Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler
March’s been rough. Slight but cutting professional disappointments, rubbish progress with my running, gloomy weather, mess from renovating work and, inevitably, finishing my coat to a standard that doesn’t satisfy. March is always a month I struggle with because my birthday is at the end and in the run-up I tend to evaluate my achievements of the past year and find them underwhelming. Which is why it was absolutely wonderful to have been treated to a novel by one of my favourite authors, Anne Tyler, serialised on Radio 4, in 10 episodes that I was able to “rewind” whenever I missed anything because I was running the sewing machine too noisily (Anne Tyler is my literary equivalent of chicken soup). I read ‘Ladder of Years’ when it was published in the 1990s and again more recently so there were no surprises in the plot but, oh my, the first half of this story never fails to amaze. It goes like this: while doing the family shop, Delia Grinstead is asked a favour by a handsome stranger. He’d like Delia to impersonate his girlfriend so that his glamorous ex – who happens to be in the supermarket shopping with her new partner – is made jealous. Delia complies, her life gains a bit of momentum and the next thing you know, she walks out on her family and starts a new life as a secretary in a different town!
Both the narrator and the actress reading Delia have wonderful voices which I could hear in my head as, for the purposes of this photo-shoot, I minced in my new pencil skirt imaging myself an efficient, unapproachable secretary on her coffee break. I occasionally think of “doing a Delia” myself, i.e. taking a long walk to a new life. No way am I going to. It’s just a revenge fantasy I pull out when I’m having a bad day But I’d like to know: is this normal amongst women who disappear into family life and Anne Tyler just picked up on it, or did the author plant the idea in my head!?
Another case of pencil
I couldn’t resist making this skirt out of my coat wool and lining. Just when I thought there were no further observations I could make about this pattern, a few cropped up during the making so here they are in case you’re making a pencil yourself.
- To create the siren silhouette, use your basic skirt block but narrow the hem by a total of about 8cm compared to the widest part (the hip). This difference is easier to achieve if the skirt is long. Here’s a chart of measurements for a RTW version: Boden pencil skirt. You can see how the hem and hip circumferences vary and also depend on whether you choose the long (L) or regular (R) length.
- Of course, a skirt that’s narrow at the hem will be hard to walk in so you will need a slit or a kick pleat. Here’s my lined kick pleat tutorial if you’re making a skirt with lining. Inside out, the final result looks like this:
- Another way to lengthen the distance from waist to hem is to raise the top with a grown-on waist. It’s a flattering option for those with a high waist but I’m wary of this for myself on account of the widest part of my hips being 30cm lower than my waist. I’d look high-waisted but stumpy. On the other hand, with a heart-shape-hipped figure, it would emphasise long legs. Which hip shape are you?
If your wool skirt has a waistband, I recommend using Petersham ribbon. Wool next to skin can be scratchy as I found on my previous make when I kept pulling up my tights so skin and skirt wouldn’t be in contact.
If you’re using large scale checks like these, consider their placement tactically according to body parts you wish to emphasise or hide.
- dark bands of colour should go across the widest part if you want your hips to appear narrower, and vice versa.
- consider at which part of the squares your hem line will lie. I find that cutting a square in half creates an impression of shortness. The ideal is three quarters down a pale block. Unless your legs are really long and you don’t like that (who are you?!)