Workin’ it: A Tale of Two Pencil Skirts

In today’s post, I’m going to be sharing not one, but two, pencil skirts.Here is a walk-through of my comparative experience with the Fatale Sister from Vanessa Pouzet and the Ultimate Pencil Skirt from Sew Over It.

Project Pencil Skirt

Pencil skirts have never really been my thing.

I’ve never liked the way they look on my body. When I wear them, I feel self-conscious. I fuss around all day, smoothing them down around my hips and belly.

But, I do like them when I see them on others. They seem so feminine and versatile. Just not on me…

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my trip to Japan earlier this year made me reflect upon simplifying my wardrobe. This commitment to exploring more separates, also requires  a reconsideration of the shapes I wear.

So  I embarked on Project Pencil Skirt with the idea that if I could just find the right pattern, I would fall  in love with a shape that had never really done it for me!

Sounds promising, right…

So which pencil skirt?

When deciding which pencil skirt option to buy from the indie pattern world, I initially hesitated between the Ultimate Pencil Skirt and the lovely Charlotte skirt from By Hand London.  Although Charlotte had cute customisable options, I was drawn to the simplicity of the Ultimate Pencil Skirt.  I was sold, in the end, on the fact that this skirt includes a back vent. I cycle to work everyday, so not having my knees hobbled together is a must!!

However, not long after I had made up by Ultimate Pencil Skirt, I then saw the Fatale Sister Skirt and fell instantly in love with the back zipper closure. At the time, I hadn’t come across Vanessa Pouzet before and I am so glad that I now have!

And so, my pencil skirt comparison exercise was born!

Pencil me in for some stash-busting instant gratification!

Both skirts make for great instant gratification sewing. Both projects have very few pattern pieces.  As long as (unlike me), you have the right materials on hand, both of these projects can come together in a few hours, from start to finish!

So a pencil skirt is the perfect sewing project for those times when you are struggling to find your sew mojo and just need a score!

They are also great stash busters. The Ultimate Pencil Skirt calls for just 1 metre of fabric. For the Fatale Sister, as long as your fabric is wide enough, it can be done in just 65cm (although you need the same length again in your lining fabric).

Fatale Sister: The Pattern

The Fatale Sister Pencil Skirt by Vanessa Pouzet

First things first, while quite a few of Vanessa Pouzet’s patterns are available in English (like the wonderful Eagle Jacket, which I’ve also sewn), this one is not. So the instructions are  in French. The pattern is not at all complex and there are useful diagrams, so if you’re not a complete beginner, don’t let the language barrier deter you.

I did goof up  the PDF assembly with this one. I was grumbling as I assembled the PDF about how there were no marking points along the axes of each page to enable you to precisely line up the pages when joining the PDF pattern together. It was only after I finished this project with an incorrectly assembled skirt that I realized  that Vanessa Pouzet’s PDFs are designed to be assembled with no overlap whatsoever at the edge of the pages. You literally line up the edge of one piece to the edge of the next. I’d never seen a PDF pattern assembled in this manner before. So all in all, I’m pretty lucky my skirt turned out as well as it did since I completely messed up at basic PDF pattern assembly.

But now you’ve been warned!

But France, what’s up with the ease?

There are a few things that are different from an English indie sewing pattern. For example, a few of the symbols on the pattern itself are a bit different (e.g. the indication to cut on the fold). The seam allowance included in the pattern is 1cm, rather than 1.5cm.

But the most significant difference is that the size charts don’t provide finished garment measurements. All you get is a detailed chart in which you use your body measurements to identify your size.

Size wise, I was all over the place. My measurements varied from a size 46 at the saddle to a 40 at hip. With such variation, this is the kind of situation where I would normally turn to a finished garment table to guide my cutting choices. In the absence of such table, I went in a little blind, cutting everything at a 44 and then basting and fitting on the body. Although, given that I’d totally messed up in assembling the PDF pattern, the reality is that the sizes weren’t accurate anyway!

I have seen this lack of a finished garment table a few times when using French patterns. Perhaps French patterns generally build in less ease into the pattern so there is more of correlation between your body measurements and the finished garment? Does anyone out there know?

On Target Darts

Just a quick little note on technique.

I’ve been reading for a while now the tip that you can finish your darts by pivoting and sewing back along the straight edge of your “dart triangle”.

For my last few projects, I remembered that I wanted to try out this trick just after I finished sewing my darts.

This time, I remembered beforehand!

Just in case you’re not familiar with this one, here’s what you need to do:

Pivot when you reach the tip of your dart and sew back along the straight edge for a few centimetres before coming to a stop

And I must say, this  given me the crispest, cleanest darts I have ever sewn!

This is definitely going to be my go-to dart technique from now on! It’s impressed me so much that I will never forget again!!

Fatale Sister: The Result

The Fatale Sister has a very clean and classy looking finish. It uses a thick band of fusible interfacing around the waist and hem to give it structure. I hadn’t seen this technique before and, combined with a lining, it is a nice way to avoid needing a facing or waistband.

Speaking of a full lining,  my Fatale Sister is probably one of the neatest things I have ever sewn on the inside.

The fully lined Fatale Sister Pencil Skirt by Vanessa Pouzet
Yes, I know I cut the lining upside down! Ooops!!

I love this birdy lining. It’s just polyster but I adore the print. I got it for 1 euro a metre at a fabric market. I stocked up on 6m, so I suspect it will appear as lining in many future makes too!

My shell fabric is a Japanese selvedge denim in  dark indigo. This is the first time I have worked with a quality denim. Being fearful of colour-running and shrinkage, I washed it several times before cutting. I learned that you have to be careful how you dry your inky denim. My colour ran quite a bit, but when I put it over a drying rack to dry after the first wash, the dye seemed to pool along the metal bars of the drying rack. So I was actually left with a few “lines” of pooled ink almost ruining my fabric. After a few more washes, they faded, but were still visible.

I have subsequently learnt, in the Sew Your Dream Jeans class from Closet Case patterns (details in my ginger jeans post) that it’s ok to chuck your denim in the dryer for the purposes of pre-washing. This would have avoided unsightly lines caused by air drying on a rack.

In the end, since I had bought extra fabric in case of shrinkage, I managed to cut around my inky lines, but this project was almost scuttled before I even started!

My Kingdom for a Zip

I had some trouble sourcing a separating zipper which opened at both the top and the bottom. My local fabric store didn’t have anything, so I went online. The addition of a bottom-opening was essential because I ride my bike daily and was hoping that I would be able to unzip myself enough to enable cycling (although in practice this doesn’t really work – the zip has to be undone to unsightly levels to enable any cycling!)

I ordered a zip online which cost a fortune (just over 20 euros, once postage was included). Once it arrived, it wasn’t actually a separating zip as described! Which, of course, I didn’t notice when it first arrived and only realised when it came time to attach!

Grrr, I hate having to put an almost-finished project on the back burner while you wait for more supplies.

Once I got my hands on the correct zip, it was all a breeze.

The Fatale Sister Pencil Skirt by Vanessa Pouzet
A little wrinkle action. Note to self: take photos before sitting down to eat breakfast…

All in all, I love the zipped up back finish. It was what attracted me to this pattern and it’s my favourite feature of this skirt. I adore patterns which add a visually interesting detail to an otherwise simple or classic shape.

The only thing that is a pity is that I would have loved a zip with metal teeth, but after much online searching I couldn’t find a separating zip with metal teeth and both a top and bottom opening. If anyone knows of a stockist in Europe for this kind of zip, feel free to let me know!

So, the verdict?

The Fatale Sister Pencil Skirt by Vanessa Pouzet

I like this skirt. Really, everyone should have a denim pencil skirt, right? It is the most figure-hugging skirt I have ever worn and I have to take stairs slowly when I have the zip down all the way down, but that ultra-feminine fitted look was what I attracted me to this pattern in the first place.

But, I do still feel a bit of the pencil skirt paranoia which I have always felt. I am especially sensitive about the way it fits around my hips.

Part of me think maybe I could still solve the problem with some fitting changes. Another part of me thinks that maybe it’s time to accept that pencil skirts are simply not the most flattering for my body. Which is perfectly OK.

After all, I did go in with pretty high expectations, hoping to fall in a love with a shape I’d never even liked before…

So what about the Ultimate Pencil Skirt?

The truth is, I feel kind of the same way about my Ultimate Pencil Skirt too. I like it enough  but overall, I still feel a little not entirely convinced.

A black pencil skirt using the Ultimate Pencil Skirt pattern from Sew Over It

Like the Fatale Sister, this is a long, high waisted pencil skirt without any waist band. Unlike the Fatale Sister, the Ultimate Pencil Skirt is unlined. It uses a facing to give the necessary structure at the waist, combined with a regular skirt zip at the centre back.

My skirt is a size 12, but I took a lot out of the side seams as I fit it (as in, at least an inch from each side seam). Still, I probably won’t bother to retrace the pattern in a smaller size. The simplicity of the Ultimate Pencil Skirt means that it is a breeze to baste your skirt pieces together and fit it while wearing it.

It’s definitely clear that a lot of thought has gone into drafting a pencil skirt which is flattering to a range of bodies. I think this pattern probably does that as well as is possible.

A black pencil skirt using the Ultimate Pencil Skirt pattern from Sew Over It
The danger of instant gratification is that sometimes I don’t pay enough attention to detail! Look at my not-at-all invisible zipper! Ooops!!

How do they compare?

I found both patterns to be of very high quality and both delivered exactly the end-product they described.

The Ultimate Pencil Skirt’s shape is definitely a bit more forgiving than the Fatale Sister. For the record – I can verify that the Ultimate Pencil Skirt is, indeed, fully cycle-friendly! In addition, the Sew Over It PDF was easier to put together and has instructions in English! The sizing was also more suited for my body shape and the availability of finished garment measurements was very useful!

But, all in all, my favourite out of the two skirts is the Fatale Sister. Its finish is very high-class – in this regard, it is in a league above the Ultimate Pencil Skirt. The full lining means there is no unflattering clinging when wearing tights.  Also,  I love this fabric (denim that I can wear to work!) and the exposed zipper.

Having said that, the versatility and comfort of the Ultimate Pencil Skirt means that it is the one I am perhaps more likely to make again. If I do so, I would make it more like the Fatale Sister by adding a full lining and incorporating interfacing at the waist.

I will definitely wear both skirts. But, I’m yet to be convinced whether pencil skirts are really right for my body. All in all, until I have a change of heart (or a reduction of saddle size), perhaps two pencil skirts are really enough for my wardrobe…




13 thoughts on “Workin’ it: A Tale of Two Pencil Skirts

  1. Very thoughtful post Beck! I agree that lining is necessary especially with a garment that clings to the body. We’ve all been there with our skirts or dresses riding up from something as simple as walking so anything to prevent that is key! Both skirts look great on you – you are most certainly pulling off the pencil skirt look! 🙂 Thanks for including the pivot method for sewing darts as well. That is new to me but I’m looking forward to trying it!

    1. Thanks Kelly! Yep, there is definitely nothing worse than being proud of a me-made only to realize the first time you wear it outside the house that you can’t walk more than 15 meters without it riding up! And glad to have passed on the pivot technique to you – I love it when u find those little sewing tips that just make you go “ahh yeah, that makes sense!”

  2. They both look great and beautifully made! I l particularly love the one with the sip all the way through to the hem. And you look really good in both. A pencil skirt definitely suits you.

    1. Aww thanks Diane! The zip was what sucked me in too! When I saw the pattern, my reaction was “I need to have that now!”, even though I’d just sewn a pencil skirt!

  3. Great to have the comparison side by side! In terms of cut, I love the Ultimate pencil skirt on you, BUT agree entirely about the beautiful details of the Fatale Sister. Love the lining, the interfacing idea, and that zip!

    1. Well as a pattern designer, I’ll take your word for it! I find it hard to look beyond the fabric and finish that I prefer to really appreciate which pattern is cut better for me! But Ultimate pencil skirt is definitely most practical – I almost fell off my bike when I tried to cycle wearing the fatale sister!

      1. Hehe, as a fellow cyclist I can sympathise – this is one of the reasons why I love to sew with knits! I love the Fatale Sister on you too, in case that wasn’t clear BTW, but I share your general reticence about pencil skirts. And I agree that fabric and finish are as important as cut – which puts Fatale Sister in the lead 😉 Basically you look great in both!

  4. Both skirts look lovely on you! I agree on the benefits of having a skirt lined, especially when wearing tights in winter… I have made a couple of the Charlotte skirts, and I love them. The placement of the darts make that the skirt is very well fitted through the curve of the hips/stomach. I did add a split to the back for walking ease. Might need to try and incorporate an overlapping back vent, for even neater finishing.

    Thanks for the comparison!

    1. Nice! Maybe I should look at Charlotte again since, with such a simple garment, getting dart placement just right is pivotal! And I do love the look of the ruffled version – although might be harder to add a back vent to that one!

  5. Hi Beck, nice to meet you *waves*. That is great to have found a pencil skirt pattern with a lining and full zip. Like you, I cycle to work (though I am in London with my Dutch mister and toddler missing my Sydney sunshine) and not having to change when I get to the office is a must! Will be checking out the Vanessa Pouzet pattern though the lack of finished sizing is indeed annoying. And they look nice on you, hopefully you’ll like these types of skirts more as time goes on!

    1. Thanks Kate – us poor lost Aussies cycling through the rain and dark in these chilly northern climates!!

        1. Been here for almost 10 years. I love living in a small, cyclable city and being close to everything in Europe! Really miss the weather back home though!

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