Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pencil Skirt: My Fit Fixes

I'm surprised at how many people expressed interest in knowing my fixes!  Luckily for you all, I like to blather on about this stuff :-)

As I mentioned yesterday, the pattern I used is the By Hand London's Charlotte skirt.  I'd read so many reviews from people who had great success with this pattern, not having to make any adjustments and getting a great fit, that I shelled out the $16 too.  I should have known better, but hope springs eternal.

I feel I should mention that although I love the style of the BHL girls, I really felt this pattern was lacking enough basics that I wondered if I would have been better off tracing something from a Burda magazine, or picking up a Big 4 pattern on sale.  Call me a curmudgeon, but I think that a long, pegged pencil skirt needs to have a back vent and an angled turn-up for the hem, maybe even a lining.  Especially since this is rated as a beginner pattern - imagine someone new to sewing, turning back that pegged hem and then wondering why they couldn't get it to lay flat.  I drafted mine in because I knew better, but I did so grudgingly - I felt that having spent so much money on the pattern, the Girls ought to have done that bit for me.  Yes, I'm a grouchy old lady.

I can't speak to the directions, because I didn't follow them.  But it did seem to me that a lot of the more refined information wasn't in the instruction book but in a number of sew-along posts on the blog.  Again, for a beginner-rated pattern, I think that kind of stinks.  To my mind, a "beginner" pattern means there are extra instructions, i.e. more hand-holding.  And even though I'm not a beginner, when I'm in the midst of sewing, if I have to look at directions, I don't want to have to look at 2 or more sources at once.  I want all my information in one place.

At any rate, all of this probably won't keep me from buying their patterns in the future, and I already own all the ones they've put out.  But I do think there's room for improvement.

Anyway, back to my skirt saga . . .

In my naive and overconfident state, I traced out the pattern and immediately made up a muslin, only grading from size 8 waist to size 10 hip.  The picture wasn't pretty, as evidenced by this Instagram pic:


EDIT:  I realized I forgot to say something very important!  You may notice on the picture above that I sewed my side seams with right sides out.  I know a lot of people fit their pencil skirts inside out, but my body is so asymmetrical from the right side to the left that I can't do that.  Inside out, you're fitting the skirt to the opposite side of your body!

I spent a lot of time looking at this and thinking about why it didn't work.  The main problem was that the fabric poofed out away from my body at the lower abdomen (you'll see why in a bit).  There also wasn't quite enough room in the seat, and I had diagonal drag lines on the back.

I mulled it over for several days, and then had a nice sit down with my Fit for Real People book. I started to think about the shape of my body and looked for the fixes that would correspond.  And so that you can see the fit issues I'm dealing with (in case you have the same), I drew a couple pictures.

But before I share them, let me state the following:  the terms I've written next to my "problem areas" are fitting terms, not judgments on the shape of my body.  I am quite happy with my body.  But the reality is that pattern makers don't draft for my particular shape, so "problem area" really means "area I have to diagnose and then change to get a good fit."

Here's a rough look at my outline from the front.  For me, the fullest part of my body is my upper thigh, at about 10" below my waist.


Looking from the side, you can see that the upper section of my abdomen is fuller than the lower section, which dips in, and then my upper thighs protrude out again, leaving a gap that fabric from a skirt will have to bridge.  That's the area that was causing me the most problems with my 1st muslin.


I already knew that the fixes for sway back and flat derriere are often the same.  I've copied them here for you from FFRP:



And indeed, I did end up redoing my back waistline seam in exactly the manner shown.  Below you can see my original tissue.  After I'd decided what fixes I wanted to try, I did a tissue fitting to see how they would work.  And to me, this is interesting:  I used to be very anti-tissue fitting, and only grudgingly did it in the fit class Andrea and I took.  And I discovered it wasn't so bad!  When I got to the point of reworking my skirt, I almost went ahead and made a new muslin, with just shortening the front darts and raising the back waistline.  I'm SO glad I stopped and made myself do the tissue fitting instead, because the changes needed were a lot more drastic than I was expecting, and it led me to an adjustment I hadn't considered but which was the biggest key to the good fit I got.  (teaser)


The top edge of the tissue is the cutting line as given in the pattern.  The pink line below it is my new back waist seam - a good inch below the old one.

Based on my tissue fitting, I also had to pull up the front waist seam, but not as much as the back.  That corresponds to the fix for the full tummy (as compared with the back waist seam line).  The other thing I did for the full tummy was to eliminate the inner front dart, and shorten the remaining dart.  Both darts stayed in the back and kept their length, as they gave me a good fit there.



Once I'd done these things, I took a really good look in the mirror to see where the rest of the problem was.  I realized that my full thighs were keeping the pattern pieces from reaching my center in both the front and the back below hip level.  AHA!!!  THIS is the adjustment that changed everything for me:


A wonderful slash and spread, keeping the side seam line mostly unaltered, but giving more room where I need it.  Hallelujah!  Mine looks exactly like the one in the picture, but it's harder to see through all my masking tape!  I did this front and back.


This final adjustment got me almost all the way there - I just needed to shave a little bit of curve off the hip, as evidenced by the new, pink seam line above.

Once I'd done all these adjustments, I traced some fresh (tapeless) pattern pieces for myself, including that angled turn-back for my 2" hem allowance.

new back pattern piece
new front pattern piece

It's hard to see in this cloudy-day photo, but the reason the front looks so much wider than the back is that I left 2" of paper off the "fold" edge.  I like to do that now for anything that's cut on the fold - it makes it much easier for me to cut pieces single layer (as I did for this skirt) by pinning that fold line to the fabric, cutting one side, then flipping it to the other side to cut the mirror image.

I didn't take any pictures of the waistband because it's just a big rectangle.  I wasn't sure how my waist seam changes were going to affect the waistband, and by the time I finished all of the above I was too pooped to take measurments.  So when I cut my waistband the next day, I just cut it a few inches longer for insurance.  I will say however that I'm considering tissue-fitting again, to create a curved waistband piece.  The waistband on my Snakeskin Skirt doesn't lay quite flat against my body.  It doesn't concern me too much because I'm likely to always be wearing something that will cover it.  But knowing that I can make it better makes me want to :-)

Next up, some construction info.  Look at me, getting three blog posts out of one yard of fabric!


49 comments:

  1. huge thank you for posting these fixes! i have many of the same issues, and to know that you managed such an amazing fit is very encouraging. also now i know why the rtw ones i had never fit that well!

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    1. Can't believe I taught YOU something!

      After I did this fitting, I was actually amazed that the RTW suede straight skirt I wore with my leopard print top does fit me, LOL! But it's the only one ever.

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  2. Thank you! This is why I have avoided making more fitted skirts (that aren't stretchy). I have the full tummy and the full thighs and get a "pooch" of fabric there too! Very, very helpful. Do you use a French curve or just eyeball the hip? My "measurement" hip is smaller than my ACTUAL hip aka the pattern pieces round out in the wrong place.

    AND :) how did you do that pinning by yourself?! I have some casual pants that I could love if I took the legs in some. But a haphazard attempt was wrong. Wrong wrong. So I want to do the inside out method but my mind cannot compute.

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    1. Glad this is helpful!

      I did use a curve, but that side seam was mostly arrived at by pinning out the tissue. I just used the fashion curve ruler to smooth it out.

      The tissue fitting was funny - I ended up using masking tape to tape the top center to my body at front and back, LOL! Since most of my changes happened in my hip area, I was able to reach easily. For pant legs though, I imagine it would be a lot harder, since you have to bend over to reach.

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  3. I really like your post about the tissue fitting! And I am more than amazed how well you fitted the skirt with the Plamer Pletsch approach! It looks just lovely on you! Last year, I also took a Plamer Pletsch class in London, but find myself not to be that confident with the method as you do.

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    1. Thank you, Ela! I'm not sure I can call myself confident, but I do have a new-found willingness to give things a try since taking the class. I think a lot of it is just down to experimentation!

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  4. Oh, this is so helpful. I have a client with almost your exact same shape. I've never been quite sure what to do with the dips on her hips - sometimes they are obvious, sometimes not. Was it the full thigh adjustment that helped with this? Or do you think the type of fabric also helped bridge the gap?

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    1. I do believe it was the full thigh adjustment that did most of the fixing. Of course, working this up in a firmer fabric like denim didn't hurt. I have another version in a lighter weight fabric planned, so we'll be getting an answer on that soon I think!

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    2. Great - I look forward to seeing what you learn from that! And I'm with you on the rectangular waistbands - I don't think they work for anyone over 12. Oh, and I got my Elisalex dress out again yesterday. I hope the revamp works as well as your Charlotte!

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    3. Oh, I'm so glad you're getting back to that! I haven't even cracked that pattern. Too. many. patterns!

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  5. omg Gail! You drew my body lol. I have the same issues - the full thighs, fuller tummy with the dip. I hate that dip I get in the "crotch" area on skirts - which now makes sense because of my fuller thighs there!!! You are a genius. I must buy that book :D Thanks!!!

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    1. I think this represents a lot of our bodies! I don't think these things are too uncommon, which is why I wanted to share this all with you guys. And yes - you must buy that book!

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    2. I ordered it today because I have 3 skirts in my "to sew" pile. Plus it will help with a bunch of other things :D Yay for amazon 2 day free shipping. By Thursday I'll be engrossed in the book. Thanks again!

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    3. You are going to love it! DO make the body map if you can - it will reveal so much that will be helpful!

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  6. I don't always read fitting posts in detail, but there's something about yours that hit home and make me want to buy that book!

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    1. Aww, thank you, Kelly!

      I have a bunch of different fitting books, and I have to say: this one and that super expensive one I referred to last week make the most sense to me. Different strokes for different folks! I think this book is well worth the $20 - it has helped me a lot, although it took a while for some of it to sink in.

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  7. This is really interesting, particularly as I have very similar below waist measurements to you, complete with protruding thighs. I never knew how to alter the pattern for those, I should really read my fitting book!

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    1. Not to worry - I had already read it, and it still took me a while to come to this conclusion!!

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  8. Good breakdown. It really supports that our bodies are not carbon copies of certain shapes. Our bodies are like puzzle mosaics.

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  9. Thank you so much for posting all the photos. I suspect that I need that full thigh adjustment as well and this is the main reason I've stuck with A-Line skirts in the past. Question: how did you keep the paper from going every which way while tissue fitting? Did you use the elastic or did you tape it to yourself? I really want to tissue fir my bottom half now, and I think I may use a Burda pencil skirt pattern I bought in Chicago.

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    1. I taped it to my body, LOL! Hubby tried holding it for me, but really it was easier just to tape it to myself, because I found the extra 2 hands harder to work around. And then once it was taped on, I put the elastic around it. I think you should go for it - it wasn't as hard as I'd thought it would be!

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  10. I know you don't want to disparage the BHL girls, but you pretty much created your own pattern here, as much as you would have had to do with a Big 4 pattern. Good on you!

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    1. No, I don't, because they do have great style, and the packaging is adorable. I guess I was just expecting a bit more for that high price tag.

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    2. L's right. You designed this pattern (in as much as one designs a classic pencil skirt). The BHL peeps didn't do much but slow you down.

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    3. Well, I wouldn't go that far. I had to have a base pattern to start with!

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  11. Thank you, I don't mind if you milk 3 or four posts out of your yard!
    You almost made me spit my coffee unto my screen!

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    1. I managed to keep it down to 3 ;-)

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  12. We have almost the same measurements from the waist down - just my bulging lower thighs are 1" bigger. Thanks for sharing this detail, it think it's really the most interesting bit to see how one gets to the finished product & also how you tackled that dip too - my own nightmare when I use bought patterns!

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    1. Thanks, Fleur! I thought the little diagrams would be the easiest way to show what I'm talking about, so I'm glad they were helpful to people!

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  13. Awesome post. And this is why we fit things - so that they look as gorgeous as that skirt looks on you. BTW, I always cut my waistbands @5 inches longer than the pattern piece. Then I can chop away at will and I'm never out of luck by starting too small as I make adjustments while I'm fitting. (Note: While I never fit as I go with a top, re: fitting challenges, fitting skirts is much simpler for me so I do live on the edge sometimes. Esp. when the skirt is a simple shape.

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    1. Exactly. I had a goal of having a pencil skirt or five, and I knew that the only way to get there was to make it myself! But having cut #2, I think the shaped waistband is going to have to happen sooner rather than later.

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  14. You've inspired me to do some drawings of my own measurements so I know exactly what is going on with my own body and get more serious with fitting. Agree with your comments on the pattern. I have made two lovely skirts out of the pattern, but the lack of those details in the pattern really bothers me.

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    1. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who thought so, Kirsty! Your versions were big inspirations for me.

      Sunni has some posts on drafting a vent and tackling the lining, and Emma Jayne at Clipped Curves told me that she's planning on doing a tutorial or sew-along soon. She's gathered some other resources which you can see on her blog: clippedcurves.wordpress.com/

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    2. Thanks for these links - so helpful.

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  15. I spy drawing done on the Paper 53 app! Love the drawings, love the step by step description! It's rather comforting to know that no matter what our figure is like, we' all have to make adjustments! :)

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    1. That's right! It's thanks to you that I have the Paper 53 app! Very handy for things like this!

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  16. I love this post! I have it bookmarked for later.i didn't comment on the skirt post but I will now-it is absolutely stunning!! I think you look great in it! I love the drawings you did of your body. I think I have a similar shape (and almost the same measurements, which is awesome because that must mean I can look as amazing as you!!) I really want to venture into pencil skirt as I haven't tried that shape. Well I have in muslin form and it was a nightmare. Getting up the courage to try my millionth muslin because of you! :)

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    1. I thought of you in particular throughout all of this, because I know from conversations we've had in the past that our shapes are very similar. I hope you give this a try and that it works as well for you as it did for me!

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  17. It's amazing that the changes don't look all that difficult after you have identified what needed to be done. I've avoided fitted pencil skirts for years because of all my middle age bumps, now I'm wondering if I can fit a skirt round my bumps and still feel comfortable wearing it :) That Fit for Real people book by the way, seems like a good buy! And the tip about fitting with right sides together is brilliant as I have asymmetrical hips, one higher than the other! Learned so much from reading this post! Glad you wrote it up!

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    1. That's true - it's figuring out which adjustments are needed that's the hard part! Doing them on the pattern is actually pretty simple after that!

      I'm so glad this was helpful to you!

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  18. How interesting! I've made 2 versions of this skirt (and added a kick pleat to both - I'm a fast walker and couldn't bear mincing around without one) and I had a fold of fabric form across my thighs too - I really don't need any more pencil skirts in my life though, but if I do I will keep the full thigh adjustment in mind! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I'll definitely be adding a vent to my longer versions. I'm a fast walker too! This shorter length is fine without it though.

      One of the reasons I'm so glad to have gotten this to work is that I think a straight skirt is a more 'grown up' and elegant look than the more youthful gathered skirts I usually wear. So it fits in with my trying to refine my look as I hit the half century mark.

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  19. What is the book you show here?

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  20. Gail, I'm always so impressed by the work that you put into careful fitting. The results are so evident here-- the skirt looks amazing! I tend to avoid very fitted styles so I don't have to be so careful, but you're so inspiring that I kind of want to try something more difficult!

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    1. Oooh, you should! Honestly, I probably spent more time procrastinating and thinking about it than I did actually doing it! I'd estimate I spent about 3 hours on the actual fitting and reworking the pattern - a very good investment of time, given that I feel this is now a TNT for me and it gave me a better understanding of what kind of fixes I need for my lower half.

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  21. Oh my gosh!!!! Thank you! I've been searching for days for an adjustment to the back of a tulip skirt and I think I've finally found it. Thank you!!!!

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    1. So glad this was helpful for you, Mia! I highly recommend Fit For Real People, if you don't already have it :-)

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