Delia Grinstead


1 Pencil mummy“She noticed she walked differently now, not with her usual bouncy gait but more levelly, because of her slim skirt.”

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).  1 Pencil sideI 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.1 Pencil skirt, inside out
  • 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?
click on pic for source

click on pic for source



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.

Pattern placement

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?!)

P. S. I love drinking from this mug my friend gave me.  Not just ’cause of the buttons but the china is lovely too.1 Mug

19 thoughts on “Delia Grinstead

  1. I like a bit of Anne Tyler myself.
    Rubbing it in with your plaid matching again I see – is that why you turned sideways on or to show off your siren silhouette? I’m so glad you used some Petersham ribbon and won’t be spoiling the sophisticated image by yanking up your tights throughout the day.
    I feel guilty now because I have been thinking about making a pencil skirt in a knit fabric with a flat elastic waistband. Easy peasy, no messing with zips and buttons and ready in a flash. I must confess that I am getting lazy on the dressmaking front – I blame my overlocker – but I will get back on track because I need to conquer trousers in order to clothe one of my daughters who cannot seem to find RTW trousers that fit her properly. I don’t imagine she will want to wear a pair I’ve knocked up on the overlocker – unless they are to sleep in.
    p.s. I want your mug. I think I’ve put a similar, patchwork themed one on my ‘wish list’ in case any of my family ever want to know what I would like as a gift on birthdays, Christmas, etc. but, to date, without success.

  2. Marianna, it was my search for kick pleat tutorials that brought me to your lovely blog. Nice skirt, totally rocking the siren silhouette BTW. What would life be without our little fantasies? I was in the supermarket the other day with my daughter and she looked back along the isle toward me as I caught a rather pleasant whiff of a gent as he ambled past. She killed herself laughing at the lusty look on my face – pantomimed for her of course! My own adventures in kick pleat land here.

  3. Lovely entry and perfect siren skirt. I have to admit that I have never read Anne Tyler, which should be rectified. This post is well-timed for me as I am about to tweak my own pencil skirt pattern this month.

    PS I am not even in family life but my job can be overwhelming and frustrating and so I often have escape fantasies. I think mid-life does that.

    • PS I completely forgot! I don’t know why your running plans aren’t going as you’d hoped, but I wanted to say that running is sometimes like that. Sometimes it doesn’t go well right before it is about to go right. There are so many conditions that contribute to running progress, and sometimes our bodies need to plateau. I don’t know much about most things, but running I know. 🙂

  4. Beautiful skirt but I am drooling over your blouse. Anything you can share about the source would be appreciated.

    For “another life” fantasies… I actually researched how to create a new identity a while ago. It was a fun way to enjoy the fantasy for a while.

    • Nancy, the top came from a Dorothy Perkins sale in February. I was attracted instantly to the colour and loved the keyhole but it was a size or two too big and the hem was gathered blouson-style so I have done some restyling to it. Maybe I can copy it and show in a future post. If I find some lemon mousse fabric!

  5. Your skirts looks lovely, and your side view shows not only an enviable figure but great pattern matching.
    I love Anne Tyler’s work – she appears to understand human nature so well. I have certainly thought about the possibility of ‘doing a Delia’. There are times it would be very appealing

  6. Ooh, very sexy secretary skirt, and the key hole top adds to the allure of the whole thing. Oh I am so glad you mention that story, I absolutely loved that serialisation, it went on for a couple of weeks too I think, which was great. Was it set in the 60s or was it just how I imagined it? I think it was the lack of gadgets and the phones were all wall based. Fantasies are essential, I have come the conclusion that essentially I am a house cat who has fantasies of being a big leopard doing wild things, but really I enjoy being a house cat.

    • Yes, being a house cat is lovely; we could be characters in an Anne Tyler novel, thinking like this!

      Thanks for compliments, by the way.

  7. Courtesy of your diagram, I can confirm I have a heart shaped…..yeah.

    It’s always nice to revisit the classic makes, and yours is classy indeed. I believe the profile shot is showing off your plaid matching. Nicely played!

  8. Firstly sorry that you are having a slightly miserable month. When is your birthday?

    I really like Ann Tyler and notice there is a new one out. I haven’t read LoY but I read another one where a woman is on the beach with her family, in a bikini, and she just walks away. I do think every mother has this fantasy, yes. Just to leave our lives behind and try again. AT describes how this woman buys new underwear and a dress in a shop and neither is in her usual style. I have often thought about that too. Or wearing a wig and being someone different for a day or two. I feel like a different person even in high heels (not myself, but still OK, if uncomfortable).

    In terms of the skirt information I find it invaluable. Thank you for sharing the source of horrible diagrams. I don’t want to classify myself this way – its too horrible – but if it helps with a good fit, good news.

  9. I am very new to reading your blog. Only just read this latest post as I have been on holiday. Made me smile, as guess what has been my beach reading. Yes, the new Anne Tyler!
    Great job on the skirt. And oh to be as beautifully slim as you.
    Clicking on your previous skirt post that you linked, this is just the sort of thing I would do. I suspect that you (like me) have a perfectionist streak. Your first comments about the month seem to confirm this to me. Speaking for myself, I find that when I start a project, I try so hard for it to go well that mistakes seem to happen more. Perfectionism, I have come to realise, is a curse!

    • Ha, yes, perfectionism which sometimes stops you from even trying.
      But it always cheers me to see a new comment here as it makes me think I’m not doing stuff in vain; we are sharing, learning and having a bit of a laugh.

      What did you think of “the spool of blue thread”?

      • I enjoyed the book as I love her characters and observations about life, but I have to say it isn’t one of my favourites.

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