Style Crisis: Trying out a skirt. Or two.

Lined skirt

 Let’s start at the very beginning…with a skirt

Whether you learned your dressmaking with a family member, at school, or came to it later in life, chances are that a skirt was one of the first garments you had a go at. Easier to fit than trousers (and don’t we know it…) less of a commitment than a dress and none of the fiddly bits that plagued a blouse – what’s to worry about?

My first skirt was made from an old green curtain. Elasticated waist; no hem (I mean really, why would you bother?) and a headscarf to match. I was probably about 9 at the time and remember emerging excitedly from the cupboard under the stairs where the old hand machine was hidden away. I twirled it proudly in the middle of the hall, amazed that I had actually make a real garment, not just something for a doll. The pattern (such as it was) had come from my sister’s ‘My Learn To Sew Book’…

My Learn To Sew Book - skirt inspiration
Familiar?

…although I suspect inspiration might also have come via the Doncaster Gaumont Cinema…

Sound of Music - skirt inspiration from curtains
Some early skirt inspiration

No running around Vienna for me – or even the local village. I was forbidden to wear it out of the house.

“Go and put some clothes on”
“I have!”
“I mean some proper clothes. You can’t go out like that.”
“Not even if I promise not to get out of the car?”
“Certainly not!”

Ah, well. Fast forward a few years and as a teenager I discovered the pencil skirt. Rocked by the likes of Debbie Harry (naturally) as well as chiming with the 1940s look that prevailed at the time, I lose count of how many I must have knocked up.

I’ve since made longer ones in the 90s, shorter versions in the noughties and along the way discovered what worked and what didn’t and how to adapt patterns to my liking.

Over the years I discovered that since I have a short and relatively wide torso, a slightly dropped and faced waistline works much better for me. It’s much more comfortable than a high waistline or one with a waistband. A skirt that’s fitted down to my lower hips also works better than gathers or pleats into my waist – plus as previously discussed I never feel ‘me’ with lots of fabric flying around.

A skirt for my Style Crisis?

Why, then, with all that skirt history, has it taken so long for me to consider a skirt as part of my style crisis solution? Practicality is certainly one reason – trousers are so much easier for running up and down stairs, grubbing around on the floor and general dashing about. Also they’re warmer. (Have I mentioned I feel the cold? Much?)

It was a conversation last weekend that reminded me of another reason why skirts haven’t been on my list. Legs and shoes. Skirts are difficult to get right with completely flat shoes without looking like a scouting Akela and there comes a point in the year where opaque tights just stop being practical, as even I will confess.

However for the winter at least, that issue was addressed in the aftermath of my ‘Simple wool dress’ make. Discussion of footwear and hosiery options resulted in the purchase of a pair of burgundy suede mid-heel ankle boots just before Christmas. Co-ordinating burgundy tights were sourced as well a pack of charcoal ones for good measure. Now I had things sorted below the knee, it only remained to sort out my mid-section. I’d been itching to use some of our lovely winter wools, offcuts of which had been building up in my stash. A skirt, surely, would be the answer.

A case of new pattern seduction

My next move was of course, to ignore all the skirt-making and skirt-wearing experiences I’d accrued in decades gone by. A shiny new pattern had caught my eye on Twitter and without further ado I was the proud owner of the ‘Hagen’ Skirt pattern from Salme.

Hagen Skirt pattern from Salme
‘Hagen’ Skirt from Salme Patterns

One hasty toile later and my remnant of our ‘Glendower’ camel wool twill fabric was in skirt-shaped pieces.

Camel wool twill fabric for Hagen skirt
‘Glendower’ camel wool twill fabric

I opted for the front patch pocket – but promptly removed it once I was reminded  of the difficulties inherent in top-stitching round a curve. As pockets go it wasn’t a usable option and fortunately the fabric withstood plenty of unpicking and pressing. Once the basic skirt was assembled however, I began to regret the haste of my toile. The Hagen skirt, it turns out, is quite a high-waisted design – with front darts that did nothing for my comfort or appearance.

Darts removed, the fit was more accommodating. I was pleasantly surprised with the ease and level of finish I managed to achieve with the hem, which is constructed using a facing just like the waistline.

Faced skirt hem
Faced skirt hem

The pattern instructions were clear and helpful and the construction process was trouble-free. Once lined with our ‘Golden bough’ floral gold jacquard lining fabric I was really rather taken with it.

Lined skirt
Inside of skirt with facing, zip & lining

And yet…and yet… Although there’s no denying that the skirt itself is something to be proud of, looking lovely on the hanger, an appraisal by my reliably-frank youngest daughter was as incisive as ever.

“Why have you made a skirt that goes out? You don’t ‘go out’ and it looks all wrong, especially since your shirt flares out as well”

One inevitable visual metaphor later…

Pagoda skirt
This reminds me of something…
Pagoda for skirt comparison
Ah, yes…

…and I could see her point. Tucked in, the effect was even worse as the breakline of the colour difference between the shirt and skirt was unforgiving as it cut me across the middle.

“You could always take it in”

Oh god. The hemline facing. The topstitching down the front. The lining. Take it in. Right.

“Pass the Glenfiddich…”

Another day, another skirt

It was at that point that I went back to my pattern archive and fished out Vogue Pattern 8603.

Vogue Skirt Pattern 8603
Vogue Skirt Pattern 8603

As far as I can tell, it’s out of print (those gathers at the hip into the front panel on Views A & B will have done for it I suspect…).  I’ve happily cracked out versions of View F over the years, mainly because it’s very straightforward and also because there’s lots of potential to fit it well using those side front and back seams. However it had long been banished to the back of my pattern collection as a ‘going to work’ pattern.

Consequently I was tempted by Vogue 9172

Vogue Skirt Pattern 9172
Vogue Skirt Pattern 9172

…but decided to stick with what I knew on this occasion. As it happens, the pencil skirt is having something of a renaissance at the moment and it was gratifying to think I might have conveniently arrived on an upward fashion curve, albeit by chance. It seems that everyone who is anyone (well, Meghan Markle and Michelle Obama at least) are leading the way on the pencil skirt front – and you won’t find me picking a fight with Michelle.

We have a delicious charcoal flannel…

Charcoal grey wool flannel fabric
‘Onslow’ draping charcoal grey wool flannel fabric

…and of course the great thing about a pencil skirt is that you need less than a metre to play with.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an accurately-fitted dress form then this is one project where you’ll find it invaluable as it’ll enable you to take advantage of the fitting potential of all those seams. I was a little pushed for time (no, really…) but one box of pins and a lot of basting later and I was relieved to have a reasonably-fitted skirt.

Elsewhere I also took a couple of inches off the top in order that it would sit well below my waist (and used a shorter zip as well). I used the completed skirt shell as the template for re-cut facings and pressure of time meant that I didn’t top-stitch either side of all the seams. (Also it’s possible I might have forgotten the top-stitching instruction until I’d pieced it all together and really, enough, already…).

It’s lined with our Crisp black satin lining fabric since that has more structure than a satin lining and the drape of the charcoal flannel meant that it could do with a little support on the structure front I thought.

And here we have it.

Skirt reveal
Steady, now…

Photographing a dark skirt is difficult but you’ll get the idea.

Skirt up close
Up close and personal

Not entirely convinced about the length, tights and boots – but the camera angle isn’t helping any. (Neither is my inability to strike a pose but that’s a whole different story…)

The wearing

I was rather taken aback at the difference between this more tailored shape compared to the looser or more casual clothes I’ve favoured over the last few years. Golly! I know the colours are subdued and very ‘blocky’ but hey – one step at a time. It does feel oddly familiar however – and since it’s not a fussy design, I don’t feel too far from my comfort zone. Although I’m not sure I have the length quite right (possibly a couple of inches shorter?), I’m going to give it some ‘daily work routine’ outings over the next month and will report back.

What’s next?

This year my Style Crisis blogs are taking a slightly different tack. I’ve decided that the key to making my new wardrobe work for me, is to move on from making garments in isolation unless there’s a good reason. I’m going to pick an ensemble at a time, sometimes with a specific event or purpose in mind; other times simply a look that I think will work.

Next week then, it’ll be all about this dark wine wool shirt you can see in these pictures. In the meantime we’ve set up a Pencil Skirts Pinterest Board with lots of pattern and fabric suggestions.

Meanwhile please share any ideas you might have! Skirt lengths? Favourite skirt patterns? Fitting tips (and is it worth my while taking in the Pagoda Skirt?) Footwear suggestions (please!!) and styling ideas – all are welcome!

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17 thoughts on “Style Crisis: Trying out a skirt. Or two.

  1. Louise says:

    Your pencil skirt looks amazing – I love the grey flannel fabric – I made a similar one a few years ago and live in hope that it will kne day fit me again…

    I have been wearing a denim Rosari skirt a lot recently – it definitely has the sticky out sides but I love it anyway- I wear it with a fitted black jumper that I have had for a million years which I firmly believe balances everything out. I suspect life is too short to unpick facings on a skirt you don’t already love?

    Louise

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Thank you for all the encouragement, Louise – as well as the realistic approach to putting things right! (Or not…) Now you see – I love the look of the Rosari skirt – it’s just the kind of thing I might have wanted to make in this instance. I don’t have anything against ‘sticky-out sides’ per se – it’s just that they don’t seem to look right on me. For the record I have the same issue with shorts. I think it’s that I have little or no bottom (or so my swimming ‘friends’ remark most weeks in the changing rooms…) and my legs just seem to ‘dangle’ out of shorts and skirts of this type. The fitted black jumper is a *very* cool idea though – and I will certainly give that a go before I reject my camel skirt completely…

  2. Let’s Get Sewing says:

    I love reading your posts (especially the metaphor that came with this one)! I can’t believe how intricately made the golden skirt is – that lining is stunning! It’s such a shame it didn’t quite work, hopefully it will look good with a more fitted top that either tucks in or goes in at the waist. As for the charcoal skirt, it looks perfect with your shirt! I have never made a pencil skirt before as I’m not sure I would wear it, but yours looks so lovely. One of my favourite skirt patterns is the Megan Nielsen Brumby, I absolutely love the deep pockets (although I wouldn’t recommend using a fabric which is too heavy in weight, I’d like to try it in a chambray for my next version).

    • aliceclothspot says:

      What lovely compliments! I must say I enjoyed the process of making this skirt and I wasn’t in a rush (for once) so had time to get ‘in the zone’ as you might say. I agree with you and Louise when you suggest a more fitted top (though it would have to drop to my hips I think). I’ve just had a look at the ‘Brumby’ pattern – and as with the Rosari it’s just the kind of thing that I thought I might like. However I tried a similar-shaped skirt on in UniQlo last week (just doing research, people…;-) and my friend instructed me to remove it right away. *sigh* Just not me, apparently. Although I completely agree that a chambray would be the perfect fabric for it. Thanks so much for the encouragement!

  3. Marion George says:

    Don’t take it in! I don’t think it will work. However, the workmanship on the skirt looks absolutely top. Why do mine never look like that? I love the charcoal skirt, it looks great on you and I think the length looks good to, it’s an excuse to make a shorter one in another colour.

    Like you, I rarely, if ever these days, wear a skirt but have just made a black crepe top which when I finished is just crying out for, you guessed it, a pencil skirt. I like my skirts to sit below my waist too. I have a fairly big difference in my hip and waist measurement, my hips are wide, and gathers or anything too waisted just billow out so I look as if I’m wearing a barrage balloon. Dirndles are deffinately not me. So I shall be trying New Look 6230 view b, and see how I get on.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Ah, Marion – I will show my mother your comments on my workmanship – it will warm the cockles of her heart after those early non-hem elasticated attempts. It used to be that my signature style on any garment I made would be a safety pin holding something together somewhere. Along the way I must have grown up! Love the idea of making a shorter version of my skirt in another colour. I do have a few choice fabrics lined up in my stash, ’tis true… But oh, for a waist narrower than my bum – I can but dream, apparently. If I lose weight or exercise (which I do, plenty – exercise, that is) the proportions just seem to stay the same. It does beg the question though, does a dirndle skirt look good on anyone? However – the clean lines of NL 6230 look like just the thing – and I have posted it on the Pinterest board. Thank you very much indeed for the compliments, the realistic decision-making and the pattern idea!

  4. Di says:

    Your blog was, as always, interesting. The charcoal skirt looks very good on you and is much more flattering than the ‘pagoda’ (your daughter was right) but I think a little bit shorter would look better (just my opinion and I’m sure others will disagree). Loved the gold jacquard lining though–bet that felt nice to wear. Altering the ‘pagoda’ will take forever. Is there someone at work/family who would look better in it ?? (ie gift). If not then I’d donate to charity and add the experience to one of life’s lessons.
    As regards finding the right skirt length I find using the ‘Golden Ratio’ (1.618) useful. You may have heard of Fibonacci (Italian and into rabbits !!), who worked out a series of numbers. I won’t ‘rabbit’ on (excuse pun) about him, or what he did, but give you the basic formula.
    The formula, found throughout the human body, is an eight part formula–three to five is the one I’ve used for a pencil skirt
    To find the best skirt length for yourself :-
    1) Measure from your waist to the floor with flat shoes or no shoes.
    2)Divide that number by 8.
    3) Multiply that number by 5 and you’ll have a length which should look proportionally good on you, particularly pencil skirts. You can modify this slightly up/down to suit. The other option is to divide the waist to floor measurement by 1.618–which is the same as above (fractions or decimals it’s up to you).
    The formula, which I’ve used for years, appears to work with various heel heights. You could use it for the whole body as it gives you an idea as to your best proportions. (sleeves/dress lengths/capri pants etc etc) We’re talking an ‘ideal’ shaped body which is what many would like, and few have, but it helps getting garment proportions right based on YOUR measurments.
    Hope this helps.
    I drafted a pencil skirt pattern, to my measurements, years ago. Worth doing if you have the time.If the skirts I made from it are in my wardrobe, and still fit, then I’m good to go. I have two other ‘go to’ skirt patterns. One is an OOP Vogue– Sandra Betzina design. It’s a mid calf/ankle length design which skims the hips and flips out at the bottom. Originally for wovens I’ve redrafted a pattern for knits. Then there’s a New Look 6735 which features jacket/top/ trousers/skirt all for knits. That skirt pattern has been used a lot. I travel quite a bit so need clothes that’ll roll up and won’t need ironing. I always line skirts, knits too, even though the pattern doesn’t provide for it–easy enough to do with the right fabric.
    I have other skirt patterns, one not dissimilar to your Vogue 8603. I remember adding a centre back seam so I could have the concealed zip and a single vent at the back.
    Footwear is a problem with skirts. In the summer sandals look good even if they’re flat. I find shoes with a small wedge heel are OK at this time of year or, like you, wear ankle/knee length boots. Reiker do various Mary Jane shoes etc, with a small heel, which will probably appear in the shops soon. They go with just about everything. Hotter shoes have some new designs, some to go with skirts.
    ‘Rabbited’ on long enough!!

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Di what an extraordinary analysis – I knew about the Golden Ratio and Fibonacci but I had absolutely no concept of applying those principles to skirt lengths. However as you explain it – of course it makes perfect sense. (Hindsight – always a help, I find…) Of course what I’ve done since starting to read and reply to your lovely (and very kind, thank you) comment – is to dash downstairs, enlist Judy’s help with the tape measure and apply your theory. It turns out that my ‘couple of inches shorter, perhaps?’ throwaway line at the end of my post was just about spot on. With the help of pins stuck into today’s leggings (oh dear me, the truth will out…) my skirt is a fraction less than two inches longer than ideally it should be. So – an alteration shall be forthcoming – along with ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots, for good measure. I’m both intrigued and grateful – and with your permission I may well showcase your theory in a post of its own. Thank you, too, for the pattern insights. I agree with you about always lining a skirt, which I invariably do, whatever the season (although never yet a knit one – but I suspect I wear those more as ‘active wear’ then as couture items). I am determined though, once the weather warms up, to make sure I find a pair of sandals that works with a skirt – you’re right – they’re often much easier to wear than shoes in that way – and even a small heel helps. Thank you for all your so-called ‘rabbiting’ which of course is not in the least rabbit-like and tremendously helpful!

      • Di says:

        Yes, I thought you’d be aware of the ‘Golden Ratio’. Interesting that your remark about ‘two inches too long’ was near the truth. That was your trained eye/experience knowing that something wasn’t quite right. The point is to use the formula as a guide not as a ‘this is what it must be’. Please do use my post. I’ll look forward to seeing the before and after difference, if/when you alter the skirt.
        You can get stretch linings in various colours. The only downside is that they have a tendency to ladder so I cut them slightly larger and handle them carefully. They can also ladder with wear but (so far) none of my knit linings have completely unravelled. Lightweight lingerie fabrics with a bit of stretch, or any stretch linings, work for knit skirts (eg ponte etc) as long as they compliment the handle of the fabric.
        Re, shoes/sandals with skirts I’ve noted recent fashion photo’s showing women ( mostly young, but not always) wearing fancy/glitzy trainers, or ballet flats, with pencil skirts. I suppose it might work for some. I have reservations on what I’d look like, and will say no more. I only mentioned those makes of shoe as I had two booklets (unsolicited) come through the letter box.

        • aliceclothspot says:

          Thank you Di – I will do a ‘before and after’ – look out for it!
          We do get offered stretch knit linings but they never look as inspiring as other things (they can tend towards a worryingly surgical appearance, don’t you think?) and I find myself saying ‘maybe next time, maybe next time…’
          I share your misgivings about footwear. I have Size 8 feet and ‘serviceable’ ankles so ballet flats don’t really work – and the last time I wore my posh white trendy trainers with a skirt, I was asked by a friend if it was because I had bunions. Her teenage son thought I was right on-trend, but by that time the damage was done…

          • Di says:

            Yes, some of the knit linings are ‘different’. The ones I use the most have a silky feel–like fine lingerie fabric. A reasonable selection of colours ie red, pale blue etc etc, currently reside in my ‘knit linings’ box. Others I sourced are probably like the ones you aptly describe as ‘surgical’ and come in the basic black/white/cream. Use the latter more as underlinings to give support without altering the stretch. I can understand why you’re reluctant to stock them. The former require a decent amount of sewing experience being slippery, and stretchy, with that laddering tendency I mentioned. The latter are more user friendly, but not inspiring.
            Had a laugh about your friends comment re bunions. You should have agreed with her son. Will look forward to the before/after skirt photo’s.

  5. Ellie says:

    I love a pencil skirt like you. I highly recommend trying a knitted pencil skirt in a ponte too – super comfortable and easy to move around with while being flattering. i have sewn up vogue 8711 (out of print now – the most flattering skirt ever on me, although the instructions are a hot mess) and the jade skirt by paprika patterns (https://www.paprikapatterns.com/shop/jade-skirt/ – last time i sewed this up i extended the length to just below the knee by adding a whole extra set of folds which makes it even more pencil skirt’y). i love both of these skirts and get loads of wear out of them.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Ellie thank you so much for the reminder about that Paprika Patterns skirt – I flew by it on another project a while ago and had completely forgotten. I love those folds (very forgiving I suspect!) and actually I like both lengths – much appreciated – I’ve posted it on the Pinterest Board. I have a couple of single-knit jersey skirts that I wear over leggings (courtesy of H&M I’m afraid!) and have meant to try a ponte knit skirt. Marion suggested New Look pattern 6230 which I think is a ponte pattern – your point about being able to move around easily is well made. Thank you!

  6. Odette says:

    Oh my goodness, I had that book as a child and your blog opening had me lost in nostalgia.
    I have different body shape challenges, but I recognised everything else about your post. Especially the rueful reflections on winter legwear. Thank you for your grounded frankness. It is reassuring to know other experienced sewers produce wadders from time to time, but your grey skirt looks great.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Odette you made me laugh in turn! I am new to the term ‘wadder’ in the sewing context – but it made me cackle as soon as I read it and having looked it up I am enlightened – *excellent* word! So pleased I’m not alone in recalling that book (I must try and root it out the next time I’m at my sister’s house – I’ll see if I can sneak it up my jumper on the way out :-). Delighted to have prompted good memories and the recognition of familiar scenarios alike – thank you so much for letting me know!

  7. Cate says:

    I think the pencil skirt is a better shape on you, it’s more flattering. However, I love that you used Chinese jacquard as the lining on the other one. I’m going to have to remember that!

    In terms of the whole tights, and skirt thing, I have a rule I (generally) live by as it suits me better. If the skirt is below the knee then it should be natural tights or bare legs, but it the skirt is above the knee then it should be dark tights. xx

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Thank you Cate – a seal of approval indeed! I was indeed sad to have to reject that lining but it’s a lesson learned, at least.
      Now – thank you *so* much for the legwear guidance! I feel so hopeless at this stuff since I have existed in either jeans or tiny jersey skirts-and-leggings for so long. When I re-photograph for the adjusted ‘Golden ratio’ length I will try both out for comparison – thank you very much indeed! Alx

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