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!
For years, I searched and searched and searched for the perfect lemon print fabric. I know this may sound silly (really, Emily, a lemon print? and years?), but something that specific isn’t the easiest thing in the world to find. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of options out there, but nothing stood out to me, and I wasn’t going to settle for something less than absolutely beautiful. Everything I came across was either a quilting cotton, poor quality, or featured the lemons on a black background. Nothing wrong with a black background, I just wanted something that looked a little more light and springy and a lot more me. (Funny side note: I found an adorable lemon print fabric a couple years ago and used it for an apron design I had in my shop. I’ll post the pictures at the end of this post.)
It’s been so long since I first had the idea for a lemon print dress that I’m not entirely sure where it came from. For a couple of seasons, designers were doing interesting things with fruit prints, including lemons, so it could be that I saw something which sparked the creativity, or maybe I just had a dream about it. That’s definitely been known to happen. At any rate, I stumbled upon this fabric a few weeks ago, and all of my dreams for a lemon print fabric came true.
And it’s Fashion Fabrics Club for the win, again. I have a good laugh sometimes when I think about the fabrics I’ve found on that website over the years. I can go for ages without finding a thing and then, all of a sudden, find exactly what I’m looking for. As soon as my order arrived, I posted this fabric on Instagram and it sold out the next day. I’m sorry about that! It seems I wasn’t alone in wanting a fabric like this, and I wish there was more in stock for you to go buy. It’s a cotton/spandex heavyweight twill with a scattered lemon print, and I love it. I ordered 8 yards, because I wanted enough for two garments and a couple of aprons for me and my mom. Plus, I got it for $5.75/yd so it didn’t exactly break the bank.
Considering how long I waited for the right fabric to come along and my love for this vintage Vogue pattern, I wasn’t going to cut any corners in construction. I made two muslins for the bodice, and I’m glad I did. There were a few things that needed tweaking to get a nice fit: I shaped the front waist darts, took in about 1/2″ at the side seams under the arms grading to nothing at the waist, and pinched out fullness in the back.
I moved the side zipper to the back (personal preference), and cut the skirt in three sections instead of four because I didn’t want a seam down center front. I also added side seam pockets. When I sew a muslin for a dress with a zipper in the back, I always cut the muslin bodice back on the fold, and pin myself into the bodice in the front. This makes it much easier for me to not only get in and out of the muslin, but I can get a more accurate read on how much fabric to pinch out of the back, which is a common thing for me to have to do.
The front view. I have only pinned on one half of the bodice so that you can see what the original looked like. I transferred these adjustments to my pattern, made another muslin to ensure everything fit correctly (it did), and then I cut my fabric.
I shaped the bodice facing pieces and drafted lining pieces to match. I also drafted a pattern to line the skirt.
I’m glad I invested the time into getting the fit right. Makes a big difference!
A peek at the inside, which you know is just as important to me as the outside. Vintage Vogue garment labels can be purchased on the Vogue patterns website.
The waistline stay, a nice (and practical!) detail.
The hem is 3″ deep, which I really like. I used the blind hem stitch on my machine to finish it.
Buttons at the shoulder. Because my fabric was on the heavy side and wouldn’t have worked for the loops, I used cotton poplin to make the button loops. Buttons are from JoAnn.
Inside of the front bodice.
I omitted the cummerbund simply because I wanted to save fabric and I’m much more likely to wear a thin belt with this dress, if I wear a belt at all.
This dress is everything I ever wanted and had envisioned for a lemon print dress, and it was worth the wait. It was also worth every second of fitting and adjustments and patternmaking and sewing and everything in between.
As for the pattern, I love it too. I have plans to make it again right away, in coral and navy blue. This is one of those silhouettes that looks good on just about everyone, so if you’re in the market for a ladylike dress I’d recommend starting with this pattern. Hard to go wrong.
And, finally, here’s the apron I designed a few years ago. What can I say, I love lemons!
Have a wonderful weekend!