How to Sew a Gored Spanish Farthingale (Hoop Skirt)

The Spanish Farthingale is a stiffened underskirt that gives Tudor and early Elizabethan skirts their characteristic conical shape. You can make a very passable one with a full length gored skirt pattern (either a commercial A-line skirt pattern, or one you draft yourself), a lot of ribbon or bias tape, and boning.

During this demo, I use the following skills:
  1. Bias Bound Hem
  2. Ribbon Hem
gore pieces ready to cut

Cut your gore pieces. They will usually be cut on the fold, like this. You may or may not have a waistband with your pattern.

A simple A-like skirt with two gores will do fine for this project. I drafted this gore with a 73 degree angle to the side seam, comparable to the Alcega farthingale.

hoop locations marked in pencil

Mark the hemline. Mark 3-5 more arcs, each 5-7" apart. It is much, much easier to mark the locations of the hoop channels while the skirt is still flat!

Do this on both pieces. I’m making this for a doll, so I’ve marked the hoop locations every 5/8″.

skirt pinned for sewing

Pin one side of the skirt and sew.


I've sewn one piece wrong-side-up. I still do these things...

I find it faster and less annoying to rip the seam and resew, rather than remarking the skirt. Once you have the seam in place correctly….

seam, pressed open

Press the seam open.

seam allowances sewn

On each side of the seam, sew the seam allowances down 1/8" from the edges.

Why do this? It’s going to keep our seam allowances from being pulled wonky as we sew the channels for the boning, but it doesn’t make a large, thick seam that will be hard to sew over.

second seam, pinned.

Pin the second seam. Sew to 12" from the top (1" for a doll).

detail of waist opening

Secure the seam allowances, as before. This will also make the waist opening look much nicer.

pinning in a waist pleat

If the skirt waistband is larger than your waist, pleat the extra down neatly. You want the excess near the center back.

pleats, secured with stitching

Secure the pleats with stitching. If you have to take out more than about 5" (1/2" for dolls), use several pleats.

beginning the ribbon hem

Finish the bottom of the hoop skirt with a ribbon hem.

A ribbon hem is fantastic here, because it will also form the bottom hoop casing.

ribbons overlap at end

Make sure your ribbons overlap at the ends! Fold the final end of the ribbon back under for a neat look. This is important for both the hem and the channels.

sewing down the hoop casings

With the hem in place, make the hoop casings by sewing the ribbons on each edge. Line the bottom of each casing up with the marks you made earlier.

all casings in place.

The casings are mostly a lather-rinse-repeat process. I usually turn my brain off for this part.

binding the waist with bias tape

I'm essentially using a bias-bound hem as a waist finishing. (I wasn't in the mood to make one more dolly-sized waist band that day!) This will double as a drawstring casing, without adding much bulk.

boning material

I am using strimmer (weed whacker) line for my hoops. For a human size, I normally use poly-vinyl tubing or endless zip-tie strip. (Ask someone who works in a machine shop.) You can also use rope, but it can get heavy.

Now, here’s a piece of advice: do not send someone who knows anything about weed whackers to the store to get your strimmer line. They will get something like this, which is great at cutting grasses because of the crazy profile. What you want is the utterly crap round stuff – the kind that grass laughs at. It doesn’t snag so much going through the channels.

inserting the hoop boning

Insert the hoop boning into the channel. You'll be able to start this where your ribbon ends overlap.

deformed hoop

If you simply cut the boning at the end of the channel, you will get a teardrop shape instead of a circle.

extra hoop boning cut

To solve this, cut the hoop boning longer (12" for humans, 1" for dolls) than you need to fill the channel.

boning fully in channel

Continue threading the hoop boning through the channel until the extra has been pulled in. There is now an overlapped area of boning.

This trick will only work with a gored skirt. It works best if the casing is just barely wide enough to hold the doubled area of the boning. My strimmer is about 1/8″, and I’m using 1/4″ ribbon. The very tight fit acts like a splice between the ends, and it doesn’t really wiggle or shrink. And it’s easy, which I like.

all channels filled

Repeat for the rest of the channels. This is easier said than done - stay calm and work in baby steps.

cord threaded through waist channel

Thread a cord through the bias tape at the waist.

worn, from front

The hoops being worn, seen from the front.

worn, side view

Hoops being worn, viewed from the side.

back view

In the back, you can see the pleats.

7 thoughts on “How to Sew a Gored Spanish Farthingale (Hoop Skirt)

  1. missa says:

    Hi, Theresa,
    I have two thoughts on what might be going wrong. First, how big is the bottom circumference of the skirt? If it’s too big, it’s very difficult to get boning to support it.
    Second, what kind of boning are you using? Sometimes bones that are sold bound up in tight circles want to stay true to their original curves. It’s not just natural materials, either – formed spring steel does it, and there’s no working with it once it’s formed in the wrong size circle. With a lot of materials, there’s a way to relax the curve they remember having. (This usually involves a soak in warm to hot water, and a chance to dry either flat, or in the right size circle.)
    Also, are you wearing your overskirt with the farthingale when this is happening? Sometimes the weight of the overskirt is more than the boning in the hoops can bear, and the bones buckle.
    Let me know, and I’ll try to help more!

    8 years ago | Reply

    • missa says:

      Hi, Sarah Marie,

      Ok, so, seriously, you should never have to use your hands to manage a hoop skirt! Thing is, you’ve got a whole big circle to work inside of. Here are some tricks:

      -your skirts can only get under your feet if your feet fully leave the ground. Sweep your toes along the inside circumference of the hoop, and you’re golden.

      -if you have to jump in a hoop, do it with energy- your feets will come down before your skirts. Come straight down, unless you were jumping at an angle and then you will want to follow the angle of the skirt.

      -stairs- two options: either sweep your toe around the circle then up the face of the stair (ie, use your toe to raise the skirts) or, if you must use your hands, press down gently on the BACK of your skirts. This will raise the front of the skirt slightly, but you won’t look like a modern woman trying to sort out how to wear long skirts. (Seriously – the point a long skirt is coverage. Traditionally, you’d manage your skirts by pulling them to the front where you can keep and eye on them, rather than pushing them to the back or lifting them out of your way.)

      I kid you not – I have run up stairs following an energetic queen (of the female persuasion) and carrying THE GOBLET in both hands. I can run over uneven ground in a skirt six inches too long and wooden heels. It’s all about cultivating the weird-long-skirts-shuffle.

      I feel like I should make up a sheer farthingale and do a demo…. ;)

      6 years ago | Reply

    • missa says:

      You’re welcome, Miri! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the site. I’d love to see pictures of your costume when you finish!

      5 years ago | Reply

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