Skirting the Issue: How to Draft Skirt Patterns

Two Basic Skirt Shapes: Rectangle (left) and Circle (right)

Add seam allowances outside these lines, and some extra to make a drawstring casing at the top. Cut two, sew the sides up, and fold down the top for the drawstring, and you get:

comparison between two methods for gored skirts
The difference between triangular insets (left) and a proper gore (right) seen from the front...
comparison from side
...and from the side.
Detail of the "Banquet de Herodes", Pedro Garcia de Benabarre
Now you know why I get so excited about a waist seam!

The gore, not the rectangle, is the foundation for skirts in most of the 1500s.  If you make it wider, so there’s extra fabric at the waist for pleating, you’d have something like this:

gored skirt on doll
A gored skirt, on a doll. This one is gathered, rather than pleated, and worn without a support skirt or pads.

We’ve got folds that fall softly down the length, because the width of the skirt keeps increasing down it’s length, and even without a support skirt it takes a vaguely conic shape.  Compare this to a skirt cut with a rectangular or circular plan:

comparison of gored and drawstring skirts, front
Notice the difference in the fall of the gored skirt (left) and the rectangular skirt (right).
comparison between gored and drawstring, side
From the side, you can see that the gored skirt (left) is always a cone shape, while the rectangular skirt (right) wants to become more of a domed bell unless you take pains to smooth it down.
comparison, gored and circle skirts, front
The gored skirt (left) does not have the extreme fullness about the hem that a circle skirt (right) does.
comparison, gored and circle skirts, side
The gored skirt (left) and circle skirt (right) seen from the side. It just looks about the same, doesn't it?

Next: From Gore to Alcega, and Back…


  1. Wonderful tutorial! It explains so much to me! Such as: why the skirt on my first Irish dress, while simple to make with its rectangle skirt panel, look awful when I wore it!

  2. You’re welcome! I’m glad it helped. :) Check back in the next couple of days – I’m working on an ebook on the specifics of drafting gores. It will include info on controlling fullness at the waist and hem, and how to draft gores to match specific angles. (Just in case anyone is trying to reproduce that darned Alcega farthingale…)

  3. omg, I think my brain just exploded from the brilliance of this post! (actually, it first exploded when I read that (paraphrasing) gored skirts were wasteful of fabric. um, whut? you get a LOT more bang for your buck with gores! :)

    Thank you for yet another incredibly fabulous tutorial!!!!

    (I will say, though that I think there *are* some examples of rectangular skirts later period, but that they appear to have *way* more than 2 or even 3 times the hip measurement… especially mid-16th c German dresses…)

  4. Thanks, Irmgard – you’re totally right. There are regions and eras that do go back to the rectangular cut. (The Pompadour styles are my fav example. There are gored examples, but the height of the era makes amazing use of rectangle skirts and an extremely sophisticated bodice cut to make that back-that-flows-from-the-shoulders look work.) I think it’s fair to say that no one in the 1500s too advantage of the gore for a totally smooth, controlled skirt like the Spanish. The rest of Europe started to put far more fabric into the tops of their gores.
    I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! :) (ps – I think the notion that gores are wastful comes from modern cutting plans, were we waste fabric to avoid extra seaming. We forget that aesthetics have changed over time!)

  5. Am I right in assuming that when you use the square root in calculating the waist radius, you start out with the crosscut area of the waist, as supposed to the more frequently used waist circumference? ;-)

    I’ve followed your site for some years, and I really enjoy your writing style – and being prone to perfectionism, I appreciate your healthy attitude to research vs cutting corners! Can relate to the sewing/programmer background too. I love the idea of historical style clothing, though unfortunately I can’t see a place for it in my life at the moment. I based gowns for my wedding and MSc degree ceremony on designs in Patterns of Fashion 2, and they really made me feel very special!

  6. Hi, Anna – You’re correct, and I’m all wrong – I really meant to use the circumference formula instead of the area formula. Yipes! Thanks for the great catch. I’ve corrected it in the post. You know the really silly part? I have pictures of both my calculator and my notes showing that I was doing the circumference formula. (I double-checked, because the base of the neck of the bottle is a hair larger than the top, and I wanted to make sure I had a good number.) I think I just really like square roots…
    Thank you!

  7. This post is just wonderful. I found your site when researching patterning and I am so glad I did! I appreciate the passion you have for the art of clothing and the evolution of fashion aesthetic. I hope your web store will be up soon so I can check out your e-books.

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