How to Grade the Kelly Skirt

The Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen
The Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen.

So you want to make Megan Nielsen’s Kelly skirt, but it doesn’t come in your size? Whether you need a plus size like XXL, or 3X, or a smaller size, like XXS there is an easy solution – grading the pattern.

What is Pattern Grading?
Grading a pattern just means to take a pattern up or down a size, or more. There are many ways to grade a pattern, and lots of articles on how to do this. It can be a complex process, depending on the pattern. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you have never graded a pattern, the Kelly Skirt is the perfect one to start with.

This skirt fits waists between 26 and 34 inches (66-86 cm). In commercial pattern sizes, that translates roughly to sizes 12 to 20. That is a pretty good range, but we can easily extend that range.

This week I published my own version of the Kelly Skirt and I mentioned that it is an easy pattern to grade. I recently had my fourth baby, and although I would normally be a size large in the Megan Nielsen size range, my waist is (temporarily I hope!) larger than the largest size included in the pattern. I graded the pattern up a size. I am not an expert pattern grader, this is just the way I graded the pattern. Since it worked out well, I thought I’d share.

Getting Started
In order to grade the pattern, you will need to trace the pattern onto tracing paper, with a few simple modifications. If you have never traced a pattern before, I suggest you read “How to Trace Sewing Patterns” by Sunni on a Fashionable Stitch. There are also some good photos of the process here.

You will need tracing paper, a pencil and a ruler.

A Little Math
You will start by comparing your measurements to the closest pattern size. You can ignore the bust measurement completely. Because the skirt is gathered and has a fair bit of room in the hips, in most cases, you can just look at the waist measurement. However, if you have very large hips, compared to your waist, you may need to make more complex modifications. For this tutorial, we’ll assume your hips and waist are roughly proportional.

Kelly skirt pattern back.
What measurements to look at when grading the Kelly skirt.

Going Up a Size
If you are going up a size, compare your waist to body measurements for the largest pattern size. The waist measurement given for the XL size is 34 inches. My waist is 37 inches at the moment. That means I need to add 3 inches to the XL size.

Make sure you are looking at the body measurements and not the finished garment measurements. The finished garment measurement won’t be skin-tight, it should have some ease or breathing room, so that the clothing will be comfortable to wear. This pattern has around 3/4 of an inch of ease at the waist. Professional pattern graders adjust the ease in very precise ways, but we’ll just use the ease of the closest size (XL or XS).

Going Down a Size
If you are going down a size, compare your waist to the to body measurements for the smallest pattern size. The waist measurement given for the XS size is 26 inches. If you have a 24 inch waist, you would need to subtract 2 inches from the XS size. Again, make sure you are looking at the body measurements and not the finished garment measurements.

Modifying the Pattern Pieces
There are only 5 pattern pieces in the Kelly Skirt.

Kelly skirt
There are only five pattern pieces for the Kelly skirt.

Pocket Facing and Pocket Lining
You will trace the pocket facing and pocket lining as they are. These two pieces don’t change when the skirt size changes.

The Waistband
The waistband is a single piece that circles the waist. In the XL size, this piece is made for a 34 inch waist. Because I have a 37 inch waist, I need to add 3 inches of length to this piece. I added the length to the XL size at the end without the markings, just because it is a little easier that way. Don’t forget to transfer all the markings to your tissue paper. If you are going down a size, subtract the amount you need from the XS size. This will shorten the waistband.

Keep in mind that the piece won’t measure exactly 37 inches after my modification. That is because the length of the pattern piece also includes seam allowances.

I write the changes I’ve made directly on the tracing paper as a reminder.

Kelly skirt waistband
The modified waistband for the Kelly skirt.

The Skirt Front and Skirt Back
The skirt front and skirt back need to be modified as well. I need to add 3 inches, but I need to split this amount between the two seams that join those pieces together. That means I need to add 1.5 inches to each seam, and 0.75 inches to each pattern piece at that seam.

Kelly skirt
Modifications to the back of the Kelly skirt.

The skirt back is cut on the fold. I just extended out the side that is not on the fold by o.75 inches. Because the piece is on the fold, that amount fill be added to each side of the pattern piece.

You will also have to move the markings for the pleats on the skirt back. If you don’t, the pleats might look a bit odd, and strangely placed. If you are going up a size, starting from the markings for the XL size, for two inches that you added to the waistband, move the pleat markings out, away from the fold, by 1/4 inch.  (The pleat markings are more precisely spaced than 1/4 inch intervals, but this number will serve as a good approximation for us.) If you are going down a size, starting from the markings for the XS size, for two inches that you subtracted from the waistband, move the pleat markings in, toward from the fold, by 1/4 inch. There are three lines that need to be moved.

Kelly skirt front
Modifications to the front of the Kelly skirt.

The skirt front is in two pieces. I extended out the side with the curve for the pocket by 0.75 inches. This adds 0.75 inches to each piece. Again, I moved the markings for the pleats over exactly the same way as for the skirt back.

Kelly skirt pattern changes.
These are the changes I made to the Kelly skirt.

What about the skirt length?
If you are going down a size, it’s probably a good idea to keep the length of the XS size, unless you are also shorter than average. After all, it is easier to take the hem up a little more than to be stuck with a skirt that is shorter than you were expecting.

If you are going up a size, you can probably also stick with the XL length, unless you are also taller than average. I used the length of the XL skirt and I’m quite happy with the results. However, you need to make sure that there is enough skirt so that when you are sitting, you can sit on the skirt, and not on the hem. If you are quite a bit larger than the pattern XL size, and your pattern modifications are substantial, you may also want to add some length so that you can sit comfortably. The finished skirt length of the XL size is 23 inches. Compare this to a skirt you own, to see if this is sufficient.

What next?
That’s it! Now assemble the skirt following the instructions.

Kelly Skirt
Kelly Skirt by Megan Nielsen in linen with black piping.

I hope you have found this useful. If you have any tips for making this process a little easier, please leave them in the comments.

A Linen Kelly Skirt

The Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen
The Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen.

Have you seen the Kelly skirt pattern by Megan Nielsen? It’s quite cute.

The Kelly skirt is a softly pleated, button-up skirt. It’s quite flattering on a variety of figures and according to the pattern designer, “created with the beginner sewer in mind”.

I’ve seen several cute versions online, but my favourites are by Adrienne at Stitching on the Edge, and Andrea at four square walls. Both used piping and linen, and I thought I would do the same.

My fabric is Robert Kaufman’s Essex yarn-dyed cotton-linen blend in black. I’m a huge fan of linen, and this fabric is amazing. It’s a bit heavier than your standard linen and has a really great, slightly nubby texture. I’m already dreaming up new clothing I can make with it.

I bought the pattern online from The Workroom, and the fabric online from Mad About Patchwork. Both are Canadian. You can find a big list of online Canadian fabric stores here.

I used store-bought black piping from one of the local fabric stores. I really like this look, but when I was trying the skirt on, I found that in real-life wearing of this skirt, I would probably go with a longer top, which necessarily covers the piping detail. Oh well. I know it’s there.

Kelly Skirt
Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen in linen with black piping.

I fully lined the skirt (I’m not sure what the lining fabric is), mostly so I could wear it in the winter with tights. It makes for a warmer skirt, with smoother lines and fewer wrinkles in the fabric. The pattern does not come with instructions for the lining.

Kelly Skirt
My Kelly skirt is fully lined. I have no idea what the lining fabric is.

The pattern and instructions are great. It’s an easy pattern (only 5 pattern pieces) which really is great for beginners. I’m not a beginner, so the whole project went quite quickly. I especially like having the instructions in a booklet. The pattern is printed on thick paper, so you need to trace the pattern onto tracing paper. Both the booklet and pattern are quite durable, which is always nice with a pattern you intend to use multiple times, which I do.

Kelly Skirt
Piping detail on the Kelly skirt. The piping lines up nicely in real life.
Kelly Skirt
A better shot of the piping on the Kelly skirt.

I only have two complaints. The first is really very minor, nit picky even, but when constructing the skirt, it’s a good idea to baste the pockets to the side seams before joining the front and the back. It keeps the pocket from rippling. It’s a very small detail, but one that would probably help beginners.

The other problem I had was with the sizes. In the US, the average waist circumference for adult women is currently 37.5 inches. In the UK, it’s 33 inchesIn Canada, it’s 34 inches. This skirt fits waists between 26 and 34 inches (66-86 cm). In commercial pattern sizes, that translates roughly to sizes 12 to 20. That is a pretty good range, but it would be nice if the pattern were available in an even larger range of sizes.

I recently had my fourth baby, and although I would normally be a size large in the Megan Nielsen size range, my waist is (temporarily I hope!) larger than the largest size included in the pattern. I graded the pattern up a size, which was quite easy, but not something that every beginner will be able to do.

Despite my small complaints, I thought that overall this was a very good pattern and it makes a very wearable, flattering skirt.

Kelly Skirt
This is how I would normally wear this skirt, which means that you can’t see the piping. Kelly Skirt by Megan Nielsen.

Just before I made this skirt I got a belated birthday present in the mail. Can you identify these presser feet?

New presser feet.
Can you identify these presser feet?

One is an invisible zipper foot, the other is a sew-on button foot. I was so excited when I opened these up. I know, I’m such a sewing geek.

I’ve been sewing for years, but on a very basic machine. It was one of the first purchases I made when I moved out on my own. It’s a basic Singer, with no special presser feet. Having this machine has meant that all the finishing details of my clothes were done by hand. I had never sewn on a button by machine. I had also never made a blind hem, any way except by hand. I once made a formal gown for my sister. It had a floor length, full circle skirt in satin, with layers of tulle underneath. I hand-stitched the entire blind hem. It took ages.

Kelly Skirt
Kelly Skirt in linen with black piping.

A couple of years ago my husband bought me a much better machine. One of the most eye-opening things for me is trying out all the special presser feet. It has made sewing much easier and much more precise, though I still like the look of hand-finished details.

This is the first time I’ve machine sewn buttons to a garment. I like it a lot, especially for casual clothes. With a coat, I would still sew on the buttons by hand. I’ve been looking at Colette Pattern’s Beignet skirt for a while now, but the number of buttons was so discouraging. I think I see a Beignet skirt in my future now.

Kelly Skirt
The Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen.

This is also the first time I’ve made a blind-hem by machine. I’m not sure if I’m a fan. From the outside it looks perfect, of course. Though I’m not used to seeing all the stitches on the inside. When you hand-stitch a blind hem, it is invisible on the inside as well. On the other hand, the lining covers the hem, so I’ll never really see it.

Kelly Skirt
The machine-stitched blind hem of my Kelly skirt.

Summary

Pattern Review: Kelly Skirt by Megan Nielsen.

Fabric: Robert Kaufman’s Essex yarn-dyed cotton-linen blend in black.

Size: XL, graded up a size.

Sewing Level: Beginner.

Modifications: I added piping, a full lining and graded the pattern up a size.

Results: Good. I would recommend this pattern and would make it again.

Kelly Skirt
Kelly skirt by Megan Nielsen in linen with black piping. I promise I am much more impressed with this skirt than my facial expression might lead you to believe.