DIY tutorial: Repurposed sari silk skirt
I am super excited to bring you this simple but stunning DIY tutorial for this skirt made from a repurposed vintage silk sari. This skirt is entirely hand-sewn, and is very simple, so it is the perfect project for a beginner, or anyone who doesn’t own a sewing machine.
For this project you will need:
- One vintage silk sari (a large piece of soft cotton will also work for this)
- Fabric sissors
- Fabric pins
- Sewing thread (I recommend a extra strong thread, but a normal grade sewing thread will also work as long as you aren’t too rough with the finished product. But it is silk, so I don’t imagine you will be!)
- Tape Measure
- Length of 30mm wide elastic (you may also like to purchase a narrower width of elastic as a back up in case you sew the waist-band too narrow and can’t fit the wider elastic easily
- Large safety pin
- Large gauge hand-sewing needle (but not a tapestry needle, which is too large and has a blunt tip)
First you need to work out the approximate length and width that you require for your skirt. The piece of fabric should be cut to the width of about 3x your waist measurement. Measure this along the top edge of the sari and If you would like a fuller skirt, you can increase this even more. Don’t worry if you cut it slightly narrower than I’ve advised- it is a very forgiving project and you won’t notice it in the finished skirt. (see footnote 1)
Many saris have a block of different pattern at each end of the silk. You may like to include this as your feature of your skirt, and in this case you should cut from the end that you like. If you would prefer the pattern to be more uniform, you will need to cut the width of your skirt from the middle section of the sari. It is a personal choice and depends upon both your aesthetic tastes as well as the individual sari that you have chosen. For the skirt pictured I have chosen to go for the uniform pattern, but if I came across the right sari I would certainly be open to utilising the block pattern as a feature of a skirt.
Once you have cut the width of your skirt, you will need to determine the length that you would like the skirt. This pattern is suitable for any length, from short to maxi. Measure from your waist or hips (depending upon where you prefer to wear your skirts) down to where you would like the bottom of the skirt to be. You will need to add about 10cm to this length to determine you fabric length to account for the length lost to hemming.
Before cutting the length you need to decide whether you would like to keep the sari border as a feature at the bottom of the skirt. In the skirt pictured, I have kept the border as it adds a nice accent to the lower edge. Keeping the border at the bottom also means that you don’t need to hem the bottom width of the skirt. If you choose to remove the border, cut if off the whole piece of fabric and then measure the length of skirt to cut. Remember that if you do this, you will need to hem the bottom edge of the skirt as well as the top.
You are now ready to start sewing. To begin with, you will need to hem all raw edges of the piece (raw edges are the edges of the fabric which have been cut). Iron the fabric on low heat so that it is nice and crisp. Place the fabric face down (wrong side showing to you) and iron a small fold (about 1cm) along one of the raw edges. Fold over again about 1cm so that the raw edge is completely enclosed within the fold, iron flat, and pin the fold in place. The wrong side should still be showing and the fold should be visible on the wrong side but hidden on the right side of the fabric. Sew along the whole length of this fold. Make sure that you your knots show on the wrong side of the fabric, with only stitches showing on the correct side of the fabric. Repeat this process for all other raw edges.
Now you will join the two ends of the fabric so that it forms a circle around your body. To do this fold your fabric so that two short ends meet and the right sided is folder inwards. The wrong side should be on the outside of this fold. Pin the two short edges together. Sew along the pinned edge to the end. The fabric should now form a circle which you could step into.
Keeping the wrong side showing on the outside, you will need to use your iron to make a crisp fold of about 5cm (as pictured below) along the top edge of the circle of fabric and pin along the edge.
This will form the waist band for the skirt. You should sew along the edge of the fold, about 1cm in. This should leave a ‘tunnel’ of about 4cm in height where the elastic will be threaded through. Make sure you leave a gap between starting and finishing sewing this line, otherwise you won’t be able to get the elastic into the ‘tunnel’! Leave about a 5cm gap for threading the elastic through.
I find that the easiest way to cut the elastic to the right length is to thread it into the skirt first and then judge what the best length for you is. To thread the elastic through, attach a large safety pin (nappy pins are great for this) to the end of the elastic and use this to guide it through the tunnel, pushing the pin through and then pulling the fabric over the elastic.
Once the elastic is through, pin it to the approximate length for your waist. Turn the skirt the right way out, and then try it on. If the elastic is too tight or loose, adjust the length, re-pin and try it on again. When you are happy that elastic is pinned to the correct length cut off the addtional elastic. Make sure you leave at least 2cm of overlapping length where you will sew the elastic together. Before sewing the ends together, check the waist band to ensure that the elastic isn’t twisted. If it is twisted, keep the elastic pinned and use your finger to guide the twist out toward the pin. Unpin and repin so that the elastic isn’t twisted. But don’t let go of either end of the elastic, otherwise it will spring back and you have a lot of fun trying to pull the end back out of the waistband. Sew the two ends of the elastic together.
Adjust the fabric around the elastic so that the fabric is evenly gathered around the waistband, without large bunches in places. Once you are happy with this, sew the few cemtremeters of space where the elastic was threaded through so that the elastic is completely enclosed in the waistband.
Congratulations, now your beautiful skirt is ready to wear. The silk can be slightly sheer, so it is worth popping down to your local charity store to find a cheap petty coat to wear underneath it. Otherwise pair your skirt with tights or leggings. I like to wear mine with black leggings and a black tee, making it a perfect cycle friendly work outfit- no need to change after my relaxed ride to the office.
I hope this simple project has given your the confidence to make a start on sewing your own clothes. Hand sewing can be time consuming, but I find it a wonderful antidote to our fast-paced lives. I also love to do my stitching whilst watching TV, that way I don’t need to feel guilty about watching another repeat of Mad Men!
I’d love to hear how your go with the project, so do leave me a comment, and if you have any questions, post them in the comments for me to answer below.
I purchase the vintage saris for my projects from Esty seller Queensclub, they have an extensive range of hand-printed silk saris in every colour imaginable.
You can find organic cotton sewing thread from All Eco.
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1. A note on definitions and fabric terms, when shopping for fabric the length is usually measured along the sealed edge of fabric as the bolt is unrolled, and the width the narrower edge which is cut. However, in this pattern I use the term width to describe the edge of the fabric which gather around your waist. Length here is used to describe the length of the skirt. If you plan to order fabric from a store rather than use a sari skirt, make sure you ask for a length of fabric that is long enough for the width of the skirt (ie for a 70cm waist you will need a 210cm length of fabric cut from the bolt)