Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The 'What I Wish I'd Known' skirt


Last week I started work on this skirt by McCalls  (pattern number: M6439) after happening upon it by chance and deciding that I needed one immediately. I love how the pleats come in from every angle to give it a slightly sculptural feel - it feels like a grown-up bubble skirt.

As you may know, I loathe working from envelope patterns, finding it preferable to use a Japanese pattern where in three simple, wordless diagrams everything that one needs to know in order to be able to construct the garment is conveyed. By contrast, it feels as though envelope patterns spend two sides of A3 using the smallest font available trying to wilfully mislead me. The one redeeming feature of this skirt pattern was that it wasn't produced by Simplicity: a name which I always find particularly galling when struggling through their instructions.


Anyway, the actual pattern pieces are beautifully cut and produce a skirt that's really lovely, even if the instructions are the things of nightmares. Knowing that envelope patterns always seem to run very large, I ignored the measurement chart and chose the smallest size, however, the waistband was still several inches too big. Bodies are so different that one expects that a certain amount of jiggery-pokery may be needed to get the fit of a garment just right (and sometimes even accept that a particular pattern will just never fit and flatter one's particular body in the way that one might hope). However, a skirt waistband intended to sit on the waist feels as though it should be the least ambiguous of fitting issues. The smallest size on the McCalls pattern chart is intended to fit someone with a 23.5" waist (remember I'd picked the smallest size because I know envelope patterns run large...my waist is actually a little bigger than that) but I then had to take a further 3 inches out of the of the skirt to get it to fit...which would mean that theoretically I should have a 20.5" waist. An internet search revealed that the need to remove several inches is common with this skirt...if only I'd thought to look first.


Because this skirt is made from two overlapping front pieces of heavily sculpted material, it was almost impossible to assess fit until right near the end of making the pattern up - by which point the excess material could only be taken from the central back seam of the skirt, as the front pieces have pleats to each side as well as along the top. Taking all the excess from the back obviously produces front and back pieces of unequal widths, which is why the skirt looks like this from the back (see below). Had I altered the pattern pieces prior to making it, I'm sure you wouldn't be able to see the bulk of the pleats to either side when looking at the skirt from behind. It distorts the silhouette and makes me feel self-conscious about how inexpertly made the skirt is. Arg!


It's a pattern for which a toile is almost essential, which is why I feel so annoyed with myself that in my enthusiasm I decided to dispense with that and instead chose to cut straight into some very expensive silk crepe. In theory, making your own clothes meant to be the thriftier, more environmentally-friendly option, but I think this only holds true for seamstresses who aren't spirited away on flights of fancy that this-one-will-probably-be-fit-first-time leading them to foolishly delve straight into the drawer mentally marked 'very special fabrics'.


I've decided to share this skirt with you anyway though, because I really think it's a super pattern if you're forearmed with some knowledge that the sizing is completely off and will most definitely require a toile. If, like me, you find the idea of matching up over a dozen pleat points intensely satisfying you will love making this skirt. For those tempted, I'd also make the following changes if I were to make it again: I'd put the concealed zip in the side seam rather than at the back to give a smoother, less secretarial look and cut the back panel as one piece; once I'd created the many pleats, I'd throw the instructions away and install a self-drafted waistband as the instructions in this area are particularly dire for what should be a very simple sewing task; I'd know that the skirt is fully lined, so there's no need to spend time on any special seam finishes; the skirt worked well in a silk crepe with a really good drape - I'm unsure how successful it would have been in a less fluid material; I woudn't buy the downloadable PDF version as that involves sticking 61 pages of A4 paper together: it will make you want to cry. It will also make you want to abandon the sellotape nightmare by page 26 and buy a hard copy from a shop instead. Double environmental and thrifty fail! Damn.

Florence x

ps. I've just discovered that McCalls obviously thought it looked better without the zip inserted centrally at the back too...it's either been airbrushed away or they gave up following their own instructions too.

18 comments:

  1. When I was going to dressmaking classes with a really good teacher, a while back, we never used to use the waistband pattern piece to make the garment. Instead, we would use our waist measurement, plus a bit (I can look this up if you're interested) for the button/fastener overlap, plus ease, and then EASE the skirt/trousers onto the bespoke waistband. That way, the waistband was always a perfect fit, and comfortable! I only ever did this with a fairly straightforward waistband, and don't know how you'd do it with something fancier - slash and spread for a yoke-type band, perhaps.
    Hope this is helpful.
    Amanda

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    1. That's a much better way of doing it, although I'm not sure it would have worked for this skirt because of how much detailing there is at the top...and also because it was quite a few inches! However, I'm going to keep that in mind for future skirtage, so thank you!

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  2. Oh what a pain Florence. It looks beautiful from the front though and I agree with your description of a grown up bubble skirt. will you make another? x

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    1. Thank you, Pipany. Perhaps, once my frustration levels have subdued! x

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  3. Ah, so this is the 61 page skirt!! I love all the pleating detail. I'm a little flabbergasted to see that they rate the pattern as 'easy' - who are they kidding?

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  4. OK, this is strengthening my resolve to Always Make A Muslin - so difficult to be disciplined when you're excited by a pattern (just cutting one for a Tova top now). But Florence, are you still going to wear the skirt? It looks really great from the front and I doubt anyone but you will notice anything awry with the back. Get out there!

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  5. I have started making a muslin as it does save near tears and bald patches. Although the draping does look fab on you!

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  6. Sorry, but I did giggle at some of the things you learned, especially about that PDF - who on earth thought 61 pages was a good idea?! o.O

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  7. I think I generally did well with mainstream pattern instructions and I generally prefer words to diagrams which just make me recoil in horror as being non self explanatory. I love Japanese patterns and am put off because of there being no readable instructions. It's not much fun though looking for your size on the pattern and cutting it out.I used to do that the day before along with any markings.

    Where I do have problems though is sizing and although the size 10's used to fit I am smaller now and not sure where I would come in the pattern sizings, I think in between and I can't cope with that. This puts me off as this is where my skills are not. I can't measure anything properly for toffee as I never know how tight or loose the tape should be. I mean you can gain or loose a couple of inches around the waist or chest easily, as flesh is very malleable when measuring. It means it might fit but cinch you in unbearably, or conversely leave eons of material flapping about. That is the reason I never got into drafting patterns - the tape measure lies! There is also the question of negative/positive ease on top of that. I did snip things about while working from clothes I knew fitted but I could never work out the geometry of it all and put it together with my flaky measuring.

    So hats of to you Florence for being so clever, you seem to understand how it all works so well. 61 pages to stick together though! Oh dear.

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  8. This skirt I beautiful and should suit a petite slender frame such as yours. Yes, the back view in your photo is a shocker and it needed drastic changes to create the silhouette you deserve. My opinion (and I am not actually faced with doing it) is to unpick the back seams and try again. McCalls deserve a stern letter from you outlining the problems with this pattern. I took some lessons from a designer about 35 years ago and learned a heap of small tricks. Drafting. Interpreting photos. When you sew for yourself it is not always to save money. It is primarily to have a garment made by an expert and made to suit your body. (Think about who works sewing clothes and also the production process.) I think that by constructing the lining first you would have a fairly good idea of the fit. Estimate the hours spent and determine a monetary value. Have you achieve the result this should indicate? You have a wonderful eye for colour and line. Do not beat yourself up this time. Change the pattern and get your skirt right. Why not make a casual version to wear by fiddling with a skirt pattern that already fits you well.

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  9. I think it really suits your figure and also much better than on the McCall's website. I also learned the hard way that's better to make a muslin...it saves you from even bigger disappointments...

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  10. I think that this looks lovely on you - i'm somewhat unsure that it would look good on me as my thighs and bum aren't my most favourite bits of me. I have bought a couple of Japanese books that you have spoken about in the past but i cannot get my head around them, i'm almost too scared to try which is so annoying as the patterns are yummy. xx

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  11. I think you've done a great job, I wouldn't even attempt anything like that.

    Jill x

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  12. Whatever trouble you went to, you look gorgeous in it.

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  13. I'm glad it's not just me who does this!!
    I made a circle skirt the other day following the instructions for a 3/4 skirt but I folded the fabric too many times and ended up with a waistband to fit three people in!! My fabric wasn't expensive but I'd fell on such a bargain jersey fabric I was so upset to waste it. Luckily my mum is a dressmaker and believes it is save able through panelling - but it's never helpful when she starts quoting 'measure twice cut once!' lol
    I think the skirt looks lovely though and I think no matter what the draping would show somehow at the back, is that not just the way it's designed?

    X
    Ps I'm new to your site which I found via Company magazine (congrats on your award) and have to say I love your blog name - it made me want to eat toasted teacakes slathered in butter lol

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  14. I've never made a muslin ... though I've never made anything that's fitted me, so that's not really a recommendation! Your skirt looks lovely, I do find a good bit of pleating very satisfying. I really sympathise with the pain of cutting into your best fabric and not being happy with the end product. Cheeky of McCalls to modify the way they made their own pattern for the photos though!

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  15. Just found you today. Loving that skirt. I too prefer Japanese sewing books over envelope patterns anyday (particularly those sold by the big four XP). Thanks for the chuckles.
    PS your comments section doesn't function for non-google accounts. You might want to install disqus so that people can have cross-platform logins, keep track of their comments + responses and not have to play the hideous recaptcha game of blindness that blogger commenting entails..

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  16. I prefer to believe - whatever the evidence - that envelope patterns come up small, because if not then I am even larger than I have convinced myself I am.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x