Skirt Skills

Nearly 3 months ago I began a 5-week online class to make a skirt of my own design, based on a “skirt block” which I created according to my own unique measurements (and they are unique! More on that shortly).

The class, called Skirt Skills,* is offered by Brooks Ann Camper, a custom maker of wedding wear. Essentially and amazingly, Brooks Ann is able to bring a bride’s dress from dream into reality.

She pretty much helped us newbies do the same with our simple skirts. I learned so much!

I’ve sewn many articles of clothing for myself and family members through the years, but fit has always been a bugger for me. I’ve tended toward patterns where shape is forgiving in order to compensate for my lack of…what? understanding? patience? knowledge? All of the above, really.

The process in Skirt Skills has been so interesting that I wanted to give you a glimpse into how the course worked and what I’ve gained from it. I’ll take you through the main steps chronologically.

1. The first thing we did in the course was reflect on particular skirt ideas to add to our wardrobes. I was looking for something simple for summer, straight or A-line, to wear mostly with simple knit shirts. In the back of my mind, I also was tempted to try cutting a skirt on the bias, as a particular bias skirt in Lotta Jansdotter’s book Everyday Style had caught my eye:

We then learned how to use photos to draw a custom outline of our selves. On mine, I drew some possible skirt designs. Here were my early, simple sketches:

That’s actually when my “unique measurement” problem first showed up. In the third drawing, I look like I’m leaning to my right even when I distribute my weight evenly over my feet. It turns out my left hip is higher (and fuller) than my right hip. Yikes. This affected every single step of this skirt-making project.

2. The next step involved taking lots of measurements in tights. (More than once, too, because I tried to do it alone but it’s tricky to hold the measuring tools straight and read them correctly. Things got easier once I asked my hubby for help.) I’ll share one small, humbling photo of me with elastics tied on to let you see the hip discrepancy I had to deal with. Yikes again. My crazy crooked hips throw off everything above them.

3. I took the measurements and then did a smidge of math to determine my block dimensions and to decide on dart width, length, and placement. I drew each one of those onto heavy paper for the first draft of my skirt block.

4. Next, I traced around the block to transfer all those measurements to a piece of fabric for my muslin or mock-up. (I used an old sheet after I made sure it squared up nicely). You’re seeing the mock-up here after tons of adjustments, multiple bleeding finger pricks where I pinned it closed at the side seam, and many moments of setting it aside and going to the Skirt Skills Facebook page to ask Brooks Ann yet another question. I kept adjusting until I got it to sit correctly on me.

5. Once all parts fit correctly, I transferred the changes back to my brown paper block. I then went the extra step of sewing up a second mock-up to make sure it would actually fit correctly and could be used for future patterns. Yes! It worked!

With that, I made a more permanent skirt block out of poster board, below. To accommodate my unruly hips, I chose to have all FOUR skirt pieces mapped out for my block (so there’s a separate Left Back and Left Front that’s not pictured here). If I were symmetrical, I could get away with just two pieces.

6. Shopping! I made a trip to Holland, Michigan, to visit my daughter—during Tulip Time, no less. I arrived a couple hours before she was off work in order to GO TO FIELD’S FABRICS!! I lived in Michigan for 10 years and was smitten with that store. I miss it here in Illinois.

I came home with more fabric cuts than I had intended to buy (of course), but this class has inspired me to boldly try sewing more clothing. I particularly liked this interesting and heavy blue and white cotton, very Scandinavian (I’m married to a Norwegian who loves his blues) and with an abstract hint of tulips. Well, I see tulips; I’m not sure about anyone else. I wondered if the fabric was too heavy, but what the heck! I talk all the time about being willing to experiment while making blankets, so it came naturally to me to experiment here as well.

7.  I made a pattern for an A-line skirt off of my skirt block, following Brooks Ann’s guidelines, tailoring it to my own likes as far as width, length, darts or no darts, etc. Here’s that pattern, created from a skirt block copy. I traced around all pattern pieces directly onto the fabric, adding wide seam allowances for any adjustments needed during the making of the skirt.

8. After stitching in the darts and basting up the long seams, I was at another point of decision. Pockets or no? Zipper hidden or exposed? and at which seam? I had several zippers on hand to choose from—ones I’ve cut out of wool sweaters over time. No surprise!

I nixed the pockets. The fabric was too thick and the pattern too busy to make them a good idea. And I YouTubed my way through inserting an exposed zipper for the first time. Pretty simple! Mine’s not perfect, but I don’t think its shortcomings will be too visible. I’ll just have to keep moving :).

Eleven weeks later, my custom-designed, custom-fit (by ME) skirt is finished. So cool!

I learned to use a few new sewing tools along the way: a hip curve, a needlepoint tracing wheel (I already owned one, but here is a similar one), a thimble (I tried this leather one), and new Gingher dressmaker shears.

Guys, I have never ventured into the self-drafting world before. Blocks and slopers, muslins and mock-ups—I had heard this terminology but basically ignored it because it sounded like way too much to delve into.

But it’s fascinating! My patience for re-dos does not yet quite match my desire to solve any given fitting problem before me, but it is improving. I was proud of myself for persevering through my asymmetry trials. And now that it’s behind me, I can barely remember the frustrating moments.

A HUGE shout-out to Brooks Ann Camper, her Skirt Skills course, and her patience and willingness to work with me through every single confusing thing I ran into. I’m thrilled with what I learned and understand much more how satisfying and worthwhile it is to take the time to get things right for one’s own body.

I find I can’t stop thinking about other skirt designs and what I’d have to do to my skirt block to actually form what I’m imagining. Pockets should be in my future shortly!

*This is an unsolicited review. The opinions expressed are my own.

6 thoughts on “Skirt Skills

  1. The skirt looks great on you! It is fun to see that fabric come to life. The exposed zipper is one of my favorite parts :) You did an excellent job. Hot Momma!!

  2. Thanks, Grace. It’s a very simple skirt, but I do like that fabric and that it fits because I made it to! Sorry about your fabric store, though. Is it one in the neighborhood or down in Seattle?

  3. Mom! I’m so proud of you! The skirt is gorgeous and I’m excited to see it in person. (Also, our local fabric store is closing next month and I’m so sad. JoAnn’s just doesn’t hold a candle to local shops.)

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