What you will need:
A kanga – Kangas are a piece of African cloth, 150cm wide by 100cm, but any woven cotton fabric will work just the same.
Stretchy fabric, 30cm wide – enough to fit around your waist snugly (this could even be cut from the bottom of an old stretch t-shirt). If your fabric is more stretchy one way than the other, make sure you cut your piece so that the long side is stretchier than the short side (so that it stretches around your body, and not up and down).
And the basics – scissors, pins, tape measure and sewing machine. An overlocker would be good if you have one, but it’s not necessary.
Step 1. Lay the kanga flat and fold it in half horizontally. You may need to iron it. Cut in half along the fold (this will give you around a knee-length skirt, depending on how tall you are.)
You will now have to long pieces, approximately 150cm by 50cm, one of which will have a Swahili proverb printed on it. It’s up to you what piece you use, but I like to use the piece with the proverb.
Step 2. This step is optional – a hem. Kangas have a neat selvedge, so a hem is not usually necessary. If your selvedge is misprinted and/or frayed like mine, you may want to sew a simple hem at this stage. With the ‘wrong side’ up, fold and iron your hem, then sew with a straight stitch.
Step 3. Measure the widest part around your hips with the tape measure. You will need to reduce the 1.5m length of the kanga to this size, by adding box pleats and/or darts.
Hold your kanga up to your waist to determine where you would like your pleats, and measure the distance between them.
I added two box pleats at the front of my skirt, 16cm apart. To make sure the placement of the pleats are even, fold the kanga in half to find the centre then measure the 8cm to the left and 8cm to the right (or half of your preferred measurment). Here’s a good video instruction on how to do box pleats. Sew a simple straight stitch close to the edge of the fabric to keep the box pleats in place.
Step 4. After you have finished the front box pleats, wrap the skirt around the widest part of your waist and mark where you want the box pleats at the back to go, and then repeat step 3.
When you have the four box pleats completed, wrap the skirt around yourself again, and see how much fabric you have left at the back. I had too much excess fabric at the back so I then added a dart at each side, which changed the position of the rear pleats slightly but also has the added effect of making the skirt a bit boofier (if that’s a word). I also like having the two border parts of the kanga join at the back to make a wide vertical contrasting panel, which means I need to try to make as little overlap of fabric as possible.
This is what the kanga should now look like:
Step 5. When you are happy with the number of box pleats and darts, it’s time to join the two sides together by sewing the seam at the back. Take the measurement of the widest part around your waist, and divide this number by two. For example, my measurement is 92cm. This number divided by two equals 46cm. Fold the kanga in half (using the top rail, where the pleats are), and starting from the fold, measure across (in my case I measure across 46cm) and secure with a pin at this line. Then sew from top to bottom, with ‘right sides’ together, making sure your seam runs parallel to the kanga border pattern, and that the hem at the bottom lines up exactly. Finish the seam to prevent fraying, by either zig zagging along the edge or overlocking.
Now it should look like a skirt. It’s a good idea to try it on at this stage. It should fit comfortably around your widest hip measurement, remember the top part still needs to be attached so it will sit lower than a skirt normally would, and will be a bit bigger than the waist band.
That’s the bottom part of the skirt done, now all to do is attach the waistband!
Step 6. Cut your piece of stretchy fabric to size, so that it fits snugly around your waist. This will be keeping the skirt up, so make sure it’s nice and tight, but not too tight. Fold in half and sew the short ends together. Stretch fabrics can be tricky to deal with, so I usually google any specific problems I have with this (machine tension seems to be the main issue I have).
After sewing, trim close to the seam.
Fold the band in half lengthwise, so that you have four unfinished edges together on one side, and two folded edges together on the other. The unfinished edges will be sewn to the skirt.
Step 7. Place the skirt (turned the right way out) inside of the band. The skirt will be wider than the band. That’s ok, just stretch the waistband evenly as you sew. To do this I sew one quarter of the seam at a time. Beginning from the rear skirt seam, pin so that the seam on the waistband lines up exactly. Then find the centre of the front of the band (by folding), and place a pin to mark the spot. Then do the same with the band. Secure together with a pin. Then do the same for each side, so that in the end you have your skirt and your band secured in four places with pins. This will help to keep the band evenly stretched all the way around.
Then sew the band to the skirt, stretching the band fabric to match the skirt as you go.
Step 8. Finishing off. Trim the stretch fabric close to the seam, and zigzag or overlock the raw edge of the kanga.
The end. I hope that was not too hard to follow!