! The neckline is similar to what I did on my Scarf Top with Kimono Sleeves, I just make the front neckline deeper.
On a separate piece of tracing paper, I set a center point and put 12 cm from center to one side (how much I want to show my collarbone), 10 cm from center to front (how much I want to show my chest), and 3 cm to from center to back (how much I want to show the back of my neck). After drawing the front and back 1/2 curves, I folded the paper and finish up both curves.
I traced the neckline pattern to the top pattern, making a simple top pattern like this:
From there, I started cutting the tricot. Since it’s rather sheer, I decided to use the same fabric as the underlining. So after I cut 2 layers of fabric, I layered the two right side together to sew the neckline.
After making small snips on the neckline curves (so that the neckline is smooth and flat), I flipped the outside layer right side out and pressed the neckline.
After that, I sew the arm holes with french seams since I wanted the sleeves to drape nicely. This fabric made my life so much easier to sew french seams.
From there, I just need to sew the sides shut and we’re golden…right?
Well, that’d be great…except that I apparently was overzealous when cutting the sides. I tried it on, and I noticed right away I could replace my waist with a barbie’s, or I need to make a couple of gussetts so I can fit in the last 1/3 of the top.
I chose the latter, obviously. Thankfully, I still have some scraps left. Yay, learning to work with gussets for the first time! I made two identical isosceles triangles and then insert them carefully into each sides, closing off the sides.
The top part is complete!!!
Part 2: Making the high-low circle skirt
A. The plain knit
From the get-go, it proved quite a challenge to make this skirt. If I do more projects like this, I’d like to choose a stretch fabric with slightly more structure. Single knit fabric stretches A LOT, and it really is better for you to cut your waist radius 10% – 15% less than the actual measurement to accommodate the stretch.
To create the high-low hemline, I found this pin on Pinterest and decided to give it a go. Here’s what my skirt pattern looks like:
Cutting the fabric was hard for me since I have to fold it in half twice on my not-so-big dining table. Thank God my rotary cutter didn’t quit when slicing the stacked 4 layers of fabric. I cut all 4 layers following the “low” part of the skirt line…
…then I “released” the middle layers gently (gosh, it’s so hard), so I’m left with two stacked layers. Now I cut them with the “high” part of the skirt line.
After that, I cut the waist radius part. It was time to loosely pin the skirt on the uncut elastic and try it on, just to see where I was.
Oh no….the skirt is limp and lifeless! Grr!
Also, at this point, I noticed that the “low” hem were uneven, so I did some adjustments. Thank you, masking tape. I also cut the front hem a little bit more so it would give a tulle peek-a-boo effect when everything’s done.
B. The tulle layers
Time for the 2nd detour: adding tulle underneath the skirt! I chose to add 3 layers of tulle underneath, give the skirt a bit of a lift. That’s a lot of tulle!
Because of the high-low nature of the skirt, I divide them into 6 different parts of approximately 60″ width. Then I cut 3 shorter (23″ long, which is the length of the longest distance to the front hem) tulle layers for the front, and 3 longer (41″ long, which is the length of the longest distance to the back hem) tulle layers for the back.
I then stitched together the sides of one short and one long tulle layers and repeat this process thrice. After that, I stacked them on top of each other as nicely as I could, and stitched the circumference of all three layers with a straight stitch.
It looks like a huge tulle lingerie for Santa Clause at this point, so I pulled the thread to make a gathering.
C. The underskirt (using plain knit leftover)
Tulle tends to be itchy on skin contact, so I quickly made a simple rectangular underskirt with the leftover plain knit fabric.
D. Put it all together
Let’s see, so I have my cut high-low plain knit fabric, a stack of gathered 3-layer tulle, and the underskirt.
Remember when I said to mark the center front, center back, and two sides of each layers? Well, I didn’t do it properly so I had a slightly harder time to stack the three layers of tulle, the high-low plain knit (right side out), and the underskirt (right side in) altogether.
Yikes, that’s a lot of clothespins! I thought I created a monster there.
I then stitched the top part of all layers together, getting as close as possible to the seams. My heart is pounding at this point.
It went smoothly, so now I trimmed any excess rogue tulle spikes and flipped over the underskirt so that it now become the innermost part of the skirt.
Part 3: Making the Elastic Waist
I cut the elastic according to my waist measurement, and then I cover it with a casing I made from the plain jersey. Before stitching the casing closed, I stitched both ends of the elastic together. Just like with the skirt, I marked the center front, center back, and two sides of the elastic.
Part 4: Combining all the pieces
A. Attaching the skirt to the elastic
This was the moment of truth. Before going to the sewing machine for the moment of truth, I did a basting stitch 1″ below the top of the skirt to minimize any layers being caught on the sewing machine. (Later on, I found out that this was a pretty good call to make.)
When I was satisfied with how the elastic band and skirt are aligned with each other, I started to put 4 pins on the (you guessed it) center front, center back, and two sides, pinning all the layers together with the elastic band.
This is it! Time for a zig-zag stitch and arms strength test (because I have to stretch the elastics 4 times in order to cover all the width of the skirt). It was quite a work-out (yeah, I’m kinda weak).
So far so good! I can see the high-low circle skirt dress forming!
B. Attaching the top to the elastic
After checking the top’s length, I chopped of about 1″ below where I would stitch. Now I did the same thing for the top as I did on the skirt.
It was a bit difficult because now 1/2 of the elastic width is “crowded” with the skirt. So I went by very carefully to make sure there’s no extra layers of fabric getting caught on the sewing machine.
Oh hey, not bad! After that’s done, I hand stitched the top and skirt fabric that overlap in the inside of the elastic so it’s looking neat outside AND inside.
C. Covering the elastic
I wanted to cover the zig-zag trace on the elastic band, so I cut a long strip of the stretchy black fabric (same fabric that I used to lengthen the black lace dress) and stitched it by hand. I made sure that the stitches were “loose enough” so the elastic can still stretch freely.
If I’m to do it again, I probably wouldn’t do an elastic casing before attaching the top and bottom parts together.
D. Trimming the extra tulle!
I view this as the “Bonus” stage of the whole project. All the hard work is done, now I get to trim the tulle excess on the hem. I love this part :)
And with that, I guess we’re ready….. *drum rolls*
Ta-Daaah!! Here comes the high-low circle skirt dress!
Not bad, eh? And don’t worry, my legs were OK after that last awkward twirling pose :)
I see this a more demure spring-summer dress that’s easily spruced up with a cool jacket and/or wide belt. It’s definitely a garment that can be easily accessorized with Radiant Orchid (wink, wink, Pantone Color of the Year) accent pieces.
So there you have it: my first time sewing a complete garment from scratch. Phew. I’m definitely not a Project Runway contestant material. One dress in 20 hours? Those designers can probably do 4 – 5 dresses in that time period!
Haha, it’s OK. I’m relieved, I’m quite pleased with this high-low circle skirt dress, and I’m looking forward to do a simpler (seriously) DIY project next.
Thanks for reading; until next time,
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