Box Pleat Skirts – What I’ve Learnt In A Year

Back in April 2019, after four years of living in the south, I found my self missing my sewing machine more than I can explain. With a stressful job and a long commute I felt I was lacking my own mental space. I needed a calming outlet for my stress and something constructive I could do at home. After long discussions with my partner about my stress levels and how we could manage them, we decided it was time to get my sewing machine sent down from Scotland. I had previously thought that this would be impractical and expensive but my mum, presumably glad to get some more space in the new house, happily complied and sent me not only my machine but the rest of my equipment and my sewing books as well.

As to why I didn’t do this much earlier, up to the summer of 2018 my partner and I had lived in shared houses and as we all know, sewing machines are not exactly quiet and I didn’t think it would be fair on my housemates. Fast forward then to April 2019, I had 10 days of leave booked, my sewing machine was ready to go, all I had to do was pick a pattern. And I picked this! A box-pleat skirt from one of the Sewing Bee pattern books. It took me a few weeks because I really wanted to take my time and get it right but on the 19th May 2019 I finally finished my first entirely me-made garment. There are definitely a few things I could have done better but it’s precious to me and despite its flaws I wear it all the time. It’s a work-appropriate length and incredibly light plus the shape given by the box-pleats means the skirt doesn’t flip up in the wind – what’s not to love?

I feel like my sewing has improved a lot since that first make, well I hope it has, but I wanted to do an experiment to measure the difference. To see just how much I have learnt in the last year and a bit. Initially I wondered about aiming for a really complex make to show how far I’ve come but I wanted a direct comparison and I didn’t think just making a more advanced garment would provide that. Instead I decided the best way would be to make the same skirt again and observe the differences. I dug out the pattern again and I chose to make the skirt out of a lightweight navy blue gingham from Rainbow Fabrics Kilburn. The fabric has a good amount of structure to it and it’s opaque while still letting some light through. The big thing I’ve learnt about gingham is that it frays incredibly easily so I used my pinking shears quite a bit and tried to use lots of enclosed seams.

Today’s blog is not going to be a ‘how-to’, instead I want to reflect on the changes in the garment and how I felt making it. I’m going to start with material changes in the garment and move on to the overal changes in how I felt making it.

Material / Physical Changes

I’m so much quicker at cutting and stitching.

This is a big one for me. I remember just pinning the pattern took me about half an hour the first time and cutting it out took even longer. That was because I was so scared to make a single wrong incision, terrfiyed it would ruin the garment from the outset. This time I had this ironed, pinned, cut out and ready to go within 30 minutes. It has to be said I also have much better scissors than I did a year ago but also I’m used to cutting fabric now and in particular I’m used to cutting on carpet which was a challenge for me when I started sewing in this house. The next big step for me will be a cutting mat and a rotary cutter to help me use my slippier fabrics to better effect as I refuse to use my scissors on chiffon.

My pleats are so much neater now.

I mean come on look at those, those box pleats are beautiful if I do say so myself! My first ones are fine, there’s nothing particularly wrong with them but these are gorgeously sharp. Honestly after I had stitched them I just sat and stared at them for a bit because I was so proud.

The lapped zip is actually a lapped zip this time!

Right so it’s still not perfect but its a sight better than last time. The zip is actually covered this time. I wanted to use a shorter zip because I felt the last one was too long but sadly I went too short this time and it requires a bit of a wiggle to put it on. Maybe I’ll make another one in a years time and I’ll finally get the zip completely perfect.

General Changes

I care much less about pattern instructions.

This sounds awful but its true. I promise I do read the pattern instructions but I definitely read them less or perhaps a better way to say this is that I am less worried by the instructions. If it’s a new pattern then of course I will sit down and properly read the instructions before I start just to get the shape of pattern journey in my head. However when I first started I was almost terrified of making micro mistakes or missing anything in the pattern but its because I really didn’t know what I was doing when I started. Now I have a better understanding of sewing techniques and of garment construction, I don’t worry as much about the instructions. Making this skirt is incredibly simple anyway and I didn’t look at the book until it got to the lapped zip stage and then I gave the book a very close reading! Otherwise the next steps of the pattern just seem clear and make sense now and you know what? It feels good. I feel like I have matured into someone who osn’t just following instructions but actually understands what I am doing and that feels like an achievement.

The whole process is much more fun.

The first time I made this skirt, it was pretty much dead silence in my living room, I was really scared that I would make a mistake and wanted my full concentration. Honestly, it was tense! Now I’ve loosened up and that comes down to experience. I know what I’m doing, I can trust my judgement and relax into the rhythm of sewing. I put netflix on or a good radio crime drama and I’ll happily sit and sew for the rest of the day. Making this skirt a second time I was able to revel in the process a lot more. To congratulate myself for little successes like my zip or my frankly knife sharp box pleats. I was able to identify, celebrate and own my successes as micro sewing achievements while recognising that of course I still have a long way to go. I was also able to trust my judgement which enables me to relax and go with the process. Observing what I do, correcting errors before they become mistakes and laughing at any mistakes I make.

What the second make of this skirt taught me is that not only am I technically a better dressmaker than I was 15 months ago but that I am more mature as a person. I am able to laugh at myself, trust my judgement and grow through every garment I make measuring against no one’s standards but my own.

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