Friday, January 24, 2014

PIMP_MY_PENCIL_SKIRT Draft-Along Reanimation, Post No 1

As I have already shared in my 2014 New Year's resolutions, I wasn't happy with the Pimp-my-Pencil-Skirt Draft-Along (a monstrous name, I know). The main problem was that it remained a step-by-step description of the process that didn’t explain the logic behind those step. 

In the past year I spent a lot of time researching pattern-drafting methods and making trial garments. What I learned is that pattern-making for custom fit, rather than a standard figure, cannot be based on standard memorized steps.

Let’s look at the image below, both women have the same waist and hip measurements. According to many patternmaking books, they will require darts with the same intake, because the difference between their hip and waist circumference is the same. However, if you look careful  you will see, that their body shapes differ. 

Do you think, a simple straight skirt will fit those two bodies equally well if we use same dart intake for both? 
Kate, on the right, has larger hips and will need more shaping for her side seams, while Liz has stronger buttocks, and will need more shaping in the back. The length of the darts will differ too, but more about it later.

Why am I going into length about a simple straight skirt? I do it, because in the course of my research I realized that

A (BEGINNER) SEWER IS IGNORANT ABOUT THE FIT. We measure our hips, draft or pinch out the darts, and as long as the skirt, in this case, doesn’t fall off the waist we tend to think it fits. I used to think like that, I admit.

B. WE MEASURE INCORRECTLY. Standard measuring methods are good for standard bodies. Besides, we tend to measure smaller. I call it vanity measurements.


D. WHEN IT COMES TO FIT, YOU WANT TO TREAT THE CAUSE AND NOT THE SYMPTOMS. Once you understand the fitting of a simple straight skirt, you will understand most of the rest. The principles remain the same.


I am a nerd, and I love homework. Of course, you don’t have to do it, but I promise it is helpful. Ok, for the next week, observe people’s bodies, men, women, kids. We will be observing the lower part of the body for now. Look at their waist, their hips. How big is the tummy in relation to the buttocks? Does the person have prominent thighs? Mentally draw vertical lines touching most protruding parts of the body, as if the person was wearing a cylinder, try to assess how much do they protrude in relation to other parts of the body: tummy in relation to thighs etc.

In the following post, we will continue talking about body shapes and how a garment is shaped. I will see if I can make it more interactive. Hopefully I can figure it out in Blogger...

Do share your thoughts here! I would love to hear what’s your experience with fitting, or fitting a straight skirt, in particular.

Related Posts:

SSDA 9: Side Seam and the Front and Back Widths


  1. "What I learned is that pattern-making for custom fit, rather than a standard figure, cannot be based on standard memorized steps."

    Absolutely correct. This is a major reason why I've focused on construction so far in classes. A pattern making course would be helpful, but I know that I'd next have to translate the process to my shape, and as I don't have a dress form that would be hard. When I can, I work with a private teacher who helps me draft or adapt patterns to my "liz"-shaped body. My teacher has formal design training and does teach me a fair amount of pattern making, but she has to make judgments all the time. She uses her intuitions, based on experience of what will work. Then we cut the muslin and see. It's never been a one-muslin process.

  2. "How Patterns Work" attempts to explain the "why" behind patterns. I haven't spent that much time with it. One problem is that I bought the Kindle version because I didn't want to spend $30 for the paperback.

  3. Wow that illustration is fascinating! I look forward to see your future posts on this topic

  4. Thanks, Marina. This will be an interesting series of posts! It wasn't until I started dividing my bust measurements in several blocks instead of using circumference measurements that I began to understand why a standard FBA procedure did not work for my shape. My inner sewing nerd wants to understand the maths of pattern making. I will certainly join the draft-along!

  5. Thank you for doing this! This will be very helpful. Eager for your next installment.

  6. Fantastic. I did make a skirt block a while ago and reach for it again and again. I also compared it to the commercial straight skirt patterns I have and it's totally different, mostly the dart lengths and the side seam shape.

  7. Circumference doesn't really tell you much, it just gives you a guide as to where to start sometimes. I always think "shape". Always have. Standard measurements are based on the idea of symmetry either side of the side line, but no-one is shaped like that.

  8. I have recently purchased a pattern drafting system as it was too hard to get any pattern to fit me.

    At the moment I am making a dress, with a size 16 skirt, size 14 bodice and bodice darts of the size 8 and these are too long.

    I have also purchased the pattern drafting courses off Craftsy to all so assist.

    I am going to draft a skirt this weekend, will be interesting to see how it goes.

  9. Thank you Marina. this year my goal is to learn to fit my patterns to be the most flattering. I thought my posture was bad b/c my hemline seemed to go up in the back. I now know that the back of my skirt needs to allow for a larger backside in order to "fall" correctly. I look forward to your lessons. In studying the shape of people, so many are in clothes that don't fit. Anne Szabo

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  11. Das mache ich auch gerade.... also meinen (Schneiderinnen-) Blick auf Silhouetten focussieren. Diese Illustration mit den verschiedenen Silhouetten bei gleichen Masssätzen ist SUPER! Die Aufgabe die hier gestellt wurde habe ich bereits absolviert: In meinem Gymnastikurs habe ich (ohne es zu wollen) alle Teilnehmerinnen bzgl. ihrer Silhouette gescannt... es ist krass wie sehr sich meine Wahrnehmung verändert hat, seit meinem letzten Blogpost der meine Shape 'behandelt hat. Aber ich gebe zu Bedenken, dass auch einiges an Mut dazugehört ganz 'unverblümt' den Blick auf die persönlichen (und nicht immer perfekten) körperlichen Gegebenheiten zu richten.

    Thank you Marina for this very intersting post. I am looking forward to the next part!

    Liebe Grüße

  12. It took me a long time to understand how to fit my hips. My waist is relatively small in relation to my hips(not as much now that I am in my 60's but still an 11" difference) But, the main issue for me is that my high hip is where my curve is so that my waist almost immediately juts out to my full hip size. I redraw the side seam and hip curve to follow my shape to some degree. What I have learned is that I need to use two darts front and back to get down to my waist size. I used to take it all in at the side seam and that just can't be sewn smoothly. I do use shorter darts in front than normal, but that also has to do with a low front waist. There are a lot of variables if you are looking to draft a pattern for a particular woman. My dd has a tiny waist, a size 34 Burda, and a lower hip that is a size 38, but in between her hip curve is fairly straight. You are so right in seeing that you have to really look at a woman's body and figure out how she is different than the standard.
    I am signed up on Craftsy to take the skirt drafting class. So I am curious to see how she handles non standard bodies.

  13. I remember being extremely frustrated that many people couldn't understand why I couldn't easily make a skirt for myself. The phrase "it's just two measurements - that's easy!" has grated on my nerves time and time again. The reason? I'm shaped like Liz in your drawings - not a lot of hip curve and plenty of bum. So many books and classes overlook this fundamental difference. I'm looking forward to your future posts on this :)

  14. I just recently drafted my moulage and pencil skirt blocks, and experienced exactly the dilemma you mentioned. It seems like even the drafting system designed for custom fit (the Parisian system) leaves a bit to be desired.

    I found that I'm more of a Liz, but less dramatically so. Just looking at my shape in a photo it wouldn't be obvious that I'm more front-to-back than side-to-side. It would be great to devise a way of determining this shaping variation and the dart uptake required. Maybe with a couple of L-shaped rulers?

  15. This is very interesting and I am looking forward to reading future posts on this too. I am very straight up and down with a small hip-waist ratio. Its difficult for me to figure out how to work with my few curves too.

  16. I'm very happy to have found these posts...I read the earlier "pimp my Pencil Skirt" posts and they were already so much more rational than anything else I could find. I have fitted things fairly successfully just by pinching, pinning, and basting - certainly much more successfully than following a pattern as I have a 28 inch waist and 40 inch hips. I've got both Liz and Kate's figure "challenges"!

  17. this series of posts are amazing, I am truly grateful you are sharing such clear and detailed information.
    thank you!!!
    all the best,

  18. I found these posts very interesting, a different approach. I made a skirt and I made my back darts very different to my front as I am much curvier in front. It was great to look in the mirror and assess where the dart should end not where it ought to end. Photos are on my blog

  19. Possible alternative for measuring total circumference - for the more abstract/math minded individuals.

    Two walls that meet at right angle (90deg.)
    Stiff piece of cardboard, (about 40cm by 10cm,) with right angle corners,
    and a friend can be helpful, but not essential.

    Stand straight, in the corner, with you bum touching one wall,
    Using cardboard piece, horizontally flat, place 10cm end flat against the other wall, and the 40cm side against your belly,
    Mark the wall, (or a piece of paper taped to the wall,) where the the cardboard meets the wall,
    Measure from that mark, in a horizontal line, to the wall that your bum was touching.
    This first measurement is your front-back diameter, (we will call it A-B.)

    The second measurement follows a similar process, but with one hip against the wall, and the cardboard placed against the other hip.
    This second measurement should give you your side-side diameter, (we will call it C-D).

    (If you don't have a suitable wall, these measurements can be made with a builder's plumb-line and marks on the floor. But I'll let you work out how to mark the floor while standing straight ;-) -- one possible solution might be paint/ink on the tip of the plumb-weight.)

    Back to the measurements.
    To help you visualise the calculations:
    On a piece of paper, draw an (approximate) oval.
    Then, with a ruler, draw a line across the narrow diameter of the oval, and another line across the wide diameter of the oval.
    Where the first line intersects the oval are the points A and B,
    and where the second line intersects the oval are the points C and D.
    The centre of the oval we will call O.

    The values that we need for calculating the circumference of the oval are A-O and C-O.
    These are simply half A-B, and half C-D.

    Next, the circumference can be calculated with some basic trigonometry as:
    Circ.=(2Pi)x root(.5x(AO^2+CO^2)
    (where ^2 means squared.)

    This method should give you the same circumference measurement as that described in the post.



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