staple sewing: the pencil skirt

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After a number of interruptions from real life, we’re back to our regularly scheduled sewing.

Now, if this blog post were a J.Crew email blast, it would have a much snappier title, like, “PENCIL IT IN: the season’s hottest silhouette, in all the colors you can dream of.”

Seriously, though, did anyone else get the J.Crew email that said “PUPPIES” in the subject line and “Just kidding, we’re having a sale” or something like that in the body?

OK, fine. Here’s your J.Crew quip: Good things come in threes. That counts for Monetas, Plantains, pencil skirts, and puppies.

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One of my absolute favorite silhouettes (thank you, Wardrobe Architect, for the thousandth time) is a slim skirt with a blousy top. Trouble is, my wardrobe has been coming up a little short in the skirt category. I have a few skirts that don’t really fit well, and a few skirts that I’m slowly wearing to death.

This is when I start kicking myself for not putting two and two together. Sewing skirts is pretty simple. Pencil skirts take almost no fabric, and good-quality suiting is usually available on sale at a decent price. If I just took the time to make a single good muslin, I could have a bevy of nice skirts that actually fit, for not that much money. What the hell have I been waiting for?

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[ this wool is so light that it’s slightly sheer, as you can see at the hem. ]

I went pencil-skirt-pattern-shopping with a very specific shopping list:

  • A narrow, curved waistband. A straight waistband is fine and all, but a curved one was going to fit much better on my pear-shaped hips. And I like a narrow width on a skirt waistband.
  • Darts in front and back, for plenty of shape. No princess seams; what if I have a plaid or striped fabric?  Ugh.
  • A waist that hits few inches below my natural waist — high enough to look smart with a tucked-in top, but not so high that it buckles under when I sit down.
  • Not too bodacious. Not that bodaciousness doesn’t have its place, but that place is not in my work wardrobe in the wintertime, when all my holiday food binges settle on my hips and all of a sudden I have less space in my clothing.

I took a good, hard look at the Charlotte skirt from By Hand London, but I veered away from it for fear it really would be too bodacious (see above) and too high-cut. I do, however, appreciate that it’s a pencil skirt for people with a Real Butt, and I enjoy how the BHL ladies refer to such as “juicy doubles” or “MakeItClapsville.” Thanks for the chuckles, guys.

I landed eventually on New Look 6107, partially because I was bewitched by the top that’s included in the pattern. Apparently the buttons have adorable little fabric loops instead of buttonholes, and a underlying placket to avoid gaping. Maybe one day I won’t be too lazy I’ll be ambitious enough to make a blouse that has more than four pattern pieces.

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My beautiful, beautiful fabrics are all wool or wool-blend suiting from Fabric Mart. God, I love suiting. The black is a tropical-weight worsted wool with a slightly lofty texture, and the olive is a smoother, plain wool. The herringbone is a wool-polyester blend with a very subtle aqua plaid; you can really only see it if you get up close and personal to the fabric.

The advantage to sewing up three in a row of a single item is that I can iron out the wrinkles (pahaha) during the process. I sewed the black one first, to hide mistakes, and kept the straight silhouette, which is the way the pattern is written. For the second skirt (the olive one), I pegged the side seams in by 2″ and shortened the hem above the knee, and for the herringbone skirt I pegged it by 4″ but kept the pattern length. I narrowed the waistband on all three of them.

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I managed to use all stash fabrics for the linings — major score. The black wool is lined with nude bemberg, to give it some year-round versatility, since I don’t actually own a black skirt (!). The olive wool is lined with the same striped silk broadcloth I used to line the bodice of my Cambie. I didn’t have quite enough, so I had to piece a couple of things together — fun with stripes!

Since the herringbone is the least likely to be worn in warm weather, I lined it with a heavier, rust-colored silk that was salvaged from an old cocktail dress. (Bonus: I didn’t need to hem the lining.) RIP, favorite cocktail dress. College fraternity parties may have stained you beyond repair, but your spirit lives on in my work wardrobe.

(Yes, the rust silk lining is super uneven. As it turns out, it’s kind of hard to refash an old dress into a lining.)

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[ please excuse the wrinkles. ]

I cut a size 14 at the waist, graded to a 16 at the hip for plenty of space, and it fit nicely: not too tight at the low hip, but plenty fitted at the high hip. I had to extend the darts, but that’s a standard adjustment for me.

I used very lightweight fusible on the zipper openings and the back vent. For the first skirt, I underlined the outer waistband with silk organza, but the waistband lining stretched out so much that I switched to using lightweight fusible on both waistband layers.

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I’m only showing you one back vent — the third and best one I did — because the first one is the dictionary definition of a hot mess and the second one is only marginally better. I almost went blind trying to line this pleat, and I barely succeeded; the first time I tried it, I was pretty close to giving up and just sewing the back seam closed.

I looked at a ton of tutorials on adding a lining to a back vent. (This one was the most useful to me.) I spent a lot of time squinting back and forth between the skirt and the computer screen. Seriously, it stretched my spatial reasoning skills to the limit.

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The fit on these turned out just right — close enough to have shape, with enough ease to let me sit all day. The waistbands are low-profile enough that I can wear them as easily with fitted sweaters as I can with tucked-in tops. I’m beginning to regret my “daring” shorter length on the olive one — I’m that much less likely to wear it now — but I’ve been wearing the black one about twice a week since I finished it, more than a month ago. That’s a staple for you.


Pattern: New Look 6107, size 14 at waist graded to 16 at hip
Fabric: For black skirt, 1 yard of 58″ tropical-weight, worsted wool suiting, about $8 at Fabric Mart, and bemberg, about $5 from the remnants rack at G Street Fabrics. For olive skirt, 1 yard of 60″ wool suiting, about $6.50 at Fabric Mart, and silk broadcloth from stash. For herringbone skirt, 1 yard of 60″ wool/polyester blend suiting, about $4 at Fabric Mart, and silk recycled from an old dress.

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5 thoughts on “staple sewing: the pencil skirt

  1. Pingback: me-mades in the wild (year-end roundup) | root branch bole

  2. Pingback: staple sewing: summery blouses | root branch bole

  3. Pingback: me made may: part 1 | root branch bole

  4. Pingback: me made may: part 2 | root branch bole

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