In this article, I will be sharing with you the story of how I froze my fingers to create my very first "TV show skirt"! That is, a skirt inspired by the new show "All Creatures Great and Small". This project had no shortage of, ahem, interesting happenings, including our furnace breaking in the height of our Canadian winter. Come along for the journey, and learn a few things!
Last winter, I was largely pregnant with my fifth baby. My Grandmother had just passed away, and my entire family came down with the flu. All I wanted to do was lie on the couch. "All Creatures Great and Small" was such a comfort to me during this time, with its slow, comforting story lines, and not least of all the beautifully tailored and historically accurate 1930's clothing!
The more I looked at the costumes, the more I came to love the main female character, Helen's clothing. Not only does she have a similar body shape to mine, but her clothing had the perfect blend of elegance and quirky practicality.
I have a confession to make. For my entire sewing career thus far, almost every skirt I've made has been either extremely flared, gathered, pleated, or A-line. A big part of this is because that is simply what I felt suited me. I have a petite upper body and a more curvy lower body, and when I put on weight, it goes to my lower half. So this style of dressing allowed me to camouflage that. Also, the last (and only) time I made a straight or pencil skirt was 5 years ago, and that skirt did not come out too well. The fit was off, there were huge wrinkles and bulges, and the buttons literally kept popping off. This 1930's inspired skirt was a chance to redeem myself.
I loved this particular 1930's skirt of Helen's on the show, because it felt like a perfect way to try more of a fitted skirt - it was not a pencil skirt by any means, still somewhat A-line, but much more fitted on top than anything I had made before. It also had amazing details: two quirky patch pockets with flaps and buttons on front, and another interesting detail I have never tackled before, to do with the hem level of the skirt. The centre-front and back of the skirt had what appeared to be a slit that opened up to revel an extra gore of fabric beneath. I did some searching in my pattern drafting book and figured out the best way to do this. It wasn't a kick pleat, though it looked similar. Rather, it was an inverted box pleat that was sewn together up until the point where the "slit" opened up to reveal the gore beneath. A gore, if you don't know, is just a name for a triangular panel of fabric that is sewn into a skirt or a corset to add extra fullness or shaping.
Once I figured that out, it was time to create the pattern for the skirt. I like to draft my own patterns because it saves me time adjusting patterns to fit my unique shape, and it creates more reliably well-fitting garments. When drafting a pattern, you start with a "pattern block" which represents your starting point. It's a basic patten that fits one's body, which you then adjust to create the unique style you desire. I started out by drafting a new fitted skirt block because the last one I drafted was 5-6 years ago and I have changed size somewhat since then. Once I got that down, I had to figure out how to tackle turning it into Helen's skirt. This was easier said than done.
The patterning for Helen's skirt was confusing because her skirt had a lot of front and back darts even though it was clearly an A-line shape, and usually A-line skirts have little to no darts. I think the costume designers must have used a little trickery to make this skirt look like a pencil skirt from the top view with all of those darts, while it was actually an A-line, perhaps because that suited the actress better. I also learned that this skirt was closer to 1940's skirt styles than 30's, which makes sense because the show is set right at the beginning of WWII, and Helen also dresses a little "avant-garde". Fitting the waist was tricky to select since I am currently losing weight, but I went with 30”. Now, I wish I had made it a little smaller, because the waist is already feeling a bit large. But I may just have to make another version of this skirt soon. I would love to have a whole range of skirts like this to fit me at different sizes. If you have been through pregnancy, you will know that one's body can go through quite the spectrum! After a couple of mock ups, the pattern was ready to be cut out - the terrifying part!
To watch the details of making this skirt, be sure the watch the video! I would like to give a shout out to Riverside Fabrics, who kindly supplied the luxurious rayon lining fabric I used for this skirt! It's high quality and a joy to work with. If you are looking for a reliable online fabric store, I recommend you to check out Riverside Fabrics! It is a wonderful online place to source high quality natural or synthetic fabrics - lots of silk, linen, and designer deadstock fabrics - which basically means you can get the same fabrics designers are using for a fraction of the price! I have some more fabric from Riverside that is silk designer deadstock and I am so excited to make something with it soon!
I'd also like to plug a book that I have been learning so much from, both for this project and for more in future! It's called Vintage Couture Tailoring, and it really reignited my enthusiasm for "slow sewing". What is slow sewing? Basically, taking the extra time to create extra high quality, well-fitting garments. Since the birth of my last baby and our move, I had been quickly whipping off projects, but I'm already starting to reap the results of that - namely, garments that don't fit as well or last nearly as long. I have been reminded that it is better to take the little bit of extra time to create garments that fit well and will stand the test of time. So how did my skirt turn out?
I absolutely love this skirt - it is so classy and flattering. It's not perfect, but it is actually pretty close! I surprisingly find this skirt very flattering to my body, and am already starting to make another version of it in a completely different type of fabric. I love that it feels more like a pencil skirt at the top, but it flares out over my hips which is flattering to my figure. I learned a lot of tailoring techniques with this project that I plan on using more and expanding on in future. I love this skirt and the fabric I used: (it was a splurge) made in England wool twill. It was so great to work with! Wool is growing on me. The only downside of this fabric is that it is so textured that it attracts all kinds of hairs and fuzzies with wear, so next time I may try working with worsted wool fabric, which is smoother.
Would you ever make a garment inspired by your favourite TV show? If so, what show? Let me know in the comments!
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