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Sew a Handkerchief Hem Skirt

Handkerchief skirt
Handkerchief skirts like the one shown to the left are easy to make and are fun and flirty, perfect for summer wear. The name comes from the look of the skirt because rather than having a standard straight hem, the hem is pointed on multiple sides, like handkerchief corners. The points are the result of the skirt being cut from a square or rectangle of fabric in the same way a circle skirt is made (think poodle skirt), but rather than trimming the edges to be straight, the corners of the square/rectangle are left on to drape down creating an uneven pointed hem.

This style is flattering to many body types because of the bias drape of the garment and the uneven hemline is an especially good look for people with short legs because it doesn't divide the body into two parts. The uneven hem keeps the eye of the viewer moving.

Handkerchief skirts made using squares will be symmetrical, with the points all being the same length. Those made from rectangles will be asymmetrical, with two long points and two short points. Another option is to layer two pieces of lightweight fabric, offsetting the corners to create a skirt with eight points. If you plan to use a square, you will need to purchase approximately 1 1/4 yards of 45" wide fabric. If you want to make a longer skirt, you can purchase 1 3/4 yards of 60" wide fabric or piece fabric together to make a larger square.

Handkerchief skirts can be made from most fabrics, but those that drape more softly will be most flattering on the body. The basic construction concept is to cut out a circle in the middle of the square large enough to accommodate the hips, create an elasticized waist and finish the hem. For me, the hardest part is the math in figuring out how large to cut the center circle. Pi times what? Geometry was never my strong suit.

If you like the math stuff, here is the nitty gritty. The term "circumference" refers to the outside diameter of the circle, which is what needs to fit over your hips. With the hip measurement, we can determine what size to cut the circle. Because we are going to fold the fabric into quarters and cut 1/4 of a circle rather than the whole circle, the measurement that you really need to end up with is the radius, which is half the width of the circle across the middle. I know, I know, it sounds confusing. Stick with me.

The formula is: C = (2)(Pi)(R) where C = circumference and R = radius (anyone else having flashbacks to high school geometry class??)

We know what C (hip measurement) and Pi (3.14) are so we can solve for R. For example, if your hip measurement is 40 inches, the radius will be 6 3/8 inches. Now that the geometry lesson is over, I can tell you that really, all you have to do is divide the hip measurement by 6.28 and round to the nearest 1/8th inch (which requires more math to convert the decimal to a fraction, of course). Okay, okay, I'll stop now. I have included a handy table on the next page to make life easier for everyone (all measurements are in inches).

Incidentally, it is a good idea to subtract 2-4 inches from your actual hip measurement when determining the cutting radius to allow for the fabric stretching because it will be cut partially on the bias. Also, you can always make the circle a bit bigger, but smaller? Not so much. So it is better to start with a smaller measurement and work up, if necessary.

Once you know what your cutting radius needs to be, you can prepare the fabric for cutting. First, fold the fabric in half lengthwise, and then in half again across the width. The folded corner will be where the 1/4 circle is cut from. Measure and mark the radius length on both edges down from the folded corner. To draw the curve, you can either go old-school with a piece of string and a marking pen like I did, or make additional marks from the corner across the fabric and draw the curve by hand. I am terrible at drawing lines, so I like the old string method. Simply tie a piece of medium or heavier weight string (or yarn) to a pen and hold down the end of the string at the corner with the pen the correct distance from the corner and trace the curve. Just be sure to keep a consistent tension on the string while moving the pen across the fabric so the measurement doesn't change as you go.

Finishing Your Handkerchief Skirt

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