Bella Loves Patterns Anna Skirt... and my first proper zip fly

So if you look at my wardrobe I'm pretty much a jeans and top kinda girl so I must be having a funny 5 minutes as here I am blogging about a skirt. "Eh?!" I hear you cry. I think I've only made one other skirt in the last 5 years. But I've been looking at a lot of denim recently and the seed of a denim skirt started to form and just I couldn't shake it.


I narrowed my pattern choices down to two: the Xanthe skirt from Sew Over it and the Frida skirt by Julia Martejevs... Both look great options and the style I was after. But at the last minute I saw that Bella Loves Patterns had just launched her new capsule collection which included the Anna Skirt and it went straight to the top of the list. It was initially the pockets that drew me in, but then I really liked the front slit and the length. I took advantage of their launch discount and went for it.

The Anna Skirt is high-waisted, midi-length and straight silhouette. The skirt has a zip fly, two curved pockets and a single coin pocket at the front, and a front slit. The back features a curved yoke, two patch pockets, and a centre seam. The waistband has five belt loops, and all the main seams have decorative topstitching. So all in all, it's like making jeans, but without the legs. Pretty much all the details are the same or incredibly similar between this denim skirt and traditional denim jeans.

I used our railroad denim in dark blue/white which is a touch over 8oz and absolutely perfect for this project. It's light enough that my (very basic) machine didn't struggle on the heavy-duty sections where there are lots of layers of fabric to contend with, like attaching the belt loops to the waistband. But the denim also sturdy enough that the finish skirt looks structured.



Fit-wise, my measurements put me between a 12 and 14. I decided to cut a size 14. I've been fluctuating with my size recently as the perimenopause kicks in, so I opted for the larger size: I'd rather it was too loose than too tight. It has ended up a little roomy but not too much. I'd say it was definitely true to size. For my next version I'll size down so I have that as another option.

The stripes added an extra layer of difficulty. In order to make sure they all ran true, I cut each pattern piece out individually. My trick for handling a thin stripe like this is to extend out the grainline on the pattern piece so it meets the edge of the paper and then line up the piece on the fabric so the grainline matches the stripes. To do the same for the mirror piece, I drew the line on the back of the pattern piece and repeated. It's a time consuming but very efficient way of cutting out so I've got a 50cm x 1m remnant left, which I'm planning on making a bag with.


I treated myself to some topstitching needles for this project and they have been absolutely game-changing. A few years ago I attempted to topstitch jeans with a 'jeans' needle. It was utterly awful: the thread skipped stitches and broke all the time. I thought a heavy-duty needle would be okay but honestly the topstitch needle is worth every penny. It it designed so the thick thread sits in a channel which can run easily in and out of the fabric without being too tight in the needle hole. Perfect results! 


 So onto the pattern. I had  always known that Bella  Loves Patterns takes a lot of care in the drafting of the pattern and the instructions, and this is clear from the offset. The patterns are really detailed - lots of pictures at every stage - and there are lots of extra steps to make sure your garment is built to last. For example, I used interfacing AND stay tape for the waistband, which I've never done before. There were a mix of tailoring techniques - chalk markings that you add yourself feature heavily - plus hand basting some areas. Normally I don't hand-baste ANYTHING but I was having such an enjoyable time sewing the skirt I thought I'd spend the extra couple of minutes doing it. And blow me down, the finish is much better. Turns out Bella knows her stuff! Also the level of detail is super - the topstitching matches up really well when pattern pieces are joined and it just has a really neat finish. 

I love are how considered the inside of the skirt is too: it definitely as pretty innards! I used a few offcuts of our Superbloom fabric for the pocket linings. Normally I'd make the right side of the fabric face the inside of the pocket so when you put your hands into the pocket bags you see the fabric. Not so for these. The wrong side of the fabric is what you put your hands into, but when you open up the skirt you get your colourful cotton facing you. It gives me a lot of joy to see it! Plus the binding for the inner waistband is in the same fabric so it really has a super neat finish inside. Beautiful!!


So I do have a couple of gripes about the pattern which I'm really sorry to say. The first was attaching the binding to the waistband. The instructions just said to add binding to the bottom of the waistband. BUT I failed to appreciate the waistband is asymmetric, to allow for the fly closure. So I effectively bound the OUTSIDE waistband instead of the inside one. Not the worst mistake ever and it just meant a lot of unpicking.


The second gripe was more problematic. Zips!!! My nemesis. By far this is the best zip I've ever put in BUT it was not without headache. The pattern specifies which size zip to buy and in my case 6 1/4". The haberdasheries I checked sold zips by the full inch (e.g. 6" or 7"). So I bought a 6" zip thinking that was closest and I can 'fudge' the shortfall a little. The zip went in great but the instructions then require you to remove  about 1cm of the zip - including the zip stop, a few of the top zip teeth (in my case 4 teeth each side), and replace the zip stop. All without damaging the zip tape.

Let me tell you good people, this was hell on earth. 

At one point I had my husband, 3 pairs of pliers, about 6 different screwdrivers and various youtube tutorials... all were unsuccessful as the bloody teeth were not budging. I'm a big believer of quality items. What's the phrase?? "Buy well, buy once."? Well I was wishing I'd bought a crap zip at this point as those teeth were stuck fast. (Credit to Backstitch and YKK for their quality jeans zips.) In the end I found the tutorial which basically said "cut them off with metal snips" so that's what I did. I eventually managed to chew up the metal teeth with some wire cutters until they finally dropped off. The zip stop however was a different story: I had to get that bad boy off intact so I could reposition it. With two pairs of pliers I eventually managed to pull it off the sorry-looking and battered zip tape but then I was left with a dilemma... how to get it back on. It is essentially a U shape so I needed to open up the U, enough so it would sit over the tape again, and then I can squeeze it shut in its new place. This bit of metal did not want to open up. I tried inserting screwdrivers of varying thicknesses into the U. On my 3rd attempt, I misaligned the zip stop, gave it a knock with the screwdriver and the zip stop went flying across the room.

I haven't seen it since.

So my skirt does NOT have a zip stop but luckily the waistband is right above the teeth so the zip can't go any further north.

Anyway, that's a very convoluted way of saying, it's such a shame that this step was needed. As the rest of the drafting and instructions are so good, it just seems very out of place. 

One of the last things to complete are the bar tacks, to keep areas of high stress more secure (like the top of the pockets and the top of the split). My machine finally found its limit and refused to sew these nicely. So I fudged the bar tacks in the end and did multiple lines of straight stitches forwards and back to reinforce. It does the job but just not in the way intended. 


So all in all, I'm absolutely over the moon with the finished skirt and I'll be wearing loads over summer. I'm already planning my next version in some plain denim (which I've ordered for the shop - the perks of being a fabric shop owner!) so hopefully it won't be another 5 years until I make another skirt!!

Happy sewing

Tanya xx