How to Sew a Gored Spanish Farthingale (Hoop Skirt)

worn, from front

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.
oops
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 Comments

  1. I am trying to make the human-sized version. My hoops don’t want to stay circular. The skirt is folding in at the front even though it feels like I’ve pushed as much of the hoop material through the casing as I could. Any suggestions on what I’m doing wrong?

  2. 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!
    melissa

  3. Made a hoop / skirt, but it was too long.
    Stepped on it ! So, ok, pick up the hoops going forward, uh, then what do you do moving backwards ! ! How far off the floor is safe & still looks good ?
    Thanks (& from my dance partner too !)
    SML

    1. 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…. ;)

  4. Oh, Missa! I think you should post a demo! I’m about to embark on the farthingale adventure and once it’s done, I’d love to know how not to break my neck as I handle a greyhound at Ren Fair!

  5. Thank you lovely lady for your clear and sense-making “how to”s! Without them my first costuming attempts would have and continue to include a lot more blood, sweat and swearing than is the case. :) For the upcoming season my french 1540’s will get a farthingale to show off the fabric and trim. And the skirts will be less in the way jumping over the uneven fields…

    Very much appreciated!

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