a custom-printed skirt for biarritz, with fabric from contrado

Did you know that several museums and libraries have opened up their archives to the public to be used for all sorts of purposes? Recently the New York Public Library, the National Gallery of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have all released their digital archive for public use. I’ve been wanting to play with this resource for a while now, so when Contrado reached out to me to try their custom fabric printing I jumped at the chance. After all, a wardrobe of only core items would be a little dull, wouldn’t it? Especially when you can make yourself a custom printed skirt. And then wear it to the beach at Biarritz, to boot.

Biarritz pencil skirt

Initially I thought it would be fun to have an old black-and-white cityscape image for my printed fabric, but then I stumbled across this Gustave Courbet painting of the beach and thought it would be so much fun. It’s subtle, almost abstract, and I loved the colors which also happen to fit nicely into my core wardrobe.

the beach at Biarritz

Biarritz pencil skirt

the beach at Biarritz

the beach at Biarritz

Biarritz pencil skirt

Biarritz pencil skirt

Initially I wasn’t sure what I wanted to make. When the swatches arrived I nearly fell over. There are so many options: over 90 different fabric possibilities! You could make anything from a printed swimsuit (or even a neoprene swimsuit), an evening gown with printed silk georgette, or even a custom-printed raincoat (with matte or shiny finish). It took me a week just to comb through the options and narrow them down to a few choices. Once I had decided on a pencil skirt it was much easier to choose the right fabric. I soon selected the organic canvas. Once I had that decision made, it was so much fun to plan and sew this skirt!

fabric swatches from Contrado

Pattern: a self-drafted pencil skirt. (Side question: would you be interested in a pattern for a pencil skirt? I feel like they’re such an important part of my core wardrobe, and I was really surprised to find that there don’t seem to be any good patterns out there!)

Fabric: custom-printed organic cotton from Contrado. (Disclosure: the company provided the fabric to me at no cost to try it.) I chose this quality for its slightly stiff hand and canvas-y texture, which I thought would suit a pencil skirt quite nicely. I’m happy with it and love the natural unbleached color of the cotton, which suited the colors of my print perfectly.

Details: I measured my skirt pattern to determine how tall the overall print should be and then re-sized the image to be about 1″ taller than the finished skirt. This allowed me to engineer the print so the sand and water would become a border print at the hem of the skirt. I asked Contrado to print two panels of the painting so I had enough fabric for the front and the back of the skirt, and this worked out perfectly. In fact, I have only a little bit of fabric left from the front panel, and I might use it to make a Straight Stitch Society Have it All Wallet. The way that the fabric arrived meant that I needed to add a hem facing, since I wanted to use the entire panel for the skirt itself, but that worked out fine.

I really like the Contrado website because I could see exactly what I was ordering. This allowed me to go back and re-configure my panels, since I wanted the landscape to run along the selvedge of the fabric. One thing I would probably do differently next time is to ask that the panels be left with a little more fabric around the edges so I had enough fabric for a hem outside of the printed panel itself, but otherwise I was just so thrilled with how the fabric turned out! It was exactly as I had hoped.

I’ll be wearing this skirt a lot this summer. It’s such a fun, unexpected addition to my summer wardrobe. I think custom-printed fabric would be so much fun for special girls’ clothes, too. S has her eye on a few of the Contrado qualities, including this crepe, which has a really nice drape.

I think it would be fun to use your own photos, too! Perhaps a French cow? Have you ever tried custom-printing fabric? What results did you get?



  1. When I was in the work force, pencil skirts were my “go to” skirt. I sewed dozens of them using my favorite customized pattern. I still believe that this style of skirt is a must have in any good wardrobe. Perhaps a pattern using fabric with a slight stretch would be good.

  2. Ginny Worden

    Your skirt is gorgeous, and “sew” becoming!

    And to answer your question,yes please, I am very interested in a pencil skirt pattern, as you said they are hard to find.

  3. Maria Sasse

    YES!!!! I´ve been waiting for you to have a pencil skirt pattern for us.

  4. AWB

    A reliable pencil skirt pattern would be invaluable! Please, please design one.

  5. Darcy

    That fabric is beautiful! I’ll definitely have to look at that website. And yes to a pencil skirt pattern! I was just thinking how I need that in my wardrobe.

  6. Melani

    Another yes for the skirt pattern!

  7. Jill

    I’ve been looking for a pencil skirt pattern! I’d love for you to do one for my collection!

  8. Sondra

    Please please please ! I would love a pencil skirt pattern. This would be a great resource for printed fabric. Thanks

  9. Yes to pencil skirt and a-line skirt as well. I’m sure I could hunt down pattern but none with your attention to detail.

  10. Amy Scotland

    Lovely skirt Liesl! You are my go-to for core wardrobe advice and patterns, so I’d be very interested in a pencil skirt pattern from you.

  11. Amy S

    Lovely skirt Liesl – I would be interested in a pencil skirt pattern from you (and maybe an a-line as Jennifer suggested?) – you’re my go-to for advice and patterns for core wardrobe!

  12. amy

    I would also love a pencil skirt pattern!

  13. Ginger

    Yes, I would love a pencil skirt pattern.
    I’ve purchased fabric from spoonflower and had good luck. Thanks for sharing a new source.

  14. Martha

    Yes, a pencil skirt pattern would be great — with mods for a petite!

  15. Anna

    Lovely skirt! Definitely interested in a pencil skirt pattern. Maybe with options for with/without waistband and a tutorial how to adjust the fit :)? I would love to make one from stretch cotton.

  16. Jenny

    Another yes for a pencil skirt! They look great on me and are definitely a huge part of my closet.

  17. Sara

    Another vote for a pencil skirt! Your patterns are so well designed and the directions so great that I would live to have one from you. They are my favorite thing to wear to work but I haven’t found a go to pattern so I have been buying them.

  18. So beautiful! I would love a non knit pencil skirt!!

  19. Amelia

    a lesson to draft your own pencil skirt would be wonderful!

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