I love making skirts. They're easy to draft, quickly re-designed and sewn in no time! And now, for all of you to share, here comes my first make-a-wish-tutorial, featuring all what is there to be known about the pencil skirt!
For making a custom drafted pencil skirt pattern, you need a few things. Obviously, this includes a set of custom measurements, which we will attend to shortly. Other than that, you'll need some kind of paper (newspaper, packing paper, parchment paper etc.) and optionally a piece of cardboard (for keeping a universal basic block ready that you can use to make any (!) skirt pattern you can think of, not only pencil skirts). For drawing, a sharp pencil works best (if you want, you can also use colours for special markings). You will also need a long ruler, set square/triangle and if available, a french curve (they tend to be rather pricey, so if you are able to draw a few halfway nicely curved lines freehand you should be fine without - I myself do not own one, either).
Taking the measurements
This step is crucial and should therefor be executed with great care!
First of all, go look for a tape measure! Got one? Superb! Now you can take your very own set of measurements. We won't need many, though, so don't worry :)
Measurements for pattern drafting are generally taken without wearing any overgarments (shirts, pants, jackets etc.), just underwear — so we can get as accurate numbers as possible to ensure all garments made from these set of measurements will fit in the end. The tape measure should be held snug, yet not pulled too tight, either (we will add ease later). Always try to keep it horizontal around the body, too. Also important: do not overly inhale/exhale while taking the measurements, do not suck in your belly, and do not lie to yourself about your measurements! This is important and I cannot emphasize enough how much — even more so as this tutorial is mainly geared towards the ladies, a lot of whom are a lot more selfconscious and concerned about their appearance than they have to be. You all look gorgeous, no matter what dimensions ;)
Measurements are easier to take if you have someone who can assist you, but it's quite manageable on your own, too! As for assistance, I may introduce you to the lovely Nele whose picture I shamelessly borrowed to illustrate which measuremets to take.
Nele wearing the LENE shirt, hehe...
measurement A) your natural waist — it's measured horizontally around the narrowest part of your belly, probably slightly above your belly button. Be honest!
If you like to wear your skirts a bit lower than your natural waist, take the measurement as described anyway, we can account for the lower waistline later.
measurement B) your hip measurement — measurement is taken horizontally around the widest (!) part of your bottom. Again, don't euphemise — or you won't be able to get into your skirt later ;)
measurement C) waist-hip span - the vertical distance between the spots where you've taken the waist and hip measurement. This is easier to take if you tie some elastic around your waist and hip where you measured, as a visual guideline.
measurement D) desired length from waist to hem - which would be waist to knee in our case. This measurement is easier to take with the help of someone. If you're alone, here's a trick: hold the tape measure so that the end with the start of the scale (if you don't have one that starts from both ends) dangles in front of your leg around knee level, and the part you're holding in your hand should be at the height of your natural waist (again, the elastic trick is a great help!). Now you can simply raise or lower the tape until the dangling end is at a point where you'd like your skirt to end, and then read the number on your tape measure at the waist (be careful to read the right side if you're using a double-sided tape).
Now that you've written everything down, we can almost start drafting. But first, we have to add some ease for you to be able to move around in the skirt. As pencil skirts are designed to fit snugly around your bottom half, we only add a small amount of ease. This will be 2 cm (3/4") extra for the waist and 4 cm (1 5/8") extra for the hip. Simply add these to your measurements and write the new numbers down. We will only work with these new measurements when drafting the pattern.
Drafting the basic pattern
Because you can cut the front and back pieces of a simple pencil skirt from a doubled layer of fabric, you also only need to draft one half of the pattern. Now that's practical!
First, we'll draw the pattern framework. It's a rectangle which is as high as our skirt length (measurement D) and the width is one half of the hip measurement with ease (measurement B with 4 cm ease * 1/2). Straight down the center of this rectangle (B with ease * 1/2 * 1/2 from either side), draw a vertical line. This separates the (half) front piece from the (half) back piece, and thus will be our sideseam. Mark your waist-hip span (measurement C) on the left and right sides and the sideseam, measuring down from the top edge. Draw a line parallel to the top edge through these points.
okay, forgot to mark the hemline here, haha :D
To avoid confusion, we will instantly label our landmarks, which are: the sideseam we just drew, the center front (the far left edge of the rectangle) and the center back (the far right edge). Also, it's never wrong to mark the waist (top edge), the hem (bottom edge) and the hip line (in between).
If you were to sew it up right now, it would already fit your behind, but would be gaping around your waist. This is what we will change now.
For making closely fitted garments you almost always use darts. Darts are little triangular shapes the you sew into a piece of fabric to make one side of it smaller than the other. For most figures, two 2 cm (3/4") darts in the front and two 2.5 cm (1") wide darts in the back will be sufficient. The darts in the front are smaller because they don't have to accomodate for your behind like the ones in the back ;)
The other method is to slice the excess off the sideseams. When working with bias-cut, stretchy or knit fabrics, shaving down the sides might be enough, but for optimum fit in our pencil skirt, we'll use both methods.
As we're just drawing half of the pattern, we again only need one half of your waist measurement (A with ease * 1/2). Now we want to know how much fabric we still have to get rid of. Therefor we calculate the difference between half the hip and half the waist measurement (B with ease * 1/2 - A with ease * 1/2). This is our excess E. From this, we also substract half of the amount that will already be taken care of by the darts (E - (one 2 cm dart in the front half + one 2.5 cm dart in the back half of the pattern)). The resulting figure will be divided equally — along the waist line of the skirt block, one half is marked to the left of the sideseam (let's call this point F), the other half to the right (let's call this one G).
hardly visible in the picture, but you have to draw 1 cm upwards from point F and G
Now the darts: they can be placed along the top edge of your skirt where ever you like, but my rule of thumb is: divide your half hip measurement by 5 (B with ease * 1/2 * 1/5) and mark this measurement on the waist line from the center front and from the center back. Square lines downwards from these points and mark C * 1/2 in the front and C * 2/3 in the back (both measured downwards from the waist line) as the tip of your dart. On the waist line, mark equal amounts of the dart measurement (1 + 1 cm and 1.25 + 1.25 cm ) to the left and right of the lines you just drew. Connect these points with the dart tips.
If your waist measurement significantly differs from your hip measurement (say, more than 25-30 cm (10-12")), you can draw more darts, which I will explain another time.
We're almost done! (That's where the french curve might come in handy)
Now just connect the outer (sideseam facing) mark of either dart and the raised point we drew earlier with smooth, slightly curved line. Also connect either raised point with the intersection of hip line and side seam with an elegant line, slightly curved outward, neither too flat nor overly rounded (simply have a look at your silhouette in the mirror and approximate a nice outline).
You now have created a basic skirt pattern exactly to your measurements! That's it — few curves and a bunch of straight lines (hence the name pencil skirt... straight as a pencil), and you're done. If you plan on making many different skirts in the future, you might want to trace this pattern (which consists of two separate pieces, front and back) onto a piece of cardboard to keep it as a template for your later pattern making endeavours!
As promised, a note for the low-waist people: for a lower waist, simply draw a parallel line about 4 cm below the curved waistline of the pattern. Then simply discard anything above. (I recommend keeping one natural waist skirt block as a template, just to make sure... there hopefully will be lots of pattern making tutorials in the future that you could need it for)
Making it a pencil skirt
Actually, the only thing you really need for it to be a pencil skirt are some seam allowances and a way to get in and out (zipper, buttons, hooks & eyes, and the like). There are many ways to make a more refined skirt, but I'll start with the easiest version now.
The very very easy pencil skirt
two pieces, zipper, turned lining or waistband
The pattern basically is all you already have — a front piece and a back piece. The unfussiest way to make a skirt out of these two pieces would be to cut both on fold (placing center front and center back on the fold of a doubled piece of fabric) and insert a (preferably invisible) zipper in the (usually left) sideseam. Simply mark the length of your zipper (usually 18-20 cm) on the side seam so you know where to leave the seam open for insertion.
Now the seam allowances. You can draw your seam allowances directly on a paper version of the pattern (which is what I like to do for fast cutting and easy sewing) or just add them as you're cutting the fabric. For this skirt, waist and side seam get 1.5 cm (5/8") seam allowance, hem gets 4 cm (1.5") and center front and back zero, because we are going to cut them on fold.
You can work this skirt either with a turned lining (very easy and quick, no worries!) or a proper waistband (which can be sewn with or without lining — if you're short on fabric or don't like sewing darts in lining fabric, for example. For the dart aversion, there is a solution, though: simply treat your dart markings as pleat markings! Pleats have the same effect — reducing fabric length — and lining fabric is so light that the not sewn, but folded darts won't show on the outside. From one lazy crafter to another... Darts on the outside look better when properly sewn, though, as pleats will always add bulk and we wouldn't exactly like that in a slim pencil skirt).
As this simple pattern has no slit or walking pleat whatsoever, I would advise you to use a fabric with a little stretch to it for reasons of practicality and comfort. It will also work with unstretchy fabrics, though. It's just not the garment you can run around in.
How much fabric do I need to purchase?
If your [hip width plus ease plus (seam allowance width x 4)] is less than your overall fabric width you can put both pattern pieces next to each other on a fabric piece that measures [length of pattern piece incl. seam/hem allowance + 10cm for a waistband/facing if you want to cut one]. To cut the pieces, you might have to unfold the fabric and fold both selvedges to the center to create 2 folds (one for the front pattern piece and one for the back pattern piece).
If your hip measurement plus ease and seam allowances is wider than your fabric (that means you have to stack the pattern pieces "on top of each other" along the fold because they don't fit on the fabric next to each other), you need [2 x length of pattern piece incl. seam/hem allowance]. You can cut the waistband facing from the leftovers here :)
For the turned lining version, cut on fold 1x each for front and back piece, same goes for the lining (but here, cut the pattern piece without hem allowance, this will make sure the lining won't show below the hemline). Transfer dart markings (pencil, non-permanent fabric marker, needle and thread...) and zipper markings. If your markings happen to be at a fabric edge (not the fold!!), you can also clip the seam allowance with your scissors (ca. 3-5 mm).
For the waistband version, simply cut an additional fabric strip that is as wide as your waist measurement with ease (A with ease * 2) and twice as wide as your desired waistband width (I recommend something around 2-3 cm (3/4" - 1 1/4"). Add 1.5 cm (5/8") seam allowance all around and iron on some fusible interfacing.
turn over lining
Sew darts (this is best done from the wide to the narrow part) in all pieces. (optional: iron on a narrow strip of fusible interfacing on the inside of your outer fabric skirt along the waist seam line for neater look). Serge (or bind) edges (at least the one that will show: side seams and hem). Hem the lining (fold over twice and stitch). Sew side seams of fabric and lining and insert zipper in outer fabric. Turn over lining and fabric right sides facing (along the waist), press apart. Topstitch the waistline to your liking (narrow, wide, invisible etc.) to keep the lining from bulging out. Attach lining around zipper with handstitching. Hem the skirt fabric (fold over and either topstitch, hem invisibly or iron on hem tape). Be proud and wear it :D
Basically the same as above, but instead of turning over lining and fabric, you catch both of them (or just the fabric, if you're not sewing a lining) in the waistband, which just goes from one zipper edge to the opposite (no underlap, overlap and other complicated stuff. Simply use 1-2 pairs of hooks and eyes, or sew in a loop and a button for closure).