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Friday, 23 January 2015

The Tale of a Fishtail

Another pattern from Wendy Ward's Beginner's Guide to Dressmaking, the Fishtail Skirt.

First of all, from the photographs in Wendy's book, this is how it should look, shown in different fabrics, to encourage you to come up with your own  interpretation.
This skirt interested me as soon as I saw the photographs- an ordinary looking skirt from the front but with a quirky surprise from the side and back.  I envisaged myself swishing stylishly across a room and that fishtail adding much needed "omph" to my derriere.  The fantasies we have!  And it was for beginners so it must be simple- right?!
I really wanted midnight blue satin backed crepe so that the matt crepe formed the main body of the skirt and the sheen of the satin showed on the fishtail.  I thought, maybe, of adding something sparkly, such as scattered hand-sewn beads or glittery thin swirls of thread, to the inner fishtail.   Could I find midnight blue?- no, though I tried shops in Sussex, London and Devon.  I came across some lovely colours, subtle greens, pearly greys and lavenders, forget-me-not blue, and I thought that many of them appeared to have less weight to them than I deemed  appropriate although, in retrospect, these may have been more suitable.  In the end, with time running out as I wanted to wear it to a specific party, I settled for a black that I came across at an exhibition at Excel and, at only £4 a metre, it was good value.  I must try and check out the shop from which it came at some point, Stitch of Wanstead at 10 Woodbine Place, E11.  Anybody been there?  I bought 2 metres, the amount suggested in Wendy's book, BUT forgot that I wanted to make it longer than the the stated length- more of that later.
I traced out the pattern using greaseproof paper as usual.  Although the bust measurement for size 1 in Wendy's book is almost exactly the same as mine, the waist and hips are much bigger  so I calculated the amount by which I needed to reduce the size, divided this by four and took that amount off all the way down on the side seam for the front and for the back of the pattern piece.  I also extended the length as I wished.
Due to my droopy flat backside I always have to make an adjustment on skirts and trousers by taking a slice out from the back of a pattern.  This I do by taking a tuck from the centre back of the pattern above hip level graduating to nothing by the time the tuck reaches the side seams.  With patterns with centre back seams it is very easy as I just draw a line at the relevant level, cut along the line and then move the bottom part of the pattern up over the top until I have taken out the amount I want.  I hope you can see the horizontal adjustment in this photo ( the vertical line is just from sticking the greaseproof paper together to make it wide enough to trace the pattern).
 Cutting Out Then I laid my pattern pieces out on the fabric to pin and cut out and realised my first mistake.  The length I had bought did not allow for the extra length I wanted so I had not got enough fabric to cut out the front of the skirt on the fold so that the front was all in one piece.  I would have to cut it in two pieces with an allowance to make a seam up the front of the skirt.  I did not want a seam up the front of the skirt and cursed my stupidity in forgetting to allow more for the extra length  ***!!
Luckily an idea suddenly struck me- why not make it a feature?  I remembered an article Wendy wrote in the Sewing World Magazine about Decorative Seams.  At first I thought I would try a Slot Seam where a contrast colour of cloth is stitched underneath  the line where a seam would go to hold the two main pieces of fabric together and allowed a subtle glimpse of the contrast but I found nothing suitable in colour or weight, even among my boxes of stashed fabric, to use as a contrast.  However  Brainwave No. 1 came- insert a wider strip of the satin side of the fabric in the centre front to reference the fishtail at the back.  So I cut a strip 3 cm wide, plus an allowance for the seams to sew it to each side of the skirt front, to go down the centre front.  I was so pleased with the effect that I was glad that I had made the mistake.  Besides, by cutting it this way I was left with quite a bit of spare fabric, enough, I think, to make a top. 
Making Up The book has clear step-by-step instructions - I just didn't follow them exactly.  Here is what I should have done ( abbreviation of the much fuller instructions in italics) and what I actually did.
Step 1.  Neaten the seam allowances. -  I didn't do this until I had sewn the seams as I thought that I might need to make alterations to the amount of seam allowance when it came to fitting and I wanted to trim the allowance to an appropriate amount once the seam was sewn.
Step 2 & 3 .  Iron fusible interfacing to the front and back skirt facing and join the facings at the right side seam - I didn't even trace the pattern for the facings from the pattern sheet, again because I might make alterations to the fit.  My intention was to rub off a facing pattern after making any necessary alterations to the skirt.
Step 4.  Patch Pocket - Not applicable as not adding a pocket to the front of the skirt.
Step 5 & 6.  Joining upper centre back seam and slashing to pivot point - Done as instructed.
Step 7.  Insert zip into left hand side seam - I can't bring myself to put a centred zip into a side seam so I did a lapped zip, especially as I was doing this on a Sunday (Shops shut) and I realised I had not purchased a black zip for the skirt therefore I had to use an available purple one.
Step 8. Tack right seam and try on.  Adjust this seam by amount required for fit before machining. - OH dear, the skirt was too big at the waist, I must have gone wrong in calculating the measurements.  Adjusting it on the right side only, as instructed, would mean that my satin strip would be skewed off centre and, additionally, the grainline would no longer fall down the centre front of the skirt.  To adjust it equally on both side seams would mean having to unpick the zip and the side seam; this I was loathe to do, especially as I was working to a deadline.  I tried inserting darts, just tacked to try it out, but they looked dreadful and interfered with the drape of the skirt.  Then Brainwave No 2 came - I took a tuck all the way down each side of the central  and top stitched it.  I thought this looked even better than the plain strip(see photo below).
Step 9.  Hem using bias binding.- I didn't do any hemming  until I had completed step 10 and I didn't use bias binding.  I did a very narrow hem by hand on the main body of the skirt and a narrow machine-stitched hem on the fishtail.
Step 10.  Close the lower centre back seam. - This I did but left a small amount at the bottom unstitched to turn up the hem.  Below I am marking out the seam before stitching.

Step 11 & 12.  Topstitch the upper 3 cm of the upper centre back seam to the inner back seam. - I did as instructed but  a diagram with the text (Figure 8 in the book), that seemed to me to indicate that I should see a seam allowance showing on the outside of the inner part of the skirt back, puzzled me for a while as I thought that, as mine did not look like that, I must have  interpreted the previous instructions incorrectly at some point.
Steps 13 to 15.  Concerning the facings.- entirely ignored.  It seemed to me that the outline of the bottom of the facing would be likely to show through when worn due to the drape and fit of the skirt (a Visible Facing Line instead of a VPL) and also, as the weight of the fishtail made the back of the skirt drag down that facings would not give enough support to prevent this dragging down.  Thus I decided to put on a waistband, which I did with the satin side of the fabric out ( see the photo above).  I liked this effect even more than having facings BUT, since I don't like my waistbands skin tight as my waist definitely expands with eating and drinking each day, there was still not enough "grip" around the waist to prevent the fishtail pulling the back down.  Even though I had managed to finish it on the very day of the evening occasion to which I had planned to wear it, I was too unhappy about that drag to wear it.   Lesson- always have a Plan B- and that's where Brainwave No 3 came in but that's another story.
Trying to Right Wrongs.  Thus the skirt was abandoned until the New Year.  I took it along to the first LDC meeting of 2015, along with other makings,  for advice but no-one came up with answer for this problem.  A few days later- gosh, my brain has been working overtime!- a possible solution came to me.  I tried it out with some elastic that I had and some pins and it seemed to work.  When I had time to tacke it again I bought some strong black elastic, which luckily came in a width just slightly smaller than the satin waistband.  I made a rough belt out of this to fit my waist with the elastic slightly stretched by sewing fabric tabs on both ends of the elastic and fastening it with 2 hooks and eyes.  I sewed the middle of the back of this belt into the inside of the middle of the back of the waist band by hand so that the stitching does not show through on the outer side.  The belt fastens at he middle of the front of the skirt and I then fasten the skirt waistband over it.
The elastic belt grips me and helps hold up the fishtail but still allows room for me to expand. I've subsequently worn the skirt all day, on to dinner and then the opera as it lends itself to dressing up or down  But the back still drags a bit.  I'm thinking of putting in some cased boning at the upper centre back to see if that would work.  Perhaps I was wrong about not using facings and the dragging would not occur if I had stuck to facings.  Perhaps the problem would not have existed if I had gone for a lighter weight fabric.  If you have any thoughts about what I should do or have done please put your comment below.
So here's the finished product anyway.
And don't you think it looks great with the Zip Jacket I made earlier also from a pattern in Wendy's book blogged here  ?

1 comment:

  1. This skirt looks wonderful on you! Such an elegant style, I am sure it's fabulous at the opera as well as at a party. I am really quite jealous!
    I could imagine that a small piece of boning would help. Or perhaps two in an upside down V shape: one leg either side of where the fishtail drags? Or maybe a piece of very stiff interfacing (that plasticky mesh stuff - about 3-4" across) that could be slotted into the waistband? Something the height of the waistband.

    I already like it a lot and I hope you can solve this issue to your satisfaction!


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