The Magdalena Skirt

Yay! I have officially finished work on the Magdalena Skirt, which I have been sewing since May. This is the first garment that I have ever made and it was exciting to see it all come together -- and fit me! The skirt is made from four panels, each one has two layers, black and white cotton jersey that I sourced from thrift shop tee shirts. This stencil pattern is called the Magdalena.


The stencil is painted on the top, black, layer in silver screenprint ink. I used white thread to stitch around each stencil and then cut the inside out creating a reversed applique effect.

This technique has been popularized by Natalie Chanin, who started her, now well-known, company and School of Making with a something called Project Alabama. In this project she recycled and upcycled thrift shop tee shirt cotton into new designs, which were snapped-up and sold by the posh New York department store, Barney’s New York and La Clara of Paris.

There is so much that drew me to this project and style of sewing. It seems made for me. I’m reading a lot on the fashion industry and how destructive and toxic it is for both the workers and the planet. Added to the moral disregard that has always been a part of the fashion industry is the current fascination with cheap, fast fashion. As a nation, the U.S. now buys about twenty billion garments a year. (Cline, Over-Dressed, pg 3) Not only does everything we wear look the same, but we don’t value the craftsmanship and style of our garments. The idea of recycling/upcycling cotton jersey is certainly not a new idea. This trend started gaining traction in the 90s, with the DIY movement in the punk community and several young designers sourcing from the discarded. It still has solid popularity with crafters and new labels like Furst of a Kind are all over my Instagram feed.


I love my clothes and have always looked at my style as an expression of myself. There are pieces that I cherish as documentation of a concert, or a piece of jewelry that triggers memories of my Grandmother, and boots that have covered my feet on several continents. My clothes are my cherished friends and I rely on them to communicate who I am because I am shy with new people most of the time. I wanted to make this skirt because it is only mine. Every stitch is mine. There is only one in the world.

I’m also overcome with ideas for projects sewn in this way because of the combination of skills that goes into a garment of this kind.

Both on the art skills side:

Screen printing, stencils, block print, digital fabric design, natural dye processes, sewing, quilting, embroidery, collage, mixed media, typography...

And conceptual:

Storytelling, recycling, social and environmental justice, history, color theory, fashion and identity...



As I look critically at this first garment, I am very pleased as a whole. The waistband is not pleasing to me, and this I would do differently next time. I tried several elastic types and went with a very wide elastic that I had trouble sewing. The next time I will try a fold-over type of band that I think will look cleaner. The black, white, silver combination I adore. I think that stencil should be more “all over”, I find myself disliking the gaps in pattern.

I’ve just started work on my new project which will take what I’ve learned to next level, and include some natural botanical dyes.

Cline, Elizabeth L. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. Paperback ed. with a new afterword, Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.