Handmaker's Factory

My Skirt is My Canvas

Recycling clothes appeals to me on a deep, creative level. My imagination really took off when I found the refashioning world. Making over existing clothes brings a whole new level of creativity and challenge to the design process. Not only is it environmentally friendly, it’s cost effective (I routinely find men’s wool or cotton sweaters for about $5 (U.S.) that I unravel for yarn; acrylic yarn, new, can cost that much A SKEIN) and opens your mind to new possibilities. Belt buckles become necklaces, decoration on a handbag or drawer pulls. You aren't limited to what is offered in traditional retail outlets.

It also brings constraints. If you find a lovely skirt but it doesn't fit you, you have to work within the confines of the fabric you've got. It requires creative detours and mental deliberation. But when you come up with a solution, what a great feeling! It’s like solving a puzzle.
Speaking of skirts, I make and use a lot of them. I’ll cruise the skirt section of the thrift store just to see if I can find a great print or leather. One particular skirt I found had a beautiful embroidered band. I paid about $4 (U.S.) for it. But it was too long and too big for me. The way it was made I had to manipulate my pattern pieces around the back vent but in the end I was able to cut out a whole new skirt. However, there wasn't enough fabric to fold under the hem. No problem, I just used bias binding to create a contrasting hem and waistband (I don't like facings).

skirt 003

Sometimes other items I find end up as skirts. My sewing club had a program to make jackets out of sweatshirts. In my usual fashion, I went overboard buying sweatshirts. I only needed two for my jacket and I bought six. These were large men’s sweatshirts so there was a lot of fabric. I decided to make a skirt from them. It was an unusual choice but I thought the sweatshirt material would make a nice warm skirt for the winter. How cute would it be to pair it with tights and boots? I
had drafted a six gore pattern and laid the pieces out on the sweatshirt. Problem was, even though the shirt was big, it was not big enough to cut out a whole skirt. So I took a dark grey and a light grey sweatshirt and decide to combine them, alternating colors.

 The skirt sewed up quickly. I added a zipper to the back and used the bias binding option again. But I didn't stop there. I was intrigued by the Alabama Chanin style of embroidery that uses raw edge knits for appliqué and exposed knots as a design feature. I randomly cut leaf shapes out of an old black t-shirt and used some black beads and black embroidery floss I had in my stash. I pinned down the appliqués and used a variety of embroidery stitches to sew them onto the skirt.


Without the appliqués, the skirt was boring, with 
them I get comments whenever I wear it. And it does look great with tights and boots. When I wear it, I feel like I'm wrapped in a blanket.

Skirts are relatively quick and easy to make and since I live in a warm climate, they are a comfortable yet stylish option. When you find or draft a basic pattern that fits perfectly, it becomes a blank canvas for a multitude of embellishing and decorative options. A good resource if you want to draft your own patterns is Francesca DenHartog’s Sew What! Skirts: 16 simple styles you can make with fabulous fabrics.

I've used a variety of appliques on different skirts,


but I've also used lace trim,

 lace hem  

rick rack, three dimensional flowers, beads, buttons, ruffled bias 

ruffle hem

and scalloped hem. Even though I use the 
same pattern, none of the skirts look the same because the combination of fabrics and decorations give each a unique look.

Whether you are looking for ways to expand your existing wardrobe, create a special occasion garment, experiment with different embellishments, branch out into pattern making, clear out a bunch of odds and ends or just want an instant gratification project, a skirt is my go-to project.


Lynn Burdick is a designer, author and Kaizen Muse Creativity Coach 
who loves the thrill of the (thrift store) hunt. When she isn't playing with yarn/fabric or helping others follow their bliss, she can be found jogging, cooking, drawing, reading, dreaming of her own garden or plotting her next adventure. You can learn more about her at www.LynnBurdick.com.