07 August 2012

The Skirt's Progress

Or: Sewing and art and why drawing is The Solution

About a week or so ago, I decided I needed a full-length skirt. This was partly because I'd wanted to sew a skirt for a long time, and had nobody to sew one for (my sister wears them, but she's more than capable of sewing her own skirts) and partly because I suspected that they were super easy and convenient to dress in. The problem was, of course, that any skirt I'd really want to wear would have to look like this:

fashion drawing and sketch of pants

Yes, I know those are pants.

But I can admire nice things even if they're not my style, and in the last while I'd seen pleats and gores and button-down panels all over the place, in blog photos and real life, so I finally decided to take the plunge, if you will. Only to clamber backwards on the ledge almost right away. (I like dragging out questionable metaphors to their slow and painful deaths. And mixing metaphors, too, but only sometimes.)

See, I'm so used to self-drafting by now that I barely hesitate at doing up a design for trousers or a blouse or a new jacket. But as I was exclaiming about my great skirt plans to my sister, she calmly suggested that I slow down a bit before planning out elaborate, voluminous, complicated designs, seeing as I never wear skirts, ever. Full of good advice, she is.

I've said before that knowing how things work is half the reason I sew. Putting pieces together is satisfying, but loses a lot of its appeal if I don't know why I'm doing what I'm doing, why pieces fit together or drape the way they do.

And so I decided to draw myself some skirts. As someone who pretty much doodled her way through grade school, I tend to measure my understanding of something by how easily and naturally I can draw it. I figured that since I didn't want to make a half-dozen skirts to "get in the zone", drawing them was the next best thing.

And it's a good thing I started there. Look at this:

That was my first attempt at drawing a skirt on my computer, and while it's not downright ugly, it's close. Not to mention that compared to the pant sketch it looks ridiculously amateurish. After seeing that flat, unappealing rendition, I had to face the fact that my vague idea of a skirt being a rectangle with side seams just would not cut it, at least not if I wanted to make my own.

So I drew, and drew, in an attempt to understand how those skirt things work. I drew skirts in motion. I drew them from the side. I drew them twirling.

drawing of walking in full length skirt

I've always had an easier time shading clusters of shadows than filling in flat planes, and it showed as I worked my way through drawing skirts. The "walking woman" (or skirt) in purple above was my first drawing that worked out, probably because it's more shadow than light, all rippling cloth and movement.

One thing I realized is how much empty space there is on a skirt. Even the most basic pants have inseams and side seams to break up their surface, not to mention all the small creases that form around the knees and thighs when you wear them. In my original conception, at least, skirts ain't got none of that.

Maybe that's one of the reasons I prefer pants -- not just because I can skip around more easily in them, but because of how small their canvas is, how defined and close together the lines and shadows are (and the creases in trousers only emphasize that). When drawing these skirts I kept thinking of doing watercolour washes back in highschool art class, and how long I always took trying to fill in those skies and sprawling fields in interesting ways. It's funny that in sewing clothes I have the exact same challenges.

drawing of full length skirt from side

I'm not pushing some kind of "draw before you sew" method, like that old tech class saying -- "measure twice, cut once" and all that. It's just that sewing for me is usually about the feel of the fabric and the thrill of getting measurements right, and this project's reminded me that sewing can also be about principles of design and art. Which is nice.

Plus I got a pretty solid sketch for my skirt out of it.

fashion drawing of full length skirt from front

In different colours, though. (Colours were also something I struggled with. Go figure.)


  1. Nice! Can't wait to see your finished skirt AS YOU WEAR IT =D

  2. I love the way things are put together too - that's why I sew. I really like the sewing part more than the finished garment. I've just started experimenting with making changes to commerical patterns. I am amazed that you make your own patterns. Please do some posts on how to do that!!!

    1. I can definitely tell how important you find the sewing process! I think if you decide to draft your own patterns you'll really enjoy it, in part because of that. In the meantime I might try to put together some info on how to self-draft, thanks for the suggestion.

  3. hahaha enjoying your posts-maybe you should do a meta on all the online resources of pattern drafting-makemypattern (Joost) has a blog with a program where you just enter your measurements and it generates the blocks accordingly. He's only done them for men's garments thus far but is starting on women's now XD

    1. Thanks for the post idea :) I've been using Leena's.com for slopers and stuff, and I /had/ wondered if many people knew about it.
      As for makemypattern, I hadn't seen it (or Joost's other blog) before, but what a great concept! And now I want to try the t-shirt just to see it generate a pattern...even though that likely won't work properly with female measurements. sigh