Sunday 8 April 2012

Tutorial: bubble hem with pick-up skirt

After 2.5 days of solid sewing and a lot of trial and error, I am finally happy with my entry for the RTW contest, as inspired by the Gossip Girl green dress (in reality I think this was a dress designed by Lorick New York). Before posing for the PR contest and uploading my entry, I thought I'd share a couple of techniques that I have tried out when making this dress, in case anyone would find it helpful. 

Here's a sneaky peek of the finished dress (more pictures to come later of course) before I start the first tutorial:

OK so this tutorial is on how to make the skirt, namely the bubble skirt with pick-up details. Here we go: 

Step 1 Cut the skirt pieces

I cut the skirt layer as a half circle, made of 3 pieces: skirt front and 2 skirt back pieces. If you need help in drafting a half circle skirt, there are lots of tutorials out there if you google it (and that's the reason why I didn't think it was necessary to repeat it here). I cut the skirt layer about 70cm long. 

If you want a fuller skirt with more drama, or equally a slimmer look, then you will need to adjust the skirt pieces accordingly, eg cut a circle skirt or a more A-line skirt. 

Also if do not want to have the pick-up skirt detail, then the skirt pieces can be much shorter, they will only need to be slightly longer than the lining. Similarly, if you want less pick-ups, then you could shorten the skirt layer also. 

Step 2 Cut the skirt lining layer

Then we need to cut the lining pieces. The key for the bubble hem is to use the lining layer to structure the look. You will need to cut the lining pieces narrower (but do bear in mind that you've gotta be able to walk in it...) and shorter. 

Using the same waste measurement as the skirt pieces, I cut the 3 lining pieces, with the length slightly shorter than what I want the finished skirt to be (as the bubble will make the skirt longer). 

The top left corner of this picture shows what I used as a skirt lining pattern (I used the same pattern to cut all 3 pieces -- the front piece on fold and the back pieces allowing for seam allowances). 

Step 3 Assemble the skirt 

For the skirt, with right sides together ("RST"), sew skirt back pieces to front piece at side seams. 
Then sew back pieces together, leaving a gap at the top of the skirt back for inserting a zip later. I left 12cm but this will depend on person. 

Press open seam allowances. 

Step 4 Assemble skirt lining
Similarly follow the same steps to assemble the skirt lining. Now you should have both layers done, except for the partially open centre back seams. 

Step 5 Gather the bottom of the skirt layer                                          

On the wrong side of the skirt, using the longest stitch on the machine, and with very strong thread (this is crucial if you want to avoid the disappointment of a broken thread when you're almost done with the gathering...I've been there! although the colour of the thread will not matter as it will not show on the finished project), sew 2 lines of running stitches next to one another, at about 0.5cm and 1cm respectively to the bottom of the skirt. 

DO NOT back stitch at the start or the end. 

Pull the threads at both ends to gather bottom of the skirt to the length of the bottom of the skirt lining layer. 

Step 6 Attach bottom of skirt to lining

With RST, sew the gathered skirt bottom to the bottom of the skirt lining, with 1.5cm seam allowances (so that the gathering stitches won't show through). 

Step 7 (optional) - gather dress net for extra drama

This step is optional - I used a layer of gathered dress net to make the skirt more poofy and fun but only one layer so it's not too crazy and that I still can find an occasion to wear the dress. 

I recycled some of the dress net from my wedding dress toile #1 (which I have now cut into pieces to be reused!) and cut it to be slightly narrow than the length of the skirt lining, and 5 metres long. I left a gap at the centre back again so the zipper won't get all jammed with the dress net. 

Then I gathered it at the top until it matches the top of the skirt lining and attached it to the wrong side of the lining. 

Step 8 - sew skirt to lining at the top

With the wrong sides of the skirt and lining together (with or without the dress net), I sewed the top of the layers together, leaving the zipper space open still. The above is a photo of the layers just before I sewed the top together. 

Now you should have a skirt with bubble hem! Here're a couple of pictures (the one on the dress form was placed on top of the bodice, before they were attached)

Now the pick up skirt. This is more to do with trial and error, until you are happy with the result. As the name suggests, you would need to pick up a bit of the skirt layer, and pin it to the lining layer. If you are using dress net, I would pin it through both the net and the lining. 

I worked my way down from top of the skirt, until I pinned the whole skirt. Here are a couple of pictures from when I was trying the pick-ups (one is on my toile - I did this to figure out how long and wide my skirt layer needed to be):

I think the pick-up skirt is really versatile - you could make it as random as you like, or as structured as you like. Different fabrics will also give this a different look. I wanted mine to be quite relaxed and loose, and thought my attempt in the above picture was a little too tight. so I tried again and again!

Once you're happy with how it looks (do make sure you actually are 100% happy... as I had to unpick a couple of times!), hand sew the pick-ups in place with tailor's tacks. 

And this is what I ended up with (front and back)

Note that for the back, I worked around the zipper (as it's quite short anyway) so I didn't have any pick-ups at the centre until the bottom of the zipper ended. If you want pick-ups all the way to the top of the skirt, I would suggest using an elastic waistband instead. 

I hope this helps! 


  1. OMG, I really love this dress ( would gladly lose the RTW contest to this )))) Great tutorial too!

    1. Aw thank you! that's very kind of you to say - I have seen your entry too and loved the skirt! Good luck to both of us!

  2. Very nice dress and a fun blog too. My question is when do you get time to sew and have a full time job? You are good!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you like the blog too :D It's almost one-year old!!
      I must admit it is a little difficult to find the time to sew, with a full-time demanding job. I suppose it's all about priorities - because I really enjoy sewing and am very addicted to it, I tend to spend a bit of time in the weekends to sew. I actually find it quite relaxing too :)

  3. Hi
    I was wondering about the fabric of this dress
    Would satin work?
    what fabric did you choose?

    1. Hello, sorry for the huge delay in responding! Yes I think satin would work but the weight and drape of it might mean that it is harder to retain the volume. I used a faux dupion so it had a certain stiffness to it and was less silky. Hope this helps.

  4. How good of you to share your techniques. Not everyone would do that. I love the dress, it looked perfectly fitted too. I am a grandma who has been sewing for years, wedding dresses, prom dresses. Lately I have just been altering them. This was the first bubble hem I had to shorten. Thanks again for your help.

    1. No problem at all! I'm glad it was helpful :D

  5. This is wonderful! Thank you so much. I'm going to try it out

  6. This is so cute :) Love the fabric. Very Serena.

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