I’ve never been one for mini skirts. I don’t really have the legs for a skirt that short, and I’ve always wondered about the whole sitting-down-and-actually-doing-things-in-a short-skirt dilemma. But I do have the height to pull off a skirt that falls below my knees. Good thing too, since my preferred skirt length falls somewhere between right below the knee and mid calf. I add length to my skirts on just about every project.
Any skirt with adequate sweep in the hem is a no-brainer to lengthen, but the closer fitting pencil and straight skirts require an extra step or two to make them wearable. Enter, the back vent. Today, I’m going to show you how add a classic back vent to straight skirt patterns, and then we’ll go over how to sew it. Just like everything else, there’s more than one way to go about this, and it’s up to each seamstress to determine what’s best for her project. A pleat in the center front seam can be a fun alternative to a basic back vent. Or, a flared gore in the center back seam elevates the back vent to an intentional design detail. I’ve seen pleats in the back princess seams too, which is also another interesting option.
Adding a back vent to a skirt is as easy as adding length and width to the center back seam. The length of the vent itself depends on how long the skirt is. For some context, my skirt is 27″ from my waist, and I made my vent about 8″ long. You don’t want a vent that comes up too close to your backside, but you also want a vent long enough to allow for your normal stride.
So, to the center back seam of my pattern I added a piece measuring 2″ wide by about 8″ tall.
I like to curve the top of the vent, to make serging the center back seam easier.
And that’s it for the pattern! The back skirt pieces are both cut the same.
To create the back vent, the back seam is sewn together from the bottom of the zipper to the edge of the vent. Here, my center back seams have been sewn together, and I’ve turned the skirt right sides out and placed it on my ironing board. I have turned under the serged edges of the vent, and I will sew those before sewing the vent together.
Once the edges of the vent are sewn:
Now the vent gets pressed in place. It doesn’t matter to what side the vent gets pressed, just use a hem gauge to make sure what you’re pressing is accurate. Remember that that vent is 2″ wide, and I just pressed under 1/4″, so now it’s 1 3/4″.
After the vent has been pressed, carefully pin it in place. Now, here’s the trick I learned in college: use a piece of tape as a sewing guide. Place it at the top of the vent, making sure that your sewing line will go through all the layers of both sides of the vent at the top. It’s also a good idea to go just beyond the center back seam and either backstitch or bartack this spot to make it as strong as possible.
Tape in place:
Sew alongside one side of the tape guide.
One thing you sometimes see on a back vent is a sewing line from the top of the vent to the hem, which keeps the top side of the vent in place. I opted not to do that on the orange striped skirt to keep distracting topstitching to a minimum. I also knew I would go back in and tack the vent down on the inside, which is a totally acceptable option. If you sew the vent along one side, it will look like this (I know the bright green thread is hard to see clearly):
Once the vent is sewn in place, hem the skirt. This particular skirt has a 2″ hem, which I hemmed using the blind hem stitch on my sewing machine.
And that’s it!
There are other ways to add the vent to the lining, but this method is my favorite. It’s simple and straightforward. So, if your skirt is lined, follow the same steps to add a back vent to the lining.
Back vents are one of those things that may seem intimidating at first, but after doing it once it clicks. Then, you’ll feel like you can do them with your eyes closed!
There are a few things you can always count on me to make on a regular basis: full skirts, fit and flare dresses, pretty blouses, and anything striped. Stripes are so charming and fun to work with, and the striped garments I make are some of my most worn items. (Which reminds me, I need to source some pretty striped shirting fabric. Ah, the endless fabric hunt!)
I designed a skirt a few years ago when I was in business out of sheer necessity. I had long envisioned a pleated, flared skirt with even, balanced stripes, but it’s no easy task bringing that idea to life without getting a little creative. Now, to be clear, there are easier ways to make something similar to the skirt in this post. You can use a printed stripe fabric, cut a rectangle out of it, and pleat it into a waistband or bodice. In fact, that’s an easy project for beginners, so that might be a great place to start. For me, I wanted a designed skirt with built in flare so that it didn’t fall flat from the waist, which is exactly what just cutting a rectangle will do. I also wanted to call the shots in terms of skirt length, stripe width, and overall design. So I made my own stripes, and today I’m showing you how to do the same thing. And the beauty of this concept is that it can be applied to any garment. So, in addition to my design, I will also be showing you a Butterick pattern I adjusted to make a striped pencil skirt.
Let’s go over a few things before we get started on the pattern:
So, here’s the front half circle skirt pattern. Remember that this is cut on the fold which is why we’re only looking at half of it.
Because the half circle is already pretty flared, we can jump right into adding the pleats. This skirt has three inverted box pleats in the front and two in the back, along with a knife or “side” pleat on either side of the zipper in center back. 6″ has been added to create the pleats, so you only need to add 3″ at center front (because it’s cut on the fold), and 6″ for the second pleat. The placement for the second pleat is roughly halfway between center front and the side seam.
You can see the gray paper I added to center front for the first pleat and the line I’ve drawn to mark the placement for the second pleat.
Cut the pattern along the line, completely separating it. Then, add 6″ for the pleat.
On the gray paper we just added, mark down the middle at 3″. This is where the pleat will meet after we’ve folded it. Remember that center front is cut on the fold, so we’ve only added 3″ there instead of 6″. So when you fold your paper it will only be half of the pleat. For reference, here’s a visual from my pattern making book that illustrates inverted box pleats very well:
Here you can see that I’ve folded the pleats in place and trued the waistline. Cut off the excess paper. Determine the length of your skirt and cut off excess paper at the hem.
After the pleats are added and folded and the waistline trued, your pattern will look something like this.
Now, we need to determine the width of the stripes. Once you know how wide you want the stripes, measure from the waistline down that amount. There’s your top stripe! Then, measure down the same amount from the line we just drew to create the second stripe and so on.
I’m pointing to the first stripe here:
Once you’ve drawn all of your stripes, cut each one and add seam allowance. This part takes paper, lots of tape, and an upbeat playlist to help get you through it! When each stripe has been separated and seam allowance added, the skirt will look like this, and remember to label each piece along with whether it’s a color stripe or white or print or what have you.
Repeat this process for the back skirt, putting the pleat roughly halfway between center back and the side seam. The original version of this skirt had a full box pleat at center back, but over time I decided it was a bit bulky, so now it’s just a knife pleat. You may add this or just have the one inverted box pleat in the back.
Cut the skirt on the crossgrain, and make sure to double notch at center back. This skirt is easy to make, but there are parts that are quite tedious, and cutting it out is definitely one of them. Remember that playlist I mentioned earlier? Yeah, you’ll want it again.
Navy stripes being cut:
White stripes being cut:
I like to line up my pieces in order and sew them together starting with the bottom piece. That way, when I get to the last stripe, it’s the shortest. I’m always happy to get to that last piece!
And here’s a trick to make sewing the front stripes together easier: start at center front instead of one side and sewing the length of the seam at once. I’ve found that starting at center front is much easier, and there’s never an issue lining the seams up. So, when you cut your front skirt stripes, notch at center front of each stripe piece so you can match it to the next stripe and so forth.
Here you can see the notches at center front I made when I cut out the front stripes. Starting from the top or bottom–wherever you want–match the stripe pieces at center front and sew together from center front to the side seam. Then, turn the pieces over and, starting at center front again, sew to the opposite side seam. This step isn’t necessary, it just makes things easier.
The next tip is important: serge the seams and press them as you go, not once the entire front or back piece is assembled. I press the seam allowances towards the color stripe, which goes against pressing rules, but I don’t like seeing the seam allowance through the white stripe.
Insert the pockets.
Be careful to match the stripe when you sew the side seams, but the rest of the skirt construction is easy and just like any other skirt. Attach the waistband, insert the zipper, drop in the lining, hem. Then, you’re done!
Once you’ve got the concept down, have a ball applying it to whatever you want. Tops, jackets, accessories, you name it. I’ve always wanted a striped pencil skirt, and I had an idea for an orange one because I knew it would pair beautifully with a blouse I made a couple months ago. And it does!
I added about 4″ to the length of this skirt, as well as a back vent and I widened the waistband and lined the skirt in Bemberg rayon. Tutorial for adding the back vent and how to sew it coming next week!
You know I like my makes to be as versatile as possible. You may not think that an orange stripe pencil skirt can be translated into a lot of different looks–the ceiling of versatility isn’t quite as high with this one as it is the others–but there’s still a number of things you can do with it. Go cute and casual:
Or, dress it up. More about this top here.
Lately, I’ve been putting bias tape or ribbon along the waistline seam of my skirts. It serves no practical purpose, but it sure does look pretty. I love navy and gold together, so I used gold bias tape in this skirt:
And I used an orange floral print quilting cotton to make bias tape for the orange skirt:
If you’re at all intimidated by this skirt, don’t be. It’s not complicated or difficult, just a little time consuming and tedious. But the result is so worth it!
As always, let me know if you need clarification on anything in this post. Have a wonderful weekend, and send me pictures of your striped projects!
One of my favorite classes in college was the senior capstone course called mass marketing. It was the class where all of the skills we had learned came together, and we were required to design, produce, and present a six-piece ready-to-wear collection. The focus was on knowing your target market, identifying your customer, and designing a spring or fall collection to meet her needs. Spec and cost sheets were part of the final presentation, along with full color sketches, a marketing plan, and styled photos, and we learned about industry standards in manufacturing and pattern making, sourcing, and the elements of a successful collection. It was one of the most stressful semesters of my college years, but it was definitely the most fun. I loved every second of that class.
A couple of us had lined, sleeveless dresses in our collections and questions came up about how to close the armholes. I remember very vividly one student exclaiming that she knew how to do it and all you had to do was open up the shoulder seam and . . . this was the point that I looked over at my professor (my absolute favorite teacher who knew everything) and saw her sort of roll her eyes and say, “No, no, no. That’s not the proper way to do it.” Class was over at this point and we all had to be elsewhere, so my professor told me she’d call me the following morning and explain it to me.
So there I was the next morning, which happened to be a Saturday, sitting on my living room floor finishing up some hand sewing and watching a cooking show on PBS when my phone rings. My professor, who to this day remains the best seamstress and biggest source of fashion knowledge I’ve ever known, explained to me how to line a sleeveless dress in about five minutes. I did it later that afternoon, and have done it since hundreds of times.
This tutorial shows you this method. I’ve never seen it explained this way in commercial patterns, so I hope this is helpful. Sleeveless dresses are such a big part of our wardrobes in spring and summer, so why not know how to make these garments truly shine?
(Quick note before we get started: by this step in the process of lining a dress, I have already attached the lining to the neck and understitched it, and the skirt lining has not been attached to the bodice lining. I like to do this after the armholes are closed.)
Firt step. In this photo, we’re looking at the right shoulder seam on this dress. You can see the raw edges of the armhole on the right.
Fold the armhole seam allowances under and hold in place. It’s alright if what you pinch isn’t exact, we’ll get precise once we get underneath.
Putting your hand into the dress, pinch the seam allowances that we just folded under. Your hand is sandwiched between the lining and the fashion fabric.
Here, a different angle showing me holding the seam allowances together.
Still pinching the seam allowances, carefully pull the seam allowances towards you and turn it wrong sides out. This is when we can re-match the shoulder seams if things got wonky as they got turned. So, now I’m holding the shoulder seam allowances, right sides together.
Carefully sew the armholes closed, using whatever seam allowance you have in this area. You can pin as you go, or just match your notches along the way. I usually keep an eye on my notches and pin the side seams together as I get closer. Sew all the way around the armhole. It may get tricky around the shoulders if you have a narrow shoulder seam, so be mindful that a shoulder seam 1.5″ or narrower will be a challenge. I’ve got about 4″ at the shoulders on this dress, so it was a breeze.
I like to backstitch at the shoulder and side seam for a little extra strength in those spots. The arrow in the photo points to the front armhole notch, which I’ve made sure matches the notch on the lining underneath.
Once you’ve sewn all the way around, trim the excess seam allowances down to 1/4″.
Clip the seam allowance about every 5/8″. This step is essential because it’s what allows the armhole to spread properly once it’s turned right sides out.
The armhole will look like this after it is sewn.
Then, press and understitch the armhole just like you would understitch any other area. And remember, if your shoulder seam is narrow you may not be able to understitch all the way up to the shoulder so just go as far as you can. (This step is shown on a different dress.)
As for your pattern, there are a couple of easy adjustments you can make to ensure that the lining “rolls under” correctly. Lining pieces shouldn’t be exact copies of pattern pieces, they should be trimmed in some areas so that they remain hidden from the right side. This example shows a simple sleeveless fitted bodice. Keep in mind that different designs may require additional adjustments.
Begin by tracing the bodice pieces to make a copy. This copy will become the lining.
Around the armhole, trim off 1/8″, grading down to nothing at the side seam. Repeat for the back.
You can see the difference with the lining pattern on top of the bodice pattern.
Trim off 1/8″ from the waistline. Repeat for the back.
Again, this shows you the difference in the two patterns when the lining is placed on top.
A full view:
And that’s it! Let me know if you have any questions!
This is the sleeveless dress from my senior collection. This dress is umpteen layers of various silks with an empire bodice and boning in the side seams, an inner belt, a ruffle that took forever, and a sash belt. After a few tweaks to the design, I’d make this again in a heartbeat!