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’…
…although I suspect inspiration might also have come via the Doncaster Gaumont Cinema…
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 mean some proper clothes. You can’t go out like that.”
“Not even if I promise not to get out of the car?”
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.
One hasty toile later and my remnant of our ‘Glendower’ camel wool twill fabric was in skirt-shaped pieces.
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.
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.
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…
…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.
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…
…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…
…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.
Photographing a dark skirt is difficult but you’ll get the idea.
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…)
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.
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!