achievement unlocked: railroad stripe suspender skirt

yes! i am finally sewing again after my massive tailspin into crushing depression! let’s see how it turned out.




not bad! especially given that this is the first garment i have sewn for myself without a pattern. i came up with this design myself & i didn’t even make a muslin. i just started cutting into my fashion fabric & did fittings & alterations along the way.

i was inspired one day when i was dicking around on modcloth, probably comparing & contrasting the nine million different sailor dresses they are selling right now to see if there were any design elements i wanted to snag for my jellyfish sailor dress (which was going to be my next garment project, before i got sidetracked by this thing). i stumbled across these striped short-alls:

i didn’t want to buy them, because i don’t have much interest in buying myself new clothes now that i know how to make clothes. i’d rather sew something myself so it’s exactly what i want & (in a perfect world) a better fit & everything. but i liked the stripes & i like how the straps crisscrossed in the back. a few years ago, jared bought a pair of old-timey pants with suspenders that attach with buttons.


i thought they were amazing, & he tried to convince me to buy myself a pair, but i was like, “no way, i can’t wear suspenders with this giant rack. only flat-chested girls can make suspenders work.” but…i guess i had a change of heart? i feel like there’s so much stuff i’ve convinced myself that i can’t wear because my boobs are too big or i’m too apple-shaped or whatever. if i saw a girl with my body size & shape wearing suspenders, i’d probably just think she had great style, end of story. i started googling images of suspender skirts & getting really obsessed with making one for myself.

i decided to do a gored skirt because i haven’t done that before but i like what i have seen on the internet. i liked the shape, it seemed forgiving in the mid-section, & i always leap at an opportunity to do french seams. i did poke around online a bit to see if there were any nice suspender skirt patterns i could use, or even a gored skirt pattern. but i didn’t really find anything that appealed to me. i went to the indie sewing store downtown to check out their zipper selection (paltry, as usual) & found myself examining their selection of fashion fabrics. i found the most luscious thin-wale black corduroy with just a hint of stretch. absolutely perfect for my suspender skirt idea, but sadly, not the appropriate fabric for late june. i decided i would have to shelve the suspender skirt idea until fall, which would give me more time to look for a suitable pattern.

but then i went to the big box sewing store on the edge of town–again, to look for zippers. (they had exactly what i needed–a green-ish aqua 22-inch zip.) & i decided to check out their corduroy. there was nothing i liked so i shrugged & started to head to the cash register…& then i decided to look at their “novelty denim”. i don’t know why. i’ve never sewn with denim & am not that attracted to it outside of jeans. but they had a very lightweight railroad stripe–& it was 50% off! i added coordinating thread, a 14″ navy zipper, & a spool of elastic thread to my cart & off i went.

first i drafted my gore. i took my waist measurement, divided it by six, & added an inch (for a half-inch seam allowance on either side). i drew that line at the top of my fabric. i estimated my skirt length (including hem allowance) & drew that line straight down from the midpoint of the waist measurement. i doubled the waist measurement & drew that line at the bottom of my length line, centering it in the middle. then i connected the outer corners & boom: one custom-fit skirt gore pattern piece.

though, i will add: when i make this skirt again (& i will), i would add more width at the bottom. other gored skirts i’ve seen online have this undulating petal effect because they gain so much width at the hem. clearly, mine does not do that. one set of instructions i read did say to triple the waist measurement & make that the width of the gore, but that seemed like A LOT to me (& would have resulted in something like a 10-foot hem–i’m not scarlett o’hara!). but doubling it was maybe not quite enough.

i cut five fabric pieces according to my pattern & then i folded it in half & cut two more, adding a half-inch on just one side of each. these would be the pieces where i inserted my zipper. i sewed three regular gores together to make my skirt front & i sewed one regular-sized gore to each of the half-gores to make the back.

then i measured at the waist & panicked because i felt the skirt was a tiny bit too small. it was fit perfectly to fit around my waist while i’m standing up & really doubling down on my posture. i decided i needed more ease than that (three inches, to be precise) so i cut two emergency gores using the same formula as above, two & a half inches each at the waist. i sewed them to my back pieces, & once seam allowances are accounted for, three inches total were added to my waist circumference. but obviously i could have avoided this by just adding in the ease when i started.

okay! so then i had a skirt front & two skirt back pieces. i measured each at the waist to figure out how long to make my waistband pieces. because somewhere along the way, i decided this was going to be a high-waisted skirt. VERY high-waisted. really, an underbust skirt. i have literally never worn a high-waisted skirt before. i never thought i could make them work due to the whole apple shape situation. (my waist measurement is just barely smaller than my bust measurement–& my bust measurement is pretty big). but i liked the underbust suspender skirts i had seen thanks to the magic of google images, & there are so many curvy/plus-sized/fat/whatever you want to call it seamsters out there making knock-out garments for themselves, trying new silhouettes & experimenting…why NOT give it a try? the worst thing that happens is that it looks terrible & never gets worn. kind of a bummer but at least i would still have the joy of sewing it.

so, i measured from where i wanted the back high waist to sit down to where the skirt piece would sit & came up with around 4 inches. i cut two pieces of fabric, folded over so they were double-faced, 4 & 3/4″ inches (high waist to waist plus seam allowance for joining to skirt) by 14″ (half my back waist measurement, including seam allowance for joining to skirt front & zipper). i double-faced them so the folded would become the top of the high waist & i wouldn’t have to do any hemming there, & also because i wanted the waistband to have extra stability because i knew it would be very fitted.

then came the exciting part: shirring! i had never shirred before. had i gone into the project thinking i was going to shirr the back waistband, i probably wouldn’t have tried to used the railroad stripe denim, because denim doesn’t really shirr well. but it was so lightweight, not really much heavier than a particularly sturdy quilting cotton, i decided to at least try it. i had read that shirring is almost impossible to do on a brother machine, which is what i have, but i read a thousand tutorials & implemented some of their tips. i hand-wound my bobbin using a moderate degree of tension, & i set the tension on my upper thread to the highest setting. & i used the biggest stitch. &…it worked! it didn’t give me any trouble at all. i used the edge of my presser foot as a guide to get perfect lines of shirring half an inch apart.


i then sewed one line of elastic into my skirt top so it would stretch while i fitted it to the shirred piece. i pinned at the edges first & worked toward the middle to distribute the fabric evenly. then i put my regular thread back in the bobbin case & stitched the whole thing up with a french seam.

for the front waistband, i wanted to keep it flat, but i also wanted to curve it down because my front waist is lower than my back waist. so i drafted up a weird shape that was 4 & 3/4″ on the sides (to match my back waistband seams) but dipped down to 6 & 1/2″ in the front. luckily i have plenty of experience sewing curves, so it wasn’t difficult to distribute the curve along the top of my skirt front. it required a bit of clipping, but not much. i did another french seam.

i sewed in my zipper & realized too late that i placed it too low. well, i could have taken it out & done it again. but i didn’t. instead i just added a hook & eye at the very top.


i figured out where i wanted my pockets & sewed them on to each skirt piece. yes, of course i included pockets! made of fabulous pink flea market fancy fabric!


i thought the dashed lines would look especially great with the railroad stripes. not that anyone can really see them but me.

at this point i realized that my skirt was actually probably too big. maybe i added too much ease? i sewed the back to the front with a 1″ seam allowance (except at the pockets, where i went down to 1/2″) & tried it on. it fit okay at the top of the skirt piece but the top of the waistband was way too big. apparently i am smaller right under my boobs than i am at my actual waist. i resewed the top with a 2″ seam allowance grading down to 1″ at the top of the skirt & tried it on again. perfection!


but it was crazy long. i had estimated that it needed to be 22″ long to be the length i wanted with a 1″ hem. but then i panicked about it being too short & added two more inches. i wound up doing a 3″ hem & i kind of regret not doing 4″. it might be just a hair too long. jared says it’s the perfect length, & really, better too long than too short. but next time, i’ll go a little shorter.

then the straps! i used a tape measure to estimate how long a strap needed to be if i wanted to criss cross them in the back. i wanted 1 & 1/2″ thick straps, so i cut two nice long pieces of fabric 3 & 1/2″ inches wide (so i could double it over & sew a 1/4″ seam allowance). turning those long tubes right side out was an epic pain in the ass, but it got done. i flipped on end up twice & stitched it down with an X shape:


i estimated the back placement (two & a half inches from the side seam, one inch from the top) & hand stitched each strap in place on the inside of the waistband, catching only the inner layer of waistband fabric so no stitches would show on the outside. then i put the skirt on & used the full-length mirror to estimate the placement for the front straps. at this point i realized i should have angled the straps in the back, but…oh well. i angled them in the front & marked their placement with a chalk pencil. i hand-stitched them in place & could have called myself down, but i had the bright idea to add a little strip of eyelet lace peeking out of the hem. but i didn’t want stitching to show outside, so i hand-stitched it down, again catching only the inside layer of fabric. & this hem is over six feet wide. yeah, that took a few hours. & it’s quite a subtle effect.


& that’s that!

i quite like how this came out. it’s probably the most practical garment i’ve sewn for myself so far. i expect it to get quite a bit of wear. i do wear the other dresses i’ve made, but some of them are kind of production. like, i can’t wear a circle skirt on a really windy day. the unicorn dress isn’t the most practical for the playground, with the sweetheart neckline. i love the bacon dress, but the waistline is slightly uneven (because i made it before i learned that MY waistline is uneven) so i’m constantly adjusting it. this dress is incredibly comfortable, i can layer it over a comfy t-shirt & not have to worry that my boobs are going to fall out (even if they are on display a bit…or a lot), & it’s the fabric is hard-wearing enough to romp around outside with ramona. i definitely plan to make another in the fall with that gorgeous black corduroy. & this gives me a great excuse to venture into sewing more shirts & blouses, because a wacky print will team great with this railroad stripe.


Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

4 thoughts on “achievement unlocked: railroad stripe suspender skirt

    1. thanks! i kind of want to make another in eyelet or seersucker–something lighter since it’s so humid this summer. but i’m already planning to make one in corduroy for the fall & i’m not sure a person really requires three different high-waisted suspender skirts…

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