Saturday, 31 August 2013

What happened next...: Skirts

Maybe it's just me, but I always wonder how people get on in the longer-term with the things that they make. The reason I think about this is that historically I was a serial purchaser of things that looked nice on the hanger, looked good when I tried it on, but that I never wore more than once or twice because after wearing it for a day it turned out that whatever it was was profoundly uncomfortable/didn't work out/something else. And then there are the things I bought that hung, unloved, in my wardrobe for YEARS before I admitted I was never going to wear them and either sold them or gave them away. Surely I can't be the only person in the world to do this? And surely I can't be the only person who thinks sewing would probably pan out the same way, only with more blood, sweat and tears in the acquisition phase?

Anyway, as I was organizing my wardrobe for the new season (autumn being thoroughly upon us here in Ireland) I was specifically thinking about skirts, because, for various reasons, I have almost none in my wardrobe for the coming season. I found myself wondering how that could be when, compared to every other category of clothing in my wardrobe, I have made so many skirts. So, here is my "... many months later" update of what happened with all the skirts I made.

Simplicity 8664

Simplicity 8664
I made Simplicity 8664, a classic and simple straight skirt pattern twice. Unfortunately, I've never worn either of them outside of the house, though for different reasons.

On the left, a pencil skirt I made with Simplicity 8664 in navy pinstriped wool. It's actually a really nice skirt both inside and out, although of course not without flaws. However, the mistake I made was that I tapered the side seams by a total of 4cm to make it more pencil-shaped than straight and as a consequence I just can't seem to put together an outfit that doesn't look terrible. I never wear tapered/skinny trousers because they look terrible with my top heavy, broad-shouldered body shape. It turns out that tapered skirts produce the same problem. I definitely just should have made it straight, which looks much better on me. This particular skirt is still hanging in my wardrobe because I really do like the idea of it and I keep thinking I'll figure out a way to wear it, that there's some magic top somewhere that I can wear that will make it look good. However, barring a sudden magic top, it's not really something I'm going to reach for often this autumn and now, due to weight loss, it's getting to a point where it's teetering on the brink of too big. Status: Still in my closet but future in doubt.

On the right, a straight skirt with a front vent made with a different view of the pattern, this time without any tapering. It's taken me a long time to acknowledge this, but I'm never going to wear this and I should have called it as a wadder way back when. I've tried and tried to rescue it -- I unpicked all of the hem and sewed it again, twice; I unpicked and re-sewed the side seams several times while I was making it; I struggled for hours with the vent edge and the hem edge. It always looks OK for about 3 minutes after I press it, but then a minute later it subsides into looking like a horrible, unflattering rag. Fundamentally, the problem is that it's made from this incredibly fine, drapy wool that won't hold a crease, which in no way suits a pattern that needs lovely crisp pressed edges at the vent, hem and seams, plus there's some really dodgy sewing as well. I've reached the conclusion that nothing is going to rescue it and I should stop trying. It's more than a bit annoying, not least because I wasted a really nice piece of lining on it, which I will try to harvest before I throw it away. Status: In the rag bag.

McCall's 5431

I made two of this pattern as well: McCall's 5431, a semi-circle skirt with yoke.

On the left, a brown version in a really nice synthetic self-patterned fabric. I wore it a few times this summer for work. At the time I made the skirt I used a size 20 and said in my review that really I needed an 18. It turned out I really needed an 18, especially as this fabric loosens up a little over the course of the day. Even before I lost weight, I found that the skirt started the day just below my natural waist and ended it at my hips. I was constantly aware of it being too big and it had a tendency to swivel around until the side seam was half way round me. At my current weight even fresh from the dryer it's dangerously low on my hips, so it's essentially unwearable. This is a real shame because I hoped this skirt would transition into autumn if worn with with tights and boots rather than bare legs and sandals. For the time being I've stored it with other, similarly sized clothes as, for several reasons, it's not an ideal candidate for alteration. Status: In size storage.

The second version is part of the wedding outfit. I had no other events this summer and didn't wear it again, but I was actually really happy with it throughout the (very long) wedding day/reception experience. It is an 18 and it still fits, although now at my hips rather than my waist. It's a skirt you can't really wear for any reason other than for an occasion or even outside of spring/summer though, so it's gone into seasonal storage. Status: In seasonal storage.

Ottobre 05-2007-03

Another twofer: this Ottobre A-line pattern with minor variations from 2007 is really quick and simple, and great with a cotton fabric.

On the left, a purple polka dot skirt, which I wore less than I intended this summer. I wore it less than planned not because I don't like it -- I really do! -- but because I didn't have a top to go with it. The purple tops I had all clashed with the purple polka dots, I don't like wearing all black in summer, and the white tops I had were the wrong shape -- this skirt is so markedly triangular that to look good on me I needed a top that nipped in at the waist. All my white tops were more voluminous or straight sided and just didn't work (and I never got around to buying/making anything that DID work.) Alas, this too was earmarked to transition into autumn but I have exactly the same problem as with the previous pattern: I made it in a 48 and noted at the time that this was probably too big, and being a stretch woven it too turned out to grow horrendously over the course of the day. I was constantly aware that it was too big and very slightly uncomfortable, and now of course, with a little weight loss, it's unwearable. For the time being it too is put away in size storage, pending a decision whether I want to refashion/alter it.  Status: In size storage.

On the right, a bright turquoise cotton print version. I wore this a LOT this summer, helped by the fact I had several tops that went perfectly with it. This is a size 46 and it fits a little lower on my body than it did originally, but it's definitely wearable. However, it's not really autumn-wear, so I've put it away for now. One minor flaw: I did a rolled hem and it started to shred, so if it fits next year I will need to hem it properly. Status: In season storage.

A pair of mistakes: Simplicity 3881, Simplicity 5351

Ugh, neither these are good.

On the left, the grey flounce skirt (Simplicity 3881) is another example of something I made without really thinking about whether it would suit me. I was never in love with it, to the extent that even though it was light enough for summer I didn't bring it with me to Ireland at the beginning of the summer. Now it's almost too big and I have consigned it, having never worn it, into size storage. I probably could actually get a couple of wears out of it because it's not really big enough to be unwearable but I already have some nice grey skirts and I just... don't like it. I'm not sure I'll ever like it, but I am not quite ready to just put it in the recycling bin either. It looks so cute in this photo, even! I did a great job on the inside and the finishing! Why do I not like it? The conclusion I keep reaching is that it's something to do with the shape of the top part of the skirt combined with that hard horizontal line that hits fairly high on my (large) thighs, but I honestly can't quite put my finger on exactly why I dislike it so. On the plus side, the cost of making this was close to zero, so I don't feel too bad about it overall. Status: In size storage, but future in doubt.

The other skirt, a version of Simplicity 5351, a gored skirt in brown wool mix, is a wadder and never should have pretended to be anything else. I'm not going to claim the problem here was all the fabric (there were some painfully obvious sewing errors as well, and I just could NOT get a decent hem at all) but the fabric really did not help. Most recently, trying for the fourth time to fix the hem, I managed to burn/melt a big patch on the front of the skirt (and really, wow, what kind of fabric MELTS ONTO YOUR IRON?). You can't see the mark but the fabric is all crunchy and weird and really, no, time to give up. Status: In the bin.

Skirts for the summer: Lorenna Buck Maxi, Ottobre 02-2010-15

Just so I can finish on a high note, two skirts that were definite wins.

On the left, the summer maxi skirt I made with sari fabric was great. I just wish I'd made it earlier in the summer as I didn't have too many really nice days on which to wear it. There were a couple of little problems with it, of course. I left the hem as a raw selvedge hoping it would hold but after a couple of washes this started to fray. It never got bad enough that I did anything about it, but I definitely need to if I want to wear it again. I also really did a terrible job with the waistband at the front. It's not uncomfortable and I rarely tuck my shirts in so nobody else can see, but I still ~~~know that it's a right pig's ear. I made it to fit at the waist at the time, and it now sits a bit below. This is actually good because it solves the slight concern I had that it was just a few centimetres too short. It's definitely a summer and/or vacation skirt, although I wore it to work on a couple of epically hot days when I was teaching. Really not something I can wear into the autumn, so: Status: In seasonal storage.

On the right, the khaki straight skirt with side pockets looks like nothing at all. It's absolutely bland and dull and the pockets on the side, while both nice and functional, and which you can see properly in the original entry, are not all that interesting. On Pattern Review it is the most unloved review I have written. And yet! This is one of the most successful things I've made so far. I wore it and wore it and wore it this summer, and it washed and wore like iron. Partly I wore it so often because it took the place of shorts. I had anticipated a typical Irish summer and only brought one pair of "sunbathing in the garden" shorts with me, and nothing I could actually be seen wearing in public. As it turned out, this skirt looked equally good with a white blouse and colourful tank for work as with a brightly coloured t-shirt at the weekend. It looked good with almost every top in my wardrobe. I loved it even though the buttonhole/button at the back is frankly AWFUL and the skirt had a slight tendency to tilt at the front due to poor waistband fit. Alas, this is not a colour I wear in the rainy autumn, and it is with the greatest sadness that I put it away for the summer. Status: In seasonal storage.

To sum up:

Ten skirts total.
Four successes: (wedding skirt, turquoise A-line, maxi skirt, beige skirt with pockets) -- I wore them, I liked them, the inevitable sewing flaws weren't a problem.
Two qualified successes: (purple polka dot skirt, brown circle skirt) Both of these were fine, but they were just too big, even before I lost weight. Plus, the purple polka dot skirt needed tops to go with it.
Two "but does it suit me" items: (navy pencil skirt, grey flounced skirt) I liked the idea of these, but in implementation I just can't seem to find a way to wear them.
Two total failures: (black straight skirt, brown gored skirt) Bad fabric choice. Bad sewing. Bad everything.

Things I have learned from this exercise
  • I probably am getting better at sewing. Although I can pick out flaws in the four successful skirts, which are all the most recent skirts I've made, they're actually very wearable, particularly in comparison to the skirts I was making 9-12 months ago.
  •  If I am making something and trying on as I sew, it's probably better to stop and reassess something that seems like it's going to be too big, and fix it before I finish it. "Too big" is just as uncomfortable as "too small".
  • It's probably a good idea to either try on something similar in a shop, if possible, or make a sensible muslin if I am trying a new shape out. I mean, skirts are pretty limited in shape and materials/time, but I'd hate to have that "oh wait, this style looks terrible on me!" moment if I'd spent 3 months making a coat.
  • Fabric choice is really REALLY important. REALLY. **REALLY**. Both the brown and black skirt failed partly because of poor sewing, but really a lot of the problem was just that I used totally the wrong fabric. And on the other hand, part of the reason the successful beige skirt was such a hit was that the sturdy cotton twill was exactly what I needed for a hard-wearing summer skirt.
  • It's a waste of time making something if you don't have anything that goes with it. I've already started to address this by doing the 6PAC thing, but it's REALLY obvious when I have it laid out like this and I have two things I've barely worn all because I haven't got a single top that properly goes with them.
  •  Sometimes the simplest and least exciting patterns produce the best outcomes. See also:

I said that beige skirt was one of the most successful things I've made,clothes-wise so far, but in fact BY FAR the most successful things I've made are the six different versions of Ottobre 02-2013-02, the Summer Basics Tee. It's such an unassuming little pattern but I wore the five tops pictured above, plus the original turquoise wearable muslin over and over and OVER, to the point where I've had to take them out my work wardrobe because the inexpensive fabrics I used just didn't hold up to being washed that often.


  1. I really enjoy these posts. It's fascinating to see variations on the same kind of clothing and to see why things went right or wrong. Just from your posts, it does seem like you're getting better at the mechanics of sewing but also at choosing things that work for you and fabric that works for the item.

    1. Thanks! :D There was a big complaint going around the sewing blogs a while ago now about how people never show any failures. My blog seems to be almost non-stop failures, so I am happy to buck the trend ;) (Although yes, looking back this way it is evident to me that I have progressed since I started sewing clothes, which is cheering!)

  2. Glad to read that you're getting back to normal from your illness. I was taking a blogging writing and reading break, so I'm a little late to that, but hope you're continuing to improve. One thing that is most certainly improving is your sewing. Just look at all that output! Just look at all the styles you've tried out. While it's annoying to have gone to the trouble of sewing stuff that didn't work out, you can certainly see that you are getting better at the sewing part, and the picking out materials part. The things I want to make are often not what I would buy in a shop, and the success of the khaki skirt really shows that sometimes a simple looking pattern is exactly what we're looking for.

    Since that skirt is made from hard wearing twill - there's no reason not to make more in denim or even suiting, no? Just leave off the pockets and it looks like a totally different skirt.

    The other thing that's interesting from this round up, is that non-sewers would probably tell you that it's better that the skirts are too big than too small. At least you can take in a too-big skirt. That would be my comment to you too, if it weren't for the fact that I know if it was me, I would rather make a whole new skirt than unpick a whole waistband off. It could just be me on that one though.

    1. It was a whistlestop introduction to the hospitals of Dublin and their facilities that I really REALLY could have lived without, but yes, I am very much on the mend now, thankfully.

      In the grand scheme of things, I definitely agree it's better that something be too big than too small, in that too small is almost completely unfixable and at least there is the potential to alter too big. But oh my god, no. My purple polka dot skirt is top-stitched like crazy so I'd have to unpick about 8 rows of stitching, and the fabric really doesn't love being handled. The brown skirt is even worse because it's got a significant curve in the yoke and the fabric likes being handled even less. I might possibly work myself up to taking in the purple skirt but I want my weight to be stable before I do. If I do anything at all with the brown skirt it would probably involve scissors and a totally new yoke or waistband, especially as I still have over 1.5m of the fabric left.