How to Sew a Gored Skirt

Sewing and hemming gored skirts is a skill needed for almost all periods of western fashion since the late 1400s. This demo shows how to make a gored skirt with a simple side-seam pocket, mounted on a waistband. We’re going to gather the fullness of this skirt to the back, making it very suitable as an underskirt to be worn over a support skirt (hoops or farthingale).

This demo assumes you’ve got a pattern for a gored skirt. You can draft your own pattern, or use a commercial pattern for a full-length gored skirt. Personally, I like to draft my own, because it gives me better control over the silhouette of the finished project.  For this demo, I’m using the same gore pattern I used to make the gored spanish farthingale. (I drafted the pattern using the instructions in my ebook.)

I’m using the same pattern because I want to create a finished skirt that falls smoothly over my support skirt. The easiest way to do that is to make sure both the support skirt and the skirt covering it are drafted with the same side angle, and a comparable amount of fabric over the front. To achieve this, we’re going to cut three panels from the same pattern, but concentrate the fullness of two in the back of the skirt. This leaves the front panel pretty tight to the farthingale below it.  Ready?

During this demo, I use the following skills:
  1. The Perfect Turned Hem
  2. Hairline Seam
If you're working to human size, use these instead:
  1. The Perfect Turned Hem
  2. French Seam
Cutting Layout

Start by cutting your pieces: the waistband and gore are both cut on the fold. Cut one waistband and three gores. Cut two pocket pieces, from anywhere.

pocket placement

Place a pocket piece on the side of a gore (right side to right side), up at the waist as shown. Sew at the normal seam allowance. Repeat on the opposite side of a second gore. You want these to line up in a single seam.

side seam - bad way

You *could* just put your two pocket gores together, right side to right side, and whack a seam in.

You could. But, really, if you’re going to go to all the trouble to sew a costume in the first place, why start underachieving now? Do this instead:

prepareing for french seam

Press out the pockets. Pin the two pocket gores together wrong side to wrong side and sew at 1/2 your normal seam allowance. Sew from the bottom up, and stop at the bottom of the pocket.

Yes, wrong side to wrong side. We’re making a french (or, in my dolly’s case, hairline) seam. It’s nicer. I’m even showing you how to work it around a pocket…

Once the seam is in, trim the seam allowance to 1/8″ from your line of stitch. (Doll sizes with 1/4″ seam allowance, your stitches are at 1/8″, so you’re trimming at 1/16″. I believe that is technically “a hair”…)

stitches up to the pocket

Fold along the seam so that the pieces are right side to right side. Pressing will help. At 1/4" (1/8" for dolls), sew a second seam from the bottom up. Keep going until you are 2" (dolls: stick with 1/4", because dolls don't really use their pockets) above the pocket join. Backtack a few times.

pivoting for pocket seam

At 1/2" (1/4") above the pocket, lift the presser foot and pivot your fabric like this. Sew the bottom of the pocket. Repeat this pivot to sew the short side, then part of the remaining side of the pocket.

detail of pocket seam

The finished seam should look like this.

Why are we only sewing part-way up the pocket seam? Well, this pocket is going to double as a placket, hiding the opening of the skirt. If we don’t leave it partly open, you won’t be able to get in to your skirt. This gives us a small pocket perfect for holding tissue, lip gloss, etc. We’re putting it in the underskirt so that no one can see it, and also because modern people have a terrible habit of reflexively sticking their hands in pockets whenever possible. That’s harder to do when your pockets are safely out of reach!

assembled skirt panels

Using the same wrong-side-to-wrong-side-trim-flip-right-side-to-right-side process, attach the third panel to the straight sides of the first two.

Can you tell which seam is hiding the pocket? Erm, neither can I, at the moment, but I’m pretty sure it’s on the left in the photo. Neat, huh?

Now we have to put this onto a waist band. Waist bands aren’t really period before the mid 1800s (around the time of the sewing machine and heavily waisted corsets), but it’s a technique a lot of people are familiar with. We could also attach the skirt directly to a bodice, but that’s a whole different construction. We’ll talk about it later on this week, when we work through a kirtle.  (I’m so excited! Between you, me, and the interweb, I’m getting a little bored of making dolly skirts on dolly waistbands…)

For the waistband:

closeup of gathering stitches

Run a line of gathering stitches just inside your seam allowance. These should start right before the front pocket seam and end right before the back pocket seam.

If you’re new to sewing, gathering stitches are simple a line of long stitches (usually a 4 on your machine) sewn in without back-tacking either end. Leave long tails. You’ll be pulling on one of the two threads at each end and gently squishing the stitches together.

marking center front

Fold the front gore in half at the top, and mark the center line with a pin. (Please ignore the pin on the left side of the picture. I'm not sure why it's there. You are only marking center front.)

landmarks on waistband

We will mark several landmarks on the waistband. First, mark the seam allowance line on the short sides. Fold the waistband in half and mark. Now, fold that mark to each of the end pins, and mark the resulting quarters.

waist front pinned to waistband

Begin pinning the waistband to the front of the skirt. Pin one end (at the pin) to the pocket join. The next pin matches the center front, and the third matches the seam with the first back gore.

back pin positions

The fourth pin matches to the seam between the back gores, and the final pin matches to the pocket join.

We’ve just placed 2/3rds of the skirt on the back half of the body. Neat. Now it’s time to pull those gathers in…

first waistband seam

Once the gathers are in place and the skirt is the same size as the waistband, sew the skirt and the waistband at the normal seam allowance.

We want the pocket to face front, so at the front side of the skirt the top of the pocket should be folded back against the gathers. At the back side, pleat it down a little so the top edge sits in a little clump right at the edge of the skirt.  (This isn’t a modern technique, which would use a waistband extension for an overlap. This weird pleated version lets us make a pocket that can be used in side-lacing kirtles as well. Kirtles lace edge-to-edge.)

waistband stitching

Fold the seam allowance of the waistband to the inside, then fold the waistband down so that the seam allowance covers the nastiness where the skirt joins the waistband. Hand stitch this in place.

No, really, hand sew it. It’s much neater that way and, unless you’re a borderline zen sewing master, it’s going to be faster because you won’t miss places or have to rip out the stitches that show. (Oddly, I find that more and more, I choose to do this by hand even though I can do it on the machine. It really doesn’t take long, and I know it will work every time.)

Try the skirt on, and mark the position of a hook and eye. Add. (Or don’t – you’d be surprised just how many skirts at a faire are held together by safety pins!)

Hem with a turned hem, following the directions in the skills section.

finished skirt - front

The finished skirt, from the front, worn with a square necked chemise and without a farthingale.

finished skirt - side

Side view - you can see how much more fabric is in the back.

finished back view

The back falls in rather nice folds.

Now, here’s a fine point. I said that this skirt was made to be worn over a farthingale, and that I used my farthingale pattern for the skirt pattern. If you use *exactly* the same pattern, this is what happens:

looking down at skirt

You look down at your skirt, and it looks great.

view from hem level

If you find yourself on a stage, your audience may see this!

Yipes! Perspective really is everything. Now, all logic dictates that two skirts that are exactly the same length should cover each other exactly. Skirts are not logical beasties.

corrected hemline

To correct this, always make your skirts just a hair longer than your support skirt. For a human, use 1/2-1". For a doll, 1/4" will do. (Because dolls seldom walk around and muss their skirts, that's why.)

corrected hem, back

The farthingale is covered completely in the back, as well.

4 thoughts on “How to Sew a Gored Skirt

    • missa says:

      H, Diana,

      Decide with size you want the front gore to be. Subtract that amount from the total of your waist, then divide into the remaining six gores.

      For example, say I have a 30″ waist. (Please?) I would like a front gore that goes from princess line to princess line – 6″. I subtract that six inches I have assigned to my front gore from the 30″ total for a remaining 24″. Divide that over the six remaining gores, and they end up at 4″ each.

      You might want to add in a titch of wearing ease – a half inch (or a centimeter or so) should be sufficient. Or you might not. ;) it sort of depends on your era.

      Clear as mud?

      2 years ago | Reply

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