Monday, December 19, 2011

OMG! I sewed a skirt! - A Class with Tracy McElfresh

Sewing Class with Tracy

Sewing Class with Tracy I've had a sewing machine since a friend of mine introduced me to quilting during graduate school. But I haven't actually used it to make much of anything other than quilts (and those only rarely). During high school I played with my mother's old sewing machine, trying to make dresses I saw Alicia Silverstone wearing in Aerosmith videos and failed miserably. I haven't really tried since then because, quite honestly, I'm terrible at picking out fabric to go with a pattern. Just terrible! But when Dayton designer Tracy McElfresh announced she was having an A-line Elastic Waistband Skirt class at Grass Roots (Facebook Page), I pounced on it and reserved my spot.

Sewing Class with Tracy
Tracy, showing us how to cut out a pattern.
Next think I knew I was in Jo-Ann fabrics choosing out fabric with my husband. It was a nightmare! I hate shopping in that place, especially around the holiday season. I called up Tracy in a panic while I was there and she advised me to choose something without too much stretch. With that in mind, my husband chose a "Skull with Pink Bows" novelty print (his tastes run toward "stripper wear" as he put it), and I chose a plaid (one might argue, also "stripper wear"). Either way, I figured I had something we could use during the class.

Tracy likes to design her classes such that you can take something home when you're done. Now you might be thinking a skirt would take too long - we only had 3 hours. But believe me, this is probably the easiest skirt to make ever. If I can do it, you can do it!

Tracy is a fantastic teacher. Her knowledge of her craft is vast and she is extremely patient. Like any good teacher with students new to a subject, Tracy began the class with a brief history of sizing (did you know that original sizes were based on your age?) and how the art of making your own clothing has changed over the last century. She moved on then to the task at hand and showed us her sample of the skirt we would be making. after passing out "template" patters, Tracy further explained to us that we were to alter the pattern to make it fit us, either adding or subtracting inches as needed. She demonstrated how to cut out the fabric, then let us go.

I had a choice in front of me: Skulls or Plaid. Obviously, I chose the more difficult of the two fabrics and went with the plaid.

Sewing Class with Tracy

Poor Tracy - she had to spend time with me not only explaining what we were doing but also had to put up with me deciding to challenge myself with cutting the fabric on the bias. You see, here are the problems:
  1. It's Plaid, that means the stripes have to line up.
  2. You need more fabric to cut on the bias for a pattern.
  3. I only had 2 yards of fabric.
  4. It was crappy fabric from Jo-Ann's and wasn't as perfectly square as it looked.
So once I had one half of my skirt cut out my task was simple: make the skirt disappear.  Instead of folding the fabric and cutting half a quarter out like everyone else, I had to pin my front half of my skirt to the fabric in a way that had the pattern matching EXACTLY. That's the only way I'd ever get the seams to line up. Eventually, they did line up. After that it was easy.

Sewing Class with Tracy Here were Tracy's instructions (in a nutshell):
  1. Decide on your waist.
  2. Decide how long you want your skirt to be.
  3. Decide how "A line" you want the skirt to be. 
  4. Cut it out.
  5. Pin up the sides and sew.
  6. Sew the bottom hem (mine was an inch).
  7. Take elastic and put it snugly around your waist and cut. This will be your waist band.
  8. Fold over the waist enough that it will allow you to feed the elastic through. Press and pin. Sew it down.
  9. Using a safety pin, weave the elastic through. (if the elastic is too thick you can cut it, like we did with mine.
  10. Stitch the elastic together, then stitch the seam closed.
  11. Stitch "in the ditch", or in the seams), to secure the elastic in place (so it won't flip).
  12. Stitch one stitch up the back so you know which side is the back and to further secure the ellastic. 
  13. Wear the frakking dress.
Sewing Class with TracyIf you Google "How to make A-line elastic skirt" you'll find many sites that show you how to do exactly what I just told you above but probably much more cleanly. It's not a difficult thing, making an A-Line skirt. In the end, when it's finished, if you did a good enough job I swear no one will even know it's hand made. This goes double for if you're taught by Tracy - her stitches are impeccable and she'll tell you how to make yours just as cleanly. With practice, Tracy says that once you know what you're doing you can make this skirt in about 25 minutes. This one took me 3 hours - but I can wear it!

There are many who think that it's a dying art form and I applaud Tracy for doing her part to keep these skills alive within the community. I look forward to the opportunity to take more classes from Tracy. In the mean time I've picked up a few additional patterns and some fabric of my own. At my husband's insistence, my next project will definitely be a pleated skirt.

Dresses by Tracy McElfresh on Facebook
Tracy McElfresh on Etsy
Grass Roots Dayton on Facebook