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Skirting the Issue: How to Draft Skirt Patterns

Alright. That’s enough of me geeking out on just how incredibly cool of a technical leap that all is. Let’s make two more skirt patterns… The first is the old-school way of making gores, by adding triangular insets to rectangular patterns:

cutting plan for skirt
Cut two pieces of fabric with a height of your skirt length (plus seam allowances and casings) and a width of your hip measurment (plus seam allowances on each side). (top) Cut two pieces of fabric that are your skirt length plus hem in height, and somewhat less wide than your hip measurement. Divide these pieces with a line from the upper left corner to the lower right corner. (bottom) This above picture shows the cut lines marked.
Each of the body pieces will have two triangles attached to its long sides. (This trick works best in fabrics that look roughly the same right side up and up side down, as at least one of the triangles has to be rotated.
sewing plan
We want to take a note from Alcega's book and line up the triangles so that we never get two bias edges together. Also, the length on each seam, from top of skirt to the end of the shorter piece of fabric should be equal to the length of the body panel. It looks a little pin-wheeley.

Sew that up, and sew the other body piece as a mirror image. So the two constructed pieces together. You should have two rectangles, with two triangles on each side. Add a casing at the top. Now, the very nice thing about this method of cutting skirts is that the hem is basically self-marking. You’re just going to hack off those stray pin-wheel tips, in a gentle curve that sort of disappears 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the way across the panel. Here’s the not-so-nice thing with this method:

skirt front
The fullness is concentrated wherever the triangles are added.
skirt side
Even when I fuss with it to make it poofier, you can see a very pronounced U shaped stress wrinkle in front, and most of the fullness stays stubbornly at the sides. (side view shown)

The effect is, admittedly, less dramatic in a fabric with a better drape to it.  Soft linen or thinner wools on a human-sized frame will be far more successful with this method. The problem is, this method is inherently flawed, and will never produce a skirt with a smooth drape and evenly distributed fullness.  The problem comes in here:

closeup of skirt problem area
The bodies of the skirt are cut on the straight of the grain, and they're straight across the top, so they want to go straight down. All of the fullness radiates from a single point, which forms a godet and concentrates the fullness directly below the point.

Next: How to Build a Better Gore…

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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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