Refashion: Tartan Wool Skirt into Cape!

I’ve got a mostly successful refashion to share with you today. You may or may not remember this skirt which I bought from a now defunct charity shop in Islington. I bought 4 things at the same time and have refashioned the other 3 already (I made a skirt into a Scout Tee, an ugly dress into a less ugly dress and an ugly coat into a Freemantle coat), so it felt overdue to give this one a new life.

Skirt-to-Cape-Refashion-Before

I ummed and ahhed about what to make and, having rejected making a different kind of skirt, had the brainwave to make a cape! I’m not really sure where the idea came from or how much wear I’ll get from it, but I had fun making it.

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The first thing I did was to unpick the whole skirt – I removed the zip, which was broken anyway,

Skirt-to-Cape-Refashion-Before-Broken Zip

unpicked all these deep pleats, and separated the lining from the main fabric.

Skirt-to-Cape-Refashion-Before-pleat

When it was all unpicked, it turned out there was loads of fabric! I couldn’t even get it all in one photo!

Skirt-to-Cape-Refashion-Before-Unpicked

I separated the 2 halves of the skirt – where you can see it’s slightly shaped in the above photo and used one half to make the main, back part of the cape. This would have been a lot easier with a dress form, but given I don’t have one yet, I improvised. I pinned the half of the skirt to the shoulders of my cardigan, so they sat where I wanted the shoulder seams to be on the cape. I then took the cardigan off, with the fabric attached.

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I used the cardigan method to tell me how much of the fabric to gather across my back. It turned out I had to gather pretty much the whole width as much as it would gather, considering it is quite think wool fabric. I then used the original waistband to make half a collar, which also secured the gathers.

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The next thing I did was to use the other half of the skirt to cut the front pieces for each side. Given that the skirt was slightly shaped at the hips, I used this shaping as a guide to follow my shoulders. I attached these 2 pieces to each side of the back, leaving a gap about 25 cm up and of about 25 cm for the arm holes. I then tried it on and adjusted the seam to better fit the curve of my shoulders, trimming away the excess seam allowance.

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Since I was making this all up as I went along, I realised the waist band part would make a great stand-up collar – when I first attached it I wasn’t sure if it would be more of a yolk, but collar it was. I therefore applied interfacing to stiffen it a bit. I used some remnants of some white interfacing I had because it’s a thicker, more papery weight than the black interfacing I have in my stash.
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The cape was all going swimmingly up to this point. I decided to use the original lining from the skirt as the lining for the cape – this turned out to be an error, but I’ll explain why later.

I had kept the lining in one piece and lined the centre seam up with the centre of the cape back. I cut 2 facing pieces from what was left of the skirt fabric and when I lined it all up with the collar of the shell, the lining really overlapped at the top of the facing and there was a big gap at the bottom, so I trimmed off the overlap at the top and sewed a triangular wedge onto the bottom – you can see my rough chalk marks where I measured it and the wedge pinned on below.

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I also added a couple of darts into the lining so it would better follow the shape of my shoulders – and the shape of the shell. I ended up unpicking these later, however.

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The problem was that the lining was much smaller than the shell – the lining of the skirt was as big as the outer fabric once the pleats were all pleated already, so it makes sense there wasn’t as much lining fabric. With jackets and things, ideally the lining should be a little bigger than the shell (and often with a pleat at centre back) to allow for movement. I only discovered my mistake once I’d pretty much finished the cape and then tried it on. It didn’t sit properly over my shoulders as there wasn’t as much room in the lining as in the shell, and the armholes proved very difficult to neated – the lining fabric pulled up the hem (which I had already sewn, another mistake!) when I pinned it to the shell armhole, if that makes sense? The only work-around I could come up with was to add an extra triangle of fabric above the shell armhole in the lining, so the lining would more accurately match the shape of the shell.

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This did pretty much work, even if it may not look the neatest on the inside.

After all the drama of the lining, I cut another strip the same size as the waist-band collar to sew to the inside of the collar, neatening the attachment of the lining at the neck.

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It doesn’t look too shabby on the inside, if I do say so myself!

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Now I’m just going to spam you with pictures of the finished cape – I used a couple of toggles from my stash (which were a present from my awesome friend!) to fasten the neck. I had thought it would meet more in the middle than it does, but I blame the lining! I blame the lining for all it’s ills.

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I love the cocoon-y shape it makes from the side!

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Showing off the bastard lining, and trying to look pleased with it……

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I had to do a superhero pose – sorry not sorry. I don’t know what superhero I’d be – Tartan Girl? Refashion Woman? Any better suggestions?

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Although I have moaned a lot about the problems with this cape, it only took really a day and a bit to make (spread over 3 days) and I have never made a cape before from a  proper pattern and aside from some random googling, I didn’t really know what one looked like, so I’m pretty pleased I’ve ended up with a wearable garment. I was listening to a podcast while I was sewing with the lady who runs Workroom Social in Brooklyn and she said she tries to teach her students not to necessarily unpick every little mistake they make and instead to look for ways around the problem, hoping you would learn from the mistake and mistake-solving next time. There’s often a lot of pressure in sewing to produce something ‘perfect’ but I know I’m not quite that good yet, so this cape is definitely good enough. Do you unpick all your mistakes or do you soldier on through?

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