Changing Your Clothes

Shopping, Sewing, Upcycling, Repairing: Make the most of your clothes!

Cutting a New Hem: The Tango Skirt

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The Tango Skirt. I spotted it languishing on an overcrowded rack in a consignment shop. It flirted shamelessly with me on the hanger, looking all cute and mysterious, and I just knew we would be going home together. I admit, I didn’t know anything about it, really, just that it was the dark, rich brown of the best espresso, in a soft, slinky fabric that was ruched and gathered at the back in an utterly beguiling manner. I didn’t even try it on, just handed over $18.00, and dashed out, clutching it to my heart. It was a magic moment.

Alas, poor Tango Skirt! The magic died when I pulled the skirt on at home. Yes, the ruched-and-fishtailed back was nearly as flattering as it had promised on the hanger, and I loved the way it swished around the backs of my calves. But the front! The front of the skirt, so plain, cut straight and drooping sadly below my knees, was not flattering at all. It was as if I had brought home two different skirts instead of one. Brokenhearted and embarrassed, I hung The Tango Skirt in a dark corner of my closet, where it stayed, unloved, for several months.

The Tango Skirt

The Tango Skirt, pre-alteration. Looking at the plain-Jane front, you’d never guess such fabulousness could be lurking in back! (The pin in the front of the skirt marks the length of the lining, something that’s important to know before you start cutting anything! (Trust me.)

Then one day I thought of a possible way to make this relationship work. What if I simply reshaped the hemline of The Tango Skirt? The straight-across cut of the original skirt (pictured above) didn’t do any kind of justice to the beautiful back. Also, this was one of those garments that I normally would have passed by because the hem had no kind of finish at all— it was just the cut edge of the fabric. (This shows how fabulous I thought this skirt was, if I would overlook that detail and buy it anyway.) So I wouldn’t even have to undo anything first; I could just start cutting!

I wanted to create a hemline that gradually shortened on the sides, so that the center front would be the shortest point, and the center back the longest. For this reason, and because of the way The Tango Skirt hangs on the body, I decided it would be best to cut it when it was being worn, as opposed to laying it out flat; this way, I could gradually trim it to the shape and length I wanted, without worrying that it was getting too short in front.

The first thing I did was mark the center front with a pin at the length I thought I wanted; this would make the front 3″ shorter than the back, and also avoid cutting the lining. (You can see this pin in the above photo of the front of the skirt.) But when I saw it on, I realized the difference between the front and the back was so slight as to be almost unnoticeable. So I started trimming some more:

Cutting the new hemline

Cutting the new hemline, after the initial trim. Here you can start to see the difference; in the side view, the angle up from the center back towards the front is noticeable, and from the front, already the length looks so much less dowdy!

Tip: Because this skirt can be worn for dancing, it was important to me to not go too short in front. When you’re considering this type of alteration, be sure to think about how your garment is going to be used.

After making the major cut with the skirt being worn, I laid it out flat to smooth out the edges and make sure everything was even. I aligned the side seams, so I could compare the center front length with the center back, and confirm that the angle up from back to front was graceful.

After the final trimming

After the final trimming, which was done with the skirt laid flat. Although it looks like the front is a lot shorter than the back, the difference is fairly subtle when the skirt is on the body. (I know, it’s hard to see details with such a dark color. Sorry about that!)

Tip: One thing I realized while cutting the new hemline is that, if you’re cutting across seamlines (like the side seams in this skirt), and not planning to actually sew a hem, you’ll need to secure the threads on these seams so they don’t start unraveling. You can do this by using your sewing machine to stitch the cut ends of the seams; it might also work to use a few drops of a product like Fray-Check (a kind of fabric glue that can be washed without coming out) at the cut ends. For The Tango Skirt, I decided to sew a narrow hem into it; the jersey fabric is medium-weight, but I thought it could benefit from a little extra weight in the hem, which helps it to hang properly. Here’s the hem I put in; I serged the edge, folded it under about 1/4″, then stitched it about 1/8″ from the folded edge.

The new hem

The new hem (inside); I think it not only improves the overall quality of the skirt, but it also hangs better with the extra weight of the hem. (Again, I’m sorry it’s so dark.)

Here’s The Tango Skirt again, with its new (and vastly improved) hemline:

The Tango Skirt after its makeover!

The Tango Skirt after its makeover! If you look back at the “before” pictures (at top), you can clearly see the difference the the new, angled hemline makes in the overall look: the back emphasizes the fishtail in the center, and the length in the front is so much more flattering!

So instead of going down in my wardrobe history as one of many love stories gone wrong, there’s a happy ending for The Tango Skirt and me! Lesson learned: instead of rushing impetuously into a relationship just because some cute little number winks at me in a store, I will try things on and get to know them before making a commitment I might regret. But I’ll keep my scissors handy.

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Author: colormusing

I'm a writer, color palette creator, and designer of fashion, costumes, graphics, knitwear patterns, and yarn.

8 thoughts on “Cutting a New Hem: The Tango Skirt

  1. Looks much better and who doesn’t love to tango!

  2. Looks much better! Lordy – I could never do that and have it turn out so well!

    BTW – I haven’t found my hat yet, but I did notice they had some cute ones at SteinMart here that had the wider brim (but not as great of a selection as Anthropologie). 🙂

    • SteinMart is a great idea! I don’t think they exist in Portland, but I loved the one I went to when I lived in Dayton, OH. I’ve been thinking about the dark grey hat I showed (on me) in that post— I may do a post on dressing up an uninspiring hat! (Should be challenging as it still has to be rain-repellent, if possible.) Let me know if/when you find your hat!

  3. Pingback: Liebster Award! Thanks again guys :) | rohan7things

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