Pencil Skirt with Fish Tail

1 fishtail1 3 fishtailFor Christmas my husband gave me Winifred Aldrich’s ‘Metric Pattern Cutting For Women’s Wear’.  (Fantastic!  How did he know?!)  I made the ‘Natural Waist’ Basic Skirt Block from Part One: Form Cutting.  The fit is really good.  The only adjustment needed was not to curve out 0.5cm from waist to hip but to keep the line almost straight.  Also I narrowed the side-to-hem by 3.5cm rather than the 2.5cm  suggested for the pencil skirt adjustment.  2 close up

But a skirt this narrow has to give, or else there’d be hobbling, which is why there’s interesting stuff at the back…  I transferred the outer of the two back darts to a diagonal line on the centre back seam in a process outlined a year ago (the Simple Dart Throw post).  I cut away a section and inserted a fish tail which is made up of a quarter-circle shape folded twice, concertina style.  It took a bit of playing around to get the half-decent result I’d hoped for (ok, so there was a bit of bodging!). 1 pattern-horz

Next time I’ll do the sewing in a different order, with the dart done last,  the side seam first and the horizontal seam second at which point the two back pieces are joined at the centre back.

Drape and Hem Considerations1 side fish

I need to give some thought to materials.  For this first draft, I used some wool from the stash.  I’d love to redo this in chambray – or anything you may suggest tha would mean the folds fall nicely.  But what about the hem?  A pencil skirt looks best with a deep hem allowance, yet the fishtail extension needs a very small seam allowance (here I kind of graded from 2cm to 1cm as you can see below in the inside out picture).

Or, can you see this in a combination of fabric?!  Denim and jersey or something that doesn’t need hemming?  I wonder if it’d matter that both the wrong and the right sides of the fabric show in the folds.  Let me know what you’d do.

1 inside out


What a treat to have a bit of sunshine these last few days (even if it’s cold), not least because the colours in everything stand out.  I think I’m being ‘courted’ by some robins because every time I approach the back windows, two or three appear on the fences, puffing out their russety chests!

I took these pictures after a quick run in the sun (and shower) so excuse the ratty hair.  Because this skirt definitely deserves dedicated styling to pull off a femme fatale look.  Which I’m not sure is my thing, but imagine pairing this with seamed stockings and killer heels.  You’d be known by the trail of dead!  1.2

18 thoughts on “Pencil Skirt with Fish Tail

  1. You do look so femme Marijana and oh so fatale! You need to grab your clipboard and apply for a job with MI5 I think! I love a straight skirt draft but like you, absolutely always have to go back and straighten that hip curve, despite working on my gluteus medialis lots!
    I made a fishtail similar to this and had the same issues with finish. I elected to completely line the fishtail separate to the skirt lining from memory. Oh its in this post I see I referred to it as a gored vent. I imagine a fishtail hanging lower and cut as one with the centre back as in this example
    Anita’s drafting instructions are really useful reference tools.

  2. I think you always look like a real femme fatale, M! I haven’t approximated a femme fatale in many years, though I am thinking I should give it a try.I’ve been too stuck in the “brother zone” of working with all men and being one of the boys. 🙂 In fact, your lovely skirt detail brings to mind a skirt I made a few years ago and that looked great on. I will see if I can find it, although I think I might have given it away. It was based on this pattern from Burda: The back godet (not as sophisticated as your fish tail) is deep enough to give lots of swish and the angled darts are long and give great shape to the rear. It really is a good look. I made mine in a high-quality but relatively thin stretch cotton sateen (navy) so it had good stretch but didn’t look cheap.

    • Cotton sateen would be ideal, thanks. I don’t suppose you’ve seen a print like in the Burda picture; it’s wonderful. Dark and bright at the same time so perfect for those who want to experiment with a bit of drama but feel safer in dark colours (i.e. me!)

      Do you still work with mostly ‘brothers’ or have more women gradually joined the team? Male scientists have a reputation for dressing dully then someone comes along trying to liven things up and all hell breaks loose 🙂

      • Oh no. 🙂 That’s pretty funny. Looks like he mostly doesn’t want to be taken for a geek. It’s a complicated story, but the short answer is no. I’m still the only woman on my team. At least where I am, there are good numbers of very intelligent women working on the social policy/political economy/policy analysis side but on the numbers/quantitative side the numbers are much thinner (economics is peculiar in this and may be worse than the hard science fields at this point). I could go on and on about this…I love working with men though and work with great ones, so I have no complaints. If we were to rewind the clock twenty years or so my comments would be quite different. I only now recognize how damaging many of my early experiences were to me – to my ambitions, sense of self, and particularly my confidence. There were so many junctures at which I was more or less told, in subtle and unsubtle ways: this is not for you. But moving on to more interesting things!

        Re. cotton sateen. I think you would look great in a skirt with a pattern like that. I haven’t seen anything recently, but a site I buy from quite a bit and often visit for a bit of eye candy is She is in Pennsylvania and although the shipping costs might not be high I don’t know for sure. In any case, she updates with new pieces and offcuts and so on quite often, so it’s a great site to look to for ideas. Everything I’ve ordered from her has been even better than I expected and she always adjusts my shipping costs to the lowest possible. I also browsed Mood in NY’s site this afternoon. I never buy from them as their shipping costs are enormous to Canada, but they have quite a lot of stock that might give you some ideas. I am sure, too, that the selection is terrific in the UK.

        • You must be a very resilient person. I’m honoured to have you on board 🙂 and wish I’d known you longer as I could have done with a role model!

          Thanks for the link. The fabrics are indeed eye candy; I’ll definitely window shop, and maybe more.

          • I think I’m more oblivious/dense at times than resilient. 🙂 That said, I personally believe strongly in mentorship, whatever a person does. I have had two female mentors who made a big difference for me. Recently, I have had a couple of young women come to me and take me into their confidence in asking for career-related advice (even though it’s not as though my career is particularly high-flying). That said, the mentorship thing is possibly the thing I am most proud of – thinking that I have engendered that trust in them. It’s really important to pass it on.

          • Sorry – not trying to turn your blog into a career discourse! I forgot to mention though that I am also mentoring two young men at the moment, which I think is so important in this brave new world. Young men are also facing career challenges.

          • Definitely better not to distract them with any fish tails then 🙂

            It’s always great to hear from you; comment away!

    • You’re too kind, Marianna. Looking at Ruth’s comment below, I see her point. A lightweight wool crepe would also be lovely for this. There are some beautiful colours available now – how about you favourite green? PS Thanks for the inspiration with your adventures in drafting and fitting. It’s incredibly motivating.

  3. Great skirt! If I was to do anything differently it would only be to cut the ‘fish tail’ separately so that its hem treatment didn’t interfere with the main skirt.
    Pattern cutting can be so much fun – no corporate limitations!

  4. The “Winnie” book is a must have. I couldn’t live without it and have been using it for years (literally). However, if you’re getting to grips with pattern adaptation from blocks have you tried using a half size mannequin? They are amazing. They use blocks just like those you’ve drafted for yourself from the book and you can try out your design ideas really quickly and easily because they are exactly half the size of a real mannequin. They use so much less fabric and you could try out your fishtail in several ways before settling on the one you prefer. I learned on a “half size” in college when I qualified and still use one today, especially to showcase ideas to brides when I’m designing their dresses. The ideas are better in 3D than 2D. I’m garbling here and probably not making much sense, am I? Look at this website as they explain it better

    • You’re not garbling at all: this is exactly the advice I need to take my pattern-making a step further. So far, I’ve utilized scraps of fabric to trial out sections but I’d like to pitch ideas to clients and to go 1/2 size is more professional and easy for a client to visualise.

      Thanks very much Brigitte! 🙂

  5. I am having multi computer problems at the moment so sorry for the delay in reading and commenting. As I’m so late to this post, and others have given such good advice, I will just say you look great in your fish tail. Ariel, eat your heart out.

    • Hope the computer gets fixed (they do that to us in January, don’t they?). And it’s always lovely to hear from you 🙂

  6. So impressed with the fit and style of your skirt and your little quirky surprise at the back. I’d stick with wool for this skirt but you can get all sorts of thicknesses and weights – a soft drapey crepe would work for the fish-tails and with a good lining also suitable for the skirt.If the fabric was fine enough, could you double it and keep the raw edges to the inside with the folded edge as the drape?

  7. Your skirt is brilliant, I love the darts and the fish tail. I have this book too, and recently made the skirt block; I hadn’t thought of rotating the back darts. Thanks for the inspiration!

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