Every September the Pattern Review website/sewing land site holds a Sewing Bee contest. Skill be damned, I entered again for the third year.
The contest is 4 rounds long. For each round there is a specific challenge, a strict deadline, and a panel of judges who are very picky about the rules. About half of the participants in each round move forward to the next increasingly difficult challenge. The Bee is interesting because there are a group of women who are excellent, couture level sewers competing with people (like me) who are just average sewers. What can I say – I like to set my sights high.
For 2017, the first round challenge was a pencil skirt inspired by a piece of music or musician. That’s about all the instructions provided.
And this is what I had in my mind.
My issue with pencil skirts is my shape: Rectangular. My hips are just 6 1/2″ bigger than my waist. Some of that is age and a body that is morphing, but even when I was slender I had narrow hips. The “36x24x36” ideal was never me. Many pencil skirt patterns have princess seaming to further define and enhance the curve from hip to waist. While I could certainly alter a pattern and move the seaming in order to create the illusion of a waist, that just wasn’t possible within the confines of a one-week contest.
So I dug around my pattern stash and found one of those wardrobe patterns that included a straight skirt
Pencil skirts aren’t my thing (I like A-line) so I wasn’t about to spend money on a ‘fine’ fabric for this skirt, plus I was playing nursemaid to my husband and couldn’t take hours and hours to scout out fabric. I looked online and Hobby Lobby had some sequined fabric, so I headed over there.
Surprisingly, they had a good selection for this project. There were 3 different sequined fabrics – a peachy pink (nada), and two different black sequins, but unfortunately both of those would need a lining and there was nothing suitable. So I wound up with stretch velvet for the skirt, a poly lining, and some poly organza and tulle to make up the flounce at the bottom.
The smallest size was too big, but I figured I’d just baste and cut down as necessary. That’s the beauty of stretch fabric, you can work with negative ease to make things fit. The adjustments made were:
- added 2″ to the length of the skirt
- disregarded the side slit
- stitched the side seams with a 1″ seam allowance through to the hip, then tapered to the hem so the skirt was pegged a total of about 4″
I bought 2 yards of the stretch velvet and this pattern only needed one, so I didn’t worry about making a toile because there was sufficient fabric for two versions.
The pattern is very straightforward – back darts, side seams, waist yoke, hem. An easy event sew, especially if you have a serger. The only hiccup in stitching the skirt was threading my serger. It took an hour!
The Contest Part
In addition to the black dress worn by Clooney, my thoughts kept going back to this Barbie doll from the 1950. We had The Barbie Game when I was really young, and this nightclub dress was the va va va voom selection for Barbie. Imprinting, I guess.
I liked the fun layers and layers of tulle at the bottom, so my initial thought was about 3 layers of organza with a couple of layers of tulle.
Since I had plenty of the stretch velvet, I decided to add a flounce so searched You Tube for instructions. Creating the flounce was easy once I figured out that I didn’t need to overthink it. I folded a square yard of the fabric into quarters and cut to create a circle. Then through trial and snipping bits, I cut the inside so it would fit around the skirt at 14″ below the waistband (that seemed to be the most flattering spot for me). To finish the edge I added a rolled hem on my serger. There was a tiny bit of pulling in the body of the skirt, but I figure this is a pencil skirt – it’s supposed to peg.
At this point I must have been drinking because I added a ridiculously large organza flounce, godets in both the velvet and organza flounces, and a big old rhinestone button right at the top of the godet.
I thought it would look fancy, but it looked like this …
So the organza flounce was folded up and gathered, then tacked up.
By this point I’d had enough and was sick of the skirt, so I stopped. The back center looked not so good – but I was over it.
For this project I used the new Coats & Clark Eloflex thread. The thread was easy to work with except when stitching too fast with the walking foot when it broke a couple of times. Whether that was related to the walking foot or the thread, I don’t know.
- 30 minutes to cut skirt
- 1 hour to sew basic skirt
- 5 hours to add embellishments for Sewing Bee contest
I really like the basic skirt pattern and will definitely use it again. There is a piece of Ponte in my closet that will be nice for a skirt and pants. Simple lines, good instructions, and a nice shape. I like the wide waist yoke/band, and the fact that there is no pattern matching.
My skirt did not make it through to round two of the contest. And while I was of course disappointed, the skirts that made it through were pretty darned nice.
One the contest was completed I immediately removed the organza, the godets and the rhinestone button. I like it better without those enhancements and think I would have done better in the contest with just the skirt and flounce. Hindsight and all that …
Here’s the lesson in this project. Don’t make things that don’t please you just to satisfy someone else or for a contest. Trust your instincts and create something that you feel comfortable wearing. I think most of us know our personal style, and we have to trust that. Pencil skirts and lots of embellishments are not me …
I’ll wear this skirt this winter with opaque tights, boots & a long sweater. If I don’t wear it the gift was the lesson and another learning opportunity (stretch velvet, Eloflex thread, rolled hem on a heavier fabric). I discovered that I really like stretch velvet!