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Skirting the Issue: How to Draft Skirt Patterns

The simplest skirt in the world to draft is a rectangle.  The pattern goes something like this:

rectangle height
The height of the rectangle is your skirt Length, plus enough for seam allowances, etc. My length is 9", and I'm giving myself 1/2" to turn down into a drawstring channel at the top. I'm not hemming the bottom. Therefore, I cut my rectangle with a height of 9.5".
rectangle width
The width of the rectangle is twice your Hip measurement. My hip measurement is 9.5", so I'm cutting at 19".

Technically, I should be adding should be adding a 1/4″ seam allowance to each end.  That would make good mathematical sense, however, I’ve never found that I missed the fabric that got involved in the seam allowance in a skirt like this.  One half inch out of nineteen is really not a lot….

I sew together the short ends of the rectangle, then turn down the top at 1/2″ and stitch to form a drawstring casing.  I thread a little cord through, and I get this:

drawstring skirt on doll
Oh, hey, woah, that's not a bottle! This is a doll-sized version of a rectangular skirt with drawstring top.

The problem with a rectangular skirt, of course, is that there’s the same amount of fabric at both the top and the bottom.  It’s the equivalent of belting a large caftan, tunic, or other T shaped garment at your waist.  If you’re whippet thin and wearing something made of fine fabric, you look all flowy and delicate.  The rest of us look rather like we’re wearing the wrong size tent – all that extra bulk hulking about the middle doesn’t follow the fashionable silhouette of most historical periods, including the one we live in. (The elastic waistband is the modern equivalent to the drawstring waist. We all know what those will do to a girl…)

Next: Drafting the Circle Skirt….

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  1. Denise
    Denise October 1, 2010

    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. Denise
    Denise October 1, 2010

    Thank you! Thank you!

  3. missa
    missa October 1, 2010

    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…)

  4. Irmgard
    Irmgard October 5, 2010

    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…)

  5. missa
    missa October 5, 2010

    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!)

  6. Anna-Carin
    Anna-Carin October 9, 2010

    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!

  7. missa
    missa October 9, 2010

    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!

  8. pip
    pip September 15, 2013

    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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