I was wondering what to wear for the OWOP! (One Week, One Pattern) project: this is the initiative organized by Tilly and the Buttons where for a whole week from Saturday 24 March we wear and post pictures of garments made from a single pattern. Now, were it summer, I’d have worn the many dresses I’ve made from either of my two favourites patterns: Burda 7378 or New Look 6459. But the weather at the moment is capricious so I’m going with the various skirts I’ve made from the Basic Skirt Block which I’ve drafted by following the instructions in the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.
If you’ve never drafted a pattern and would like to give it a try, this is a simple way to start (don’t let the amount of verbiage below scare you!). You’ll end up with a block (or sloper) suitable for making a knee-length skirt fitted to your shape by means of two front and two back darts. As I only had a remnant of this beautiful, faux leopard fabric from here, the skirt I made turned out a mini, but the process is exactly the same, only the length is shorter.
You will need:
Equipment: a tape measure, a long ruler, a triangle/set square, paper (newspaper or wrapping paper on the plain side), pins and a sharpened pencil. And a long mirror! If you want to add seam allowances (see Step 4) to make a skirt pattern out of the block, I recommend one of these sewing gauges that I can’t live without.
Measurements in cm:
Hips (at widest point) e.g. 100cm
Waist circumference e.g. 70cm
Skirt length from waist e.g. 50cm
Tip: not sure where your waist is? Tie a string firmly around your middle and it’ll settle at the narrowest. If this seems higher than you’d like your skirt to be, don’t worry as we’ll be “dropping the waist” in Step 3.
Tip: if you’re unsure of your desired skirt length, stand in front of a mirror whilst holding a towel over your bare or stockinged legs. Raise and lower the towel whilst looking at its edge and your legs in the mirror. When you find the view that’s the most flattering, measure from the waist to the towel edge.
Creating a Basic Skirt Block
There are three steps to creating the BSB:
Step 1: Skirt Back
Step 2: Skirt Front
Step 3: Shaping the Waist
Please note that the block includes ‘ease’ but no seam allowances (ease is the extra width given to a garment to ensure that it’s not skin-tight). Seam allowances are added in Step 4 so that the BSB become a pattern. Keep your original block (it’s the “master pattern”) and you can use it for other skirt patterns (I’ll be developing it into A-line and pencil skirts in future blogs) or to check against measurements of any commercial patterns you might use.
Step 1: Skirt Back (click to open PDF diagram)
Using a ruler and a set square, draw a rectangle A-B-C-D where:
A – C = Skirt length (i.e. 50cm)
A – B = Hips divided by four, minus 0.5cm (e.g. 100cm/4= 25cm -0.5cm = 24.5cm)
Label each line:
A – B Waistline
C – D Hemline
A – C Centre Back
C – D Side
Mark a new point E on the waistline by measuring 2-3cm from B to A. If your figure is of the “straight up and down” type, go in 2cm, but if your waist is relatively narrow compared to your hip, go for 3cm. I’ll opt for 3cm, so my A-E=21.5cm.
Mark a new point F on the side by measuring 15-25cm from B towards D. This marks the widest part of your hip. The widest part of my hip happens to be very low on account of something technically known as ‘saddlebags’ so my point F is 25cm below B.
Next, join points E to F with a gentle curve which should mimic the side of your waist going down to the widest part of your hip. Look in the mirror to get an idea of the shape of your curve. If you need a guideline, join E to F with a straight line then draw a curve some 0.5-1cm beyond it.
To draw the dart, find the midpoint between A and E and from there draw a vertical line perpendicular to the waistline. This is the fold line of the dart and it should measure 15cm (or 1-2cm longer if your hipline is low like mine). To decide on the width of the dart, divide the waistline by 4, and subtract 1cm. The difference between this number and the length A-E is the total width at the top of the dart, half on each side of the foldline. So using the above measurements:
17.5cm- 1 = 16.5cm
Mark the dart by drawing diagonals from the waistline to the bottom of the foldline. Cut out the Skirt Back, making sure all the letters and labels are on the block.
Step 2: Skirt Front (click to open PDF diagram)
Copy the rectangle A-B-C-D for the Skirt Back and make two modifications:
a) Widen the block by 2cm to the left: extend line B-A by 2cm to create point a. Extend line D-C by 2cm to create c. Join a-c. The waistline a-E is now wider than at skirt back and in my example measures 23.5cm.
b) Front dart is located by finding the midpoint between a and E. From here, make a 12cm (1-2cm longer for a low hip) foldline at right angles to the waistline. To establish the width of the front dart, divide the waist measurement by 4, add 3cm, then subtract this figure from length a-E. So in my example:
My front dart is 3cm wide. Draw the two diagonals on each side of the foldline, narrowing from the waistline to the bottom of the dart. Cut out and label as in Step 1.
Step 3: Dropping the Waist (click title to open PDF)
Here, the waistline of the two blocks is shaped to the figure. First, drop point A on the Skirt Back by 2cm to a new point WA. Fold the dart and pin it closed. Draw a smooth curve from E to WA. Keeping the dart pinned, cut along the line of the curve. Repeat the process for the Skirt Front. If you like to wear your skirts lower-slung than mine, you could use a sewing gauge to mark a lower waistline and slice into the block again.
Step 4: Making the BSB into a Skirt Pattern
This means adding seam allowances, cutting instructions and grainlines to a copy of the block. For the Skirt Back, copy the block onto another piece of paper (or trace it: I use the cheapest greaseproof paper) and add seam allowances of 1.5cm for the waist, centre back and the sides and 3-5cm to the hemline. Label with “Cut 2“, mark the zip placement on the centre back if you wish, draw the grainline and cut out along the edges of the seam allowances.
To add seam allowances to the Skirt Front, copy or trace to another piece of paper and 1.5cm seam allowances to the waist and the side, and 3-5cm to the hemline. Draw a foldline on the Centre Front side and label with “Cut 1 on Fold“. Cut out.
Making up the Skirt
After what might seem a lengthy and labourious process, you might want to rush out and cut your fabric right away. Unless you’re using a dispensable fabric, I’d urge you to test out your pattern on some calico or a dust sheet: yes, it’s time to ‘fess up and admit that the Reader’s Digest formula for the BSB is not foolproof and may need tweaking. My “ghost skirt” demonstrated that I could have done with a more generous hip allowance and a tighter waist. It didn’t take long to adjust my BSB and pattern and the final result fits perfectly. Though it might be a bit short and cougarish.