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Tulip Skirt Sewing Project

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

The following is about a knee-length tulip skirt I sewed out of grey-blue suiting. The skirt includes a curved, tailored waistband, box pleats, and an exposed metal zipper.

Attack of the Jagged Countertop

A few months ago, I was wearing my beloved corduroy A-line skirt before going grocery shopping.

I should really make another skirt like this, I thought, since I love it so much.

As I walked out of my kitchen, the corner of the countertop which was broken and jagged caught on my skirt and ripped it, right across the hip area! The rip was at least two inches long; an L-shape. I was crushed.

That’s it, I thought. I will go to the fabric store this very day and buy some material for another, similar skirt. I envisioned something the same length and with an A-line shape, but with new features such as box pleats and an exposed zipper.

But would I be able to mend my corduroy skirt? I took it to my sewing work table for an emergency repair and thankfully, was able to fix it by laying a piece of leftover corduroy on the underside of the tear and carefully hand stitching the tear together, with the hidden patch as a stabilizing layer. It was not too noticeable.

Donning my mended skirt, I picked up my groceries, then headed straight to the fabric store for my stealth mission. Did I manage fo find some material for a new skirt?

Surprise Fabric Find

I scoured the isles for good skirt material. Finding a grey-blue suiting that was on sale, I plunked it onto the fabric cutting table along with some camel-coloured coating for a prospective coat project.

“What a lovely colour,” the employee cutting my fabric commented.

“In some angles it looks grey, in others blue. How lovely!”

I also chose a gold coloured metal zipper which I thought would be long enough for the skirt’s closure. I was wrong about that. Nonetheless, I went home happy with my purchases.

I had big ideas for my skirt, but would I be able to complete them?

Designing my Tulip Skirt: What I Learned

For about a year, I’d wanted to sew a paper-bag waist skirt. And not just any paper-bag waist skirt, but one with box pleats and a waist tie-belt. I began sketching designs and Googling images to get ideas. However, I soon realized it would be better to simplify. I had really wanted to wear this skirt out in a few days time, and I was worried the skirt would turn out badly if I included too many design features. Less would be more. The skirt would have box pleats and a simple waist band. But how would I insert the zipper, and would it be the right length?

Creating the Pattern

For my “base pattern”, I used an “A-Line skirt with extra flare” pattern block. I had used this as a base for my corduroy A-line skirt. I cut the 1.5 inch waist band off the top of the paper pattern, creating a nice curved waistband shape. I find curved waistbands more flattering.

Marking where my box pleats would be, I added a strip of pattern paper the width of the pleats in these marked areas. There would be three box pleats in the front and three in the back. My exposed zipper would be inserted at the side seam. I wasn’t sure if I should end the zipper just under the waist band and close the top of the skirt with a hook and eye, or let the zipper continue all the way to top of the skirt. For the sake of speed and simplicity, I decided on the latter option. Unfortunately, the zipper I’d already bought was actually too short to take the skirt on and off in the typical way, by pulling it up over your hips. Sheesh . . .

Pad-Stitching the Curved Waistband

Pad-stitching has always intrigued me. I never understood how it created shaping in garments, though. But shortly before my tulip skirt project, I found an old-time tailor’s video demonstrating pad-stitching. I practically shouted “Eureka!” as he showed how curving the fabric over your hands as you hand stitch it forces it into a curved shape.

My curved skirt waist band was my next opportunity to use this new technique. This was my favourite part of this project: meditative and relaxing. Not being well versed in the exact direction to stitch, I changed a couple times throughout the process. Nonetheless, the pad stitching succeeded at curving the waistband into the shape it would hold around my waist. Looking back, it was this step that took my tulip skirt to the next level.

The Hazards of Late Night Sewing

I don’t have time to properly finish these seams, thought I.

There’s nothing for it but to cut out my skirt pieces with the pinking blade and hope they won’t fray.

Was this successful? No. My skirt was indeed finished in a record amount of time, but a couple days later I had to hand fell the already-fraying raw edges. Live and learn.

The sewing of the tulip skirt itself was very easy. Sewing the side seams, I then ironed and basted my box pleats in place before attaching the body of the skirt to the waistband. I finished the waist band by hand stitching the inner layer to the inside of the skirt. Hand sewing is the only reliable way for me to finish a waistband without stitching showing on the outside of the garment.

Sewing a Zipper and a Hem Faux-Pas

The exposed zipper, albeit too short, turned out beautifully. Being used to sewing invisible zippers, an exposed zipper was a new technique for me.

When it came time to hem, though it was late and I was tired, I still decided on my go-to hand sewn invisible hem.

Hemming this tulip skirt was tricky because the bottom circumference of the skirt is curved and therefore puckers when you fold up the hem. I whipped off a hand sewn hem without ample attention to exactly how much length I was taking off. As a result, upon trying on the finished skirt, I realized it was

shorter than I would have liked. I’d wanted a knee-length skirt, but this was shorter than that. Wanting to wear it out the next day, I spent that morning picking out and re-sewing most of the hem.

But this was not the biggest problem with the skirt.

Fit Disaster

The skirt was too big. You’d think I would have learned from my previous misadventure, but alas. Tailored skirts are totally unforgiving when it comes to the fit of the waist. So, the morning before wearing the skirt out, I had to perform an emergency waist alteration. Pinning the excess width in the waist into two darts at the back, I sewed them up. This was quite bulky through the waistband. I did my best to connect the darts into the line of the back box pleats. Pressing them, I then cut off the body of the dart and hand sewed the remaining raw edges down against the inside of the waistband.


My tulip skirt would have looked better if I’d simply gotten the waist size correct in the first place, but I usually learn lessons the hard way.

What about you?

Have you ever ripped a favourite garment? Do you like sewing quick projects or taking your time? Have you ever completed a project only to notice a big mistake in it? Let me know in the comments below!

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