First problem probably had to do with my fabric choice. I was so enthusiastic about this project that I also wanted to make sure it was something nice and cozy to wear this winter. This fabric is some sort of thick wool-like material. I don't know my materials, so I can't tell you what it is but I realize now I would have had more luck with a more manageable fabric, at least the first time I used the pattern.
Gathering this fabric was ridiculous. I tried using one stitch line, it broke. I tried two stitch lines, they both snapped. I tried surging--same thing. In the end I hand stitched a line of embroidery thread all around the top of the skirt and gathered it that way. Perhaps this is the point I might have questioned my fabric choice but I was still optimistic it would work itself out.
Next step zipper:
I should probably mention now that I'm still sewing with my grandma's old machine. One of the drawbacks of living in a small town is that when your sewing machine is sitting at the dealers waiting for a new part and the owner goes on a weeks vacation--the store shuts down with sewing machines held captive inside.
I couldn't find a zipper foot for this machine so I attached another foot - no idea what kind - that I thought might do the trick. It did not. After fighting for an hour I decided to throw in the towel. The sewing machine won the argument and now has some really messed up tension issues. To make things even awesomer I tried the skirt on with the jammed up zipper and to my surprise I could get it on without a functioning zipper -- meaning the waist is a few inches too wide. I followed Anna's tip of sewing a practice waist band out of junk fabric but I think this material must be a bit stretchy or I messed something up there too.
I really am happy with my weeks work. When I get my machine back I will hopefully finish it. If I undo the side seams and remove a few inches and fix up the zipper.... it should be fixed. I'm also willing to try it with an easier fabric.
Did I mention I did french seams for the first time? I don't have a wearable skirt (yet) but I feel like I learned a lot!