Thoughts on the S-Shape (With Burda Skirt)

I like deadlines.  They make me feel alive- tracing, cutting, ripping, stitching, pressing in a mad frenzy.   Manic energy fuels much of my creativity.

I made Burda 04-2010-125 this morning, sans bow.  She went together like a pleasant waking dream- the opiate of skirt sewing.  Linen-cotton blend fabric printed with European/American animals by a Japanese designer, sewn by an American in Australia from a German pattern.  Ah globalization, so seldom do I notice thee.

Fresh off the machine.  Meh.  The pattern at the side seams was never fated to match, I refuse to make myself nuts about it.  I *should* use a larger size for the back and a smaller for the front to balance the seam line properly.  First problem: just a little frumpy, despite the squirrels and pleated frill.

My first foray into the vintage sewing blogosphere began with a desperate google search: “How to fit a pencil skirt like Joan Holloway.”  I made several pencil skirts from patterns of the era, with frump-tastic results.

It’s fine, but rather straight.  Finding little information on the subject, and with other pressing projects, I forgot about it until today.  I found a delicious page describing a “wiggle” skirt in great detail and the penny dropped.  “…the width of the hem of the dress is narrower than the hips.”

Of course.  How silly of me.

I tweaked in the side seams above the frill, et viola.  Spankability.  Did girls like Joan buy or make their skirts, then tweak in the side seams below the hip?  None of my “wiggle” skirt patterns have this shaping built in to the pattern.

Check out her sexy little pot:

Soft, not fat, and so pretty.

While pondering why I still felt “meh” after the tweaking, I realized the skirt wants a waistband.  The clean edge at my waist cuts me in half and draws an unflattering line where I should have no line.  “Hourglass” figures are often defined as having a set bust to waist to hip ratio, often determined as 10″ difference between waist and the apexes.

I have the measurements, but I’m not shaped like that.

The shape is often held up as some sort of ideal.  I’m not sure why, because it’s hard to dress an hourglass.  Tops don’t fit without alteration, and watch the ribcage area or you add several pounds of extra weight (see the blouse above).  Don’t get me started about below the waist- “sway back” puddling and wrinkles, bunching fabric, it’s a nightmare.   While working with jacket patterns, I noticed that the 4044 jacket (which fits my lower back well) CB seam was excessively curved outward below the waist, with nearly straight side seams.

 Classic “Gibson Girl” Type S-Shape

Oh, I thought, that’s an S-shape.  The S-shape is a variation of the hourglass, meaning most of the excess baggage carries directly at the front and at the back with straight(ish) sides.  I’ve been sewing my own clothes, fitting them, and making style decisions for years and never realized that about my body.  Understanding this helps with alterations, and with working on proportion.  No wonder nipping in the side seams at the waist never worked for me.  Sheesh.  Now I know to nip in below the bust and above the backside.  

Before I take proper pictures, I’ll rip out the top seam and attach a pretty shaped waistband.  (Probably rip off the lace, too, but I need to figure out some trim to break up the print.)  That’ll fix her.  I’m sewing like a mad thing this week, I don’t want to spend time taking photos until I finish everything.

Thoughts?  How should I break up that print?  How did I sew so long without realizing those simple things?


  1. What a fascinating post — and a great reminder about all we don't tend to see when looking at clothing, our bodies, patterns, and so on."Pegging" skirts strikes me as a lot like "pegging" pants; just a different era. Patterns for various eras seem often to acknowledge trends without precisely replicating them; I wonder if that the case for Joan's skirts?

  2. I have these moments intermittently. I used to struggle with all kinds of conceptions/misconceptions about my figure. Sewing had actually helped a lot, realizing that swayback is a real body feature, not just something I should keep my knees bent to minimize. Now if I can just wrap my brain around my torso's vertical proportions…I think the skirt is cute, pegged or un. I love the look of pegged skirts, but not walking in them ;)

  3. Interesting post! I actually like your skirt the way it is! I think the fit is good and I like the trim at the bottom. I am sure what ever you do to it will look even better, but I just want to point out that the skirt as is, is by no means a failure!

  4. I like the skirt too, I love the bow on the original as well but I feel a bit old to try and pull it off. I was interested to read about the "s" shape – I also carry my weight on the front but have very flat sides but only a minor sway back that is not worth altering for – does that make me a "b" ? At any rate, the skirt looks fun – tell me now, once you've nipped in the hem, how do you walk? The thing I hate about pencil skirts is restricted movement. Burda often draft a front or back slit to accomodate, or only taper in the front to allow for movement – I really hate a broken stride.

  5. I just had a similar discussion with myself last weekend after making a skirt with less than spectacular results. As I get to grips with my shape I find I am able to more quickly spot where I need to alter and what styles work. I'll write a blog sometime this week, but I learned a lot from that one simple skirt! I like yours very much and it looks pretty with the blouse.

  6. Very cute skirt. I'm also curious about the ease of walking though.On the subject of hourglazss figures, what annoys me is the 10inch rule. Its silly. A slim 5ft tall person with a 10inch difference is going to be a very different shape to a not-so-slim 6ft tall person with a 10inch difference. The larger the numbers are, the less visible difference that 10 inches makes, quite apart from whether its distributed front-and-back or at the sides. And the height of the person is going to make it appear differently as well. Percentages would make a lot more sense. /end rant

  7. Thanks for a great post – I've had this issue with the BurdaStyle Jenny skirt – I've made it twice and both times just felt 'meh' in it — and now I know why! I'm going to 'peg' both versions to get that shape.

  8. I checked out the link explaining wiggle skirts and her illustrations were very clear. When I try on skirts at the store it seems to matter just where the peg hits on my leg. The right place and va-voom! The wrong spot and I look stuffed into it. Looking forward to seeing how this new knowledge plays out in your upcoming vintage sewing. It was a great reminder for me as I look at sewing some spring skirts.

  9. Besides the vital sewing skills, I think understanding of shape is next important. It's a fascinating topic and makes for great people watching [for an acknowledged sewing nerd].Also, knowing there are certain shape categories people fall into legitimizes whatever you happen to be. You aren't too little this and too much that; you are your own shape.

  10. I only needed to peg the skirt about 1/2" on each side, and really it makes a negligible difference in the way I walk. When I'm at work or around in the city, I wear heels. Since I have short legs, I have to take short strides or I look ri-di-cu-lous. Besides, I'm not much of a tomboy… Anyway, shorter strides give you the wiggle effect. For sitting, I discreetly hike the skirt up a little before planting my bottom.

  11. REALLY interesting post! I would definitely add a wide waistband to that skirt – just remember that the wider it gets, the more it will have to shaped too – you can't just cut a straight strip of fabric and add it to the top or it won't fit. Ask me how I know…?!

  12. The stomach during the 1950's was considered very sexy like Marilyn Monroe & Jane Russell (See "Gentlemen Prefer Blonds")But isn't it interesting what all we learn about our bodies (and what we like and dislike) in the process of sewing for ourselves.

  13. Pingback: Silk Organza- Underlining and Hubris « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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