Monday, 2 April 2012

Finished Pencil Skirt

This skirt's been a bit like the Forth Bridge in its making. I'm not sure why it's taken nearly a month to do. There was a slight mishap along the way, as explained here but mainly a lined pencil skirt with a self-drafted vent takes a bit of time.

We were diverted by the unseasonally lovely weather last weekend. We spent the afternoon at Great Yarmouth by the seaside. I love these old English seaside resorts. They're full of gorgeous old buildings reminiscent of a bygone era when the towns had money. The seafront is full of lovely old buildings that very often house delightfully tacky amusement arcades.

Anyway, back to the skirt, here are the pictures.

I feel as though the final skirt should be more exciting considering the amount of time it has taken. However the real excitement for me was the amount I learned during this make.


I used Angela Kane's pencil skirt pattern that I have made before without the vent. This time I added a vent. The skirt pattern has a vent but I ended up drafting my own.


I used a beige / gold coloured fabric that I bought from the retired seamstress. I'm not sure what it is but it's man made, and similar to the fabric used for my Miss Chalmers' skirt here. I used a bright orange fabric for the lining again from the old lady. I don't know what it is but it's lovely and soft. I wish I did know because it's unusual – shiny and slippery on the right side and dull on the wrong side.


As mentioned here I widened the narrow, straight waistband. The waistband is the worst part for me. I think I'll stick a normal sized waistband in the future. I didn't insert the sew-in interfacing very well and it shows through – not a good look. It's about time I invested in some nice fusible interfacing.


A major sewing milestone - I did my first buttonhole on a garment. I survived and managed not to ruin my project!

The gorgeous button was part of a recent auction lot. I think it's a military button. I'm so pleased with it that I thought I would pass on a few tips for those who haven't done them before.

First off I recently brought another sewing book – Sewing A to Z by Nancy Zieman. A wonderful book focusing purely on techniques. Pages of sewing stuff with no boring sections on equipment and fabric! Some of these tips are from here but most are my own.

For the length of the buttonhole you need to measure the diameter of the button and add on the width of both sides. My button was 2 cm and the width 2 mm so my buttonhole length was 2.4 cm. Nancy's tip is to place some clear tape over the button and mark the lower edge of the button on each side on the tape. You can then use the tape next to your buttonhole as a marker. I didn't do mine like this, partly out of laziness, but I like the tip. I just measured mine with a clear plastic ruler.

Nancy's placement tip is to end a horizontal buttonhole 3 mm beyond the centre front or back. With this in mind I cut the waistband so the top part extended about 1.5 cm from the centre back. The under flap extended about 1.25” past the centre. 

For the placement I folded my waistband in half and marked roughly where the centre was. I did a couple of test buttonholes. I don't have fancy attachments. My machine has a buttonhole stitch (ie the one in 4 stages) and I use a regular buttonhole foot. It has a long right hand “toe” (for want of a better word) which is useful to line up against your stitching to make sure it's straight.

For my tests I marked the placement lines by thread tracing them. I find chalk too “fat” to make an accurate mark. I found when I was sewing I couldn't see the placement line I had thread traced. What I did was put the thread traced line 2 cm from my actual placement line and used that as a guide so it wasn't obscured by the presser foot during the stitching. Place a pin at right angles at the top and bottom of the thread traced guide, so the pin is pointing towards where you need to stitch. Use this as a guide when stitching your buttonhole. To make sure you start at the correct point put your work under the presser foot and put the needle into the fabric. Manually use another pin as a marker, extending it past the first placement pin that points towards your work. If your needle is in the correct place then the pin should touch the needle. A pin is good to use as it fits under the presser foot and is long enough to reach the needle. 

Use the same principle to line up the other end of the buttonhole.

On my tests I liked the look of the buttonholes where I went over the stitching again, so two layers of stitching instead of one. This gives a more heavy duty result. Sewing over a small cord (or in my tests, two pieces of thread rolled together) gives a similar result but the first method was easier.

When I came to do the second round of stitching on my skirt I noticed about half way in that I wasn't sewing over the previous stitching. It was slightly off and sewing on the centre part that I would need to cut into. I stopped and undid the second row I had just started. Let me assure you that it's easy to undo buttonhole stitching if you notice your error in time and still have the thread tails in tact. No scissors or snipping involved. You just pull out the stitches one at a time by gently tugging on one tail, pulling the loop through, putting a pin inside the loop and pulling through and undoing it. Pull the other thread to release it and then repeat. Painless!

I decided not to attempt the second row of stitching at this point. Instead I slit open the buttonhole and then did the second row of stitching after cutting it open! I had no idea if this would work so I tried it first on one of my tests. It worked fine on the test so this is what I did. It's come out really well. Doing it this way avoids that unfinished look that comes when the buttonholes are slit open leaving raw fabric unless it's trimmed.

As to placing of the button this didn't occur to me until I actually came to do it so I thought I would share. Sew it on after the buttonhole. If I hadn't have thought it through I would have just sewn the button so that the middle of the button falls within the centre of the buttonhole. If you think about it, when you're wearing a skirt the button at the waist will naturally pull towards the centre. The centre of the button therefore needs to be at the right hand side of a horizontal buttonhole. This is easy to mark. Line up your waistbands and pin them in place so they don't move around. Place a pin through the right hand side of the buttonhole through to the other side and mark the other side. Imagine the pin is the thread on the button. 


My invisible zipper came out well again. Here's a photo.

I use Angela Kane's method for the actual insertion (which I remember in my head now without having to watch the video each time). Along the way I've learned to always interface the zipper area which really does make it easier. I use the Colette sewing book tip of basting a row of stitching where the stitching line goes (so 1.5 cm if that's your seam allowance) and making sure the teeth touch the line when placing the zip.

In this make my seam allowances were 1 cm which I found was not enough to work with so I altered my pattern pieces to a 1.5 cm seam allowance in this area to allow for more space when placing the zipper.

I have another tip for making sure the top of the zipper falls in the same place on each side. Add an inch or so of basting stitches along the top of the centre back waistline to represent where the waist seam or stitching line will be. If your seam allowance is 1.5 cm then the basting stitches will be at this point. Use a stitch length of at least 3.5 cm so they stay in tact. Vogue recommends that the zip stop on a skirt with a waistband should finish 3 mm below the waist seam so I inserted a parallel row of basting stitches at this point. I used a point on my presser foot as a guide for the 3 mm – just measure out 3 mm from the needle and see where this falls on your presser foot, and make sure the first row of basting stitches lines up with this point when stitching. Repeat on both sides and when pinning in the zipper make sure the zip stop falls on the second row of basting stitches.


I watched this Threads video again on how to make a lined pencil skirt. I made my first pencil skirt using this video and thought I had been doing it the same way on all my subsequent lined skirts. Turns out I had been doing it differently. On the Threads video the lining, outer shell and lower front waistband seams are all sewn together in one go. I must have been copying my ready to wear skirts and have been attaching the lining to the lower edge of the inside facings / waistband, joining the upper waist seam and then stitching in the ditch to join the lower edges of the facings together. (Except on my ready to wear skirts they don't do the last step - it's left open.) I decided to do it the way I had been doing it – three lines of stitching in that area must provide extra re-inforcement.

There is surprisingly little out there on lining a vent. There is nothing in any of my sewing books on the subject. I found all I needed to know using these on-line resources:

  1. You Tube video by the Sewing Guru – lining a back vent here.
  2. Sunni's tutorial on drafting a lining for a pencil skirt and a back vent here and here.
  3. Kathleen Fansella's tutorials here,  here,  here and here.
I found Kathleen's articles last and ended up following them through before I did anything else. I was enthralled. The first tutorial was sewing up a sample of a corner of a lined jacket. I thought this may be useful way to deal with the hemming of the vent so I tried out the tutorial. The sample came out brilliantly:

Her next article was a bit of a light bulb moment for me. To “prove” that a pattern will work, in this case the corner facing of a lined jacket, cut out test lining and facing pieces without the seam allowances. Like jigsaw pieces, if they fit together then the pattern will work once it is sewn up after adding the seam allowances. Using this tutorial (and a bit of Sunni's tutorial) I drafted outline pattern pieces for a skirt vent. I made my vent 2.5 inches wide. Here are pictures of the first sample vents that I did:

I then decided to adapt the pattern to add on a hem facing using the same principle as Kathleen's sample for the corner of a jacket facing / lining. It took a lot of figuring out to draft the pattern and make sure it matched the lining. It would have been easier to draft without the seam allowances first and then added them in once it had been “proved”. Here are the final pattern pieces for the vent with a lining:

Here is the sample sewn up.

I used Sunni's tutorial to draft the back lining pieces to add more ease at the hips and above the vent. I traced around the vent pieces I had drafted and incorporated them into the lining pieces. I wanted to do Sunni's rounded vent curve for the lining pieces but as you can imagine I was a bit fed up with drafting at this point so I didn't do this.

I watched the Sewing Guru's video which is helpful in showing you how to sew up the lined vent. He does the top part of the vent slightly differently to Sunni's and I used a mixture of his and Sunni's method for this part. I was going to omit the topstitching on the outer shell at the top of the curve. I decided to do it in the end. I was right to – it secures it all in place, particularly as the fabric and lining together are quite heavy. Sunni used a satin stitch for this. I'm not sure what this is – google says it's used for applique? I thought this might “pull” in the area so I used an ordinary straight stitch for this area.


My hem is about 4 cm and I marked notches on the pattern for the hem fold line. I interfaced my hem, as usual extending the interfacing at least 1 cm beyond the hem fold. The hemline notches were really helpful in folding up and ironing the hem – I usually chalk the correct distance all the way along but I didn't need to do this. I cut out some of the bulk at the side seams at the hem fold. Here is a close up of the corner of the vent.

The first few inches are joined to the lining much like the hem of a jacket. I reverted to hemming the rest of the lining and outer shell separately as I need a gap to be able to iron the skirt. There are other ways to deal with the hem of a vent – have a look at some of your ready to wear. Sunni is going update her vent tutorial so I will be interested to see how she deals with the hemming.

I used the invisible stitch on my machine for the hem but I ended up unpicking it and doing it by hand as it was slightly pulling and the stitching didn't look particularly invisible.

Final thoughts

Overall I'm really pleased with the skirt and in particular with what I have learned. I don't think the fabric I used is the best for a fitted pencil skirt. Every lump and bump from the inner workings and lining seems to show through. A darker colour may help and I now have the basis for trying it with say a lovely wool fabric.

A pencil skirt makes you more aware of your silhouette – I need to do more sit ups! The Miss Chalmers and Crescent skirt waistbands at the front are far more forgiving.

I'm wondering what to make next – maybe the Ginger skirt or the Rooibos dress which I've just bought. My lovely chap wants me to make him a shirt but I've persuaded him to settle for a jersey top. I'll have to do some digging for men's jersey top patterns!

Happy sewing.


  1. Wow - this is gorgeous! Gotta pay some attention to your vent info. And what a lovely button!

    1. Thanks K.Line! The vent is the easy part - it's the lining of it that's a pain. I think you may be wise to stick to a slip when you do yours!

  2. A seaside resort sounds like a great reason for a skirt to take so long in coming, your lining is a great color

    1. Thanks molly! The seaside was a nice diversion - out out season so unusually not crowded. I'm a big fan of brightly coloured lining!

  3. Wow, no wonder your skirt came out so well, you sure are systematic with your learning! I really like it with the pink top, the colours are so nice together :)

    1. Thanks Johanna! I was pleased it went with the pink top. One of my last ready to wear tops bought before I started sewing and I usually wear it with a black skirt. It looks so much better with this lighter coloured skirt!

  4. Hello im in urge to learn lining side i didnt found tuto on youtube can you help me please?

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