The Zinnia Skirt Sewalong - Part 2

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In today's post we're going to continue our preparation for sewing the skirt. In our last blog post we focused on the pattern front as well as the tools, supplies and fabric options for your garment. Today we're going to discuss how to take your body measurements, how to choose a size, and how to determine the amount of fabric you will need. We'll also have a wee chat about pre-washing fabrics and round it off with a quick tutorial on tracing your pattern. 

Before we jump right in, if you don't already have The Colette Sewing Handbook, I highly recommend this investment. It's incredible value for what you pay as it comes with five paper patterns (Colette's patterns normally cost £12.50 each) and is an absolute wealth of knowledge in all things sewing. It is the book I recommend to all my students as an introduction to the world of sewing.

How to Take Measurements

For the Zinnia skirt, the waist and hip are the most essential measurements to take. We've provided a diagram below to assist you in finding the right position of each measurement and a helpful worksheet for you to fill in as you go (click here for the worksheet in PDF form). These useful tools can be used for any of your future sewing projects. 

Measurements Diagram_withinstructions.jpg

Choosing the Correct Pattern Size

Circled above are all the pattern measurements and fabric required  relevant to my size.

Circled above are all the pattern measurements and fabric required  relevant to my size.

Once you've taken an accurate record of your waist and hip measurements, it's time to take a look at the Body Measurements chart on the back of the pattern envelope (image to right). From here you can figure out what size you are going to make as well as the fabric required.

As the skirt is fitted at the waist and loosely fitted over the hips, you should choose the pattern size by the closest measurement of your waist. If you are in-between two sizes, it's always best to choose the larger size and downsize at the fitting stage.

As an example I've provided my measurements and the size that I chose:

  • Waist - 33 inches
  • Hips - 42 inches

As my waist sits directly between the 12 and the 14, I will be making my toile (more to come on this) in a 14 and will later make any necessary adjustments. Let me also just add that it is completely normal to have a different size for your waist, hip and bust. In fact, it is not uncommon for these three measurements to sit across three different size categories. 

I recommend making a toile (referred to as a muslin in North America), which is a test version of the garment used to check the fit and practice any new techniques. I'll be discussing more about toiles in the next post. 

Fabric Required (Yards & Metres)

The next section down on the pattern back is Fabric Required . Once you know what size you're making, you can look up how much fabric you will need. The example on the chart above shows how much fabric is needed for the size 14 I am making. Note that Colette Patterns is an American company, so the fabric requirements are given in yards (1 yard = 0.9 metres). I generally use Google to convert! It's a sad mistake when you forget to convert the fabric required and end up just short of what is needed. Be sure to double check this before heading to the fabric shop.

To determine the fabric required, first you will need to decide what version you are going to make. I've decided to make Version 1 for myself (gathered with a button placket and patch pockets). However we will also be making up a Version 2 and 3 with the Sewalong to show you how to do pleats and lining.

Next, you will notice that the fabric requirement options on the pattern are given in two different widths: 45 inches wide (115cm) or 60 inches wide (150cm).

When purchasing your fabric you must be aware of the width you are buying. The fabric I purchased was 60 inches wide (from the Cloth House in London). So for the size 14 (version 1) I needed 2 1/4 yards, which is 2.1 metres.  I chose a blue medium weight cotton poplin, as I wanted the extra volume and structure that a medium weight fabric would yield. To create contrast I will be using some colourful plaid cotton from my fabric stash for the skirt back, waistband, button placket and pockets. If you're mixing fabrics it's helpful to choose fabrics of the same weight. I also need 1 yard (0.9 metre) of fusible interfacing. 


As a fun wee side note I thought I would do a Colette Pattern giveaway to the first person who answers the following question correctly:

If your waist measurement is 30 inches and your hip measurement is 42 inches, your making version 3 and you've found 60 inch wide fabric, how much fabric do you need, including interfacing? The first person to comment on the blog with the correct answer will win a Colette Pattern of their choice (as long as we currently have it in stock!).

Open to UK residents only (sorry!)

Finished Garment Measurements:

Ease, Crosswise Grain & Directional Prints

The Finished Garment measurements are very helpful for working out the right fit from the very start. They allow you make necessary adjustments in the initial stages of your process, before even beginning to cut your fabric. This can potentially save you the work of making adjustments to the toile or even the finished garment. 

For the pattern back full chart, see above.

For the pattern back full chart, see above.


The Zinnia pattern gives three different measurements for the finished garment:

  1. WAIST - This is a good point to introduce the concept of ease. If you were to make your garment precisely to your body measurements it would be a very snug fit. Ease is an additional  measurement, designed to provide the extra room in the garment that is essential for wearability and movement. The Waist measurements in the Finished Garment section provides information about the amount of ease in the pattern. This can vary from pattern to pattern, depending on the style of the garment. Using my measurements as an example, the Finished Garment measurement for Waist is 34 1/2 inches, and the Body Measurement is 34 inches, which means that the ease is 1/2 inch at the waist. 
  2. BACK LENGTH - This is measured from the centre back of your waist to the finished hem of the skirt (Note that version 2 is shorter than version 1 and 3). You can use this measurement to determine what the finished length of your skirt will be and decide whether you would like to shorten it or lengthen it (we'll discuss how to do this in the next post). 
  3. HEM - This is the measurement around the circumference of the hem of your skirt. It varies depending on the pattern size. The bigger the pattern size, the larger the hem. This is an important measurement if you'd like to add a trim, such as lace, or bias binding. The hem measurement will tell you what length of trim you need to buy. So if I were to trim my size 14 skirt with lace, I would want to purchase 93 inches plus an extra inch for seam allowance, giving me a total of 94 inches. 



It's not shown in the images above, but the pattern back also contains the following statement:

*Main and lining fabrics are cut on the crosswise grain. Take this into account when choosing prints. Not suitable for directional prints. 

I'll try to explain a couple of these terms here:

CROSSWISE GRAIN -  (see diagram in Fabric Required section). The grain refers to the direction that the threads run in the fabric. In woven fabrics there are two grain lines that run perpendicular to each other: The Crosswise Grain and the Lengthwise Grain. The Crosswise grain runs from selvedge to selvedge (the tightly woven edges of the fabric) and the Lengthwise Grain runs parallel to the selvedge. Read our handout for more on the difference between woven and knit fabrics. 

When pinning your pattern pieces onto your fabric, it is common practice to do this with your fabric folded in half. This way you either cut two pieces in one go or, if the pattern piece is placed right at the fold, you end up with a single symmetrical piece of fabric. The majority of patterns will instruct you to fold your fabric lengthwise and to place your pieces along the Lengthwise Grain. However, with this particular pattern, we are instructed to fold the fabric across the width and place our pattern pieces along the Crosswise Grain. The reason for this is that the Zinnia Skirt is quite wide, so it's possible that even on a 60inch wide fabric they would not fit if it was folded lengthwise. 

DIRECTIONAL PRINTS - The image to the right is a good example of a directional print. The trees are obviously positioned in an upwards direction and the wee girl, who is sitting on the tree, is sitting upwards. It would be very obvious if you were to cut out the fabric with the print going in the wrong direction. This is an example of a print that would not work for the Zinnia pattern. Once the print was cut on the crosswise grain it would be sideways.

In contrast to this, the yellow print below it is a patterned print that can be used in any direction. If you turn it upside down or sideways, the print still works. When you cut this print on the crosswise grain, it works!


Pre-Washing Fabric

Pre-washing your fabric is a very important preparation stage when getting ready to sew. Unfortunately this is something many new sewers learn the hard way. Fabric needs to be pre-washed or pre-treated in some way to eliminate shrinkage and colour bleeding once the garment has been constructed. Many fabrics are prone to shrinkage and others may change in drape. The trick is to make sure that these changes happen before you make up your garment. 

Fabric: 100% Cotton, Wee Wander - Tree Lights in Twilight from  The Village Haberdashery .

Fabric: 100% Cotton, Wee Wander - Tree Lights in Twilight from The Village Haberdashery.

Fabric: 100% Cotton Voile, Art Gallery Voile - Praline Honey from  The Village Haberdashery

Fabric: 100% Cotton Voile, Art Gallery Voile - Praline Honey from The Village Haberdashery

I purchase mine from  Amazon .

I purchase mine from Amazon.

My method is simple; I always wash the fabric using the same process I would use for the final garment. If you plan to use fabric softener and a tumble dryer to wash your skirt, do the same when pre-washing your fabric.

One handy wee trick, when pre-washing fabrics with strong colour, is to use a Colour Catcher. I use the Dylon brand. It sucks up all of the loose colour that bleeds out of the fabric and it works really well. Just toss one sheet in with your wash and let work its magic!

Note that if you are using wool or silk, these fabrics are often not machine washable. Silk needs to be washed by hand with a very gentle detergent and wool either needs to be dry-cleaned or dampened and steamed using an steam iron or steamer. It's always best to test a swatch of the fabric first if you are unsure how it might wash. Some speciality silks can only be dry-cleaned. Keep all of this in mind when purchasing your fabric. If you're not a fan of hand washing garments then don't buy a fabric that will need to be hand washed. 100% cotton is always the safest choice! 


Need some advice on where to shop for fabric? If you're in the Glasgow or Edinburgh area, Mandors Fabric Shop (also a sponsor for the competition) is the best option. They have the greatest selection of dressmaking fabrics in Glasgow or Edinburgh. My favourite shops in London are The Cloth House, Liberty of London (they are located a couple blocks from each other) or The Village Haberdashery. Speaking of Liberty of London, have you seen the recent Channel 4 program called Liberty of London all about the wonderful world of Liberty? If not, definitely check it out (only available in the UK). It's very interesting!

If you're shopping for fabric online, then, in my opinion, The Village Haberdashery has one of the best online fabric shops available to the UK. Happy fabric shopping!

Tracing Your Pattern

When I teach people to sew, I always recommend that they trace their own copy of the pattern pieces required, rather than cutting up the original paper pattern. I have a few reasons for this:

The first is that, if you need to change the size of any pattern pieces later on in the process (i.e. make alterations), then you will still have all the original sizing templates available. But, if you cut up the original paper pattern, then you cut away the bigger sizes (e.g. you cut away the 14 and 16 template if you use the 12).

My second reason is simply that I find it less confusing this way. Rather than working from a pattern with many lines on it, I find it much easier to work from a pattern with a single line that is my chosen size.

And my final reason is that, should you decide to make the garment again in a larger size, you will still have all the original templates available to trace. It means that your purchased pattern is no longer a single-use item. 

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You can purchase pattern tracing paper a couple sheets at a time or in bulk, depending on how much you sew. It's also handy to have a dressmaking or quilter's ruler and French curve for tracing any rounded edges of the pattern. It is not recommended to trace free-hand. When you trace your pattern you should include the following details:

  • Fold lines
  • Lengthen and shorten lines
  • Pattern piece (piece A for example)
  • Name of pattern piece (pocket or button placket for example)
  • The Size you are making
  • How many pieces to cut in main fabric, lining or interfacing
  • Grainline
  • Notches (small triangular shapes for matching seams)
  • Button and buttonhole markings
  • Any other markings: circles for matching side seams, pleat placement, etc.
Traced Pattern.jpg

Next on the Zinnia Sewalong...

  • Making a toile 
  • Pattern Layouts
  • Pinning, cutting and marking the fabric

Questions or Comments?

Sewalongs are intended to be a community activity and very interactive. So if you have any questions about this blog post, or wish to make any comments, please feel free. You can also post any comments or photographs of your work on our Facebook page.