Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tutorial: Drafting a Pencil Skirt, Part One

You don't need this anymore!
Don't you feel independent?
This is Part One of a four-part series on drafting your own pencil skirt pattern. (See Parts Two, Three, and Four.)

It's not that hard! Really. While a circle or A-line four-gore skirt may be simpler to fit, the classic pencil skirt is just as easy to construct, especially when you know it inside and out because you've drafted the pattern yourself. Furthermore, it's a great one to make yourself because it's so fitted--why wrestle with a pattern made for somebody else's smaller hips and bigger butt when you can take careful measurements and make one that fits you perfectly?

This pattern is unlined--I just wear a slip with mine and wash the slip instead, which means I can make my skirts out of whatever fabric I like and I never have to dry-clean (score!). I love them in any kind of wool, heavy linens, cottons, or cotton-linen blends, anything that stays where you put it and is fairly thick and opaque. I've never attached this skirt to a bodice, but I imagine it would work quite well as the bottom half of a wiggle dress, Joan Holloway style. I put a zipper up the back seam of mine--metal looks especially vintage--but you can move the zipper to the side or insert a button placket instead (though that's a bit too complicated for this tutorial).

Note: Don't worry about seam allowances until the very end, when we'll add them to all seam lines.

Step Zero: Gather Your Materials

You will need:
A large piece of paper (my pattern pieces fit on one full sheet of newspaper or a folded out paper bag, but if you're taller/wider/like longer skirts than me, yours may not. try cheap wrapping paper, or taping together two sheets of newspaper.)
Scissors (for paper--not dressmaker's shears)
Measuring tape
A ruler (yardstick would be nice)
A pencil
A pen

Optional (I don't use any of these, but you might want to):
A T-square
One of those curvey things you can buy for like fifteen dollars in sewing stores, you know, it's clear plastic and would probably make this whole process a lot simpler
Some large paper that isn't pieced together and covered in ads for used car lots

Step One: Measurements

Grab a measuring tape and--securely, but not so tightly that you can't breathe or bend comfortably--take the following horizontal measurements:

Waist (at the natural waist)
Hip (at the level of your hipbones)
Seat (I write 'ass' on my own patterns, if that tells you anything; measure around the fullest part, which may be partway down to the thigh)
Thigh (take this with your legs apart as far as a comfortable stride)
Hem (again with the striding, but this time at the level at which you'd like the skirt's hem to fall)

Now, the important part: as you're taking each measurement, mark where the measuring tape sits on your body along your side (line them up vertically for your own sanity later). I just use a black felt-tip and then wind up scrubbing off the weird creepy marks in the shower for days, feeling like this poor son of a bitch. Then measure between the marks for these secondary measurements:

Waist to Hip
Hip to Seat
Seat to Thigh
Thigh to Hem

Step Two: The Pattern Block

On your sheet of newspaper or folded-out grocery bag or whatever, mark out a rectangle that is as long as your waist to hem measurement (add all your vertical measurements together to get this), and as wide as your fullest horizontal measurement (usually the seat) divided by four.  Make sure this rectangle is aligned on the left edge of your paper, which should be perfectly straight (it forms the center line of the pattern), and that there is at least one inch of margin at the top, bottom, and right edges:

Then take that rectangle and divide it up vertically.  The top edge of your rectangle is going to be the Waist Line.  Measure down the length of the Waist to Hip measurement; that's where you'll mark the Hip Line, and so forth.  It should look like this:

This is your base pattern block.  You're going to want two, so make a second one now, and mark them Front and Back.

Step Three: Measurements, Meet Pattern Block

Take your horizontal measurements--Waist, Hip, Seat, Thigh, and Hem--and divide them into quarters.  Starting at the left edge of the paper, mark the length of each quarter measurement along the corresponding line on both the Front and Back blocks, as so:

A Note On Ease: I don't add it to this pattern, since I like my pencil skirts to fit pretty snugly.  If you want some extra room in the hip, seat, or thigh, add it now--but keep a note of how much you're adding so you don't get confused later.

That's it for Part One!  Look for Part Two later this week; it covers darts.  Parts Three and Four, up next week, will include waistbands, kick pleats, and construction tips, among other things.  But probably not better graphics, sorry.


  1. Wonderful! I can't wait to try :)

  2. In theroy looks simple, I'm up for giving it a try. Although wont be untill next week I think. x x x

  3. Well, it's a four-part tutorial, so it should be up in its entirety by next week. Hope you don't mind Paint illustrations! I can also apparently be really, *really* thorough when I set my mind to it. Hopefully this enlightens the internet somehow.

  4. Great tute - I've been meaning to make one of these for quite some time, as I love pencil skirts.

    Your instructions are the clearest I've seen on the web by far. You have a new follower :-D