May make No. 1: Gathered Skirt

May make No. 1: the Gathered Skirt

We’re already a third of the way through the month and I’m just now at the first of my four pledged makes for Me Made May. This is the Gathered Skirt for All Ages from the Purl Bee and, as expected, it’s way too voluminous. As I was pondering it and cutting it out, I kept hearing my friend Whitney, who looks killer in skirts like this, urging me to embrace the fullness. After scrutinizing the pattern to grasp the logic of the various proportions and how they come together, and deciding to make it once as written and then assess how to change it for the next time, I just couldn’t do it. I made the second size but cut the main panels (the front and back pieces) to 30″ wide instead of 34″, removing 8 inches of fabric from the total circumference, and still it’s too much fabric for me. But is it cute?

I like it from the front — I adore the side panels and the way the pockets stick out — but when I actually turn to the side, I appear to be at least three times my actual size. I think a puffy skirt like this looks cute on a little girl, but on a woman my age, maybe not so much. Somehow it’s not quite as horrible looking in the photos as it is in my mirror, and I do think I like the fullness in the back, so maybe I’ll leave this one alone and make another. But what I believe I’m going to do is tweak this one thusly: Remove the waistband and pull out the gathering in the front panel only. Once that’s a flat panel again, I’ll fold it in half and sew a seam down it, a few inches in, then cut away all of that excess. Regather the front and reattach the waistband. So it will have a new seam down the center, which I think is fine with the other vertical seams in the skirt, but with several inches less fabric in the front. Although I can’t help wondering if I couldn’t just carve a wedge out of the front instead of going through all of that. I promise to share the makeover if/when it happens.

The fabric is Robert Kaufman Brussels Washer in, uh, blackish that I bought at Fancy Tiger on our way through Denver last summer — a light and drapey linen/rayon blend. I’m ambivalent about the rayon content and really wish it weren’t made in China. (This is the hardest thing about trying to be a conscientious sewer — and I find it’s much harder with fabric than with yarn.) But I had heard raves about it, it was already in my tiny fabric stash, and I figured it might wind up being my muslin for this pattern. I will say, it is lovely to work with and to wear. It shrinks quite a bit in the wash — I think it’s listed as 54″ wide but it was 48″ after washing. Since the skirt is all rectangles, I folded the fabric in half, got out my t-square and rotary cutter, cut the end of the length so it was clean and perpendicular, and then just lined up my cuts. I made one cut at 30″, then trimmed the two ends so I had two pieces 30″ x 23″. The next cut was at 8″ for the side panels, which wound up being 24″ each (i.e., the full width of my fabric, halved) rather than the prescribed 25.5″ — so my finished pockets ended up being 8″ deep instead of 9.5″, which is plenty. (Note that I top-stitched across the pockets to keep the layers from drooping.) Next cut was at 8″ again, trimmed down to 16″ tall for the two pocket panels. Then a last cut at 3″, with the selvages trimmed off, for a waistband piece 3″ x 38.5″ So I got the whole skirt out of 49″ — not quite 1.5 yards — rather than the 2.5 yards the pattern calls for. I also hemmed it to 23″ with a 3/4″ hem, rather than the 2″ wide, 22.5″ hem given in the pattern. Oh, and my waistband wound up being not quite wide enough for the 3/4″ elastic. So I need to either cut a new waistband if I do the mod, or get narrower elastic if I don’t.

Either way, the big trick for me is just learning how to wear a skirt! Especially a full one like this. Being not very girly, I’m aiming for a sort of Margaret Howell-inspired style. Or Amish, as my husband put it. I’m ok with that!

May make No. 1: the Gathered Skirt


58 thoughts on “May make No. 1: Gathered Skirt

    • Why not try something different? Your build is perfect for clothing and this does nothing for you. It seems like you want this to work so badly but I think it does not flatter most adult women.Move on to a better skirt for you! Perhaps one of Alabama Chanin’s elastic waist skirts would be better? No pockets but more body conscious. The problem with elastic waists is the frump factor. This doesn’t work for you and doesn’t match your classic style. Don’t make another one.

    • I agree with you blackcashmere. Fashion guidelines are loose on bottom-snug on top, snug on bottom,loose on top.

  1. Really like it! There is something freeing about having a very full skirt.Being very old I do not have one and they are youthful, which you are. I stuggle with this fabric thing, where it is made and how. Just do the best I can, then see a fabric I love, get home and feel guilty.

  2. Back again. Have you tried a gathered skirt with a yoke? You get the gathered skirt feel without all that fabric around the waist and hips. I believe I have vintage pattern like this.

    • I made one out of old tee shirts years ago. It was my favorite skirt for about 5 summers, when it finally succumbed to age. I now where it when I’m painting in the summer. Yokes might interfere with pockets though.
      Karen, I agree with you about this skirt. It looks ok and I love the pockets, but how to make something you really want to wear and can’t wait to put on?

  3. Those shoes are perfect with the skirt! I think the skirt looks great, but that it doesn’t really work with the loose-fitting top. I would try it with a tucked-in fitted top and maybe a streamlined blazer, or maybe even your British waistcoat.

  4. It looks nicely sewn! I like it on you. Oddly it doesn’t read super “skirty” to me, maybe it’s the pockets, so it seems like a good choice for someone who doesn’t wear skirts very much.

    I do agree with others that something is a bit off with the proportions. I feel like a tight shirt might not really be your style, but something stiffer might work too – I think the issue is in how your shirt is hanging on top of the skirt. I also wonder if it would look better a tiny bit shorter? It doesn’t make you look bigger than you are, but it does look a bit big on you.

  5. I think you look great. I believe you just are not use to seeing yourself in a full skirt. It doesn’t make you look big at all. I appreciate your sharing your thought process with us. That really helps me to see how to approach sewing/knitting problems. I’m trying to figure out why a scout tee that looks wonderful on everybody else is a disaster on me. I’m sure its a size fitting problem and seeing how you are thinking gives me courage to keep trying.

    • I think the scout looks great on slender/less well endowed people, but that the excess in the front makes it tenty on more endowed people?? (C/D cup here) I didn’t like it on myself in a woven, but a knit might drape and look better.

      The skirt is awesome, and I think you did a great job of making fit in your style – quiet, simple, refined. I do think that gathering is a statement. But I think you are making it work here. I think the shirt is fine.

      • I think you are right about the scout. I think the shoulder arm depth may be too large for small girls that have a large bust.

    • When I look at Margaret Howell, I think your skirt could be a smidg bit longer.

    • I have wrestled with the Scout so much! I made quite a few tweaks to mine, but I’m pretty happy with the fit now. For me, the trick was to start a couple sizes down for the front piece, do an FBA, and then carve it down a few sizes at the waist. That helped me maintain the flowy look, with I liked, without the tenting, which I really did not like.

      Part of it though, is exactly what you’re saying here. It takes time to get used to seeing yourself in a new silhouette, and “flattering” and “slimming” don’t have to by synonyms. I don’t think the Scout is necessarily slimming (on anyone), but with the right fabric and sizing, it looks fantastic.

  6. I can’t stand wearing full skirts! I totally smell what you’re steppin’ in here. That said, your skirt looks really cute in the photos, so you could have fooled me that it doesn’t fit you well!

  7. I think the skirt looks great and I especially love it in that more masculine fabric. I agree with others who say that maybe a more fitted top would work better.

  8. Agree with most comments, embrace the fullness. It is hard at first if you are not used to it, and you might think that it makes you look bigger than you are but it is a matter of getting used to it. And it will look even better with a fitted top, or a shirt tucked in, not above. You could break the girliness by wearing it with a masculine shirt, and it will look great with sandals too if heels are too much for you. The skirt is beautiful and you look great in it.

  9. I think full skirts look better when the waistband is exposed. Seeing the slim waist makes the fullness below understandable. The loose top above isn’t my fav match with it. Try tucking in the top. I think you will look great in the skirt with the right top. Next time, you might like an a-line skirt with the loose top.

  10. Hello- I love the idea of this skirt and it looks cute on you! When I looked at the pattern, I thought I’d do elastic only in the back and take out some volume also if I ever made it. Your comments about it made me think of this cute skirt pattern with a fitted top portion:

    and also this pattern with less volume- and I’m not sure the zipper would be absolutely necessary:

    Thanks for all the inspiration! I love seeing your sewing too!

  11. I love the volume, I think it looks great on you. I love it with the loose top, I think you look thin.

  12. Hi Karen,
    What about putting the front and back panels on the bias? It would drape better and not be so bulky at the waistline.I think removing the eight inches was a good start. Are the front and back panels rectangles? I think the issue with the Purl Soho pattern is it is too bulky at the waistline. I think the fullness is fine at the hem line. Just some thoughts. I do love the side panels and the way the pockets stand out.

  13. I have the same issue with full skirts (on me), but I must say I could look at you all day in yours! Well done :)

  14. I actually love this skirt on you! I wonder if you’d prefer the look if you tried it with a different top? Something a little more fitted (though by no means tight if you’re not into that), or maybe even the same top loosely tucked in? I think your idea to make the front piece flatter would be a great mod, and sort of echo Version B of Grainline’s Alder.

    Also, have you see the Bristol skirt from Seamwork? It’s a similarly easy shape, but without all the volume, so it might be another good option.

    • Oh! One more idea: What about wearing a belt over your top and skirt? I was looking through the Margaret Howell collections and that seems to be a look she favours with oversized trousers and untucked skirts. Worth a try anyway.

      • A belt is really not an option with this much fabric gathered at the waist. I am toying with the idea of making the front panel flat, and you’re right (Kate Osborn also pointed this out to me) that that would be similar to the Alder. I might try it.

  15. Honestly, this look would not work on me, but I think you pull it off nicely, Karen. It looks easy and comfortable. Go to “Skirts” at Eileen Fisher to see a version of this same skirt with a very short, but untucked boxy top. Frankly, I like your shorter skirt better than their mid-calf one, but the top is a nice proportion. I also think it would look more summery with sandals or simple, white Keds, either the slip-on or tie-on Champion models.

  16. I like this! I too struggle with the full skirt looking dumpy issue a lot. They are so comfortable and easy to wear–esp. in summer, so I have made efforts to make some fuller skirts that don’t look too dumpy. I think I saw someone mention the Everyday Skirt by Liesl and Co. I’ve made that up 3 times (ikat cotton for fall/winter/spring, wool for winter, and chambray for spring/summer), taking out some of the fullness like you did here. But, it’s a nicely drafted skirt because it has flat side panels and fewer gathers in the front. It has a bit more of a fitted waistband, so a little less easy-wearing, but I’ve had good luck with the Colette Zinnia skirt also. I think the pleats are nicely placed and sewn down just the right amount to make it a bit more of a flattering fullness. My workplace is formal (I’m a lawyer), and I struggle to walk the line between boring lawyer and playful/creative. Here’s my most favorite Zinnia, styled with a jacket, but it can easily be dressed down with a t-shirt and sandals:

    • One thing I’ve learned over the years is I do not look good in an A-line skirt. My top/bottom proportions are too weird for it somehow.

      Your outfit looks great!

  17. I LOVE skirts and wear them all summer! You can definitely pull this one off, Karen, but I like short slimmer skirts for me – and even long skirts fitted through the hips and thigh with a slight flare towards the hemline. A million and one people can tell you that you look wonderful in it, but if it’s just “not you”, I wonder if you’ll ever feel truly comfortable in it. Before I sew or knit a style that is new for me, I try several skirts in a nice store and go from there. This quickly gives me a thumbs up or thumbs down…even though I hate shopping! It’s still more time efficient than making something and being disappointed. Good luck and have fun!

  18. I think that you are right about taking some out of the front, however I would go the extra mile and take it apart at the front of the pockets and remove the excess. You seem fairly particular about the look you want, and a front center seam is not going to do it I don’t think. Also, make sure you use the pricier, non rolling elastic. Once you have it in the casing, you can adjust the fullness the way that you want and then stitch through the waistband vertically at the sides. That will prevent the fullness from working it’s way forward as you are wearing it.

  19. Broad response to everyone suggesting a tucked-in shirt: Trust me, that is not an option!

    I think you’re imagining this has a flat waistband (and thus a zipper). All of that fabric you see at the bottom of the skirt is the same amount of fabric that’s gathered into an elastic waistband. It ain’t pretty under there. And putting a belt around all of that bulk isn’t workable either, even if I were into the belted look.

    The best thing for the skirt is a slightly more fitted sleeveless top, no longer but possibly a tiny bit shorter than this one, but that still covers the waistband and helps contain some of the volume. It’s also cute(r) with a longer, more fitted button-up shirt or workshirt, but I didn’t photograph it that way.

  20. I think flattening the front panel would make a big different in the side profile. Less pouffy that way. I want to work on being more comfortable in skirts, but have shied away because I don’t have much of a waistline these days and a closely fitted waist puts me in danger of having all circulation cut off to my lower body. Elastic to the rescue!

  21. Liesl+Co pattern everyday skirt ( had similar panels but flat waist in the front. Looking at the line drawings might spark an idea for you. Also, try basting the new front seam first, I have used this as a fix before and discovered that depending on the fabric I sometimes find it visually not so appealing. Of course, I had already cut the fabric.. I tend have the same problem with gathered waists and a-line skirt :)

    Also, she has a brand new interesting skirt, while I have seen similar shapes before, it is the first time I see it with pockets

  22. Just want to say ….. I think the skirt looks cute on you .the length is what makes it looks youngish and taking out some the bulk makes it just right. IN MY HUMBLE OPNION ;-).

  23. I’m going to apologize for not reading the comments already made so I may well be stating the obvious here, but:
    .try wider elastic: this will improve the flat area at your waist and help with the bunching factor.
    .cut down the sides where the pockets are instead of the middle. you are going to end up with a strong seam, visually and construction-wise, that will not add drape or flatter.
    .do cut out some of the excess fabric. that amount of fabric, plus the medium amount of drape of the particular fabric you are using along with the extreme gather-y-ness of the skirt overall are not going to make friends any time soon.
    .could also move all the gathers to the side and just a teensy bit of gather at the front; after cutting out a bit of the fabric
    .all that said, this type of skirt is going to hit the granny meter pretty hard no matter what. either you like that and you’ll rock it or you don’t and you might end up making some shorts out of it?
    .there is a cute skirt in a new sewing book “learn to sew with Lauren”. cute and short but could be made longer.
    .I’m pretty sure you are not steering toward a fitted shirt with this, but I think it might help the overall outline.
    .again, perhaps with a quite a bit lighter weight material? tough call, because then you get into see through/not as durable territory/usually no pockets. that’s when I call in the apron!

  24. I had the same problem when I made the leisl and co everyday skirt which is a similar make. I did exactly what you’re saying and re-cut the front panel so that it had no gathers. The gathers at the back were quite flattering once I had a flat panel at the front, and it suited the length too. It’s worth saving but can I suggest taking it apart and cutting that front panel down instead of sewing a centre seam? I think you’ll be much happier with the result. Wear a slightly more cropped top too to combat the granny look 😉

  25. One thing that I always have to remind myself is that where you look in the mirror and see a larger waist circumference and think “I look big”, the world does not see you that way. Studies show that we can “read” a persons weight very accurately just by looking at their face. Next, someone who is looking at you IRL and not standing still in front of the mirror will see your body size in your arms, legs, and in the movement of your clothes as you move. All this to day that a fuller waist does NOT make you look like you suddenly gained 100 lbs. Since you are thin, you don’t have to focus so much on waist-defining looks, so play around with a new shape!

  26. I havent read all the comments but what I would do is add a flat waistband – elastic waistbands never look good – or flat front waistband and elastic back, that way you could do the half tuck which is a fav of mine. Another option is a volumous top that had elastic around the bottom that sits at your waist and the the legnth of the top sort of drapes over the waist band but you still have the visual break, does that make sense?

  27. Your adaptation is brilliant. I think your fabric choice further neutralized the too-cute/Dorothy threat of the pattern. You look great in it. Surrender to success!

  28. I happen to like the skirt and think it looks lovely as is! No, it doesn’t make you look fat, and it’s not unbecoming for your age. One thing that’s not clear is where you’ve placed the straight of grain. If the straight of grain is going parallel to the floor your skirt will be pouffier, stiffer.

    Rather than being paired with a fitted top, this skirt would benefit from a structured top. See this:

    For a softer look, consider making it in sand washed silk, chambray, cotton gauze or linen.

    As far as frump factor, it’s all about what you pair clothes with and your attitude!

  29. Well, I’m going out on a limb here and saying I like the whole look. You have a great figure for this pairing – wide shoulders, slim hips. It hangs straight and is not traditionally flattering, but looks great in these pictures and on you. I wish I could pull that look off (I once could), but alas, my second child left me with a significantly increased bust size, which changes how clothes hang dramatically.

    If you don’t think you’ll wear the skirt, change it now before it goes into the back of the closet and is forgotten. The fabric you chose is terrific. I’ve been eyeing that one for a while and now I know what I’d like to make.

  30. Karen I think you should try the Everyday Skirt by Liesl and Co. It’s not quite as full, has pockets and I really love it – especially something with weight and drape like the Brussels Washer. So fun to see you sewing!

  31. So I gave this skirt a whirl. Chose a lightweight cotton knit in the small size, although I would normally wear a medium. Also decreased the width of the front panel to 26 inches. I like the look of it, could still be less full and for some reason my pockets ended up being too low on the skirt. Have purchased some drapey rayon for another go. I agree with others that it looks better (on me anyway) with a tighter top, not necessarily tucked in but a smaller sillhouette on top.

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